All posts for March 2010


Movie Reviews: The Hurt Locker

“…war is a drug” Most people look at those words, from the opening titles of The Hurt Locker and think addiction, By the end of the movie they may also think about the other effect most drugs have: derangement of...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/31 23:12
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“…war is a drug”

Most people look at those words, from the opening titles of The Hurt Locker and think addiction, By the end of the movie they may also think about the other effect most drugs have: derangement of the senses. The main character, bomb-squad specialist or “EOD tech” James (Jeremy Renner), has let war go to his head in more ways than one. His tragedy is not that he has lost his humanity in the exhilaration of battle, but that he still has enough humanity left to gnaw at him even after all he throws himself into.

Hurt Locker won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2009, and it shows. It is further evidence that a “war movie” is not just about people shooting at each other, but about a facet of an experience not duplicated anywhere else in life. It doesn’t argue for or against James and it doesn’t bog down in arguments about the validity of the war in Iraq. It simply says: here is a man who can do remarkable things in the middle of hell, and is it any wonder some people are bothered by that? This is a man who does indeed enjoy his work, who gets something out of it he gets nowhere else, and does not care if the thought of him enjoying his work horrifies us.

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Tags: Kathryn Bigelow movies review


The Game And I Dept.

I've got this strange relationship with video games. I feel obliged to know about them, in the same way that a guy will educate himself about (e.g.) baseball so he doesn't feel left out when conversations start at the water...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/30 11:11

I've got this strange relationship with video games. I feel obliged to know about them, in the same way that a guy will educate himself about (e.g.) baseball so he doesn't feel left out when conversations start at the water cooler.

I rarely play games, not because I'm avoiding them, but because when it comes down to the way I choose to spend my time, they come up last on the list. A few years back I bought a PSP and have since accumulated a few games for it, but it never winds up being anything that commands more than an hour of two of my attention at a stretch.

In fact, that was a big part of why I got my PSP in the first place, instead of a full-blown console -- I could pull it out most anywhere or at any time, play a few rounds, and then put it away again. Not being tethered to the TV was a nice bonus, too.

The biggest thing of all -- and man, this is going to make me sound like a loser -- it gave me an easy way to stay on top of gaming, at least peripherally, so that I didn't fall completely out of touch with something that has become as important a cultural force as the movies.

I decided I wanted to do something about Not Falling Behind when I realized that just about every friend of consequence I have -- and many colleagues I have above and beyond that -- are gamers. Not just in the sense that they play a game every now and then, but they take gaming seriously. It's not just a pastime; it's something they throw a good deal of themselves into and feel they get just as much back out of.

A big part of that is the social aspect of it: playing with other people, talking about the game[s] with other people, or ganging up on the game with other people. This explains why MMOs manage to be such smash hits despite the fact that most of what you do in them is deadly boring, repetitive nonsense. (Once upon a time, we were paid for doing that. Now we pay others for the privilege of getting to doing it. Or we pay someone else to do it for us so we can do the interesting parts ourselves. O tempora, o mores.)

To that end, I don't want to remain totally ignorant of what's going on. And again, for that I have my friends: they keep me briefed on most of what goes on in gaming. Every now and then something will pop out and grab my interest because of an unusual game mechanic (Katamari Damacy) or something thematically intriguing (Dynasty Warriors) or some combination of both (Okami). It keeps my attention ... for a little while.

I have joked in the past that if anyone ever comes up with a samurai-themed MMO, I run the risk of vanishing off the face of the earth.

For a week.

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Tags: video games


Live & Kicking Dept.

I've been grousing on and off about live-action anime productions for a while now, about how projects like Paprika are a good idea and projects like Bleach are not. Somewhere along the way I let fly with a statement to...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/27 23:50

I've been grousing on and off about live-action anime productions for a while now, about how projects like Paprika are a good idea and projects like Bleach are not. Somewhere along the way I let fly with a statement to the effect that the biggest reason the latter does not work and the former does is "transportability". How easy is it to uproot something from one milieu and transplant it in another?

In the case of something like Paprika, which revolves around a bevy of things not specific to Japan, fairly easy. In the case of Bleach, forget it. Everything that makes the series what it is is rooted in its cultural origins.

This you know by now. What's new this time is, this is something I don't think the people with the money are going to find out until they break their shins against it a few times. Trial and error.

Not the best way to do it, but I get the feeling that's the only way that'll work for them. Most people in entertainment don't learn lessons unless they are painful fiscal ones.

The bad news is twofold. One, it means we get some pretty terrible adaptations of projects that either a) never should have gone on the rails or b) could be done well, but would require a more nuanced approach (e.g., co-financing a Japanese production in exchange for distribution in territories outside of Japan, especially the American / English-speaking video markets).

Two, and even worse, it means that a big enough screw-up -- or a whole slew of them -- would sour the market for such projects, well- and ill-conceived. Dragonball: Evolution was bad enough, but imagine that turkey with brothers and sisters. (No, don't dwell on it for too long. No sense in making yourself sick.)

Even worse is the possibility of such a mess turning out to be a hit. Then they have even less of a reason to actually create something good.

I'd like to think that all it takes is one good, solid version of how to do it right to set the tone for everything else. Blood: The Last Vampire was close. Not outstanding, but pretty darn good for what it was. It did the original material justice, it kept things moving, and it allowed non-fans to walk in the door and not be completely baffled (which helped since the original source material was pretty self-contained and had built-in concessions to non-Japanese audiences). But it didn't really command much of an audience, and I get the feeling many of the projects that could be created in this vein simply won't.

It might be best to learn to live with that. I'd rather see ten decent if modest versions of such material than two or three big, lousy ones. But tell them that. Tell the people who see every potential property as just that: a piece of property to be packaged up and thrown onto one of a number of conveyor belts, and which will be cropped or stretched, Procrustean-bed style, if it doesn't meet their expectations.

So:

Dear Mr. Petersen:

Don't break your shins too hard.

Love,

Fandom

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Tags: anime business live-action anime


Spicy Dept.

In between all of the bad news about live-action anime, here's something actually good: Wolfgang Petersen adapting Paprika. So why's this good news? Odds are he's adapting Yasutaki Tsutsui's novel, strictly speaking, not just Satoshi Kon's version of it. This...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/26 23:08

In between all of the bad news about live-action anime, here's something actually good: Wolfgang Petersen adapting Paprika.

So why's this good news?

  1. Odds are he's adapting Yasutaki Tsutsui's novel, strictly speaking, not just Satoshi Kon's version of it.
  2. This material lends itself to being transported to another venue without too much breakage.

So, yes. Bring it on, and let's see what happens.

In all honesty, I expect these types of adaptations to stumble a few times before they really hit their stride, and we have a few representative examples of how to do this sort of thing right. We've already had Dragonbleah, so one can hope they have a good example of what mistakes not to make.

... right?

Right?

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Tags: Wolfgang Petersen Yasutaka Tsutsui live-action anime


Foreign And Domestic Dept.

Roger Ebert reviews the new Bong Joon-Ho (The Host) movie Mother (word is uniformly excellent) and has some totally smack-dab-in-the-dead-center-of-the-target things to say about movies of this ilk: [It is] an adult film, not in the sense that it contains...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/26 11:45

Roger Ebert reviews the new Bong Joon-Ho (The Host) movie Mother (word is uniformly excellent) and has some totally smack-dab-in-the-dead-center-of-the-target things to say about movies of this ilk:

[It is] an adult film, not in the sense that it contains X-rated material, but in the sense that it appeals to intelligent grown-ups. A bright 10-year-old can understand most Hollywood films. Disney recently announced it will make only 3-D "event" movies, comic hero stories and franchises like "Pirates of the Caribbean." It has essentially abandoned films about plausible human beings. It isn't a luxury to see indie or alternative films. It's a necessity.

The preceding and following paragraph are in the same impassioned vein. Frederik Pohl once described Fahrenheit 451 as "a cry against the know-nothings", and those words come to mind when I read the last few grafs of this review. People often misinterpret statements like the above to mean that critics hate "fun movies". It's not that; it's that they hate how the rush to make nothing but "fun movies" has shuttered upscale markets for most every other kind of movie.

In the same above-mentioned book chapter about 451, Pohl quoted Ray Bradbury talking about the movie François Truffaut made of his book ("flawed, but beautiful") and how in his opinion Warner Brothers didn't even bother to distribute the film correctly. In the college towns, he reported, there were lines around the block to see the film for weeks. He encouraged the studio to book the movie there, not just any old place; that was where young, curious movie-going audiences were, and they would get their investment paid back. Maybe not tenfold, but they'd get their money back, which in the movie business is generally more than enough. Nothing of the kind happened, though: 451 was booked more or less at random, and the audience it deserved had to bust its collective butt to go find it.

Much of the problem isn't audiences. It's pipelines. Orders of magnitude more people saw Avatar instead of The Hurt Locker, and the quality of the two films has nothing to do with it. It was the fact that it could only get into so many theaters. The people who book theaters and fill store shelves, and decide whether or not something is going to even worth one screen or an inch of space in their racks -- they're the ones who typically make these decisions for us without us ever realizing it.

Whenever I talk about the whole problem of bad media driving out good, I come back to the same tropes again and again. Most people are unwilling to be challenged. Better to say, most people are happy to be comfortable right where they are, much as a stone is perfectly happy to land wherever it's thrown and not wander off in search of food. It's hard to get such people to look at something outside their comfort zone, and it's too easy to have contempt for the very people you want to reach.

Part of the approach, I think, involves looking as non-critically as possible at what they already like and matching it up with something. A friend of mine would do this with folks who wanted to get into anime but didn't know where to start. If their tastes ran towards guns-and-bombs action, Black Lagoon. If they liked CSI or 24, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. And so on. It's the same thing with any live-action movie not in English: the fact that they're "foreign films" doesn't mean they're all one big undifferentiated lump.

Another reason I think animated productions like the Miyazaki films help is because they can introduce younger viewers to "foreign" films in such a way that there's less of a difference between one with subs and without -- there's just a good movie, in whatever form it comes in.

The whole thing is about persuading people to look beyond the packaging, and making the whole thing seem less like a challenge and more like a natural extension of whatever it is they're doing to scratch their particular itch.

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Tags: Bong Joon-ho Korea Roger Ebert audiences business criticism distribution links movies


Movie Reviews: The Rebirth

Some movies give you everything and manage to say nothing. Some movies give you what seems like nothing and use that to say everything. The Rebirth is made up of the tiniest details of the daily lives of two people...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/24 22:25
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Some movies give you everything and manage to say nothing. Some movies give you what seems like nothing and use that to say everything. The Rebirth is made up of the tiniest details of the daily lives of two people who have died emotionally, and uses the smallest changes in those details to show us how they are coming back to life again. It’s not a movie most people will find interesting, I suspect—it’s in the same vein as the infamously static Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, which also bode its time and struck like lightning. Very little happens in The Rebirth, but every frame of the movie commanded my attention completely, and when it was over I understood why it had been made in such a monomaniacal way.

Rebirth deals with two victims of the same disaster, the mother of a young girl who committed a murder and the father of the victim (director Masahiro Kobayashi). They are interviewed by an unseen third party; they squirm and can barely look the camera in the eye. (The woman wears dark glasses and lets her hair hang over her face to further obscure herself). The father doesn’t want anything to do with the outside world; the mother is half-dead of shame and guilt. Their lives are effectively over, and there is nothing left for them to do but disappear somewhere.

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Tags: Japan Masahiro Kobayashi movies review


Emperor Dept.

Happy birthday, Akira Kurosawa. It's all your fault, you know. You got me started on this whole Japan trip, with your King Lear adaptation, and "the wellspring of the Force", and your template for most every adventure movie with a...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/23 20:41

Happy birthday, Akira Kurosawa.

It's all your fault, you know. You got me started on this whole Japan trip, with your King Lear adaptation, and "the wellspring of the Force", and your template for most every adventure movie with a motley crew.

A lot of people still don't know how much you're part of the cinematic air we breathe. And some people have tried to solve that problem by taking your work and remaking it for a modern audience, with mixed results. Best when they take your conceits and embed them in an entirely new approach, instead of just slavishly recreating them.

Other people -- like Criterion, bless their souls -- have taken the simplest and most unpretentious approach. Take the movies, bring them back to modern audiences in the best possible editions, and let them sell themselves. It works, not least of all because there are so many people who have already caught a little of the spirit and are willing to pass it on.

It isn't enough today to talk about how one director (or any artist generally) "influences" another, because most people aren't excited about influences. They're excited about good movies. They often see the copy of the copy before they ever hear about the original. Kurosawa often suffers from the fate of having been diluted by two or three generations before people see where it all came from, and why it all mattered.

I have reviews of many, but not all, of his movies. Some of it is a matter of time and priorities; some of it is because I have the worst time saying something about a movie like Seven Samurai without feeling like I'm being completely redundant. In time, and with the re-release of his catalog on BD, I'll probably cover everything, and with any luck have something to add to the conversation that isn't just blathering fandom.

On a day like this, though, maybe a little fandom isn't a bad thing.

He would have been 100 this year. He fought with obstinate studio heads, crippled budgets, the weather, and often his own actors and crew. He fought with depression, his own failing eyesight, diminishing interest for his work in his own country. Out of that struggle came a body of work that has little parallel.

A lot of the time, in his own eyes, he got maybe a third of what he had been shooting for. "There are within my movies maybe two or three minutes of true cinema," he said once. I can think of a few of them offhand: Toshiro Mifune's gamut-of-the-emotions monologue in Seven Samurai, or Tatsuya Nakadai stumbling out of the burning castle in Ran, or Takashi Shimura on the swingset in the snow in Ikiru. A series of documentaries made about his work were titled It Is Wonderful To Create, and the movies are their own proof of that sentiment. Doubly so for a man who once stated that to take him and remove cinema would leave behind nothing.

* * *

There are quite a few books about Kurosawa's life and work -- the work more than the life itself, which is a bit of a shame. Waiting on the Weather is among the most recently published and talks about Kurosawa from the perspective of one of his long-time assistants. It fills in a good deal of where Kurosawa's own Something Like An Autobiography falls short -- both chronologically and with regard to individual details. The Emperor and the Wolf is a parallel biography of both Kurosawa and Mifune, rich in detail but thin on analysis and insight; material this rich cries out for something more than Galbraith's lockstep, prosaic approach.

Overviews of the movies themselves abound. Donald Ritchie's omnibus remains the most widely-read, even if I don't agree with his assessments of some of the films. Stephen Prince and Peter Cowie have pitched in with their own analyses, which I've yet to sit down with, but their scope and authority are impressive on the face of it.

And then there are the movies themselves. Start here, I say, and just keep on going.

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Tags: Akira Kurosawa Japan movies


Whitewash Dept.

Three words: Bleach live-action. A U.S. remake. A U.S. live-action remake, exec produced by the same man who gave us Get Smart and 50 First Dates. There are so many things wrong with this picture, I might well exhaust the...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/22 13:48

Three words: Bleach live-action.

A U.S. remake. A U.S. live-action remake, exec produced by the same man who gave us Get Smart and 50 First Dates.

There are so many things wrong with this picture, I might well exhaust the disk space allotment on my web host by talking about them.

I'll gloss over the fact that Tite Kubo has gone on record stating he doesn't think a live-action version is feasible, because I suspect he's not even the one in charge of how his material is adapted. The problem is, again, everything that made the original what it was -- good, bad or indifferent -- is tied to its milieu in ways that cannot be duplicated effectively elsewhere.

You could make something similar to it, with some of the same basic plot tropes in a Western context -- just don't call it Bleach. But with that you lose all the instant name-recognition of the project, which is really what this is all about anyway: capitalizing on a name.

I haven't been having the greatest of days to begin with, but this has all the auspiciousness of finding a dead dog in your car's back seat.

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Tags: Bleach Tite Kubo anime business links live-action anime manga movies


Music: Last Date 8.28.1978 (Kaoru Abe)

This was the first record by Kaoru Abe I ever heard, and from what I can tell it was among the very last recordings he ever made. Barely ten days after this concert, Abe was dead at the age of...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/22 01:02
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This was the first record by Kaoru Abe I ever heard, and from what I can tell it was among the very last recordings he ever made. Barely ten days after this concert, Abe was dead at the age of twenty-nine, a drug casualty—and by all accounts the fact he’d overdosed himself into an early grave was no surprise to anyone who knew him. I don’t hold to the theory that everyone possessed of a fierce creative energy is simultaneously practicing a form of slow self-immolation that may eventually turn out to be a rehearsal for the real thing, but the exceptions, like Abe, cloud our senses to any other possibility if only because they burned so very brightly indeed.

I listened to Last Date for the first time in the middle of the night, at a time when I was in poor spirits and felt like any human contact would only make things worse. Last Date had ended up in my collection after one of my forays through JustTheDisc.com, since the name “Kaoru Abe” was peripherally familiar from my other forays into both free jazz and Japan’s noise underground. Funny how his name turned up in both circles, but at the same time not odd at all: I’ve written before how the distance between something like Coltrane’s “Ascension” and your average Merzbow track is not that far. So I threw the album on, and before long I found myself gripping the sides of my chair and being overwhelmed with a sense of intimacy that I think only Robert Ashley’s Automatic Writing has also been able to evoke. Listening to the album was like getting a letter from a dead friend and knowing you could never, ever write back.

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Tags: Japan Kaoru Abe improvisation jazz music noise review


Movie Reviews: Black Kiss

A pedigree goes a long way with me. Black Kiss was written and directed by Macoto Tezka*, none other than the son of Osamu Tezuka himself, but it has as about as much to do with the work of Tezuka...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/21 14:43
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A pedigree goes a long way with me. Black Kiss was written and directed by Macoto Tezka*, none other than the son of Osamu Tezuka himself, but it has as about as much to do with the work of Tezuka père as Tezuka’s work has to do with Masamune Shirow. Kiss seems to me more of the sort of thing Edogawa Rampo might have written, had he lived to the present day and fused his conceits of “erotic grotesque nonsense” with modern serial-killer stories. I admit to being horribly burned out on serial killers—I blame Thomas Harris for starting that whole mess—but Black Kiss brings enough twists to the core idea to remain just this side of interesting.

Black Kiss is set in modern Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, all gutter sleaze and love hotels and trashy dive bars. Life is cheap; sex is even cheaper. Through the neon and glitter strides wide-eyed Asuka Hoshino (Reika Hashimoto), a girl with ambitions of becoming a model. She’s pretty and photogenic, but gutless: the other models treat her like dirt, and she acts as though some part of her believes she deserves it. Without a place to stay, she manages to couch-crash at the apartment of Kasumi Kuroki (Kaori Kawamura)—the sullen, tattooed, half-American down-and-outer who works in a neighborhood junk shop, lives with her pet turtle in an apartment filled with clutter she probably filched from work, and doesn’t seem to think much of Asuka and her clean-scrubbed ways. (Give her time.)

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Tags: Japan Macoto Tezka movies


Comic Or Tragic Book? Dept.

Two items in today's Times provide not just food for thought but a whole buffet table. The first is the next chapter in the ugly, protracted and deeply problematic copyright custody battle that Jack Kirby's heirs are waging over his...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/21 12:15

Two items in today's Times provide not just food for thought but a whole buffet table. The first is the next chapter in the ugly, protracted and deeply problematic copyright custody battle that Jack Kirby's heirs are waging over his creations for Marvel Comics. [*]

Item the second is Michiko Kakutani's "Text Without Context", about a slew of new books that explore the way the very act of consuming or producing media today has become remixing without ever knowing the original.[*]

On the one hand, you have a practical insurrection, so to speak: Generation YouTube, as someone rather scornfully called it, which sees everything on tape, in print, or on disc as raw material to be ripped and re-used. (Something I myself have not been immune to, as my own first records were pretty much sampled wholesale from whatever was lying around.) I remember a flyer for one of the first Psychic TV albums that described the music as "raw material to be used and manipulated by the listener" -- not entertainment, not communication, but data.

And on the other hand, you have Jack Kirby, and dozens of others like him, getting stiffed on a colossal scale.

I put the two side by side because I think there's a lot more overlap here than people want to believe -- that anyone who creates something these days runs the risk of becoming another Jack Kirby, with society at large being Marvel. It's not that it's easy to do this, but that it's almost expected of us -- that people who don't make the new explicitly out of the old are seen more and more as throwbacks, party-poopers.

I don't like to think of myself as some Old Media Blowhard, where the only good books are dead (tree) ones. I wouldn't be writing this blog, or planning a future storytelling project that is entirely blog-based, if I thought that way. But I don't like the idea that we should simply settle for a culture of remixing as a moral imperative -- that if it's out there, it's going to get ripped off, by creators and opportunists and people looking for nothing more than a free ride. Not every test of copyright infringement is going to be Jay-Z's Gray Album.

On a practical level, yes, those things happen. The remix is here to stay. That doesn't mean we should cover our eyes and pretend nobody's getting robbed.

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Tags: comics copyright culture intellectual property links remixing


Books: Black Jack Vol. #10 (Osamu Tezuka)

The timing of this book could not be more, well, timely. I spent most of last week, from the Sunday of the 7th through the following Sunday, nursemaiding my missus and her broken ankle. Despite that, she was determined to...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/19 23:52
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The timing of this book could not be more, well, timely. I spent most of last week, from the Sunday of the 7th through the following Sunday, nursemaiding my missus and her broken ankle. Despite that, she was determined to make as much use as possible of her three remaining limbs even if she ended up breaking them, too. Her nerve (the psychic kind) and determination were enough at one point to make me blurt out: “Black Jack would have loved you as a patient.”

I had to explain that one to her.

Some of you in the back of the class already know this, I’m sure. I shall repeat myself, as it bears repeating. What Black Jack loves more than almost anything else (save maybe suitcases fulla yen bills) is a patient who meets him halfway—someone whose will to live and determination to be healed is as strong as his own will to save their sorry ass. It’s something common to many people I’ve known who stand out so far in their field or are so far at the top of their respective game that they don’t feel like there’s anyone else around. When you have someone, anyone sharing your slice of stratosphere, however fleetingly, you feel that much less like an aberration and a … well, a freak.

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Tags: Black Jack Japan Osamu Tezuka Vertical Inc. manga review


Shelling Out Dept.

From the current AICN Anime report... Hollywood Ghost in the Shell screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis has stated during a Shutter Island q & a that she plans to "turn in a draft in a few weeks." She expressed cautious optimism about...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/16 18:36

From the current AICN Anime report...

Hollywood Ghost in the Shell screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis has stated during a Shutter Island q & a that she plans to "turn in a draft in a few weeks." She expressed cautious optimism about the project, and indirectly noted an obstacle such a project faces in Hollywood: "Cross your fingers, guys — [it has a] female lead."

Kalogridis was once hired by Avatar director James Cameron to script his planned adaptation of Yukito Kishiro's Battle Angel Alita (GUNNM) manga. When asked about the possibilities of the Battle Angel film or an Avatar sequel, she responded, "You have to ask Jim — anything to do with [those projects]."

GitS has, like most any anime-themed live-action production, so many strikes against it out of the box that I fear for anything coherent or worthwhile coming of it. The fact that it has a female lead bulks extremely tiny next to its convoluted (shilling for contorted) storyline, its cerebral themes (which even in this post-Matrix era are going to be hard to present without tons of dumbing-down), and the simple fact that, like Akira, they will have the worst time making it something people are going to go out of their way to watch without changing its locale, disconnecting it from its cultural wellspring, and thus destroying most of what was interesting about it to begin with.

Fingers crossed, indeed.

Also:

The first "season" of Kinutani Yu's Ghost in the Shell-Stand Alone Complex manga adaptation of the anime ended in Young Magazine # 14 (On sale March 8). The second season will begin in Gekkan Young Magazine # 05 (On sale April 14).

Wait, there was a manga adaptation of the ... ? STOP PRESS, MUST SEE.

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Tags: Ghost in the Shell adaptation anime links live-action anime manga movies


All Aboard Dept.

Masatoshi Nagase has finally been recognized for his immortal contributions to the acting world! As in: a Criterion version of Mystery Train! On DVD and Blu-ray, no less! (Youki Kudoh in a supporting role, too!) (And the soundtrack is wonderful.)...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/15 14:11

Masatoshi Nagase has finally been recognized for his immortal contributions to the acting world!

As in: a Criterion version of Mystery Train!

On DVD and Blu-ray, no less!

(Youki Kudoh in a supporting role, too!)

(And the soundtrack is wonderful.)

Yup, it's new-release day at Criterion, and here's what else showed up:

... and a Blu-ray version of Luchino Visconti's The Leopard.

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Tags: Blu-ray Disc Criterion links movies


Movie Reviews: Moon Child

Here is a film where J-rocker Hyde plays a vampire, J-rocker Gackt plays his up-from-the-gutter sidekick, lots of people shoot guns and beat each other up, and Susumu Terashima has druggy conversations with a hallucinated fish. Would that it added...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/14 23:56
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Here is a film where J-rocker Hyde plays a vampire, J-rocker Gackt plays his up-from-the-gutter sidekick, lots of people shoot guns and beat each other up, and Susumu Terashima has druggy conversations with a hallucinated fish. Would that it added up to more than moping and flailing, no thanks to a story that’s so aimless and draggy it could have lost 45 minutes of its two-hour running time and not leave us feeling like anything went missing.

Moon Child kicks off in the last few hours of the 20th century (which, incredibly, the movie gets right: it’s Dec. 31, 2000, not 1999), in a vaguely pan-Asian metropolis named Maleppa. There, street urchin Sho (Gackt) runs across Kei (Hyde) in a gutter somewhere. Kei’s a vampire who’s spent a long time torn between wanting to die and not wanting to do it himself. Sho recruits him into a life of crime, since it’s handy having a friend in the underworld who’s immune to bullets, and over the next twenty-odd years they make a whole bevy of enemies, waste tons of ammo, are betrayed by close comrades, fight, split, rejoin, marry, lose loved ones, and have about two hundred pseudo-lyrical moments apiece where slow music plays and the characters look at the same thing off in the distance somewhere and mumble about life.

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Tags: Gackt Hyde Japan movies review


Book Reviews: Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangster's Daughter (Shoko Tendo)

The tattoo on Shoko Tendo’s back reaches all the way down both her legs, right to her ankles. It wasn’t always like that: when she had been embroiled in the yakuza lifestyle, it had only covered her back. Only after...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/13 15:10
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The tattoo on Shoko Tendo’s back reaches all the way down both her legs, right to her ankles. It wasn’t always like that: when she had been embroiled in the yakuza lifestyle, it had only covered her back. Only after she left that world did she extend the inkwork that most people would have gone to no small lengths to hide. Here it is, she seemed to be saying. Take me as I really am.

Yakuza Moon is the sort of autobiography that no woman should ever have to write. Not simply because the yakuza is a male world, where women are accessories at best and chattel at worst, but because Tendo was born too close to that world to say no to it from the beginning. The damage that was inflicted on her became damage she in turn inflicted on herself. If half of what’s in the book is true, she is seven kinds of lucky to have escaped all of that—and many more kinds of strong, too. The book is also evidence of how most people’s greatest strengths are invisible to them, because they embody them naturally and don’t seek them out. She may not have felt strong, but she was.

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Tags: Japan books review yakuza


Books: Detroit Metal City Vol. #3

Most of us have at some point in our lives a heartbreaking revelation. There are the things we want to do, and the things we do well. Worse, the two often have nothing in common. Such is Soichi Negishi’s lot:...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/13 01:24
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Most of us have at some point in our lives a heartbreaking revelation. There are the things we want to do, and the things we do well. Worse, the two often have nothing in common. Such is Soichi Negishi’s lot: he wants to be a fixture of the hip turtleneck-sweater-wearing Tokyo scene, but he’s best at donning facepaint, assuming the alter ego of Krauser II and tearing it up on stage with his diabolical band Detroit Metal City. As Agent Smith once said, one of these lives has a future … and the other does not.

Over the course of three-and-then-some volumes of Detroit Metal City, we’ve seen how to play this dichotomy for laughs. The downside is that there only seem to be a finite number of ways to do this: as long as the basic gag is that almost nobody knows Negishi is Krauser (and vice versa), DMC’s going to be doomed to repeat itself. That doesn’t mean it’s doomed to not be funny, though, and some of the stuff that goes down in the third book is funny enough that you risk spit-laughing out your coffee on the guy in front of you if you read this on the bus.

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Tags: Japan manga review


Movie Reviews: Black House (Korea)

First there was Black House (Japan), an adaptation of Yusuke(Crimson Labyrinth) Kishi’s novel. And now we have Black House (Korea), which is … also an adaptation of Yusuke Kishi’s novel. The Japanese version was mannered and strange with many obvious...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/12 22:51
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First there was Black House (Japan), an adaptation of Yusuke(Crimson Labyrinth) Kishi’s novel. And now we have Black House (Korea), which is … also an adaptation of Yusuke Kishi’s novel. The Japanese version was mannered and strange with many obvious directorial intrusions, and I wavered between liking it for that reason and finding it simply annoying. The Korean version is constructed more like a conventional “Western” thriller, with obvious shock cuts and musical stings, but it’s that much more approachable, and I suspect most people will think of it as the “better” film. You choose.

Curious how intra-Asian remakes work. The last time this happened was The Ring, which was filmed multiple times in both Japan and Korea, and jumped the ocean to the United States to kick off the cinematic J-horror boom there. Said boom has mostly fizzled at this point—The Grudge and Dark Water were only okay, and if there was anything after that I’m probably lucky I don’t remember it. I doubt Black House is getting the remake treatment Stateside, but from what I see it would face faces fewer cultural hurdles than, say, Akira. (And of course there was Oldboy, a Korean adaptation of a Japanese comic with no American remake forthcoming after all, thank goodness.)

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Tags: Korea Yusuke Kishi movies review


Un-Vanishing Act Dept.

It's been busy on this end (to put it mildly). Real life decided to take a crowbar not only to me but a few other people real close to me, so I've been doing what I can to make sure...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/12 20:33

It's been busy on this end (to put it mildly). Real life decided to take a crowbar not only to me but a few other people real close to me, so I've been doing what I can to make sure they keep on keepin' on as well.

Meanwhile, here's a few things that crossed my desk while real life was delivering a beat-down:

The live-action version of Osamu Tezuka's MW is coming out in Japan on DVD. The stills from it make it look very ... I dunno, J-poppy, which I'm learning may be one of the inevitable forms of dumbing-down that any material might experience when being adapted for live-action in Japan. But color me curious, and this just reminds me that I still haven't seen 20th Century Boys yet.

A bunch of shows not yet released on DVD have showed up at FUNimation's streaming site. Among them:

  • Dance in the Vampire Bund: Adapted from the manga of the same name which I thought was decent without being a must-have. The TV show, on the other hand, takes a pretty creative approach to the material (at least in the first couple of episodes), so consider my curiosity piqued for now.
  • Oh! Edo Rocket: This looks like a quirky treasure. Instead of just doing a straight historical piece, they took some period tropes and twisted them -- into balloon animals, no less. I'm hoping this one sustains its loopy energy and creativity all the way through.
  • Last Exile: Another "lost" title from Geneon, now getting the FUNi reissue treatment. Those of you who love this new-fangled "Punk-Steam" stuff, eat up -- and grab the live-action Casshern afterwards if you haven't already; you'll faint when you get a whiff of that.
  • Speed Grapher: I once described this, none too precisely, as what might have resulted if David Lynch had directed an anime series. It's gory, grim, raunchy, funny, crazy and a bunch more adjectives I can't think of right now.
  • Spice and Wolf: What starts off looking like pure sleaze turns out to be one of the smarter and more intriguingly-constructed shows of recent years. Mini-economy lessons wrapped up in a story that is an embodiment of the old adage "A cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." Do yourself a favor and take the plunge on this one: it's in something of the same category as a show like Mushi-shi.
  • Baccano!: Godfather meets Highlander meets someone who locked themselves in the Avid booth after mistakenly gulping a 50/50 of Red Bull and Mt. Dew. Works best in big doses. Watch as much of the series at once and it's immensely rewarding. Watch it one slice at a time and you'll just be shaking your head and rewinding back to the last few minutes of the previous episode every single time to remind yourself what the hell was going on.
  • Casshern Sins: What promised to be a classy retelling of a classic series (c'mon, anything that spawns that cool of a live-action movie has to be Roots, right?!) has turned out to be a bunch of posturing and moping in search of a story. Maybe I'll be more impressed when I can watch the whole thing as one piece, but so far only the most die-hard fans should bother. Fans of what, is another story.

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Tags: FUNimation anime links real life


Brain Drain Dept.

Some nice comments from an author of children's books about taking Sundays off. Sunday Routine - Rebecca Stead - For Rebecca Stead, a Day to Recharge the Brain’s Batteries - NYTimes.com On another note, there's book designer Craig Mod, with...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/07 13:41

Some nice comments from an author of children's books about taking Sundays off.

Sunday Routine - Rebecca Stead - For Rebecca Stead, a Day to Recharge the Brain’s Batteries - NYTimes.com

On another note, there's book designer Craig Mod, with this discussion of "books in the age of the iPad": Print is dying. Digital is surging. Everyone is confused. Good riddance.

He makes a case for the "canvas" being what's changing: it's not that books themselves are dying, just that the most disposable versions of books are being phased out in favor of digital devices. Books where the canvas of paper is indispensible -- e.g., graphic novels, art books -- will continue to exist, although at premium prices. Books that are "just text" will simply move to another, more malleable and portable container.

In short, we're seeing another iteration of what happened with books back when cheap paperbacks entered the market and created a priced-down alternative to hardbacks. This didn't phase out hardbacks entirely, though; I've written elsewhere about why hardbacks continue to be important to publishing. (Early access, collectible form factor.)

I'm still iffy on dedicated reading devices, if only because I dislike the idea of throwing hundreds of dollars at something that essentially duplicates most of the functionality of something I already have. The Kindle is twice as redundant now that there's a Kindle app for the PC, which I can install on any machine that has a net connection. Yes, I don't get the (dubious) comfort of reading on the Kindle device itself, but at least I have access to all the same content -- and by Craig's own admission, that's what really counts here.

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Tags: creativity links publishing technology


Books: Detroit Metal City Vol. #4

The hardest thing about being ridiculous is keeping some semblance of ground rules. It’s OK to blow up the world on a whim in something like BoBoBo-Bo Bo-BoBo or even South Park, but less easy to get away with it...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/07 01:01
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The hardest thing about being ridiculous is keeping some semblance of ground rules. It’s OK to blow up the world on a whim in something like BoBoBo-Bo Bo-BoBo or even South Park, but less easy to get away with it in Seinfeld (or Lucky Star). There, it wouldn’t be funny, just a distraction.

That’s in part what’s been a little startling about Detroit Metal City. They could have, at any time, turned the whole thing into a merry-go-round of absurdity where Krauser fights aliens and slices UFOs in half with his guitar. As crazy as things become in volume four, they all unfold according to a few basic ground rules: all that is funny in DMC must revolve around the fundamental absurdity, outlandishness, and lordly might of death metal. It does.

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Tags: Japan manga review


Books: Biomega Vol. #1 (Tsutomu Nihei)

Tsutomu Nihei creates spectacular manga about giant, rotting, manmade landscapes where stern-looking men and bizarre-looking monsters stalk about and do their best to blow each other up. That’s about all his previous Big Thing, Blame!, amounted to in my eyes,...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/05 00:22
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Tsutomu Nihei creates spectacular manga about giant, rotting, manmade landscapes where stern-looking men and bizarre-looking monsters stalk about and do their best to blow each other up.

That’s about all his previous Big Thing, Blame!, amounted to in my eyes, which showed up in English in both its manga and animated incarnations. I awarded it plenty of points for sheer visual exhilaration, and took away about as many for having only as much story as might be needed to hustle everyone from one act of violence to the next.

From what I can make of Biomega so far, it’s more of the same. Bad thing? Good thing? A good thing, I guess: many people I know are perfectly happy with manga that aims no higher than the part of the cerebral cortex that gets happy when things go boom. In Biomega, many things do indeed go boom, from a giant crumbling castle leaning out of the side of a cliff face to a whole fleet of ICBMs. The missiles, by the way, go boom in a way that had me gibbering “No … no … no,” long before I ever turned the page and confirmed that the hero was indeed going to make them go boom in the single craziest way imaginable. I suspect I would have been disappointed if he hadn’t done it that way.

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Tags: Japan Tsutomu Nihei manga review


The Way We Roll Dept.

Dave Winer, one of the "protobloggers" (I suspect he hates that term), provides an intriguing way to do a panel that isn't a panel. Renewed Evangelism: BloggerCon Format. (Scripting News) The format is not far from the Socratic classroom, a...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/04 16:28

Dave Winer, one of the "protobloggers" (I suspect he hates that term), provides an intriguing way to do a panel that isn't a panel.

Renewed Evangelism: BloggerCon Format. (Scripting News)

The format is not far from the Socratic classroom, a discussion leader who pulls the interesting bits from the minds of the people in the room, with no sense of one person being a speaker and another being audience. Everyone is both a source and destination of thought.

The format solves the problems of the typical professional conference, the problem of droning self-important speakers who bore the audience and force the good stuff out into the hallway. The first goal of the format is to suck the good stuff back into the room. Everything about the format is designed to eliminate the boring, self-serving droning. But to do it respectfully. We're not running the Gong Show.

There's more in the piece; go give it a read.

It took me less than ten seconds to start wondering how an approach like this would work out for panels at a fan convention. Imagine one of those panels like "Shows You're Not Seeing And Should Be", stuff where 95% of what goes on is brought into the room by the audience.

Now, a strike in the Minus Column: it might be ill-suited to panels where people come specifically to hear someone speak at length from their own experience about a particular subject. Actually, even that sort of session could be retooled a bit: start with the lecture part of the whole thing, and then segue from that into something like the above, where his words are a springboard for further discussions in both directions. (Word of advice when giving a lecture like this: ask people to move to the front of the room. It makes things feel more like a conversation and less like a lecture. People at panels have this weird tendency to scatter all over the place, probably because they're still operating under the idea that other people are gonna get antsy about having their personal space invaded.)

I especially like the "No PowerPoints" rule. As a recovering PowerPoint abuser, I know full well how seductive those charts and bullet-lists can be for a presenter, and just how sleep-inducing they can be for everyone in front of them.

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Tags: conventions links


Thump Thump Thump Pew Pew Pew Dept.

Q: How desperate for ideas, how creatively bankrupt, how cowardly does Hollywood have to be to option the video game Space Invaders as a feature film, and do so with a completely straight face? A: Very. Someone in the comments...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/03 13:06

Q: How desperate for ideas, how creatively bankrupt, how cowardly does Hollywood have to be to option the video game Space Invaders as a feature film, and do so with a completely straight face?

A: Very.

Someone in the comments for that article mentioned that the only way to make that work would be if you made a movie about the making of such a thing into a movie -- a Hollywood farce.

See, there, you could have some fun. Get Paul Giamatti as the screenwriter and novelist who's paid piles of money to write this miserable thing, and make the film-within-a-film a gloriously stupid piece of tinfoil-wrapped-cardboard kitsch. And use YMO's "The Invaders / Firecracker" as the themesong. And have Michel Gondry direct.

I bet you right there we have more real ideas than we're going to find in the finished film, assuming this piece of refried lard ever makes it to screens.

You know, back when I was about eight years old, this would have been the coolest idea ever. I'm thirty-eight now. It stopped being cool around the same time Raul Julia appeared in Street Fighter.

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Tags: fail links movies video games


Old But Not In The Way Dept.

Over at Vertical, Inc., they're in the process of setting up a bunch of new licensing requests -- some of them in-house items, some gleaned from wishlists provided by fans. I didn't figure they could talk specifics -- like Criterion...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/01 23:40

Over at Vertical, Inc., they're in the process of setting up a bunch of new licensing requests -- some of them in-house items, some gleaned from wishlists provided by fans. I didn't figure they could talk specifics -- like Criterion and most other media companies of their ilk, they tend to remain tightlipped about what's been licensed until all the ink is dry. Since I couldn't come out and ask what they'd picked up, I figured I could ask a slightly less problematic question: What time period were the titles in question from? The answer: all from the last ten years.

That provoked a note from me to the effect that many manga fans think anything older than five years is classic (read: Jurassic). The response:

heh, i consider classic to be as old as I am...so titles from the 70's. But to some manga was practically invented in the 90's

This has nothing to do with manga alone. It's a problem as old as pop culture itself -- or, rather, our current concept of it, which means a division between "classic" and "current" material. Harlan Ellison was grousing about this back in 1970: "To the kids today, anything earlier than Buddy Holly and the Crickets is prehistoric."

It's all the harder when you live in a world where almost everything "cultural" ends up having a lifespan, and very little winds up being ephemeral in the first place. When you effectively have the entire cultural output of a civilization from the last fifty years or more at your disposal, where do you even start? My guess is you start more or less with whatever's in front of you -- which for most people tends to be whatever's marketed to them through the channels they're exposed to. That means most people are going to start with the recent stuff and only work their way backwards if they have some overweening reason to do so -- like personal taste, subjective inclination, or a recommendation from a trusted source.

It's not evil. It's just one of the ways people cope with living in a world this big, this diverse, this heavily interconnected, and this saturated with cultural product. But it means the good stuff that's more than a few years old has to be fought for, stumped for, and proselytized all the more. And in time, I think, it'll become clear what stuff is worth that kind of effort and energy, and what of it deserves to languish.

When Vertical was exhibiting at Comic-Con back in 2009 (if memory serves), they had a kid visiting the table. Couldn't have been more than ten years old. He loved Black Jack. Didn't care what year it was made in. I don't know what alchemy of curiosity was at work within him, but it was the right one. It reminded me of something else I'd been told about once, where a gaggle of about five or six kids his age sat in front of a big-screen TV in some mom-and-pop video store where Seven Samurai was playing on DVD. I would have given quite a lot to step back into that moment and creep around in front of them to see the looks on their faces.

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Tags: Vertical Inc. classics culture links manga marketing


Iced Hell Dept.

The impossible has happened. Or, rather, the deeply improbable has found a chink in the armor of the possible to slither through. Or something. The animated adaptation of Sayonara, Zetsubo-Sensei is being released domestically. (See my reviews of the books.)...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/01 15:10

The impossible has happened. Or, rather, the deeply improbable has found a chink in the armor of the possible to slither through. Or something. The animated adaptation of Sayonara, Zetsubo-Sensei is being released domestically. (See my reviews of the books.)

Impossible if only because I always believed the amount of work required to localize the series would be daunting. If anyone was going to pick it up, I rationalized, it would be someone like AnimEigo, a label that specializes in doing things in a very fan-centric way. (This despite the fact that most of their product as of late has been live-action samurai cinema material, not anime.) But no: it's Media Blasters, of all people. I'm going to be very curious -- shilling for concerned -- to see how they pull this off.

Also: Some interesting notes in that piece about how expensive it is to create even a single animated series. The most appalling part was learning that your average animator makes pathetic wages, far less than your average office worker. The problem is finding people to consistently foot the bill, which explains why most shows these days are ground out as follow-ups to existing, known-good properties. Less risk that way.

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Tags: Media Blasters Sayonara Zetsubo-Sensei anime links


Going Broke For A Living Dept.

The Times's Motoko Rich has weighed in on the cost of e-book publishing, with a nice breakdown chart of where all the money ends up going. If a lot of the things I observed earlier continue to hold true, from...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010/03/01 12:12

The Times's Motoko Rich has weighed in on the cost of e-book publishing, with a nice breakdown chart of where all the money ends up going.

If a lot of the things I observed earlier continue to hold true, from my comparisons between publishing and anime distribution, the cost savings for going to e-books are not going to be dramatic because the people at every stage of the way still have to get paid. Many of the folks responsible for getting a book on the shelves are effectively invisible to a reader -- the author's one element, as is the publisher, but then there's the editors, the designers, the graphics people, the marketers and publicity managers ...

Drop any one of those people from the equation and you put a bullet through the foot of a book's chances in the marketplace. You want to put out the latest nonfiction sensation without at least a couple of good fact-checkers on the prowl? Or how about releasing a major new talent's latest opus to the center table of B&N, albeit with a cover design that looks like it was nicked from the dregs of 4chan's art criticism board? Try it sometime; the results ought to be fun.

Another thing mentioned in the article is how e-only texts undercut the bottom lines of booksellers, not all of whom have names that begin with A and end with mazon. [Full disclosure: I have affiliate links throughout this site to Amazon.] Another incentive to keep e-book prices competitive: the last thing you want to do is price out some of the people who still make it possible for you to stay in business at all, given how thin publishing profit margins are to begin with. Nobody makes piles of money in publishing, and I'm constantly surprised at the number of people, many of them pros themselves, who think anyone apart from the lawyers (and maybe Stephen King) walks away rich in such a business.

They also mention something else I touched on myself: charging those prices gives publishers the money, and the incentive, to find and finance new talent and take risks that might pay off. Anime, again: FUNimation has the Dragonball franchise as their money-printer, which is how they can afford to put riskier titles like Gankutsuou or Shigurui onto shelves without losing their shirts and shorts. Even a boutique outfit like Criterion has to make sure they have at least some solid revenue-generating titles in their lineup; not everything can be cutting-edge obscurities Dillinger Is Dead and Symbiopsychotaxiplasm.

The article concludes with some notes from another bestseller, Anne Rice, shaking her head: "[It's] a mistake ... trying to hold back e-books or Kindle and trying to head off this revolution by building a dam." Am I the only one annoyed by the compulsive insertion of the word revolution in such contexts? I can't help but feel like there's an inappropriate gloss of moralizing applied to the discussion that way: the great e-book revolution is coming and poor oppressed authors have nothing to lose but their dead tree chains. Uh-huh.

Such statements make me wonder if Clifford Stoll's widely-countersnarked Newsweek gripe circa 1996 about these here new-fangled Interwebs had more than a kernel of truth to them: just because something is shiny and faster doesn't make it an improvement, merely different. It's a sentiment echoed by John Brunner in one of his books: "There are two kinds of fool. The first says 'This is old, and therefore good.' The second says 'This is new, and therefore better.'"

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Tags: books business links publishing


Genji Press

Science fiction, rebooted.

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