January 19, 2013 § Leave a Comment
NRA goes from bananas to ape crazy
This week’s firearm legislation in New York might seem like a good idea to some of us, but that mild-mannered gun safety club the NRA certainly doesn’t agree with that. But the NRA has become a special kind of crazy, at least those sitting at the top.
I heard head paranoid gun nut Wayne LaPierre say on NPR this week that the government confiscating guns was actually a strong likelihood following a national gun registry. That’s the sort of thing unhinged white people worry about when they get their minds off “city dwellers” and other varieties of dark-hued individuals that are coming to invade their homes. Always vigilant against bogeymen!
Even their regular paranoia doesn’t come close to matching that on display in this new video that makes the claim that your children need the same amount of security as the president’s do, and because the president is out to stifle your God-given right to have the same firepower as a team of Secret Service agents surrounding a world leader.
It really speaks for itself, and when someone does bother to talk about it, it’s usually accompanied by words like “crazy,” “whacked out” and other varieties with the same meaning. Is there anyone out there who wants to start of an actual national gun safety advocacy group, or do we all prefer the distinct Jack D. Ripper-styled concerns of the current group?
It’s okay, though, because if science comes through for us, it’s all going to turn out to be bunk, anyhow. I mean reality; I mean how we perceive it.
This Slate article not only examines the idea that we don’t live in a real universe, but rather a Matrix-like simulation, but says this is something that can be tested.
Not only that, the Daily Galaxy is offering the research of string theorist Erik Verlinde, who is working to show that gravity and the Big Bang, like temperature, is not what it appears to be to us, but an illusion based on circumstances in the quantum level.
Without going into all the hubbub, the basic idea is that there is no “nothing”: The smaller you go, the more you find something that is imperceptible to humans and therefore makes the human perception of any force of nature to be far from the reality of what that force is.
Kon nichi wa, Jesus
A force people can quantify a little better is that of some kind of god — not me, of course, but that’s what makes such stories as this Smithsonian coverage of the Jesus legend in Japan so amusing and, well, charming.
The little burg of Shingo offers itself as “Christ’s hometown” and has a funny little legend to go with it:
Apparently, Jesus was not crucified. That was his brother Isukiri. Jesus had come to Japan during his famous lost years and returned after he faked his own death, taking the name Daitenku Taro Jurai, marrying and having a daughter. Jesus’ remains are buried there. He has descendants. Every spring there is a Christ Festival. The town has the Legend of Christ Museum.
You didn’t know all this and you call yourself a Christian? No surprise really. You’re only just now accepting Mormonism, and even that is tough because you’re doing your best to ignore its update of the Jesus story, so I understand if the Japanese addition is challenging to embrace.
November 20, 2012 § Leave a Comment
This graphic novel of incredible sweetness and inventive style is a story of reinvention and rebirth, told quietly and with poetry.
Scott is a former high school football hero who loses his chance at the big leagues, as well as his girlfriend, and opts to move to Japan and pursue the life of a sumo wrestler as a way to rectify his dissatisfaction. Author Pham lets Scott’s life unfold in segments that reveal his experiences the night before he leaves Japan, shortly after he’s been training and during the night of the match that will decide whether he continues to pursue sumo or goes home in disgrace.
It’s not just a tearful story of reclaiming pride or love, nor an empowering one of sports victories pushing life forward. It’s a compendium of moments that sets out to demonstrate how, in the zen mantra of the story, “every moment is a moment of truth” and all mo ments string together to create who you are, how you feel, how you live and what is ahead.
As a meditative adventure of living life, “Sumo” offers just the right lesson to anyone, mature, but sympathetic, to those at a turning point faced by anyone when they’re young.
November 10, 2011 § Leave a Comment
In this touching picture book memoir, acclaimed children’s book author and illustrator Allen Say recounts his youth in Japan before and after World War II, a time during which he worked to become an artist.
Say’s desire to be an artist survived the disapproval of his father, as well as war and occupation. A newspaper article about one boy’s long trek to gain an apprenticeship with a famous Manga artist inspired Say to seek out the same, and the story follows those years of learning his craft until Say’s eventual trip to America.
In having his story unfold, Say employs a number of narrative and graphic mediums depending on what any given section demands. There are traditional picture book segments, with photography, sidebars and even comics pages that reveal the small conversational moments behind some of the bigger turning points.
Say’s story is filled with thoughtful wisdom that should speak to any kid about what it takes not only to embrace one’s creativity, but make a life of it — and his skill at telling the story is definite proof of the sureness of that wisdom.
July 8, 2011 § Leave a Comment
War time Manga first published in 1973 and finally available in our country offers World War 2 from the viewpoint of our enemies. In fact this is a fictionalized memoir — Mizuki calls it “90% true” — of the author’s service on a small island in New Guinea.
In Mizuki’s presentation, average Joe Japanese soldiers contend with the island’s greatest dangers — malaria and alligators — until the American army shows up and begins to push inward. Young and inexperienced, with a focus more on their tummies and libidos, the Japanese soldiers don’t take seriously the cultural expectation of their military careers — an honorable death in service to their country. Their commanding officers take it very seriously, though, and the reality of a suicide charge clashes with their personal fears.
Mizuki peppers the tale with an amiable goofiness that captures the period and his experience, but it is filtered through a graphic rage at what he and his fellow soldiers experienced. Sometimes grim and gruesome, “Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths” is a powerful revelation of the price of war on all sides, and the expectations of national service that hold countries above men.
September 29, 2010 § Leave a Comment
You can tell a lot about a culture by the popular entertainment that it shills to its kids — and you can discern even more by the taboo breakers within that landscape.
In both camps, plenty of junk piles up, but sometimes in tearing down the walls, new ways to view the world can be born from the wreckage. These taboo breakers don’t rely on the base and obvious realms of sex and violence that too many utilize for shock value purposes in masquerading as progressive entertainment.
In the world of Japanese comics, the genre of Shojo Manga is marketed to teenage girls, and for years the ensuing product reflected the traditional ideas of what girls should be. The typical vehicles for this view — frilly fantasies and melodramatic soap operas — were employed in publications that could seem like a brush-off from the male dominated industry.
Enter creators like Moto Hagio and others in a group now referred to as “The Magnificent 24-Year Group” who, in the late 1960s, began to inject the subject matter not only with stories that reflected the obvious changes in modern girlhood — and, by proxy, womanhood — but also the psychology of the changing times, as well as the traditional modes. These efforts often resulted in literate, somber, depthful and allegorical stories that investigated their themes through poetry and mysticism.
One of the prime practitioners of the form is Hagio, and this collection brings together some of her best work over a 30-year period for introduction to an American audience. Revealed in these pages are gentle but dark stories that are preoccupied with the loss and alienation that their intended audiences no doubt feel, often without any tangible reasons beyond the purely psychological.
Several stories stand out for cherry pickers, but you’ll be rewarded by each entry. The title story offers a science fiction setting for some gender-bending drama that investigates the notion of the inevitable in relationships that transcends chromosomes.
In one of the most powerful offerings, “Hanshin: Half-God,” Hagio tells the absurd story of Siamese twins, one a beautiful and rapturously adored half-wit, the other a horrendously ugly genius whose physical existence seems only to serve as a repository of extra nutrients for her sister.
In the Kafkaesque “Iguana Girl,” the idea of self-image and the way mothers pass it along to daughters is addressed through the story of Rika, who sincerely believes she is not a human girl but an iguana. It’s a grim absurdity that unfolds beautifully and emotionally.
Hagio is able to meet her audience on its own level while still peppering her tales with the understanding of someone past that age — sometimes her stories touch on some haunting moment from the past reflected on later by the character. This technique acknowledges the intensity of the teenage experience, while also placing it in a realistic context and offering the assurance that the strongest emotions live on through aging.
April 9, 2010 § Leave a Comment
James Cameron may think that $500 million and the latest in bells and whistles buys you a great night out, but I’m here to dispute that, and the 1977 Japanese horror film, “Hausu (House),” is the most persuasive weapon in my arsenal.
Like something you would blunder upon at 3 a.m. on TV in 1986, “Hausu” — directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi — might be a haunted house film in conception, but its stylistic ancestor seems to be The Monkees film “Head,” with a little bit of Alejandro Jodorowsky thrown in the mix. More precisely, it’s in direct lineage to the opening sequence of Sid and Marty Krofft’s “Lidsville” television show — it’s both twisted and goofy at the same time.
The quick set-up is that Gorgeous and six other Japanese schoolgirls visit a weird house of horrors in which much giggling and terror ensues. Each girl has a descriptive name — my favorite is Karate, because she gets to demonstrate the reason for her moniker in slow motion and with a cool synth action theme. Left in the house unchaperoned — there was an accident involving a bucket and their teacher’s rear end — the girls are faced with some of the most original horror film surprises you will ever encounter, as the frenzied onslaught of feathered mattresses and Mad subplots and unusual little details abound — for instance, Gorgeous’ father apparently has a job writing film scores for Ennio Morricone — but they never get in the way of the main action, which mostly involves the girls tittering at little jokes they make and being faced with glowing-eyed cat that always heralds some mishap, like a particularly hellish piano or a butt-biting head.
It’s all realized through an unhinged utilization of old technology that must have seemed dazzling at the time. Obayashi uses video bleeds to create floating body parts and animation is rendered into live action scenes — these are just some of most prominent manifestations of this potpourri of low-tech filmmaking, not to mention plenty of psychedelic video washes for that otherworldly effect. The frenetic finale — which features the house breaking apart in a fury — beats anything I’ve seen done with CGI, and, by contrast, you can see the effort that went into creating these effects.
It’s not so much the fact that these techniques are employed, but the breakneck pace with which they come and go. The film is a frenzy of stylistic choices — one moment might be built around a wacky musical interlude, while the next is devoted to choppy, creepy slow motion, and then it moves onto something else. “Hausu” never rests. The fact that Obayashi went onto, among other things, a successful career in making commercials isn’t much of a surprise after watching “Hausu” — it’s like watching a master of multiple genre parody’s audition reel, and it’s impossible to settle in on whether the film is smart or stupid because of it.
“Hausu” won’t scare you — well, not in the normal way — but it’ll provide you with one of the best times you’ve had at the movies in ages. It’s literally like nothing you have ever seen before, and in this day and age, that’s a hard claim to be able to make.
December 31, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Eric P. Nash’s “Manga Kamishibai: The Art of Japanese Paper Theater” is a fascinating archeology of a lost form of entertainment that dominated Japan from the 1930s to the early 1960s — well-remembered in its country of origin but entirely unknown anywhere else.
Kamishibai was a form of public storytelling that utilized printed artwork in the action. Imagine someone pulling out the illustrations of a children’s book and acting out the narrative before a live audience, and that’s essentially what kamishibai was. The form was so influential that at times of war — and occupation — it was steered by official bodies for propaganda purposes, since it was a reliable way of reaching a massive audience of citizens as well as children.
The storytelling is gone with the decades, but what we have left is the astonishing artwork that embellished the words, and Nash’s book does an absolutely beautiful job at presenting this material.
Complete stories are contained in the book, ranging from the over-the-top adventures of the Golden Bat to the jarring Hiroshima examination “Pledge of Peace from Children of the Bomb,” and just about any genre or tone between the two. Much of the art is breathtaking and filled with the sort of pluck that such lively theater must have demanded in order to compete with the storytellers. « Read the rest of this entry »
July 25, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Manga — that is, the Japanese style of comics — has taken America by storm in the last decade or so, moving beyond a niche audience and deep into mainstream youth culture. Yoshihiro Tatsumi is one of the most respected practitioners of that form, renowned for his serious work that investigates the dark side of the post World War 2 Japanese psyche in artful stories not meant for kids.
It’s a part of Manga that is hidden to many Americans, who only encounter the form on the packed shelves of places like Barnes and Noble, where most the titles involve teen-age girls in very short skirts. Tatsumi offers gray depths for interested adults to plummet into.
In his new work, the decade-in-the-making autobiographical novel “A Drifting Life,” Tatsumi lightens it up a bit to offer a fictionalized chronicle of his own early career. In episodic format, Tatsumi traces his early days as a fan artist entering post card contests in Mangas to his first large successes in the late 1950s, when he began mining new territory in the format working through different genres and challenging himself to do better with each subsequent work. Tatsumi’s biggest influence was the American art film and he set about revolutionizing Manga by applying film techniques to the storytelling, thus creating an entirely new language of visual storytelling for print.
“A Drifting Life” goes into the minute details of the way that industry worked in the 1950s, the types of artists who sought to create within it and the sorts of businesses that put out the books.
It’s a coming of age tale that involves fly-by-night businesses and farms of young artists churning out product day and night. It is also an amazing history of Japanese pop culture — Tatsumi scatters each section with Japanese pop history, giving the reader a crash course in the subject and also providing a context for the leaps and strides being made by the characters portrayed.
As an introduction to another form — as well as another culture — “A Drifting Life” is a charming and informative work. But more importantly, it serves as a gateway to the creative lives of those in other cultures as well. It’s a painstaking effort to document the studio habits of commercial artists in Japan half a century ago, with the hindsight of miracles they forged in their work.
April 27, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Japanese society is a continual mystery to Westerners, with any possible aspect that is brought to light only adding to the curiosity. The film “Bashing” continues this tradition with its alternately affecting and alien premise.
Yuko (Fusako Urabe) has returned to Japan following a stint as a volunteer worker in Iraq, where she was taken hostage and subsequently freed. Her homeland is far less inviting than the war-torn country of her calling, though — somehow Yuko’s course in life has offended other Japanese, and the insults that run rampant tear apart her life and her family’s.
It’s a strange notion that offering your service to a county other than your own would create the urge to make foul-mouthed threats to a stranger, but this is Japan as presented in “Bashing.” A country built on polite decorum with an underbelly of rage, Japan as an entity resents Yuko for opening up to foreigners and eschewing her own, as well as for returning alive. One crank caller points out that, if she had died, she would have been proclaimed a heroine, but instead, she lived to rub her country’s face in her betrayal.
The underside of this premise is the extreme nationalism of Japan, as well as a protectionism, and perhaps even a subtle racism. In fact, the shunning of hostages in Iraq who returned to Japan was a part of a national uproar in 2004 — citizens were angry that volunteer workers had defied government advisories not to travel in Iraq. The overtures that the government had to make in order to get the hostages freed spoke against some cultural idea of personal responsibility and decades of convoluted Japanese views toward their foreign ministry.
Director Masahiro Kobayashi captures the psychology of that moment in time with a slow and somber style. With very little dialogue, the depression of Yuko’s plight hangs in the film like a mist that wraps itself around her family and defines the audience mood as well. It’s a revealing portrait of not just Japanese society but also the individuals within it who are not acknowledged as conformity goes into a rage.
As Kobayashi shows, remaining an individual in the face of that fury is the only real way to escape it, and “Bashing” stands as a silent, stern paean to societies moving forward in the world despite their historical urges to stand back.
November 23, 2008 § Leave a Comment
With packaging designed to look like the popular and prevalent Moleskine sketch books — and a title derived from the Japanese mispronounciation of the brand name — Dirk Schwieger’s “Moresukine: Uploaded Weekly from Tokyo” is a casual, amusing travelogue that hints at a far bigger project for the talented cartoonist.
Schwieger spent seven months in Tokyo and as a creative time-passer, he started a blog that would allow readers to give him assignments. Each week, he would do what was requested and create a four-page comic story about his investigations. This book collects the work on that blog and adds in some guest assignments that Schwieger gives to other web comic creators, including James Kochalka. « Read the rest of this entry »