Tuesday, June 26, 2007

It's Official: Kobayashi Takeru is out!

This just in, Kobayashi Takeru is out of the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest!!

Regular readers of my blog will recall my post about the Kobayashi Takeru vs. Joey "Jaws" Chestnut on-going battle to be the hot dog eating champion of the world. At that time, I'd hinted that Kobayashi might not make it out to Coney Island due to the fact he was still mourning his mother's recent passing and might not be in the mental shape to compete.

Well this just in: Kobayashi is sitting out this year's championship-- but not for the reasons I predicted; but from a jaw injury. Read on:

Kobayashi: 'My jaw refused to fight'

The world's most famous competitive eater finally bit off more than he could chew.

Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi, who has won six straight Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contests, suffered a serious jaw injury while training for the July 4 event, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Japanese eating legend was diagnosed with jaw arthritis and can barely open his mouth. In an entry on his blog entitled "Occupational hazard,'' Kobayashi said: "My jaw refused to fight any more.'' "I feel ashamed that I couldn't notice the alarm bells set off by my own body,'' he said. "But with the goal to win another title with a new record, I couldn't stop my training so close to the competition. "I was continuing my training and bearing with the pain but finally I destroyed my jaw.''

Kobayashi, 29, set his first world record as a rookie in the Nathan's Famous contest in 2001. He ate 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes, nearly doubling the previous record. He upped the ante last year with 53¾.

Joey "Jaws" Chestnut of San Jose, Calif., recently broke that record by downing 59½ dogs in a Nathan's Famous regional qualifier, setting the stage for a showdown next month.

Kobayashi's injury puts his status in doubt, though he said on his blog that he wants to compete at Coney Island. "I want to be the pride of my mother,'' he said.
Kobayashi's mother died earlier this year and he halted his competitive eating activities for several months while mourning.

A niche celebrity in Japan and America, Kobayashi still holds world records in many eating competitions, including hamburgers, bratwurst sausages, lobster rolls, cows' brains and rice balls. (link)

This must be a occupational injury but I look forward to Kobayashi speeding his way to good health so we can see the battle to end all battles (of eating) at some point soon. Godspeed!

JTB Space Travel Insurance: You'll no longer have to worry about being uninsured!

JTB to offer space travel insurance

TOKYO — Travel agency JTB Corp will launch Japan's first space travel insurance next April. A joint venture between JTB and American International Group Inc has cooperated with Lloyds Japan Co to develop the insurance, the premium for which could be around 7% of an insured amount against 0.03% for conventional overseas travel insurance products, JTB said.

JTB has been offering space travel plans since October 2005, including a 12 billion yen trip to the moon, a 3 billion yen trip to the International Space Station, which is currently under construction, as well as a 12 million yen trip to experience space around 100 kilometers above the earth's surface. So far, 11 people have applied for the 12 million yen trip. (Kyodo News) (Link)

I, for one, am glad to see that JTB is looking for new insurance horizons. And while no, it ain't cheap (and I'd hate to see what the deductible will be) I'll rest easier knowing that my space travels are covered in case of an accident.

Question: does the insurance cover hostile alien encounters? For example, I would imagine that a ship to ship attack would be covered but how would answering a SOS call on an unexplored planet that leads to an alien contamination, a chest-burster, and a creature with acid for blood that runs rough-shod on your drilling barge and kills your entire crew be classified?

Monday, June 25, 2007

New York Asian Film Festival is up and running, so why aren't you there??

The title of this post sez it all and I woulda made a more timely 'get out there and support good Asian cinema' post last Friday, but I was out of town.

Be that as it may, the New York Asian Film Festival is running RIGHT NOW and you should be there every night enjoying the freaked out madness and hard to see in the theater brilliance that they always program.

I've been told by my friends running the festival that attendance has been generally strong for the first couple of days, with several of the screenings selling out. That said, there's some concern about upcoming ticket sales.

So as they would point out, why see yet another Hollywood blockbuster sequel or gamble on a film that might suck? The five fine blokes who make up Subway Cinema have done the leg-work for you and have programmed films that you should see and will like.

Seriously, if you live in the greater NY region, go and watch. You won't regret it.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

NOBORIKAWA SEIJIN (登川誠仁 aka. 'Seigwa'): The Okinawan Jimi Hendrix!

Ohhh, yeah.... Noborikawa Seijin is an old bad-ass. Because what, I ask you, can be more wicked than a grandpa tearing up a thousand years of Ryukyu island musical traditional with nothing more than a snake skin three string banjo called a 'Sanshin'? I see you nodding your heads in agreement. You're right, nothing.

As I've posted previously, I spent some months in Okinawa over the last year and while I still know [very] little about the people and the culture, I truly fell in love with this unique culture and the little piece of island paradise it inhabits.

To give the penny description of the Okinawan island and people it can be described as a combination of Chinese, Japanese and Polynesian culture. But in truth it is its own unique ethnography that still (proudly) retains a surprisingly large amount of its traditional Ryukyu heritage. Traditional Okinawan music fits into this and the Sanshin is a unique instrument that it strikes me is quite hard to play well.

Sounding similar to but different than the Shamisan, (one of the main differences is that the Sanshin is made out of snake skin and not dog or cat skin like the Shamisan!) it is closer in sound and appearance to the Chinese Sanxian. The player uses a plectrum (or plectra) made out of bone, tusk or bamboo to pluck the three strings as they sing along. In Okinawa, group participation is practically required, and if you have the pleasure of seeing a show at a bar where much Awamori (rice made spirit similar to Shochu) has flowed, the audience members will whistle and sing loudly and occasionally get up, shove aside some tables and use their zai makura (seat cushions) as fans to spin around and pump like a football team standard!!

Noborikawa Seijin (aka. 'Seigwa'), then, is of note because he a) doesn't suck (at least to these ears and if you don't believe me, then you haven't seen how much he is loved and revered in Okinawa) and b) is the head of the Ryukyu Minyo Kyokai (Okinawan Traditional Music Society) and is still regarded as the single most important living musician in the Southern Islands.

I was recently given a copy of 'Seigwa's newly released best of CD entitled "It's only Seigwa- The Best of Seijin Noborikawa 1975-2004" and I love it. I'm sure part of my admiration comes from my associative memories to Okinawa, but there's something else comforting about hearing this piece of unique mingei (folk art) because it isn't pretentious, ironic, over-produced crap that is designed for a cheap cash-in. The music is performed by someone who clearly loves what they do and wants to share the happiness.

It's that simple.

This isn't cynical music; it is something that is made as a gift to the world out of admiration for its beauty. (Now if only I could achieve that level of spiritual tranquility!)

Link to UK sales page at Far Side Music Ltd.
Link to sound sample.
Link to IMDB page.

REAL DOLL DOCTOR Screening Date Announced for Rooftop Film Festival

Regulars to this blog know that my 2002 short documentary REAL DOLL DOCTOR has been scheduled to screen at the NYC Rooftop Film Festival. (See previous posts here and here.)

Well, I just got an email from Dan, the head of the festival, and he told me the following info about my screening:

"...[REAL DOLL DOCTOR will be] screening on Friday, July 20th, as part of our shorts program called “The Way We Get By.” The screening will be on the lovely lawn at Automotive High School at 50 Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, directly across from McCarren Park.

The music will start at 8:30 and the movies at 9:00 and there will be a party afterwards at Bar Matchless, just a couple of blocks away, with an open bar for two hours for everyone who comes to the screening.

An OPEN BAR!!?? Did you all see that? Well, if my film isn't enough impetus to get out to this screening, then the prospect of free booze should be enough. (Provided, of course, that the bar is a 'booze bar' and not a 'juice bar'.)

Alas, I won't be able to attend since I don't live in NYC any more and they don't fly little speck-sized filmmakers (that refers to our reputation, not our physical size, you know) out to festivals like this. <*sniff*>

Drink one for me, if you go...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Japan needs to do something about its excess of male virgins...

Brothers doing it for themselves at the Japan Cherry Boy Association

The Japan Cherry Boy Association is facing a crisis after the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research revealed that almost one in four Japanese men aged 30 to 34 remains a virgin, according to Weekly Playboy (7/2).

"This is only the tip of the iceberg," Japan Cherry Boy Association founder and president Shin Watanabe (himself an unscathed 34-year-old) tells Weekly Playboy. "The real situation is much worse than this."

Watanabe argues that there are lots more Japanese men who are virgins than they are prepared to admit, saying that very few people surveyed about their virginity would be prepared to openly admit to not having broken their drought.

"There are 11 percent of people who gave an invalid answer to the survey and I bet you the vast majority of them would be virgins. And though there is also 65 percent who said they have had sex, that also includes the guys whose only experience is a single session at the brothel and nothing since, so there are a lot of virtual virgins in amongst them, too," Watanabe says.

The Japan Cherry Boy Association currently boasts of 517 members whose ages range from their teens to their 40s. Many join the association in the hopes that women will visit its website and try to pick them up. Some members, albeit only a few, actually succeed in "graduating" from the club by successfully experiencing sex.

"I'm the chairman of the association and I still can't get any sex, so I must admit I have mixed feelings when someone graduates," Watanabe says. "Guys who succeed change instantly, wanting to de-register immediately or patronizing other members by leaving them messages like 'You guys hurry up and get it over and done with, too.' I really hate it. I'd like guys who do succeed to stay around and offer advice to other members and tell them about their experience. But it seems once people have lost their virginity, they want to forget about ever having been a virgin in the first place."

Japan Cherry Boy Association members meet regularly for parties, where they frequently tell stories about how they cope with not having had sex, including this tale from a 32-year-old member.

"I've been going to yoga classes for ages and can finally get my body flexible enough to move however I want it to," he tells Weekly Playboy. "Just the other day, I finally achieved my dream of giving myself fellatio."

Cherry Boys Association members can't just be lumbered into the single lump of virgins, either. "Now, there are progressive virgins, who are striving to lose their virginity, and conservative virgins, who do everything they can to protect it," Watanabe says.

Conservative virgins argue that they've had enough of real women and would prefer two-dimensional types such as those found in manga and anime, who are also not going to lead them to the pain of rejection.

Some virgins, who call themselves liberated, go to ever further extremes.

"Most human worries stem from sex, right? Guys chat up women because they want to satisfy their sexual desire, which also motivates them to get a good job. You want to get along well with a woman, but you're filled with lust and thinking so much about sex it makes it hard to get along well with the woman anyhow," says a 30-year-old member who bought female hormones online to stifle his sexual urges. "Without lust, I'm doing much better with work and with women than I ever have."

Watanabe argues that Japan needs to do something about its excess of male virgins.

"We've got a declining birthrate, which means that the younger generations are going to have to look after the elderly. I can see a generation clash coming on. Why should young people who know nothing of sex have to look after old fogeys who can't get it up for sex any more?" he asks Weekly Playboy rhetorically. "To avoid that clash, those weak at love need to have love made smoother for them so they can enjoy it, get married and have children. I wonder if the media knows how much it hurts virgins and makes them feel isolated when it says that anybody at all is capable of love. We need a society kinder on virgins. We need to smile more at virgins."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

日本の形 - Nihon no Katachi (aka. The Japanese Tradition)

Last summer, my friend Marc forward me a hilariously dry comedic 'how-to' video on eating Sushi. Totally brilliant and just subtle enough to screw with those who don't really know Japanese culture that well.

The other night, my lady and I spent an evening looking up funny stuff on YouTube and we found a whole trove of these NIHON NO KATACHI videos. Woah.

The brainchildren of comedy troupe 'Rahmenz' (aka. ラーメンズ) (about whom I know amazingly little), directed by the mysteriously named "Namikibashi" and produced by the if-ever-there-was-a-fake-company-this-is-it "Japan Culture Lab," these videos are short perversions of Japanese 'traditional' culture featuring riffs on Origami, the correct protocol when bowing, tea ceremony and other things 'Japonica'.

I highly recommend these videos and while they don't always hit, enough of it does that it's well worth your time. (While there are some English subtitles and voice overs, Japanese ability is recommended...)

I've embedded two recent favorites: "HOW TO USE CHOPSTICKS" and "HOW TO MAKE RICE BALLS"

As a final note, apparently these were included Short Film Competition at the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival. I wondered how many people these videos duped? (link)

Iwo Jima is changing its name

According to an article in today's Mainichi Daily News, Iwo Jima's name is being changed back to its original name of 'Iwo To'.

Japan changes official name of Iwo Jima to 'Iwo To'

The official name of Iwo Jima island in the Pacific has been changed to "Iwo To," the governmental Geographical Survey Institute announced.

The island was the famous scene of a fierce battle between Japanese and American forces in early 1945. It is now part of the Ogasawara islands, which fall under the jurisdiction of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

The institute was asked to change the name of the island back to Iwo To, the original name given to the island by its inhabitants, by the Ogasawara Municipal Government. After discussing the the issue with the Japan Coast Guard, institute officials announced the change on Monday.

The institute will call the island Iwo To on a map that will go on sale on Sept. 1. Both Japanese words "jima" and "to" mean island. (Mainichi)

For the Japanese language student or speaker you would know that 'Shima' is the kun-yomi of the character 島 while 'To' is the On-yomi. Considering this, then perhaps the change is in response to the two recent Clint Eastwood films about Iwo Jima (Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima) as an effort to wrestle an ethnographic identity back to the island from the one that World War II helped hijack?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Soundtrack: Suzuki Seijun's BRANDED TO KILL (aka. 鈴木清順の殺しの烙印)

Master avant garde Nikkatsu action director Suzuki Seijun blew my mind when I first saw BRANDED TO KILL. We're talking about a movie that is so progressive and radical in its storytelling and filmmaking that it famously got Suzuki fired from his contract directing position at the Nikkatsu Company (日活株式会社 Nikkatsu kabushikigaisha).

Because there has been SO much written about the film online, I'm not going to go into it. (For those of you who do not know about the film, check out Tzadik label owner and experimental Jazz musician extraordinaire John Zorn's liner notes for the Criterion Collection edition, here.)

That said, for any fan of 1960s Japanese film, you know veteran Yamamoto Naozumi's soundtrack to this film: the famous opening theme song, the 'cool cat' be-bop jazz riffs, the squealing horn blurps, and general ingestion, appropriation and reinterpretation of classic film noir jazz cues. It's amazing stuff and, without question, Suzuki owes a part of BRANDED TO KILL's success to this score. But up until now, there had been no release which attempted to put Yamamoto's score together on one release.

Back in February of this year, Japanese company Think Records finally released the definitive soundtrack for this classic on its Cine Jazz sub-label, along with several other Suzuki Seijun film soundtracks (here and here). The release, while pricey (as all Japanese CDs are...) at ¥2,800, is well worth it.

Here's the track listing:

1. "Killing Blues (theme song)" 殺しのブルース (主題歌) "Koroshi no bubrūsu (shudaika)"
2. "Scotch and Hardboiled Rice Part 1" スコッチとハードボイルド米pt1 "Sukocchi to haado boirudo kome paato wan"
3. "Scotch and Hardboiled Rice Part 2" スコッチとハードボイルド米pt2 "Sukocchi to haado boirudo kome paato tsū"
4. "A Corpse in the Backseat" 死体バックシート "Shitai bakku shiito"
5. "The Hanada Bop" ハナダ・バップ "Hanada bappu"
6. "Flame On Part 1" フレーム・オンpt1 "Fureimu on paato wan"
7. "Flame On Part 2" フレーム・オンpt2 "Fureimu on paato tsū"
8. "Manhater Part 1" 男嫌いpt1 "Otokogirai paato wan"
9. "Manhater Part 2" 男嫌いpt2 "Otokogirai paato tsū"
10. "Washing the Rice" 米を研げ "Kome o toge"
11. "The Devil's Job" 悪魔の仕事 "Akuma no shigoto"
12. "Beastly Lovers" 野獣同士 (けだものどうし) "Yajū dōshi (Kedamono dōshi)"
13. "The Butterfly's Stinger Part 1" 蝶の毒針pt1 "Chō no dokushin paato wan"
14. "The Butterfly's Stinger Part 2" 蝶の毒針pt2 "Chō no dokushin paato tsū"
15. "Hanada's Stinger Part 1" ハナダの針pt1 "Hanada no hari paato wan"
16. "Hanada's Stinger Part 2" ハナダの針pt2 "Hanada no hari paato tsū"
17. "The Goodbye Look" サヨナラの外観 "Sayonara no gaikan"
18. "Napoleon Brandy" ナポレオンのブランデー "Naporeon no burandei"
19. "Killing Blues (humming version)" 殺しのブルース (humming vers.)"Koroshi no bubrūsu (hamingu baajon)"
20. "Breakwater Shootout" 防波堤の撃合い "Bouhatei no uchiai"
21. "Killer's Bossa Nova" 殺し屋のボサノバ "Koroshiya no bosa noba"
22. "Something's Up" 何かが起る "Nanika ga koru"
23. "Beast Needs Beast" 獣は獣のように "Kedamono wa kedamono noyōni"
24. "Number One's Cry" ナンバーワンの叫び "Nanbaa wan no sakebi"
25. "Destiny on the Tape Recorder" テープレコーダーは運命の轍 "Teipu rekōdaa wa unmei no wadachi"
26. "Killing Blues (ending theme)" (Atsushi Yamatoya) 殺しのブルース (エンディングテーマ)(大和屋竺) "Koroshi no burūsu (endingu teima)" (Yamatoya Atsushi)
27. "Title (karaoke version)" タイトル (カラオケ vers.) "Taitoru (karaoke baajon)"
28. "Ending (karaoke version)" エンディング (カラオケ vers.) "Endingu (karaoke baajon)"
29. "Title (sans serif version)" タイトル (セリフなし vers.) "Taitoru (serifu nashi baajon)"

As with many Japanese special editions, this CD comes in a folded digipack/box that reveals an old TEAC tape reel. Lift that up and the CD also has a TEAC reel printed on its face. Beneath that is a folded poster about typical Japanese one-sheet sized, for BRANDED TO KILL, which includes the graphic you can see to the left. The back side of the poster has the original press kit, track sheet and an original essay. The poster is of high quality and is definitely frame-able.

The low-down: The score is well worth your time especially if you're a fan of Suzuki's films-- and in particular this one-- which many consider to be his masterpiece. Available via Amazon Japan.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

TAMORI: Sora Mimi Awa (Sounds that way only in your mind hour) (タモリ倶楽部 空耳アワー 名作撰)

Tamori (real name: Morita Kazuyoshi) back in my BUBBLE FICTION review. Considered part of the big three comedians in Japan (the other two being Kitano 'Beat' Takeshi and Sanma Akashiya) he has a popular daily lunch time TV show WARATTE IITOMO (It's Okay to Laugh!) that's been running since 1982. Tamori is always on TV; never takes time off and can be best described as the Japanese 'Bob Barker' (just recently retired himself) for his tireless work ethic.

At any rate, Tamori occasionally does a show called "SORA MIMI" which is a brilliant comedic take on how foreign song's lyrics occasionally sound like Japanese words.
Taking a page from Karaoke videos, a group of young comedians tries to impress Tamori and his panel of guests by making comedic music videos using these foreign songs. The results are sometimes riotously funny and after finding this collection on-line via YouTube (thanks to my lady), I just had to let you all know about it.

This does require Japanese language skills to truly appreciate the word games, but even if you can't understand what's being said, it might still be worth a watch for the cracked out sense of humor.


New York Asian Film Festival article in the New York Times

David Kehr has a fairly positive article in today's Times on my friends excellent New York Asian Film Festival. My main issue with it is this error in reporting:

"The Asian Film Festival, which seems to run largely on the energy of its chief programmer, the film journalist Grady Hendrix (with sponsorships this year from the video label Dragon Dynasty and Midway Games, among others)..."

Grady Hendrix is good friend (and my writing partner) but to make that statement is to ignore the large amount of work and financial risk that the other members of Subway Cinema contribute.

For the record the other members of Subway Cinema are:
  1. Goran Topalovic
  2. Brian Naas
  3. Marc Walkow
  4. Paul Kazee
  5. Daniel Craft
Thanks guys for all of the hard work you've done for the fans of Asian cinema!

The Festival launches this coming Friday, June 22nd, at the IFC Center in Manhattan.

(I wish I could attend this years festival. It'll be the first one I've missed...)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

NYTimes: 'Hidden Tokyo'

There's an article in today's New York Times Travel Section on 'Hidden Tokyo' bars and izekayas. Link.

Personally, I find something about the article to be fetishistic of Tokyo and feeds to the whole Orientalism cliché of the 'enchanted and exotic far east.' But notwithstanding this, it's worth a read because it mentions both Shinjuku's Golden Gai and the Koenji section of Tokyo (where I've spent some interesting nights, to say the least...).

More on Obscenity

Though not Japan related, I felt this piggy-backed nicely on my posting yesterday about the obscenity conviction regarding MISSHITSU.

This morning I heard an interesting interview on NPR Morning Edition Saturday about recently discovered unreleased obscene recordings from the 1890s(!). Producer David Giovannoni and writer Patrick Feaster talk with John Ydstie about their new CD collection "Actionable Offenses: Indecent Phonograph Recordings from the 1890s".

Here's a description from Amazon.com:

New York City, 1896. A man walks into a bar. He sits down, orders a beer, and laughs long and hard at the bartender's newest story. It's a good tale, though too bawdy to repeat at home. The next day he goes into the same bar, gets his beer, and drops his change into a phonograph. He's listening through rubber tubes to a man telling a story similar to the bartender's. Without warning Anthony Comstock's defenders of decency charge into the bar, push him aside, destroy the record, and escort the bar's proprietor to jail for promoting indecency. The records on this CD are the few that Comstock's men missed. Scarcity and suppression have kept them silent for a century. Put aside the modern myth of a more genteel era: these late-Victorian performances are indecent even by--especially by--today's standards. And while not for mixed company, they spoke to many in the coarse language and crude humor of daily experience. They were stories told readily in the bar; yet they became legally actionable offenses when fixed in wax and played on a phonograph in that same bar. These newly-discovered recordings play like soundtracks to the moving images of prize fighters, scarf dancers, and kissing lovers flickering on the kinetoscope--the other nickel entertainment in the bar. The records and films were produced in the same years, in the same studios, by the same people. They were enjoyed in tandem by the same audiences. They were accused of violating the same standards of decency in communities where they were profitably exhibited. And together, they presaged the clashes between morals and mass media that would erupt regularly during the century to follow. This CD presents these extraordinary recordings in their unexpurgated entirety. It allows us to hear uncut and uncensored what new technology made possible and the protectors of public morals made illegal: "indecent" performances driven out of business, off the public stage, and into the privacy of unmixed company in the home.

I think this is interesting for several reasons: First, it proves, without a shadow of a doubt, that the infant recording technology of the phonograph (and the wax cylinder) was also harnessed by the rude and crude for their 'shock jocking'. This is, of course, similar to what happened with early photography and film and more recently with Betamax and the Internet.

Second, in response to this obscene material Anthony Comstock (famous for his run-in with play write George Bernard Shaw) and his crusade for public decency-- a bane for civil liberties group and anyone else who found government sponsored meddling in their private affairs to be offensive-- was essentially successful in eradicating this small genre of prurient recordings.

This is continued proof that the pattern of history repeats itself as they say, but this cycle of debate and crusade against what is viewed as objection and inappropriate for public consumption (within the media) is something that societies will debate for continuously-- in the US or abroad.

As a final note, the interview on NPR, which I highly recommend listening to for its historical perspective. (I couldn't stop thinking about DEADWOOD and the debate over its copious use foul language.) Fascinatingly, they also mention a new 'lost' word they rediscovered, which had been essentially lost to time: "Scrouge" (or 'scrowdge' not sure of the spelling). Literally it means to 'fit into a small place.' But its colloquial use is 'to copulate.' (That's expected, right?)

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Manga Publisher of MISSHITSU Fined for Obscene Comic

This is interesting-- and somehow ties into my Ike Reiko posting from earlier today. As hyper sex obsessed as Japanese society is, in some sense, it's easy to forget that there are still strict morality laws governing pornography.

Publisher fined Y1.5 mil over obscene comic

Saturday, June 16, 2007 at 07:03 EDT

TOKYO — The Supreme Court ordered a comic book publisher to pay a fine of 1.5 million yen for distributing obscene comic books containing sexually explicit scenes, upholding a lower court ruling, legal sources said Friday. The top court dismissed an appeal by Motonori Kishi, 58, president of publisher Shobunkan Corp.

The district court had sentenced Kishi to one year in prison, suspended for three years, saying, "We cannot overlook the fact that the defendant brought about a harmful influence on sexual morality" by distributing the comic. According to court rulings, Kishi distributed about 20,000 copies of the "Misshitsu" (Honey Room) comic book containing graphic sexual scenes to 16 companies in April 2002. (Kyodo News)

Article 175 of the Japanese Penal Code is known as the 'Obscenity Law'. It is the only case of open contradiction within the 1947 Japanese constitution, wherein under article 21, censorship is strictly forbidden. However, a hold over from the 1880 penal code governing Waisetsu (or obscenity) has helped lay the groundwork and the current confusion as to what constitutes obscenity (the following definition has changed several times since its implementation in 1907):

"...any person who distributes, sells or publicly displays an obscene writing, picture or other materials shall be punished with penal servitude for not more than two years or be fined not more than two million and a half yen or minor fine. The same shall apply to any person who possesses the same with the intention of selling it."

The history of obscenity and censorship in Japan is, of course, enough to fill up a semester's University course and I won't (nor wouldn't dare) go into it. Suffice it to say, for those who want to know more, this article is far more authoritative and detailed in its scholarship.

What follows is an excerpt from the article in describing the stakes and situation surrounding MISSHITSU (aka. Honey Room):

Nevertheless, in April 2002 a manga Misshitsu (Honey Room) was taken to court for the first time charged with obscenity causing a massive commotion and starting a public debate on freedom of expression and the ubiquitousness of manga with sexual content all over the country. In January 2004 the Tokyo District Court passed sentence and punished the editor of the manga Motonori Kishi with one year in prison for violating article 175 of the Penal Code for selling and distributing obscene literature. In this instance the president of the jury declared that the manga was far too graphic. Given the large variety of pornographic material found in all sort of formats and sold all around Japan, the court decision caused some amount of incredulity. Kishi made an appeal to the Tokyo High Court alleging a violation of freedom of expression. The sentence imposed by the Tokyo District Court was reduced in June to a fine of 1.5 million yen by the Tokyo High Court. Nevertheless, the presiding judge rejected any allegations made by the accused that Article 175 is unconstitutional as it violates freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.

At any rate, it is agreed that the current obscenity laws are highly fluid -- if not arbitrary -- and the decision for the government as to whether to prosecute is most likely politically motivated. (Depending on the way the winds are blowing... Hey, why should it be any different then in the US?) In the case of MISSHITSU, it has been greeted with great debate. While certainly NOT the most offensive item out on the shelves, with today's decision it was made an example of to threaten all other peddler's of -- what no one can quite agree how to define once and for all -- obscenity.

池玲子 - 恍惚の世界 Ike Reiko: Koukotsu No Sekai

1970s Japanese bad girl starlet Ike Reiko (link2) is awe inspiring. I am not the first nor, most assuredly, the last to type those words.

A velvet gloved fist of tough girl attitude and sexuality, she's the star (together with her beautiful partner in crime, Sugimoto Miki) of a host of early 1970s bad girl movies including the incredible SUKEBAN series (aka. the 'Girl Boss' Series).

Born in Tokyo in 1953 as Ikeda Reiko, she had a successful career as a nude model until she was cast in the 1971 Toei production ONSEN MIMIZU GEISHA (aka. Hot Springs Earthworm Geisha [my translation]). Ike Reiko proved to be a big hit, and the reasons are pretty clear: her large breasts. She was cast in a host of other movies including the aforementioned SUKEBAN series (for which she is arguably still most famous) but she also shows up in period yakuza films like Ishii Teruo's YASAGURE ANEGO DE: SOKATSU RINCHI (aka. Female Yakuza Tale) (interesting in itself a subversion of the Fuji Junko genre archetype as established in the Red Peony Gambler series) and in the mid and late 70s in two of Fukasaku Kinji's Yakuza masterworks: JINGI NAKI TATAKI: DAIRI SENSO (aka. Battle Without Honor and Humanity Part 3: Proxy Wars) and JINGI NO HAKABA (aka. Graveyard of Honor).

One of the cool things about these movies is that there's a hell of a lot more going on than it appears at first glance-- not the least being a major subversion of gender roles (an incredibly progressive move for the time) and a general societal criticism of conservative social politics. But that's, of course, not why people were going to see these films. Nu-uh. It was for the nude beauties, the incredibly funktastic rocking soundtracks, and thrilling (which now can be described charitably as dassai kokkoii: so lame it's cool) action.

What's not as well known is that Ike Reiko had a (short lived) musical career. Limited to one LP and two cassette singles, they're entries in the mini-genre called Iroke Kayou[k]yoku (色気歌謡曲), which can best be described as audio soft-core porn (or 'aural shunga'). Largely comprised of maudlin studio performed lounge music music with slow moaning hurdy gurdy belches in the background, Ike Reiko whispers, groans, and otherwise makes love to the microphone all with the intention of getting the listener (presumably a man) off.

After listening to the entirety of the LP, KOUKOTSU NO SEKAI • The Ecstatic World of Ike Reiko (池玲子 - 恍惚の世界) one feels sufficiently violated and confused by the whole experience. My initial instinct was to laugh. Because, how can you take something like this seriously?

(As an aside, I remember in the mid to late 1990s with the perfection of 3-D sound and surround-sound headphones, there were a series of pornographic CDs that were on the market designed as a virtual sexual experience. This was, of course, when virtual reality was all of the rage and when films like STRANGE DAYS offered dystopian views of the horror of extra-sensory abuse as manipulated by the cold controls of a machine.)

At any rate, there is something incredibly cool about this album that I've grown to appreciate. It is a slice of kitsch sexuality that's been purposefully manufactured to satisfy the prurient interests of the audience. Yet, there is something both disarmingly sincere about the disc and also so undeniably ridiculous, that it is impossible not to be charmed by it.

Poking around on the internet, I found an audio clip (with some useless [censored] visuals) on YouTube. So here's a clip of Ike Reiko performing a track off of KOUKOTSU NO SEKAI:

The amazing folks over at the Tokyo-based Tiliqua Records have done a bang-up job re-mastering and re-releasing KOUKETSU NO SEKAI (Tiliqua Records - TILAR-5002CD). According to their website it is totally sold out and a peek at Tower Records Japan, confirms this. But I know that when I was last in Tokyo in the late winter, I was able to find copies here and there so it is not impossible to track down. Also, PANIK HOUSE's PINKY VIOLENCE includes some Ike Reiko tracks as a bonus disc.

Regrettably, Ike Reiko purportedly lived her life in a manner not terribly different from the characters she played in the movies, getting involved in drugs, gambling, and the Yakuza. Unable to rally herself to a return to stardom she faded from the the public eye, leaving a series of brutally entertaining classics that are well worth a watch.

For more info, check out my entry on Hotwax.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Pepsi Cucumber (!!)

The Youth are Our Future: What Japanese and Chinese Kids Think of Each Other...

They say the youth of today are the world's future: 'We do not inherit the earth from our parents' generation, but are lent it by our children.'

So, it stands to reason that what we teach them to think now will affect their future actions; teach 'em love and cooperation and that's what you will get, teach 'em hate and that's what you'll reap.

The BBC conducted a totally non-scientific and microscopic sample-sized poll of some Japanese and Chinese youth, to find out what they think of each other. (No commentary is needed...)

Read on:

Japan and China: Schoolchildren's views
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has arrived in Japan for a summit that is being hailed as an achievement of some significance.
The two countries have had an uneasy relationship with differences over their war-time past remaining unresolved.

Here Chinese and Japanese schoolchildren discuss what they think about each other and how history books, the media and popular culture have shaped their perceptions.


I have been learning about Japanese history for three years. I think that they should be ashamed that the history they teach is distorted.
However, there are a lot of good things about Japan, like Japanese technology and comics, so I am a bit confused whether to like or hate Japan.

I'm a huge fan of Japanese horror movies, they are simply fantastic. Like that movie, The Ring. There was a Japanese and an American version, but they are just not comparable. The Japanese one is so much better.

China isn't good at making movies, and there definitely are a lot of ways in which China can't compete with Japan.

I still feel that the Japanese government isn't right. They shouldn't be so hypocritical regarding history; they just keep denying the facts. I can never forgive them. No matter how good their comics are, how strong their technology is, this history will not fade away.

I would consider travelling to Japan but it is not somewhere I would dream to go to. It's so small and crowded, and I'd rather travel to European countries instead.


I have two Chinese friends at school. They're both quite rebellious. If the teachers tell them off for something they will say they didn't do it.
We've learnt that Japan fought a war with China and colonised parts of the country. Sometimes the Japanese were a bit cruel, forcing places to adopt Japanese names and forcing people to adopt the Japanese language.

But we didn't really get into the details of what actually happened. I feel my understanding of the war is a bit thin.

At primary school they taught us history, but not about who was right or wrong. The conclusion was that war is bad for humans - that no one wins or loses in a fight.

In middle school we've learnt more about trade between the two countries.

The Chinese people seem to hold grudges from the war against the Japanese though. I learnt about this mostly from the news. I feel there is less anti-Japanese sentiment these days.

I totally understand why the Chinese hold grudges but the situation should be improved little by little. Japan and China should have a relationship like the one Japan has with the US.


I've been learning about Japan for a few years now. What I remember best is how they invaded China.
The history book I'm studying now has quite a few chapters about Japan's invasion and how they started the war.

The dates we should remember are 7 July, the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, marking the beginning of Japanese invasion, and 18 September when they took control of some major Chinese cities.

There are also chapters about how they massacred people in Nanjing and how they forced Chinese people to accept Japanese culture and language.

I think the Japanese are bad, they are not loyal to anyone. They used to have a similar cultural system to China, and now they say they have a similar cultural system to the Western world.

I've learnt that there are good things about them as well, they are good at learning from others, for example. I like some things about Japan, like technology and comics. I liked the comic book Slam Dunk very much, it was so well executed.


I think China is important for Japan. We are neighbours, lots of Japanese people travel there on holiday and trade between the two countries is becoming more and more important.
Neighbouring countries should cooperate and get on with each other. It's safer.

Japan and China have different cultures. There are problems, of course, and I can understand why the Chinese would not have favourable feelings towards the Japanese.

They should talk more about the issues they have and resolve them one by one. They can't leave things unresolved.

At school I learnt that Japan went to war with China for money. I think that was really bad. It was Japan who did most of the bad things.

The old textbooks, the ones that generations before me studied from, taught that Japan was a good country and that others were bad. The textbooks have now been changed.

In the old days they presented the wrong facts. For instance they said that North Korea was colonised because it was a bad country. My history teacher told us about this.

It's now easier to find the right information. But I think the best thing to do is to actually visit the place, perhaps to study there.

Kids my age can get on pretty well with Chinese people. The politicians are thinking about how they can have the upper hand, but the rest of us, we get on fine.


I've been learning about Japanese history for three years. The history I've been taught is mainly about how the Japanese bullied us. It's all horrible, but the Japanese people I know are quite nice.
I've been to Japan, my uncle and aunt studied there. They tell me that the Japanese people are really kind. So I really couldn't tie any part of the horrible history to Japanese people.

I really liked Japan, the quality of the things I bought there is so good.

People treated me nicely, but I do think there is some discrimination against the Chinese. After all, we are behind them in terms of development. And because of their distorted history text books, young Japanese don't favour us Chinese. They think we're just nagging them about the history.

The history can never change, we can't adore everything about Japan blindly, and we have to keep our moral integrity. I think we can forgive them for what they did if they treat us with the right attitude. If they keep denying everything and not showing sincerity, then there's nothing we can talk about anymore.

I love Japanese comics. They are the best. No one else in the world could beat Japan. China's comics are just so far behind and the Chinese have prejudices about people who like comics - people would think you are not serious about your studies.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

America, by way of Japan: Burgerzzzz 'n Hotdogzzzz

It's good to know that America still has some cultural export muscle-- at least in so far as fast food is concerned.

Fastfood-- or, as it's sometimes known as Tachigui (literally meaning, 'stand and eat' and refers specifically to the world of food stalls)-- has a long and resplendent history in Japan. One of the best things about being hungry in a major city in Japan is that you can have that problem 'licked' in no time: 1 Coin (500円) Beef Bowls? Check. Udon? Over there. Ebi Ten-Don? On the corner. Oh wait, you want burgers? Something like McDonald's? Yeah, there's a bunch of that too, but apparently you're going to pay more for it now in Kansai and Kanto. Here's the skinny:

McDonald's Japan to raise menu prices in Tokyo, Osaka, lower prices in Tohoku
McDonald's Holdings Japan is poised to increase menu prices in major cities where expenses are rising and drop prices in restaurants located in other regions including the Tohoku district, the company announced Tuesday.

McDonald's said it was considering raising prices by an average of 3 to 5 percent at some 1,000 restaurants in areas such as Tokyo and Osaka, where personnel expenses and rent are rising. It also plans to lower prices by between about 2 and 3 percent at roughly 100 restaurants in the Tohoku region and other districts.

It is unusual for a major food chain with fixed nationwide prices to introduce a scaled price system based on the location of stores.
McDonald's said it would raise prices on a trial basis in Tokyo and Osaka this month, and lower prices in the Tohoku district and other regions.

The price changes will reportedly apply to all products except items on its 100-yen menu, such as cheeseburgers.
Burger sets that come with drinks, now priced between about 500 and 600 yen will go up by about 50 yen, while the products that go down in price will be lowered by about 20 yen.

Due to a surge in personnel costs and rent prices in major cities, some restaurants have continued to suffer financially even though their sales have risen.

The move by McDonalds is likely to prompt other restaurants in a similar position to follow suit. (Mainichi) Link

When I was a master's student of International Policy, I did some research on McDonald's international. One of the things that defines their international business model is that they always have their 'core' foodstuffs (cheeseburgers, fries etc) but then in addition they attempt to appeal to the local taste by included menu options that are unique to the locale. For example: Japan would have Shrimp Burgers or Teryaki Burgers or Thailand would have Peppered Pork Sandwiches or Chicken Satay. They also try to use some local ingredients where applicable, available -- or, more importantly, financially beneficial.

Needless to say McDonald's is HUGE in Japan. But it has good competition from other home-grown burger franchises like FRESHNESS BURGER, MOS BURGER, and (Korean owned) Lotte Corporation's FIRST KITCHEN.

Wait, what was that? You want Kentucky Fried Chicken? Yup, KFC's here too (and Round Table Pizza) and it tastes better than the US (not Round Table, though). Which is actually true for ALL of the fast food joints. This should come as no surprise to anyone with even a passing knowledge of Japanese culture, but yes, the service is substantially better here. (But wait, I just used the word 'service' when talking about fast food; here in the states, mere utterance of that word within 100 feet of a fast food franchise gets you struck by lightening.)

The big thing nowadays with Japanese McDonalds is the breakfast menu. Seriously, it's become a 'thing' to eat. Woah. Talk about another world.

Certainly, there are 'Burger people' and then there are 'Hotdog people.' I count myself in the Burger group (but, because I'm a 'priss' I prefer non-beef burgers... Oh the sacrilege!) but that has to do with an old Camp hotdog foot poisoning incident.

Well, perhaps there is no more of a 'Hotdog person' than Japan's own human hotdog Hoover: Kobayashi Takeru.

Several years back, I had the (disgusting) honor of attending one of Coney Island's famous Fourth of July Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contests and witnessing, in person, Kobayashi slurping down a (then) record-breaking 52 1/2 hotdogs in 12 minutes. Good lord, it was intense. Everyone who competed, not just Kobayashi, chokes down their hotdogs like ducks: shoving the food in their mouths and throwing their heads back, waggling their heads from side to side, letting gravity aid their food's descent. The entire event is... vomitously absurd.

(What they don't show you on TV is the warm ups before the competition and the introduction of the eaters. In boxing, for example, there will be a list of the fighter's accomplishments. It's the same in competitive eating. But rather than a round up of previous KO's and TKO's you get, for example, the award winning number of gallons of butter eaten in 12 minutes. Seriously.)

Well, no more. A mere week ago, Kobayashi record was smashed by San Jose, CA native (yay! Hometown team!!) Joey "Jaws" Chesnut.

How many hotdogs did "Jaws" scarf: a bewildering 59 1/2 in 12 minutes.... No sh*t. For the mathematicians out there that's an average of 5 hotdogs a minute, or one every 12 seconds. Go ahead, try to mime it. Could you eat like that?? (And would you want to??)

So it looks like the game's on, right? The ultimate competition of super-eaters: "East meets West!" This Fourth of July, looks to be the showdowns of showdowns at Nathan's Hotdog Eating Competition-- only, it seems it might not happen...

I read this today:

'Jaws' ready to bite into top dog's hot dog crown

Japan's wiener-chomping maestro has found his career at a crossroads just at the moment when it was time for him to prove that he's the top dog with a hot dog, according to Shukan Gendai (6/26).

Takeru Kobayashi was the long-time holder of the world record for hot dog consumption, with 53 and 3/4 tucked away in just 12 minutes. But 23-year-old American Joey "Jaws" Chestnut recently scoffed down 59 and 1/2 hot dogs in the same time frame, snatching Kobayashi's world record and setting himself up to take on Kobayashi in the battle for the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest in New York on July 4.

Kobayashi has claimed the past six Nathan's crowns and the only time he has ever been beaten in an eating contest in the U.S. was by a 500-kilogram Kodiak bear, so he should be confident of his chances when he takes on "Jaws." Shukan Gendai points out that Kobayashi first emerged into the spotlight in 2000, when he won TV Tokyo's "TV Champion Zenkoku Oogui Senshuken (National Gluttony Championships)."

Apart from his hot dog exploits, he has since racked up a series of eating records, including stuffing down 97 hamburgers in 8 minutes, scoffing 100 pork dumplings in 12 minutes and chomping away on 41 lobster rolls in 10 minutes.
The weekly says he doesn't really "eat" food during competition, but rather "pours them down his throat." When it comes to hot dogs, he first soaks the buns in a liquid, usually water, to soften them, then shoves the frankfurter down his throat without chewing it.

Kobayashi regards competitive eating as a sport and has worked hard to build up his entire body, placing special emphasis on abdominal and heart muscles. He also consumes copious quantities of supplements to keep his internal organs in check, the roughly 50 types he takes costing him around 150,000 yen a month.

Kobayashi normally eats regular meals, spending only around 20,000 yen to 30,000 yen a month on food, virtually meaning he builds his body up on supplements.
He's due to go for his seventh Nathan's crown next month, but his manager Kumi Ozeki suggests that Kobayashi's title defense might be in danger.

"Kobayashi's mother died in March and he's currently taking a sabbatical. He's not even in training,"
the hot dog eating champion's manager tells Shukan Gendai. "I haven't heard a word from him about whether he's going to take part in the July contest and there's no way that I know to get in touch with him." Link

Intriguing stuff!!

So what will happen? Will Kobayashi show up at Coney Island to defend his Nathan's Hotdog title from "Jaws"? Or will he have to forfeit? But if he shows will he even be in the right state of mind to compete?

These are all important questions and ones I'm afraid we'll have to wait a little longer to have answered. I will, of course, report more as I know it, gentle reader.

Monday, June 11, 2007

HOTWAX! 和モノ事典1970’s 人名編 (aka. Hotwax presents: A Guide to 1970's Japanese Things: A Who's Who)

My friend Marc Walkow and I are obsessed with the stupendous HOTWAX series of Books, CDs, and DVDs. A labor of love done by the hard workers over at Ultra-Vibe, inc. these HOTWAX releases are a celebration of what might be the coolest era of film and music anywhere in the world: Japan in the 1960s and 70s.

I've already planned on writing about a ton of the HOTWAX releases that I've picked up over the last few years, in some upcoming posts, but I thought I'd write a little bit about one of their more recent releases from back in November of 2006: A GUIDE TO 1970's JAPAN: A WHO'S WHO.

Running the equivalent of A-Z (or あーん) it is a glossy, full sized book (marketed as a magazine in Japan to avoid photo licensing fees, as I understand it) that covers filmmakers, actors and actresses, and musicians/bands. If your knowledge of Japanese 1970s filmmakers ends at Fukasaku Kinji and Chiba Shin-ichi (aka. Sonny Chiba), then you've got a lot more to learn from this book.

Starting with the wonderful world of movies, the first part of the book has 28, two-page spreads dedicated to the big guns of the 1970s. These include such divergent names as: Akiyoshi Kumiko, Sugawara Bunta, Terayama Shuji (I'll have some posts on him in the future too!), Harada Yoshio, Kaji Meiko, to Watari Testsuya, to name a few. Is Fukasaku Kinji in there? You betcha (and Sonny, too). He'll be in that big gun section. But lesser known actors or actresses like half-Japanese beauty Sally May or Masutomi Nobutaka will even show up in the book. As to be expected, it's the small digest bios about these (now) relatively unknown-- and for all intents, forgotten--that make this book especially valuable for the fan of 60s and 70s Japanese film.

To be specific, the stuff that's covered in the book skews more genre films: Yakuza, Youth, Nikkatsu Roman Porno, ATG Productions and anything else that was eclipsed by the major studios. This, of course, is the good stuff and perfectly aligns with my taste in Japanese genre cinema.

As for the music portion of the book, this is an area that I am (admittedly) less familiar with. You've got famous singer/actor Sawada Kenji in there along with girl pop bands like Pink Lady, Downtown Boogie Woogie Band (whadda name!) and one of my personal favorites the psychedelic genius and frequent Terayama Shuji collaborator J. A. SEAZER (aka. 'Julious Arnest Cesar' aka. J.A.シーザー) (More on these guys at a later point too).

The book also comes with a fantastic fold-out poster for Fujita Toshiya's great VIRGIN BLUES (aka. バージン・ブルース, Nikkatsu, 1974). (More on this too, at a later point!)

As a final note, you must be able to read Japanese-- or at the very least, be able to fight through it, in order to read the entries. But even for the die-hard fan of Japanese film who can't read the stuff, it's a good resource for Japanese names in English (they're listed in both Japanese and English) title information.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Survivor: China x Nicholas Rucka????

Well this makes no sense at all, but this is the madness of Los Angeles-- specifically Hollywood:

So my lady and I are walking down Melrose ('shut up fool, that's mah 'hood you're dissin') and we get stopped by a camera crew for CBS.com.

"Do you know the show SURVIVOR?" asks the woman.

"Sure", sez I.

"Can we videotape you asking our contestants some question?" she asks.

"Uh... Okay."

My lady balks at participating, but too late! I've agreed. (Did I mention that I was working at home all day and so I hadn't shaved and probably had a greasy sheen to me?)

They wanted me to ask the contestants of SURVIVOR: CHINA (that's the new series, apparently) two questions. First, I had to state my name, where I'm from, and then I asked these questions. What about? Oh you know, food and sex; that sort of thing.

Was it ridiculous? Yup. Did I ham it up? Maybe. Did I hit the camera crew up for a job after it was all done? I have no shame...

A Real Doll Doctor mini-review and IFC.com to host Real Doll Doctor??

Davecat, the blogger-man behind the blog 'Shouting to Hear the Echoes,' has the honor of being the first person who posted a comment on my blog. (Thanks Davecat!)

He commented on my post about my short doc REAL DOLL DOCTOR being resurrected from the video graveyard like a split-dog in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and screening all summer (starting in July, from what I understand) through September as part of the NYC Rooftop Film Fest. (That just kicked-off last Friday night.)

Pretty kind words all told! Read what he has to say here.

He also mentions (scoops me, that is) that IFC.com will be hosting REAL DOLL DOCTOR on their site, starting soon. It's true but I don't know much about it yet. Last week I was contacted by Rooftop Film Fest, through whom this is all happening, and apparently my flick was one of the one's selected (or was that recommended?) for the IFC.com line-up. Naturally, more info on that when I've got it. In the meantime you can enjoy other struggling short filmmaker's works at the IFC Rooftop site. I haven't watched any of the flicks yet, but I see that my old acquaintance Ryan Junell has a flick up their now. He's a talented dude from San Francisco.

Thanks again Davecat for your interest!

Hanging out with the 'stars' in Hollywood... David Lee Fischer's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari DVD Release Party

So my lady and I spent last night at the DVD release party for the 'new' THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (2005, David Lee Fischer, Highlander Films). Some of you might have heard about it, utilizing green screen technology and clever high definition photography and digital compositing it's an exact remake of the 1920 Robert Weine film Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari-- but with English dialog. (The original, for those who don't know, was silent!)

Now, I haven't had a chance to see the film yet (but that's not unusual here in Hollywood, because, you know, you don't actually have to know anything about the production to enjoy their drinks and finger foods), but I am looking forward to checking it out. Additionally, I did meet a number of people involved in the production including: the director David Lee Fischer, who is a supremely nice chap, and veteran character actor Richard Herd, who is a... character and a passionate African mask artist (apparently?!). Also in attendance, but I didn't have the wherewithal to meet (since I didn't really know what to say) was... Ernest Hudson! I couldn't stop thinking of that Ghostbusters line, "I've seen shit with these guys that would turn you white!" (Wait, is that even right??)

Anyhoo, it was an interesting time all around and some work might come out of it-- at least, that's my wishful thinking...

Update: My friend Dan has pointed me to Richard Herd's "My Paintings" website. Worth a gander...

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Let's learn Kanji!!

So the way I figure it, I've been learning Japanese for about 12 years this summer. (JeeeSUS, that was fast!) Admittedly, I haven't been in classes for most of that time-- and can only say that I've taken about two and half years of formal Japanese classes all told but I've spent a lot of time in Japan and working for Japanese people (that and learning a language is an on-going living process).

My Japanese speaking and listening skills are excellent, my reading is so-so and my writing is about the same. While not illiterate, there's a severe imbalance here; I read like a 5th grader.

Well, I'm sick of it; it's seriously embarrassing that I don't have the reading and writing skills to match my communication skills. I feel like a smoker who's tried every trick there is to quit but keeps on puffin' away. (But instead of quick fixes like patches and hypnosis, I've got a stack of Kanji books and flashcards.)


Poking about on-line for a school program here in LA (which yielded surprisingly little, actually) I found myself on the Japan Foundation Los Angeles website. I'd actually gone out with the director of Japan Foundation LA and the head of the performance arts section a few weeks back and they'd mentioned that JF had a lot of resources available. It's true, but what I discovered through a link on their site was that there's pretty much everything you need to study Kanji (and Japanese, really) available on-line-- except for the fear of embarrassment that participating in a class room setting gives you so you park your ass at a desk and REALLY study until you REALLY know it.

So if you're in the same boat as me and are trying to get your Kanji game up to a professional level, Charles Kelly's Online Japanese Language Study Materials (link) site has a bunch (and I mean a BUNCH) of tools to get you 'learnin' yer Kanji.'

Myself? I've been studying away on two different Kanji drills:

1) Roger Meyer's "Learn Your Japanese Kanji" is awesome for it's quizzing of On-Yomi, Kun-Yomi and various meanings: Link

2) The "Nouns with Kanji from Japanese Newspapers" is great for learning compounds and not the incredibly vexing and random Kanji on their own. Link

My goal now is to get my reading good again so that if this film directing thing never manifests, I can go and work in Japan at a cardboard box factory and at the very least read the signs so I don't get my fingers cut off in the machines.

Friday, June 8, 2007

New York Asian Film Fest 2007 Trailer is On-Line!

Good work, guys!

Midway Games no longer sucks! (NYAFF 07)

Regular readers of my blog will know that Midway Games jacked my friends at the New York Asian Film Festival by pulling their sponsorship funding for the fest a mere three weeks out from it's opening night. How did they do it? By not calling, not faxing and not showing up to a final planning meeting! What a bunch of losers!

Well it turns out that someone sat them down and explained the notion of bad juju. And like Tony Soprano (wait, that's the wrong analogy...) they've had a change of heart.

So it is with great happiness that I can announce that Midway is back on board as sponsor-- but no longer a presenting sponsor since Dragon Dynasty now holds that honor.


Trader Joe's Shochu!

I'm a lush. I admit it. But I'm pretty particular about what I like to drink nowadays. Beer? Occasionally, but I don't dig it as much as I once did (and the headaches I get from it now... oof). Wine? Absolutely. In my family, if you didn't drink wine, you didn't sit at the table. Whiskey? Bourbon please; Scotch puts me to sleep.

These are all great, you know, but what I really love is Shochu and Sake-- and while certainly not interchangeable (there are certainly Sake times, like when you're eating an omakase course, and there are Shochu times which is whenever!) there are wonderful experiences waiting for the fan of either beverages.

Now, the main problem vexing the Shochu drinker who is no longer living in NYC (where there's been a recent discovery of the stuff and an explosion in fandom as a result) is that I can't find it that easily here in LA. And what I do fine is limited to a few paltry brands like Iichiko and Ginza no Suzume. Neither are bad, but PLEASE give me some more choices.

So imagine my shock when I walked into Trader Joe's a while back and saw their own brand of Shochu on display. "Wuh?! No way!!" I bought it and that night I cracked it open for my first taste.

Different people prefer to drink Shochu different ways: some like it straight up, some on the rocks with water and lemon, and some with a sliver of cucumber! I prefer mine on the rocks with a splash of water.

The Trader Joe's Shochu is a Rice Shochu and is unlike almost any other type of Shochu I've ever tasted (and that numbers into the hundreds, as my liver weeps...). It has a clean, almost Daiginjo taste to it that belongs more to Sake (nihon shu) than is typically found in a Shochu. My suspicion is that this was engineered for the export market, but rather than be a bad thing, it's wonderfully refreshing. I haven't tried it yet as a mizu-wari (mixed drink) but my guess is that it would go well with juices and oolong teas, essentially rendering it a very versatile mixer.

Specific information: The Trader Joe's Shochu is from Mie-ken, which is a bit unusual since most Shochu is produced in the Japanese southern islands, like Kyushu. Perhaps this also is what lends it the flowery bouquet? It costs $16.99 and like most things Trader Joe's is most likely NOT available at all markets.

Writing about this, got me thinking that I should blog a bit more about Shochu on this site. So in the coming months, I'm sure I will mention some of the good stuff I've had or am having. My hope is that you, gentle reader, will come to me with suggestions of Shochu that you've liked and maybe we can increase our general knowledge of this wonderful Japanese spirit.

More info on Shochu-- and specifically the Okinawan Awamori style at Sake-World.