Category Archives: Japan

“Of Love and Honor” (Bushi no Ichibun) (2006)

High production values. Fits the genre to a T: melodramatic and predictable, with overwrought weather elements and even a cameo by Ogata Ken as an Obi-wan Kenobi figure (the facetiousness of such an analogy is fully warranted imho). In other words, dull viewing.

At one point, the movie presents a possibility that it could transcend its banality: the lead Mimura has divorced his wife for sleeping with another man in order to keep him fed, and modern audiences would no doubt be ambivalent about Mimura. Hence watching him seek revenge would have been interesting. But it’s soon revealed that the other man had lied. The wife Kayo reverts to being a cardboard Oshin, the other man is suddenly just another stock villain, and Mimura has an empty, heroic, crowd-pleasing gloss. Naturally, the film winds up with a wholly unrealistic ending, stopping along the way for the obligatory fight scene.

Director Yamada Yoji is best suited to mining humour from scenes of humdrum existence, and the early scenes with the low-ranking samurai food tasters are the best. As a whole though, this movie is cinematically insipid.

An evolution: Japanese language and “connectivity”

Looking forward from a point in time: not too long ago, people used to think of that the Japanese had extremely advanced and sophisticated mobile device networks and habits, but not as advanced internet tools e.g. they paid their bills through their keitai and chatted with others using BBSes.

Looking backwards from a point in future: Now that it’s clear that what we previously thought of as “online” and “mobile” worlds are converging however, those looking back at this period in future (researchers, analysts, academics?) might see that the Japanese experience simply evolved differently.

Lisa Katayama sketches in a Wired article:

The Internet didn’t take off in Japan the way it did in the US. It was strictly a place for geeks and otaku until relatively recently. The key reasons were obvious: Most sites were in English, and typing in Japanese on a computer keyboard was arduous and counterintuitive. (Even today, more people in Japan access the Web via their cell phones rather than on their home or work computers.)

Tokyo had its own mini-dotcom movement called Bit Valley in the late ’90s, and a few of those boom-era companies remain today, including popular Web portals like Rakuten and LiveDoor. But there’s a generally accepted sense that the country has lagged behind the West in developing its own innovative companies focused on the Web. Tellingly, some tech companies that vanished entirely from the US when the bubble burst, such as Infoseek, still exist in Japan.

(via her blog Tokyomango)

This parallels a bit Chinese writing was first absorbed into Japan, innovated on to suit local conditions — hiragana, katakana — but had certain elements that stagnated, such as kanji writing. Visually, some characters in Japanese are still written in ways that aren’t used any more. Practically, meanings have changed too.

Vocaloid 2; Value from Efficiency; User-Generated Content distribution

I’m still impressed with the abilities of the Vocaloid 2 software (found via Boing Boing). Put in a melody and lyrics, and the software generates singing.

It sounds pretty good. Try this sample:

The opera sequence from Final Fantasy 6 — one of the most touching sequences from the best RPG I’ve ever played.

Watching this brought back good memories of the experience playing the game, and that’s partly what makes Vocaloid memorable for me.

The singing isn’t perfect — one comment remarked that the singer sounded like she’d a cold — but this is a technological factor. As coding gets better, so will the voices. But it may not matter — most people are willing to accept less-than-ideal quality media in certain contexts, compression codecs affect sound quality, and when you’re listening to music in a subway train, bus or car you can’t tell anyway.

The value of Vocaloid lies in how it flows with the trend for more user-generated content. It fits in nicely with existing distribution chains for user-generated content. Make a song with Vocaloid, overlay on a video file and upload to YouTube.

(Does it still make sense to call UGC a “trend”? Isn’t it already here and a part of our lived experiences?)

I’m also struck by how YouTube has become a music player although it began as a video-sharing site. This serendipitous use has been driven by the sheer ease of use and easy availability via laptops and widespread broadband.

Compare this with how people rarely used CD-based gaming consoles like the Playstation to play music. Clearly it was silly to turn on the player and a TV set to play music when it was much more efficient to use a CD player. Even a Discman with speakers plugged in was a preferable alternative.

So functionality is nice, but if it’s not efficient relative to current alternatives the functionality won’t add much value to the user.

Although Vocaloid is aimed at otaku, there must be similar groups that would buy such software.

Let’s consider characteristics of the otaku audience — predominantly teenagers, tech-savvy, relatively affluent and of course, a little obsessive.

Hmm… has anyone tried packaging Vocaloid for Christian rock fans?

Japanese Film Festival 2007 – tickets on sale today!

(More info on the JFF festival website: http://www.sfs.org.sg/jff2007)

eejanaika-chisai.jpg

(from Imamura Shohei’s Eejanaika)

Japanese Film Festival 2007: 15-23 Sept 2007

As with previous years, most of the screenings in the Japanese Film Festival are free — just turn up on the day of the screening. Queue numbers are given out from 10.30am on weekends and from 7pm on weekdays.

Some of the screenings are ticketed, and you can buy tickets through Gatecrash:

  • On-line at www.gatecrash.com.sg
  • Through GATECRASH Hotline: 6222-5595
  • At the Substation, all SingPost Branches & S.A.M. Kiosks.

Highlights

Director-in-Focus: Imamura Shohei – one of the few directors who received the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival twice in his lifetime. Best remembered for depictions of humanity at its most raw, primitive and energised level.

Actress-in-Attendance: Yoshiyuki Kazuko – collaborated with Imamura in one of their earliest films: NIANCHAN, a gritty, realistic look at poverty in a mining town. This work will be screened at the Festival along with two of Ms. Yoshiyuki’s recent films: ORIUME and GABAI GRANNY, in which she played leading roles.

Director-in-Attendance: Ichikawa Jun – one of Japan’s most acclaimed postwar directors, with an internationally established reputation for his unique film vocabulary and eloquence in depicting emotional subtleties. Three of his films (including his latest, HOW TO BECOME MYSELF) will be presented at this year’s Festival.

More info on the JFF festival website: http://www.sfs.org.sg/jff2007

Rebuild of Evangelion & “Beautiful World”

Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of my favorite anime series, and so I’m a bit unhappy over how Gainax so readily whores exploits the characters in a never-ending array of merchandise, the bulk of which is unrelated to the original series.

Yes, I know it’s just business. But still.

And so I’m ambivalent about Rebuild of Evangelion — four new animated movies that will provide an alternate retelling of the original story.

I’m comforted by the fact that Anno Hideaki is chief director, and especially by his statement that GAINAX isn’t controlling this. More reasons to hope that the movies don’t turn out to be hollow commercial fluff.

Utada Hikaru sings the theme song for the first movie: Beautiful World. I don’t know if this is a good sign or a bad one.

If you can read Japanese or you’re just curious, the Japanese lyrics are here