Friday, February 5, 2010

Quick Movies of the Week

A quick look at some movies I watched this week:

Dodes'ka-den - Kurosawa's first color film. I could not finish it and I think it is the first time I have not been able to finish a Kurosawa movie. The use of color is kind of nice to look at, but not enough to overlook all the other problems. The story is a vignette of different characters living in a slum with a variety of problems. The character and story development is not very good and it just feels like a jumble. 2/5

Stray Dog - Hey it was pretty good. 3.5/5

Honey and Clover(film) - A nice break. 3/5

A Story of Floating Weeds - Really enjoyable. I have not watched many silent films, let alone silent Ozu films. The story is about an traveling theater troupe stopping a town where the troupe leader has a mistress and a 20-21 year old son (who is unaware that said troupe leader is his father). Anyways, young love, jealousy of current mistress etc. follows. I think Ozu's style of filming (often called tatami-level) fits silent films very well. 4.5/5

Fear and Trembling - This is actually a reviewing. This is a French film about a Belgian woman born in Japan but spends a good part of her adolescent life in Belgium where her parents are from. She returns to Japan to work as a translator, but instead her job often appears to be discovering how to navigate the Japanese business culture the hard way. There are some problematic and overly-dramatic moments but overall its a good watch. 4/5

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I'll see your Brecht, and raise you a Jidaigeki!

I just finished reading Discourses of Vanishing: Modernity, Phantasm, and Japan while on the train coming back from J-A Society Chicago. In general I liked the book, but I would say it would have been nice if the passages of clear analysis were not interrupted by jargon of dubious necessity. Perhaps the jargon is justified given the books audience and genre, but I can't criticize the author Marylin Ivy perhaps as much as I would like for using it. I will maintain that if she is able to describe more than half the book in a straightforward way it may be a fruitful exercise to try the whole book without pulling out a bag of Freud, Jung, Derrida, Foucault, Brecht, and others.

Anyways. The last section of the book (sans epilogue) is on taishu engeki (I assume the kanji for it is 大衆演劇), or 'popular theater'/'mass theater'. Don't be confused though, taishu engeki is not particularly popular or mass, it is basically cheap, participatory dance/theater reminiscent (and for some troupes still) of itinerant performance troupes. There may be a different term for it as of late but I am no expert, thus I read the book.

The movie that popped into my head while reading this chapter was a flick I had seen about a week prior called 'Hana' (Hana yori mo naho 花よりもなほ). This film is by Hirokazu Koreeda, other movies I have seen directed by Koreeda are 「誰も知らない」や「あるいても、あるいても」や「ワンダフルライフ」 Nobody Knows, Still Walking, and After Life, which are all worth watching and I think better than Hana. Nonetheless, Hana was a good watch although it walks a thin line bordering on thematically banal. The film is ostensibly of the reluctant samurai genre like Twilight Samurai or The Hidden Blade and has the obvious giri(duty)/ninjo(human emotion) dilemma. The Samurai protagonist is living in a row house in Edo in order to track down and avenge his father's murderer.

Ahoy! Spoilers ahead!

The twist is that unlike other films, Jidaigeki, etc. ninjo actually comes out on top (although this may be up to interpretation). Not to say in other works ninjo is unimportant, it is vital. Catharsis occurs because of the value of ninjo, especially in the face of a conflict with giri, but giri plays a role similar to fate in Greek plays. You can't run away from giri. In Hana, the protagonist confronts the man he has sworn to kill and instead of drawing swords he asks his father's murderer to send his son to his school. But, the clan must be appeased. The protagonist puts on a play.

The play uses the members of the row house as actors and together they dupe a clan member by enacting a dramatic scene with the freshly dispatched corpse. The play within a play was filled with the normal roles expected of a play and brings the samurai to tears. I probably do not have very good reasons for thinking of this when reading about taishu engaki other than the atmosphere of the play and the idea of a play not ending where the stage stops.

The nice thing about this film is the way it makes fun of Jidaigeki while still being one. This is embodied not only in the play, but the side-plot of the Chushingura, a group of which are living in the row houses. Without going into too much detail, the 10 or so of the 47 samurai are not portrayed as particularly capable.

Random link for the day:
Robots get it, when will we?

China be Trollin'

Pardon my turn of internet forum phrase, but I find it so useful to describe a great deal of real people's decision making processes. If you are not privy to its nuance go ahead and reference the almighty Wikipedia:

I am referencing to a couple things regarding China that have been in the news. The U.S. quadrennial security review, U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan, and the Japan-China Joint History Research Committee running up against the Nanjing question (namely the death toll, possibly the most absurd thing to be stuck on and thus the most politically useful). Although no one reads this, and I keep it mainly to maintain some writing on occasion, I do not want anyone reading this to think I like going around giving China credit when it isn't warranted, holding double-standards, or just straight-up bashing. I judge some of these decisions the same way I would criticize the U.S. for doing things simply because it has the clout to get away with it.

The title probably refers to the Nanjing issue more so than US-Taiwan-China issues. This casualty issue has been beaten so far into the ground that everyone should just walk away from it and keep it buried. Not to say we should forget that a lot of people died in a terrible way, but because it is a bastardization to reduce the issue to a statistic for political manipulation. I do not think I could ever look into this issue with any real seriousness because the truth is not what people are concerned with. Both the Japanese and Chinese side can take some of the blame in this regard, but when taking into consideration the greater incentive of Chinese scholars (and others) to keep a higher number I have to err to the side of common sense.

The most glaringly questionable statement by Japanese scholars in the English version of the Yomiuri was placing some blame on the Chinese military for higher casualty numbers. Not because the Chinese military itself was somehow engaged in activities exacerbating the killing, but because a "failure by the Chinese military to perform its duty of providing enough protection for civilians". Wait, what? Am I just misreading this statement or is the argument "Maybe we wouldn't have raped so many people if you would have protected citizens better!". Yeah, or maybe the military shouldn't have been raping women and killing civilians in the first place. Just a thought.

I would like to rely on the idealistic dictum of 'don't feed the troll' but that is probably impossible and not really effective. Instead of doing a joint research project on a historical issue where exact fact is perhaps unattainable it would probably be more efficacious to dawn a collective thinking cap in hopes of finding ways to mitigate historically difficult issues in hopes of a more fruitful future.


The quadrennial defense review, while I have not looked into it deeply, does not appear to be saying much new if you take a look into the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC). China is probably more upset because they like to think of the USCC as simply an annoying review commission, not really the mainstream thought or accepted stance of the administration (which they are not technically). But, coming from the DOD, China is probably taking this more seriously.

I am not an expert on Chinese military development and transparency, but I do know a few things. Namely development of next generation jet fighters and massive maritime build up. The only 'domestic' purpose of this buildup would be Taiwan. Which is just mixed messaging considering the much more effective ways to improve ties with Taiwan that exist and work. Saying the build-up is for non-domestic purposes is simply not acceptable to the Pacific community. It is only natural the U.S. DOD would say things like this considering they are more conservative in its view of China. It seems to be the job of the CCP and quite frankly a lot of government bodies to take an obvious response and put on an overzealous display of shock and appall. Compound the fact that there is a lot of evidence of cyber and traditional espionage coming from China directed at U.S. defense systems the U.S. DOD is not going to give you high marks.

This brings me to Taiwan arms sales. Basically a case of China wanting to have its cake and eat it too (which would be great, but is not great policy). China knows the U.S. stance on Taiwan and a military buildup that is basically aimed at Taiwan is going to have a response in kind. I or someone else can criticize the U.S. for a variety of military buildups, but the PRC doing it is nominal at best. When international positioning and behavior mirrors 15 year old teenagers racking up their post-count it makes me want to face-palm.