Lindsay Powell amazes as Cake Bake Betty. Follow the link to better understand greatness.
Part 1 in a Series: Very, Very, Short Stories
In my nightly journal, I often write short plots, trying out ideas for potential future stories. This is the first that I'm willing to share, with all of the craziness intact. Links added for extra fun, and footnotes where appropriate. The photos are from my tour of Akihabara.
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Japanese Hot (1) Makudonarudo (McDonalds) waitresses from Akihabara join forces and create a super crime fighting team with no compare. Well, actually they don't fight crime per se, just the loose morals of Japanese and Western culture. Always uniformed with smart shirt and matching visor, they go into the basements of nearby manga-yas and beat up the customers and staff with huge Loli-kon manga collections. They hold down Otaku and piss on their Gundam T-Shirts, and then pour hot fry vat grease down their gullets.
Soon, they realize that this behavior isn't that moral itself, and that you can't always fight fire with fire. Thus, they then start randomly accosting people on the streets, knocking the cigarettes from their mouths with a firm "Dame!" Those who use their picture phones to peek up skirts (or to sell their bodies to aged men) are confronted with tracts adapted from the Makudonarudo code of conduct.
That doesn't seem to work well, so they go back to the strong arm tactics. They rush into the pachinko parlors yelling "irrashaimase!" (2) before slapping everyone in the face with stolen UFO catcher prizes. Getting hit with a stuffed animal doesn't present any physical danger, but it is terribly embarrassing and shaming, so no one dares report the assaults to the police. Emboldened, they get on the Yamanote Line and take over an entire train (recruits from other restaurants have joined in), groping all of the men who appear like they're potential gropers themselves, pulling down their pants and giving them Pocari Sweat enemas.
Yes, things are slightly out of hand, but their charismatic leader, once a beverage button pusher, went to New York for Haru Yasumi (spring vacation), and had a vision when she visited the first MacDonald's she came across in Manhattan. She ordered a Hotto Keeki Setto (Pancake Breakfast) (3), and the portions were huge, and presentation poor, compared with the Japanese version. Clearly, the Roy Kroc vision was being corrupted, either in the US, or in Japan - she didn't know which. Better to destroy them both, than to have such inequality and lack of uniform standards in the world's biggest fast food retailer. No matter that Subway (4) was actually bigger, she was incensed, and also tripping on acid at the time (never take cups of water from random strangers at the airport). Thus, when she got back to Japan, she began planning the cleansing of everything, and reshaping of culture back to the proper purity that the Akihabara Hotto Keeki Setto represented.
It didn't take long for the AHKSU (pronounced Akihabara Hotto Keeki Setto Union) message to sweep across Japan, and then OLs and Mister Donut workers across the country spontaneously destroyed every unpure thing, from the Harajuku Gap to Roppongi Hills. They also believed heavily in group lesbian sex, and any man who tried to infiltrate was dealt with in a fashion not suitable for print.
The plot begins when AHKSU goes too far, and destroys the Suntory beverage plants responsible for Natchan drinks, amongst other treasures of the world. At that point, I spring into action, fly to Japan, and take on the AHKSU single handed. Actually, at this point Japan has been largely evacuated and cordoned off, like that island in Battle Royale, or even one of the Snake Pliskin movies. I have 72 hours to find and "destroy" the AHKSU cult leader, or the whole island will be bombed into oblivion, from Hokkaido to Okinawa.
The world is watching.... can I topple the AHKSU cult before the bombs drop!? Stay Tuned~! (5)
(1) "Japanese Hot" is my personal phrase for a cute girl, who isn't necessarily Japanese.
(2) "Irrashaimase" is what workers say when you enter their business.
(3) When in Japan I ate a whole mess of "Hot Cake Sets" for breakfast, thus the inspiration for this plot a month or so later.
(4) I ate at Subway at lot, too. Just like at home
(5) As you can tell I'm almost completely insane. Of course, this is one of my more straightforward plots.... look for one or two each month from now on.
I'm not a mashup scholar, but I do love my Negativland and Plunderphonics. Therefore, I can't tell you if The Kleptones are merely technically proficient, excessively skilled, or merely the owners of cut-and-paste sonic software. No matter, I've been severely enjoying their latest internet release, [A Night At The Hip Hopera]. The conceit is simple: take Queen, and add liberal parts of hip-hop history, from Grandmaster Flash to Eminem. Mix it all up so that the guitar tracks accentuate the "guest" artists, and you get a fun time for all.
I also can't speak for the legality of the excessive sampling (hint: illegal) but you can get tracks and discussion here or through your favorite below-ground sources. They also have a Yoshimi Battles The Hip-Hop Robots mashup that came out a while back, and I haven't listened to that yet but perhaps you'd like to? (torrent). I'll start exploring such massive remixes more and let you know if I find other cool stuff.
Due to my own demand, there now is a Kaneko Atsushi page on Junk Magnet. You can check it out right here. It has all of his available Japanese manga, with cover art and publication detail, along with extensive writing about the upcoming [BAMBi And Her Pink Gun] series. My goal is to offer English-speaking readers the ultimate Kaneko Atsushi fan site, and this is only the small beginning. Make sure to check it out, and look for updates soon with more details about every one of his collected works, plus all of the associated [BAMBi] swag that's available in Japan, and hopefully in the US eventually. Heck, click here to see the BAMBi and PAMPi toy I'm always going on about (looks far better in person), and don't be surprised if there are BAMBi related contests over the coming months. Excitement!
Part 4 in a Series: Japanese Stores I Adore
My last full day in Tokyo (4.08.2004) was quite eventful. I took the Yamanote line from Ikebukuro to Shibuya, and then walked across the center of Tokyo to Roppongi. I had heard from a friend that Roppongi Hills was an excessively commercial yet happening place with a movie theater she adored. So, I walked in the general direction of where I thought the place was, asking friendly policemen along the way if I was lost or not. Apparently my sense of direction is still perfected, because I shortly came across a huge-ass tower with a bunch of people swarming in and out.
I poked around a bit, got a Japanese and English map of the premises, and soon found where the Virgin Toho Cinemas was (schedule). The movie I wanted to see started later in the afternoon, and so I searched around for some vegetarian lunch before hand. Lucky for me, there was a tiny cafe servicing my needs, Vege Station. No matter how you cut it, this tiny place rocks. If you like healthy-juicy-tea type drinks, then you're in heaven. I opted for the soup, a potato-vegetable concoction that was super-hearty and tasty, presented with a side of freshly made bread to die for. I ate quite contentedly, as I watched people come in and out of the Roppongi Subway Station (Hibiya line), or read some nearby love letters to the cafe from visiting children. Inexpensive, healthy and totally satisfying, if you're in the mood for such fare then check it out.
After that, I went back up to see [Hana To Alice], a super amazing film following the ins and out of a friendship between two high school girls. Love, memory and a boy comes between them, and there's lots of humor and drama to satisfy most anyone. It's one of the best movies I've seen in a very long time, and I see most of them. Check it out in a soon to be released Japan-only DVD on 10.8.2004, with an "international" version to follow. I can't guarantee Japanese subtitles, but I can guarantee Anne Suzuki greatness, which should more than compensate. Look for more about this here when it's released - I have the special edition on order that I will treasure to a perhaps unhealthy amount.
To round out my Roppongi adventure, I ended up at the nearby TV Asahi studios, the main lobby of which was filled with a series of carnival game booths promoting new shows. I was without question one of the few foreigners ever to visit, and so I received my due (in)attention. The attendant for the Bus Guide show even took a picture of me along with the superflat star. Such is the stuff of life memories, or at least awkward images.
Last year I was turned on to [Wonder What's Next], the breakout second album by the brothers Loeffler. Known collectively as Chevelle, they come roaring out of Chicago with a mighty fine grumble grind with melodic tendencies. I quickly acquired their first, Steve Albini produced album from 1999, [Point #1], and both releases became required listening both at home and at work. They rock in a loud-quiet screamy sort of way, with fine, tortured-soul songwriting.
[This Kind Of Thinking Could Do Us In], released last week, is their fine 3rd release, with the punch-out single [Vitamin R (Leading Us Along)] killing on your local "modern/alternarock" station. Overall the album is a tad less catchy than the other two releases, but that's only after a few listens - I feel myself becoming more attached to songs like [Still Running] with each listen. Chevelle aren't quite for everyone, and definitely don't make pop, but I have a heavy-attack streak which they satisfy nicely. Perhaps they'll satiate your noise-tooth, too.
Kaneko Atsushi is a manga god in my eyes. I first heard about him around 5 years ago, and for the past 12 months I'm managed to track down all of his available works, most notably [SOIL] and [BAMBi]. The former is still being serialized in the monthly [Comic Beam], while [BAMBi] graduated from those pages into 7 collections. Those compendiums were a bolt from the entire rainbow for me, with hyper-kinetic art and heaping handfulls of gallows humor, interspersed with the sweet tale of a teenage killer girl kidnapping and then taking care of a young boy.
I could go on and on about the satisfying plot, but I won't, due to the impending release of the first [BAMBi And Her Pink Gun] volume in the US by Digital Manga Publishing. I was so terribly excited to find this out, that I immediately contacted DMP to see what the deal is. The plan is to release the first volume sometime around 4.2005 for $12.95 (price tentative), with as close a presentation to the original work as possible. When more information is available I'll share it here, and on my soon to be constructed English language Kaneko Atsushi fan page.
Soon after they started in the 80s, fans around the world proudly wore ironical Death To The Pixies t-shirts. After about 6 years those shirts became outdated, because The Pixies (one of my favorite bands) exploded into separate projects like Frank Black, The Breeders, The Martinis and Cracker.
Now, after over a decade of wandering through the afterlife, The Pixies have returned for a reunion tour, with no particular promises of any togetherness beyond that. I was fortunate enough to see them in Berkeley on 9.24.2004, and the quartet remarkably reminded me of their concerts past, with minimal theatrics but maximal, monstrously beautiful sounds. The played the hell out of the earthy and abstract [Come On Pilgrim], [Surfer Rosa] and [Doolittle], while almost entirely ignoring their more spacy and literal last two albums. I didn't mind, because I was there to hear Joey Santiago's sweet guitar, to marvel at Black Francis' wail, and to bounce along to Kim Deal's and David Lovering's remarkable rhythms.
They are aiming to please during this tour, playing all of the fan favorites with their trademark style (and only a minimum of errors). Here's to hoping that [Bam Thowk], their reunion single, might be the first of a new generation of songs. If not, then I'll always have memories of The Pixies during high school and college, accentuated by their zombie tour which no fan should miss.
Did you know that I'd do most anything for Sheena Ringo? I'd climb big things, eat yucky stuff, just for the privilege of listening to her masterful music. Well, after 4 "solo" albums (with a fine backing band) she's now fully joined up with a new unit, Tokyo Jihen (Tokyo Incidents). Their first single, [Gunjo Biyori] (TOCT-4884) came out on 9.08.2004, and it's quite pleasing, but perhaps not to the same degree as her earlier work.
Still, I adore the Ringo-chan experience no matter what, and simply ignore slightly awkward and annoying tracks like the [The Lady is a Tramp] cover. No matter, Tokyo Jihen are a tight jazzy-spazzy-rock band to look into, made all the better by she who makes me all doki-doki. This is a fine release, soon to be followed by another single, [Sonan] (TOCT-4994), on 10.20.2004 and their first album [Kyoiku] (TOCT-25452) on 11.25.2004. After that, there will a tour of Japan starting 1.17.05. Check 'em out at the check out counter.
Do you remember the rock band named Salt, from the 1990s? Well, I absolutely adored that English-singing Swede-filled outfit, and [Auscultate] and [Delay Me Down And Make Me Wah Wah!!!] were two of the most overlooked albums of the decade. Really. So I was so terribly excited to find out that Nina Ramsby and Jim Tegman left Salt only to create Grand Tone Music, which is unfairly unreleased and unknown in the US.
Grand Tone Music is much more subdued than Salt, with less guitar, more organ, and a general languidness that suits the new millennium well. [Grand Tone Music], their first album from 1997, has a little bit of Country, and less Rock and Roll than you might expect, but it's a fine listen nonetheless. [New Direction] from 2000 is far more accomplished, and truly cements Nina as one of the best female singers in the English language. No theatrics here, just smoothly presented emotion backed excellently by Jim along with Dan Lepp and Patrick Andersson. [Go To Hell], the most recent release from 2003, is also quite strapping, and includes both male and female guest vocalists to accent Nina's amazingness.
As mentioned before, Grand Tone Music's music is very difficult to find in the US, but it is available in Europe and even though some Japanese stores. I recommend using a service like Song Search, through which I acquired all 3 albums for a reasonable import price. Or, if you're just in it for Nina, then she has another project called [Baxter] that I'll comment more on when my copy arrives. You can find that at Amazon.com and other mainstream stores.
The very first thing I bought in Japan was a pack of Apple Hi-Chew Candy. Beloved wherever there are mouths, I first became enamored with that particular flavor due to various Japanese grocers in the US. So, when I hit the Tokyo Train Station (PDF, 292KB), of course I would reach for some idyllic comfort food. Hi-Chew hit the spot, and I replenished my supply often during the course of the trip.
Hi-Chew is chewy, yet high in flavor. Each pack has many pieces, and each morsel is the essence of enjoyment. Not too sweet, not too tacky, it all just works. Sure, there are a number of fruit essences you can consume, but Apple is the quintessential sensation that just won't quit. Thus, shouldn't you be enjoying some Apple Hi-Chew along with me?
Bonus!: Ayumi Hamasaki Hi-Chew CM can be viewed right this instant. If you can get them to play then I salute you.
Part 3 in a Series: Japanese Stores I Adore
I'm musically obsessed. Most every waking hour has me singing along to something in the foreground or background, and it was a foregone conclusion that I would haunt record stores while in Japan. Of the dozens of shops I browsed, RECOfan in Shibuya (BEAM building) was the most impressive. It wasn't ultra fancy like Tower Records, but it had an expansive yet homey feel that reminded me a lot of Amoeba Records in Berkeley, which is high praise indeed.
The best part was that the store was equally split between Western and Japanese releases, so I could find basically my whole collection as a subset of the vast shelving. New or used, it was there at decent prices, and I walked away with a heaping handful of titles. Sure, you can definitely find some used CDs cheaper in Akihabara, but overall this is a fine and casual one-stop shop with knowledgeable staff (English recognition not guaranteed, but music is universal).
If you're in Tokyo you'll most likely hit Shibuya, so definitely go check them out. The best part is that Mandrake, the 24/7/365 Otakucon, is in the basement, so you can spend most of your day in one spot. Mandrake deserves its own entry, but it's covered so heavily on the net that I'll refrain. (Besides, they barely had any Kaneko Atsushi, which is weird because he rocks, and they had tons of crappy crap instead, mixed in with the eye-popping wow).
I grew up with rap, and some acts I adore, no matter what language. That said, most mainstream US rap rubs me the wrong way, from "tough" imagery to excessive suckiness. Fortunately for all of us, Northern State, 3 women MCs from New York, fall firmly in the former, super-great category, and [All City] is fun, progressive and firmly danceable.
Hesta Prynn, Spero and Sprout on the surface seem to be from the Beastie Girls school, only with less fronting and a Luscious Jackson reminiscence that suits them well. Musically, it doesn't matter that they're cute and female, but they use those attributes to the upmost in both presentation and lyrics. Thus all of the "feminist" reviews, which are technically correct, but the point is that they're talented and drawing from their everyday experience, and not some adolescent visions of rappers delight.
I'm far from a scholar on the band, but this is their first album and possible a breakout shot across the board of typical stupidness. I've been listening to this record most everyday at work since it came out a few weeks ago, and I definitely recommend it for those a good party of one jam.
Part 2 in a Series: Japanese Stores I Adore
To me, coffee is flavored dirt. I hate it. However, I love toast, and so when I went into a Doutor cafe, one block from my Ikebukuro, Tokyo hotel, I focused on the bread. They had sandwiches with meats and such, and all sorts of coffee items, but all I wanted was vegetarian breakfast grub, and the semi-expensive toast suited me just fine.
I also visited the Doutor in Shibuya (map) the super-fancy headquarters that had a fountain inside where the water goes uphill, plus a toasty cheese sandwich! Sufficed to say I went back there again, on my last day in Tokyo, for the Toast and free-flowing water.
As you can tell, my tastes are simple. For those with more complex, dirty water jones, apparently Doutor makes good coffee. They have aspirations of becoming another Starbucks, with world-wide penetration, and I wouldn't mind that because the decor is homey and the bread all stiff. Oh yeah, they had adequate orange juice, too, so go wild the next time you hit Japan.
Sky Captain and the World Of Tomorrow is simply amazing. It's an old science fiction magazine cover come to life, perfectly tinged with nostalgia and future longing. For a largely blue screen film things have remarkable depth, with only a few moments that are off. In that department it kicks the Star Wars prequels' asses, legs, and torsos once they fall on the ground whining.
The acting is controlled, perhaps not what modern audiences are used to, but it comes right out of the serials they're trying to emulate. Plus, the art direction is unbridled, with masses of neato robots and flying/swimming machines and other cool craziness. In short, don't listen to the middling reviews - it's a great time for your eyes that never holds anything back. Destined to be some sort of classic, so there.
Oh yeah.... Bai Ling rocks as the "Mysterious Woman" (pictured). I know who I'll be dreaming about tonight.... even though she's a (plot revealing detail omitted). Lovely.
Did you know I love the Boredoms? Follow that link as to why (hint: crazy noises), but sufficed to say that I'm always excited when Eye and crew put out a new album. Speaking of which, [Seadrum/House of Sun] is coming out next week (9.23.04, WPCL-10119), and I've had mine on preorder for a while. Who knows what the two (extended?) tracks will sound like, but that's most of the fun. If you want to join in, get your copy at fine stores like cdjapan.co.jp, who have helped me out in so many ways recently. Most prior Boredoms releases have come out in the US and elsewhere, but I have no word on that yet for this one.
Part 1 in a Series: Japanese Stores I Adore
As a traveller in Japan, I was hungry a lot. Pastry-loving guy I am, I first encountered Mister Donut in the more touristy part of Asakusa, Tokyo. I wanted sweet stuff, and I saw bunches of it as soon as I walked in, but I was befuddled. There were plastic trays and tongs, but no bags or plates to contain the donuts. I inquired about this inconsistency, and was told in simple Japanese to put the donuts on the bare tray myself, bring them to the register, and they would be transferred to a plate on another tray. So simple, yet so involved.
However, if I could make it to Japan, I could acquire donuts. Once I did, I savored the taste sensation that was the essence of the round. I repeated my enjoyment at franchises in Kyoto and Osaka, and every time the place was packed with satisfied snackers and smokers (everywhere the smoke, but I survived). It turns out that Mister Donut (or just "Misdo") is a crazy ubiquitous chain in Japan, beloved enough that people just go there to hang out or take home items to collect. (For the anal, they're owned by Duskin).
As all good Japanese companies do, they also have highly entertaining TV CM (commercials) which you should check out in their native WMV or Real format (boo!). They even have desktop pictures and screensavers for your enjoyment. Misdo is all over the internet, partially due to gaijin like myself, but I couldn't resist - the more enjoying the donut tong party, the better.
I'm a big fan of Gonzo Animation Studios, largely due to works like [Blue Submarine No. 6] and [Last Exile] (both designed by Range Murata). I heard about [Kiddy Grade] when it was still on TV in Japan, but I didn't get a chance to see it until FUNimation brought it out in the US. The sixth of 8 volumes was released last week, and I've been finding the series quite entertaining so far.
A simple plot-protecting synopsis is that Lumiere and Eclair, two young girls with amazing powers, are agents working for GOTT (Galactic Organization of Trade and Tariffs). Basically, humans long ago colonized the galaxy, and GOTT is partially responsible for keeping things in order. The plot twist is that the girls, along with other agents, are more machine than human, with an age many times their appearance.
The story follows Eclair's journey from dutiful GOTT member to something else. "Elegant" Lumiere is always at her side, and their relationship is perhaps more than sisterly, but nevertheless compelling. That said, the series is somewhat skewed to the younger set, and while some of the early episodes touch on complex themes, later plot twists can be seen literally across the galaxy.
No matter - Megumi Kadonosono's character designs are attractive (especially the females) the world building interesting (but not perhaps at a [Last Exile] level), and a sense of daring pervades the affair. Nothing is safe, not even the main characters, and that sort of narrative "risk taking" makes me recommend the series. Check it out.
I heart Manda and the Marbles. They sound like a punk No Doubt meets all of your favorite 80's influenced local New Wave bands. Manda Marble is a stunner both vocally and visually, and her bandmates have a solid dancy attack that propels the singalong.
Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, Manda and the Marbles stared to hit it big with [More Seduction], a Go-Kart records re-release of an earlier album. I ordered that after hearing about them in a SF paper, and I was pleasantly surprised by their clear and professional sound, not to mention satisfying song writing.
The recently released [Angels With Dirty Faces] (on Sick House Records) is even better. I pre-ordered my copy direct and have played it constantly at work since. It's the perfect pick-me-up, but don't take my word for it: listen to full MP3s yourself, and hopefully fall in love with the new nowness. They're a touring band, so check 'em out before they pass you by.
Let me coin a new word: penjacking. As you can see, no Google references yet, so I must be on the ground floor. Anyway, it turns out that you can steal a bike using just a normal ball-point pen. Specifically, some cheap Bic pen shells are the perfect size to easily jimmy a Kryptonite lock (and other locks with a similar structure). That means as of 9.12.04 or so, word is spreading that many U-shaped bike lock can be opened in less than a minute with little effort.
Ground zero of the penjacking phenomenon is a BikeForums.net board, where you can find demonstration movies, breaking news about what locks are and are not compromised, as well as indirect word from Kryptonite. Expect this story to hit the mainstream media in the next few days, and if you have a bike then please consider an alternative to the common U lock. I agree with the originators of the exploit - now that the flaw is known, it's better for everyone to know about it, rather than only the select few bike owners and bike thieves.
So, spread the word, and please use my "penjacking" neologism so that I may have indirect fame related to this soon-to-be craze. Update (9.15.04):"Bicpicking" is also acceptable (a variation of which I found on BikeForums).
I'm a serious fan of all of his work - I've tracked down all of his available manga, and went to far as to search out the [BAMBi] doll in Asakusa. Therefore, there's no way that I wouldn't like his new series, but objectively the rendering is remarkable, and the story well structured and more subdued than [BAMBi], with his trademark touches of humor and pathos intact.
More specifically, the plot details the investigation into the disappearance and possible death of a seemingly model family. Strange occurrences begin to happen, like the sudden appearance of large mounds of organic material both in the missing family's house, and at other public locations. Eventually, one learns that conspiracies, both human and natural, are most definitely afoot.
I recommend [SOIL] for fans of "realistic" SF/horror, and for those who don't mind that it's all in Japanese, and unavailable into English (like the rest of his work). Check it out if you can, if for no other shallow reason than to admire the pretty pictures, and then pray for translation.
In April, at a Tower Records in Shibuya, I came across a little kiosk promoting an indie band named Thmlues (in Japanese, Sumuru-su). I was smitten by their just-released EP, so much so that I bought everything available from them on the spot. Without question, this poppy-rock quartet was the musical find of my trip, and I wore out those few tracks with repeated listens at home and work.
A little research revealed that they had not only an album and few EPs that I had missed, but an upcoming album [Junjou Aijou Supplement Bokutachi] to be released on 9.1.04. That album has now reached me from the useful Amazon.co.jp, and it's chock full of my old favorites, plus nicely realized new tracks (12 in total). I'm really digging it so far, so much so that I will be sure to add a Thmlues page to the Japanese Pop section when I have the time.
Be warned that they sing attractively solely in Japanese, but don't let that turn you off. They sound quite Western, like Triceratops meets The Pillows (another of my new all-time faves). Give one of their EPs or albums a listen, and you're guaranteed a good time. Oh yeah, they have ultra-cute artwork, too, all the more reason to acquire tangible goods.
To complete my trilogy of tastiness, here's my super sugary Suntory favorite. First encountered in the more fashionable part of Harajuku, C. C. Lemon is all carbonated and yellow, like Mountain Dew only without the hills or condensation. It's opaque, and reminds me of a crafty lemon trying to be an orange. In short, it's the only thing to grab before or after a ride on the Yamanote line.
Oh yeah, it has Vitamin C, too. That's like saying that rain falls, but oh well - taste the citrus grove. It's so popular that the Simpsons personally shill for it in Japan, which means it must have Butterfinger greatness. Plus, the website has games. If a soft beverage in Japan doesn't have games, it's obviously not worth tasting.
While we're on the subject of Japanese soft drinks that I like, how about Aquarius? Thirsty and bewildered in an Akihabara arcade, I coaxed the pause that freshes from a nearby vending machine, and then it was Aquarius all the way, baby. It tastes kind of like light blue water, only with some secret athletic sauce that energizes slightly. Not too sugary, sort of a low key Gatorade. Quite special, that, and I always kept a bottle nearby while in Tokyo and Osaka.
Fortunately/unfortunately, it's a Coca-Cola product, not available in the US. Still, by the magic of the interweb, you can visit their ultra-flashy website, enter your name and birthdate in Japanese, and then you're off to 8-bit town, where you can watch Aquarius commercials or play weird games. Plus, there's Horoscopy, which is always my favorite. Check it out if you're the curious and thirsty sort.
My brief time in Japan was made all the sweeter by nightly visits to Natchan heaven. See, Suntory makes soft as well as alcoholic drinks, and you're liable to find them all over in vending machines or retailers like AM-PM or Sunkus. I'm partial to their semi-sugary concoctions, particularly the orange and apple flavors. So much so that I brought some home with me, and now search various Nihonmachi-teki locations for any size bottle of this wondrous beverage.
Your tongue may not care for Natchan drinks like mine does, but their website is both attractive, informative, and has some cool games. Yeah, they are soft-drink related games, but simple and entertaining ones none the less. Go here to find out what I'm talking about, and if you want to download the fun then choose the Mac or Win buttons as appropriate.
Yesterday I had my doubts about [Easy Breezy], Hikki's first US single. Well, I've seen the Promotional Video now, and while some aspects are off, in general it's a traditional "cute/rough boy rejects singer but something good happens at the end" sort of deal.
I can take or leave the generic beginning scenes at the pool. Many steps are taken to de-emphasize Hikki's alluring stature (demure bathing suit, etc), scenes that are intercut with her all decked out. I prefer the 2nd half of the PV, from when she's in her apartment to her cruise down LA streets.
So, I've taken a couple of snaps from those segments, to tide you over until you see it yourself. Sorry, no downloadable copies (from me). It will be on sale in Japan on 10.6.04, on DVD along with a making-of doc. If you see it on your favorite musical TV network, make sure to let me know.
Think of the [Powerpuff Girls], only rated NC-17. That's [The Super Milk-Chan Show], a delightfully mean-spirited yet sweet kids show for adults. Hideyuki Tanaka first came up with the concept (extremely young girl is both harsh and haplessly heroic) a few years ago, and currently Studio Pierrot are involved with a more polished, episodic product.
Note that I don't mention ADV Films until now. Usually I just ignore all of the annoying dubbed vocals they slave over, and wallow in the Japanese track. But, this time around, someone at ADV had the brilliant idea to virtually re-make the whole Milk-Chan experience, with a radically unfaithful translation (especially in the area of jokes) not to mention all new video segments featuring the ADV staff and voice talent. Fortunately there are two discs for each volume - the Japanese one which is to be treasured, and the American one which can safely be hidden from anyone liable to view it.
Alright, I have to admit that it's somewhat interesting to see the ADV offices and "stars", but it's so not the original Milk-Chan. Perhaps some of the intended audience will find it all amazing, but I'm just not there. One more gripe - the original opening and closing animations have been changed into crap, apparently because of a lack of musical rights. The Japanese [Heidi] parody alone is worth digging through the extras to watch the silent introduction.
In the end, I'll continue to buy the Milk-Chan volumes, because I adore the aesthetic of the original series. Even though all episodes are self-similar (starting at home, joke about the landlord, making fun of the President, visit to get robot help, then off to indirectly save the day) they are very funny and intelligent and suitable for framing. Check 'em out if you like, and there's also a superior Japanese home page (Oh! Supermilk-chan) to ponder.
Hikaru Utada is an amazingly talented Japanese Pop star that's looking to break into the foreign market in a big way. Her first album for Island, [Exodus], is just hitting Japan now, and will reach the US next month. I'm lucky to have a copy of it now, and since I consider myself a minor Hikki scholar, here is my opinion.
On first listen, this album is a marked change from her prior work, which was a dance/ballad/RandB hybrid of Japanese and English. [Deep River], her last stellar album, was subtle yet strong, and [Exodus] is different from it in most every way. Think Bjork's first few solo albums, crossed with post-modern pop production. Or, think of the big leap U2 made to get to [Pop]. Quirky sounds pop out of nowhere, and Hikki's vocal attack is more pronounced than in the past, not afraid to growl or chirp where appropriate. I miss her nuanced Japanese stylings, but she has no problem at all with a full-frontal English presentation.
[Exodus] has two concurrent singles, [Devil Inside] (aimed to get the clubs moving) and [Easy Breezy] (intended to be the radio single). I find the former to be a strong first impression, but [Easy Breezy] is catchy yet hindered by chorus that borders on silly. It's starting to grow on me, but at first I found the line "you're easy breezy and I'm Japanesey" to be annoyingly unusual. It's far from offensive, but linguistically strange enough that I'm not sure how it will go over for Utada neophytes. I guess she has to shout out to the Nihonjin, but I'm not sure if that's the way. Maybe the video will make her vision clearer.
Currently, I'm most impressed by the middle of the album, namely [Tippy Toe] and [Hotel Lobby], which are a wonderful progression from her earlier work, immediately catchy and moving, with tons of solidity upon further listens. If she starts to catch on, I wouldn't be surprise if one of them is a future single.
The album does have weaker songs, like [You make me want to be a man], which I don't quite understand sonically or lyrically. Still, I give her the benefit of the doubt, because she's so involved in all aspects of her music, unlike many of her peers. I won't go into discussing the various "famous" producers and musicians that have put their mark on [Exodus], because in the end it's all Hikki, and hopefully the world can appreciate her evolution into Utada.
I'll give myself September to fully digest her latest creation, and by the time it's released in the US I'll update my Hikki page with more thoughts. Until then....
Utada [Exodus] Contest
I'm giving away the Japanese version of Hikaru Utada's [Exodus], which comes with a booklet and cardboard slipcase presumably not present in the US version. To win, contact me with an email (or my web form) with "Utada Exodus Contest" as the subject. One lucky winner will be randomly selected on October 1st, so make sure to enter by the end of September.
For some strange reason I went to see [Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid] today, largely because I didn't think I could stomach Reese in [Vanity Fair]. In any case, the orchid hunt and snake terror were boring enough that I started to pay attention to little things, like shot choice and overall subtext. Well, let me tell you - the filmmakers have a particularly skewed (sub)conscious when it comes to "minorities".
Let me make it clear. First Death: Native warrior who almost kills the titular beast. Second Death: Latino member of the search crew, made as annoying and horny as possible to sweeten his demise. Third Death: Crusty, alcoholic "friend" of the white male hero, who's boat has to explode after he's swallowed whole, just to give the characters some obstacles in the second half, and the proper supplies to overcome them. Fourth Death: More masculine, intelligent, business-oriented (and dark) of the two African American males, who is paralyzed by a spider so he can't even fight back the gaping snake maw. Fifth Death: Strong semi-silent Asian side-kick to the captain of the lost ship, who basically drowns before becoming a snack. Sixth and final Death: Evil head of the exploratory mission, all European-Accented and willing to kill everyone else just for a shot at the "fountain of youth".
See a pattern? Well, every single male person of color was killed horribly, except for the non-threatening, non-sexual, light-skinned African-American computer nerd, who served as comic relief with his constant freak outs. Sure, in the end he aids in the killing of the snakes, but as the movie fades to black, the captain has his cute scientist with matching skin color, and the darker skinned prima-dona gets the monkey, leaving the brother to complain.
Even worse, the captain of the "Bloody Mary" had an Asian nick-name, making him a "honorary minority", a shell he quickly discards when taking the mission. So, that rough and tumble white mercenary man with a heart of gold saves the day, not to mention both women and the whole jungle from the snakey evil. Unfortunately, most movies these days end like that, save for horror movies which are contractually obligated to have a sole female survivor. I don't mind female survivors or mercenary captain heros, but I do mind the trail of darker skinned bodies that never seem to end.
Sure, it's just a stupid movie, but how many other subliminal messages are there in our seemingly innocuous entertainment, and is anyone even keeping track of who's deemed expendable? Whatever.... [Anacondas] does have computer generated killer snakes, so if that's your thing perhaps you can ignore the main courses of the meal.
I absolutely adore Metric, an energetic quartet that makes neo-new-wave-punk that's political, singable and danceable. Emily Haines is the singer and synthist at the heart of the band, who has a musical vibe that never ceases to satisfy. She and guitarist James Shaw have travelled the world (London, Toronto, Brooklyn, etc.) growing and then sharing the Metric magic, eventually giving birth to [Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?], my current daily obsession.
Their official debut has a sound that strangles mundane Modern Rock radio, and songs like [I.O.U.] or [Hustle Rose] force me to sing along at work. [Wet Blanket] and [Dead Disco] are far more amazing, if that's even possible. All I can say is you deserve the amazingness of this record just as much as I do, so don't hesitate to act. If I'm lucky, they'll hit the Bay Area again soon so I can drink them all up, in a listening-to-music sort of way.
When Donnie Darko originally came out in 2001, I was wary of going to the Shattuck Cinemas to see it, because of all of the talk about a 6 foot bunny rabbit named Frank. It's a shame that the reviews were focused thus, because Frank is far from the focus of this peculiar masterwork.
A few months ago I finally broke down and bought the DVD, and a few minutes into it I realized that I had missed something truly special. I could understand the late 80s angst, the analysis of "troubled" Donnie and his brushes with death and madness. I also dug the circuitous exploration of time travel, and whether one's fate could be discovered or even circumvented. The movie is open to interpretation, but I see mostly the boy inside the bubble, living a dream month of happiness while learning to love his shadow.
The new "Director's Cut" that's now hitting theaters is largely superfluous - the new scenes that deal with his teacher (played by Drew Barrymore) are nice, as are the snippets of [The Philosophy of Time Travel], which can also be seen in the DVD extras. However, the addition of overlay graphics at particularly climactic points is forced and annoying, enough so that I prefer the original cut.
No matter - [Donnie Darko] is one my new favorites for any number of reasons, and it would be great if it's more of a box-office success this time around. Check it out on the big screen if you haven't already, and snag the DVD when possible.
A few weeks ago I splurged at Best Buy and bought all five movies in the [Tomie] series. Based upon the horror manga by Junji Ito, it's about an ageless Japanese girl that can't die, that nevertheless is killed by scores of men who fall in love with her. Each grizzly death (often involving decapitation) brings spooky rebirth, along with a form of cloning. Thus, there are tons of Tomie-san running around, and each movie in the series has her played by a different actress.
I can recommend the first movie, along with [Tomie: Replay] and [Tomie: Rebirth] (directed by Takashi Shimuzu of [Ju-On: The Grudge] fame). Each follows the same basic plot, with variations on the theme of Tomie as the monster that doesn't want to see herself thus. She wants love from everyone, yet changes partners to suit her fancy. She dies, other people die, and someone catches on to her supernaturalness, leading to trauma at the end. Good atmosphere, occasional gore, and suitable for fans of modern Japanese horror.
[Tomie: Another Face] was originally produced for TV as a short anthology, and is only useful for completists. I'm saving the latest movie, [Tomie: Forbidden Fruit] for the near future, but sufficed to say I'll probably like it as well.
I turned 32 a few weeks ago, and the heavily-candled cake was in full effect. Surrounded by family and friends at the stylin' Pasta Pomodoro, I was quite the happy fellow. Everyone who is not pictured is very dear to me; I'll see if they don't mind being shown off, and then post other pictures. Click on my head to the left for a larger version of the climax - I eventually defeated the flame, and shared the chocolatey spoils.
SYK Bags are the amazing hand-made creations of Seani Kim. Besides being one my best friends, she's an amazing artist and handcrafter that deserves your attention. Buy a cute handbag for yourself or a worthy woman in your life, and tell her who sent you.
Newsletter readers know that I work for Elgato Systems, a fine maker of Personal Video Recorders and so such. Just yesterday we released the latest EyeTV software, which now has lots of neato export options (from MPEG-2 to DV or MPEG-4, for example) plus some closed captions that I tested to death. Look for an equivalently great EyeHome update soon.
Jude, is one of my favorite bands, if for no other reason than Kenichi Asai. If you're not already a fan, then why not jump on the train with their upcoming album, [Zhivago]. 11 tracks of soon-to-be classics, which will promptly be reviewed once I receive my pre-order.
Bakuretsu Tenshi, my favorite Gonzo anime that I've only seen a few minutes of, is coming to the US under the name of Burst Angel. Licensed by FUNimation, it should be rather sweet, in the young girls with guns and mechs sort of way. I thought about buying the super-expensive Japanese DVD sets just to get the attractively large figurines, but calmer heads prevailed.
Other anime I'm into right is [Last Exile], [Kiddy Grade], [Excel Saga] and [Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex]. Be on the lookout for [Innocence], the second GITS feature soon to hit screens in the US. I saw it in Japan this April, and it's a (slightly confusing) sight to behold.
Junk Magnet is back, and with a blog-like section even. Instead of pouring tons of time into the newsletter once a month each month, I've decided to start posting news and thoughts a few times a week.
Expect to see content about popular entertainment (music, movies, games, comics, etc.) tech (particularly the Macintosh) and whatever the else catches my fancy. Eventually I'll update the whole site to better reflect my new interests, but that will take a while.
Enough stalling... on with the junk.logging.
contests: [enter here]
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