Lindsay Powell amazes as Cake Bake Betty. Follow the link to better understand greatness.
Part 11 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 eleventh that I'm willing to share, and it examines the ultimate horror of the xenophobe.
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We always spin tales about aliens come to visit Earth, and how that's good or bad (usually bad). But, what if we were the aliens on Earth, conquerers of a previous, forgotten race?
In this plot, it's not archaeologists that find the clues leading to the big revelation, but geneticists. When the human genome is truly decoded and understood (say in 20 years or so), then what once was considered "junk" DNA is suddenly translated, and revealed to be meaningful, yet alien. It's there, but not to serve our purpose of life, but another's.
Once the "junk" is stripped out from the "normal" DNA, someone has the bright idea to try to bring to life what that code represents. What they birth is the original master race of Earth, that literally was consumed by the single cell army and its progeny. However, while this life form was ill-suited for the primordial soup in which it drowned, it's perfectly at home in metal and electricity and the absence of the organic.
Thus, this (at present) indescribable proto-alien life awakens, and cannot be held back by anything we've created. Staying in the cities (since "nature" does not suit it), it multiplies by suckling at electro sockets, and consuming free AOL discs. It's the sort of life that you would conceive of a computer creating, which is not at all ironic, because modern technology actually was spurned on by the very alien part of our genetics, yearning to bring forth a time, and world, that it could live in freely, again the master.
The rest of the plot deals with how mankind can live with, or live without, the original spear in its side, techne made incarnate. Sure, there's love, sex, violence, intrigue in this story, but the essence is the split and conflict, us against the original shadow-self.(1)
(1) I have a feeling that I've seen the "alien DNA" meme somewhere else in bits and pieces (from comic books to scientific articles), but for the sake of the night when I wrote this, I was trying to be original. The only way sometimes to get a brand new idea is to smash together multiple older ones.
Just what is "offensive", anyway? How about "mature"? Well, let me tell you a little story, and let me know if it fits either of those terms. Candy Cane (Rebecca Welsh), a young woman with problems in school, was raised in an orphanage. That orphanage is presently lacking in funds, and so due to her severe devotion to it, she runs away from school and joins an all-women wrestling tournament, hoping to win and send all of the prize money to the needy kids. Now, doesn't that sound perfectly suitable for all ages? Heck, she doesn't swear once, even though she's a "punk rocker".
Oh... did I mention that at all times, she's either dressed in a skimpy Britney Spears schoolgirl outfit, or an even skimpier bathing suits that are unlocked if she saves the orphans? Turns out that every single contestant has a similar tame backstory, made potentially "deviant" due to massive amounts of non-nude skin, breast jiggle and borderline-fetish costumes. I don't know, maybe mud-wrestling well-endowed female avitars is inherently bad, but to my mind (and eyes) Rumble Roses by Konami TYO and Yukes is harmless, fun entertainment skewed towards female appreciators. Me, I don't like watching sweaty males grapple and pummel each other, but when attractive women of the semi-cartoony variety are bought to wrassle, then you have my full attention.
That's the sort of game [Rumble Roses] is, bringing fully featured wrestling (with some punching and kicking for good measure) to the PS2, in a "Mature" package that's in general much more suitable for everyone than the murder sims out there. I can't deal with [Grand Theft Auto] because you have to kill to proceed, but I can deal with female wrestling, especially because all of the characters are so sweet, even the "heels". The game is quite earnest, with an unbelievably charming story mode, and would be fun even if the cheesecake dial wasn't stuck on "11".
So, if you secretly dreamed that Tecmo's [DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball] actually involved fighting, then this is absolutely the perfect game ever. If you don't like to play with virtual fantasy girl dolls kicking the pants off of each other, then this so isn't the game for you. Keep that all in mind as you consider this $39.99 purchase in the US, with the Japanese version out soon.
Counterpoint - Presented By The Friends Of Decency
[Rumble Roses] is so terribly terrible because it objectifies female wrestlers. Even though they fight with athleticism and style, it's so much worse than fake male wrestling games, because the women are dressed sexily, and presented as objects of desire. Due to these reasons alone, this game is worth not just deriding, but completely destroying in massive pyres of purification. Videogames are for kids, and should involve random platforming and collectable jewels, and not glistening midriffs. Nick Junk Magnet is clearly rotten to the core, in a slobbering male way, and thus you should discount this and every other piece of his opinion.
Many people like Gwen Stefani, mad(e) famous from fronting No Doubt. I'm one of those admirers, from way on back, and so I'm understandably excited about her new solo album, [Love. Angel. Music. Baby], which came out yesterday. In fact, two versions of said jams were released, one for chump change and one for Trump change ($30 or so, unless you find a sale like I did). That special edition is all tricked out with Stefaniness, including not only a cloth hard bound version of the CD case, but a plush multi-CD sleevy ribbony case designed by Gwen herself. Thus, it's all fluffy extras for the really obsessive and impressionable fans, but not necessary to enjoy the music proper.
Yes, the music is quite proper, in a sounds great, highly dancy fun way. Sure, she's really, really, really into girls from the highly-fashionable Harajuku area of Tokyo, and I can't tell if all of the shout-outs are metaphoric, or just massive appreciation for their wild style. No matter, [Harajuku Girls] is an entertaining track due to the Nihongo infusion, but I find it more hilariously excessive than anything else - it's perhaps the weakest song sonically. The rest of the tracks like [Hollaback Girl] or [Bubble Pop Electric] either showcase Gwen's nastier side, or merely elaborate on her innate Gwen-ness, with help from music luminaries most of which I don't particularly recognize or care for.
That said, I think that [L.A.M.B.] is a solid release that I'll be listening to heavily over the upcoming months. I also picked up the new U2 album, pompously entitled [How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb] (which I'm sure will be OK but not great), along with Evanescence's latest Live CD/DVD combo, [Anywhere But Home]. I think Amy Lee is a goddess, but the rest of the band I can live without much of the time. I'll write about such items when the time is right.
Sometimes a movie just doesn't make much sense. Yeah, sometimes things are intentionally vague, or weird, or oblique, but [Jisatsu Circle] (AKA [Suicide Club] or [Suicide Circle]) barely even tries to explain why everyone is suddenly killing themselves in a fictionalized Japan. First, a gaggle of girls jumps in front of a train, and then you have nurses, students, young folk and old folk dying, and everyone (including the viewers) is trying to figure things out. DeathDeathDeath!
To fully half-explain what the cause is would be to totally deconstruct the plot, so I'll refrain from that. Instead, let me just tell you that despite all the clues, "There is no Suicide Circle". Furthermore, Morning Musume like girl-pop groups named [Dessert] might belt catchy tunes, but they're throwing up suicide signs.
Semi-Spoiler Paragraph: There are two main protagonists to the affair, a policeman and a young girl who's boyfriend jumps to his death and lands on her. She's the one that figures out what stands for the big secret, chirped by a bunch of elementary school kids somehow connected to Dessert. Basically, those who aren't connected to themselves are suitable for death, or more likely to die, or something like that. I kinda get that, but all of the strips of skin and rape in sewn-together bedsheets just isn't my idea of a good time. If you want it all spelled out for you, go here
No, [Suicide Club] isn't my basket of kittens. It started out strong, with a clear message about how even suicide can become a fad, but then all of the websites and media manipulation and strange kids wore me down. Multiple viewings probably would reveal more, but I pretty much had my fill the first time around. That said, I can see why a fuss has been made over Sion Sono and his bloody baby, and perhaps you'd like it more than I did.
Fortunately, [Suicide Club] was my inaugural rental from Netflix, so I was only out a few bucks, and was able to stuff it right back in a mailbox when I was finished. I don't know why it took me years to become a Flicker (or whatever Netflix customers call themselves), but it really is easy and fast, with a fair enough selection of Japanese live action and Anime that I'll be kept busy for the next year or two. Expect more reviews of Netflix rentals as time progresses, but I'll spare you a discussion of every single DVD, since such musings are currently choking the net. Nothing I can say will be that interesting, but I will point out stuff that might be overlooked or overrated.
It may be apparent from this website that I enjoy video games. In fact, I think the correct description is that while I've always played games, over the past few years I became more of a collector, buying every system that comes out, and focusing mainly on releases from Sega. On Sunday, Nintendo's new portable machine was released in the US (before Japan even), and the Nintendo DS is unimaginatively named (it has Dual Screens) but magnificently put together. The trick is that both screens can be used concurrently or independently, and the lower one is touch sensitive (like a PDA) allowing for all new sorts of gameplay. Plus, the unit is wirelessly enabled, and backward compatible with Game Boy Advance games, so there's no really reason not to spend the $149 US to upgrade.
Well, there are some reasons, like the upcoming Sony PSP portable, but since I buy one of every game console I'll be getting that anyway. What really drew me in, however, was Sonic Team's latest release, [Feel The Magic XX XY]. Actually, the correct title is [Kimi No Tame Kara Shineru], which roughly translates [I Can Die For Your Sake]. That's such a great title compared to the anemic [Feel The Magic], but at least both games are functionally equivalent - you can even switch the US one into Japanese.
What's so special about this game? Well, it's a collection of weird mini-games in which a guy's trying to win the affections of a girl he recently came across. How does he try to win her heart? Not flowers or chocolate, not even a well-phrased love letter, but instead he joins a Super Performance Group called the Rub Rabbits. So, he/you does crazy things to impress her, like using the touch pad to cause a man to throw up goldfish that he accidentally swallowed. I've only had time to free the fish so far, but many more events lie before me before she is mine. Only Sega-associated outfits can come up with stuff this great, and it looks quite stylish in an anti-iPod silhouettes sort of way, combined with the sensibilities of Cool Cool Toon, my fave from the Dreamcast.
The only other DS game I'm actually waiting for is [Mr. Driller Drill Spirits] (out 11.30.04), because I'm a sucker for dual screen cute yet intense arcade action. Besides, Susumu-san is the coolest, and his first game is the brick bomb. I still want to play [Mr Driller Drill Land, which came out in Japan for the Gamecube, but I'm of the mind that in a few cases, too much of a good thing is simply too much. No matter, other games like [Ridge Racer] and a bunch of unwanted Mario crap are soon to be here, so I'll be well-taken care of until 2005. Neo Game and Watch forever!
Oh, by the way, If you want a Sony PSP in time for Christmas, then you're probably too late to pre-order a Japanese one, coming out 12.12.04. Don't fret, though, because the US version will be out relatively soon enough. I'm waiting before I pounce, to see what games come out, and how region-blocked the thing is - I'd prefer to play Japanese and US games on the same unit, which is the Nintendo way but alien to Sony. Fingers crossed for me and you...
Part 10 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 tenth that I'm willing to share, and it deals with universal dopplegangerization.
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Something weird happens, and everyone all at one suddenly has a twin. That is to say a clone, of the same age, that appears all of a sudden. That's strange enough, but the thing is that the duplicates don't appear in the same space as the originals; they're seemingly randomly distributed around the world, so at first no one knows what happened.
But, if you find a famous movie star wandering in you bathroom, you might start to suspect something. It takes a few days, but eventually enough strange reports come in that people begin to wonder. A few prime clone examples are rounded up and displayed along with the "originals", to offer proof.
However, these clones aren't just cheap knock-offs, they have the same abilities and memories as the original, up until the time of the "split". This causes any number of problems, because for the clone, it's as if they just awoke in another part of the world, and are trying to solve the whys and whatfors.
Thus, all sorts of conflicts ensue. People kidnap and abuse famous clones, for their own gain. For example, a clone of the President of the USA appears in the Middle East in a city street (1), and is summarily tortured and executed. It's all shown on the Internet, which really goes over well in the US, as you could imagine. Or, think of the sexiest film star that shows up in a jail somewhere, and then is held hostage and abused in all sorts of imaginative ways. Conversely, think of death row inmates, or hard-core "terrorists" that show up in the Mall of America.
There are fights over who's the original and who's the clone. Some clones get together and live harmoniously like twins, while others disparage each other. Clones commit crimes and frame the original. Etc. Etc. Plus, the world now has over 10 billion residents, and no infrastructure to support that amount of people. Massive unrest, wars, famine, more disease - it's all in there.
Some people suggest drastic solutions (universal surveillance of confirmed clones, "final solutions" that are compared to after-birth abortions) while others look for the cause of the phenomenon - how did it happen, and will it happen again?
The Plot follows this and so much more - let the imagination run wild. Were animals also duplicated? Plants? Just animate objects? Earth A meets Earth B crap? Alien Influence? Experiment gone wrong? Whatever it is, I want some hubris in there somewhere, just because.
(1) We live in a sad world, so I took out the proper name of our current President. There is precedent to expect that even a entirely fictionalized account of potential harm to the President is actionable by the Secret Service. Thus... believe me when I say that spontaneous clone production is still in the realm of fantasy, no need to come a calling. I love the Constitutionally-created office of the President, just like I love kittens and ice cream. USA! USA! USA! Etc.
It has already been established in most countries that Chiaki Kuriyama is a force of supreme beauty, and [Shikoku] was her first cinematic starring role in 1999. Thus, it provided a strong pull for me, which explains why I bought and watched it last week. She plays Sayori, a young girl who's parents used her as a spiritual medium. Many years later, her childhood friends Hinako and Funiya (now adults) search the Japanese island of Shikoku for her, not certain if she is dead, missing, or perhaps scheduled to return back to life due to her mother's schemes.
Chiaki-san only appears in the latter half of the film, a few visitations here and there followed by a strong third act. Yui Natsukawa (Hinako) has to carry the movie as Sayori's estranged friend, and she plays her role adequately. It's not hard at all to see what's coming, but I did like the bit about transforming "Shikoku" (4th Country) to "Shikoku" (Dead Country, or Land of the Dead). I'm always a sucker for Kanji play, and besides, while not being a horrifying movie per se, there's still some pseudo-chills to be had at the end. The dead... may come back to life in physical bodies! Yipes!
[Shikoku] is brought to us by Adness, the low-price publisher of other Japanese horror titles like the [Tomie] series (which I enjoyed), so make sure to look for their wares at your nearest DVD emporium. Not much production value for the packaging, but the movies are well-subtitled and true to the originals. I'll be reporting on their other releases as I find them.
Tamio Okuda is one of my favorite artists of all time. Seriously - from Unicorn, to producing and writing many Puffy (AmiYumi) songs and albums, not to mention his 10 year solo career, now commemorated by his latest album, [Lion] - he has it all, and is not afraid to share it. He's an all powerful songwriter, with tight melodies and inventive lyricism, that also has a firm grasp on any number of guitar styles. Even though he sings almost exclusively in Japanese, I contend that his music can be felt and appreciated by anyone.
That's why he was one of the main reasons I started my website, and that's why my Tamio Okuda section has been completely refreshed as of tonight. All of his singles and albums clearly presented, with even more detail to come. If I can do nothing else with my promotion of Japanese Music, I want to champion Okuda-san as much as possible. So check out that page for more information and links, and don't be surprised if you hear a lot more about him from me in the future.
There are "movies", and there are movies. [Lily Chou-Chou No Subete] (All About Lily Chou-Chou) is a perfect case in point of the latter category; Shunji Iwai created this helter-skelter masterpiece in 2001 with enough verve and inventiveness to fill a whole shelve of wannabees. There is no simple description of this work, but one attempt is that the very essence of teenage longing, confusion and attempts at transcendence were distilled and liberally sprinkled around modern Japan, with Iwai-san capturing the results.
You could try to relate the plot, in which a mass of youth connect to each other through the music of Lily Chou-Chou, and the connection to the "Ether" that she inspires. It's predominately a male partially-coming-of-age movie, with the character of Yuichi Hasumi (Hayato Ichihara) being the angsty core. He's transitioning from Elementary to Middle School, and discovering the escape that Lily's albums provide. Though his Lily fansite, and the discussion it harbors, he meets another like soul with the handle of "Blue Cat". One thrust of the movie is their directed, long-distance friendship, which leads to climactic events at Lily's concert.
Another way of exploring this work is through individual characters, like the harassment of one girl by her peers, or the manipulation of Shiori Tsuda (Yuu Aoi later of [Hana & Alice]) into casual teenage prostitution. You could also follow Blue Cat's path of negation, or the liberation that a gaggle of teenage thieves find on a summer Okinawan tour (featuring Miwako Ichikawa, my new fave). The male lead of [Hana & Alice], Tomohiro Kaku, is also around with a prominent role.
Perhaps the easiest way to connect to this masterpiece is through the "fictional" Lily Chou-Chou, embodied by the voice of Salyu, hand selected by Iwai-san to embody the conduit to the Ether. The sound track is really amazing, and she's portrayed as a cross between UA and Sheena Ringo. It's very easy to imagine yourself laying headphoned in field, escaping into bliss from the everyday grind. I was so taken that I've ordered all of Salyu's works, including the Lily Chou Chou soundtracks and her 3 latest singles. They'll be here in few days, and then I can faithfully replicate the transference into the Ether.
While there are negative aspects to [All About Lily Chou-Chou] (occasional muddy camera work, narrative fuzziness, and perhaps too much onscreen keyboarding of Japanese text) is does manage to massively cohere by the end. It actually started as a serialized web novel partially created by readers and participants, which I can truly respect due to my own meager attempt at that through Antizine. That initial collaboration is what gives it a fully beating electric-heart, an extra, necessary organ of the 21st century.
I see this movie as a necessary, wild starting point with flashes of brilliance which lead to the more measured and satisfying [Hana & Alice], its feminine counter-point. No matter, people have been talking about this movie for the past few years for a reason, and I recommend it for all who have found transcendence through music, from the love of your favorite idol, along with those interested in a more rough (if not necessarily "honest") portrayal of some modern Japanese adolescents. A Junk Magnet Best Bet.
I love music. All sorts of music, from the loud, random and cacophonic, to sappy poppy so-called-poop. I'm of the mind that you should like what's good, what gives you wanted sensations, no matter what anyone else says or thinks. Thus, tonight I'll discuss 3 such "fuck the critics" artists, that all fall in the young-cute-singer category.
First of all, JoJo is something normal yet special, coming from the vocal gymnastics school of R & B. You know, why offer up one note when 24 will fit? Despite that flirtation with diva sound-jousting, she's actually quite talented for her young age. Hitting it big after an [America's Most Talented Kids] TV stint, she turned her tireless work into a blooming career, with her self-titled debut introducing her to the public at large. It has a gaggle of producers, but she still managed to fully write 3 of the tracks, allowing her personal experience to come through the calculated positioning. No matter, the songs she wrote are just as great as the songs she didn't, and pretty much every track is easy-listening yet groovable. I'm particularly partial to [Use My Shoulder], [Yes Or No], [City Lights] and her hit single [Leave (Get Out)]. Seriously, if you like sassy adolescent R & B combined with hip hop, or can't stand early Britney Spears, then this is exactly for you.
Now for someone more controversial to support. Whether she's ever used backing tracks or not, I really and truly like Ashlee Simpson and her [Autobiography]. I don't care what she looks like, who her sister is, or frankly what her philosophical or political views are. All I care about is what's been committed to disc, and her first album is supremely catchy. I like the gruff of her voice combined with instrumentation and production that matches the quality of most of my more poppy alternative or indy rock faves. Sure, her lyrics aren't necessarily the most profound - most are "I'm great and independent, so love me or fuck off" or "I'm sad and sweet, please come back" - but I find myself singing along despite myself. Divorce the star from the shine, and you got a rising talent that kicks her sibling's ass. Who cares about how "authentic" or "real" it is or isn't, whether she's on MTV or in [Teen People] - just enjoy what she has to offer.
Finally, my favorite of the three who never fails to annoy as a person, but makes some of the best girl-pop music out there. Avril Lavigne is a great artist, but you first have to forget all of the "fake Punk" criticisms. Of course she's not punk, not even of the Hot Topic variety. Her first album [Let Go] was celebrated because of its pure-pop-rock middle-way, offering up an "independent young woman" slant to your typical radio fare. It sounded awesome, and she had her hand in much of the content and sound. [Under My Skin], her latest effort, is "harder" and brings in more collaboration, but still manages to please me with every listen.
So, I like Avril's music, but I can't really stand her public persona. She's the type of young star to say that she likes to get loaded and run around naked, and she's always insulting her musical competition, trying to cultivate a bad-girl image. To me that's all pointless and stupid, but perhaps it serves to bring the 10 year old girls into the fold. Who knows, but I'm looking forward to the sonic and lyrical complexity that I know is in her, that will no doubt come out with age and experience.
There you have it. I like girly-pop, be it North American or Japanese. I mean, if I liked Morning Musume and Hitomi but not these three, then I would be biased and not fully appreciating what my own "culture" has to offer. I think I'm generally in that space lately, of exploring and appreciating all of the more mainstream music out there, while in the past I was a "pure" indy-rock-punk-art-whore, that bragged about talking to Sleater-Kinney when they played 924 Gilman with the Donnas almost a decade ago, or how I adored Fibulator, the best band from Oakland you never heard of. They're all good, and so is some of the stuff that sells shipping containers full of plastic. The trick is finding the stuff you like across the spectrum, and not being afraid to openly support your common and rare treasures. That's what Junk Magnet has always been about, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Just got back from my local Best Buy, where they have a tendency of breaking street date on random stuff. For example, I'm now listening to Eminem's latest album, [Encore], which is officially due tomorrow. A few days ago, I went in to buy the new [Ju-On] DVD, on the day that it was released, but they had already sold out. Turns out that it hit the shelves at that store a week early. Luckily, tonight they found me the last, "lost" copy and now I can replace my worn VCD. In the recent past I've also found anime releases on the shelves a few days before their official release, so no complaints from me.
I'm not the biggest Marshall fan, but so far [Encore] sounds pretty great. It seems to be a teeny bit more mature, with less horrowshow imagery and more social and political thought, the already infamous [Mosh] being a case in point. Don't worry, though, the second half of the album is terribly juvenile, starting around [Rain Man] and followed by too many shout outs to his penis. Anyway, I'll be enjoying this 2CD set over the next few weeks - the second disc contains 3 unreleased songs. Check it out if you're into that sort of mainstream multiplatnium rap.
While searching the shelves for [Ju-On], I found another cool DVD staring Chiaki Kuriyama of [Battle Royale] and [Kill Bill] fame. I've been her fan for a few years now, and recently even bought the Digi-Kishin release that spotlights her quirky beauty. She's an interesting combination of drop-deadness and drop-dead gorgeousness, with a great smile and growl, not to mention a prominent nose and chin that only adds to the package.
The Digi-Kishin idol DVD is different than most, because instead of video clips with idol interviews, interspersed with fashion shots and cheesecake, Chiaki was captured almost exclusively in still-pictures that morphed from one to another. It was beautiful and stylish, but not exactly what I had in mind. I just wanted to learn a bit more about her in a video format, but instead only got a few seconds of candidness. Oh well, if you want an eye-candied fashion magazine come to life staring Chiaki, then this is exactly for you. It's all region, and available from CDJapan or VIZ. By the way, the Chiaki DVD I found in Best Buy was [Shikoku], a horror movie and her 3rd cinematic role (before [Ju-On] and [Battle Royale]) that I'll tell you about later.
I still play video games occasionally, more than my stagnant Games section would attest to, and recently I picked up [Dead Or Alive Ultimate] for the Xbox. That's not really surprising, since I have all other versions of [Dead Or Alive 2] for all possible consoles, in English and Japanese. I really like the series, OK? One of the reasons I bought my Xbox in the first place was for [Dead or Alive 3], and this new release brings DOA2 to a graphical and control level which surpasses all previous releases. Plus, there's Xbox Live capabilities (which I don't care about) and a version of the first DOA game (which looks so old school blocky that it's great).
The other reason I bought my Xbox was [Halo], and perhaps you've heard that its sequel just came out? Seriously, [Halo 2] is kicking ass at the checkout counter, and I ordered the special silver box thingy via mail, so it should be coming shortly. I'll refrain from speaking about Bungie's latest masterpiece until I actually have a copy to play.
Finally, I have Konami's [Rumble Roses] on order, and it's basically highly-detailed models of attractive women wrestling in scanty costumes, with lots of Japanese touches. Sounds like something I'd enjoy? You better believe it, and my PS2 will get a workout soon enough. Rated M for "Mature", just like Maxim is appreciated by serious intellectuals everywhere.
Oh yeah... I also found the Miwako Ichikawa [Pinup Girl] CD (mentioned on 11.9) on eBay, a brand new copy of the limited edition even, which is absolutely sold out in all other stores I could find in Japan and the US. My very first eBay purchase, and it's already being mailed from Taiwan for my possible enjoyment. Electronic Progress!
Part 9 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 ninth that I'm willing to share, and it deals with twists upon the old saw of teleportation.
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A teenage girl, about 14 years of age, goes to sleep in her bed, yet wakes up in a puddle of water, at the bottom of a ditch in the desert somewhere, her pajamas burnt and in tatters around her. After the expected freakout, with tears and yelling for someone, anyone that she knows, she gathers herself and tries to find something to wear. She's able to tie together bits of fabric to barely cover herself.
Not that she really cares - it's insanely hot, and all around her for miles is nothing but sand dunes. She surmises that she might not be in an American desert, because it doesn't match her memories of the flat, slightly-shrubby land she passed through on family driving vacations, to Las Vegas among other places. It reminds her of the kind of desert where camels live, but that makes no sense.
None of it makes sense, how did she get here, anyway? The excessive physical sensation (lots of heat and sweat, the sand burning her feet) convinces her that she's not dreaming. She examines the hole that she woke up in the middle of - at first she thought it was a depression or ditch, but from afar it's clearly a circular crater. Looking a bit closer at the edges, she notices that there a glassy substance all about, with bits of melted sand attached to it. She doesn't know much science, but she does know that melted sand can make glass, so she gets intrigued. Perhaps there was some sort of explosion, that she strangely survived. Or perhaps the process by which she got to the desert involved an explosion, heat, stuff like that.
In fact, she wasn't far off. The house that she grew up in was now a smoking crater, with an epicenter of her bedroom. Apparently a force leapt out of her sleeping body in a spherical path, destroying all in its wake, except her. That force also transported her elsewhere, and then melted away everything around her until it subsided, back into her. The whole effect was similar to the Terminator time-transport-bubbles, only quite different in actuality.
You see, the girl herself generated this effect, but since it happened while she was asleep, her dreaming mind influenced the ending coordinates. Thus, she found herself in a desert in North Africa, with absolutely no idea how she got there, or how she could get back.
So, this plot involves the fact that everyone assumes the girl and her family all died in the explosion/effect, but that some investigators found the crater quite suspicious, due to various residues and compounds left behind. In parallel, the plot also follows the girl as she tries to get out of the desert before running out of water, which she has none of to begin with, except for the water she woke up in.
(Aside - you see, the teleportation effect acts like a vacuum when then energy withdraws, and since she arrived at night, when the desert had a bit of water content in the air, all of the humidity from her immediate surroundings (say, a mile or two all around), was sucked into the center of the effect. The end result of this was a small puddle, say an inch deep or so. It didn't sink into the sand because the sand was actually fused together into a glassy like substance. She didn't notice this because after the fact, winds blew more sand upon the hard surface. Thus, only the area right below her prone body had water in it. Laborious explanation, but it gets the party started.)
Anyway, she does make it out of the desert, either by being discovered by someone, or by inadvertently teleporting again.
That's it for now. I think there can be a story here, it just needs some direction. Eventually, the real mystery is not just how she can transport herself from one place to another, but where exactly does she go in the interim?
Miwako Ichikawa is a goddess. I decided this after watching [Concent], a nice metaphysical thriller that came out in Japan in 2001. Based on a novel of the same name by Randy Taguchi, and directed by Shun Nakahara, [Concent] follows one young woman's awakening as a modern-day "shaman". The title refers to any electrical outlet, and through investigating and processing her brother's untimely death, she herself becomes an outlet for others to process their pain and sadness, and finally heal.
Without belaboring the plot (which would only spoil it), sufficed to say that ichikawa-san plays Yuki as both sexually voracious and severely haunted by her past. She easily carries the movie, which is largely reality based, with only the occasional floating ghost or dream sequence. I largely bought the Japanese DVD reissue (Region 2) because it has English subtitles, but quickly discovered that it was a solid movie that wasn't afraid to contemplate the nature of reality or the psychological process that leads to wholeness.
As coincidence would have it, Miwako Ichikawa also had a prominent role in [All About Lily Chou-Chou] (to be discussed here very soon) as an Okinawan tour guide. Her luminosity there was unmistakable, and [Concent] only serves to bring her to incandescence. You should definitely check this movie out, and I'll report back later as I track down more of her work. (She even has an album on Sony Music, which you know I have to hear).
Sometimes in life you just want to be entertained. Cute girls, bullets flying, mysteries to be solved - the works. [Mezzo] is the perfect solution, providing thrills and chills as captivating killer Mikura and her DSA (Danger Service Agency) crew take on all cases, especially those involving big wads of cash. Her two male companions, an older ex-cop and a younger android maker, are both enamored by and protective of her, so while she goes in feet first to get the job done, they always have her back.
Over the course of the series, creator/director Yasuomi Umetsu has a ball overturning normal anime convention, without going into parody. The DSA are extravagant and exclusive, yet treated like they could possibly exist in a slightly futuristic Tokyo. Sure, most plots involve finding or transporting something or someone unusual, thus the comparisons some have made to the [X-Files]. However, instead of a grand government or alien conspiracy, you have the mob and corruptly-well-off pulling the strings, but not so much that Mikura can't save the day with a gun in her hands and a smile on her face. [Mezzo] is a fun series with only occasional tinges of melancholy, well suited for semi-mindful enjoyment. Check out the first of 3 volumes and see what I'm talking about - only episode 3 falters due to excessive indulgence of a karaoke scene, while all the rest is exemplary.
For the full [Mezzo] experience you'll also need to track down [Mezzo Forte], the OVA that served as the prototype for the current series. [Mezzo Forte] is notorious due to its truly hentai Director's Cut, which provides at least 5 minutes of plot-gratuitous hardcore sex over the two episodes. One scene is a dream sequence, and the other equally suspect, but if you like lots of rotoscoped porn with nothing left to the imagination, then there you go. Otherwise, the whole thing is really amazing, with excellent animation, rollicking action, and an equal balance of humor and ultra-violence. Umetsu-san made it with the expressed purpose of constructing a TV-friendly follow-up, assuming the response was good. Well, he need not have worried, because the whole Mezzo concept is well worth exploring.
Besides its prequel status, [Mezzo Forte] also directly ties into episode 5 ([Shell Of Lies, Nega]) of the just released [Mezzo] Shell One volume, so much so that scenes from that OVA are borrowed directly. To discuss how they are borrowed would spoil the whole plot, but sufficed to say that Mikura has more of a back story than her young age would indicate. You can find a clean version of [Mezzo Forte] at Amazon.com or your equally favorite retailer.
Oh yeah - one more reason that I like Mezzo is Mikura's status as the happy twin of Kaneko Atsushi's Bambi. Same pink hair, same VW bug figuring prominently in early episodes, same verve at mass destruction. The only real difference is that Mikura isn't borderline insane, so there you go.
Finally, I have to mention the opening and ending music by Barnabys, three rocking gals that impressed me with such energy and verve that I immediately ordered their available works (an EP and [Mezzo] single). You should definitely check them out even if you don't like anime, and I'll report more when their stuff comes in a few weeks.
Part 8 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 eighth that I'm willing to share, and it speaks to my feelings about marketing and demographics.
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At the end of each night, a man enters the last train and methodically moves through the subway, using a small, quiet hand vacuum to pick up various samples of hair, skin flakes, and the like. Then, he later sorts out the particles, and sequences the DNA that they contain.
His goal is to get a cross-sectional picture of the genetics of that city's population. That sort of "advanced demographics" can be highly lucrative - sell the data to advertisers that post in the train stations, and then they can have truly targeted campaigns.
Apparently, future technology can also tell you how old the person who "donated" the DNA is. You can also see exactly what inherited conditions and acquired diseases they have, something that a mere survey of videotape couldn't tell you.
Such "genometrics" is becoming increasingly popular, as the cost to sequence any sample quickly rushes towards zero, particularly in bulk testing situations. Thus, hair dressers sell the hair clippings to marketers, spammers, and the like, to get an accurate sampling of what kind of people inhabit certain areas. Public libraries, theaters, clubs, and the like are also heavily utilized; even the janitorial staff of office buildings sell the human leavings to supplement their income.
Eventually, private databases are constructed, where an interested party can pay for a query like "I need to know the top 5 cities where diabetics live, and I need to ensure that the population is rich, so they can buy our new glucose monitoring system." Or, "I need to sell fast food to more markets, and I need to support our partners involved in the "weight loss" industry; what is the median weight in a certain city, and how many people have high cholesterol, etc?"
Of course, criminals will also use this "genometric" data, to specifically target certain victims, due to their genetics. People with certain diseases can be scammed by fake "find a cure" groups; samples can be taken from doorknobs and the like to find the weaknesses of those in a certain residence (e.g. find their allergies, and then pipe them into the house, so they'll be too sick to fight). Rapists could concoct a perfect sedative, tailored just for that person, that breaks down into amino acids or something as undetectable.
Anyway, back to the man on the midnight train. His goal isn't commercial; he wants to find the mean genetic traits of a large part of the population, and then create a human "from scratch" with those traits, literally a perfectly average person. The idea is that that person will be by definition more attractive to more people than any other person; sure, that person won't necessarily be extra beautiful or extra smart, they'll just be able to fit into more situations than anyone else. He sees this as a grand experiment, but obviously if it works, and this person becomes very influential or famous, then people will try to exploit this process.
Yesterday, there was an election. Something really bad happened, but half of the U.S. waited in line to make it so. I don't understand this; it makes no sense on so many levels.
I'll spare you the meat of my opinion; sufficed to say I'm more anarchist than anything else, so even the center of the political spectrum seems incurably far right to me. That said, I thought that logic and decency would prevail over narrow-minded "faith" and "ethics", but I was wrong.
That's all I have to say. Interested parties can do research, and clearly see what's going on. Uninterested parties can celebrate 4 more years. All are welcome here, because all opinions count. What's being contended are the actions stemming from those opinions.
The U.S., I fear, is a horrible actor, lacking in subtlety and trying to make up for it with wild gesticulation. Usually, such flailing has a way of slapping others standing by in the face. Thus, watch your front and back while they do their victory shuffle, waving flags and loading bullets. Collateral damage is considered a virtue.
Tomorrow: Back to trivial pop culture and cute things. I need new and novel ways to take the edge off.
I'm not the only one that considers Satoshi Kon to be an anime genius. He wrote and directed [Perfect Blue], [Millennium Actress] and [Tokyo Godfathers], the latter of which I thought was nothing short of amazing. He's also affiliated with Madhouse, who are synonymous with quality, and lately decided to try his hand at a serialized anime TV show. [Paranoia Agent], the result of that experiment, is a kick ass production that you really should check out.
The conceit of the story is that a connected group of people, each one at their wits end, is accosted by a mysterious baseball-bat-wielding youth on inline skates. In Japanese, he's called Shonen Bat, which is a nice play on words (Shonen Knife is a "boy knife", or pocket knife, so the clever association is clear). However, in their infinite stupidity, those involved in the English translation chose Lil' Slugger as the name of our spectre, which is idiotic and terribly illiterate. I never listen to dub tracks, but I most definitely can't listen to what they did to [Paranoia Agent] - all other names are in the original Japanese, while the core of the series is made to sound like a tiny-tot tee-ball player. Death to needlessly bad translations! End of rant.
As I was saying, Shonen Bat is terrorizing Tokyo, but none of his victims are killed. In fact, each one comes out of the altercation seeming refreshed and focused. Thus, the police wonder what's going on, and how to catch their perp. The population wonders who will be next, and the chain of circumstance continues.
The series is excellently animated, and it seems like each major character has their own artist, such is the uniqueness of their faces and mannerisms. It's very easy to get into the mystery, because there's ample dark humor to go along with the paranoia. The whole thing lasts for 13 episodes, so if you check it out, make sure to get the Limited Edition collector's box along with Volume 1, so you'll have room for the other 3 DVDs to be released in 2005. You'll also get a cute lil' plush doll of Maromi, the dog-like ubiquitous creature that plays a larger plot-point than first apparent.
Junk Magnet Best Bet, and all that - just stay away from the dubbed track if you know what's good for you.
Finally, after 6 months of waiting, I've seen the spectacle that is Casshern. For those not in the know, or not paying attention as I went on and on about it in JM Newsletters past, [Casshern] is the first feature film by Mr. Hikaru Utada, otherwise known as Kiriya Kazuaki. He's an inventive PV director who's made videos for a number of Hikki's past smash hits. Some time in the past few years they got hitched, and you could consider [Casshern] their first child. No matter - [Casshern] was an anime from the 1970s, and Kazuaki-san has completely morphed it into a rockingly spazzy blue-screen fest, like [Laputa] meets [Zeram], with a bit of [Attack of the Clones] for good measure.
Earlier this year the trailer for [Casshern] was released, and the Internet was a twitter due to the pop-your-eyes-out visuals, full of flying fortresses and waddling robots killing all in sight. I was unable to see the full spectacle in Japan (it came out shortly after I left), but I remained patient and steadfast, and was rewarded last weekend with the Ultimate Edition 3 DVD set, which is too much for a mere mortal to contemplate. Did I mention that it comes with full, English subtitles? Like I said, too much to handle, but somehow I made it through.
The movie itself is very Japanese, meaning you get some sublime moments of throw it all in your face action, and long stretches of carefully posed conversations and contemplations. Without giving the plot away, you have a scientist working with an analog of stem cells, looking to grow body parts in a fountain of youth way for the powers that be. He has a son (Tetsuya) that eventually becomes Casshern, and these neo-cells are involved. The enemy figures were also created from the same research, either by accident or a force of cosmic "seeding".
In the end, the film is open to interpretation, even though it's so blatantly visual. I enjoyed the relatively subdued acting, but the extremely heavy handed "war is hell" presentation got older faster. You only get three good scenes of Casshern action, but those bits of joy more than make up for the more obvious parts. So, check it out if you can, and stay for the credits so you can hear Hikki belt out her last Japanese ballad before becoming Utada.
Hikaru Utada is tremendously great, and while she's sold less than 20,000 copies of [Exodus] in the US so far, I'm sure each and every one is being treasured by her fans. Speaking of which, for a few weeks many people were having difficulties in finding her latest work in stores, even with the backing of the Universal/Island giant. Some stores didn't order enough copies, while others like Best Buy placed her album in the Reggae section. This annoyed to no large end, and so I did the following to rectify it: 1) Wrote to Universal, 2) Wrote to www.utada.com, 3) Talked to my nearest Best Buy manager, and 4) Wrote to www.bestbuy.com.
The Best Buy store manager thought I was insane, and their Customer Care Team had this to say:
Thank you for contacting Best Buy about your our CD selection. I'm Mary with Customer Care.
We appreciate receiving feedback from our customers. Best Buy takes great pride in providing a fun and easy shopping experience for our customers, and we have shared your comments with the management teams from the appropriate departments who will review the situation. Please be certain Best Buy will continue to focus on satisfying our customers every chance we get.
Well, for once she wasn't talking out of her ass, because the last time I checked a few days ago, my local Best Buy had Utada finally shelved in the Rock/Pop section, with a price sticker to match. Score!
Now, I'm sure that of all the other people who noticed this problem, a few others must have written around to try to rectify it. Therefore, I can't take much credit, except to say that if something is important (even if it seems trivial), sometimes making a fuss is the best way to go. Otherwise, Universal/Island and the retailers selling their product would have Utada mislabeled, thus taking away her sales from those not willing to comb the entire music section.
Utada [Exodus] Contest Part 2
All of that said, I have another copy of the Japanese release of [Exodus] to give away, and if you entered for the last one I presented a month ago, then you're already entered for this one. Otherwise, email me using Utada Contest as the subject by November 30, and you may be Utada-rich come December 1st.
contests: [enter here]
po box 11501