Lindsay Powell amazes as Cake Bake Betty. Follow the link to better understand greatness.
I'm a fan of Masamune Shirow, well known over the past few decades for his manga creations like [Ghost In The Shell]. While I was still in school, I was much enamored by translations of his work, from [Dominion] to [Appleseed], and snatched them up as soon as they were released in the US. Last year, [Appleseed] was transformed into motion-captured CG and released in Japan to some fanfare. Now, that version has reached the US, first as a limited-release movie, and later as a DVD.
Now that it's established that I'm well versed in the story and its creator, I have to say that I was pretty disappointed by the whole affair. Sure, it looked amazing, with characters that moved naturally enough and lots of technical shine. Big and small robots, temporary utopias, lots of Greek nomenclature - it's all in there. The problem is that the characters aren't that interesting, the main love story doesn't connect, and the plot is complicated enough that long stretches of tedious exposition are necessary.
What's more, the US theatrical version is dubbed, and while not all dubs are horrible, most every dub is horrible to me, since I always prefer to her the original vocal track. Without their true voices, Deunan and crew are mere shadows of their potential selves, and it's very easy to just stare at the pretty pictures, and forget everything once it's over.
If you want an anime adaptation that really does Masamune Shirow proud, then try [Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex], which takes his work as a genesis, and then runs with it all dancing and ball-spiking in the end zone. Volume 4 was released last week, and the whole TV series is well worth checking out (in the subtitled DVD version, of course).
I will give [Appleseed] another try when it hits DVD, just so I can hear the original vocals. Perhaps my review will improve slighty at that point.
When it comes to discovering great new (non-Japanese) music, I'm often slow on the uptake. [So Jealous] by Tegan and Sara is a strong case in point; it came out in September of 2004, but I didn't actually hear its amazingness until tonight.
Sure, I started to get into their [Walking With A Ghost] single, after first getting over their uniquely squeaky/screachy vocals, but it took just one listen of their 4th album for me to fully fall in love.
Sara and Tegan Quin are Canadian sisters, born in the early 80s and slowly becoming more brilliant with every passing year. Vancouver and Montreal are made all the better by their presence, and such notables as Matt Sharp (The Rentals, Weezer) joined them in their new sonic sensation. They're folky-indy-rocky, with clean production and overpowering melodies. Every damn song on the record stands out in some way, and most are actually better than the catchy single.
What more can I say? It's now my task to buy all of their albums that are still in print, to see them live, and to evangelize the hell out of them. If you're not as immediately committed as I, then you can check out their website for ample sound clips.
Expect more elaborate opinions once I track down the rest of their work.
Much to the shock of the most obsessive junk.log readers, I have yet another Japanese Pop page to introduce. Tonight it's for Yuki, she of Judy and Mary fame who has managed to make a stellar career out of the ashes of her former, iconic band.
She's released all sorts of singles lately, including [Joy] on 1.19.2005, which I anxiously await hearing. It's the precursor to an album of the same name, to be out on 2.23.2005, which is a day everyone should remember. Seriously, she's truly amazing, and if you aren't already schooled in Yuki-teki mono, then by all means check her out now.
Since I'm a big fan of Anne Suzuki - the ultra-cute and talented star of [Hana & Alice] - I've been slowly but surely tracking down all of her past work. I saw her in [Returner] a few years ago (one of her more action-oriented vehicles), and recently I discovered that its director, Takashi Yamazaki, worked with Suzuki-san a few years prior on his first film, [Juvenile]. My interest piqued, I soon tracked it down on import DVD.
[Juvenile], which came out in 2000, is a cross between [ET] and [Back To The Future], with ample portions of all those robot-buddy movies that came out in the 1980s. Misaki (Anne) is the friend and love interest of a young elementary student, who loves the concept of robots to the extent that when one mysteriously appears in the forest, his friends just assume that he's the perfect guy to take care of it. That small, cute, owl-like automaton is Tetra, who speaks simple Japanese and is all-consumed with devotion to his master, Yusuke, and some mysterious task at hand.
The plot is surprisingly convoluted for a kids film, what with time travel and worm holes and an ending that sees the kids as adults, facing the ultimate consequence of their childhood adventures. Space aliens are defeated, mecha are piloted, and there are big, wet kisses on the lips of Sony and AOL, which took care of ample PlayStation 2 infomercials and world-saving internet access.
Thematically, [Juvenile] is quite simple and sweet - the ultimate otaku butches up and saves the day, and even gets the girl for everlasting love. What really impressed me were the lower-rent yet skillfully executed CG effects, which in many ways outdid the subsequent [Returner]. Even if you're bored by the interpersonal politics of young folk, you'll be happy to go along for the ride thanks to the flash and bang, which actually serves the plot.
[Juvenile] is worth looking into, both to see how it borrows from most every SF kids movie imaginable, while still transcending the usual pitfalls of homage. Hopefully Yamazaki-san will come up with something else as great soon.
Both are up and coming artists, Salyu being an amazing singer who brought [All About Lily Chou-Chou] to life, while Barnabys are a dynamic rock trio best known for the theme to [Mezzo]. Careful junk.log readers already know that I adore them both, and those past entries have been updated for 2005, adding links and extra insight.
I can recommend either for your musical enjoyment, and I know that bright things are ahead for both. Look for Salyu's new single [Peaty] on 3.24.2005, and I'm sure Mezzo have something up their sleeves soon (fingers are crossed that it's a full album).
Make sure to check out either page right this instant, and also note that Salyu is the new cover girl for the Japanese Pop section - her cuteness is totally surpassed by her amazing voice, (sigh).
That's 4 new artists in 2 weeks, and I'm just getting started. 2005 shall be the year of maximum musical information, just you wait and see. Requests can be sent via the link below.
In 5.2004, the manga and anime phenomenon Cutie Honey received her own big-budget movie, released by Warner Bros. It was a colorful, busty affair with rubber-suited evil and excessive costume changes for the super-powered heroine. I wasn't in Japan at the time of release, so I had to wait for 6 months until it saw DVD. Last month was the revelatory date in question, and now the standard Region 2 disc is in my possession.
I'm not a scholar of the character in all of her many forms, but I could follow the un-subtitled movie well enough. Long story short - often-salivated over Eriko Sato brings the creation of Go Nagai to frantic life, fighting evil and rescuing her friends and father figure. Mikako Ichikawa is suitably cute-yet-tough as the policewoman who hunts her, and eventually becomes a staunch supporter. The evil forces are ridiculous, yet suitable for the cartoony presentation, but even with wall-to-wall Sato-san, it's hard to fully recommend the affair. The ending in particular has an OK setup, but eventually reeks of tedium.
If you want a light comedy with entertaining and occasionally stellar effects, then [Cutie Honey] is a fun ride. It's not exactly a children's movie by US standards (there's an alcohol-filled karaoke party, not to mention Sato-san skin exhibition), but the overall presentation is pleasantly juvenile. Hopefully it will be subtitled into English, and released abroad sometime in 2005, if for no other reason to appreciate the cosplay and eye candy.
Looking for great, New Wavey music from Columbus, Ohio? Well, you should be, because Manda And The Marbles are the cure to all that depresses and offends. Manda Marble, the titular beauty with a voice to adore, leads Mark Slak and Joe A. Damage to all sorts of tuneful places, that recall early No Doubt, The Epoxies from Portland, OR, or many other bands you may remember from the 80s. Of course, there's also sounds suitable for the new Millennium, which fully cement the sing-along sidewalk.
Their latest album, [Angels With Dirty Faces], was released in small amounts a few months ago, and now will be re-released nationwide in February. To celebrate, I've joined with band reps to offer some nice Manda swag, including two copies of their CD, and perhaps some posters as well. To enter for a chance to win, email me using Manda Contest as the subject. At least 2 winners will be chosen randomly on 2.15.2005, so enter before then. The re-release will come the following week.
If you like what you hear, then by all means enter the contest, and start your marbledom early. Trust me, they are bound for greatness this year.
That is to say, the company I work for (Elgato Systems) makes great products for the Mac like the EyeTV family of Digital TV Recorders, or the EyeHome and EyeConnect systems that get your music, movies, and photos on any TV or stereo. Our products are living large and in full effect, so much so that my work setting up and shutting down the booth, not to mention running demos and managing the presenters, is taking up my time. Fun, but lots of work.
Thus, this week there will be minimal junk.log activity, to be made up for next week. Until then, make sure to check out Apple's new products like the cheap and tiny Mac mini (which works great with EyeTV) or the even cheaper and tinier iPod shuffle. It's all there for the taking.
Please visit my brand-new shrine to Tokyo Incidents, a.k.a Tokyo Jihen, who are a better band than most anyone deserves. Fronted by Sheena Ringo, and backed by certified all-stars, they cause quite the beautiful ruckus on [Kyoiku], their first album.
You can find an easy to use collection of all their releases, along with reviews extended from that found in junk.log, buttressed with a growing collection of links. Suitable for framing indeed!
Please visit my brand-new shrine to Thmlues, the great poppy-rock quartet from Japan that I adore. It includes all of their releases, along with information on their latest single, [Fuyu Iro Garu], and links to Japanese fan sites.
You see, as far as I can tell, this is the first English-language Thmlues fan site, and I definitely want to spread the world. Check them out if you want to enjoy finely constructed modern music, and look for more Japanese Pop pages soon.
[Hana & Alice], OK? By now you've gathered that this is my personal pinnacle of moviedom as of late, so I'll spare you the particulars of my devotion. Instead, let me just share that the "Overseas" DVD version of it is now out, with great English subtitles. It's a Region 3 disc from Panorama Distributions out of Hong Kong, and can be found at places like YesAsia for a very reasonable price. If you have the means to play Region 3 discs, then you owe yourself the treat.
Next wish: Official Region 1 US release of this film. If you know who I should contact to make this happen, let me know.
If you're reading this, then you know of at least one "blog" that can be nominated for a 2005 Bloggie award. Out of the scores of thousands of weblogs out there, perhaps this junk.log is worthy of mention, or even the grand prize of $20.05 (US)? I'm not going to nominate myself, due to a lack of tackiness, but if you feel I'm doing something of even small merit, then travel here and nominate away. Or, if you have other favorite blogs that you regularly read, by all means represent. You have until 1.10.2005 to vote, so act quickly.
Imagine: 12 young Japanese girls in fanciful clothes dancing and singing in unison. Give or take a few members, that's been the Morning Musume story for the past 6 years or so. The basic formula is to have a few good singers that can solo, a few particularly cute members that can spin off into subgroups, and a general atmosphere of call and response that covers a massive amount of musical genres.
I came to the party with their first few albums, which have a large number of catchy dance tracks and a fair amount of tolerable "love me, love you" ballads. That "Classic Musume" period is well represented by their first [Best! Morning Musume 1] (1.31.2001) singles collection, which really was a remarkable event.
Past that point, up to and including their newest 6th album, [Ai no Dai 6 Kan], the luster has decreased with time and massive rotation of members. Where once I was captivated, now I'm mostly bored. Not that it's ever been about raw musical talent, but there's only so many costumes and dances you can admire before it's time to move on.
That's not to say that Morning Musume doesn't rule the charts, or that you could possibly buy all of their merchandise and Hello Project related singles in multiple lifetimes. They're like Pokemon: Just try to catch all of the variations. Just so you can understand the pervasiveness of this multimedia project, there's even been a Morning Musume Playstation 2 game called [Space Venus], and unauthorized porn featuring look-alikes of various members.
At this stage, either you enjoy them because you're a young Japanese girl, or because you like to look at young Japanese girls. Yes, the songs and sounds are quite cute, with little witty asides and no fear of experimentation within the general theme. That said, the magic is slowly departing - perhaps there was too much of a once good thing, which collapsed upon its girly wholesomeness.
No matter. [Ai no Dai 6 Kan] isn't the best Morning Musume album, but it's not God awful either. Some songs are pretty swell, and it is growing on me over time. However, I recommend the [Best!] collections to get a broad taste of what they're like, and if you can stomach the quirky sweetness, then try an album or two.
Still, keep in mind that pretty much any other Japanese artists I've ever talked about are better than Morning Musume circa 2005. Disagree? Leave a message below...
Despite all evidence to the contrary, I'm not 100% obsessed with Japanese popular culture. In fact, I like junk from all over the world, and  by Wong Kar Wai is a case in point. Best known the US for [Chunking Express],  is in fact the first movie of his that I've seen all the way through. I first heard about it in [Giant Robot] magazine, and ever since it came out a few months ago I've been itching to see it. I was finally able to scratch last night, after finding it at my favorite local Taiwanese music and movie store.
On first glance it would seem that the movie is set in the far future, the 2046 of the title. In fact, that number represents a fictional place and time created by the main character, an author who's broken heart mismended into an extra asshole. He's a remotely romantic womanizer played by Tony Leung (Leung Chiu-Wai), surrounded by and involved with a whole mess of stars including Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi and Faye Wong. How "2046" relates to his personal life during the 60's is an exercise best left to the viewer.
Crisscrossing between imagination and reality,  is part noir and part [Blade Runner], from immaculately dressed scammers and almost-prostitutes to android train attendants. It's definitely an art film, but with enough of a core of repressed emotion that you're bound to find a character to relate to. I personally liked the woman (Faye Wong) who pined for her Japanese lover, while her Chinese father tried desperately to keep them apart. Her secret Japanese practice, and her interaction with her businessman beau, was what struck me the most.
Overall, the movie has about 5% Japanese dialog, with the rest in Mandarin/Cantonese (depending on the location or DVD). I was lucky to get an excellent all-region DVD from Hong Kong Movie, which has English subtitles with only the most subtle of errors. I definitely recommend , if for nothing more than the stellar female talent and deft melding of future scapes with the everyday adventures of a struggling artist. If it ever hits the US, make sure to check it out.
Sheena Ringo's new supergroup, Tokyo Incidents, are not only celebrating their amazing new album [Kyoiku], but have also come out with a DVD featuring 6 Promotional Videos of their songs. [tokyo incidents vol. 1] (TOBF-5337, 12.8.04), is full of nuggets of joy, with remarkably inventive visuals and ample camaraderie between Ringo-san and crew. I have much more respect for Tokyo Jihen now that I've seen them both in the videos and making of documentary.
These 32 minutes are well worth the 3200 yen, with much action and artistry, but if you don't believe me, then here are a few screenshots to prove my point:
contests: [enter here]
po box 11501