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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Guilty, Cat-Eating Wench, Nakagawa Shouku... EXPOSED!

Nakagawa Shouku, the guilty, cat-eating wench

Two days ago, I found out about Japan Probe's Delicious cats! entry via BoingBoing, which has some rather, ah, disturbing photos of a cute Japanese girl pretending to eat her cat.

We have since dubbed her 'the guilty, cat-eating wench' thanks to a comment at Japan Probe's entry.

[1:10:01 AM] Swifty says: by the way, guilty cat-eating wench is an idoru
[1:10:08 AM] Justin says: Who?
[1:10:18 AM] Swifty says: that guilty, cat-eating wench

Nakagawa Shouku, the guilty, cat-eating wench, still trying to eat a cat

[1:10:36 AM] Justin says: Yeah but what's she famous for?
[1:10:40 AM] Justin says: And why is she eating that cat?
[1:10:56 AM] Swifty says: she's kinda like the Xiaxue of japan
[1:11:04 AM] Swifty says: she takes weird ass photos like these
[1:11:14 AM] Justin says: wtff??
[1:11:19 AM] Swifty says: lemme find her info
[1:12:53 AM] Swifty says: Nakagawa Shouku
[1:13:03 AM] Swifty says: Name: Nakagawa Shouko (中川翔子)
Real name: Nakagawa Shouko (中川薔子 - different spelling)
Nickname: Shocotan (しょこたん)
Birthdate: May 5th, 1985
Birthplace: Tokyo, Japan
Blood Type: A
Hobbies: Watching movies, making candy
Collects: Bruce Lee, Matsuda Seiko, and squadron merchandise
Abilities: Drawing, Cantonese
[1:13:51 AM] Swifty says: Shouko's father was a big influence on her life. When she was five, she was given horror manga by her father to read, his reason being that she couldn't become an adult without reading them. As a result of her father's influences, Shouko loves 80s idol music, anime, and old video games. She is considered to be something of a nerd because of it. This started her love for sentai, and after watching Mirai Sentai Timeranger, Shouko wanted to become a gravure idol like Katsumura Mika. Mika played the pink ranger Yuri in the series, and was also a gravure idol with several photobooks and DVDs out. Shouko studied all of these to prepare for her own debut as a gravure idol.

Shouko was chosen as one of the winners of Miss Magazine 2002, which helped to boost her popularity some. In 2004 Shouko got to be in the show Men B with her idol Mika and the two became like sisters.

Shouko loves to draw. When she was younger, she had wanted to grow up and become a mangaka. Many of her illustrations are available at her talent agency's profile website. In 2006 she began Shocotan Quest, a series only found at that website. She also became part of the illustrating group Jump Damashii.

Shouko is a huge fan of Bruce Lee and kung fu movies in general. She even owns a pair of pink nunchucks. Shouko mastered Cantonese and visited Hong Kong with her mother frequently, and even got to meet Jackie Chan by chance during one of these visits. She drew an illustration of him; this drawing now hangs in Jackie Chan's Hong Kong office.

She also cosplays frequently, and has sold many of her costumes at an auction. These outfits included mainly Evangelion, Sailormoon, and Final Fantasy. Because of her love for cosplay, she has gained more fans who love to see her cosplay shoots. Shouko generally cosplays alone, but occasionally she cosplays with Ito Ayaka and Kyan Chiaki. When they cosplay together, they wear outfits according to their hair. For example, if Shouko is Tsukino Usagi from Sailormoon, Ayaka will be Mizuno Ami because of her shorter hair. For the anime Futari wa Pretty Cure, Shouko plays Honoka, and Ayaka is is Nagisa.

Shouko began keeping a public blog in 2004. It shows her perfectionist habits and only further proves her nerdiness through her distinct way of typing and frequent updating. April 2005 marked her 600th entry, and Shouko blogged 70 times in the month of January 2006 alone. This is a national record for an idol blog. Manabe Kaori was once called the "Blog Queen" because of her own constant writing, but with this new record Shouko stole the title. Even fellow idol and friend Kawabe Chieco (5-7 entries a day) has not come to beat her yet. Shouko's entries began to get published in September 2005 in the book Shocotan Blog. On April 21st, 2006, Shouko's blog broke 100 million hits.

On July 5th, 2006, Shouko released her first non-anime character single, Brilliant Dream.
[1:15:16 AM] * Swifty sent file "300px-nakagawashouko.jpg" to members of this chat
[1:15:23 AM] Swifty says: this is how she looks when she's not eating cats

Nakagawa Shouku, when not eating cats

[1:15:56 AM] Justin says: ....
[1:16:01 AM] Justin says: We live in a horrible and beautiful world.
[1:16:05 AM] Swifty says: I know.

Nakagawa Shouku and her cats

Tags: , , , ,

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Haruki Murakami And Creative Expression. 'Our' Generation vs. 'Their' Generation.

These pedalicious little DiGi Charat Cosplayers disapprove Haruki Murakami's ways.

The following MSN conversation occurred last night while Justin and I were working on the previous Haruki Murakami Is Wrong! entry. As you can see, we aren't some mindlessly insecure, whiny bigots who take pleasure in blindly bashing a famed literary figure just to make ourselves feel better. An earnest and intelligent discourse WAS exchanged between Justin and I prior to posting the entry. Once again, it's profanity-laced, so don't read if you don't want to defile your virgin eyes.

Swifty says:
actually, if some American author of Murakami's generation starts dissing the younger generation in the States, will you give that much shit too?
Justin says:
No man, I could care less about that, hahaha
Justin says:
That shit doesn't concern me, haha
Swifty says:
Swifty says:
Swifty says:
maybe Murakami might be right.
Swifty says:
and the new generation in Japan DOES suck
Justin says:
Justin says:
They've produced some of the greatest visual beauty, music, and art of the millennium
Justin says:
Murakami has produced "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle."
Justin says:
I rest my case.
Swifty says:
it's entirely subjective.
Justin says:
Do you really want to read "The Elephant Vanishes" over listening to SPEED?
Swifty says:
That's like listening to Spice Girls over a John Grisham book
Justin says:
Spice Girls are still better, you can't dance to John Grisham
Justin says:
You can get laid to Spice Girls, can't do that to John Grisham
Swifty says:
Justin says:
How's your part coming?
Swifty says:
I am too indifferent towards the kogyaru to even defend them
Swifty says:
it's Murakami I'm focusing
Swifty says:
it's the inability to accept the new generation that irks me
Swifty says:
but that doesn't mean that the new generation is that damned good
Swifty says:
fuck kogyarus, how different are they compared to the americans who grew up watching MTV?
Swifty says:
oh, right, a more outlandish sense of fashion
Swifty says:
perhaps to western eyes
Swifty says:
so why do i defend them? they all suck.
Justin says:
I think in this whole post, it's pretty much taken for granted that America is a horrible place and anywhere is better than there.
Swifty says:
it's not just America
Swifty says:
i'm not going to beautify and idealize the new generation of Japan
Swifty says:
merely because they are different from us
Justin says:
But dude, that's the thing
Justin says:
They're not different from us
Swifty says:
what the fuck do they have? Kanehara?
Justin says:
That was the point of what I was saying
Justin says:
Why else would I defend them if I didn't identify with them?
Swifty says:
Justin says:
Just like us, they have to deal with
Justin says:
the expectations of people currently in positions of power
Swifty says:
Founder syndrome.
Justin says:
Who fed them lines of bullshit about how to dress, how to think, how to get jobs, etc.
Justin says:
Yeah, except I don't respect them
Justin says:
All my heroes are dead men from like 80 years ago, like I said
Justin says:
Your position might be different, but that's the reasoning behind it
Justin says:
I can relate to kogyaru, I can't relate to Murakami
Justin says:
I've had people say 'sad' and 'disgusted' about things I've done, the way I've tried to live my life
Justin says:
And yeah, writers in the U.S. DO say the same shit
Swifty says:
yeah, but i'm just saying that are the newer generations really worth defending?
Swifty says:
or are we just idealizing them?
Swifty says:
Swifty says:
even the people of 80 years ago mean nothing to me. they belong to the past, where the environment made them do things much different from us
Swifty says:
hence 'hardcore'
Swifty says:
I'm too selfish to think myself belonging to any groups. that's why i never gave a shit about movements
Justin says:
Me either, I'm pretty much talking about you and myself in this
Justin says:
I mean, I'm not proscribing anything, I'm just saying we're more creative than people like Murakami
Justin says:
And he knows it
Justin says:
That is the essential point behind it
Swifty says:
but there is a possibility that Murakami's generation do have people more creative than us.
Swifty says:
Justin says:
Yeah, but who?
Justin says:
Justin says:
No one cares about the people I've just mentioned in this
Justin says:
No one knows what Shirakaba is or who these people are
Justin says:
I'm from the U.S. all right
Justin says:
All I ever hear is like
Justin says:
Justin says:
Justin says:
Justin says:
Justin says:
No one can think outside of these people
Justin says:
I'm probably the only person who has even been influenced by Akutagawa in like 50 years, outside of Japan
Swifty says:
Yeah, exactly. That's why there might be the US equivalents of those Shirakaba group that you know nothing about
Justin says:
No man
Justin says:
That shit was not underground
Justin says:
They were hell mainstream popular
Justin says:
Mishima signed people's panties in public
Justin says:
The world just doesn't care now because they're not European
Justin says:
If it's not English or American, fuck it, it's nothing
Justin says:
That is the mindset
Justin says:
Even French and Italian writing is ignored
Justin says:
Everyone knows who Hemingway is, no one knows Calvino, Svevo, Gautier, etc.
Swifty says:
that's only because of America's cultural imperialism
Justin says:
Swifty says:
over the entire world
Justin says:
That's what I'm saying
Swifty says:
but like i said, those who are living outside U.S. might not necessarily be the best either.
Swifty says:
Kubrick vs Godard
Swifty says:
Fellini vs Kubrick
Swifty says:
or, i dunno, Abbas Kiarostami, Ken Loach vs Wes Anderson, Darren Aronofsky. The Americans aren't weaker than the non-Americans, just that people aren't that used to the more 'exotic' foreign directors.
Justin says:
But dude, again, if you grew up in America, you'd know this
Justin says:
You grew up in Malaysia, like, you had Chinese culture, Malay shit, Western shit from your dad, everything
Justin says:
I had none of this, I mean, no one knows shit in that country
Justin says:
I am just saying, if I didn't have foreign parents and came here, neither would I
Justin says:
I never would have known any of this shit
Swifty says:
Ah, yeah, that's kinda different.
Justin says:
I wouldn't have been able to think outside of those English and American writers
Justin says:
When I say this, I am talking about like PEOPLE WHO WRITE FOR THE NEW YORKER
Justin says:
I know the people that will one day become the staff of that magazine, of Harper's, etc.
Justin says:
I know people that went to Princeton, Harvard, etc., they didn't know shit
Justin says:
They couldn't think outside of that Anglo-American mindset of figures and influences
Swifty says:
Yeah. And they wouldn't bother to know either.
Justin says:
Justin says:
I mean THINK about that concept.
Swifty says:
Kinda like when I went to America, and the majority of the people didn't even know where Msia is
Swifty says:
yeah, exactly
Justin says:
Your ENTIRE COUNTRY is irrelevant to that mindset
Justin says:
This is the shit I am saying
Swifty says:
Those fuckers.

Haruki Murakami Is Wrong!


The original article.

"But despite their growing ranks, both kogaru and ganguro encounter hostility here. In a recent interview published in Kansai Time Out, Japan's eminent novelist Haruki Murakami called them a big problem for Japan, and said that he feels sadness and disgust when he passes these bleached and flamboyantly outfitted young ladies on the streets of his neighborhood, Shinjuku, in Tokyo."

I've changed my mind on this entry. I disagree with Mr. Murakami about gyaru. That's all I have to say. Swifty's entry makes more sense.

Here is a picture of a gyaru.

Kogaru girl

Few days ago when I was having my weekly meeting with my teacher/supervisor Melanie, in which I usually give her my production updates, we spoke about my influences, and our conversation unexpectedly veered to Haruki Murakami. I was talking about the Japanese film 'Love Letter', its director Shunji Iwai being one of my influences, and she asked whether the the film was based on something by Murakami.

I grimaced.

How the hell can Murakami diss the young generation like this?Melanie was slightly taken aback by the tone of disgust I had when I said no.

Haruki Murakami is a writer who had always left me confounded in the past year. Obviously dissatisfied after reading some of his books I have, The Wind-up Bird Chronicles (Justin had already linked to my review), Norwegian Woods (I enjoyed this much more, but wasn't exactly blown away) and some short stories from The Elephant Vanishes (I was the one who lent Justin the book, because I couldn't read all of them), I assumed that he wasn't the kind of writer I would ever enjoy much since what I most disliked about his writing was pretty much the exact same thing his fans embraced. Everything I found tedious and pretentious were considered as supreme artistry and immense beauty. Its blandness beautiful because it was 'realistic', its 'randomness' intriguing because they symbolized deep things, its flat characterization regarded as accurate portrayals of our increasingly cynical and emotionally detached contemporary society.

Of course, creative works are entirely subjective, one man's treasure is another man's smelly maggot-infested turd. Thus I merely chose not to purchase any more books by Murakami for the time being, why force myself to endure them when there are probably so many other brilliant works of literature outside waiting for me to explore? And ultimately, this is my main approach as an artist, or to be more precise, as a writer filmmaker, to view everything with an open mind, accepting the fact that widening my own scope and exposing myself to as much as possible to everything is definitely better than putting just one thing on a pedestal and worshipping the hell out of it (hence my personal stance against fandom), lacking the objectivity to discern its flaws.

This isn't about the ganguro or the kogyaru, whose sense of fashion I'm not such a big fan of either. What infuriated me when I read about Murakami's disgust (and dismissal) towards the younger generation was his closemindedness and condescension. A complete contradiction to my own principles. For me, everything has to be viewed from all perspectives, so that I can discern their merits and flaws. I don't dismiss people from Murakami's generation, neither do I idealize Mishima and Kawabata's generations. They are what they are. I enjoy a work of genre fiction just as much as any great highbrow literary work, The Da Vinci Code, awful as it was, was as much a pageturner for me as Love In For me, everything has to be viewed from all perspectives, so that I can discern their merits and flaws. I don't dismiss people from Murakami's generation, neither do I idealize Mishima and Kawabata's generations. They are what they are. I enjoy a work of genre fiction just as much as any great highbrow literary work, The Da Vinci Code, awful as it was, was as much a pageturner for me as Love In The Time of Cholera. For each Tanizaki's Naomi or The Key I've read, I would just balance it with an easy Harry Potter book. I was just as mindfucked by Steven Erikson's last Malazan book I read, Midnight Tides, as I was by Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose or Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities.

It's the same with films. I'm not your generic avant-garde wannabe filmmaker who goes around naming obscure European filmmakers as his heroes, openly condemning the existence of Hollywood films, or believe that the world would be a better place if all major film studios in Hollywood are destroyed by nuclear explosions. Some films I appreciate, some films I enjoy, the same applies to literature. I've stressed many times in this blog that I believe in the balance, and I constantly resist the urge to roll my eyes when a fellow film student I meet say something negative about the big-budget box-office films that is 'beneath him', and I've always wanted to throttle someone who accuse me of being 'artsy fartsy' as I don't think of that as a compliment.

So ultimately, the whole point of my part of this entry is my disapproval of Haruki Murakami's stance when it comes to accepting something different, his decision to constantly remain in his own comfort zone. I don't see why this won't affect his creative works. People can continue heaping praises upon Murakami's 'masterpieces', but I will choose a different path, thank you.

Update: Check out the MSN conversation between Justin and Swifty prior to putting up this entry.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Swifty Reviews 'Little Miss Sunshine'

Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine was a film I watched just a few days after The Devil Wears Prada (my Anne Hathaway-centric review here). A charming gem of a film (... charming gem of a film? Man, I sound like those middle-aged critics now!) that was this summer's surprise hit, I was unable to write a review for it because, well, seriously, there's nothing much for me to say. I liked it very much, I enjoyed it greatly, both moving and funny, the film wasn't a life-altering experience, but there's really no flaws I can point out.

What prompted me to write about this film may have to do with Miranda July's Me And You And Everyone We Know that I watched last week, a well-crafted indie film with some truly magical moments AND a killer soundtrack, yet perhaps my cynicism prevented me from enjoying the film fully, the children were too profound, everything they said seemingly wise and important, the main guy's characterization was too inconsistent, Miranda July's character was quirky, but occasionally creepy (she's kinda like Faye Wong's character in Chungking Express, stalking this man she likes, yet somehow Wong Kar Wai managed to make her seem more likeable and normal compared to this character). Despite the (mostly deserved) praises heaped upon this movie, I just couldn't connect with it that well, appreciating it more as a work of art and craftsmanship than really caring about the fates of the characters.

And that was what made Little Miss Sunshine so enjoyable for me. A road movie with a dysfunctional family headed by Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear), who was waiting for his big break as a self-help guru, constantly giving motivational speeches from his unpublished self-help books, his long-suffering wife Sheryl (Toni Collette), the rational one in the family, his stepson Dwayne (Paul Dano), who studied Nietzche deeply and had taken a vow of silence, his cantankerous, foul-mouthed and hedonistic father (Alan Arkin), who got kicked out of nursing home for shooting up, his young daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin), somewhat chubby and bespectacled, yet having a chance to take part in the finals of the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant in Redondo Beach, CA, and there's also Sheryl's brother, Frank (Steve Carell), a suicidal Proust scholar (suicidal because he fell in love with his own student, who rejected him for the number 2 Proust scholar in the nation... Frank was number 1).

The film revolved around the entire family's hilarious trek in a barely operational VW bus from Albequerque, NM to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. Of course, the plot of such a tale is entirely predictable, how a dysfunctional family (whose dysfunctionality were most obvious in an early dinner scene) grew closer and learn more about themselves and one another throughout the journey. But then, this film is pretty much about the journey itself, and not the destination, how the characters, despite their flaws and eccentricities, were genuine enough for me to care about (... and this starts to sound quite a lot like my Saturday book review yesterday, huh?) Heartwarming and optimistic, yet not too quirky to annoy me, nor too sentimental to digust the cynical side of me (the film looks pretty gritty), I absolutely adored the film, enjoyed the great performances from the entire cast, even laughed so hard that tears started rolling down my cheeks towards the ending, not solely because it was funny, the film just made me feel joyous (... and this began to sound like my friend Sebastian's review of The Queen, which I can't link here because he wanted anonymity... for now). This is the debut feature for the directors, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, a husband-and-wife team, whose previous fares were all music videos, most notably Smashing Pumpkin's great 1979 music video (it's the film where I first noticed the use of Snorricam, before I saw it being used again by Darren Aronofsky as a signature in both his films Pi and Requiem For A Dream, Aronofsky's a major influence of mine, by the way).

My friend Sebastian had once lamented the lack of feel-good family movies in recent years, stating that perhaps everyone had gotten increasingly cynical. Perhaps, but this film will make you love... life*. (after all, it's not illogically optimistic, just that it reminded us that despite its ups and downs, life is still worth living)

Quotes I like (from IMDB):

Olive: Grandpa, am I pretty?
Grandpa: You are the most beautiful girl in the world.
Olive: You're just saying that.
Grandpa: No! I'm madly in love with you and it's not because of your brains or your personality.

Dwayne: You know what? Fuck beauty contests. Life is one fucking beauty contest after another. School, then college, then work... Fuck that. And fuck the Air Force Academy. If I want to fly, I'll find a way to fly. You do what you love, and fuck the rest

Grandpa: Losers are people who are so afraid of not winning, they don't even try.

Olive: Why were you unhappy?
Frank: I fell in love with someone...
[interrupted by Grandpa blowing his nose]
Frank: ... who didn't love me back.
Olive: Who?
Frank: One of my grad students. I was very much in love with him.
Olive: *Him*? You fell in love with a boy?
Frank: Very much so.
Olive: That's silly.
Grandpa: [under his breath] That's another word for it...

Other Reviews: Movie Reviews: Little Miss Sunshine
Tim Taylor likes it. Movie Reviews: Little Miss Sunshine
Ray Wong likes it too (despite its minor flaws). Movie Reviews: Little Miss Sunshine
Erin McMaster likes it three. You get the idea. This film is THAT likeably good.

The Great Ganesha: Drugs, Death and Dysfunction: Little Miss Sunshine
Well, besides the fact that his review is pretty damned insightful, I'm linking to The Great Ganesha because people who put 'The Great' before their nicks like The Great Swifty are a rarity.

Related Videos:

Little Miss Sunshine trailer

LucyinLA reviews Little Miss Sunshine, featuring her not because of her brains or personality**

* Of course, you also have to watch something like Drawing Restraint 9 a few hours earlier just so you can look back at films like this with more joy in your heart.

** I'm referencing Grandpa's quote, please don't lynch me.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Saturday - Ian McEwan

Book cover of Ian McEwan's  Saturday

I picked up Ian McEwan's Saturday after I finished Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go (check out my review) two weeks ago, eager for another quick read. As mentioned in my previous book review, I bought this in a '3 books for the price of 2' deal, along with Never Let Me Go and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love In The Time Of Cholera (*sigh* the mere mention of this book makes me want to swoon like a lovelorn virginal teen girl), so I had no prior expectations of it at all, and neither have I actually read anything by Ian McEwan.

After the sense of hopelessness and resigned helplessness I felt from reading Never Let Me Go, I was desperate for some fastpaced action, some intensity, something to neutralize that lingering feeling. Knowing that the entire novel takes place in the span of a Saturday, I decided to read Saturday, praying for some explosions and humour that can appease the uncultured bloodmonger in me, well, not really, but that, along with Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale were the thinnest unread books I had lying on my shelf, I chose the former over the latter because it seemed like a lighter read.

Saturday chronicles a particularly eventful day of Henry Perowne, a middle-aged neurosurgeon. Waking up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason, he stood by the window and saw a flaming plane on its descent to Heathrow, and with that, I was rapidly drawn into the most intimate aspects of Henry's life and existence as he attempted to make sense of this event. The plane landed safely, but the book is really a one-day snapshot of a normal man's life, who spends most times questioning his relationship with the world at large, pondering his place. Existential stuff.

A happy and dedicated husband of Rosalind, a lawyer for a newspaper, and proud father of Daisy, a poet, and Theo, a musician. Henry, being a neurosurgeon, had long lived a life of science and reality, a direct opposite of children, who embraced literature and creativity. Well-trained and educated, Henry viewed everything rationally, caring more his family and personal principles than larger events looming in the distance (the book took place on the 15th of February, 2003, just a few days before the Iraq War). Saturday is mostly about Henry's thoughts that kept him preoccupied as he went through the day encountering a demonstration against the war, getting in an ugly car accident that led him to an ugly confrontation with a thug, an intense squash match with his friend, visiting his Alzheimer-stricken mother at the nursing home, doing grocery shopping for a family dinner with his cranky poet father-in-law, and his daughter Daisy, who was returning from Paris.

Sounds pretty boring, and I'm not surprised why these were the complaints from most negative reviews I've read, yet strangely, I was utterly engaged. Not much of a plot, but this book isn't plot driven, it's about immersing myself completely into Henry's life, caring not only for him, but also his loved ones, the simple thought of one moment drifting to another, and then, the most private and precious memories, his first meeting with Rosalind to their marriage, watching both his son and daughter choose paths vastly different from his own even though he was the one responsible for setting the path for them, watching his mother's mind deteriorate from the ravages of Alzheimer (some other reviews said dementia, I'm not too sure), and then the gradually contentious relationship between his daughter and his poet father-in-law (the dinner at night was meant to be a reconciliation between them both after a spat many months earlier).

Yes, they are thoughts of a normal man whose main priorities lie with his family and his work. I was drawn in, one layer after another that was laid before me by the author. Everything felt real, and then, when a violent confrontation interrupted his family dinner at night, I had to see how Henry would attempt to resolve his inner battle between intellect and emotions. Like most civilized man with a rational mind, his life had been one of order and discipline, trying to impose as much sanity and reason as possible into his surroundings even if they were descending into madness.

There's not much I can say, this book is pretty slow-paced, plotless, even, but it worked for me because the characters were real enough to care and relate to, or they remind me of people I've met and know in real life. Even if this is ultimately a simple story of a simple man, it is made significant because ultimately, certain aspects of our lives are made significant by our own minds, and later idealized or dramatized by our own memories. After all the events in the book had happened, I assumed many of it will stay with the characters.

Saturday is another book that lingers.

"It isn't the net worth of one's life that is important. It is the day to day concerns, the personal victories, and the celebration of life... and love!" - Terra Branford, Final Fantasy 6

Yes, your eyes do not deceive you, I've just used a video game quote in an Ian McEwan book review.

Dream cast for (unlikely) film adaptation:

Ralph Fiennes
Ralph Fiennes as Henry Perowne

Kristin Scott Thomas
Kristin Scott Thomas as Rosalind
(The English Patient reunion!)

Keira Knightley... skinny, but yummy

Keira Knightley
as Daisy

Daniel Radcliffe as a musician??

Daniel Radcliffe
as Theo
(... because it's funny to see Harry Potter himself being a musician)

Christopher Plummer can be a grumpy grandpa

Christopher Plummer
as John Grammaticus the Cranky Father-in-law
(Ian McKellen is possible too)

Vinnie Jones is scary

Vinnie Jones
as Baxter the Thug
(no one can ever be as menacing as Vinnie 'I'm Juggernaut, bitch!' Jones)

Other Reviews of Saturday:

Keifus Writes: Books Reviews: I. McEwan, J. Stewart

Alan in Belfast: Saturday - Ian McEwan

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Swifty Reviews 'Devil Wears Prada' And Reveals His Years-Long Love For Anne Hathaway.

Anne Hathaway... yummy

I've always been secretly in love with Anne Hathaway after watching The Princess Diaries. Those big doe-like eyes, so mesmerizing, so hypnotizing! That smile, so dazzling that the radiance of the afternoon sun would've paled in comparison, that beauty, so indescribably great that watching something like The Princess Diaries was like a life-altering experience, albeit a life-altering experience kept a secret until this very day. I was 17 then, but I would remain bewitched for nearly half a decade.

Anne HathawaySince then, I would acquire hard-to-get films like The Other Side Of Heaven and Havoc solely to catch a glimpse of Anne Hathaway, knowing that her mere presence would elevate the quality of these films I was watching. Yeah, the films were forgettable (... despite the sex scenes in Havoc), but it mattered not, I was content.

The Princess Diaries 2 was a movie so horrid that made me want to gouge out my own eyes, but I changed my mind in the last minute because I feared that I wouldn't see any movies with Anne Hathaway in the future, that fate scared me more than being blind itself.

Films with Anne Hathaway in it tend to have a romantic interest that don't deserve her. I would watch, and then grimace in disgust, wondering why her characters in those films would love these regular, boring, bland guys. They were disappointing. The only one who came near was Jake Gyllenhaal's Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain, but then, he turned out to be gay. No one is good enough for Anne Hathaway. NO ONE!

Anne Hathaway is Andy Sachs in The Devil Wears PradaAnd so, I went to see The Devil Wears Prada one afternoon after my dad, YES, my dad, unexpectedly gave me his thumbs-up after seeing that film over in Malaysia. My DAD???? Liking a chick flick like this?

Anyway, my dad liked its rather realistic portrayal of the corporate world, which he could relate to because of his own experiences.

But it mattered not to me, I just wanted to see Anne Hathaway, so I immediately took a bus to the city to catch the film.

Film's about Andy Sachs (Hathaway... yummy), a young woman who scored a job as the assistant of one of the city's biggest fashion magazine editors, the ruthless and cynical Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep). Being in a fashion magazine, the already beautiful Andy had to undergo a makeover to become even more beautiful. I almost covered my packet of M & M's with blood that gushed out of my nose then.

Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears PradaAnyway, yes, what you've heard about Meryl Streep's Oscar nomination-worthy performance as Miranda Priestly are true. She was THAT good as the boss from hell. A stone cold glare that could turn even the most hardened of war veterans into ice, making crazy demands like securing the unpublished manuscript of the latest Harry Potter book for her own kids. However, she never raised her voice beyond normal speaking level, making her even more intimidating in a Clint Eastwood way (whom Meryl Streep had based the mannerisms on). But instead of being a one-dimensional cartoon, the film's gradual focus on her towards the end revealed her to be a somewhat complex, even sympathetic, human being.

A good film with solid performances from the supporting cast like Emily Blunt and Stanley Tucci. Not usually my cup of tea, but then, seeing Anne Hathaway onscreen multiplied my enjoyment of the film.

Other reviews from Malaysian blogs (... that are more objective and do not talk so much about Anne Hathaway):

Snippets of this and that: The Devil Wears Prada - a review
Lao Chen feels that conformity is portrayed as a good thing in the film (to me, I think it is the entire opposite, it is more a cautionary tale). He also questioned where did Andy get her hands on those glamourous clothes after her makeover, well, she IS working at a fashion magazine, so I'll be surprised if she is incapable of acquiring them. (can you imagine a music magazine where the employees cannot get their hands on music CDs?)

Huzmi Dahlan: The Devil Wears Prada
Huzmi attempts to regurgitate the film's plot in his review. Oh, and he gives the film 4 out of 5.

Laksa Diaries: Devil With Fashion Sense
Glowing (and very articulate) review of the film. Laksa Diaries gives it a perfect score, declaring that tis' the best fashion-related film he (or she? I've never been too sure about the site owner's gender) had seen in years... but then, fashion-related films ARE rare. The Devil Wears Prada
Mossie`Ol Chin thinks that this is a useful film to watch for those who are going to join the workforce soon.

Anne Hathaway talks about The Devil Wears Prada at David Letterman Show... yummy... I meant Hathaway, not Letterman.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Yuriko Koike with flowers from Justin

I am a guy who is attracted to ambitious women. Much like the Great Swifty, I pretty well consider myself a creative genius, and so anyone (female, or otherwise) who just sits around consuming isn’t likely to hold my interest for long. The girls I’m into tend to be valedictorians, musicians, or hard-ass bitches who won’t give you change. In other words, if you work for the newspaper, smoke, speak multiple languages, and can really sing, I’ll probably have your number before the end of the night. And this is a circuitous way of saying that Yuriko Koike is totally fucking hot.

Yuriko Koike - the Japanese government's national security advisor and likely candidate for future Prime Minister - will probably be a major figure on the world stage before long; so if you haven’t heard of her yet, remember that you got it here first. To recap: Koike enters the world in 1952, in Hyogo; attends Konan Girls' high school; studies Sociology at Kwansei Gakuin University in 1971, then studies abroad at the American University of Cairo, Egypt. There, she learns Arabic, and receives her BA in Sociology. She starts out as a translator, becoming secretary general of the Japan-Arab Association (this proves to be a trend: any organization Koike joins, she pretty well takes over), parlays that into a TV special about Yasser Arafat, becomes a news anchor for Nippon TV, and eventually gets elected to the House of Councillors in 1992. From then on, her career just goes insane, as she helps found the New Frontier Party, gets re-elected to the House of Representatives, and gets awarded "Global Leader for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. She winds up as the Minister of the Environment under Koizumi (spearheading the 'Cool Biz' campaign to reduce air conditioning and save electricity) and Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs, then remains in new PM Shinzo Abe's* cabinet as national security adviser.

Y'got all that?

Oh, right, she's also published six books, including one called Climbing the Pyramid in a Kimono. Since that sounds like a martial arts technique, I’m going to assume that the topic has to do with self-defense, probably involving ninjutsu.

Simply put, Yuriko Koike is like 32 flavors of overachievement. As much as Hillary Clinton, for example, begins to look like more and more of a realistic option in the post-2000-election nightmare we’re still living through, she’s got nothing on Koike, who, for one thing, did everything herself. Notably, Koike isn’t attached to a male political or public figure as a primary frame of reference; i.e. she isn’t “Mrs.-“ someone else: everything she’s accomplished, she’s done on her own.

"Originally representing Hyogo Prefecture, in the 2005 election Koike became one of Koizumi's "assassins" and was critical of LDP members who were defiant of Koizumi's leadership."

Yes, assassins. That's not a metaphor: fuck with the Prime Minister, and Koike will drop your ass like an acid tab. It's all about the ninjutsu. Koike is quoted as saying, “As a former journalist, I believe that a stateperson should practice "the Art of Communication and Conviction".” She went on to add "...and the Art of THE NINJA." Her words, not mine.

Other cool shit she's said:

"Many of the world’s current environmental problems arise from fundamental socio-economic activities, including regular business activities and daily life. Recognising this, we need fundamentally to re-evaluate our economic activities and lifestyles. This can be done by proactively mobilizing all our knowledge of environmental conservation. I believe that this will lead to the establishment of a sustainable society by ensuring a synthesis of environmental protection and economic growth. Japan will advance policy measures to bring about a fundamental socio-economic shift to realise a sound material-cycle society and establish a low-carbon economy."

As can be seen Yuriko likes the adjective 'fundamental.' I like this adjective too, which shows we have high compatibility.

Top Ten Reasons Why Yuriko Koike is the Perfect Girlfriend

1. She can speak Arabic. How many other Japanese politicians do you know who can do that? Hell, how many non-Arabs? Simply put, if Yuriko Koike had been on any of the planes on September 11th, the tragedy probably wouldn’t have happened, because she’d have used her Arabic skills to talk the hijackers into committing seppuku, and then made everyone on the flight a nice cup of tea.

2. Financial Security - She's rich!

3. She consorts with j-pop idols. Yes, this photo is Koike hanging with Mai Kuraki, and some wota-looking guy who probably runs Kuraki’s fanclub. This guy probably propositioned Koike after the event, and then she used ninjutsu to put him in a wheelchair.

Yuriko Koike and Kuraki Mai

4. She'll probably end up running the world, first as Japanese PM, then head of the United Nations or something. Don't think she can't.

5. The Ninjutsu. 'Nuff said.


6. She hangs out with famous people all the time, like Hard Gay (pictured), Mai Kuraki, and, oh yeah, The Prime Minister.

Hard Gay and Yuriko Koike

7. She makes a mean cup of tea.

Yuriko Koike

8. She's a total hottie.

Yuriko Koike

9. There is no nine.

10. She's probably a tiger in the sack. Come on, no one can be this ambitious and not be a superfreak!

Yuriko Koike smiling as she inspects the panties Justin sent her
Yuriko Koike smiling as she inspects the panties I sent her.

Yuriko Koike's Official Site

*Abe Shinzo, incidentally, went to the same university I'll be studying at next year.

Sunday, October 22, 2006



Sometime during 2002 (or was it 2003?), disillusioned with annoyingly underaged pop groups and still dealing with the heartbreaking disband of his much beloved SPEED, the Great Swifty, who suffered from Erotomania, lost faith in mainstream Japanese pop, and experimented with the non-mainstream, into what is generally referred to as Contemporary Japanese Groove Music (their jazz stuff).

Orange Pekoe's 'Yawaraka no Yoru' left a deep impression during his last visit in Japan back in 2002 (it was played regularly there back then), thus one can say that Orange Pekoe was his introduction to this genre, yet ultimately, it was Ego-Wrappin that he grew to love, (... mostly because it was insanely difficult to find anything by Orange Pekoe online). The first two songs he got by Ego-Wrappin' were 'A Love Song' and 'Midnight Deja Vu'.

A Love Song

Midnight Dejavu

Why was the Great Swifty so enthralled? Because this Osaka-bred duo (guitarist and songwriter Masaki Mori, vocalist and lyricist Yoshie Nakano) sounded so unlike anything he had ever heard before from anything he had ever heard from mainstream J-pop in the past few years. After all, Ego-Wrappin had drawn their influences from the music of mid-Showa period and around World War 2, those jazzy, big band songs that had long been forgotten by the modern generation as more and more J-pop artistes of today would rather mimic Western artists.

Merging elements of pop and jazz to rock, ska, cabaret and lounge music from the Showa period, driven by the incredible range and depth of Nakano's distinctive voice, far different from the annoying high-pitched toneless screeching of J-idols, the gaping void that had pervaded in the Great Swifty's soul ever since the disbanding of SPEED (and also the disappointment of their unamazing solo careers) was unexpectedly filled.

For three years, Swifty had embarked upon an obsessive quest to complete his Ego-Wrappin' collection, a feat that was never completed until a few days ago. (for two years, with the exception of some assorted MP3s, 2002's Night Food and 2004's Merry Merry were the only albums in his possession) And after that, he finally noticed the evolution of Ego-Wrappin' over the years. Constantly reinventing themselves, their more recent works in Merry Merry and especially this year's album, On The Rocks! are less jazzy and more electronica and rock-ish, not that they are entirely bad, of course, as they still brimming with the flamboyance and playfulness characterized by unconventional Osaka musicians (Nakano reminded us in an interview that Osaka was the very city that gave the world The Boredoms and Shounen Knife, much unlike the very serious Tokyo musicians), unfortunately, most songs in On The Rocks! seem to lack the catchiness of their older works (for Swifty anyway, although admittedly, both Merry Merry and On The Rocks! are growers).

Anyway, the following's their complete discography and some of my thoughts (yes, I'm tired of 3rd person speak):

1998 BLUE SPEAKER = There are four seven-minute plus songs in their debut(?) album (yes, there's one or two of them in each of their albums). Decent songs around, very diverse, some are jazzy, some acoustic, neither of the songs sound alike.

1999 His choice of shoes is ill! = a (strangely titled!) mini-album with five songs, every single one of them had been getting quite a lot of playtime on my playlist for the past three years. With the exception of 'Mr. Richman', the other songs here Setsunai Kudaranai Musaboru Sono Te, Akai Nukumori, Amai Kage and Byrd are pretty slow and wistful (that's how they sound anyway, I don't know Japanese, so I can't understand).

1999 Swing For Joy = Another mini-album with five songs, despite its title, it doesn't sound more cheerful than their previous fare (although the first track, Finger, is sounds kinda sad) This is the album with 'A Love Song' (look at music video above) in it, although it sounds more subdued compared to their live performance, and a 9-minute song called 'kannou hyouryuu' (which sounded like a few different songs played out in a span of nine minutes... and Justin thought Sifow was incredible? Wait til you witness Ego-Wrappin'!) Last song of the album, Calling Me, is something I've been listening to a lot lately. Very catchy.

2000 shikisai no BLUES = Five-song mini-album... I notice the trend now. More Big Band, jazz, ska-ish than the previous introspective, broody efforts. It even has a song called GIGOLO, I don't know what is it about though. The title track, 'shikisai no Blues' is actually 'Midnight Dejavu' (music video above), or it could just be 'shikisai no Blues', while 'Midnight Dejavu ~ shikisai no Blues' (title of a later mini-album) is a variation of the same song, with slightly different arrangements. (but they sound the same to me!) I'm confused already. Here's a perforamnce of 'Flowers', one of the songs from this mini-album.


2001 michishio no Romance = An actual album! And yes, as the title suggested, most songs here do sound really romantic, to the point where I want to melt, swoon as I attempt to suppress the overwhelming feeling of love that invades my very fiber of my being. Can just listen to this while looking out the window, thinking dramatic thoughts of lost love and romance. (suggested tracks that make me swoon and want to kiss the stars: 'Where You May Be', 'michishio no Romance', 'katsute...', but 'Crazy fruits' is pretty good too!)

Crazy Fruits

2001 ~midnight deja vu~ shikisai no BLUES' = 5-song mini albums. Has live versions of Nervous Breakdown (from shikisai no Blues mini-album), katsute... (from michishio no Romance album) and byrd (from His choice of shoes is ill! mini-album). The last song is 'Oibore inu no Serenade'

Nervous Breakdown


Oibore inu no Serenade

2002 Night Food = Think this might be the album which helped increased awareness amongst the mainstream when the song 'Kuchibashi ni CHERRY' was used as the opening theme for a private detective TV dorama. But for me, my personal favourite songs in this are the mesmerizingly soothing '5gatsu no CLOVER', which, I think, was the very first Ego Wrappin' song I heard with male backup vocals. (I assume it's Mori's) and 'ashinaga no SALVADOR' which begins with her saying something, yet I don't know what. Hm.

Kuchibashi ni CHERRY

2004 merry merry = They start becoming experimental and less jazzy. The songs that leave the deepest impressions are the epic ones like the 8th and 9th tracks, '5gatsu no CLOVER' (yes, it's the same song from Night Food, but with a vastly different arrangement) and 'Madrigal', each of them eight-minutes long, hauntingly hynoptic, kinda Bjork-ish, yet still very much Ego-Wrappin'.

2006 On The Rocks! = Sounds even more different from their previous works. Like something from the 70s or 80s. Made me realize that they are more versatile than I've ever expected. Even more unbelievable when you compare Nakano's vocal abilities here with earlier songs. So diverse! So brilliant! Anyway, below the music video by 'tengoku to shiroi Piero'. Insane.

'tengoku to shiroi Piero

After Ego-Wrappin', Japanese songs had never been the same for me again.

Related links:


EGO-WRAPPIN Myspace fanpage

Metropolis Tokyo's 2004 interview with EGO-WRAPPIN'

(Filed under Music Articles)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Movie Music, Racist Bigots, Pedophilia and Sex Scandals!

Posting some of the more, ah, interesting MSN conversations I had in the past few days. One with Guestblogger Justin, another with my friend, Sebastian, an aspiring filmmaker who is going all the way to America just so he can finally get the chance to make his 100 million dollar blockbuster flick.

It's profanity-laced, so don't read if you don't want to defile your virgin eyes.

Conversation 1: Movie Music Showdown! Gladiator vs Lord of the Rings!

Sebastian says:
Gladiator still remains the undefeated winner in terms of best film score track ... all the way from 2000
Great Swifty says:
nah, LoTR for me
Great Swifty says:
dum dum dum dum, dum dum dum
Great Swifty says:
dum dum dum! dum dum dum, dum dum du !
Sebastian says:
the gladiator waltz!!!
Sebastian says:
dar! de dar dar de dar da de da da-da
Sebastian says:
da de da da de da da-da de da da-da
Great Swifty says:
this conversation should be posted on my blog
Great Swifty says:
it's fucking funny
Sebastian says:
err ... no ...
Sebastian says:
of course music cant be represented in words ... sigh
Great Swifty says:
that's why it's funny! The sheer retardedness of our conversation has to be preserved forever!

Conversation 2: Racist Bigots, Pedophilia, and Sex Scandals!

Justin says:
Malaysian writer Dina Zaman, who writes a column about Muslim life in Malaysia called "I am Muslim," said she wanted to write from the perspective of a modern Malay woman.
Justin says:
Justin says:
I prefer Wei Hui, she's a 'depraved slave to foreign culture'
Great Swifty says:
Justin says:
I pretty much only like Asian female writers when their priority is like "get fucked as much as possible and abandon traditional culture"
Great Swifty says:
abandon traditional ASIAN culture, you mean? bah. they are tainted by the fucking white culture
Great Swifty says:
fucking bananas, yellow outside white inside
Great Swifty says:
they are traitorous trash
Justin says:
We should post this conversation
Great Swifty says:
Great Swifty says:
Great Swifty says:
but that will make me look like a racist bigot*, tainting my reputation.
Great Swifty says:
effectively shutting me away from the western society
Justin says:
Justin says:
Post it
Justin says:
It's fucking funny
Justin says:
Rina Nagasaki has a new photobook on Cosplay Angels where she's like eating candy

Risa Nagasaki eating candy

Great Swifty says:
Yellow power!
Justin says:
There is a whole genre of books that is like
Justin says:
Women from traditional or conservative backgrounds 'discover' their sexuality
Justin says:
These are some of my favorite books
Justin says:
Like someone will be this Indian girl who's life is all planned out
Justin says:
And then she'll turn into a raging cocksucker somehow
Justin says:
But it will be like this huge 'liberation'
Justin says:
The moral is that traditional culture is retarded because it prevents putting out
Justin says:
The whole point of Wei Hui is everything I've just described
Great Swifty says:
What the shit? Conservative Asians shunning their own cultures just so they can pander to the almighty Western culture? Surrendering to the Western cultural imperialism? They SHAME me. They are spring rolls. It's the kind of food where only the Westerners would order in Chinese restaurants while the rest know clearly that they are greasy tasteless crap.
Justin says:
Am I spelling her name right, it might be Hui Wei
The naked female Kafka from China, Qin Dai, is the same
Justin says:
I want to see this happen to Risa Wataya

Risa Wataya

Justin says:

The next Wataya book should be like "The Dick I Want to Suck"
Justin says:
Wataya has to become more hardcore than Kaneharas
Justin says:
imagine if Wataya got corrupted, her books would be awesome
Great Swifty says:
No fucking way, I want her to preserve her purity just so that everything about her can be left to our (horny) imaginations.
Justin says:
If that happened she would be my favorite writer of all time
Justin says:
There was an article a while back on mainichi msn about Wataya being in a sex scandal or something
Justin says:
Everyone is in a sex scandal in Japan these days
Justin says:
Every other article on mainichi is like some politician is in a sex scandal
Justin says:
They caught some guy for fucking chinami from berryzkoubou, she's like 14
Great Swifty says:
Fucking pedos.
Justin says:
idols are quitting the business because of sex scandals
Justin says:
There was some other idol who was like in a sex scandal on MIXI **
Justin says:
Even I could pull that one off, I talk about stupid shit on MIXI all the time
Great Swifty says:
I want to join Mixi
Justin says:
I'll send you an invite, I figured it out
Great Swifty says:
YEAH! Time to capture the Japanese market! Pander myself to the Japanese girls!
Justin says:
It is hell easy to get in a sex scandal in Japan, in America you have to be like a famous person who is a child molestor with a mansion full of child porn and little kids getting molested and stolen from their families
Justin says:
In Japan it's like "you held someone's hand for too long, it's a sex scandal"
Justin says:
I think next year in Japan I'm going to be involved in a sex scandal for crossing the street or looking at someone's eyes for 10 seconds
Great Swifty says:
Nah, you'll get away.
Great Swifty says:
They love white men.
Great Swifty says:
Anything you do is acceptable.
Justin says:
Where are the sex scandals in the Malaysian blogosphere
Great Swifty says:
Yeah, Kenny Sia should get into one.
Justin says:
You should have a sex scandal with Yvonne Foong or Minishorts
Justin says:
Or both at the same time
Great Swifty says:

* Swifty is definitely NOT a racist bigot. In addition to letting Justin, a WHITE man, co-blog with him, he also loves Jessica Alba, a WHITE woman, as much as everyone does. So please don't lynch him, he's a good person.

Caressing My Jessica Alba Poster?

** Japan's version of Myspace. Read about it here.

Jorge Luis Borges - Labyrinths

Book cover of Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

Enough has been said and written about Jorge Luis Borges that you don't need to take it from me. Whatever I can possibly say about Borges's writing will automatically be swept under in the mass of history and commentary attached to him; in the same way that I'd hesitate to directly review Joyce, Faulkner, Nabokov, or Proust, (except perhaps to offer the heresy of a negative critique) so Borges presents something of a problem: writing this review almost feels superfluous; you probably already know and love his writing. Or maybe not; maybe I'm being falsely modest; maybe this review will be the one that convinces you to run out and buy his books as soon as possible.I hope so, since this is the only reason I'm writing it: to whore out Borges so he can give you the same intensely beautiful mindfuck he just gave me.

Before I picked up Labyrinths, I'd assumed that Borges was one of those writers that everyone else had read, so I didn't need to - in other words, the general outlines of some of his stories were familiar, and his name came up so often as a point of comparison that I felt his influence had seeped into writing to the extent that to go back to the original now would be redundant. If you're harboring the same idea, let me just say that his writing is, to haul out an over-used adjective, inimitable: anyone trying to directly rip this book is going to look stupid, not just because they don't know as much as Borges did, but because - obviously - no one is going to be as good at being himself as he was. That's not to say Borges won't influence you, because every single story in this collection contains something like eighty times as many skull-piercingly brilliant ideas as the average work of 'literary fiction', any one of which would be - if fleshed out more - capable of supporting a novel. In particular, a sharp-eyed science fiction writer could mine some of these stories for years; the possibilities for imaginary worlds inherent in 'The Library of Babel' and 'Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius' (the latter of which is fucking dense; just read the Wikipedia entry on it if you want to understand how a short story can be more tightly crammed with thought than a novel) are suggestive enough to withstand a thorough accordioning out. 'The Garden of Forking Paths' contains the exact ideas (and even uses phrases like 'other dimensions of time') as the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics but actually predates it, meaning it's twice as modern as it feels (it hardly needs to be said that none of these sixty-year-old stories has remotely dated; neither in their subject matter nor Borges's precise, lapidary prose style).

Jorge Luis Borges
Labyrinths is divided into "Fictions," "Essays," and "Parables,"; but you shouldn't be surprised to find that Borges treats all three genres as interchangeable - no division is necessary, since every story here is suffused with the freedom and invention of fiction, executed with the mathematical precision of an essay, and carries the resonance of a parable. If that makes it sound glib, then just replace 'parable' with 'prose-poem' and you'll get the idea. There's a nice symmetry to the collection, in that the reader gets to see Borges forming a work of fiction from a philosophical premise and then dissecting that premise analytically. If that sounds like a magician giving away his tricks, it's not - since the essays include some of Borges' most personal and autobiographical writing, and any possible 'explanation' is always filled with as many paradoxes and points of thought as the fiction.

Over the course of these stories, small motifs and obsessions are repeated: characters and ideas from the Classics, a fascination with Jewish mysticism, the adjective 'vertiginous'; the number fourteen as a symbol of the infinite. Chuang Tzu's 'dream within a dream' is a recurring theme (see: 'The Circular Ruins', where a gnostic sorcerer creates a man from his dreams only to discover that he himself was created in the same way); elsewhere Zeno's paradox goes from being a mathematical metaphor for infinite reduction to an indicator of the fundamental unreality of the universe ('Avatars of the Tortoise'). The things Borges is famous for - games with mirrors, encyclopedias, libraries, and labyrinths - are present in force, but more interesting is just watching his mind work, the turns it takes: reading Don Quixote for him becomes a chance to interrogate the nature of action in the Vedas; a meditation on the first emperor of China morphs into a consideration of the incomplete revelations comprising 'the aesthetic phenomenon.' A Western novel will often remind him of an Eastern philosophy, and vice versa. Essays ramble down back alleys and tangents, unravelling the unexpected connections in Borges' erudition. Even though everything is meticulously composed, the essays and parables give the feel of improvisations, of things Borges discovered in the moment of writing. Amazingly, none of this feels pretentious: Borges never seems especially impressed by himself; and as mentioned, his style is concise, even clipped at times. Instead of wearying of his voice, you end up wanting him to say more, but he doesn't: while everything is clear, nothing is over-explained; the implications are left up to the reader.

As Italo Calvino (another god-level writer, who I will discuss some day) points out, Borges's stories "often take the outer form of some genre from popular literature, a form proved by long usage, which creates almost mythic structures." "Death and the Compass" is a detective story after Poe or Christie, in which both detective and criminal are compulsively brilliant, manipulate Kabbalistic symbols at will, and maneuver each other into place until the inevitable labyrinth in time and space ensnares them both. "The Immortal," about a Roman general who discovers a ruined and geometrically impossible city hidden in a remote desert, almost feels like something out of Lovecraft before it veers off into characteristic Borges speculation on the temporal and spatial oneness of humanity viewed through the prism of infinity. 'Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius' is, among other things, a conspiracy theory, with its cabal of cartographers and metaphysicians devising an alternate earth based on the principles of Berkeleian Idealism. You get the feeling entire writers - Paul Auster, for example - came into existence solely because of stories like this. Other stories read like pulp serials written by a medieval philosopher; there are knife-fights, shootouts, and chases interrupting the furious progression of ideas. But Borges never confines himself to a single genre or country; despite portraying his native Buenos Aires with ease, his themes and characters are truly international. One story will be set in Nazi Germany, the next among a sect of Middle Eastern heretics in the Dark Ages, the next will have a Chinese protagonist. This freedom of genre and setting is a corollary of his erudition, in that he realizes the intellectual history of the world is its most cosmopolitan feature.

In 'Avatars of the Tortoise', when considering F.H. Bradley, Borges remarks: "He transforms all concepts into incommunicable, solidified objects. To refute him is to become contaminated with unreality." "Contaminated with unreality" is a great phrase, and one which just as aptly describes the experience of reading Borges: no matter how well a science-fiction writer details his premises, he's never going to be quite as convincing as Borges, who uses precise philosophical reasoning to demonstrate absurd or fantastical conclusions. The essay-story "A New Refutation of Time," for example, returns to Berkeley's Immaterialist thesis, this time extending it to its logical conclusions: if there is no real self, no physical matter, and no objective space, then there can be no time either. His reasoning is presented as an extension of that in Berkeley's Principles of Human Knowledge, but mid-essay, Borges breaks with Berkeley and Leibniz and relates his own experience of temporal illusion during an afternoon walk in Barracas, in which he finds himself both in the present and his childhood at once:

The street was one of low houses and though its first meaning was one of poverty, its second was certainly one of contentment. It was as humble and enchanting as anything could be. None of the houses dared open itself to the street; the fig tree darkened over the corner; the little arched doorways - higher than the taut outlines of the walls - seemed wrought from the same infinite substance of the night. The sidewalk formed an escarpment over the street; the street was of elemental earth, the earth of an as-yet unconquered America. Father down, the alleyway, already open to the pampa, crumbled into the Maldonado. Above the turbid and chaotic earth, a rose-coloured wall seemed not to house the moonlight, but rather to effuse an intimate light of its own. There can be no better way of naming tenderness than that soft rose colour.
I kept looking at that simplicity. I thought, surely out loud: this is the same as thirty years ago...I conjectured the date: a recent time in other countries but now quite remote in this changeable part of the world. Perhaps a bird was singing and for it I felt a tiny affection, the same size as the bird; but the most certain thing was that in this now vertiginous silence there was no other sound than the intemporal one of the crickets. The easy thought "I am in the eighteen-nineties" ceased to be a few approximate words and was deepened into a reality. I felt dead, I felt as an abstract spectator of the world; an indefinite fear imbued with science, which is the best clarity of metaphysics. I did not think that I had returned upstream on the supposed waters of time; rather I suspected that I was the possessor of a reticent or absent sense of the inconceivable word eternity.

Jorge Luis BorgesThe private and the universal have collided; there is no longer any distinction between Borges personally experiencing the psychological collapse of time and time's abstract destruction in the Berkeleian system, itself considered obsolete by modern philosophy. This is about as 'post-modern' (a term I hate and use reluctantly) as it gets; Borges' synaesthetic prose thoroughly Modern while echoing the eternal recurrence of its subject.

The only negative remark I can make is that Borges is sometimes too concise. "The Lottery in Babylon" is just an idea: a city where social positions and everything else are determined by chance, through a lottery. Having read that sentence, you don't even really need to read the story, since it consists of the explication of the idea and nothing more. In some cases, you almost wish he'd taken his ideas out to greater lengths; the stories feel almost like plot summaries rather than stories themselves. 'Theme of the Traitor and the Hero' expounds a complex assassination plot to make history mirror literature (prefiguring the assassination of Lincoln in the process) but is, again, just an outline of sorts. In my earlier review of Donald Barthelme's short stories, I said something to the effect that, although I admired Barthelme's writing greatly, I wished less people had tried to imitate it. I can say the same for Borges, since while he's mostly able to get away with the flaws I've just pointed out, people who decide they like his style and want to pull it off themselves usually aren't (and - again - they're not likely to be able to manipulate references and transpose themes and ideas as deftly as he does). I feel like these books should both be stamped with "Don't try this at home." on the covers.

Still, these objections are fairly pathetic. This book has true crystalline perfection; I'd give it a ten out of ten easy. Reading Borges has the feeling of reading a detective story in which what is uncovered is not the identity of a murderer but arcane metaphysical knowledge. If you like comics like The Invisibles and know that 'sefiroth' refers to something other than a Final Fantasy character, you'll probably love these stories.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Stanley Kubrick Marathon!

Stanley Kubrick

It had always been embarrassing back then, to admit to people that I've never seen a single Stanley Kubrick film before (Artificial Intelligence: A.I doesn't count). Harbouring such a shameful secret, how can I even call myself a lifelong film buff, let alone a filmmaker?

I did attempt to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey back when I was fourteen (it was that period when I attempted to watch as many classics from American Film Institute's list of top 100 movies in America cinema as possible). Unfortunately, back then, my mind was too untrained to bear a film like this, seeing non-speaking prehistoric apes dominating the beginning for... more than fifteen minutes, then going through another lengthy amount of time without much dialogue, just Johann Strauss' "Blue Danube" waltz playing... I gave up after the first twenty minutes. Back then, easier fare like Casablanca (still one of my all-time faves, watching it was a weekly fare during my teenage years) and Citizen Kane appealed more to me.

Few weeks ago, Kubrick's last film, the notorious Eyes Wide Shut, was playing on TV. Watching it, I was amazed by how good (and underrated) the film actually was, and surprisingly funny too. With a jealous Tom Cruise perpetually angsting and fantasizing about Nicole Kidman having sex with this uniformed guy. Unfortunately, I missed the last third of the film (it didn't bore me to sleep, I was just too tired, the film was playing on TV after midnight).

Since then, I made a mental note that I would watch Kubrick's classics, knowing that by now, eight years have passed, I'm more likely able to enjoy his stuff (... considering the amount of unbearable arthouse fare I had stomached over the years, I'm mentally strong enough now). However, I didn't really make any move to borrow his stuff from the uni library (my dad has most of Kubrick's stuff back at home, in Malaysia, so never bothered) until last Friday, when the professor of my Advanced Screen Production unit remarked that there was something Kubrick-ish about some of the shots from the Girl Disconnected (my upcoming short film, to the uninitiated readers) previews I showed the class (which received a warm applause, great morale booster), and that 2001: Space Odyssey is a 'must-watch' for me as reference.

Encouraged by it, I engaged in a mini-Kubrick DVD marathon of sorts in the past two days, watching three of his films, not that much, I know, but hey, this is Stanley Kubrick we are talking about, his works ARE emotionally and mentally taxing! So, some brief thoughts of the three Kubrick films I watched:

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

My professor wasn't the first one to make a Kubrick reference regarding my production. When shooting a train scene (photos here), I had glasses of milk being served to the main characters as part of the story, and Justin remarked that it was pretty psychedelic, something like... A Clockwork Orange.

screenshot from A Clockwork OrangeA Clockwork Orange, the first film of the marathon (I figured it would be an easy watch compared to, ah, 2001: A Space Odyssey) is one hell of a movie. I didn't know that even back then, Kubrick was so hip that he was already MTV techniques like fast mo (during a threesome sex scene accompanied by the William Tell Overture, wtf?) and slow mo for his scenes. Yeah, I wasn't surprised why the film had been so controversial, it has the main guy beating a writer up with his friends, then gangraping (the actual rape is shown offscreen) his wife while singing 'I'm Singin' In The Rain'! Malcolm MacDowell seemed so different when he was younger!

It's an interesting (and darkly comedic, in my opinion) social commentary that didn't seem to date at all, with various awesome scenes that reek of badassness. After finishing it yesterday evening, around eight, I immediately made my way to the library to return the DVD, just so I could pick up another Kubrick film. Highly recommended to those with an open mind.

A fan-made trailer of A Clockwork Orange

Barry Lyndon (1975)

Marisa Berenson is Lady Lyndon in Stanley Kubrick's Barry LyndonAfter returning A Clockwork Orange, I picked up Barry Lyndon, a period film that took place during the Napoleon era. (other films like The Shining and 2001: Space Odyssey are in the 'Reserved Section', meaning that I can watch it in the library, but it ain't available for loaning). Barry Lyndon was met with lots of negative reviews (and performed badly in the US box-office... but it was a hit in France) initially, yet enjoyed a gradually improving reputation as time goes on. Martin Scorsese, director of The Departed (check out my film review) called this his favourite Kubrick film.

Being a sloooow period flick (with undeniably lavish and beautiful costume and set designs, insanely beautiful cinematography), Barry Lyndon lacked the flashiness and flair of A Clockwork Orange. And I started to question my own sanity in watching something like this so late in the day, especially when it was a three-hour long film. My attention wandered, and I ended up writing last night's entry about Fremantle Beach.

But during the second half of the film, I started getting more and more engrossed, especially after main guy Barry (Ryan O'Neal) ran into the HOT Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson). That scene below instantly had me hooked.

And I was immediately enthralled by the sheer soap opera-ness of the film from then on. Seeing main guy Barry marrying Lady Lyndon, improving his social rankings, and then clashing with his stepson, Lord Bullingdon (who had disapproved Barry ever since he was a child as he knew that Barry was there for the gold!). Lord Bullingdon's lines after he grew up were particularly memorable to me as he delivered them with sheer angsty drama. Copied and pasted from IMDB:

Lord Bullingdon: [after Barry has whiped him repeatedly with a cane] Will that be all Mr. Redmond Barry?
Redmond Barry: Yes that will be all.
Lord Bullingdon: Well then look you now- from this moment, I will submit to no further chastisment from you. I will kill you, if you lay hands on me ever again. Is that entirely clear to you sir?
Redmond Barry: [under his breath] Get out of here!

And another:

Lord Bullingdon: Don't you think he fits my shoes very well your ladyship.

[kneels to his stepbrother]

Lord Bullingdon: Dear child, what a pity it is that I am not dead, for your sake. The Lyndons would then have a worthy representative and enjoy all the benefits of the illustrious blood of all the Barrys of Barryville. Would they not; Mr. Redmond Barry.

Lady Lyndon: From the way I love this child my lord, you ought to know I would have loved his elder brother had he proved worthy of any mother's affection.

Lord Bullingdon: Madam! I have born as long as mortal could endure the ill-treatment of the insolent Irish upstart whom you've taken into your bed. It is not only the lowness of his birth and the general brutality of his manners which disgusts me, but the shameful nature of his conduct towards your ladyship. His brutal and ungentleman-like behavior, his open infidelity, his shameless robbery and swindling of my property, and yours. And since I cannot personally chastise this lowbred ruffian, and as I cannot bear to witness his treatment of you and loathe his horrible society as if it were the plague; I have decided to leave my home and never return, at least during his detested life or during my own.

OH YEAAAH! Lord Bullingdon is THE MAN!

Highly recommended for those with high patience and an ironic sense of humour.

Trailer of Barry Lyndon

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Poster of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space OdysseyAfter going through two films by Kubrick, I was confident that I can most definitely survive 2001: A Space Odyssey. I watched this today in the afternoon, bringing my laptop into the library.

What was boring to me when I was fourteen became an amazement to me now. The ape scenes, the space station, the lack of dialogue. In the past, I only wanted to know WHAT was happening, but never appreciating the HOW, I do now. How the hell did Kubrick direct people into acting like apes? How the hell would he be so gutsy that the first fifteen mins of his film would be dialogueless scenes about apes? And man, the special effects... before the age of CGI... HOW COULD THOSE BE POSSIBLE?

I stared in bewilderment, and shuddered at how eerie HAL was. (also drawing some inspiration that I can use for future shoots in my film) But of course, like most people, it was the insane 'Star Gate sequence' that blew me away. Dave the Astronaut, traveling across vast distances of space and time through a tunnel of colorful light and sound... and then going through various stages of ageing, and then becoming a baby again. Something like that, it's totally indescribable.

I looked around, the experience was too insane for me to go through alone, I almost hoped that someone else in the library would come over and watch what I was watching. But alas, there was none. I stared, and stared. Shaking my head in disbelief, the work of a master indeed.

Emotionally and mentally sapped, I decided to take a break from my Kubrick marathon. But here are some 2001: A Space Odyssey-related videos:

2001: A Space Odyssey trailer

The 2001: A Space Odyssey opening you've never heard. You see, Stanley Kubrick originally hired Alex North to compose the score for the film, but he ended up using 'Also Sprach Zarathustra" by Richard Strauss, and other classical music

Highly recommended to all patient viewers who welcome intellectually stimulating masterpieces. Oh, and if you're not afraid of spoilers...

The last ten minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, watch it if you don't fear spoilers.

I was too emotionally and mentally drained after watching 2001: A Space Odyssey, thus cancelling my plan to follow it with The Shining, not sure whether that'll be the next Kubrick film I'm going to watch though.

One thing I like about Stanley Kubrick is his unpretentiousness and sense of humour. He's not like M. Night Shyamalan, who goes around calling himself an auteur, inserting himself in films, and playing the roles of martyr authors destined to save the world. (yes, this is a non-subtle jab at 'Lady In The Water'). He's so technically brilliant that he elevates the quality of his materials to greatness, you don't see him being blatantly obvious in trying to 'convey an important message to change the world'. Hell, I think I've met more film students who are more, ah, pretentious than Stanley Kubrick (... although yours truly had often been accused of belonging to the latter category as well... *sob*).

I wonder what my next Kubrick film should be? I kinda wanted to finish Eyes Wide Shut...

So, any other Kubrick fans here?

(And yes, that Wordpress default theme is named after him)

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