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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Preparing a new short film, THE WHITE FLOWER


(Photo by Martha K)


I'm flying back to Malaysia next Monday (3rd of August), and thus ends the dream-like 3rd session of my stay in Japan. Long have my Finnish friend Niklas and I have spoken about working on a project together, in fact, when we went to explore the abandoned ruins in Sagamiko back in May, our true intention was location scouting.

However, in June, I ended up doing 3PM for this cinematography course I was taking. It was a relatively an easy shoot, but still slightly taxing. And so I needed time to rest before I could gather myself again for another project. Two weeks ago I began borrowing numerous books from the library that could helpfully spark my creative juices again. Short stories from Akutagawa, Osamu Dazai, Nagai Kafu, Yumiko Kurahashi (the very same book guestblogger Justin mentioned back in 2006), then some anthologies of women writers in Japan (I ended up liking Fumi Hayashi's short story NARCISSUS a lot), I also ordered Italo Calvino's COSMICOMICS and Yiyun Li's A THOUSAND YEARS OF GOOD PRAYERS from Amazon, then I was watching numerous films for reference (Yoshishige Yoshida's 1970 avant-garde 3 hour film EROS PLUS MASSACRE left me with a headache)

In the end, I settled with doing a third loose adaptation of a Yasunari Kawabata text (my first two were LOVE SUICIDES and KINGYO). Yes, it's anti-climatic, I know. But the film will be different from the previous two (... although I will argue that the two aforementioned films aren't that similar to each other anyway!!!)

Unfortunately, the past week was a roller coaster of dark emotions from some personal issues I don't intend to elaborate, coupled with Yasmin's recent passing. Focusing upon this short film was a little more difficult than before. But now, after some adjustments, I'm excited again, and getting into the 'mood' for creativity.

Only two days away from the shoot. It will be a very small production, but that had never really been a problem.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rest in peace, Yasmin Ahmad

Yasmin Ahmad
(photo from Yasmin's flickr account)


Yasmin Ahmad has passed away.

I've never met her in person before. Just a single, hurried phone conversation two years ago. Last month, I wondered why she added me on Twitter, or how she knew about me.

Sepet has a special place in many people's hearts, but to me her best film was Mukhsin. I watched it at the GSC cinemas in 1-Utama with Kannan and Woo Ming Jin, that was the first time I met the latter, who is now my mentor and filmmaking partner.

I remember saying in a Sin Chew Jit Poh interview two years ago that thanks to her, and James, and Mui, and the others of the Malaysian New Wave, the international film festival circuit was opening up for more Malaysian filmmakers.

I think her magnum opuses were the Petronas ads she did, those that were tinged with nostalgia and sensitivity, making me yearn for a past that was never really my past.

I've never met her before, nor do I know her in person. Yet she remained a major presence in my professional life, mostly because I was always with the people who knew her, and for better or worse, she was always a topic for a conversation, a standard to measure against as an imaginary competitor, a source for inspiration as one who had already cemented a place in Malaysian film history.

When I woke up and read news of her passing on MSN, I felt wistful. To be reminded of mortality again, there were phone calls I wanted to make, people I wanted to talk to, voices I wanted to hear, but it was already past midnight, I sent a text message and noted my futility and stupidity. In the end I felt a strange sense of camaraderie with faceless names on my Facebook page, news started spreading about, the outpouring of grief expressed eloquently in the most simple of manners, there is also some comfort, tiny as it is, drawn from the Facebook and MSN conversations I'm having right now, quenching the sense of loneliness creeping upon me.

I guess that's death, often it makes you reflect upon your own life.

Rest in peace, Yasmin.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Quick thoughts on BMW Shorties 2009's finalists

(UPDATED 26th of July, 2009: Yasmin Ahmad has passed away. Rest in peace.)

I received a DVD of this year's BMW Shorties finalists two days ago because I was asked to voice my thoughts on the films. I watched them yesterday evening and gave BMW Shorties' Seet Heng some brief commentary, the original entry is posted here on the BMW Shorties website.

But prior to that, while watching the DVD, I was suddenly interrupted by the Yasmin Ahmad death rumours on Facebook. A friend told me about it on Facebook chat, I started asking others for verification, the others freaked out too. So I freaked out and called Ming Jin, asking whether he knew about it. He knew nothing, but was a little freaked out as well, so we were both checking Facebook updates and talking over the phone, some 'RIP' status updates had started appearing. Thankfully, minutes later, Eyeris, via Twitter and Facebook, pointed out that she passed OUT, and not passed AWAY or passed ON.

The latest updates I got last night was that she had suffered a stroke and is still in critical condition. I hope everything will be fine and she will pull through. My uncle had a serious stroke thirteen years ago and I remember that the first few days were the toughest. Here's a video from last night's press conference.



I don't really know Yasmin personally, having never met her in person at all. I only had one single phone conversation with her two years ago, when I called her and asked her to provide some casting recommendations during the pre-production of Cinta Tiga Segi. The conversation was like this:

Me: Heya, Yasmin, I'm producing this TV movie for Woo Ming Jin. And we're looking for someone to cast as our leads. Good-looking young people. It's a romantic comedy, you see.

Yasmin: Hmm. But looks are very subjective.

Me: True, but as long as they look good enough for many objective viewers, I'll be fine.

Yasmin: I'll think about it and get back to you.

Me: Cool!


That was it.

Now, I'm embedding all the BMW Shorties finalists of this year, along with my own commentary (will slightly add a bit more on what I wrote yesterday). It will be cool if you guys watch it and join me in your discussion. Really, I'm just hoping for more interaction in this blog, it's getting pretty quiet here.

FLASHES from Prakash M. on Vimeo.

Life goes by faster than one can imagine, and all that remains in our memories are either the tragic experience of heartache or the unforgettable moments of wonder...

A Kash Pictures Production. Written and directed by Prakash Murugiah.



My thoughts: Flashes belongs to the “man dies and have his whole life flashing before his life” genre. Not an original concept, but executed very well. Nice touch with the allusion to reincarnation. Some parts are surprisingly touching. Old age make-up was a little lacking, but then, even big-budget Hollywood productions struggle with those too.

m a c h a i from shanjhey kumar on Vimeo.

SYNOPSIS



K.L becomes Kay Hell for cousins Kali and Dass who were down visiting their uncle Bull Dog Maniam for the school holidays, but ended up being forced to become his “Ma chai” (Apprentice), helping him carry out his business for the past few days. Though they were able to survive the storm, see why today is an unlucky day………..



DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT

I use to hang out at my friends “kampong” in Sungai Besi, Kuala Lumpur. One day I heard that soon the settlement will be abolished to make way for new development, ”Gosh ! they are gonna lose the only living thing in the middle of this concrete jungle “

Then I struck me that I should do a documentation on this place. Instead than doing a the normal serious toned documentary, Why not a fun filled story based on multiracial “kampong” life? That’s how “Machai” was born



My thoughts: Ma Chai is very vibrant and energetic. Sanjhey shows that he has a lot of fun making this film, and his joy is infectious. I also feel that he has a very distinctive filmmaking style.

Codename Hashshashin from chow jr on Vimeo.

A documentary about the most oldest and secretive society/organization the world has ever seen!



My thoughts: Codename Hashshashin cracked me up with its initial premise. When the film began, I was silently hoping it’s not a generic hitman film, and I was rewarded with a witty mockumentary about modern-day cupids. Reminds me of HK director Edmond Pang’s works. I almost want to see this being expanded into something longer.

LUBANG from mohamed fazry on Vimeo.

In the event of getting numerous weird nightmares portraying himself dead, Sudin, a lonely guy became so much obsessed with the death scene he kept getting. He decided to dig his own burial ground in the compound that he owns. Although his weird action has caught attention of the other villagers and even the religious master tried to stop him, but he is still persistent...



My thoughts: Thanks to its good control in rhythm and atmosphere, Lubang is quite engrossing as we are immersed into the protagonist’s paranoia. I like the black comedy.

1:19 from Katak Chua on Vimeo.

James, a college student who needs money for his tuition fees is in a hopeless situation as his older brother mindlessly gambles away their family savings. The tension increases between the siblings as confrontation and accusations are thrown around, causing James to take matters into his own hands..



My thoughts: I thought the acting was a little wobbly at first, but then I realized that 1:19 is quite ambitious with its one-take shot. Very atmospheric because of its stylistic choice. I'm a sucker for long tracking shots.

7 from Jimmy Lim on Vimeo.



My thoughts: 7 is a very subtle and sensitive portrayal on a father-and-son relationship. I figured out the 'twist' early on, but I was drawn into its emotions. I’m a fan of the mundane when it is depicted well.

Conversation with Mad Man from brandon loh on Vimeo.

Is He Mad? Crazy? or not?



My thoughts: I wish “Conversation with a mad man” had a different title so that it wouldn’t give things away. It’s a very good one-man performance by the main actor. Monologue is effective and understated. It was smart of the filmmaker to just let the camera roll and have him work his magic. He also reminds me of HK comedian Eric Kot.

Le Mannequin from Vjan Wong on Vimeo.

This is our graduation final project in The One Academy(DG55), Malaysia.

*Please make sure u've watch until the end(FIN)! ;)



This 3D animation was created by Parktology (Wong Wei Jian,Cheong Tsae Yen,Cheong Kai Yen,Audrey Au E-theng,Chin Shenyin).

Enjoy the show! =)



My thoughts: Le Mannequin is very whimsical and romantic, reminds me of a Pixar animation (an obvious influence, I'm sure), and a dash of French romantic comedies like Amelie... and also the pain I myself have with women. I heard it took nearly ten months to work on this, I can say that the hard work can definitely be seen here!

Resonance from John W J Cho on Vimeo.

A passerby chances upon a envelope on the street. Curious, she decides to read its contents. It turns out to be a suicide note from a distressed soul trying to reach out from beyond the grave. Themes of regret, isolation and reflection are explored through the reader's imagination. This is my short film entry for BMW Shorties 2009.



My thoughts: Resonance is a well-written and well-shot film essay that meditates upon urban isolation and such. Urban isolation is always a bummer, especially for a guy like me who is now living in Tokyo, so it’s good of John Cho to remind me of its bummer-ness. I actually did something similar last year with my little-seen experimental video, FLEETING IMAGES.

So here you go, like I said check out the short films above and tell me what you think too.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The shotgun-carrying Chinese lady... acts

Two weeks ago I wrote about how I helped Zhu Dan, the shotgun-wielding Chinese lady, secure an acting role in a short film by my Thai friend Kong. (who will be adapting a short story by occasional Guestblogger Justin later this year, produced by my KINGYO producing partner Maiko, with the help of some of my crew members as well)

Zhu Dan with shotgun


Yesterday afternoon, Kong, who is now editing his film, needed to do some re-shoots of some scenes with Zhu Dan, thus they managed to re-enact the exact same shots from last month. Yes, the photo above, and the videos below, are shot a little more than a month apart (photo above taken on the 20th of June 2009, videos below taken on the 22nd of July 2009). Bet you can't see any differences at all!

To see that everything managed to seem identical from a month ago was a little eerie, as if I was in a time loop.

Aside from Kong, KINGYO production assistant and 3PM actress An-chan was there to help out as sound recorder too.







Sarah Connor who?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

LOVE SUICIDES in competition at the Festival Internazionale del Cinema d'Arte

Lying at the beach


I've never mentioned this earlier because their website is only in Italian and I wasn't sure about the details.

But I was emailed earlier that LOVE SUICIDES will be screening at the Festival Internazionale del Cinema d'Arte in Bergamo, Italy today. The film is one of the 18 short films around the world selected for competition under the Sottoventi category (PDF of the entire line-up). Once again, I'm honoured.

I hope the screening will go well!

LOVE SUICIDES will also be screening at some other European festivals over the next few months, you'll be hearing about it here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Visiting Tokyo DisneySea

in front of Mount Prometheus in Tokyo DisneySeaI had slightly more than 2 hours of sleep before I woke up at 5:30 in the morning and prepared for my first ever trip to Tokyo DisneySea.

Prior to the opening of the Hong Kong Disneyland, I always felt childishly gleeful that I could brag about having visited every single Disney theme park in the world:

- The original Disneyland. I went there the first time in 1991, I was 7, visited the place a few times since then, but haven't been there since 1998.

- Walt Disney World in Florida. Went there in 1993, I was 9, dad had a conference in Miami, so it was only me and mom in Orlando, so for she got us a 4-day pass to Disney World, one day in the Magic Kingdom, one day in the Epcot Center, and 2 days at my favourite, the Disney's Hollywood Studios, back then it was known as the Disney-MGM Studios.

- Disneyland Paris. Last visited in 1996. I remember living in the Disneyland Hotel and it was mindblowingly beautiful.

- Tokyo Disneyland. Went there a few times since I was a child, last visited in 2001. Haven't been there after I moved to Tokyo last year.

Since the original Disneyland is the first Disneyland I've ever visited, it retains a special place in my heart. Walt Disney World was magical, but due to the scorching weather then, and the pain mom and I had to endure when queuing for each attraction, we realized that the theme parks are better to visit during winters. I like both Disneylands in Tokyo and Paris, but don't think they can match the original.

Arriving at Tokyo DisneySea around 8 in the morning with my friends Yang Yang and Zifeng (they are graduates from the Beijing Film Academy), we were supposed to meet another friend, Tou-san (also a Beijing Film Academy alumnus) and her filmmaking partner (yes, we were all filmmakers).

This is the DisneySea AquaSphere, a symbol of the place situated at the Entrance Park. That's where I saw Daisy Duck.



Looking at the crowd, I thought of the Chinese proverb 'People Mountain, People Sea', which was used to describe a huge number of people, so huge that they seem able to form mountains or seas (though the actual English literal translation was really used as a joke in old Hong Kong films)

DisneySea crowd in the morning

Cute kid in front of statue in Tokyo DisneySea


Did all these people wake up as early as I did?



Like most first-time visitors, I was definitely in awe.

Pirate Ship at Tokyo DisneySea

Mysterious Island


But I would be lying if I had said that I enjoyed every single minute of it. By afternoon, the heat and my lack of sleep from the previous night started to take its toll. I found myself struggling to keep awake while lining up for the 'JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE WORLD' ride, and it's a rarity for me to feel like falling asleep while standing. And the ride, while amusing, wasn't enough to justify the 90-minute queue (that was before we found out we can get more than one 'Fastpasses')

Already, I was drafting a blog post in my mind, about me lamenting the fact that I may have outgrown Disney theme parks. Perhaps I had long beautified my memories of the previous ones I've visited, remembering only the fun rides and the beautiful sights, but not the long queues that preceded them. Or maybe I was more patient, I remember as a child I didn't mind queuing alone for the Splash Mountains and the Space Mountains in the different Disneylands.

Have I lost the patience for all these? A stormy cloud of slight melancholy and gloominess was starting to gather within my mind. You see, I'm not a fan of the heat, and being quite reclusive, I get even MORE reclusive during hot weathers. Last year in summer, I spent some days hanging out in my room, with my curtains closed so I could rid myself of the annoying sunlight. I did the same in Perth, Justin remarked that I was like a vampire.

Even the sights of cute girls in Yukata hanging out by the Arabian-themed buildings at the Aladdin-themed Arabian Coast could only lighten my spirits briefly.

Chicks in Yukata resting in front of the Arabian buildings


Yang Yang made an insightful observation that the place was probably more effective as a dating place for couples, a sentiment echoed by my other friend, Jason the night before ("what? You are going with 2 other guys? It'll be pretty boring, it's a dating place!")

We finally ran into Tou-san when she and her friend were lining up for this 3D show featuring the Genie.

She was wearing Mickey Mouse ears, and thought I would look good with Minnie Mouse ears, so she handed me the Minnie Mouse ears she had.

With Tou-san. She's Mickey and I'm Minnie


I thought I looked pretty transgressive too. But once again, I had some problems trying to keep myself awake during the 3D show. It didn't help that the entire thing was in Japanese.

I noticed that most visitors in DisneySea were locals, while there wasn't that many foreign (or non-Japanese speaking) tourists. Most attractions were only in Japanese too.

I was a little bummed out that I didn't run into Donald Duck at all. He's my favourite Disney character since I was a child. I empathized with him more compared to the goody-goody Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse always seemed to get everything he wanted, while Donald Duck was constantly in trouble.

But I bumped into Bob and Helen Parr AKA Mr Incredible and Elastigirl from Pixar's THE INCREDIBLES.



And then Daisy Duck again, but this time with Minnie. I was amused by the constant cries of "Daisy-chan!" and "Minnie-chan!". It never occurred to me that this was how the Japanese referred to them.



The subsequent rides I took, RAGING SPIRITS and the TOWER OF TERROR were fun enough. Mostly because we had the fun rides and didn't need to queue that long anymore.

This is the photo from TOWER OF TERROR. I'm at the bottom right.

My photo from Tower of Terror


At least I had a digitally-imposed Donald Duck sitting in front of me. The spastic expression I had was me laughing joyously. (sitting next to me were Zifeng and Yang Yang)

When we saw all these photos on the monitors after the ride, at the counter where these photos were sold, everyone whipped out their digital cameras and cell phones and started snapping photos. I noted with amusement how different things had been compared to my childhood. Now that everyone has a camera and cell phone, they can just take photos much easily, when in the past, everyone had to buy the photos sold by theme park. Of course, there are still some who went to buy the photos, since they came with the nice frames.

It was already evening after that. I then went to see the Big Band Beat performance, which had singing and dancing with swing jazz by a live big band. Still no Donald Duck in sight, just a tap-dancing and drumming Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck singing. Even Marie the white kitten from ARISTOCATS had a singing performance. Donald Duck never gets any love... :(

Went the performance was over. The sun was already gone.







Seeing the place at night, I felt like a child again. It's kinda like Alexander Payne's segment in Paris Je'taime when the plump lady realized that she had fallen in love with the city of Paris during one fleeting, ephemeral moment. But without the tears, of course, since I'm manlier.

Mediterranean Harbor (Tokyo DisneySea) at night

Mediterranean Harbor (Tokyo DisneySea) at night 2

Mediterranean Harbor (Tokyo DisneySea) at night 3

Mediterranean Harbor (Tokyo DisneySea) at night 4

Mediterranean Harbor (Tokyo DisneySea) at night 5


People had already flocked over to wait for the BraviSEAmo performance. That's their nighttime water and pyrotechnic show. I'm not happy with the video I shot of it, so I'll give you some of the better ones uploaded on Youtube.





The last program I went to was the Bon Fire Dance, available only on summer nights. The Bon Fire Dance is actually the Bon Odori. It's fun to see this here, and it's pretty different from the one I saw at the Mitama Festival in Yasukuni Shrine.



We left the park as it was closing. By then I had nearly forgotten about the agony I endured, and the dark thoughts I had during the hot afternoon.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cure Rubbish, band name or manifesto?

When I walked past the NHK Broadcasting Centerbuilding at Shibuya last Wednesday night, I saw a band setting up for a performance.

There was a sign next to them, and the words 'CURE RUBBISH'.

I figured that was the name of the band (their official site here). I wondered whether it was also a manifesto. Although I'm not exactly sure what one must do when 'curing rubbishes'.

When they started performing, a large crowd of girls had already gathered around them. I think I was the only guy among the audiences.

Based on observation, and snooping around in their sites, CURE RUBBISH is not really an unknown band. One of their songs had already been used for some TV show. Searching around in Youtube yielded some actual music videos of theirs with decent production values.

Since some of you have seen me posting videos of street musicians in Shinjuku (here and here) I feel that this is something slightly different. (well, mostly the audience size during the performance)



The coolest thing is that the guys were also giving out CDs (I took one, why not?), and when they were done, they were already mobbed by their audiences.

I remember that night mostly for a young skinny girl who accompanied the band. As they were setting things up, and performing, she was going around handing out flyers, announcing about the band's performance, running frantically from one spot to the other, directing people over to the band.

I was initially amused, but for an instance, I found her diligence unexplainably touching. Was she the manager? Or an employee? Or a girlfriend? Or a relative of the band? To be working so hard, yet without showing a single sign of weariness at all, just boundless excitement. One can almost forget the tedium of life.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I was a dino dork

The first time I went to Ueno Park was last November, when autumn's touch had infused upon it the colours of red and gold. (Not to be narcissistic, but I did take some bloody good photos that time) What left the most impression then were the wilted lotuses at the Lotus Pond (part of the Shinobazu Pond).

The Lotus Pond (Shinobazu Pond at Ueno Park)


When I went back to Ueno again last Friday, the first time I've done so since winter, I was pleased by the sight of lotuses covering the entire pond.



Then I walked to the Boat Pond section and saw some young couples on the rental boats. How cliched. I noted wryly, but not without a slight tinge of envy.



I trudged past the three museums at Ueno Park, the Tokyo National Museum was closed, but the National Science Museum (or National Museum of Science and Nature) caught my eye.

Mostly because of the blue whale replica at its exit.

Blue whale outside the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo


I wondered whether it was a life-size replica, it was pretty huge.

The first and last time I saw a replica of a blue whale was at the National History Museum London. It was 1992, I was with my mom.

That was a memorable trip. It was also the first time I saw dinosaur skeletons. Like many, I was a major dinosaur nerd then. While many childhood friends and teachers from primary school can attest to the fact that I have always wanted to become a film director, I shared a brief love affair with dinosaurs.

After that trip in London I dug out all the dinosaur encyclopedias I had and read them over and over again. For a short period of time, I put aside the dream of filmmaking and seriously (as seriously as an 8 year old could be) considered switching to becoming a badass PALEONTOLOGIST. (and seriously annoying the heck out of some teachers then who thought I was deliberately mouthing off 'big words' when I haughtily declared in class that I wanted to become one)

Of course, then JURASSIC PARK came the following year, and despite the wonder and awe I had for the film, it was the beginning of the end of my flirtation with paleontology! Dino-mania went mainstream, what I had with the dinosaurs didn't feel so special anymore. (after all, MY defining dinosaur movie was THE LAND BEFORE TIME, which really wasn't seen by that many people I knew)

And so, I went back to becoming the strange fat boy who wanted to become a movie director. It's like how you would love an obscure indie band that no one knows about, and all of a sudden it gets signed up by a major label and you decide to cling to your integrity by shunning the band because 'they sold out'.

(Occasionally the long-forgotten dino dork in me would still resurface as proven in this silly MSN conversation I had back in 2005)

Like the blue whale, that trip in '92, was also the last time I saw dinosaur skeletons. So seeing them again at the National Science Museum felt like a trip down memory lane.

The Tyrannosaurus Rex and other dinosaur skeletons

Apatosaurus skeleton


The museum is divided to two buildings, one the Earth Pavilion, the other the Japanese Pavilion. The dinosaurs were in the Earth Pavilion, so were the creatures from the age of the mammals.

Skeletons of creatures from the age of mammals


There were two woolly mammoth skeletons too. I think the creatures from these era's a little underrated, no one seem to love them as much as the dinosaurs.

Well, there's the Ice Age films, but they threw dinosaurs into the third film, so I think that's a cop-out too, they still need the dinos to appeal to more audiences, hmph.

Two mammoth skeletons in background and some others


Another film I can think of set in the same era was last year's forgettable 10,000 BC, which I went to see with irony. It obviously didn't do to prehistoric creatures what Jurassic Park did to dinosaurs.

The museum was about to close when I rushed to the Japanese Pavilion to take a look. At the time the place was almost empty, save for four other visitors, who were all deaf-mute and communicated with each other via sign languages as they strolled past the exhibits, occasionally laughing.

I saw the Futabasaurus, a plesiosaur (aquatic reptiles that live at the same with dinosaurs, but they are NOT dinosaurs, that's what wikipedia said).

Skeleton of the Futabasaurus, a plesiosaur


I recognized it as the one from the 1980 Doraemon movie (and its 2006 remake), NOBITA'S DINOSAUR. I guess NOBITA'S PLESIOSAUR didn't sound as catchy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

She must've felt out of place watching The Galaxy Girls Club

Last Saturday, when I went off to Akihabara to buy some blank DVDs, I happened upon a live event at the Live Park in Akiba (which, to the uninitiated, is not a real park, but the first floor of the Sato Musen electric store, opened earlier this year for numerous mini-concerts and live events, I heard mostly to convince authorities to reopen Akihabara's 'Pedestrian's Paradise' that had been closed since last year's Akihabara Massacre)

The schedule at Live Park in Akiba


It was a few minutes after 4pm, a group of girls were there. They are the Galaxy Girls Club (銀河っ娘クラブ), I assume they were a new group making some promotional appearances.



I didn't find out anything about them until I started writing this post, a few days after seeing the event. In the end the girls posed for photos.

Galaxy Girls Club


I will now try the unenviable feat of trying to name the members of the group. Not an easy task, and most probably inaccurate. You can go check on them yourselves if you want to.

From right to left: Amika アミカ, Rinon リノン, Myuu Myuu ミュウミュウ (easily the best name of them all!), Yumetan ユメタン, Maririn マリリン, Karen カレン, Jyuri ジュリ, Naccheru ナッチェル and the one partially left out of the picture is possibly Hiwarin ヒワリン. I can tell you that I am more than a little comforted to know that the leader of the group, Karen (or rather, I assume she's the leader since she's the one doing most of the talking) is only a year younger than I am. Which makes me feel less old, I guess.

One thing that would later caught my sight is the lone female spectator at the event.



Of course, looking at her bored expression, she could be like, well, me, just a random passerby who stayed around due to curiosity. Or maybe she was the girlfriend/ sister/ babysitter of one of the guys in the crowd dragged into watching this whole affair.

Otherwise, maybe the Galaxy Girls Club had managed to transcend gender barriers by not attracting a 100% male crowd (but a 99% one instead).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mitama Matsuri at Yasukuni Shrine 2009

(UPDATE: Check out the photos and videos of MITAMA MATSURI 2010 too if you like this post)

I went to the Mitama Matsuri (Soul Festival) at the Yasukuni Shrine yesterday. It is a festival that honours the dead.

Mitama Matsuri at Yasukuni Temple


My initial plan was to go to the Toro-nagashi (floating of lighted lanterns on the water) in the palace moat at Chidorigafuchi Park nearby.

Alas, I wasn't able to catch the latter, although I have to say that the Mitama Matsuri was definitely impressive.

This is the haunted house attraction at the festival. Hear the sounds of people screaming?



And then I made my way past the stalls and watched a drum performance.



As you can see, it was a pretty large festival, lots of stalls, people, and dazzling colours. I was excited to see so many in yukata too. (I am a fan of its aesthetics!)


The crowd at Mitama Matsuri

Little girl eating alone during Mitaka Matsuri

Walking past the temple gates of Yasukuni


Near the main shrine building, children performances were held. Lots of cries of "Kawaaaaaaii!" among the women audiences. I wanted to do the same but I am fearful that it would sound too pedo-ish.



Children performing ballet at Mitama Matsuri


The many lanterns in the festival bear letters written by many well-known people.



I was walking about the area around the main building when I suddenly heard the rumbling sounds of taiko.



Navigating my way through the sea of people, and as you can see, many were in pretty yukata, I went to check it out.



I left the shrine after that, wanting to head towards the Toro-nagashi as I've mentioned at the beginning of this post.

It was a pity I didn't catch that, the sight of lighted lanterns floating about a moat had always been something I wanted to see for myself.

Yet the Mitama Matsuri in Yasukuni, with its splendour, was worth the trip.

Decorations at the Mitama Matsuri festival


Before I left, I caught the Bon Odori at the festival on video. Pretty magnificent.



(UPDATE: Don't forget to check out the photos and videos of MITAMA MATSURI 2010 if you like this)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sichuan Hot Pot... in a rice cooker

Last night was the last night of Steve's visit in Tokyo. My friends from China, Yang Yang and Zifeng invited both of us to have the much famous Sichuan (or Szechuan) "ma la" (numb and spicy) hot pot over at Zifeng's place. The meal was prepared by the chick, Echo (or Ecco, not sure), who's from Chengdu, Sichuan.



Great meal!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Hozuki Ichii (Ground Cherry Pod Fair) at Senso-ji 2009

The last time I went to Senso-ji at Asakusa was nearly two months ago, for the Sanja Matsuri (check out the breathlessly evocative photos I've taken of the festival here).

When I went there again yesterday, they were having the Hozuki Ichi (Ground Cherry Pod Fair), in which hundreds of street stalls were set up to sell ground cherry pods and wind chimes.

Lines of ground cherry pod stalls during hozuki ichii

Girls and ground cherry pod stall during hozuki ichii in senso-ji

Busy ground cherry pod stalls during hozuki ichii

Man tending ground cherry pod during Hozuki Ichii

A ground cherry pod fair stall


In one particularly popular stall, the customer gets to pose with the pretty vendor.

Pretty ground cherry pod vendor posing with customer during hozuki ichii at senso-ji temple


Apparently what she and the other vendors were wearing is what used to be worn by vendors selling Chinese Lantern Plants. This festival dates back over 200 years, hence the traditional fashion. (source: Tokyo Fashion, their post has more photos too)

Pretty ground cherry pod stall vendor posing with another customer during hozuki ichii at senso-ji temple


Suddenly, just as it usually happens, another young girl in pink wandered into my shot, taking photos of a dog that belonged to one of the stall customers.

A girl in pink appeared in front of the stall to take photo of dog


The girl in pink really liked taking photos of the dog. (As opposed to my personal indifference towards it)

Pretty girl in pink couldn't stop taking photo of dog


I wasn't aware that the main hall of Senso-ji was under renovation.

Main hall of Senso-ji is under renovation

Main hall of Senso-ji is under renovation 2

Main hall of Senso-ji is under renovation 3


But when I entered the hall, it remained busy.




Oh, what joy! To be able to see, in person, such an invaluable Japanese tradition! I'm always inquisitive, always eager to learn, when it comes to foreign cultures, especially when there is opportunity to immerse myself into the experience.

As a filmmaker, such exploration and constant adventuring prevents my pool of ideas from drying up. With each tiny discovery, my world view continues to evolve, to shift, to transform, never settling into a permanent state of stagnancy. A fatal trap that leads to delusion and narrow-sightedness, a damning obstacle for creativity, I have to say.

I believed these two young ladies in the yukata understood too. That's why for the very brief instance when the paths of our tumultuous and vastly different lives intersected in a crossroad constructed solely through serendipitious circumstances, they both allowed me the pleasure to capture the moment with the following photographs!

Candid photos of two girls in Yukata at senso-ji temple during hozuki ichii

Two girls in Yukata at senso-ji temple during hozuki ichii

Friday, July 10, 2009

The BEAUTIFIED TABOO art exhibition

I brought Steven to the BEAUTIFIED TABOO art exhibition at SuperDeluxe in Roppongi last night. The BEAUTIFIED TABOO, in its second year, is the brainchild of Tokyo-based German/Vietnamese artist Vivienne U.H. Doan. Let me quote its origins from a Japan Times article.

(The BEAUTIFIED TABOO) is an exhibition showcasing works by some of Tokyo's better-known experimental and international artists that attempts to investigate, as well as beautify, taboos.

Doan got the idea when she started to question both Japanese and foreign people on what they felt was taboo. Intrigued by the variety of answers and feelings she encountered, she took the ideas and "beautified" them, adding an artist's perspective to socially explosive concepts. Naturally, ideas relating to the human body, sex, violence and death are well represented.


Here's a list of the featured artists for this year's exhibition:

  • Alexis Alvarez (Photography, US)
  • Richard Boase (Visual Art, UK)
  • Ed Fox (Photography, US)
  • Florencia Guerberof (Video Performance, ARG)
  • Ryan Hale (Photography, US)
  • Yu Hokazono (Photography, JP),
  • Kawori Inbe (Photography, JP)
  • Jun Kitagawa (Live Painting, JP)
  • Catalina Madrinan (Sculpture/Painting, CO)
  • skinni pants (Fashion Installation, US/JP)
  • Massimilliano Schilliro (Photo Installation, IT)
  • Emmi Venna (Live Installation, FIN)
  • + "The 13th Artist" (Illustration, GER)


I managed to snap a couple of photos, and shot some videos from it, but I try not to reproduce, or reveal too much of the things I saw at the exhibition, as I understand (and sort of relate to) how artists feel about these things.

And thus I attempt to preserve the mystique of the exhibition by, ah, keeping it mysterious.

This young lady in a yukata is Reiko, she was sitting next to me. We played quick draw to see who managed to snap the photo of the other quicker.

Photo of Reiko in the yukata taking photo of me


After that, the Japanese avant-garde female dance duo 86B210 performed onstage. They were totally avant-garde.

One of the members from the dance troupe 86B210 performing

both members from the dance troupe 86B210 performing


Occasionally, the Finnish artist Emma Venna would appear for her live installation, dancing her slow hypnotic dance that coincided with the theme of the exhibition. Later when I speak to her she told me the imagination in her mind were restless when she danced, a product of improvisation based on what she saw, the people, the place, whatever was happening, whatever that popped out in her mind. Beauty that could sometimes be interpreted as ugliness, or ugliness that would sometimes be interpreted as beauty.

Emma Venna's live installation


I thought I would introduce her to my Finnish friend Niklas, it would be great to allow her a reunion with one of her countrymen.

Photographer Kawori Inbe exhibited her take on the fetishism attached to high-school uniforms in Japan.

I managed to speak to Kaori, one of the models from her photography project. We had an intellectual discussion in philosophy and literature, when the conversation veered to my two recent adaptations of Yasunari Kawabata's works (that would be my short films. LOVE SUICIDES, which is having its world premiere at the Paris Cinema International Film Festival on this very day, and KINGYO) she told me her favourite writer is Yukio Mishima. We share a love for Jun'ichirō Tanizaki (I said I loved NAOMI and THE KEY, she told me that I must read his masterpiece, THE MAKIOKA SISTERS), and also slight indifference towards the more contemporary Japanese writers.

When the exhibition ended, I took a photo of her and another model, Mayuri, taking photos of the photos they modelled for.

Photo of Kaori and Mayuri taking photos of the photos they modelled for


They also posed for my photo of them posing in front of the photos they posed for Photographer Kawori Inbe.

Me taking photos of Mayuri and Kaori standing before the photos they modelled for


(Kaori posed for the third photo from the right, Mayuri was the one in the second photo from the right)

After that I took a photo of photographer Kawori Inbe taking photos of her two pretty models standing in front of the photos they modelled for.

Photo of photographer Kawori Inbe taking photos of her two models in front of the photos they modelled for


As I snapped the photo, I wondered whether there were anyone taking a photo of me taking a photo of photographer Kawori Inbe taking a photo of her two models standing in front of the photos they modelled for?

Very meta, I thought. Then my head ached a little.
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Short film and video works