Alright, I realize that by doing something like this I am going to be revealing just how much of a nerd I am to everyone who reads this blog. However, considering my last blog post mentioned that I have history-induced orgasms, I guess I’m not fooling anyone into thinking that I am coolness personified.
Over the next few weeks, I will be posting a series of critical essays and reviews on the works of Kon Satoshi, who has recently passed away. (To read a translation of his final words, please visit Makiko Itoh’s blog.)
These will be the first Japanese anime reviews that I have ever posted on this page. You will see that this is not because I don’t watch anime. In fact, I have seen more anime than I care to admit. I was obsessed with anime and manga for the majority of high school. The reason why I tend to keep this under wraps is because I don’t want people’s perception of me and my essays to be clouded by this fact. Let’s face it, anime fans have a horrible reputation (and not undeservedly so) and I already have to contend with enough comments calling me ‘Wapanese.’
Anime is a fairly big deal in the United States. Anime and other forms of Japanese pop culture play an enormous role in influencing the way the younger generation of Americans perceive Japan, and for that reason it is probably one of Japan’s most powerful exports (in terms of soft power). However, the distribution of anime does not necessarily lead to a more informed or accurate view of Japan or the Japanese people. No one is going to develop a deep understanding of Japan through watching big-breasted school girls or giant robots. In terms of cultural understanding AND film studies, anime is mostly consumerist crap that facilitates escapism (trust me on this, I’ve seen a lot).
One of the exceptions is Kon Satoshi. Like Miyazaki Hayao and Oshii Mamoru, the works of Kon Satoshi not only hold their own against the classics of live-action cinema but also show us the potential of anime as a serious filmmaking genre.
In light of the impact and importance his work has had on the genre, Kon Satoshi’s filmography may seem surprisingly small. It includes:
- ‘Magnetic Rose’ from Memories (1995) – writer
- Perfect Blue (1998) – director and animator
- Millennium Actress (2001) – writer, director and animator
- Tokyo Godfathers (2003) – writer, director and animator
- Paranoia Agent (2004, a 13-episode series) – director
- Paprika (2006) – writer and director
Kon’s last work The Dream Machine will be released posthumously in 2011.
Kon explored a number of themes in his work – the tenuous relationship between reality and illusion, the subjective nature of perception, the power of memories and nostalgia, Japanese history and society, the female image, and an unrelenting examination of psychology.
My first experience with Kon Satoshi was back in 2000 (I was 13). I had recently been exposed to Japanese anime and this was around the time that mainstream retailers like Blockbuster began to carry anime titles. I was happily devouring as much anime as I could get my hands on and rented Perfect Blue.
It blew me away.
Not only did Perfect Blue fuel my interest in the anime genre, I list it as one of the films that has had the most impact on me personally. Along with films like Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972), Audition (Miike Takashi, 1999), A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971), and The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973), Perfect Blue has had a profound impact on how I appreciate and analyze cinema. Shortly after watching Perfect Blue, Kon’s Millennium Actress was released on DVD in America (I actually preordered it, lame). Kon’s deeply touching and nostalgic exploration of Japanese history and cinema motivated me to explore other genres of Japanese filmmaking. I can honestly say that the works of Kon Satoshi had a major influence in how I became the person I am today.
The force and impact of Kon Satoshi’s work not only transcend the boundary between animation and live-action filmmaking but have expanded the limits of the anime genre. As a fan, I know that his death will be deeply felt – within the anime industry as well as the film genre, internationally as well as domestically.
I will be reviewing Kon Satoshi’s work chronologically. Because all of his work has a strong thematic unity, I believe that watching and studying his work in chronological order reveals his stylistic development as a director and how key themes have been developed and expanded upon over the course of his career.
Some of you know that I recently went back to America during part of summer vacation. While I was in Los Angeles, my friend Worm (it’s a nickname, don’t ask) was kind enough to take me up to see the Southern Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) at Camarillo Airport where he volunteers as a pilot. The CAF is a completely volunteer-run non-profit that restores and flies military aircraft – primarily WWII aircraft. Though the United States produced over 300,000 aircraft during the Second World War, almost none remained by 1960. Now, the CAF holds nearly 160 aircraft (60 different types) in various locations across the United States. The fleet includes aircraft from several different countries and aircraft from conflicts since WWII.
The CAF defines their mission as:
The CAF was founded to acquire, restore and preserve in flying condition a complete collection of combat aircraft which were flown by all military services of the United States, and selected aircraft of other nations, for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations of Americans.
More than just a collection of airworthy warplanes from the past, the CAF’s fleet of historic aircraft, known as the CAF Ghost Squadron, recreate, remind and reinforce the lessons learned from the defining moments in American military aviation history.
The CAF travels internationally to hold educational exhibitions and perform air shows. The Southern California Wing of the CAF sports a ridiculously impressive collection of aircraft –
- Grumman F-8F Bearcat, N7825C – Flying
North American SNJ-5 Texan, N89014 – Flying
Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat, N1078Z – Flying
Mitsubishi A6M3 Zero, Model 22, N712Z – Flying
Fairchild PT-19 Cornell, N641BP – Flying
North American SNJ-4 Texan, N6411D – In restoration
Curtiss C-46, China Doll, N53594 – In restoration
North American B-25 Mitchell, N5865V – In restoration
Supermarine Mark XiV Spitfire, N749DP – In restoration
Obviously, I consider the Mitsubishi A6M3 ‘Zero’ to be the crown jewel of their collection. It has been completely restored and it is ONE OF ONLY THREE FLYABLE ZEROS IN THE WORLD. Because Worm is currently being groomed as the Zero’s new pilot, I got to crawl all over the damn thing.
For WWII history buffs, the Zero has acquired an almost mythic reputation. I would argue that its silhouette is THE most recognizable of any WWII aircraft. No one can forget the images of Zeros flying over Pearl Harbor…even if it was a short clip from high school US History class or the images from Michael Bay’s atrocious Pearl Harbor (2001).
Picture Constantine having a history orgasm in the middle of an airstrip in SoCal and you’ll have a good idea of how excited I was.
The Zero was arguably the best carrier-based fighter during WWII, with a maneuverability and range that repeatedly devastated US fighters in dogfights during the early years of the Pacific conflict (especially considering the out-dated equipment that the US was using during 1941). By 1942-1943, however, an improvement in US equipment and tactics undermined the Zero’s ability to hold its own against the US military-industrial machine.
The Model 22 Zero at the SoCal CAF is not the model that was used during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The A6M3 Type 0 Model 22 (零式艦上戦闘機二二型) was produced between December 1942 and summer of 1943. It’s sports a new version of the Model 21’s longer folding wings, a more powerful engine and the longest range of all the Zeros. 560 Model 22s were produced.
To give you an idea of how rare the Zero is – the epic 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora! (and most film and TV productions) use modified and repainted t-6 Texans. Only one Model 52 was used during the production of Bay’s Pearl Harbor.
Worm and some of the awesome men at the CAF explained to me that the Zero possessed maneuverability, speed and firepower at the expense of protection. There is only one small armor plate behind the cockpit that would do very little to protect the pilot. In contrast, American-built fighters had large amounts of armor plating, which protected the pilots at the expense of weight, maneuverability and speed. Comparing the planes up close, the Zero is absolutely dwarfed by the formidable Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat. One of the pilots ironically described the Zero’s construction as ‘chintzy’ and, indeed, there are large square areas on the Zero’s wings that you must avoid putting any weight on because of the thin metal. But this, too, speaks to the Zero’s efficiency as a carrier-based fighter.
Now for some orgasm worthy pictures (not great quality):
I was also happy to see the P-51 Mustang, complete with a Nazi death count on its side.
I was exceedingly lucky because the CAF were in the process of getting all the WWII aircraft ready for an airshow at a nearby naval base. I therefore got to watch a whole slew of aircraft – including the Zero – take off and fly away in formation. You, readers, are unlucky because I forgot to bring my camera and capture it all on film for you. Better luck next time!
I can honestly say that I would move to LA just to have the opportunity to volunteer at the SoCal CAF and drool over WWII planes (and veterans…and pilots…and Worm) on a regular basis.
For more information:
The CAF Southern California Wing – http://www.cafsocal.com/
The CAF Official Homepage – http://commemorativeairforce.org/
Back in April/May, my mother came to visit me in Japan. During our trip down to Osaka, we took a ‘little’ detour into the nearby Wakayama-ken. Our destination: Koyasan (高野山). Founded in 819 by the monk Kukai (AKA Kobo Daishi), Koyasan is the world headquarters of the Koyasan Shingon sect of Buddhism. Home to approximately 120 temples, Koyasan is definitely a place where monks outnumber lay-people.
My mother is fascinated with monks and Japanese Buddhism, so Koyasan was a definite MUST during her trip. For her, I think both fall clearly into the ‘Oriental Mystique’ category. Personally, my image of monks is based almost entirely on my knowledge of the Heian period of Japanese history. Specifically, when I think ‘monk’ I think of two things – the Heike Monogatari and The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha by Mikael Adolphson. The Heian period ended in 1185 and ‘sohei’ (warrior monks) have pretty much been extinct since Nobunaga set fire to Enryaku-ji back in 1571, so it’s safe to say that my knowledge of monks is a bit outdated. What can I say, I love living in the past.
Despite our combined ignorance, we were both interested in doing a ‘temple stay’ – where you stay in one of the local Buddhism temples and can enjoy some shojin ryori or ‘devotion food.’ (It’s all vegetarian, of course.) Little did we know that our trip to Koyasan would coincide with one of their most important ceremonies – the Kenchien Kanjo.
After we settled into our room at the Sekisho-in, some friendly monks ushered us out the door and ordered us to immediately head to the Garan. We followed a mass of Buddhist pilgrims clad in white and weilding votive candles down a gravel path illuminated by lanterns. The tree-lined path opened up to reveal an impressive orange-and-white pagoda. While monks bustled back and forth, the spring air was filled with chanting.
Further up the path lay the Kondo, a massive wooden structure that was originally built by Kobo Daishi in 819 (it has subsequently been rebuilt 7 times, probably due to fires).
The Kechien Kanjo is a Buddhist ritual where the blindfolded participant throws a flower into the Taizokai (Womb of the World Mandala) to establish a link between the participant and one of the emanation forms of Dainichi Nyorai. Afterward, water is used to wash away all worldly desires. On the first day, a procession of monks in colorful brocade robes called the Teigi Dai-Mandala0ku is held.
Day One in Koyasan –
How to Get There:
From Osaka’s NAMBA STATION take the NANKAI KOYA LINE to GOKURAKUBASHI STATION. From there, board the cable car for a brief ride to KOYASAN STATION at the top of the mountain. From Koyasan station, take the bus (there’s only one) to the town center.
Nankai Railways actually offers a KOYASAN WORLD HERITAGE ticket. This pass includes a round trip ticket to Koyasan from Namba Station, unlimited travel on the buses in Koyasan, and discount admission to certain attractions in Koyasan. The pass is valid for two consecutive days. The Regular version will cost you 2,780 per person and the Limited Express version is 3,310 per person.
I was recently asked to answer a few questions for the new website iShare-Japan about my experiences since I have moved to Japan. As some of you know, I have lived in Japan for almost a year; my so-called ‘Japaniversary’ will be on August 3rd. That’s no where near long enough to have developed a deeply nuanced understanding of Japanese culture (years of research on the country notwithstanding). I found this the most difficult question to answer: “What are some of the worst things about living in Japan?”
My mood routinely fluctuates between obscene love for Japan, disbelief that I am actually living here, and irrational frustration towards everything Japanese. The truth of the matter, though, is that living in Japan is now my daily life. That makes it difficult to identify if the problems I encounter are unique to my geographical/cultural location or merely representations of the difficulties everyone encounters from continuing to breathe.
Upon closer examination, I realized that there is a very easy way to depict the challenges I have faced since coming to Japan.
I am going to tell you something about myself that is readily apparent to anyone with eyes: I have been lucky enough to live a privileged life (and continue to do so). I come from an upper-middle class background, I attended a respected private university in the East Coast, and I conform to nearly every societal beauty standard without much difficulty – I am not fat, I am tall, I maintain a decent standard of athleticism, I have blonde hair, blues eyes, and, above all, I AM WHITE. In truth, the only institutionalized difficulty I may have faced in America is that I am female. And let’s face it, gender is less of an obstacle in America than most places in the world. That said, I’d also like to point out that the rest of the blog will be draw from my personal experiences, which are influenced by my privileged background. I cannot speak for anyone but myself.
What I’m getting at is that I have come from a culture of white privilege. Feminist writer Peggy McIntosh has written about the subject of white privilege extensively, and I will draw from her essay on the subject throughout this blog. She accurately sums up my life in America as such;
I see a pattern running through the matrix of white privilege, a patter of assumptions that were passed on to me as a white person. There was one main piece of cultural turf; it was my own turn, and I was among those who could control the turf. My skin color was an asset for any move I was educated to want to make. I could think of myself as belonging in major ways and of making social systems work for me. I could freely disparage, fear, neglect, or be oblivious to anything outside of the dominant cultural forms. Being of the main culture, I could also criticize it fairly freely.
When I moved to Japan, the privilege that I unconsciously lived with for my entire life was thrown out the window. I moved from being a member of ‘the dominant cultural form’ to being a minority. This will happen to everyone who moves to Japan who is not Japanese. Most of the complaints I hear from foreigners about living in Japan are directly related to this.
Peggy McIntosh outlines a list of 50 Daily Effects of White Privilege. All of these will be reversed when you move to Japan. Let’s take a closer look at some of them:
I’ve been pretty busy lately and haven’t had quite as much time to post as I’d like. But I’ve been working on several things and here’s what you can expect from this blog in the near future:
- Japan-related book reviews!
- More Japanese film reviews!
- Several essays about modern Japan and Japanese history, woo-hoo!
- Several JET-related posts and videos!
Until then, take a look at the newest vlog on the ConstantineInTokyo YouTube page:
As I’ve mentioned before, last school year the Korean foreign exchange student would visit my desk at least once a week to practice her English conversation (which was exponentially greater than the English abilities of the Japanese students). What this really meant is that every week for one or two hours I had to talk about the latest developments in her favorite TV show: Gossip Girl.
Now, I am not a fan of Gossip Girl. The latest reincarnation of Beverly Hills 90210/Melrose Place/The OC (which are all essentially the exact same show), Gossip Girl has the ability to immediately fill me with rage and frustration within the first 10 minutes of the show. Even the clothing and the fashion (which is very cool, I admit) is not enough to justify putting myself through the torture that is Gossip Girl. I’m fairly confident that I would enjoy self-flagellation more than watching this show.
However, when my student walked up to my desk and asked me how old I was when I lost my virginity, it was immediately clear that I was going to need to watch this show if I wanted to be able to talk about its representation of American culture without accidentally crossing over some invisible boundary of what constitutes an acceptable teacher/student relationship. At the very least, watching each week’s episode would help me anticipate the wacky questions that she would ask me. So, dear readers, when you picture me watching Gossip Girl alone in my apartment on my computer, I would like you to imagine a scenario similar to Malcolm McDowell’s behavioral-conditioning scene in A Clockwork Orange.
I recently read the article posted by Steven D. Levitt (author of Freakonomics) on his New York Time’s blog. Entitled Tattoonomics, Part I (presumably there will be a Part II), Levitt raises the question, “Why get a tattoo?”
I have tattoos and I get asked this question all the time. I fondly remember getting caught in a surprise pincer attack on the subject of tattoos last April by both my father and my boyfriend’s parents while we drank coffee at a restaurant in Osaka. Apparently, my boyfriend casually mentioned to his mother that he was thinking about getting another tattoo during a Skype conversation a few weeks earlier. He probably didn’t think much of it, unaware that even mentioning a hypothetical future tattoo to his mother was the equivalent of dropping an A-bomb right in the middle of their dining room. (And, no, that metaphor wasn’t meant to express any insensitivity towards the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).
I sat down with my friend Phil to talk with him about his experiences teaching English in rural Henan, China. Phil has been an English teacher at Xuchang University since October 2009. However, his experiences in China reach far back – from a brief month teaching in Xi’an, Shaan’xi during college to an abortive attempt to teach in Harbin. In 2007, Phil graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a BA in History, with a focus on China. He also spent two of those years ‘attempting’ to study Chinese, which in Phil’s case meant routinely getting drunk with our Taiwanese-American friend Benson. As a bit of a disclaimer, I’d like to say that Phil is one of the few truly unique people that I have met in my life. I like to describe his life philosophy as, “If this isn’t going to make an interesting story, then it’s not worth my time.” (A description that he, undoubtedly, would find not completely accurate) Needless to say, Phil lives his life with a certain reckless courage that most of us are too meek to attempt. This interview is just like Phil – colorful, off-beat, and controversial – and I’m sure some readers will disagree with it. But if you don’t keep things interesting, then what’s the point? You can read Phil’s blog here: http://kozepsovilag.blogspot.com
Constantine: Why did you want to teach abroad?
Phil: Because I was tired of the life I had at home! [laughs] No, honestly, after a great deal of introspection provided by the copious free time of this job [teaching English], I’ve realized that I left Colorado because I was terrified of the ‘failure’ of mundane life. [pause] Seriously, though, Chinese girls have nice bodies.
Constantine: What sparked your interest in China?
Phil: It was Japan, really. After a rough adjustment period in American middle school following my family’s move from Bermuda to America, I found that in high school Japanese animation cartoons provided an interest for me that I could share with other people. So, for all of high school I had a decent enthusiasm for Japanese history and ancient culture, which was almost entirely transferred to China. This gave my interest in China almost a two-year head start.
Constantine: Why did your interest transfer to China?
Phil: In college, I had a course on the combined history of Korea, China, and Japan, that presented events in a concurrent manner, and I became convinced, by my admittedly Chinese professor, that a great deal of the Japanese culture that I had idealized in my high-school fashion had in fact originated from China. That, combined with the general impression that China was the next major ‘horse to bet on’ as far as World Powers were concerned, allowed me to develop an intense interest in China.
Following the model laid out by Band of Brothers, The Pacific begins with actual footage of Pearl Harbor and interviews with some of the veterans of the Pacific War. We’re rapidly approaching the time when the generation who fought in WWII will be gone and I find these interviews extremely valuable. In Band of Brothers, they were often the most heart-wrenching parts of each episode. I am immensely happy that The Pacific has continued using real footage and interviews – it reminds the audience that this show is based in fact and reality.
As I mentioned earlier, the United States was not ready to go to war with Japan on December 7th, 1941. While the American military had been anticipating a war with Japan for some time, they did not have the equipment or men needed to engage in a massive war halfway around the world. On August 7th, 1942, eight months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal became the first major offensive of the Pacific War precisely because the United States needed to spend that time training soldiers (marines specifically) to fight the Japanese in the South Pacific.
Wild Zero follows the three band members of Guitar Wolf; Guitar Wolf (vocals and guitar), Bass Wolf (bass), and Drum Wolf (you guessed it, drums). This trio are the hottest musicians in rural Asahi-cho and only believe in three things; love, justice, and Rock’n’Roll. Tired of the dirty ways of their evil yakuza business manager, the Captain (played by Inamiya Makoto in a variety of wigs), Guitar Wolf decides to quit and continue their career as independent musicians. Thanks to some accidental help from Ace (Endo Masashi), a young rockabilly and avid Guitar Wolf fan, the band members manage to escape the Captain, but not before robbing him and shooting off two of his fingers. Recognizing that Ace lives by the same Rock’n’Roll code of honor, Guitar Wolf makes him his blood brother and gives him a whistle with instructions to ‘blow it if you ever need help.’ Sure enough, Ace and his love interest Tobio (Shitichai Kwancharu) soon need help from the leather-clad rock stars to battle off a horde of zombies and save Earth from some nasty extraterrestrial invaders.