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Friday, 24 November 2017

Two books about Honda Ishiro

Great news for fans of Godzilla and director Honda Ishiro: a brand new book about the late director's life and films has just been published:
Featuring a foreward by Martin Scorsese, the book has been hailed as the definitive work on Honda.
I wanted to write about the book myself, then I found this excellent review by my good friend and Japanese film expert Mark Schilling, so please check his piece instead:

While Schilling says this is the first English-language book on Honda, another book came out in 2009:
Here's the review I wrote back when the book came out:

Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda
By Peter H. Brothers
2009, 282 pp, $14.95
Until not so many years ago, well before the rise of Hideo Nakata, Takashi Shimizu and J-Horror, Japanese genre cinema was almost exclusively known abroad for monsters movies. You had Mothra, Ghidorah, Gamera, and then the king of them all: the mighty Godzilla. The original Gojira was directed in 1954 by Ishiro Honda. It proved so popular that it was followed by 27 more films featuring our favorite radioactive lizard, and is still considered one of the most influential franchises in the history of monster movies. Honda himself went on working on many other such films and became one of the most prolific fantasy film directors.
Author Peter H. Brothers saw the original Godzilla when he still was a child and instantly became a hardcore Honda fan, so much so that he later became one of the original staff writers on the legendary fanzine, Japanese Giants, and went on studying and writing about his work for such magazines as Cult Movies, Fantastic Films and especially G-Fan.  
Mushroom Clouds… starts with a short but detailed biography of the Japanese director and is followed by a meticulous analysis of his filmography. Despite the huge amount of research he must have put into this book, Brothers’ approach is far from academic. He is a fan at heart; someone who for 30 years has written for fanzines, and it shows in his enthusiastic “ziney” style, which at times can be a little repetitive. Also, after having problems finding a mainstream publisher, Brothers decided to do everything himself and self-publish the book. As a result, there are some spelling mistakes and redundancies, and in general the text needs better editing. These minor problems notwithstanding, this is a must for Honda fans and lovers of fantasy films. There is a great deal of information never before seen in English book form, a good deal of which was translated from Japanese-language sources. Most of all, far from being a dry list of names and facts, this book is the story of a humble and soft-spoken man, a dedicated craftsman who during a remarkable 60-plus year career created some of the most amazing "beautiful nightmares" people worldwide have had the pleasure to watch on screen.
And don't forget my book!

2D character marriage certificates anyone?

 Many Japanese otaku are often derided for being hopelessly (and really) in love with manga and anime characters. Now a Japanese company is offering a helping hand - in exchange for some yen, of course - to make their dreams come true.

Gatebox, a company that “lets you experience cohabitation with characters,” is releasing marriage certificates for 2D loved ones.
The certificates can be used for traditional 2D characters as well as those from 3D or VFX anime. Non-human characters such as elves are okay, but, the press release makes clear, no actual living humans allowed.
Needless to say, the certificate has no actual legal effect.
The certificates come in four different versions:


Alas, my Tokyo Geek's Guide will not help you find the love of your life, but if you go to one of the events listed in the book you will make plenty of friends.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Godzilla & Co.

 In anticipation of the upcoming Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, Japan’s TV Asahi celebrated the Big G on November 12.
While the main event was a screening of Shin Godzilla, the network also held what it dubbed the Godzilla General Election.

 10,000 fans from around the country were polled about their favorite monsters and films from the long-running series.
Can you guess which kaiju and titles were the winners?
Top Five Godzilla Films
5. Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992)
4. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
3. Godzilla (1954)
2. Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
1. Shin Godzilla (2016)
[Personally I would have put the original 1954 film and Shin Godzilla on top of the list, ex aequo]
Top 20 Godzilla Monsters
20. Battra
19. Godzillasaurus

18. Varan
17. Destroyah
16. Baragon
15. Monster X/Keizer Ghidorah
14. Jet Jaguar
13. Super Mechagodzilla (1993)
12. Mechagodzilla 3 (2002)
11. Biollante
10. Hedorah
9. Gigan
8. Baby Godzilla/Godzilla Junior
7. Mecha King Ghidorah
6. Anguirus
5. Mechagodzilla (1974)
4. Minilla
3. Rodan
2. King Ghidorah
1. Mothra
Lots of love for King Ghidorah and Mechagodzilla: multiple versions of both monsters appear on the chart, spanning the Showa, Heisei and Millennium versions of the franchise.
But at the top is everyone’s favorite butterfly, Mothra.
Who’s your favorite Godzilla monster? Let me know your opinion either on this blog page or Facebook. 
By the way, you can find more information on the love/hate relationship between Godzilla and Tokyo in my Tokyo Geek's Guide, where I list some of Big G's favorite stomping grounds.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Makoto Shinkai exhibition

A few days ago I got a press release for a very special exhibition:

The Shinkai Makoto Exhibition, covering his artworks from Voices of a Distant Star to Your Name, will be held at The National Art Center, Tokyo from Saturday, November 11 to Monday, December 18, 2017 (Organizers: The National Art Center, Tokyo, The Asahi Shimbun, TOHO CO., LTD, TV Asahi Corporation,CoMix Wave Films Inc., and AMUSE INC.).

Makoto Shinkai debuted commercially with his short-film, Voices of a Distant Star, in 2002. For the next 15 years, he has created the most refined “stories of a man and a woman who cross their paths in a beautiful and magnificent world,” and has received many people’s attention without regard to ages or borders.

This is the first time for a national art museum in Japan to hold an exhibition presenting an active animation director. This exhibition will introduce Shinkai’s journey by showing not only about 1,000 of his precious production materials such as storyboards, plannings, drawings, art, and visual images, but also objects that enable visitors to experience Shinkai’s world.


You may also be interested in the following postings:
- Of Cicadas and Power Lines
An essay on how power lines and cicadas are often featured in anime, and why.

- Explaining Anime's Visual Symbols


My Tokyo otaku guide:

Explaining anime's visual symbols

Here's another fascinating essay by Chris Kincaid.
This time Chris entertains us on manga and anime's visual vocabulary.

Anime has its own visual vocabulary that can be hard to understand. Anime makes use of line, color, and deformations to convey emotions and action. Most anime watchers take these pictorial words for granted. Some, like speed lines, are easier to understand than a character suddenly sprouting cat fangs or having blood bursting from the nose.

These oddities come from manga where artists had to figure out ways to convey inner emotions and action using limited methods. Unlike prose, where you can get into the character’s mind, manga has the reader on the outside. Because of this, artists worked out ways to convey a person’s thoughts using external cues. After all, thought bubbles can only do so much when space is limited. Manga’s design emphasizes fast, cinematic reading. It sits between books and film, so it uses as much pictorial words as possible, just as film does.
Let’s look at some of these techniques.

Speed Lines

How would you show action in a frozen medium like manga? Artists will sequence action across various panels to lend the illusion of motion. It works the same way as in anime, except the manga artist can’t draw hundreds of frames and have the reader make a flip book of them. Instead, they rely on speed lines combined with action key frames—the most important moments of action. Think of speed lines as visible air swirling because of the character’s movement. They can be used for comedic effect or accent an intense action sequence.

Abstract Background Patterns
Sometimes the background of an anime will abruptly change to patterns of flowers or stripes, or other images. What the patterns mean can depend on the context of the anime. Some images have meaning specific to a certain story, such as floating stylized heads of a certain character laughing. Changing the background in this way emphasizes what the character feels: energetic, sad, happy, concerned, sick. Fast animations or twirling spirals show how quickly the character’s mind is working, much like gears in a clock. Wavy lines show irritation or upset emotions. Colors such as bright red are used for anger. Darker colors like purples or blues are used to show the characters are feeling sick, upset, or depressed.

Sparking a Rivalry

Why do characters shoot laser beams from their eyes at each other? In English, we have an idiom—sparking a rivalry—that anime takes literally. Characters’ aren’t actually shooting lasers, except in some comedies. Rather, this represents their animosity for each other. Their gazes fight with each other. This image makes sense. We’ve seen people stare daggers at each other (another idiom) when they dislike each other.
Naruto and Sasuke are a good example of this visual!

Popping Vein

Perhaps one of the most seen visual symbol in anime, the Popping Vein is a series of four U-shapes combined to create a cruciform. They appear over hair, foreheads, and sometimes hands. The Popping Vein has only one emotion: anger. It comes from how some people have veins that pop out in their temples when they are angry or their blood pressure rises. Manga uses the four-U shapes as minimal shorthand for this biological effect.

By Anirage.svg: Brightster derivative work: Keith111 (Anirage.svg)
 [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

Sweat Drop

Another common symbol in anime, the sweat drop—a large droplet of blue over a character’s hair or face—shows embarrassment or anxiety or confusion. Context determines which of the three. Sweat drops combine with blush lines (lines of red color below the eyes) and with popping veins to help clarify the character’s feelings. Sweat drops and popping veins show anxious or confused anger. However, most of the time, embarrassment and anxiety combine. The size and number of sweat drops shows the level of the feeling. Large drops mean the feeling is overwhelming.

Cat Mouth

Usually you’ll see this with female characters. It is a visual play on the idiom ‘She’s being catty today.’ Catty characters are feeling mischievous. The cat mouth usually combines with dialogue or actions that invoke a sweat drop or some other anxious reaction in another character. Sometimes the cat mouth will appear when a female character is feeling sexually aroused and is acting catty about it, much to the distress of others.

Nose Bubble

Japanese anime are frequently using nose bubbles when a character has fallen asleep. They are the equivalent of the ZZzzZZ sleep symbol. It’s not an exclusively Japanese sign, and the trope is found in many western animations as well. While a character sleeps, the nose bubble will bob, and it will bust when the character wakes. I’m not sure I’d like to see the real-life inspiration for this one.

Ghost Balloon

Similar to the Nose Bubble, the Ghost Balloon comes from a person’s mouth. The symbol appears when a character is injured, shocked, or horrified. They are ‘dying’ from it. The Ghost Balloon represents the spirit escaping the character’s body. Sometimes, someone tries to stuff the soul back in for more comedy.

The Nose Bleed

The Nose Bleed is the most notorious and confusing symbol. Anime characters seem to spout blood at random, but their spurts are far from random. They represent sexual arousal. As blood rushes to…certain body parts…potential censorship ensured that a way had to be found to represent this arousal in a way that is not directly related to sexual images. Anime focuses on the face, so the idea of rising blood pressure combined with this to create the nosebleed. Manga writers used the effect for comedy—giant fountains of blood erupt from horny guys while girls suffer the embarrassment of trying to hide theirs. Embarrassment underpins much of anime’s humor.


Deformations jar those new to anime. You’ll watch a show and out of nowhere the character suddenly looks different. Sometimes they are long and move like noodles; other times they deform to short characters with large heads (called chibi). Deformations show extreme emotion. The noodle transformation coupled with waving in the breeze means the characters are overwhelmed by the situation or simply don’t care. Deformations depend on situation. They lack standardization, so you’ll have to pay attention to the situation they appear within. Chibi usually mark a break in serious sections of the plot for comedy. You’ll see perverted men, for example, appear as chibi when they are being rambunctious. But you’ll also see these deformations during childhood flashbacks because of the cute quality of the deformation. Again, it depends on context.

Anime Symbolism

Anime has many other symbols such as the orz (the word looks like the action it names: a person collapsing in defeat). Some are standardized like the nosebleed, but you’ll also see symbols specific to an author’s work or animation studio. For example, the Tales of series of video games uses thought bubbles that contain various anime symbols such as the Sweat Drop but also symbolism unique to the series, such as wavy purple lines. These symbols seek to convey emotions in an immediate way. The results can be confusing for those new to the medium, but they can also be effective once you get onto them.
The trick is to keep watching and reading. Exposure to various styles of anime symbols will help you build up a mental reference book of the sorts of situations these symbols appear. With time, they will become immediate indicators of character emotions and mental states. The funny part about this, you won’t realize you are making the connection. The symbols will become similar to reading this article—you interpret letters and words without much thought. You forget how you had to learn these symbols.
So, whenever a new anime fan asks you about them, remember that you had to learn the language at some point too. It’s a good opportunity to introduce someone else to the stories anime and manga convey.

Of cicadas and power lines

I've just found a very interesting piece Chris Kincaid wrote for the Japan Powered webside.
First-time travellers to Japan are always surprised - even fascinated - by the ubiquitous power lines and - if they come in summer - the loud cicadas.
Kincaid explains how these two things are used in anime, and why.

Anime loves long shots of power lines with the sound of cicadas chirruping in the background. It seems like an odd subject to focus upon. After all, power lines and transformers aren’t exactly beautiful unless you are some kind of electricity nerd. That’s a lovely distribution transformer! Just look at the center-tapped secondary winding, and how well it produces power for single-phase three-wire homes.
(Call me odd but I actually find them quite beautiful - Gianni)

Ehm, anyway, these scenes have an important purpose besides eating up air time: invoking atmosphere. The majority of Japan’s power lines are above ground, so it’s common to look up at the broiling summer sky and see the stringy foundation of modern society (Baseel, 2014).
Power lines and the cicada symphony that accompany them allow anime and manga writers to emphasize a fleeting moment while establishing atmosphere. The scene represents fragile presentness. Often, these scenes appear after a momentous event happens to the main character that leaves them overwhelmed and uncertain. Power lines and cicadas act as a period to the character’s emotions, a full stop that hammers home the crushing impact of the event.

Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license

Power lines are fairly new when compared to the sounds of the cicada. The noisy bug appears throughout Japanese literature, even as far back as the world’s first novel—the Tale of Genji:
Where the cicada casts her shell
In the shadows of the tree,
There is one whom I love well,
Though her heart is cold to me.
Without the cicada, power line scenes would lack their effectiveness. Cicada can be noisy creatures. Males can get up to 95 decibels, about the same noise level as a subway train. Some species spend between 13 and 17 years underground before they emerge to mate. After 3-4 weeks of mating and noise-making, they die. Males make all the noise by using a membrane on their abdomen called a tymbal. The vibration of this membrane generates the noise Japanese writers loved and hated (Milius, 2013; Edoh, 2014).

Japanese writers focused on the largest and loudest cicada—kumazemi, which can measure 7 cm long [about 3 inches] (Holden, 2007). Despite their size and noise, cicadas aren’t dangerous. In fact, they can’t bite, hide, or fly well. Their only defense is sheer numbers (Milius, 2013). And these numbers make summers hum.

Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license

According to Lefcadio Hearn (1900), cicada-catching was a traditional summer pastime for children. He accounts how captured cicada despair:
The sound made by some kinds of semi (cicada) when caught is really pitiful, — quite as pitiful as the twitter of a terrified bird. One finds it difficult to persuade oneself that the noise is not a voice of anguish, in the human sense of the word “voice,” but the production of a specialized exterior membrane. Recently, upon hearing a captured semi scream, I became convinced in quite a new way that the stridulatory apparatus of certain insects must not thought of as a kind of musical instrument, but as an organ of speech, and that its utterances are as intimately associated with simple forms of emotions, as are the notes of a bird — the extraordinary difference being that the insect has its vocal chords outside.
Whenever manga and anime use the sound of summer cicada, they touch on this tradition and on a branch of traditional Japanese poetry. Many of these poems are short and attempt to mimic the sound of the cicada. The 18th-century poet Yokai Yayu notes:
The chirruping of the cicada
aggravates the heat until I wish
to cut down the pine-tree on which it sings.
While some poets enjoyed the cicada, many more were like Yokai and found the bugs annoying:
Meseems that only I, —
I alone among mortals —
ever suffered such heat!
Oh, the noise of the cicada!
Gone, the shadowing clouds! —
again the shrilling of cicada
rises and slowly swells, —
ever increasing the heat!
Fathomless deepens the heat:
the ceaseless shrilling of cicada
mounts, like a hissing of fire, up to the motionless clouds
Anime tries to capture this by making the cicada’s background noise loud in relation to characters’ conversations. This isn’t a sign of bad sound mixing, but it pulls from a tradition of cicada annoyance in Japanese literature.

I’ve seen some anime fans speak about scenes of power lines with the chirruping of cicadas as metaphors for how everything interconnects. While this may be true in some stories, these scenes primarily seek to invoke nostalgia and provide a period at the end of an emotional event. These scenes convey relentless heat in a visually poetic way. They use what many people consider an ugly necessity to suggest a fragile, beautiful moment in a character’s life.

Power line scenes provide a space for reflection. After all, most of us don’t see power lines and eventually grow deaf to the sound of summer cicada. Anime and manga force us to take a moment to notice these mundane parts of life and consider the fact they aren’t mundane at all. This act of reflection acts as a stand in for what the character may well be feeling as they reflect on events they’ve experienced. Power lines and cicadas call us to awareness.
Baseel, C. (2014). Why does Japan have so many overhead power lines? JapanToday.
Edoh, K., (2014) Modeling Cicada Sound Production and Propagation. Journal of Biological Systems. 22 (4) 617-630.
Hearn, L. (1900) Shadowings. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.
Holden, C. (2007) Random Samples. Science, New Series. 317 (5843) 1301.
Lewis, L. (2007). Amorous cicadas drown out sound of silence. The Times.
Milius, S. (2013). Mystery in Synchrony: Cicadas’ odd life cycle poses evolutionary conundrums. Science News. 18 (1) 26-28.
Shikibu, MurasakiThe Tale of Genji. N.p.: Tuttle, 2006.


Toei Hero World has closed

Bad news for fans of tokusatsu live-action superhero TV shows and movies: Toei Hero World has closed down.
Born from the collaboration between the Toei film studio and amusement park and game center operator Namco, this hybrid park/museum opened in Chiba Prefecture in 2013.

The amusement park side of the place was mainly geared toward children (some attractions were actually off-limits unless you were really small) but the museum was a must see for Kamen Rider and Super Sentai fans.
Most of the costumes and props on display had been used for the actual productions, adding one more thrill to the visit.
Upon buying the ticket you received an energy power bracelet. Whenever you  touched certain spots, the bracelet activated some of the over 100 characters scattered around the place.
Overall the exhibition space was rather small but it felt much larger thanks to the clever layout, with battle dioramas and full-sized heroes surrounding you from everywhere.
 Last but not least, the shop sold not only the usual exclusive goods (cups, cookies, t-shirts, etc.) but even some Premium Bandai merchandise that was generally sold only online.