Brett Fujioka's Posts

Cross (APIA Short Film) Crowd Funding

cross_banner

The boxing film genre is a time-honored staple of American cinema. There’s something about the agony and triumph in this particular sports genre that taps into the heart of the American spirit. Despite this, boxing films starring Asian or Pacific Islander Americans actors are virtually non-existent.

Dir. Gerry Maravilla wants to change that. He’s commenced a crowd funding campaign for his upcoming short film, Cross, on the Seed and Spark platform. Cross portrays the life of a Filipino American (Jason S. Mordeno) as he struggles to pay his mother’s ever accumulating medical expenses. With his family and dreams of becoming a professional fighter on the line, he ventures into the lawless underbelly of San Fernando’s Valley’s backyard boxing.

Maravilla is a San Fernando Valley native and Giant Robot previously featured his music videos on its website. He agrees with the long held grievance that Asian and Pacific Islander Americans are underrepresented in the media and hopes his short film will serve as stepping stone towards more progress on this frontier.

Other cast and crew include B. Rich Adams as executive producer; Melanie DiPietro and Leo Oliva as producers; and Caitlin Kelly as the script supervisor.

Although the script and production plans are already completed, its crowd funding is still far from finished. As of August 8th, its goal of $15,000 is still 40% complete.

But there’s still time!

You can donate here on the film’s Seed and Spark page. Television and radio personality Manny Streetz of 102.7 KISS-FM has thrown his support behind the project. More recently, Actress Bai Ling (The Crow, Crank: High Voltage) lent her support for Cross.

Cross in this rendition is a short film being prepared to shown to financiers and investors. Upon its completion, its producers will submit to film festivals across the country before it reaches online distribution. Backers who support the film at a certain level will receive the added benefit of a digital copy and/or a private streaming video. Once its festival circuit has completed, it will be readily available for anyone and everyone on Seed and Spark’s webpage. The finished product will be used to pitch and acquire further financing towards a feature length film. Hurry up and donate to cinematic history in the making!

 

For more information about Cross follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or visit their Seed and Spark page.

You can follow Gerry Maravilla and Jason S. Mordeno on Twitter through @gerrymaravilla and @j_sm__. Their Seed and Spark crowdfunding campaign ends on August 17th, 2014.

You can also meet Maravilla and Mordeno at a meeting for “#WeOwnThe8Th,” a communal gathering for Asian American Pacific Islander artists and entrepreneurs and other like-minded individuals. It’s open to all those who wish to attend. (It’s a potluck, so feel free to bring food or drinks to share with other attendees).

 

The Address is:

#WeOwnThe8th Meeting

Friday, August 8th at 7:00 PM

The Great Company

1917 Bay St., Los Angeles, CA



No Comments

281_Anti-Nuke’s Art and What it Means For Japanese Politics.

Art has the power to provoke ideas and inflame passions. Politics and art, in this way, go hand in hand. When an event of historical magnitude occurs, it’s only a matter of time before an artist emerges and addresses it.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic plan (Abenomics) as the story of the hour in news circles, it’s easy to forget that Japan endured a nuclear catastrophe just 2 years ago. In March 2011, the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant underwent a partial meltdown from the 3.11 Earthquake and Tsunami.

Approximately 157,000 residents were forced to flee their homes due to radioactive contamination in Fukushima prefecture with little hope of ever returning. Critics blamed the disaster on negligence and incompetency concerning safety regulations willingly overlooked by TEPCO and the Japanese government.

Flash-forward to today and the public carries on as if it’s business as usual. The earthquake, tsunami, or even Fukushima rarely comes up in casual conversations. On the surface, it appears that the populace and Japanese government have forgotten the disaster altogether.

One artist hasn’t.

The man calling himself 281_Anti Nuke designed stickers, posters, and indiscreetly plastered them throughout Tokyo. His most recognizable piece is a small girl in a slicker with “I hate rain” printed beneath. It isn’t until you glimpse a nuclear trefoil inscribed beneath the text that its message dawns on you and all the events broadcasted from yesteryear return to you in a flood of regret.

 

His ‘mock’ propaganda is a sharp–albeit intrusive– reminder of the gravity of what happened in Fukushima not so long ago. It’s a tragedy that he claims the government created. It’s a tragedy that he believes they coerced the public to forget.

Giant Robot Magazine previously reported sightings of his art in October 2011. Back then, information on 281 was scarce. Two years later, major outlets like The Economist, Financial Times, and Wall Street Journal have featured photos of his art in articles about national politics. Others like Japan Rolling Stones, Channel 24, and The Japan Times have even interviewed the enigmatic artist himself.

Besides his distrust of the Japanese government and his drive to hold them accountable, almost no one knows anything about 281′s personal life–let alone his actual name.

The retrospective at the Pink Cow bar in Roppongi on June 6th, 2013, was held to raise awareness of his work and offer a little more insight into the artist himself. The retrospective hosted a preview screening of filmmaker/photographer Adrian Storey’s self-titled documentary about 281.

Storey formerly featured some of 281′s designs in a segment that he submitted for Ridley Scott’s Japan in a Day documentary. 281 contacted Storey and requested permission to use the images from Japan in a Day for his own personal website. Story agreed on the condition that 281 consent to be the subject of the aforementioned self-titled documentary. Filming began in January of this year.

Stroey’s documentary not only depicted the platform for 281’s opposition to the corruption of Japanese politicians and nuclear industry, but also further illuminated some of the seedier undercurrents of Japanese politics and why 281′s anonymity is so imperative.

People known as the Netto Uyoku (Right-wing netizens) accuse 281 of secretly being a Zainichi Korean (Korean born in Japan) and vandalizing public property. Certain right-wing groups in Japan often associate foreigners and the Zainichi with delinquency and organized crime.

The preview featured numerous posts on message boards from the Uyoku discussing 281’s art. One in particular contained a disturbing rant from someone reacting with a wish to kill all minorities in Japan. 281 doesn’t admit it explicitly, but several of these posts accumulated to enough threats against him that he temporarily shut down his Twitter and personal webpage.

He was also originally slated to attend the retrospective and answer questions from attendants, but backed out at the last minute and held a Skype conference with visitors instead.

Ryan Roth, his manager, explained that prior to the gathering, he took precautions to ensure 281′s safety. “We had to make sure that there was a back exit,” Roth said. “Just in case things got hairy.” There was a lingering anxiety that one of the Netto Uyoku would appear and start trouble.

Roth holding a skype conference with 281 at the Pink Cow's artist retrospective

Roth took in interest in 281’s art after seeing it on the streets of Tokyo. He contacted 281 online and they agreed to meet sometime between July and August, and Roth offered to represent him through his art investment company, Roth Management. Because he is a client, Roth is one of the few people who have seen 281’s face and know him by his true name.

As severely paranoid as that sounds, it’s not without precedent. The popular Japanese image board, 2Chan, is notorious for its death threats posted liberally throughout its forums.  It reached a point where the police had to intervene and crack down on these incidents. As with the case of the “Neo-Mugicha Incident” and imitations of the “Akihabara Massacre,” which originated as threats online, observers have every reason to take these threats seriously.

Additionally, even though the image board concentrates mainly on anime and popular culture, David W. Marxy of the Neojaponismé blog pointed out that posts on the board possess a heavy footed right-wing bent.

As a result, there’s a comically predictable tendency for Japanese right-wingers to accuse people with disagreeable opinions of being “Secret Koreans” much in the same way that they responded to 281’s art. For example, online netizens have erroneously accused New York Times journalists Hiroko Tabuchi and Norimitsu Onishi when they wrote about historical tensions between Japan and South Korea.

This and the threats inveighed against 281 even had Storey treading lightly around the topic of the Uyoku in the documentary. “Notice that I simply depicted what they wrote,” Storey said. “I didn’t take any of it out of context.”

All of this adds up to a dire portrait of Japan’s political dynamics. A poll for the Asahi Shimbun claims that 59% of the people oppose Abe’s nuclear power policy. This means that the Uyoku defending this policy are in the minority.

Admittedly, the Netto Uyoku already dwell on the fringes of society and demographically don’t possess a dominant votership in Japanese elections.

And that’s precisely the problem. It doesn’t bode well for a country if the tyranny of the few can bully someone with a dissenting opinion into silence.  Despite the high number of people who share 281’s views on nuclear energy, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet seems intent on restarting the nation’s reactors again in the near future. While economic matters are the forefront of the Japanese public’s concerns, one has to wonder what will happen if “Abenomics” fails to deliver. Prime Minsister Abe may be enjoying a high approval rating at the moment, but he’s arguably done little to placate his countrymen’s anxieties about the hazards of nuclear energy. One has to wonder whether voices like 281’s will grow louder once the intoxicating effects from Abenomics dissipate and bring a looming hangover.

A special thanks to Ryan Roth of Roth Management who represents 281_Anti-Nuke. To learn more about Roth Management, visit: http://roth-mgmt.com/. All inquiries to the artist should be directed to [email protected].

For more information, visit: http://www.281antinuke.com/. Follow 281 on Twitter @ 281_.

A trailer for Adrian Storey’s documentary can be accessed here. To learn more about Storey and his work, visit: http://www.uchujin.co.uk/. Follow him on Twitter @Uchujinphoto




2 Comments

281_Anti-Nuke Art Retrospective in Roppongi

 

Things are heating up again in Japanese politics. The House of Councillors election for the Japanese Diet’s upper house is expected to take place in July 21, 2013. As a result, it’s J-Politics all the time in the Japanese news cycle and until then, we won’t find out whether the ruling party, LDP, will have a firmer foothold.

Until then, you can get your fix of both art and politics at  281_Anti-Nuke’s exhibition at the Pink Cow bar in Roppongi, Japan.Tourists and Tokyoites may have seen 281′s work conspicuously stickered on public property throughout the city. Giant Robot did a brief entry on sighting on his designs last Fall. Since then, 281′s prominence has grown as more news outlets have reported on his work.

His art stands on its own, but his agenda is a bit bit clearer now that he’s agreed to a few interviews. His position on nuclear energy is a given. Most of this is an extension of his opposition to Japanese politicians in general who he feels carelessly put the country in harms way due to poor regulation of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plants that underwent a meltdown after the Earthquake and Tsunami in March 11,2011. He agrees with critics who accuse the Japanese government and TEPCO of (unintentionally) ‘creating’ the nuclear disaster through their own corrupt mismanagement and incompetence. Hence why both ex-PM Yoshihiko Noda from the political ‘left’ and current PM Shinzo Abe from the ‘right’ are targets of his rage. They’re each a part of the establishment that enabled TEPCO to haphazardly play dice with the country’s future. It’s this political context thatt has led connoisseurs to deem him Japan’s ‘Banksy,’ an English graffiti artist who–like 281–operates anonymously.

Most of 281′s art is still visible on the streets of Shibuya, Shinjuku, and other parts of Tokyo. However, a lot of it has either faded or been defaced, so it’s more preferable to see his art in a more preserved state at The Pink Cow. Even if political activism is beneath or beyond you, you can at least act like you know.

The Pink Cow
5-5-1 Roppongi Roi Bulding B1F Minato-ku,
Tokyo 106-0032

For more information: visit www.thepinkcow.com.



2 Comments

Sounkyo Ice Fall Festival

 

 

Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, elevates the term ‘Winter Wonder Land’ to an all new standard. Tourists are already familiar with the Sapporo Snow Festival and may have even heard of the Asahikawa Winter Festival. Just a two hour bus ride away from Asahikawa, Sounkyo is renowned for its waterfalls and natural hot springs. Once winter sets in, a crew sets to work and constructs an ice castle like something fashioned from a Japanese RPG. (You can see a video showing how its built here). This, coupled alongside the ethereal lights illuminating its frosty walls, creates a feast for the senses. It’s one additional reason why Hokkaido is an ideal destination for the season.

 

We had a chance to visit and take photographs of the area shortly after night fall. Be aware though, the last bus returning to Asahikawa departs shortly after dusk. Unless you’ve booked a hotel nearby then you won’t have the opportunity to see the firework show that goes off on most weekends until the festival’s closing ceremony.

 



No Comments

Psy’s Anti-American Past

Park Jae-Sang, better known as Psy, and his hit song “Oppa Gangnam Style”has taken the world by storm without any sign of slowing down. As the newly deemed King of Kpop joyously revels in his newfound fame, it might come as a surprise to some that he wasn’t always so congenial towards America. A video surfaced from a concert in 2004 where he smashed a miniature model of a tank on stage while the crowd raucously cheers, coupled with the lyrics:

싸이 rap : 이라크 포로를 고문해 댄 씨발양년놈들과
고문 하라고 시킨 개 씨발 양년놈들에
딸래미 애미 며느리 애비 코쟁이 모두 죽여
아주 천천히 죽여 고통스럽게 죽여

Translation:
Kill those fucking Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives
Kill those fucking Yankees who ordered them to torture
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers
Kill them all slowly and painfully.

This song may have come around the time of the U.S.’s internationally maligned invasion of Iraq, but there’s an older context beneath all this. South Korea adhered to the Sunshine Policy towards North Korea up until Lee Myung-Bak’s presidency. The policy was intended to improve relations between the North and South with the (partial) aim of (eventual) reunification. Critics say that the downside of such a fool’s crusade is that the South opted for the North’s interests over the former’s closest ally, the United States. This included, as B.R. Myers alleges in his book The Cleanest Race, “encouraging an anti-American line in education and urging the media to ‘finlandize’ their coverage of the DPRK.”

It doesn’t stop there. On June 13th, 2002, a military vehicle accidentally killed two teenage girls in what would later be deemed the “Yangju Highway Incident.” The tragedy sparked a greater wave of anti-American sentiment along with Apolo Ohno 2002 Winter Olympics controversy.

The Korea Herald ran a story in Dec. 2002, on “Socially Active Celebrities” supporting the ROK’s Anti-American ’cause.’ Guess which celebrity’s name pops up? Flight of the Kiwi posted more excerpts from the article. 

This is all the more reason why its so curious that he’s beaming with America’s affection towards him. As of right now, the best defense on his end is that he was merely pandering to popular sentiments of the time. Either that or he could just be an opportunist as this one CNN iReport suggests. Nevertheless, the important question is how Americans will receive it if news of his previous opinions go viral.



6 Comments

Music Video: Cozy – “Come’ere”

El Super Music Collective

Video by Gerry Maravilla

 

 

 

 

 



No Comments

Jenny Hyun, the Linsane: Part Deux

Linsanity may have died down, but one fan still remembers. Earlier this year we wrote about the song writer for K-Pop groups Girl’s Generation and Chocolat, Jenny Hyun. To bring you back up to speed, boxer Floyd Mayweather dismissed Lin’s achievements with what some perceived as racist. Ms. Hyun decided to up the ante with a racist diatribe against Mayweather of her own. Eventually, she dropped off the online stratosphere, claimingthat she was being admitted to a hospital for schizophrenia when the backlash proved too much.

Regardless of what happened, it looks like she’s back on the map. Her website, blog, twitter, and other social networking accounts are online. And from the looks of things, she hasn’t quite learned her lesson either.



No Comments

Anti-Japanese Moon Festival

It’s October and most of Asia is gearing up for the Moon Festival. To celebrate the holiday, ultra-nationlists are kicking off the season the only way they can: with Anti-Japanese moon cakes. Stamped across are the phrases: “Kill Japanese,” “Eat Japanese,” “Kick out Japanese,” and “Hate Japanese.” What’s with all the hostility? The two countries have unsettled territorial disputes over rocks–I mean–islands called Senkaku or Diaoyu depending on where you stand on the issue. It’s reopening old wounds from the past from Japan’s colonization of the country. Tensions boiled over when the Japanese Government nationalized their purchase of the islands. Demonstrations, riots, and protests raged across the Middle Kingdom. People driving Japanese cars were yanked from their vehicles and beaten by irate pedestrians. Protestors damaged shops and stores for Japanese brands and went so far as to deface a Samsung store without realizing that the company was South Korean.

That scraps the azuki-filled surface of the backstory behind those cakes.

One question though, is the “Little Japan” Chinese characters up above some sort of derogatory term that I don’t know about?

 

 

 



1 Comment

Nara Yoshitomo Exhibit: “a bit like you and me…”

I have a confession to make. I’m new to Japan’s pop-art scene. I haven’t fully grasped Takashi Murakami’s the theoretical frame work of his Postmodern Superflat movement, but I’m an avid fan of his work and everything and everyone associated with it.

Yoshitomo Nara sometimes comes up on the topic of Murakami and Superflat. The last time Nara’s solo exhibit occupied the Yokohama Museum of Art’s halls in 2001, it coincidentally coincided with Murakami’s at the Museum of Contemporary of Art, Tokyo. Eleven years later, Nara has returned with his next exhibit “a bit like you and me…”

It was possibility the first time that I not only had to wait in line for admittance for an art exhibit, but also the one time where I had to follow a queue of people to move from piece to piece.

Amidst all this, I immediately understood the hype. There’s something oddly bewitching about his characters and painting. Their eyes are deformed, reminiscent of the anime and manga characters’ that he consumed early on in the 1960s. Cute though his characters may be, their expressions are anything but that. Each of his pieces portrays nearly identical girls with leers that have grown to become his signature aesthetic.

A gallery of bronze cast sculptures occupy one floor and as Edan Corkill of the Japan Times reports, March 11 became the key piece to its conception. The sculptures aren’t socially or politically active so much as they’re emotionally wrought. What’s more, there feels like a touch of growing maturity to his newer paintings.

Take Ms. Spring for example. I’m not sure to what degree Nara is influenced by contemporary anime, but the multi-colored scheme reminds me of some of the digital effects rendered by photoshopped characters. The main difference is that while artists use Adobe Elements to achieve this effect, Nara took acrylic to canvas. Look deeper into the eyes of “Ms. Spring” and there’s a vividness in its color that defies her otherwise sullen mood. There’s certainly sorrow there, but the complex coloring of it all is almost elevating. What this means about the direction of Japan’s nascent Post-3.11 art movement is anyone’s best bet, but this exhibit may be one of the best places to start.

Yoshitomo Nara’s exhibit, “a bit like you and me…” continues until Sunday, September 23rd, 2012 at the Yokohama Museum of Art. For further information, visit www.nara2012-13.org.

 



No Comments

Anti-Japanese Protests Spread Stateside

Chinese American protestors took to the streets to protest the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in Asia. Nothing exceptional that hasn’t been reported before, but squint your eyes and you can see a sign reading, “GTFO JAPS.”

Brilliant way to win people over to your cause.



3 Comments

Japan 2.0

 

When we last spoke to translators for Genron, they were hard at work translating articles for the recent issue of the Shisouchizu Beta journal. Genron is a company founded by one of Japan’s premier critics, Azuma Hiroki, the author of Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals. Genron offers an accessibly fresh “critical discourse” based on “the here and now” in Japanese society. This may sound broad, but it’s merely a reflection of the journal’s range of topics. The journal analyzes everything from the otaku and gyaru subcultures to Japanese political science and literary criticism. There’s something for everyone here. It’s academically intellectual, yet journalistically readable and has information unobtainable through Western media.

The new issue, Japan 2.0, confronts Japan’s looming future after the Great Tohoku Earthquake of “3/11”. “Japan was forcibly changed by the violence of the disaster,” Azuma writes in the opening note. “What we need now are words that, accepting this as a premise, act as a lighthouse which, though perhaps unable to provide the answer to the question of where Japan should be headed, may at least hazily light the way forward.” Communication and change are indeed the journal’s raison d’être. The presence of communication in Japan’s contemporary “atmosphere,” it’s evolution, and the necessity in its transformation for the future is a recurrent point throughout the issue. We had a peek at some of the translated articles and abstracts in the back of the journal. I’ll write comments on the individual articles within the issue in the near future. In the mean time here’s a brief summary.

 

Highlights include an interview with Fukushima Maiko and Shikura Chiyomaru. Fukushima, better known as Mofuku-chan, is the president of Moé Japan and creator of the Mogra and Dear stage clubs and producer of the Denpagumi.inc idol group. Shikura is the president of MAGES and was involved in the production of Steins;Gate. Together they discuss the current state of Akihabara and some of the challenges and possible changes it faces in the future. They explain how its culture evolved from “2D otaku” to “3D otaku” more interested in creating content through mediums like Nico Nico Douga and interacting with idol groups like AKB48.

Challenges for Akihabara include the manga market’s competition with cellphones. What’s emphasized is that the otaku, usually stereotyped as asocial creatures, seek out modes of communication. They merely used different entertainment mediums as a means for discussing its content for hours on end. Included within the interview is a photoshoot narrated in the style of a Japanese Role Playing Game with Azuma, Shikura, and Fukushima cosplaying as archetypical characters from the genre. The narrative posits whether or not Moé, Akihabara, and the otaku can save the future.

Next is a transcribed speech from Murakami Takashi at his 500 Arhats Exhibit in Doha, Qatar. In it, he describes his motivation for constructing such an art piece and addresses its relationship between it and the Tohoku Earthquake. “I wanted to depict the chaos of Japan in painting and make it a message for the future,” he says. “I felt that it was very important to paint these works and exhibit them as an event cultivating goodwill.”

What’s more, Murakami addresses some of the criticisms inveighed against him by critics in his native country. The specifics of which are nothing new. They attack his originality and tease him for his popularity overseas. “Now that I’m appreciated by foreigners,” he says, “They say I’m tricking them…I came to think that there’s no need for me to address the Japanese if they refuse to take me seriously.”

Amidst this he emphasizes the need for communication to transmit culture through art. “Without communication, you can neither sell nor convey value. Without it, nothing is created no matter how much you raise a ruckus on the Internet…For example, how can one communicate to foreigners the sensibility of the Japanese otaku? My works were a result of thinking this through and through and executing it.”

In contrast to more contemporary forms of art, Azuma leads us down the past with an interview with philosopher Umehara Takeshi. In the interview, Umehara articulates some of the differences between Western and Eastern philosophies. The West is concerned with Being, whereas the East focuses on nothingness. The West dwells on the spirit of the individual while the East is more attuned to nature.

“I think that having experienced both the merits and demerits of Western civilization, has the role in world history of overcoming it.” This is an allusion to the 20th century Kyoto School of philosophy. He further paraphrases a conversation he had with historian Arnold J. Toynbee. “Toynbee said that non-Western civilizations like Japan will have to create, and they will create, a new type of civilization in which they think about science and technology through their own principles.”

Departing from the past, is a more contemporary discussion on the state of journalism in China and Japan between Chinese journalist Michael Anti and Tsuda Daisuke. Anti explains some of the journalistic differences in his native China. Some of it isn’t new like the government’s censorship practices in social media and restrictions on what’s reported by mass media. What’s notable is that Anti conveys that there was a great swell of sympathy expressed by China towards Japan following 3/11. The change in attitudes of some Chinese foreign correspondents reporting on the situation may have contributed to this. “If Chinese people spend two weeks in Japan and during that time report on normal citizens in an authentic manner,” Anti says, “I think they lose their nationalistic prejudices.” Of course this was reported before tensions between the two countries from territorial disputes took the international stage.

In turn, Tsuda explains his own role during disaster relief in Tohoku and how Twitter and social media helped those afflicted by the earthquake and tsunami that mass media couldn’t. He explains that one of the frustrations was that mass media wasn’t reporting on all of the areas damaged by the Tsunami, while Tsuda used this as an opportunity to communicate what was happening by visiting the areas shirked by major news outlets and reporting about their conditions via Twitter.

Their final thoughts conclude with the possibility of information activism and the future of their work. Tsuda once considered himself a journalist, but later rethought this identity after 3.11. He now considers himself an “information activist” and “tries to move people emotionally and mobilize them.” “In order for people with information to create useful action,” Anti says. “They need funds, firstly, and political networking…additionally, translation is of the utmost importance when we talk of networking. In other words, breaking down the language barrier is the first step towards cooperation.”

Again, the recurrent argument in most of the articles is the value and need for or even transformative mode of communication. This is one of the reasons why portions of the journal were translated into English. “Younger readers are becoming rapidly internalized and have little interest in information from overseas,” Azuma said in his discussion with Anti and Tsuda. “There are lots of people who can’t read English at all. I hope this discussion will provide an opportunity to change that situation.”

Regardless of whether or not it does, this translation does offer a golden opportunity for American readers a chance to better understand Japan. For example, intellectuals like Miyadai Shinji are frequently cited by Western academics in pieces on contemporary Japanese studies. Yet, translations for his books have yet to see the light of day. Whether or not this’ll alter interests in the Japanese for information from overseas is for the future to decide. Hopefully Genron will grant the international community a greater means of access to contemporary information on Japan. I can only cross my fingers that this will create a wider  intellectual demand that both Japanese and Western readers so direly need.

To learn more about Genron, visit their homepage or follow them on Facebook. You can purchase Japan 2.0 on amazon.co.jp.



No Comments

281 Antinuke Bombs Noda

I was wandering around Shibuya the other night and ran across a construction divider plastered with stickers of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. The stickers gradually sprung up shortly after the 1 year anniversary of the 3.11 nuclear disaster. These and many others are the work of a designer/underground artist cryptically named “281 AntiNuke” targeting Tepco Photographer Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert documented some of 281′s handy work throughout the city along with a photograph of what appears to be 281 himself standing beside one of his stickers. I can’t find any other information on this artistic crusader otherwise.

So far, I haven’t seen these two photos uploaded online. One is a an Obama Hope poster parody with the President’s visage replaced by a collage of nuclear trefoils. The other is another of Noda as a ventriloquist dummy with the tagline “Follow the Follower.”



1 Comment

Giant Robot Visits Otomo Katsuhiro’s Genga Exhibit

Otomo Katsuhiro‘s movie, Akira, was my gateway to anime as a teen. Due to this, I was giddier than a kid on a sugar rush when the day came to visit his latest exhibition at the 3331 Chiyoda Arts gallery in Akihabara. Most of the tickets were already sold out because it was the beginning of Golden Week when I attempted purchase passes from the nearest kiosk at Lawson’s. Fortunately, I managed to buy tickets during the latest time slot before the museum closed. The date was set.

My friend and I arrived at the gallery an hour before our time slot. A small park was neighbored its entrance and Chiyoda Arts was apparently a Junior High School before it was renovated into what you see now. We lined up and entered the gallery shortly after our appointed time slot ticked into place.

The exhibit itself was a brightly lit chamber painted with white with music from composer Haishima Kuniaki‘s album, Καρδια, playing eerily in the background. Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed so we couldn’t take any pictures until the “Motorcycle Display.” A few foreign visitors stood out amidst the crowd who undoubtedly were introduced to the medium through Otomo’s work like myself. Sketches and paintings from Otomo-san’s art book, Kaba and Kaba2, were on display and unlike his films, a majority of the pieces featured from Kaba and Kaba2 were lightheartedly strange and semi-cutesey depictions of animals. Others were of sketches from mangas penned by him that I haven’t even heard of up until today. It was different from the Otomo-san that I knew.

Of course, drawing, sketches, and paintings from his landmark films: Memories, Steamboy, Akira, and many others. I can’t say for certain because fine arts (as a profession) isn’t my forte, but on closer inspection, a good deal of them appeared to use water color as a medium. It was impressive to see how much detail that he invested into the pieces crafted by his own hands. Print media barely did the originals any justice.

Next was the exhibit room with the original panels for the Akira manga in all their totality. Yup. Every panel from all 6 volumes was on display in their unvarnished splendor. The number of pages for each book was so immense that they had to stack them row upon row on “shelf wires” suspended through the display case for visitors to see.

The room after that was arguably the main event. For a donation of 500 yen, visitors had an opportunity to don a replica of Kaneda’s jacket from the manga and sit inside a reconstruction of his motorcycle with pages of the manga garnishing its display. A crater rendering a scene from one of his mangas adorned the back of the room. In addition to that, graffiti drawing from visitors plastered a section of the wall in tribute to the event. It was the only part of the exhibit where visitors were allowed to take photos.

At the end of the exhibit, visitors were allowed to slip their ticket stubs into a slot to determine where proceeds from their purchase went towards the Tohoku recovery. A small gift shop for the exhibit stood near the exit where you could buy posters, postcards, the soundtrack for the exhibit, an art catalogue for the exhibit, and other Otomo related paraphernalia. All in all, it was a delightful experience and briefly brought the child in me back to life. If you’re living in Tokyo this is a must see and would be crime against pop culture for any fan to miss.



1 Comment

Otomo Katsuhiro’s Genga Art Exhibit

While production for the fan maligned live-action Akira adaptation may have screeched to a halt as of January 5, 2012, Otomo Katsuhiro–the original creator for the manga and anime–is ever busy with an upcoming art exhibit at the 3331 Chiyoda Arts Centre in Tokyo, Japan, showcased between April 9th to March 30th, 2012. The Genga Exhibition, as it is called, already has a catalogue available for pre-order on Amazon.co.jp.

So far, unpublished art for Kaba 2 will be showcased alongside pieces from his other work.

In addition to that, a special discussion will occur live on UStream between Katsuhiro-san, Blood: The Last Vampire‘s Katsuya Terada, and Perfect Blue‘s Hisashi Higuchi on April 9th, 8 p.m. Japan local time.

Guests are required to purchase their tickets in advance at Lawson’s convenience stores for admittance at a designated time. What’s better is that this is an opportunity to geek out for a good cause. Thirty percent of ticket proceeds go towards helping victims of the 3/11 Earthquake.

Nothing’s set in stone, but I’ll definitely try to make it out there sometime in April or May and report further on the exhibit.

Tickets are on sale 1500円 for adults, 800円 for students, and 500円 for junior high school students. For more information, visit 3331 Chiyoda Arts homepage or follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

6-11-14 Sotokanda Chiyoda-Ku Tokyo 101-0021
TEL:+81(0)3-6803-2441 / FAX:+81(0)3-6803-2442 / E-MAIL:[email protected]



1 Comment

Interview: Genron

When acclaimed critic Hiroki Azuma isn’t writing or teaching at Waseda University, he’s bridging the gap between academia and the general public through the Contectures publishing company as its President and Editor-in-Chief.

With Genron, Contectures English language portal, he and his staff have their eyes set abroad by translating articles for Western readers not adversed in Japanese.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Naoki Matsuyama who is in charge of translations and global outreach and Ko Ransom, a translator for the company, to discuss Genron, criticism in Japan, Azuma’s work, the Great East Japan Earthquake, and the country’s future.

BF: How did you get involved with this project?

NM: I was born and grew up in Italy and I studied in the UK. I came to Japan two or three years ago with very little knowledge of Japanese criticism or Azuma-san’s works. A friend of mine introduced me to Azuma-san’s books by chance and they completely blew me away. It felt to me like it was the first time that criticism was trying to convey something about the current situation and move forward to do something about it, instead of providing a simple negation of the current conditions. I immediately knew that this was something I wanted to get involved in, and I knew I could contribute having straddled between cultures all my life.

So one day I sent him an e-mail saying, because I’m a translator, “If you need any help, I’ll be more than happy to”. That was before the first issue of the journal Shisouchizu Beta was published, and a few days later I received an email saying that he wanted to include English abstracts for all articles in it and that he wanted me to work on that. From there, I started to become involved in different activities of Contectures, the company that was created to publish the journal, including the website Genron that I initiated and an iPad app[lication] as well.

KR: Right around April after the disaster, I was in a Japanese language program in Yokohama. All of my classes at school got cancelled so I was just sitting at home most of the day. I looked at Twitter and I saw someone retweet something that Naoki sent saying that Contectures was searching for translators. I sent an application and after that I managed to get here. It was part of the company’s wave of hiring new translators to do more articles for the disaster issue.

BF: What’s the translation process?

NM: We usually do entire articles and each translator works on one article at a time. The translation team is composed of myself, Ko, and three other translators who all have different specializations. Ko’s is subculture, and he also knows a lot about criticism related to subculture. The other guys specialize in different fields such as modern critical theory in Japan, Japanese orthography and the political history of Japan. We try to do whatever we can that we think will have an impact focusing on translating articles we feel should be read abroad.

(more…)



1 Comment

Book Review: Database Animals

Say the word “Postmodern” and a tide of ideas flood the imagination. Structuralism, metanarratives, semiotics, and other obscure studies come to mind. At best they sound intelligently incomprehensible. At worst they reek of fashionable nonsense. Hiroki Azuma’s book, Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals, reads like neither. Unlike the milieu of thinkers who dwell in the pages of academic journals, Azuma’s prose is accessibly lucid despite the citation of high-minded thinkers and philosophers like Jean Baudrillard, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and G.W.F. Hegel. He eschews a pedantic writing style in favor of a lucid journalistic one to analyze and explain the phenomena of Japan’s most notorious caste of social pariahs: the Otaku.

Japan’s homegrown niche of anime geeks may seem like a pretentiously unrelated topic for the lofty heights of philosophy and theory. That is, it would be if Azuma didn’t make such compelling claims. The core argument of the book centers on the collapse of the “Grand Narrative” concerning Otaku consumption. Look at the Grand Narrative as a sense of meaning or purpose, but while the rest of the world was in conflict during the Cold War, Japan only had industry and consumption as a guiding light. The Otaku substituted this with fictional narratives to fill the void, but even this was insufficient. Azuma noted that late into the 1990s, consumers ceased to show as much interest in the plots of anime so much as their characters. Azuma uses the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime as an example. Multiple narratives currently exist for the Eva franchise through various multimedia projects, but most have little to do with the “original”.

“[The Otaku] did not really have a concern for the entire world of Evangelion,” Azuma writes. “Instead they focused exclusively on the setting and character designs as objects for exclusive interpretation.”

In other words, the characters, not the story were its fans’ passion “One might argue that the original TV series of Evangelion [still] continued to function as an entry…into the grand narrative. However, Otaku culture of the few years since Evangelion is rapidly abandoning the need for even this entry point,” writes Azuma.

The emergence of Di Gi Charot enforces his claim. An anime gaming dealership originally created its protagonist, Digiko, as a mascot for its enterprise. No narrative existed prior to this character’s conception, yet an anime and series of novels came to fruition following Digiko’s growing popularity. Even the character Usada Hikaru’s name was determined by a fan poll. In this instance, the “database” of anonymous fans directly influenced the creation of these characters without any sign of original authorship.

With the collapse of the Grand Narrative then, what alternative framework is there for seeing the world? “It is easier to comprehend the world through a database model,” Azuma writes. “An easily understandable example of this is the Internet. The Net has no center. That is, no hidden grand narrative regulates all Web pages.” What’s left are different parts for consumers to pick and choose from the database and craft together and render the M characters that you see today through consumer feedback. Here we have a description towards how the anime industry creates its characters. Cat ears, maid frocks, sailor suits, and other informational pieces make up the Otaku wardrobe. Anime producers pick and choose from this database to stitch together the Frankenstein monstrosities in the Moé catalogue.

Grand narratives aside, one might ask what makes such a dynamic Postmodern. This is where the ghosts of theories past enter further into the picture. Philosopher Alexandre Kojeve wrote An Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. In it is a footenote that the world would be divided between a return to (American) animalism or Japanese snobbery. The former consists of those who live in harmony with their environment, but consume without any pursuit of higher meaning in their travels through life.  The latter is much different. “snobs are not in harmony with their environment,” Azuma writes. “Even if there is no chance whatsoever for denial, snobs presume to deny, to manufacture formal opposition, and to love the thrill of opposing nature.”

What does this have to do with the Otaku then? This is where it gets a bit tricky. Let’s skip past snobbery and say that animalization applies more aptly to the database consumption of the Otaku. Kojeve referred to animalization as an American form of consumerism. Japan—as we already know—already underwent an Americanization process during its Post-War years. In today’s consumer society, everything is delivered immediately like fastfood to readily satisfy our needs. Even requisite social interactions are no longer necessary for sexual needs via the adult entertainment industry. As a result, society is sufficient without the interactions of the ‘other’ which once constituted human relations. The implications of which should leave any reader frightened. While Azuma is soberly objective in his take on the otaku, it’s difficult not to take a more harshly critical stance in light of these observations.

This review has so far barely even skimmed the surface of the content for Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals. That’s only natural because it takes up a meager–yet densely packed–144 pages. If there’s one flaw in its design, it’s that it was too short. Azuma could have easily been more generous with himself and expanded further on his ideas.

Which brings us to the second problem with the book: it’s dated. The inital Japanese publication date was in 2001 and took seven years to reach American shores. Twitter, Facebook, 4Chan, Weibo, and other social media are absent from the books pages along with other recent phenomenon like AKB48 and Hatsune Miku’s mainstream popularity in Japan.

Further more, recent events like the global financial crisis puts his book in a new perspective. The unemployment among recent college graduates in America has led critics to ponder why Millenials can’t just grow up. What many people miss is that Japan underwent a similiar occurence–with some cultural and sociological differences–during its post-bubble years. Otaku-esque subcultures like hypebeasts and gyaru are coalescing in the United States. America may not be turning Japanese, but it’s difficult to ignore some similar trends.

Lastly, Azuma himself observed the creative shift in anime and film following the Hanshin Earthquake and sarin gas attacks in Tokyo during 1995. It (temporarily) grew darker and concentrated heavily on the psychological disorders of modern youth rather than just raw escapism. What artistic changes occur after the 3.11 Tohoku Earthquake remains to be seen. The world is still waiting for a response.

Hiroki Azuma is a professor at Waseda University and President/Editor-in-Chief of Contectures, LLC.

[Correction: Azuma's company is called "Contectures" not "Conjectures"].



2 Comments

Linsanity Drives Girl’s Generation Song Writer to Insanity

New York Knicks player Jeremy Lin’s rise was guaranteed to eventually incite hate from both teams. It should come as no shock then that boxer Floyd Mayweather voiced his own criticisms of the Point Guard on the Twittersphere. After all, Mayweather released his own homophobic and racist rant against Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao on YouTube in the past. To his credit, he at least toned down his rhetoric (profanity wise) concerning his opinion towards Lin.

“Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian,” Mayweather tweeted. “Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.”

Alas, this entry isn’t about Mayweather so much as what swiftly followed.

Jenny Hyun–co-writer of Kpop group Girls’ Generation’s “How Great is Your Love” and Chocolat’s “One More Day”–pulled a Kenneth Eng and combated racism with more racism. Her following tweets called for the genocide of African Americans among other things.

It’s safe to say, her response wasn’t met with much praise and got to a point where she locked her Twitter account. She delivered a not so sincere apologized on her blog, all the while defending her inflammatory remarks.

She deleted the apology. In its place stands a seemingly more sincere one written by a third party explaining that she suffers from a psychotic episode and is undergoing treatment at a hospital. Whether or not this was the subtle work of a hacker is yet to be revealed. However a closer inspection of her blog reveals that she identifies as Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and Humanist. With a synchronicity like that, my bet’s on insanity.

 



1 Comment

The Eclipse Also Rises

Kei Fischer’s American father met her mother in Japan as an English language teacher. They married and sired her shortly thereafter. Years later, they immigrated to the United States. “I know it sounds clichéd,” Fischer said as she related her story. It may sound like every other story where an American visits Japan and returns with a wife. There’s just one thing. Kei Fischer’s mother isn’t Japanese. She’s Korean.

She didn’t discover this until after death of her grandfather. It was then that her mother finally came clean. She deliberately passed herself as Japanese to avoid the negative stigma associated with Koreans in Post-War Japan.

Kei Fischer constitutes a marginalized minority in Japan called Zainichi. The Zainichi consist of multigenerational Koreans who immigrated to Japan after the annexation of their homeland in 1910. Some of these minorities sought economic opportunities and scholarships abroad, while several others worked as slave laborers under Japanese Imperial Rule.

Koreans eventually lost their Japanese citizenship after the dissolution of Japan’s colonial reign. Many returned to their broken homeland while others decided to stay and resume their lives in Japan. Since then, they’ve faced fiscal and prejudicial hardships resulting from institutionally discriminatory practices in Japan.

Fischer learned about this as she set out to explore this forgotten part of her life. Her journey eventually led her to the Bay Area, where she met Miho Kim. Like Fischer, Kim was a Zainichi from Japan and together they formed an organization called Eclipse Rising with other Zainichi Korean Americans. As founders, Kim and Fischer have been a driving force behind the organization, which doubles as an activist group rather than merely a club of solidarity. “[We want to] develop a Zainichi community that’s physical and recognize a unique perspective that our experiences offer that really can’t be understood beneath a lens of nation states and internationalism since we’re essentially stateless,” Kim said.

Other parts of their mission statement include cultivating stronger relationships with other oppressed groups like the LGBT community, Burakumin (‘untouchables’ in Japan), Okinawans, and Ainu among others. In addition to this, they campaign for the peaceful reunification between North and South Korea. As wide reaching as this objective is, it maintains the consistent focus of supporting, empowering, and granting further rights to Japanese minority groups like them. “We’re really fighting the root cause of structural racism within Japan because that’s the only way we can really bring resolution to what has perpetrated this subjucation of Zainichi,” Kim said. She further related her experiences as a Zainichi to those of the Japanese Americans interned during World War II. “Being immortalized, criminalized, and banished, your entitlement taken from under your feet overnight.”

Some of their past activities included a recap of their 2010 U.S.-Japan Solidarity Tour. They hosted this as a joint holiday party at the School of Unity and Liberation Office in Oakland, California on December 16th, 2010. The participants of this tour reported the findings of their 9-day long trip where they met the political prisoner Kazuo Ishikawa, The Burakumin Liberation League, Women’s Active Museum On War and Peace for Korea’s “comfort women,” The Funreai House community center for minorities living in Japan, and the Iju-ren solidarity network for migrant workers. In addition to this, Fischer and Kim had the opportunity to visit Pyong Yang, North Korea, in 2008. They rallied to stop the Korea US-Free Trade Agreement with other on January 14th, 2011 in front of Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office in San Francisco under the pretense that it would sacrifice jobs and further erode workers’ rights.

These combined activities have brought the members of Eclipse Rising a long way from where they once stood. The days of passing and living in shame are as foregone as their history in Japan. This isn’t to say that their historical and emotional scars are effaced, but no longer are they hiding in the shadows and as a result moved beyond their previous state of victimhood to taking a stand for others.



1 Comment

Akira: 30th Anniversary Jacket

It’s 2012 and no progress yet on the live-action adaptation of the Akira anime. Rest assured, Bandai is releasing a replica of Kaneda’s jacket in the mean time. The jacket is to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Otomo Katsuhiro’s manga and it’s yours for the low, low price of 69,800 yen. You can purchase it here on Bandai’s Namco page or the official website for the anniversary.



No Comments

Tokyo Genso

Post-apoclyptic landscapes are the cliches Japanese scifi is made from. But never before have we seen it this gorgeously rendered.

His username is “Tokyo Genso” and–according to his profile– he works on “animation and games”. You can view the artist’s blog here and more of his artwork in this series on his deviant art page.



No Comments