Shohei exhibition

Pal Shohei is exhibiting new illustrations at Tokyo’s Carhartt Store, November 17 – 25. With his intricate ballpoint pen work, Shohei’s managed to carve out some interesting territory and avoid being overshadowed by his superstar dad.

I’ve seen Shohei’s work up close a couple times, and it really does defy description. I won’t get near a piece of paper without an eraser in hand, but Shohei does this stuff start-to-finish in ink, with no revision. Not for the faint of heart.

Highly recommended!

Carhartt WIP presents SHOHEI Exhibition -Layered-
2012.11.17 (Sat.) – 2012.11.25 (Sun.)
at Carhartt Store Tokyo
Jingumae 4-28-25, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

More information here.

Shohei’s HP here.

photo by Alexander Mitchell

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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.

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Photographs of Tōhoku

As previously posted on GR, I made several trips to the northern countryside of Japan in the days and weeks following the disaster of 3/11. And, though the intent of these ragtag “missions,” was primarily humanitarian, I took many photos along the way, posting them with my reports on these pages.

I recently culled the most evocative of those shots for display at the 12th incarnation of the always delightful Nippon Connection Japanese Film Festival, held last week in Frankfurt. Going through these images was difficult and, needless to say, brought back some very sad memories. What a year.

GR readers will have seen many of these images before, but here they are (again) as collected for their recent showing at the festival. I know many among you are probably experiencing disaster burnout, but I think it’s worth having another look, and pausing to contemplate the awesome power of nature and, indeed, the transience of our own existence.

From Tokyo,


All photos copyright © 2012 Michael Arias. All rights reserved.


Is That the World’s Tallest Broadcast Tower, or Are You Just Glad to See Us?

Ramping up for its gala opening next month, developers this week gave domestic and foreign journos a heart-stopping over quarter-mile ride up, up, way up to the observation level of Japan’s latest entry into the ongoing “biggest and longest” competition among industrialized nations ~ the 634-meter-tall (2,080 feet) Tokyo SkyTree. White-knuckled reporters boarded the SkyTree’s high-speed elevators with nervous smiles and waited a minute and 20 seconds to be lifted to the imposing tower’s observation level 1,476-feet above the metropolis. Earthquake’s? The Skytree survived last March’s 9.0 with no damage. The SkyTree has a restaurant and two cafes on the observation decks, a vertigo-inducing glass floor that lets vomitous visitors look straight down and an emergency staircase with 2,523 steps just in case you’re in the mood for a workout. Yomiuri Shimbun has video of the high-level junket (in Japanese but the flyover footage really doesn’t need translating) and HuffPo has a writeup and a slideshow.

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Asian American Film Festival in Chicago

Greetings from Chicago

Tim Hugh, one man bandleader of the Chicago Asian American Film Festival

This is Tim Hugh and his dog Helga in his kitchen in Chicago. Tim has run the only Asian American Indie Film Fest (i.e. no “imports”) for 12 of the 17 years that it’s been in existence. In this picture, he’s a one man bandleader- running it solo, something I can relate to as a solo musician. I’m in town to promote my film “Daylight Savings” which premiered at SXSW this year, and will be the opening night film this year. Joining me at the screening will be Michael Aki who plays my cousin in the film. I met Mike at this very festival in 2010 when he was showing his films Sunsets that he directed with Eric Nakamura, and his Film Noir tribute “Strangers”

I asked Tim a bunch of questions:

Goh: Why is this festival important?

Tim: It’s one of the only festivals that shows only Asian American films; produced, directed and/or about the Asian American experience. In the midwest more so than the coastal states, you’re constantly asked that stupid question “Where are you from?”… so it’s important to help define what being Asian and American is.

I’m a fourth generation Chinese American. In the midwest, it’s usually under the assumption that you’re just “Asian”… and not “Asian American.” When I see Causasian people I don’t ask them “are you from Poland? are you European?” I just see them for who they are, not what they look like.

Goh: How did you get involved in the festival?

Tim: I was just a fan of the band Seam, and Sooyoung Park, Ben Kim and Billy Shin started the festival in 1995 after they released the Ear of the Dragon CD, which was the first Asian American Rock Compliation. I’d always go and watch everything I could. I’d never seen films like this before; Asian American characters that spoke like me; the actors weren’t forced to speak with a bad accent. I could relate to these images and characters that I was seeing at this festival.

I became obsessed and would watch everything I could, whether it be a feature, documentary, or shorts program. I just wanted to see as much as I could, because I knew I’d never get a chance to see these movies again. Plus, being able to meet the directors and hear them speak about their films was one of the coolest things for me. I remember hanging out with Justin Lin, back when he was just a shorts director.

They noticed me being there year after year, and began to recognize me. Eventually, they would ask me to do little things like hand out program booklets, take tickets, watch the table, and take pictures during the Q&A’s. Basically, I became a volunteer. I remember standing there back in the day giving out Giant Robot magazines!


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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.


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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"].


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.

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T-Shirts + Me



T-shirts with Logos.

T-shirts with sayings.

T-shirts with designs on them.

How do we each choose what we put on?

I admit, I can be a t-shirt snob. It has nothing to do with sticker price or brand. It’s more about an originality factor. And I’m not gonna lie, I kinda like a person 5% more if the t-shirt they are wearing is an interesting one; a good t-shirt and good socks (but the socks are for another story.)

Actually, my first introduction to Giant Robot was from a t-shirt. Around 8 years ago, I saw a guy walking around 3rd Street promenade in Santa Monica with a Giant Robot shirt on. I went up to him and asked,

“Who is this Giant Robot?”

That led me to search out the magazine.

Even now when I wander into the store on Sawtelle, I usually rifle through the t-shirts. I am guaranteed to find a fun selection of unique art designs I know I won’t see anywhere else.

So—it’s been a long time since I bought a t-shirt at a concert but Battles were just in town. In my life, inspiration often comes from a jolt of the unfamiliar. Hearing Battles for the first time did this to me.  For anyone who isn’t familiar with their music –I would describe them as an energetic type of meditation—heavy instrumental perhaps. Their unique sound has creatively stirred me when some of my favorite tunes distract with heavy lyrics. That being said, I was pretty excited to finally see them live.

I asked my friend Zuleikha Robinson to come down with to The Mayan theatre downtown to see the show. When I got there, my excitement was heightened even more by the glowing t-shirt stand to the right of the stage.

“I have to get a Battles T-shirt!”

Well—I had 13 bucks in my pocket. Darn! Of course not having the full $25 on me turned getting that shirt into a mission.  Z lent me $11 and as I was about to start bargaining for that last buck, a kind stranger saved the day.

Thanks guy wearing the black flannel.



Giant Robot Podcast: Tamlyn Tomita

In 1986, a wire thin Ralph Macchio was cast again as karate champ “Danny” in Karate Kid 2. This time, he leaves the San Fernando Valley and travels to Japan with his Karate sensei, “Miyagi” played by Pat Morita. Miyagi needs to visit his dying father. Meanwhile there’s drama between he and his old rival friend, but stealing scenes is Danny’s hot female love interest, Kumiko portrayed by Tamlyn Tomita in her acting debut.



At the time, young Asian American female leads were scarce and Tamlyn Tomita became the woman by which many Asian American females were gauged. She was the crush of kids everywhere and 25 years later is quietly celebrating her debuts 25th anniversary. Only the Hawaii International Film Festival screened Karate Kid 2 and invited Tomita to the islands, and that’s where I caught up with her. In her Halekulani hotel suite, I got to sit down with Tomita to ask her every question I had boiling for the last two and half decades.

There’s a joke in my family that when Tamlyn Tomita’s name ever gets brought up, I’m quickly hovering the conversation. Crushes can run for decades.


Here’s a few memorable quotes:

On Karate Kid 2, “Changed by Freakin Life.”

“25 years ago I was known as the Karate Kid Girl, and now I’m known as the Glee mom. If you want any more evidence that 25 years have passed, there you go.”

“I look at a person, ok this one probably in his 40s I’ll refer to Karate Kid, if it’s a woman 25-40 I’ll say Joy Luck Club. If it’s a young teenager, it’s Glee.”



The Set of Hawaii 5-0: Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park, and Lauren German

The set of a popular TV Show Hawaii 5-0 is like the sets of all TV and film productions. At Universal Studios the 70s Jaws shark moves and looks like giant plastic toy. The buildings have believable facades but no interior. The magic is in the final product that’ll get magically projected onto your 60 inch HD LCD 3D television. It’ll look perfect. I’m prepared to see the charisma of the special police force: McGarrett, Danno, Chin-Ho, and Kono and not their human counterpart, Alex O’Loughlin, Scott Caan, Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park. It all changes in an instant.

I wait at a parking lot of the old Honolulu Advertiser Newspaper that now has rows of Star Waggons, white box trucks, tons of gear, cars, and a security gate that has a small sign telling folks who to contact if you want to be an extra. I wait for some time and then a few minutes later, Daniel Dae Kim walks up. The pleasant security gate keeper jokingly says, “maybe he’s here to pick you up.” She was right and also surprised. I was labelled as a social networking journalist. We walked straight to the Daniel’s Star Waggon where he sat and worked on his lines to portray Detective Chin-Ho. The next shots are going to be difficult. Unlike the normal, shoot a scene then ready up for the next, he was prepping for a five scenes in a one set up segment – something that hasn’t been done before. It’s a time saving effort and a perfect moment for me to witness.



In the Star Waggon, Daniel mutters some lines, first reading, then staring into space while moving his lips. Mostly inaudible. He apologizing for his needing to do this. The interior is standard, there’s some Hawaii 5-0 mini posters, a back room with costume changes hanging, food that’s not his, and nothing much else to show that it’s his particular trailer.

While practicing, a knock happens and we’re walking to the set which depicts the middle of their squad room. The scene is Daniel talking to Office Lori Westen played by blond, Lauren German about a suspects ID and they talk to each other while staring at the screens. I sit in the Daniel Dae Kim “directors chair” behind the actual director and script supervisor and am given a headset to hear their lines. The set runs like a machine. The script supervisor watches every word and makes sure the dialogue are recited correctly. She’ll also cue the actors with the first few words to get them going. She signals with a karate chop like move to the director that the lines were done correctly at the end of a scene. Shots are done with multiple angles, some close ups of the principals in the scene. The reverse site shots are the easiest since there’s no dialogue being recorded.


Daniel Dae Kim like oranges, and Grace Park likes the smell of orange peel. Fans, now  you know what to get them.


Tad Suzuki is The Working Man

I’ve had the privilege of meeting and interviewing a lot of top-shelf skaters for the pages of Giant Robot: Don Nguyen, Daewon Song, Kenny Anderson, Eric Koston, Shogo Kubo, Steve Caballero, Willy Santos, Peggy Oki, Richard Mulder, Kien Lieu, Chad Tim Tim, Jamie Reyes, Daniel Castillo, Pat Channita, Jimmy Cao, Lincoln Ueda… (I know there are more and if I forgot you, I’m sorry.) Truthfully, the topic was probably lost on many readers but hopefully the culture wasn’t. Streetwear, street art, and even punk rock–so much of that stems from skateboarding and no one should forget that. (more…)


Montreal, Chapter 2: Mutant Raccoons of Mount Royal.

Cray Cray Raccoon Whisperer AKA "RAY BZ"

Cray Cray Raccoon Whisperer AKA "RAY BZ"

Homeboy is Cray Cray.

“What the hell is goin’ on?” you might ask…  I’m not quite sure- but he and his family were feeding the raccoons.

After a long first day of getting into Montreal, my hosts Li Li and Jeff took me up to Mount Royal to check out the view.  We drove up, saw the beautiful lights of the city- but it was upstaged by the most random scene…  a family- two parents and a little girl, about 7 or 8? feeding a horde of Freakishly Large  Raccoons.  I was fearing that something really bad was about to happen, but fortunately it- never escalated… even when the mom was kicking some of the bigger raccoons out of the way so the babies could eat.

If you watch the video- you’ll see there’s like 30+ of ‘em swarming/begging for food like dogs.  Strangely, they were really gentle and seemed almost domesticated…very at ease around humans.  Maybe because they’re Canadian?  All the American Raccoons I’ve encountered are mean and aggressive.



Scared Artless

“People at Art openings are pretentious and weird.” I hear variations of this comment all the time.

Either of these scenarios sound familiar? Standing next to a person by the bathroom for 10 minutes and not even saying a polite hello—much less making an introduction? Or even more awkward; standing next to someone whom you know is your Facebook friend, but neither of you are acknowledging this fact or each other? I rarely have this interaction with the same person when we meet in a restaurant, nightclub or even at Trader Joe’s—so what gives? Uncomfortable moments like these have got me thinking. Is it the other person? Is it me? Or could it possibly be something to do with the art venue?

The weird thing is, I go to museums often and I really do love art. I have become somewhat obsessed with artists such as, Brancusi, Dali, Hokusai, Freud, and Murakami to name a few. Yes, these are Masters, I know, I know, and yes, their works are mainstream and accessible, so it is not a surprise really that I like them.

Yet nothing has been more nerve wracking at times for me, than going to an art show. You know, one of those great gatherings, with great up and coming artists, like the ones that you get invited to on Facebook?  Something like those. So I’ll get an invite to one of these shows; and having the predisposition of a hermit crab–but knowing that I could use a little of that stuff called “culture”—I’ll throw my Repettos on and venture out from under my rock.

Here’s a dirty little secret…

Sometimes, I don’t even know who the artist is, or even the art medium that I am about to show up for. Quelle Horreur!! I know, I know, but off I’ll go. Then, it will happen that I get there and I have the awkward experience of either showing up way too early; or, being stood up by certain friends of mine (who will remain nameless ahem, but know who they are.)

As soon as those neon, dark-under-eye-circle-magnifying lights hit me—so do the butterflies. This calls for activities such as; typing a faux text on my blackberry; pretending to have to use the bathroom–and then often—just walking out. It’s kind of involuntary. Halfway down the street, after pulling out of my ‘karma good’ parking spot, I will have a little “what is my problem?” moment. If I do end up staying, I am tense, awkward and hyper-aware of every movement of my body. I’m not really enjoying the art because my brain is slowly melting as I try to adjust to being in the space correctly.

New people. Art. Florescent lights. People. Noises. Music. Nowhere to sit. Nowhere to hide. Nowhere to sit. How am I standing? Ahh.

Then, after settling into the place, I will often find myself taking on another behavior, even more bizarre. I will float around, avoiding eye contact, ignoring certain individuals and having light, safe conversations, mostly avoiding the topic of the event that I showed up for in the first place; the Art.

“I saw you but didn’t get a chance to talk to you.”

Huh? We are in a space about the size of a matchbox and are having a hard time connecting?

What a peculiar condition.

Well, having the propensity towards a hypochondriacal nature, I do sometimes self-diagnose. After much self-examination, I have come up with a little theory. What clinically might be known as a form of social anxiety might possibly have a more accurate diagnosis. I have taken the liberty of naming this condition:

Art Show Syndrome—or—with all due respect, A.S.S. I see A.S.S as a benign condition that affects a person’s attitude, posture, and vernacular in various degrees while participating in the Art Scene. A couple of weeks ago, I started an unqualified behavioral study of myself and other art goers surrounding me. Though I have not done enough research to argue what the causes or cures are for everyone, I think I have found a few simple facts that are at the root of my own A.S.S behavior. I will share.

Maybe some of you can relate…



Giant Robot Podcast – Beau Sia


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It’s been over a decade since the documentary film, SlamNation expanded the Slam Poetry movement. Growing up during the same expansive period was an Asian American, born in Oklahoma and schooled in New York City. In the late 90s, Beau Sia was a Black Cat brick of firecrackers with a mic in his hand. His energy sucked up everyone’s oxygen and his words and cadence both expanded minds and dropped jaws. The sheer power he projects in the many Def Poetry Jam videos on Youtube is monumental.




A few years later, Sia’s Rosie O’Donnell video in response to her “Ching Chong” comment went large and she apologized. It was a big deal. He appears occasionally in films like Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married. He does performances based on special events of occurrences like the Alexandra Wallace video, Asian in the Library, or a special for Fred Korematsu day. His explosiveness now appear in new ways, it’s via intellect, dialogue and understanding. As he says in his sincere and sometimes comical voice, “I’m still dangerous.”




Currently, he’s working on various projects from music to writing and spends plenty of time thinking.

In our talk, Beau Sia explains his past work and where it comes from, hip hop, current projects, insecurities, and his future. His words are thoughtful and his explanations are detailed.


music on podcast by Goh Nakamura

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Giant Robot Podcast – Actor Leonardo Nam

In casual conversation, Leonardo Nam’s Australian accent is obvious. In movies, he plays anything and anyone. Currently in his early 30s, Nam lives in West Hollywood and is currently one of the “go to” young Asian American actors. In the past decade or so, he’s played an array of roles from a supreme pothead in The Perfect Score, an evil rice rocket gangster in Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift, to the heart of gold boyfriend in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. The Aussie raised Asian American, also enjoys his travels, he’s been around the globe and always has plans to keep on going.

The plan for this podcast was to hear about the gap between time from his interview in Giant Robot Magazine to now. Naturally, we conversed about work, how the economy affects a young actor and his new directions, and relationships. It turns out, Nam is also a “go to” relationship guy for his friends and even folks in the Twitterverse. Perhaps it’s from his nice guy role in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, especially part 2 that’s led to some random solicitations for advice and he’s been giving it in 140 characters.


Heroes Remain: Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami Aftermath

Manga Road begins right outside of the train station and spans across the city. Various life-sized iron anime figurines are bolted to the ground. Ranging from superheroes to beloved characters, these structures stand out in the aftermath, still brightly colored. The road ends at the Mangattan museum, or Ishinomori Manga Museum, which was built in 2001. The edifice, comically shaped like a bubble and UFO saucer, boasts of Ishinomori’s original artwork, unique exhibits, and displays of Cyborg 009, characters from Android Kikaider, Robocon, and many more.


Ishinomaki is a quiet town whose main attraction is Manga Road and Mangattan (石ノ森萬画館), an oblong-shaped museum dedicated to Ishinomori. The city celebrates Shotaro Ishinomori (石ノ森 章太郎), a mangaka, or manga writer, renown for his creation of 1970’s popular anime Kamen Rider, among other long-running series. Ishinomori is often compared to American Marvel comic book writer, Stan Lee, an equally prolific creator of Spiderman and other heroes.

I trundled into the Ishinomaki JR station dripping sweat and smelling like karaage (から揚げ)—fried chicken.  Even three months after the earthquake and tsunami, trains still couldn’t run directly into the city due to reconstruction.  Relief workers and I transferred several times and then took a tightly packed bus whose exhaust fumes smelled crispy and tantalizing. Shooting footage of tsunami relief for a documentary—we were naïve to think we could come away unaffected.




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SD Comic Con The GR Booth and Stan Lee

The Comic Con has started and I’d like to think it’s a great way to open when Marvel Comics King, Stan Lee is right near your booth with just a tiny mob. He’s talking to Neal Adams in this shot. I can’t tell you who the photo bombers are. On fans, Neal Adams said, “at least they’re nice to us” and Stan Lee said, “they’re not to me”. It wasn’t too long ago when Stan Lee was relatively forgotten by the world, and now with the good remakes of the films (not the weird Fantastic Four, Spiderman TV show, Ang Lee’s Hulk, Punisher, etc) which are now worth billions, he’s back to being known by the masses as Stan the Man – a serious god.

The GR booth features the red lanterns. It’s a beacon. I love hearing, “I’m at the Giant Robot booth.” Yes of course! Look up at the signage, you can’t miss us. I think this is my 18th year in a row attending this convention. The first was in 1993, I’m pretty sure. It’s changed of course especially in size and in scope. The actual comic book dealers seem more and more scarce, and the Hollywood quotient is larger than ever. But this year, what’s the hot promotion? Last year, it seemed like Scott Pilgrim was everywhere, but this year? I’m not quite sure. Maybe it’s just an amalgam of a lot of features and television. We’ll see. Keep updated. We have a lot coming up. This was only preview night.


There’s plenty more photos below!


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Interview: Filmmakers Megumi Nishikura and Lara Perez Takagi – The Hafu Documentary

From left to right: Megumi Nishikura, Marcia Yumi Lise, and Lara Perez Takagi. Photo credit: Ryu Kodama.





Megumi Nishikura and Lara Perez Takagi are two filmmakers living in Tokyo, Japan. Their next project, The Hafu Documentary, focuses on a lesser-known part of Japan’s demographic: biracial individuals. Hafu is the Japanese loan word for half-Japanese. The documentary features a Mexican-Japanese family (the Oi’s), a Ghanian-Japanese model named David, a Venezualan-Japanese community organizer named Ed, an Australian-Japanese expatriot named Sophia, and lastly, an unannounced Hafu of mixed Japanese and Asian descent. Both Nishikura and Takagi are half-Japanese themselves and I last interviewed them before the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. Once again, they take time out from their busy schedules to discuss their documentary and its progress since then.

Lara and Megumi in action. Photo credit: Michael Connolly.
















Giant Robot: How has production progressed so far?

Megumi Nishikura: “Sophia” is the fourth person. We put up a new image for her on the website. [When we first met her] it all came naturally. She wanted to show that she was part of this movie. She has her own blog and started writing about her participation in the film, and she tweets about us now and then. Her story is on the website and she grew up in Sydney, [Australia]. She spent a few summers in Japan here and there visiting her relatives, but doesn’t have too much experience in Japan. Last year, she decided that this was her last chance. If she didn’t take it now then she would never come and live here. She moved here and is tried to find a job, take Japanese lessons, and figure her way out while abroad.


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Interview: David Gelb Director of Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Most of us have eaten sushi in one form or another. I’d like to think that I’m fairly adept, my mother owning a sushi restaurant for decades in Santa Monica. I’ve seen the rise of the American sushi movement from the early 80s. Sushi is now available everywhere, from your local supermarkets to the secret sushi locations that feature high end everything at unpublished, market rate prices. People talk about them, as if they’re holding onto a secret. Yet one place stands alone at the top of the rugged mountain of sushi establishments, and it’s Sukiyabashi Jiro – a restaurant that’s garnered back to back Michelin three star ratings in 2008 and 2009. It’s the food lovers holy grail. Filmmaker David Gelb captured the head master chef and octogenarian, Jiro at his finest moments in Jiro Dreams of Sushi. The documentary isn’t overly cinematic, or overly dramatic, it’s actually shot clean and classic, and at the same time, takes you into the world of the business of sushi – from in the shop, the fish market, to Jiro’s personal life which further explains how he is known to be the best.



GR: Can you back track and talk about sushi and how you felt compelled to make this documentary?
DG: I’ve loved sushi ever since my dad took me to Japan on business trips starting when I was 2 years old. I was fed a diet of cold soba and cucumber rolls. I’ve loved sushi and Japanese culture ever since. After I got out of film school, I thought to myself, ‘why not make it my job to travel to Japan and eat the best sushi in the world?’

GR: Jiro seems like a stoic and strict person. How is he off camera?
DG: Nobody takes his work more seriously than Jiro. He’s been making sushi for over half a century and he still considers everyday an opportunity to improve his skills. He’s strict because he’s applying his full concentration to the present task. However, once the last customer leaves and he has a moment to relax, you’ll find that he is incredibly kind and personable. He has a great sense of humor.