Q&A With Author Bushra Rehman

And I’m not talking about the beer, though it may help! (Art by Chitra Ganesh)

This is one of these short books that you finish in a few hours and it resonates with you for weeks, maybe years and possibly for the rest of your life. Corona reads like a fascinating collection of journals and fiction mashed together in a backpack and bound as is. It’s quite fitting that author Bushra Rehman was a vagabond poet.

Bushra and I met not even a year after after 9/11 and it’s a complete coincidence that I’m posting this on an anniversary of 9/11. 9/11 actually figures into the fabric of Corona, as narrator Razia Mirza, a Pakistani woman from Corona, Queens, travels through the country and through time, through troubled relationships and relationships with trouble. Smoking pot with asshole soon-to-be-ex-boyfriends. Drinking beer with racists in the burbs. It’s funny, it’s sad and, if you hang on long enough like Razia manages to, it’s funny again. The book is a brilliant rendering of life and if it is not always life-affirming, it is always genuine and honest.

Are you in New York this Friday Sept. 13? I strongly suggest you come to the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and see Bushra in all her glory. She is a fantastic reader and always a joy to behold.

Below is Bushra’s official bio. Below that is a little romp of a Q&A with her.

Bushra Rehman’s first novel Corona (Sibling Rivalry Press) is a dark comedy about being South Asian in the United States and was noted among this year’s Best Debut Fiction by Poets & Writers. Rehman’s first book, which she co-edited with Daisy Hernandez, Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism was included in Ms. Magazine’s 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of All Time. Her writing has been featured in numerous anthologies and on BBC Radio 4, WNYC, and KPFA and in Poets & Writers, The New York Times, India Currents, Crab Orchard Review, Sepia Mutiny, Color Lines, The Feminist Wire, and Mizna: Prose, Poetry and Art Exploring Arab America.

1) When we met you were a poet. Did you shift to narrative storytelling or have you been collecting these stories all along?

Yes, I remember those crazy tours we did with the Asian American Literary Caravan, hitting unsuspecting Asian-American students all over the country with our insidious literature! My poems were all so heavy and disturbing back then that I started to tell funny stories in the middle about my own personal misadventures to lighten the mood. That way the audience could join me on the emotional rollercoaster of my mind.  The book is composed of some of those funny stories, mixed in with some heavy dark moments. Onwards with the Asian American Literary Caravan!

2) There are so many crazy, dangerous and awful things that happen in Corona, and yet the reader comes away from it in the same way that the narrator Razia does — with a measure of humor. I feel that people who’ve lived tough lives are usually funny because they had to laugh their way through times that were hard. Don’t you agree?

You know I do. The hardest times in my life were the times I laughed the hardest. I hope people laugh out loud when they read Corona, especially if they’re going through a hard time.

Bushra’s not flaky at all. (Photo by Jaishri Abichandani)

3) True or false? People with roots in Pakistan, which literally means, “Land of the Pure,” are naturals to portray Puritans.

Ha!  All the required body parts are covered with a Puritan costume, and they have so much in common, like praying. I loved writing about a Pakistani woman working as a Puritan in Salem. When I was a child, I thought living history museums were places where English immigrants were so successful in preserving their culture, they’d completely lost track of time and place. Of course I also want to share this fun fact, that Salem, Massachusetts, is where the first South Asians settled in the United States in the 1700s. They were sailors who worked for the East India Trading Company. They jumped ship and blended into the Native population. So it makes sense that when Razia leaves home, she heads straight for Salem to be a Puritan.

4) What would happen if hipsters began to migrate to Corona and turn it into the new Williamsburg? There goes the neighborhood or change is welcome?

What are you trying to do Ed, make me lose the only audience that has the money to buy my book? Such a loaded question… so I’ll have to give a loaded answer, whether it’s loaded with BS, time will tell.

If the implied definition is that hipster=uber cool trust fund kids with a lots of attitude who cause the rents to increase wherever they move, it would be terrible! Corona is a family neighborhood with people from every part of the globe living there. It’s still a place where you can afford to raise a family. Whether or not they intend for this to happen, the presence of hipsters displaces these families. So, is it too late for me to say, “Corona is an imaginary neighborhood, people. It does not exist. Do not try to move there. You will get shot-imaginarily.”

I was so into this question, I ran it by a number of friends. One said, “Corona was already the ultimate hipster joint.”  Back in the 40s and 50s, it was home to the original hipsters, the jazz greats, Louis Armstrong, Nat Adderley and Jimmy Heath. What a great answer.

Another friend, who grew up in Williamsburg when it was rough and tumble, tumble being a euphemism for people dying on the street, and I talked until we found the hidden question: Why can’t people of color who pay taxes (maybe more taxes then hipsters) get the city resources to live in safe and clean neighborhoods?

At the end of the day, even I cannot move back to Corona. I’d just want to sit in a café with my laptop writing the next great American novel like the worst hipster around.

  I also want to share this fun fact, that Salem, Massachusetts, is where the first South Asians settled in the United States in the 1700s.

5) It’s interesting that the people who have been traditional threats — bikers, hot-blooded Italian men — are actually the one looking out for Razia while the traditional protectors — family and lovers — are the real menaces. Are you trying to say that Everything You Know About People Is Wrong?

Oh my god is it? Is everything I know about people wrong? No wonder things keep getting messed up! You know I rarely set out with a message when I’m writing, then later readers help me know what I’m thinking. It’s a highly advanced, complicated and inefficient form of psychotherapy for a person like me who is too broke to pay for it.

6) What are your favorite toys?

I don’t remember having toys in the traditional sense. There were these rusty milk crates we used to build up a lot into different structures and one year there was this old broken down car in my friend’s yard. We spent a whole summer pretending to drive around and go on adventures. It was so fun, it’s strange I never learned how to drive.

I do remember thirteen years ago being at Burning Man clutching a 2 liter bottle of water and someone saying, “You’re holding that like a teddy bear,” and I said, “I didn’t have teddy bears. I had younger siblings.” It’s true. When I first rocked my newborn daughter to sleep, I thought, this reminds me of my childhood. It was a sweet feeling.

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Japanese Elected Official Barred from Meetings for Wearing Wrestling Mask

OITA  ~ “Skull Reaper Eiji” (transliterated as “Skull Reaper A-ji” by the Western press) was elected to the city council in this city on the southernmost Japanese island of Kyushu back in February promising local folks educational reform and improved social welfare facilities. He managed to garner only 2,828 votes, but that was enough to win him a seat. Eiji, 44, was supposed to attend his first council meeting this week, but his tight-assed council colleagues sucker-punched him by barring him from the meetings until he removed his wrestling mask. The Skull Reaper is the third masked politician elected to public office in Japan.  [TIME ~ Politician Banned for Wearing Wrestling Mask]


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Haven’t Tried Trader Joe’s Dried Kimchi Yet?

GR’s fearless iron-stomach-ed friends over at KoreAm give you a running commentary on the hottest dehydrated napa cabbage Asian snack food sensation manufactured by non-Asians and available right next to the Cajun hummus at Trader Joe’s.  [KoreAm ~ Kimchi Snack]

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Q&A With Writer Gina Apostol

Photo by Ken Byrne


Gina Apostol’s fascinating novel Gun Dealer’s Daughter has just been published in an American edition. This incredible book traces the seduction of Sol, a young privileged girl, by a romantics in a revolutionary group during the heady Marcos era in The Philippines. The first-person narrative is colored with defective memories and unreliable (but sympathetic) narratives. The reader will fall apart with Sol when she realizes too late that she’s sealed the cruel fate of the one person who truly cared about her.

I recently had the pleasure to read Gun Dealer’s Daughter and Gina agreed to a few questions and answers for Giant Robot readers. For those in New York City, Gina will be reading with Sabina Murray at The Asian American Writers’ Workshop on Thursday Sept. 6.


Congratulations on writing such a stunner of a book. Has anything changed editorially from its original 2010 publication on Anvil in the Philippines and the American W.W. Norton edition earlier this year?

I cut some sections of the opening, mainly. I had always thought the beginning was too slow. But I was also attached and wanted to keep everything. I did keep most of it, like the carousel ride, etc., minutiae the reader would not remember but I thought were crucial to my design—the book was designed with a circle in mind. My editor helped me cut. It was great to work with an editor who was, to my mind, always on the same page with me, but had a sharp eye for killing, killing, killing all the lice—Flaubert’s term for the incidents and words you can get rid of, but don’t want to, because they have already sucked your blood.


 I was once at this coffee shop in Baltimore listening to this incredibly stunning kid go on and on about Salinger and why she loved Catcher in the Rye. She turned out to be Winona Ryder talking to her boyfriend at the time, Johnny Depp


I couldn’t help but feel a certain vibe similar to the film Heathers. The feeling of play-revolutionaries mixed in with adolescent infatuation careening into something horribly real. How far would the teenage-girl narrator go in her zeal to impress Jed? On a different day would Sol (the girl) and Soli have changed places?

I just found the novel’s old Mac disks (those cute, colored squares that slide into the 1990s Macintoshes—I still keep that computer in my closet, like a sad robot of things past) and they were labeled Fil CITR —Filipino Catcher in the Rye. Oh, snap. It was only when I had finished the book that I thought—the bookend of carousels is a secret nod—of course!—to Catcher in the Rye. Heathers is a very good reference. All those films and books about adolescent stupor among the beautiful who become the damned. Now if Winona Ryder could also sing the Internationale as well as epater le bourgeois girls, she’d be Sol’s sister. I was once at this coffee shop in Baltimore listening to this incredibly stunning kid go on and on about Salinger and why she loved Catcher in the Rye. She turned out to be Winona Ryder talking to her boyfriend at the time, Johnny Depp. He was in town doing the movie Crybaby. He had a huge pimple on his face because John Waters kept making him eat Cheez Doodles or something during the shoot. What one learns from such models is that it is not good to take your teenage angst seriously. You might come to a bad end. In Winona’s case, she shoplifted; if only Sol had done the same. I always thought if Holden in Catcher had grown up in the Third World, he’d have turned into a good Maoist instead of just wandering drunk on Fifth Avenue and wiping off graffiti from the Egyptians at the Met. For me, of course, the difference between Heathers and Holden and Sol—and Winona—is that in Gun Dealer, adolescent angst is diagnosed as a political matter—even our malaise has consequences beyond the small pool of our local disenchantments. As for Sol’s thing with Jed—it is, I think, a cover for other lusts—above all the lust to be “real.” She has the Velveteen Bunny around her, after all, toys, the illusory world her parents bought, but like the bunny she wants to be real. Jed is a screen for that hunger, but I think even Sol knows she’s fooling herself. If you asked me, I’d have told her to get rid of Jed, from day one. Guy’s a dope. But I am not Sol. The thing about Sol and Soli is that they are meant to be somehow interchangeable, I think, but I am not sure. That Sol has, perhaps, a desire to be that other one, Soli, her ethical self, maybe, but she’s locked in her own merry-go-round of security, her carousel of comfort.


I fucking don’t care if Mitt Romney has ever felt alienated in his life


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TED Senior Fellow Candy Chang: It’s Good to Be Here

THREE YEARS AGO, Pittsburgh-born artist Candy Chang was named a TED Senior Fellow for Urban Innovation, and since then she’s been caught up in the vortex of a whirlwind that has sent this architecture-graphic design-urban planning graduate of Columbia University and onetime New York Times graphic artist on a creative journey that has allowed her to leave a mark on communities in faraway places like Helsinki, Nairobi, New Orleans, Vancouver and Johannesburg.  Chang’s now-global “Before I Die” project began when she she transformed an abandoned house in her neighborhood in New Orleans into a fill-in-the-blank chalkboard for people to reflect on their lives and share their personal aspirations in a public space.

“Before I Die” proved so empowering and uplifting, it prompted The Atlantic to call it: “one of the most creative community projects ever.” And regular folk flocked to its magic ~ and it has expanded to communities in countries around the world, including Kazakhstan, South Africa, Portugal, and Argentina.

Catch up with what this child of Taiwanese immigrants is thinking and doing today by reading Karen Eng’s interview-profile of Chang ~ “A Global Family for Life” ~ which was posted July 10 on the TED Fellows Posterous.


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Q&A With Actor Louis Ozawa Changchien

(Copyright, Harry Fellows 2012)

Louis Ozawa Changchien is a man of many faces so it’s a good thing he’s a damn good actor and not a thief. You may know him for having the most memorable scene in Predators (2010) in which his yakuza character Hanzo fights through a kendo match with a Falconer Predator. Changchien, who is of Taiwanese and Japanese descent, will be seen next in The Bourne Legacy (Aug. 10), although action movies aren’t his only forte. New Yorkers have an opportunity see him on stage in Kenneth Lin’s “Warrior Class,” playing Asian American Assemblyman Julius Lee making a run at Congress. “There is nothing more terrifying,” Changchien says of his role in the play, which opens today. By the way, his name “Louis” is pronounced the French way.

Giant Robot: Please explain how you can have major roles in action-oriented films such as Predators and The Bourne Legacy and yet still play a lead in a staged political drama such as ‘Warrior Class.” What’s more dangerous: going one-on-one with a Falconer Predator or running for public office?

Louis Ozawa Changchien: Running for public office for sure. At least I knew who my enemy was in Predators! I’ll take my chances with a sword over just using my mouth any day. It’s a rare opportunity for an Asian American actor to play a politician in a contemporary play. No special effects, no explosions, no guns to hide behind. Just three actors on a stage speaking the unspeakable to each other. There is nothing more terrifying. I’m hoping that the audience will enter Julius’ journey into the backroom battle that is politics. In Hollywood, I’m asked to look tough and shut my mouth. Don’t get me wrong, these action movies can be physically demanding: tumbling down volcanic rock that is razor sharp in nothing but flesh-colored Vibram Five Fingers and a cashmere silk three-piece suit in the middle of a sweltering hot rainforest is pretty intense. Or fighting the Falconer Predator in 30-degree weather shirtless while being sprayed down with water for 12 hours in the dead of winter in Austin was pretty demanding, too. And let’s not forget the stomach bug that hammered me while shooting Bourne in Manila.  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I was throwing up every 15 minutes on one of my most intense days of stunts. I had a bucket next to me that I would hurl into right before the cameras would start rolling.

GR: You’re a graduate of Stuy, an extremely difficult high school to test into. Did your parents hit the roof when you told them you wanted to act? What advice would you give to young people who need to break the news to their parents that they don’t want to be doctors?

Changchien: Actually, I was lucky. My folks have always been very supportive of my artistic endeavors. But then again, I think they knew that there was no stopping me. For young folks, especially young Asian American children of immigrants, it’s hard to envision a successful life as an artist. I had no clue how to truly live as an artist. We have so little precedence and so few role models. And the path is never so clear. It’s not like being a doctor or lawyer. Going to school is no guarantee of work, although, I’d recommend it to all young actors. There are so few Asian roles out there, you’d better be good when your opportunity comes. Be prepared for some ups and downs. Save money, and try to enjoy the ride. Try to see and be involved in the best shit. And try to communicate all of this to your folks. I know it can be tough sometimes with Asian parents, but it’s only because they don’t have success stories as a frame of reference. Nobody wants to see their kids struggle. My mom is always asking if I’m eating enough, or if I have enough money!

GR: It seems that American actors of East Asian and South Asian descent are hitting a stride now in film and television. In your fantasy TV show, who would play your mom and dad and why?

Changchien: Can we get Pat Morita out of the grave? He’d be a cool dad. And Gong Li would be my dad’s new wife. But then, it’d be an Oedipal story.

GR: I once overheard an actor say that while he was having steady film and TV work, he needs to act on stage to sharpen his acting skills and raise his game. Do you agree? Apart from that, do you find a live audience intimidating?

Changchien: I think that was me who said that! Yes I agree. I think having a live audience is mostly thrilling. But when I’m nervous I convince myself that the spectators are out there paying money to have a good time. I figure if I’m having a good time on stage maybe they will, too.

GR: Recently you’ve been to Asia for film promotions and for filming itself, and I know you’ve spent time there growing up in Taiwan and Japan. Do you ever see yourself pulling a Daniel Wu and moving there for a good chunk of time and working there?

Changchien: My folks live in Japan so it’s nice to have opportunities to work out there. However,  I don’t think I’ll move there for long periods of time. New York is my home. And I now have a dog. Who is a monster. He’s a six-month-old pit bull and it’s hard to travel with such a big dog (he’s already 55 pounds).

GR: Are you a coffee or a tea guy? Describe a perfect cup.

Changchien: Coffee for sure. I like making my own coffee. I like Stumptown and Ninth Street coffee beans. Intelligentsia is dope too. My local spot Joe on 23rd and Ninth makes good cortados. Sometimes I use one of those Hario ceramic gizmos to make a nice cup of filtered coffee or I’ve got a stove-top espresso maker, which I’m about to use now. If I’m going to have tea, I like to make oolong. Hey, I’m Taiwanese.

GR: What are your favorite toys?

Changchien: Gee, that’s a tough one. I used to have a lot of toys. I liked cars and motorcycles but I got rid of everything to live in Manhattan. My custom-made Hanzo action figure is my favorite toy at the moment. It’s made by this guy named James Ellis and he did an incredible job. I’m the only person in the world who has one! I also have a small watch collection. I’ve added the watch I wore in Predators and the one I wore in Bourne into the mix. These time pieces mean a lot to me. The one from Predators is the Hamilton Ventura Elvis Anniversary edition. It’s cool cause Predators was my first lead role in a Hollywood film. Any time I put that watch on, it brings back a lot of memories. The watch from Bourne is actually quite rare. It’s made by a small American company called Kobold, based out of Pittsburgh of all places. And the manufacturer was nice enough to engrave “The Bourne Legacy” and my character’s name onto the back. Bourne was a physically and mentally demanding experience for me. I wear this watch to remind me that I can survive a lot more than I think.

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TOKiMONSTA 101: A Crash Course

 What was once a normal Korean American girl named Jennifer Lee was transformed by a primordial soup of  an upper-middle-class Torrance, Calif. upbringing, classical piano, R&B, hip-hop and Japanese anime into TokiMonsta, a wildly eclectic contemporary composer with a growing global following. Tapped by Ryuichi Sakamoto a couple of weeks ago to collaborate on his “Odakias” anti-nuclear project earlier this month along with Japanese avant-garde musician Otomo Yoshihide and rapper Shing02, Tokimonsta is blowin’ up!




Yeah, “eclectic:” a truly overused term. But TokiMonsta owns it. Her sound has been described as “vast textural soundscapes by utilizing live instruments, percussion, digital manipulation, and dusty vinyl. ” Okay




“I just like everything. I get bored easily, so having options, like, I can’t make this beat. You know what? On my Google Readers– on the bookmarks– I have pop culture blogs, I have fashion blogs, I have art blogs, I have advertising blogs because I think advertising is also really captivating– the mentality–’Wow! How did they think of that? That’s really clever.’”

Get a taste of TokiMonsta’s Sa Mo Jung (2011)

To this point in the arc of TokiMonsta, Christine Kakaire’s “monsta” 2,000-word essay-interview with Jennifer Lee is perhaps the mos in-depth verbiage on Tokimonsta evar inked. Or, maybe, the best inside look into  Tokimonsta was the Dumbfounded-DJ Zo TokiMonsta podcast of September 2011 on Too bad: only a few telltale traces of it remain.






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Do You Live Inside a Nuclear Evacuation Zone?

[Click to enlarge]

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Calif. ~ This week there’s been talk of restarting the Edison International-operated nuclear reactors at San Onofre.  Located between Los Angeles and San Diego, the two operational pressurized water reactors there ~ units #2 and #3 ~ have been shut down since January 2012, when an inspection found that new pipes that carry steam to and from the reactor’s generators showed unexpected corrosion less than two years ago after they were retrofitted. Any other time in the atomic age, the public might have just shrugged and accepted all the assurances of the giant utility. “Not to worry, folks.”

But it’s only been 15 months since the triple meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi, and three of the Japanese reactors there are still leaking radioactive becquerels and bucky balls of toxic isotopes and a tsunami-shattered fourth reactor building houses some 1,500 spent fuel rods that some say could create another nuclear disaster that will dwarf the one that the beleaguered Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the Japanese government will be battling for the unforeseen future.

The movement against the restarting of San Onofre #2 and #3 is growing. Warnings by the Southern California power companies that the absence of cheap and clean nuclear energy might cause rolling blackouts and limited time for junior on the Xbox don’t seem to carry the same fuzzy feelings as they did BF ~ Before Fukushima.

One month after Japan’s triple 3-11 disasters, our friends over at Gizmodo published a timely story entitled “How a Fukushima-Level Disaster Would Affect You in New York, L.A. or Chicago.”  The story featured some maps that were chilling then and that are even more compelling today factoring in what we didn’t know about the on-going nuclear mishaps in Japan.

Gizmodo notes that while Japan opted for a 30-kilometer or 18.6-mile radius long-term evacuation zone, U.S. scientists tipped their hand last March when they advised any American citizen inside an 80-kilometer ( 49.7 mile) radius of Fukushima Daiichi to leave. If that same policy were applied in the case of meltdowns at reactors near the three top urban populations centers of the U.S. ~ New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, this would be the scenario, according to Gizmodo:

♣In the worst case of an meltdown at Indian Point Nuclear Station in Buchanan, NY, more than 20 million people in the metro area would have to be evacuated, leaving the city deserted, from Long Island to the Bronx.

♣If a Fukushima-like accident were to hit San Onofre, Southern California, although the city of Los Angeles itself would fall outside the evacuation zone, some 15 million souls would be told to evacuate from  most of Orange Counnty, Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Rancho Palos Verdes to the north;  greater San Diego to the south;  Fontana, Whittier and Pomona to the east; and Catalina Island and Pacific Ocean to the west.

♣A disaster at either Dresden Nuclear Power Station in Dresden, IL or Braidwood NPP, Braidwood, IL outside Chicago would see at least 9.7 million people evacuated from the Windy City and metro area.

Meanwhile, The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced the first of a series of public meetings on the issues that have shuttered the San Onofre nuclear plant for more than four months. The NRC meeting will take place June 18 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center. [Gizmodo ~ How a Fukushima-Level Disaster Would Affect You In New York, LA or Chicago] [Nuclear Energy Institute ~ State-by-State Nuclear Facts]


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Japan Bids Farewell to Film Director Kaneto Shindo

TOKYO ~ More than a thousand people crowded into Minato ward’s  Zojoji Temple to pay their final respects Sunday to movie director and screenwriter Shindo Kaneto (photo left), who died of natural causes on May 29 at the age of 100.

A sought-after art director and apprentice to Kenji Mizoguchi in the 1930s, Shindo made a name for himself in the 1940s as a prolific and popular screenwriter before working as assistant director to such iconic filmmakers as Kon Ichikawa and New Wave titans Seijun Suzuki and Yazuo Matsumoro. In 1950 Shindo formed one of Japan’s first independent production companies and began to direct politically outspoken features with a distinct class-consciousness, focused principally upon the struggle of the lower and working classes – an interest which would culminate in his extraordinary study of a rural 20th century peasantry The Naked Island, considered by many to be Shindo’s masterpiece.

Children of Hiroshima ~ 1953

Shindo’s real cinematic breakthrough, however, may have come in 1953 with his controversial Gempatsu no Ko (Children of Hiroshima), the first and among the most powerful Japanese narrative films to depict the atomic bombing of Shindo’s hometown and its aftermath.  Gempatsu no Ko starred his regular leading lady Otowa Nobuko as a young teacher who returns to several years after the bomb in search of her former students – was a critical success when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. The powerful and controversial film was released in the United States only last year, in a retrospective of Shindo’s work at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Hadaka no Shima (The Naked Island)  ~ 1960

The Naked Island, released in 1960, is a stark, wordless drama, filmed in quasi-documentary style, about an impoverished farming family scraping out a living on a barren outcropping devoid of fresh water. The film, which has no dialogue, follows its characters’ lives of crushing toil on their daily pilgrimage to haul water by hand from the mainland.

Shindo was also known for two critically praised horror films, Onibaba (1964) and Kuroneko (1968). Both are set in Japan’s feudal era, a time of war, famine and lawlessness.

Onibaba ~ 1968

In Onibaba, a woman and her daughter-in-law, desperate to survive, murder roaming samurai and sell their weapons and armor. In Kuroneko (The Black Cat), two peasant women, raped and killed by samurai, return as seductive, vengeful demons. [Japan Zone ~ RIP Shindo Kaneto] [The New York Times ~ Kaneto Shindo, Wide-Ranging Filmmaker, Dies at 100] [Harvard Film Archives ~ Masterworks by Kaneto Shindo]




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Japanese Amputee Athlete Raises Some Eyebrows With Her Controversial Fundraising Calendar

Maya Nakanishi was a 21-year-old dreaming of a tennis career when a five-ton steel girder fell on her at work severing her right leg below the knee. After six months of hospitalization, a resolute Nakanishi began training with a prosthetic limb and showed remarkable progress right away, qualifying for a berth on the Japanese team at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.

Although she barely missed medalling at the ’08 Paralympics, Nakanishi vowed to transform herself into one of the best prosthetic-wearing sprinters in the world, and a year later was accepted into a program that enabled her to train under gold medal triple jumper Al Joyner at a U.S. Olympic Training Center in California.

Nakanishi is currently training in preparation for the 2012 London Paralympic Games to be held August 29 till Sept. 9, the biggest paralympic event ever with 4200 athletes from 160 countries competing in 20 events. But world-class “amateur athletics” is a misnomer, and para-athletes often pay their own expenses to compete unlike they able-bodied counterparts.

Nakanishi, now 26, found herself scrimping to make her athletic dreams come true. Aside from everyday living expenses, Maya had to pay to use training facilities and for her trainer.  Paralympic regulations required that she have at least two prosthetic limbs for the competition. And at about 1.2 million yen ($14,500) a piece, they cost a pretty penny.

During the worst times, Nakanishi found herself living in her car. But Maya lost a limb not her resolve.

Earlier this year, she decided to publish a calendar featuring photographs of her posing semi-nude wearing nothing but her rose-pink prosthesis, raising quite a few eyebrows across prudish Japan. Some people went as far to criticize Maya for “humiliating disabled people” by baring her disability.

“A prosthetic limb is something beautiful, not something you should be embarrassed at being seen with,” said Nakanishi, whose prosthetic legs are made of red fabric and fabric with a rose print.

She also said that publishing a semi-nude calendar is also meant to bring more attention to the financial adversity fellow Paralympic athletes are facing.

“No matter how much disdain and bashing I will receive for the calendar, I want to pave the way for younger athletes to shine,” she said.

A limited 2,000 copies at 1200 yen (US$15) apiece are available. Visit Nakanishi’s website at for details.

[Yahoo! Sports ~ Maya Nakanishi] [Spiegel Online ~ Maya Nakanishi: Ein Kalender als Paralympics-Ticket] [The Asahi Shimbun ~ Athlete poses seminude to fund Paralympic dream]



Schoolboy’s Design to Grace Coins Celebrating Japan Reconstruction

TOKYO ~ A 9-year-old boy has become the youngest Japanese to have ever designed a government memorial coin after his artwork was chosen for one of the coins to be issued to commemorate the Great East Japan Earthquake reconstruction project.

The design by Taichi Kojima, a fourth-grader at Odawara municipal Kuno Primary School in Kanagawa Prefecture, shows a boy holding Japanese flags, with “Ganbaro Nippon” (Hang on, Japan) written in colorful words beside him.

This is the third time the government has chosen designs for memorial coins from the public. The previous coins commemorated the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the 1985 Tsukuba Exposition. [Kyodo ~ Commemorative Coin]

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Dana Tanamachi’s Incredible Chalk Graphic Designs

The hackneyed phrase: “Well, back to the chalkboard,” is usually a roundabout way of admitting failure. But when Brooklyn-based Japanese American graphic artist Dana Tanamachi reaches for her chalk, stand back and be prepared to be stunned. Her layout concepts and font usage flows onto the slate directly from her mind’s eye through her hands ~ an art lost in this age of Adobe®.

Webpage Biography: After graduating in 2007 with a BFA in Communication Design from The University of North Texas, Tanamachi moved to New York City to design Broadway show posters at Spotco—a leader in arts and live entertainment branding. In early 2010, she took a job working under Louise Fili at Louise Fili Ltd, specializing in the design of restaurants and food packaging.

Currently, Dana works full time as a custom chalk letterer and has been commissioned by clients such as West Elm, Rugby Ralph Lauren, Google, The Ace Hotel, Adidas, EveryDay with Rachael Ray, Lululemon Athletica, and Garden & Gun Magazine.

She has been interviewed and featured by The Wall Street Journal, Design*Sponge, and The Great Discontent. In 2011, Dana was named a Young Gun (YG9) by the Art Directors Club and a Young Creative to Watch by HOW Magazine. Most recently, Tanamachi had the honor of creating O Magazine‘s first entirely hand-lettered cover for their February 2012 issue.

Here’s Dana Tanamachi in time lapse:



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Young Japanese Couples Heat Up Nation’s Expressways During Golden Week Holiday

If you happen to pull off the highway in one of the more picturesque areas of Japan during the extended Golden Week (April 29 through May 6) you might be in for a surprise. Aghast truck drivers have found young couples pulling off the road not only to enjoy the beautiful scenery but each other.

“There are too damned many of these outrageous people,” said a 45-year-old tanker driver. “We can’t see anything because they have curtains on their windows, but we can hear the women moaning and saying stuff.” (The Tokyo Reporter – Ribald Motorists)

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New York City Meditations

For some, life begins and ends with pizza. After visiting a Belgian Beer bar, yes I admit I went to a bar, the pizza place next door is said to be the quality of crap. The bartender said that the place to go is Joe’s in Greenwich Village. It might be one of the best. Newbs like me tried the pepperoni first, but the real test is the simple cheese. That’s what 95% of the people walking in get.


That is Goh Nakamura at Grumpy’s Coffee. They use a Clover machine. See the phone on the table? Goh is tethered to it.

Caught in the act. That’s musician Jane Lui looking surprised and Zach Gage who created Spelltower. A hot iPhone game.



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A Japanese Guy Plays Dragon Quest 3 Audio Track


Via Mika Ueno @mikamika59 a corporate communications specialist in Tokyo.



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3.11 Disasters Bring Katsuhiro Otomo Back to Manga Roots

No hype here for the proposed American bastardization of the classic and prescient Japanese manga tale of dystopian ennui and Armageddon that shook the world and changed the perception of comics forever. Nope.

One of the most influential manga artists in the history of the genre, Katsuhiro Otomo, 58, is currently showing the more than 2,000 original drawings that made up his most acclaimed work, AKIRA, at an exhibit in Tokyo. He has not been creating much new manga for the last 20 years, but last year’s 3.11 disasters in his native northeastern Japan spurred him to look back on his past work.

WATCH NHK World’s Tomoko Kamata’s report to find out why Otomo has come home again.


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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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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.



Montreal, Chapter 1: Poutine on the Ritz

I went to Montreal for the first time last weekend for a screening of Surrogate Valentine and a small coffeehouse gig at the Pop Montreal festival.  The five day music/film festival sprawled across 58 venues with about 450 artists, including big names like  Arcade Fire, Stephen Malkmus, and Kid Koala. I flew in from New York, which was merely a 52 minute flight… pretty painless other than waiting through customs lines and lack of sleep after a whiskey party at my host’s abode before the 4am trip to the airport… but that is a tale for another time.

Let’s talk about Poutine.  Say it with me:  Cheese Curds, Gravy, Fries.

I was in Montreal for three days, and somehow I ended up eating it every day.  I tried not to, but it just sorta happened.  How I managed to survive, I don’t know.

Poutine #1:

My hosts in Montreal picked me up from the airport, and after a croissant and a 2 hour nap, took me out to get lunch. We sat down at this Poutine place called Banquis, and I thought we’d share a plate, but it was every man for himself.  Believe it or not, this is the smallest sized order.  I struggled to eat half of it.  You can’t really see the cheese curds, but they are there.  Chillin’…under the gravy…and fries… and onions… and mushrooms, bacon, peppers, and more fries and gravy.  This thing weighed as much as a child.  Homeboy across from me ate his whole plate- it was the same size sans fixin’s.


I’ve had it before, about 6 years ago in Toronto, but according to my hosts it’s not the same there.  Montreal-eans get all protective about their poutine.  To be honest, I forgot what it tasted like- but I felt like these cheese curds were more firm and chewy.  It was pretty good, but the portion and thought of eating that much alone kind of turned me off.  That’s a lot of heart attack right there.  I vowed not to eat any more cheese on this trip.

In the middle of eating this, I got a call from Kid Koala, who Eric Nakamura put me in touch with since he’s based in Montreal.  He was amused, and perhaps slightly worried that I was eating Poutine so early in the day.

“that stuff’s for late night, after drinking…”

He invited us to come by his studio, which was a mindblowing experience, but I’ll save that for another post.

Kid Koala in his natural habitat.




I was lucky to visit Vancouver last month, for the first time… been hearing a lot of great things about it, and was excited to check it all out.

Greeted by some totem poles

I was picked up by my host, Canadian Animator and Filmmaker Jeff Chiba Stearns, whom I met in Eugene earlier in the year.



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