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Film On Something

On Film: The 30-day Film Challenge

Back in May I saw a friend of mine share on Twitter that he was starting something called the “30-day Film Challenge,” and so I decided to give it a go as well. You are basically to answer a question a day by highlighting a film, following the instructions below.

Below, a round-up of my 30 answers.

The first film I remember watching? I don’t really have a memory of it, but I’ve been told by my parents that Dumbo was the first movie I watched. I have vague memories of seeing the original Star Wars though.

Favorite movie that starts with the first letter of my name? That’s pretty easy, Jodorowsky’s Dune is one of my all-time favorite movies. A fascinating look at what could have been — and it’s maybe even for the best that it was never completed, because it later gave us The Incal.

A film with a title that’s over 5 words? Well, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is a pretty good one at 9. This is also making me want to revisit this movie, haven’t watched it in decades.

A movie with a number in the title? I guess I’m cheating a bit by highlighting a trilogy, but I was absolutely obsessed with Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy, and can’t remember if I liked one more than another. I’d also add his terrific 10-part Decalogue series.

A film with a character that has a job I want? The September Issue is a fantastic documentary, and despite loving working in the games industry, I still sometimes dream of producing a magazine, from top to bottom.

My favorite animated film? That one’s too easy, Akira. I didn’t even have to think about it. It’s also one of my favorite films of all time, period — I even included in the list of “5 perfect films” I recently shared.

A film I never tire of? Outside of the Bond films, The Breakfast Club is the one film that I revisit regularly (probably every couple of years), and still enjoy it just as much as I first did every single time. Certainly a timeless film for me.

A film where I liked the soundtrack more? I can’t think of one, since for me soundtrack goes hand in hand with the movie. If I was to highlight one though, it would probably have to be Reservoir Dogs.

A film I hate that everyone likes? Hate is a strong word, but I’m pretty indifferent to the Harry Potter movies — I’ve seen them all, and don’t particularly care for any of them.

My favorite superhero movie? I could point to stuff like Logan, the first Deadpool movie, the first Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor Ragnarok, or Nolan’s The Dark Knight, but I don’t think anything has been as visually stunning and satisfying as Into the Spider-verse.

A movie I like from a genre I don’t like? I guess I don’t much care for rom coms in general, but I sure love Pretty in Pink.

A film I hate from my favorite genre? I don’t like highlighting things I hate, and fave genre is hard to define, but if I were to pick action/adventure as the genre, my most disappointing film would probably be Crystal Skull, since the Indy series is something I love so much.

A film that put me in deep thoughts? I still have fond memories of seeing Lost Highway in the theater with my roommates, and then going to a diner after to discuss what the hell we had just watched.

A film that depressed me? I don’t know if Grave of the Fireflies is a good answer, but even though I think it’s a very well made film, I’ve never rewatched this because of how sad it made me feel.

A film that makes me happy? I think there are many, but it’s hard to go wrong with Totoro, which is also still my favorite Ghibli film.

A film that’s personal to me? Not really sure how to approach this. I guess maybe Breakfast Club is a movie that really speaks to me, but I don’t want to repeat movies in this thing, so for some reason, Hal Hartley’s Flirt is popping into my head.

My favorite film sequel? I mean, can there be any other answer than Evil Dead 2? Groovy.

A film that stars my favorite actor? Not quite sure why, but when I think about who could be my favorite actor, Jake Gyllenhaal comes to mind. I really enjoy so many of his performances, and his role picks. Sure, Donnie Darko is a classic, but I’ll highlight Enemy.

A film by my favorite director? Currently my favorite director is probably Denis Villeneuve, but one name that comes to mind from my decades of movie watching is Zhang Yimou, and I’ll highlight Raise the Red Lantern.

A film that changed my life? After 2 years at university (studying math) I freaked out, not happy. Watching The Last Emperor got me to take a class in Chinese history the next semester, which led to a History Major, which led to Asian Studies, which sent me to China, and eventually Japan.

A film I dozed off while watching? It’s never happened, and until recently I’ve always been pretty adamant about finishing movies I start. But my stance on this has changed recently, and Detective Pikachu was a movie that I stopped watching after about 15 minutes because I was bored.

A film that made me angry? A Life Less Ordinary is what comes to mind. I was so excited to see it, being such a fan of Danny Boyle, and the whole time watching it I just couldn’t stand it. It’s the only time I remember really wanting to walk out of the theatre halfway through.

A film by a director who has passed away? I was going to highlight Satoshi Kon and Perfect Blue, but there’s no denying that Alfred Hitchcock is one of my favorite filmmakers, and there are so many films of his I love. I highlight Vertigo, but could have been many more.

A film I wish I saw in theaters? Having a hard time with this one as I don’t go to the theater much anymore (mostly prefer watching movies at home), but do go see special things like Bond and Star Wars movies. I would have said Akira, but used that already, so how about Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell.

A film I like not set in this current era? There are many movies I’ve already highlighted that would fit the bill, but let’s bring in the visual feast that is Ran.

A film I like that is adapted from somewhere? There are so many great films based on books, so I’ll just pick Fight Club, because why not.

A film that’s visually striking? I find In the Mood for Love to be one of the most beautiful and stylish things ever.

A film that made me feel uncomfortable? I’m sure there are many, but Irréversible is what immediately came to mind.

A film that makes me want to fall in love? Pretty easy answer for me. I do quite like the entire trilogy, but the first one, Before Sunrise, is absolutely the best.

A film with my favorite ending? Feels like it’s easier to remember the bad ones than the good ones. But if I was to highlight the most memorable one, it has to be Planet of the Apes (the original one).

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Magazines On Something

On Magazines: Monocle

The first issue of Monocle (March 2007).

I’m quite vocal about my love for Monocle. I was truly excited when it first launched in 2007 (being an old-school fan of Tyler Brûlé’s previous title, Wallpaper), and have read every single issue since (well, I missed one issue a couple of years ago). It’s also the only magazine that I continue to read in paper form. I got a subscription to the paper edition of Wired last year, but let it expire as I felt I got absolutely nothing out of that edition over the digital one (that I get anyway through my subscription to Apple News+). Admittedly, for Monocle, reading it as a physical edition is also due to the fact that they’ve stayed away from a digital edition so far (other than putting article archives on their website, accessible if you’re a subscriber), but it’s a beautiful thing that I really enjoy digging into every month, and even though they’ve announced that they’re about to release a proper digital edition (in about two weeks), I plan on sticking with the paper edition (although that just means I’ll have access to the digital edition as well).

Why do I enjoy it so much? It’s a beautiful, thick book-ish piece of physical media that feels good to read. The paper stock feels right (especially compared to the paper thin joke that is the current Wired), and it makes the great layout design shine.

The beautiful Monocle Book of Japan, a love letter to the country.

I’m of course also a fan of what they’ve been doing in the book space, and on top of the few travel books I’ve already grabbed, for my birthday last month I treated myself to their new Monocle Book of Japan (that I loved to bits), as well as The Monocle Guide to Shops, Kiosks and Markets. I would like to eventually pick up all of their big books.

Even though I’ve been reading it for over a decade, it was only last month that I finally got a proper subscription. Price-wise, it came to about the same as getting it at the newsstands each month, but even better is that I finally started getting my issues when they get printed, instead of the month+ wait for the issues to reach our shores on newsstands. If you’re a fan of the magazine, a subscription is really the way to go, and it’s something that they’ve been pushing of late, to deal with the fact that the magazine wasn’t as available as could be due to the global pandemic — I imagine I would have missed out on recent issues if I didn’t have a subscription.

I could go on and on about what how much I love what they do — like the daily email newsletters they send out, the seasonal newspaper series they publish, or even their smart collection of goods (which are admittedly too pricey for my blood) — but I’ll end this rave of a post by simply stating that I’m grateful that it exists.

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On Something Technology

On Tech: Mac OS 11

For the first time in years (at least that’s what it feels like), I watched the entirety of an Apple press event, while it streamed live. I used to live and breathe for these — and that’s when they were being streamed at ridiculous late-night (or early-morning) hours in Tokyo — but have felt myself slowly caring less and less for them over the years, with the majority of what is presented feeling more like “updates” than new exciting products. But I’m currently on vacation, and so yesterday I decided to see what they were going to show at their WWDC event, and I gotta say, I enjoyed it.

First off, I think pre-recording these is the way to go now. Sure, we all know why they did it that way, but it came off better than the usual live stage show we’re now accustomed to, and gives voice to more people in the company. But what got me most excited was the peek at the aesthetic changes to the Mac OS UI (under the next upgrade, Big Sur), and it’s only today that I understand why: this is in fact a departure from Mac OS X, which has been the end-all be-all of Mac OSes for 20 years.

My first Mac, the white MacBook, which I imagine I would have gotten in 2000 (I remember it came with the beta for Mac OS X, which came out in September of that year).

Interestingly, this also made me realize that I’ve been a Mac user for 20 years now. The very first Mac I bought (a MacBook) came with the beta for Mac OS X, and so I was straddling the convergence between OS 9 and this new gooey future OS. I was always a big fan of Mac computers — I still remember drooling over the multi-page pamphlet for the original Mac back in 1984 — but alas my parents never wanted us to have one, preferring to stick with the tried and true PCs of the time (our first computer was a Commodore VIC-20, but all the PCs that followed during the 80s were Commodore PCs, from the PC-10 to the PC-40).

But yeah, a more significant OS update feels fun and fresh, a lot of the features they shared for their other OSes looked great (especially the changes to how you organize your “screens” in iOS), and I imagine my next Mac will be one that runs on Apple’s new ARM architecture.

It’s the first time in years that I’m excited about using Apple products.

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Anime On Something

On Anime: Captain Harlock

Captain Harlock (or Albator, as he was known in French) with friends.

Over the weekend I started a re-watch of the original Captain Harlock series from 1978. I’m only 7 episodes in, but not only am I enjoying it, I’m also a bit surprised by just how dark and depressing it is, and yet this is what I always point to as my favorite animated series from when I was a kid (which I watched in French, under the name “Albator”). What is it that attracted me so much? Was it just that the characters and ships looked cool? How was I affected by all of the darkness and sadness that seems to feature prominently in every episode? I don’t have any answers, but it does mean that this is a series that, although there’s still plenty of cartoony silliness, I’m appreciating at this point in my life because of its mature themes.

Ozma, a 6-episode series produced in 2012, that sees a post-apocalyptic Earth covered in sand.

Because of my obsessive nature, this has also caused me to do a deep dive into the works of Leiji Matsumoto, and yesterday I uncovered a 6-episode series called Ozma, that was produced in 2012 (for the WOWOW satellite channel, as part of its 20th anniversary), based on a pilot he wrote back in 1980, but that was never produced. I quite enjoyed it.

I am planning on watching a lot more of the Captain Harlock subsequent series and movies that were produced over the years, as well as other works based on Matsumoto’s manga. Another series I’ve already started watching on the side (I’m two episodes in) is called Gun Frontier. It’s a very weird 13-episode series that sees Captain Harlock as a gunslinger and Tochiro as a samurai, in a Wild West setting. Also, it’s more of an adventure-comedy kind of thing — compared to the dour space operas we usually see from Matsumoto. I’m also quite enjoying this.

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Magazines On Something

On Magazines: Haruki Murakami

I’ve admittedly — and strangely — never read a novel by Haruki Murakami. You’d think I would have by now, and I’ve certainly had the intention of doing so many a time over the years, but it’s something I’ve yet to do. I have finally read my first piece of fiction by him though.

Last week’s issue of The New Yorker — which I read through Apple News+ — featured a short story by him, and so I figured this would finally be my entry into his style of writing. And I liked it.

The story, “Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey,” tells the surreal tale of a man who meets up with a talking monkey in an onsen town, and over one evening shares a drink, listening to his strange musings on life as a talking monkey. It’s quite enjoyable, and reads quite smoothly and fast.

“Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey” by Haruki Murakami, from the June 8-15, 2020 issue of The New Yorker.

I do have quite a few books lined up currently — yes, I’m still on my quest to increase the number of books I read — but I do want to read one of his novels before the year is out.

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On Something

On Comics: Jérôme K. Jérôme Bloche

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most in recent years since moving to Montreal is becoming a frequent user of the public library system, just like I did when I was a kid. More specifically, this got me back into reading French comics (bandes-dessinées), which I had a bit drifted away from over the years because of my lack of access (while living in Japan). So the past couple of years have seen me not only discovering plenty of new series, but also catching up on some, or going back and re-reading a few (or a mix of all of these).

When the quarantine period hit Montreal, I definitely started missing my close-to-weekly library visits, to get a haul of books, but then a few weeks ago I remembered that they also offer digital lending, and have been back at reading my dear bandes-dessinées. Sure, the digital collection on offer is restrained, but I’m still finding plenty to read, and in this post I’ll just highlight one series I’m glad I can continue reading.

Jérôme K. Jérôme Bloche is a series by Alain Dodier that started in 1985, and is currently at 27 books, the last one released over the past year. It tells the story of a private detective who takes on, for the most part, pretty mundane cases. But the stories are really well told, fun to read, and I like the setting (Paris) and the character (doesn’t take things too serious, often to the detriment of making a decent living). It’s slice-of-life stuff mixed with various levels of mystery, and I really enjoy it. Although I remembered the name, I can’t remember if I really read any of the books when I was younger, but after reading the most recent books, I decided to go back and read it from the start, and just finished the 15th one. Highly recommended if you read French — although it’s quite possible that it’s been translated to English.

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On Something

On TV: Saturday Watch Log

What I describe below is a mix of movies, documentaries, and TV shows that I watched throughout the day yesterday (a Saturday), and I’m just now realizing that in order to watch all of this, I had to use four different streaming services (Apple TV+, Netflix, NHK World, and Prime Video), which again, suggests that all of these services existing is just not sustainable in the long run. At least two of them are free (NHK World, and Apple TV+ since I got a year trial when I got my iPhone XR earlier this year).

It really is hard to describe just how much enjoyment I got out of watching Beastie Boys Story. It’s such a great way to tell a story (through a recorded theatre performance), and I was constantly reminded (emotionally so) just how much love I’ve had for this band my entire life. Check Your Head is still one of my favorite albums of all time, and probably the album I’ve listened to the most (yes, even more than the Pixies). When I moved to Tokyo in May of 1998, Hello Nasty was released that summer, and it was my soundtrack to this new life in the greatest city on Earth.

Extraction on Netflix is surprisingly good. It’s packed with energetic and really well put together action sequences. I’m not usually a big fan of shaky cams, but there were some great no-cut shots done here done in that style that were exciting to watch. It’s certainly one of the better action movies I’ve seen in recent years. Bonus points for the inclusion of Golshifteh Farahani, who I want to see in way more movies.

I finally watched that Sturgill Simpson Presents Sound & Fury thing on Netflix. It has some cool anime sequences (the reason I wanted to watch it), but it’s basically a 40-minute music video, and I couldn’t stand the music (I really don’t like country music), which made it a chore to watch.

I restarted watching the second season of The Expanse for the umpteenth time, and I think I’ve finally gotten hooked — I ended up watching the first four episodes back-to-back. I’ve had a weird relationship with this show — I always felt like I should love it, but never managed to.

There’s a very candid documentary series on NHK World called 10 Years with Hayao Miyazaki (I think in four parts). I watched the first episode, which covers the period when he started working on Ponyo. I quite enjoyed it — there’s something about the NHK style of doing documentaries that feels so serene — and I look forward to watching the rest.

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On Something

On Anime: Spring 2020 Season

“On Something” is a series of posts in which I tackle various topics, this time anime. You’ll find full archives here.

Over the last couple of years I started checking in on new anime TV seasons again — in Japan, TV goes through four seasons — and writing up posts about the shows I was interested in watching. I skipped the last couple of seasons, but recently found myself in the mood to watch some new anime, and luckily it coincided with the start of the spring 2020 season. Below is what I checked out and what I thought of the first episodes (based on this Twitter thread I shared). Since then, I’m still watching everything except Listeners.

Sing “Yesterday” to Me

Sing “Yesterday” to Me is what you’d describe as slice-of-life, and I quite liked this first episode (as well as the two that followed). It revolves around characters who have just graduated from university, and how they reconnect a few months later. Good drama, and I’ll keep watching.

Kakushigoto

Kakushigoto is about a dad who creates dirty manga, and wants to keep it a secret from his daughter. It’s a comedy, and pretty screwball at that. I had fun watching it (real laughs), and will give it some more episodes.

Tower of God

Tower of God is fantasy wrapped in a mystery, about a boy stuck in a tower, and to get out (or to reach the top) he needs to pass tests — the second test starts looking like Hunger Games (with plenty of other characters taking part). I was intrigued enough to want to want to continue, and now that I’m three episodes in I’m not sure if I’ll continue.

Listeners

Listeners is a bit of a weird one. It’s a mech anime, but with a strong music theme, in that the mechs are transformed from what look like music amps, they fight an “audience” of the “Earless,” etc. I liked the first episode fine, but after three episodes I felt like I had enough.

Sol Levante

Sol Levante is a new 4-minute short commissioned by Netflix from Production I.G, to showcase 4K HDR animation. It’s absolutely stunning, and I hope they do more with this.

The Millionaire Detective Balance: Unlimited

The Millionaire Detective Balance: Unlimited is about a billionaire who decides to join a police force, using his substantial financial resources as he investigates/tries to stop baddies. The first two episodes were pretty good, and I want to watch more.

Wave, Listen to Me

Wave, Listen to Me takes place in Hokkaido, and is the wacky story of a woman who ends up doing a radio show. The first episode jumps weirdly — in terms of narrative — but the main character is incredibly voiced. I had a lot of fun watching it, and three episodes in I’m still really enjoying it.

Woodpecker Detective’s Office

Woodpecker Detective’s Office is a detective series set in the Meiji era. From the first episode, I’m especially digging the setting — the mystery aspect is slow to start. I really was in the mood for a mystery/detective series, so hoping this will be good (only one episode has aired so far).

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On Something

On Board Games: Tabletopia

“On Something” is a series of posts in which I tackle various topics, this time board games. You’ll find full archives here.

You’d think that one of the gaming hobbies most affected by the current outbreak would be board games — and it’s certainly an activity that I enjoy in good part because I like the social aspect of sitting around a table and playing something together with friends. And yes, as I look at my shelves filled with games (although most of my collection is located at work, since that’s where I play them the most, I had started bringing some back from the studio in the weeks prior to our new work-from-home reality), it does make me a bit sad that I’m not playing at lunch time as I normally would.

Enter virtual online-based board games.

Sure, they’re not new, but I had never really had any interest in exploring these services/apps — because of what I just mentioned above — but the current situation has me thankful they exist. The three best options that I know of (if you don’t count board games that have specific video game adaptations) are Board Game Arena, Tabletop Simulator, and Tabletopia — this last one the service I’ve been using for the sessions I’ve played. The browser-based Board Game Arena doesn’t look as good as the other services, but it has the advantage of having “programmed rules” set in place to run games — the other two are simply virtual worlds filled with the components, and so you need to know how to play, and move everything yourself. I did want to try Board Game Arena, but the few times I tried their site was either having difficulties dealing with the load of users, or the games I wanted to play were locked behind a “premium” paywall.

(You can understand the chicken-or-the-egg situation here of not wanting to subscribe to a service that I can’t try and doesn’t seem to be accessible at all times.)

Tabletop Simulator is an app that you buy through Steam, and gives you access to all the pieces in a game, that you then need to manipulate yourself. I haven’t actually played it, but what is interesting here is that on top of the licensed games that you need buy separately to play, you also have access to a vast library of free user-created games — and that doesn’t mean user-designed, but just that users have taken existing games and scanned/uploaded them for use with the app.

Playing a session of 6-player Gorus Maximus on Tabletopia.

The service I’ve been using is Tabletopia (playing through my browser, but there are also PC and iOS apps that you can use), which plays similarly to Tabletop Simulator (from the videos I’ve seen), except that it is run as a subscription service, with every game on the service properly licensed. There are tons of games to play for free though, and some games that are premium do let you play for free with a certain number of players. So far I’ve played a few sessions of 6-player Dice Throne and 6-player Gorus Maximus (a lunch-time favorite), and despite the fussiness that comes with trying to come to terms with the cameras and the interactions with the objects, I’ve had a great time playing. We’ve been using Discord for the voice chat, although at first we did it over Microsoft Teams.

Does all this beat playing traditional board games around a table? Fuck no, but I’m glad that it exists an option. And one very interesting aspect of these services is that it does give you a chance to try out a game, to see if you’d really like it. I’ve become a big fan of Dice Throne, and plan on buying a physical copy eventually, but I’ve also noticed that a lot of Kickstarted-games are available through Tabletopia, as a way to try the game before backing it.

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Meta On Something

On Something

I’ve been itching of late to start a new writing project on this ol’ site of mine. In recent years there was when I started blogging about Japan again, for a few months — I stopped because it was starting to bum me out to be writing about all these things that I couldn’t experience myself anymore. I think the last one was the shortlived “Game Boy” column I wrote in 2018.

I’ve always enjoyed launching projects throughout the years. I’d often kick off the year with a post on January 1 listing a few new things I was going to try. In the early years many were tied to the “Tokyo Boy” monicker I used a lot, and so you’d get stuff like TB.Grafico for a photolog, TB. Musica for music, TB.Movel when I was moblogging (wow, remember moblogging?) — I guess I had some sort of Portuguese fetish. There are also plenty of things I’d do at Cafe Pause in Tokyo — gallery shows, week-long events, and of course PauseTalk. I think the one I was saddest about ending was my online magazine, SNOW Magazine, although the favicon I use for this site is the logo that my friend Luis Mendo designed for that project.

So what next? I’ve been wanting to do more writing here, but need to find the right theme or structure to do it, an I think I’ve hit on it. Inspired by the monthly design column I wrote for The Japan Times for over a decade that was called “On Design,” which eventually inspired them to launch other columns using that nomenclature, I thought I’d write short posts about various topics I’m interested in, and so you’ll get On Games, On Comics, On Japan, On Wrestling, hell, “on” pretty much anything I feel like writing about. I’m note sure yet on the frequency (I want there to be a regular pulse though) and I’ll experiment a bit at first with the format, but you’ll be able to find them all under this category.

Oh, and what’s the name of the “project”? (I’m still calling it a “project” because I’m not sure what else to call it, as “column” doesn’t feel right.) I started writing this post still not having an idea what I wanted to call it (the umbrella title), and just typed “On Something” as the title in the meantime, and you know what, I like it.

So there you go, here’s the start of something new.