I’ll start off by saying that I’m completely embarrassed by the fact that it took until now for me to finally read my buddy David Marx’s Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style. I’m not quite sure why, I think it’s just one of those things that you keep meaning to do, and it slips through the cracks, and then you get to a point where you’re like, hey, I didn’t read this yet, what’s up with that?
With that out of the way, I just blasted through it over a couple of days (thank god for vacation time) as I couldn’t put it down. Just like my experience reading Matt Alt’s Pure Invention, I was just completely drawn into each chapter, which focus on various aspects of David’s thesis on how Japan absorbed American fashion styles, and ended up guiding it. Not only is it fascinating to see how all of this develops in the postwar era, but also how it links up to a lot of the companies and brands anyone who has spent time in Japan will be very familiar with.
One aspect I also loved is that the influential role magazines played in the development and evolution of these styles means that he spends a lot of space writing about how these magazines came to be and how their editorial direction evolved and grew — properly framing the “catalog” style of reportage any Japanese magazine addict is very familiar with. To be honest, my wish now is for David to do a book that focuses on the world of Japanese magazine publishing.
If you have any interest in contemporary Japanese culture — and of course fashion (but I don’t even think that’s necessary, as I’m not a particularly fashion-oriented guy) — then I can’t recommend this enough. Whatever next he’s working on can’t come out soon enough — and you should of course pick up the first issue of NJP magazine (if it’s still available).
The funniest thing though is that reading this has actually made me want to pay a bit more attention to what I wear (beyond my typical t-shirt and black jeans uniform).
I never got around to posting about what shows I checked out during this latest TV season, but I did do a Twitter thread about it, that I figure I’ll adapt as a post here. It’s getting more and more difficult to do a “start of season” post these days though, as a lot of these series that I’m watching are coming via Netflix, which just releases them whenever they feel like it.
Japan Sinks 2020 is one of those new Netflix series, and having watched it all I can say that I enjoyed it quite a bit. The opening credits sequence is a delight, and I really loved the pacing and overall mood of the show. Basically, a huge earthquake hits Japan, and it explores the aftermath. This was directed by Masaaki Yuasa, and it then got me to go and get caught up on all of the movies and series that’s he’s been producing in recent years, that I’ve been chronicling in this Twitter thread.
Based on the first episode, Deca-Dence takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting where humans are holding up in a moving fortress, to defend against the appearance of giant (and not so giant) monsters. My feeling was that I could go either way on this one, with the first episode being decent, and I was planning on giving it 1-2 more episodes. Well, I bounced off quickly, as I didn’t like the swerve it took in episode 2 (it’s a virtual game that weird cartoony bots/creatures are playing).
Dorohedoro aired in Japan late last year, but popped up on Netflix recently. I’ve watched the first few episodes and like it. It’s set in a weird post-apocalyptic world with forms of magic that deforms some people. I like the animation style — and it’s gory as fuck.
Great Pretender gets bonus points for its Lupin-like opening theme song. It’s about a Japanese grifter who in the first arc (of five episodes) finds himself in LA. It’s a very Lupin-like mix of humour and action, which is right up my alley (considering how big a fan I am of Lupin in general). I’m more than halfway through this first season, and I know that there are more episodes coming later this year. Again, it’s one of those Netflix series.
The only other series I wanted to watch this season was the return of The Millionaire Detective Balance: Unlimited, which was put on hiatus last season after only two episodes due to COVID. I like this show (it’s still airing new episodes), and episode 4 was especially fun.
I read it back in July, but I really need to highlight here just how much I enjoyed reading my old friend Matt Alt‘s fantastic deep-dive into Japanese pop culture of the decades following the end of the WW2. Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World is a ridiculously good read, and I found myself reading it in a couple of days because I couldn’t put it down. Each chapter focuses on a different topic (karaoke, anime, the Walkman, Hello Kitty, etc.), and it’s so satisfying to really dig into every single one of them in so much detail. I was expecting to enjoy more the chapters that touch on the 80s and later, but the context that you get from learning about what happened during those early post-war years — like the production of tin toys — was just so fascinating.
This is what you call a real page-turner, and sure, I’m of course partial to all things Japan and pop culture, but I can’t imagine someone not enjoying this.
I’m filing this in the “On Anime” section because it seems to fit there, but what I want to recommend here is what has turned into my current favorite podcast, and that’s Patrick Macias‘ TokyoScope. It was launched last year through Patreon, and it took me until recently to finally create a Patreon account to subscribe, but I’m so glad I did. I’m still making my way through all the archives, but this is basically people I like (Patrick, of course, but Matt Alt is a regular throughout) talking about stuff that I like (Japanese pop culture, old and new, with a focus on classic anime). Listening to chats about old Godzilla films or just what was hot in 1979 is pretty much my jam, and it’s incredibly fun — feels like you’re sitting in the corner of a dingy izakaya with Patrick and friends, chilled mug of Yebisu in hand. Oh, and each post on Patreon that accompanies a new episode is always filled with great imagery.
And although I had already started my Leijiverse journey (that’s still going strong) before I started listening to the podcast, it was all the episodes with mentions of Yamato (Star Blazers) that got me to finally watch some — I decided to start with the fairly recent Space Battleship Yamato 2199, which is a retelling of the original series.
Last week I watched a new indie sci-fi movie called Archive, that I really enjoyed, but I was especially taken by a song that was used during a scene (in which one of the main characters puts on the music and starts dancing). The track is called “It’s Time to Wake Up,” it’s mostly sung in French, and it’s from a band called La Femme (from a record called Psycho Tropical Berlin that was released in 2013).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.