The benshi of Japan were live narrators of silent films. "To many 'silent' cinema fans in Japan, benshi were a major attraction. It was usually the film that drew people to the theater, but it was often the benshi which determined which theater a person would attend. Benshi were huge cultural stars of the time, with benshi earning as much, if not more, than many actors." [more inside]
"Welcome to the Zion Archive. You have selected Historical File #12-1: The Second Renaissance." So begins the short film of the same name by Mahiro Maeda [Flash: 1 2 - QuickTime: 1 2] -- a devastating yet beautiful work of animation. Originally produced to explain the backstory behind the Matrix trilogy, Maeda's project ended up telling a story far darker and more affecting than any blockbuster. Using a blend of faux documentary footage and visual metaphor, his serene Instructor relates in biblical tones the saga of Man and Machine, how age-old cruelty and hatred birthed a horrifying, apocalyptic struggle that consumed the world. Packed with striking imagery and historical allusions galore, this dark allegory easily transcends the films it was made for. But while "The Second Renaissance" is arguably the best work to come from the Matrix franchise, it's hardly alone -- it's just one of the projects made for The Animatrix, a collection of nine superb anime films in a wide variety of styles designed to explore the universe and broaden its scope beyond the usual sci-fi action of the movies. Click inside for a guide to these films with links to where they can be watched online, along with a look at The Matrix Comics, a free series of comics, art, and short fiction created for the same purpose by some of the best talent in the business. [more inside]
Sou Ootsuki has recently posted a new version of his wildly popular video* for Nujabes'* "Luv(sic) Pt.2". This time, rather than the streets of Japan, he filmed it in the villages of Cambodia. The result is similar, yet very, very different.
"... it seems to me that something of the Edo era shimmers just below the surface of modern Japan," Henry Tricks on Japan's return to an increasingly insular society. "Fewer young Japanese are travelling abroad, fewer are studying English (this year, the main English-language school went bust), and fewer are taking places at leading academic institutions overseas such as Harvard Business School. Bosses at Japan’s legendary export businesses complain they cannot find youngsters who are prepared to work abroad."
Yowayowa Camera Women Diary. An enjoyable photoblog: lots of jumping and rubber rain boots.
Filed under strangely fascinating: Popin' Cookin', powdered miniature sushi that one makes oneself and eats as a candy. Wait for the salmon roe at the end. There is a type of sweet in Japan that’s sold under the category of "intellectual education candy". These are sweets you must make yourself using the ingredients contained in the box. This way, children can enjoy the process of making candy, which allows them to develop their creativity. The non-edible version, Konapun. [more inside]
The last Japanese man remaining in Kazakhstan: A Kafkian tale of the plight of a Japanese POW in the Soviet Union. This is the story of Tetsuro Ahiko, a Japanese national who was living on Sakhalin Island during WWII, and was sent to gulags after the war instead of being repatriated to Japan. Ahiko has turned down multiple offers to be resettled in Japan and has spent 60+ years in Kazakhstan (what was then the Soviet Union.)
Neon Genesis Evangelion was an anime series created by Hideaki Anno, a rather mysterious and reclusive director who has declined most interviews and has been likened to Alan Moore in his attempt to up-end a major genre. Where Moore doesn't want to work on anything Watchmen-related, Anno has returned to NGE in a very major way with Rebuild of Evangelion, a tetralogy of films to re-tell the original story and present a new ending (again). [more inside]
In March of 2009, the Japan Sumo Association won a lawsuit against Kodansha, a large Japanese publishing house. Kodansha had alleged that match fixing was rampant in Sumo, even at the highest levels. However, in the last week, police have discovered text messages between wrestlers showing proof of fixing, including negotiation over compensation. [more inside]
Electronics companies all over the world are increasingly reliant on certain rare metals, most of which are mined in China, which controls 97 per cent of the global supply. The Chinese government has promised to slash export quotas to ensure future sustainability of the world's supply of rare metals. China will drop its quota by 35 per cent in the first half of this year as compared with the same time last year. But despite its escalating consumption of rare metals and the need for future sustainability, the West's electronics industry is mistrustful of China's motives and claims that the move has more to do with the mainland's desire to dominate electronics manufacturing than ensuring the future sustainability of the world's supply of rare metals. ~ Greening conscience or resource checkmate? The rare earth trilogy covers eWaste harvesting, restarting interest in mines and dithering around trade regulations, all in one neat package. [more inside]
A kotatsu is a piece of furniture used in Japan, consisting of a short table, a heating element attached to the underside of the table, a blanket or light futon to cover the table to the floor, and a flat surface on top. As Japanese houses are usually poorly insulated and not centrally heated, kotatsus are considered a cost-saving alternative to space heaters. • Example: five people sharing one. • It's called a korsi in Persia. • How to make a kotatsu. • Cats seem to love them, as do dogs. • Kotatsu vs. Stepladder.
Daily snapshots of people on the street in Japan. I think it's Harajuku, but I don't speak or read Japanese. Those pictured as slightly less staid than those on The Sartorialist. [more inside]
Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) was an avante-garde Japanese composer who took influences from jazz, pop music, and traditional Japanese music. In his lifetime he composed over 100 film scores, and 130 concert pieces. Just last week, there was a tribute to his work at Carnegie Hall as part of their JapanNYC Festival. A documentary about his work is available on Veoh (requires Veoh plugin) and on Youtube (1 2 3 4 5 6). [more inside]
Japan's Okunoshima Island once produced chemical weapons. After 1945, the facilities where shut down but the buildings remained and the island became famous for something else: Being home to hundreds and hundreds of rabbits. ((via)
Amidakuji, or "Ghost Leg," is a lottery party game from Japan. At the top of a sheet there are a number of spaces for people to write their names. At the bottom there are prizes. There are an equal number of each. Between them is a map obscured behind a sheet. The map is made of straight vertical lines connecting the names and prizes. Connecting those lines at random intervals are horizontal lines. When it's time to pick winners, the sheet is removed and players can follow the lines to find their prize. You follow the line from your name down until you encounter any horizontal line, which you must follow, then continue down, continuing to follow all horizontal lines you encounter, until you reach your prize. No two horizontal lines can touch. Provided that, the process is perfectly deterministic and reversable. The same ends are reached whether you follow from the top down or the bottom up. If you have difficulty visualizing this, check the Wikipedia page. [more inside]
Japanese woodblock print images | wonderful vintage commercial graphics | the Folk Museum Kawachinagano | old books | ceramics and laquerware from The Digital Archive Project of Osaka which has an interesting online museum to explore with some excellent art and illustrations. [more inside]
Visually sumptuous, Gurafiku is a collection of visual research pertaining to Japanese graphic design. Assembled by the designer abroad; Ryan Hageman. Some of the categories: Ukiyo-e | Illustration | Typography |Manga | 1960's | 1970's | 1980's |1990's. [more inside]
The House of Sharing is a place for the Halmoni to to live together and heal the wounds of the past while educating the future generations of the suffering they survived.The View From Over Here details her visit to the House of Sharing, a therapeutic group home and museum for surviving "comfort women", who were systematically raped by the Japanese military during World War II. The museum displays art for and by the survivors. Via Ask a Korean. [more inside]
Please dismantling burger(?) . you have only screwdriver. The tool you can use is the screwdriver. (Flash) [more inside]
Localfilter: Today in Tokyo, legislation passed that will further restrict manga and animation "glorifying or exaggerating illegal sexual acts." Ten of the biggest comics companies are protesting the Tokyo International Anime Fair, sponsored by the city, responding that a focus on their mode of expression is unfair. Blogger Dan Kanemitsu reports.
Japan Air Raids "is an ongoing project to build a digital archive dedicated to the international dissemination of information about the World War II air raids against Japan." They have seeded it with quite a bit of material (e.g. Target Tokyo, narrated by Ronald Reagan in the documentary and propaganda section) and promise there is much more to come. [Warning, some images may disturb] [via]
This is the Japanese spy who was stationed in Hawaii early in 1941. Here's how scouted the islands in preparation for the attack. These are his memories (Flash interface).
The attack on Pearl Harbor was neither the U.S.' first armed conflict leading to WW II, nor the last Axis attack on American soil. [more inside]
Haruki Murakami talks about fiction in the 21st century. Part of the International Herald Tribune Magazine's year-end issue, 2011: Global Agenda. [more inside]
I asked Igari to help me deal with the fallout from the book. After much discussion, he and his two colleagues came up with a plan. His parting words were: “It’ll be a long battle. It’ll take money and courage, and you’ll have to come up with those on your own. But we’ll fight.” On August 28th, his body was found in his vacation home in Manila, wrists slashed. Time of death unknown. It’s been ruled a suicide. Personally, I believe he was killed. I probably will never be able to prove it. [more inside]
The Royal House I knew I had seen one of the pictures before somewhere before, and understood instantly what the surrounding pictures all had in common. A familiar symbol caught my eye, glinting gold. It was the mark of the Imperial House of Japan.
The Automata Blog is packed full of interesting images, videos and information about all kinds of amazing automata, cool machines, mechanical music, orchestrions and kinetic sculptures. This month's focus is the history of vintage Japanese tin toy robots and the toy robot paintings by Steven Skollar.
Nyanto mo Neko Darake (Cats of Many Varieties) is an exhibition in Kyoto featuring charming Edo-period (19th century) woodblock images of cats: playful cats forming themselves into the Japanese word for "blowfish," giant monster heads and skulls made of intertwining cats, ghost cats seeking vengeance. [more inside]
Yet for some reason the machines always produce a beverage almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea
Japan is home to a lot of vending machines, some estimations placing one machine for every 23 people, and they're getting "smarter." In 2008, some cigarette vending machines had a digital camera with equipment to judge the age of the cigarette buyer, though relatively small magazine pictures could fool most of these new machines. In the last few months, JR East Water Business Co, a subsidiary of train operator East Japan Railway, has started to roll out high-tech vending machines that recommend a drink based on the users age and gender, using facial recognition technology and drink-preference data. [more inside]
Various Japanese plants (and fungi) spring to life in Omni/ScienceNet's "Action Plant" series of time-lapse videos shot in Kōchi prefecture.
A middle aged man sits on a chair, nervously reveals udder-like things on his chest, and descends his scrotum through a hole in the chair. Then it gets stranger. [SLYT] [IMDB]
Nobuhiko Obayashi's House (also called Hausu) has been a cult film legend pretty much since its 1977 release in Japan. As director, Obayashi alchemizes the usual horror trappings (seven pretty young girls, each defined by one personality trait, visit a mysterious aunt who lives in a creepy house in the middle of nowhere) into a glorious, barely coherent, eminently watchable fever dream. The film has been discussed by those in the know for some time, but unless one knew who to ask, or lucked into the right festival, actually seeing the movie outside of the trailer or scenes on Youtube has been a bit of a difficult task. This particular injustice has officially been remedied, in a move for which very few people were calling out, but more might have if they'd known about it: House has been released on region 1 DVD and Blu-Ray by no less an entity than the Criterion Collection, finally taking its rightful place in cinematic history alongside such films as Rashomon, The Seventh Seal, and Olivier's Hamlet. Just in time for that Halloween party! Provided you not only want your guests to be entertained but also thoroughly bewildered and maybe slightly shellshocked.
"You think you die alone, but that's not true. Nobody is alone in this world. We have to co-exist and take care of each other." (Caution : Video contains images which some may find disturbing.) [more inside]
Cubic Mouth is a series of plush dolls and toys designed by Satoshi Fumihara, creator of MTV Japan's The World of Golden Eggs and some rather interesting ads for Nissan. (previously) If the dolls look familiar, it's not a coincidence nor is it an artistic imitation; these are legitimately licensed Disney products. (most links in Japanese but self-explanatory) Oh Disney, why do you have to be so buttoned up at home?
"It’s the vehicular equivalent of the AK-47. It’s ubiquitous to insurgent warfare. And actually, recently, also counterinsurgent warfare. It kicks the hell out of the Humvee." It may suck to drive, but the tough and agile Toyota Hilux is the insurgent's vehicle of choice in Afghanistan. U.S. Special Forces prefer the comparable American-built Toyota Tacoma.
Hatsune Miku's latest album debuted in the number one spot on the Japanese weekly Oricon album charts. She's playing live to sold out stadiums, and action figures depicting her have been shot into space... [more inside]
Tokyo drifts ... cat2525jp has a neat YouTube channel of voyages through Tokyo transit systems, set to electronica. They include timelapse (e.g. Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line), and the lovely mirror effect "Tokyo Sky Drive" series (e.g. 1 2), and povs of high-tech automated parking systems with bowing attendants.
Japanese children fight valiently to protect their home from a zombie. There's no way this isn't the cutest thing you see all day. (Don't forget to turn subtitles on). Full 7 min video, albeit without subtitles.
Old anatomical illustrations that provide a unique perspective on the evolution of medical knowledge in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868) [more inside]
"This is your state! A big country like India is a slave to a small country like Britain. The Indian soldiers should be fighting for their freedom which can only be achieved if England is destroyed. You are only fighting to remain enslaved." A comprehensive account of WWII propaganda campaigns on all sides of the complicated relationship between Axis, Allies, and India. [more inside]
A robotic teacher, Ms. Saya, conducts her first class at an elementry school in Tokyo. [more inside]
Hey Mick, why don't you start singing Gimme Shelter at the mixing desk in the middle of the a huge crowd and then leisurely stroll to the stage. Nothing bad will happen. (SLYT) [more inside]
Res Obscura is a blog by Ben Breen, a graduate student of early modern history, which styles itself "a compendium of obscure things." Indeed, even the asides are full of wonder, such as the one about Boy, the famous Royalist war poodle of the English Civil War, which is but a short addendum to a post about witches' familiars. Here are some of my favorite posts, Pirate Surgeon in Panama (and a related post about 18th Century Jamaica), vanished civilizations, asemic pseudo-Arabic and -Hebrew writing in Renaissance art, and a series of posts about the way the Chinese and Japanese understood the world outside Asia in the early modern period (Europeans as 'Other', Europeans as 'Other,' Redux and Early Chinese World Maps).
Insiders Tour of Akihabara. The guys over at toykohackerspace provide us with a guide to the ultimate in geek shopping; whether it's custom CNC'ed radio enclosures, every tweezer imaginable, or you just want to buy a robot, Akihabara is the place to be. [via /.] [more inside]
Europe according to... is a project to map stereotypes of European countries according to other countries and groups of people. [more inside]