Wednesday, October 29, 2008
It’s not like I was a wet-behind-the-ears extra—earlier this year I worked for 4 days on Watashi wa Kani ni Naritai, which focuses on the same time-frame (just after World War 2), so you could call me extra-battle-hardened, if you lack a decent quip that’s actually funny—which is precisely what I’m lacking as I write this crap blog.
Anyway, back to the point here, maybe I chose to delete certain parts of that previous experience, and romanticize the others?
If, by standing around for 15 hours in a chronically airless, perpetually artificially daylit, smoke-filled room that’s doing the dopplegänger thing for MacArthur’s GHQ in Tokyo, in 1945, it sounds like fun—then perhaps, indeed, it was just that. Hah.
The highlight was my promotion—no longer was I the gate-pushing PFC MP of that first picture; no, this time I was a pen-pushing GHQ lieutenant in a swanky new uniform.
And I did get to natter on about nonsensical subjects with Matt, my mate from that first shoot back in February (this time inexplicably forced to wear fancy red braces), and a new lad, Peter, fresh off the boat from the U.K.—who’s really a bonafide actor, set to be on stage doing the Bard thing in Ikebukuro next April.
Along with them and the 37 other hapless ring-ins, we were locked up, badgered, flattered, cajoled, encouraged—but fed no lunch, as that wasn’t included in NHK’s budget plans. Maybe I should’ve paid the NHK viewer fees after all.
The film’s title is Shirasu Jiro, and it stars a couple of actors from a swag of favorite Japanese flicks: Miki Nakatani, from Tetsuya Nakashima’s Memories of Matsuko and Ringu, and Yusuke Iseya, from Casshern and Takashi Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django—as well as the voice of Kimura in Tekkonkinkreet.
While Nakatani was MIA, Iseya was on the set and turned out to be a very cool, charming individual who responded to the nobodies around him and had a superb voice far more impressive than you’d picture emerging from the tonsil area for a man his age (he’s 32). Coming from someone who waxes obsessive about cinematic vocal cords (George Sanders, Basil Rathbone, and Vincent Price are among my iPod’s aural highlights), I figure that's saying something.
And going by the shots we glimpsed in between standing, smoking like chimneys, grumbling, swapping barbs on pumpkinite, singing ‘Greensleeves’, and paper-shuffling, it looks sweet.
There’s no beating a smoke-engulfed, cavernous hall, with ’40s-clad people and typewriters, to capture that Blade Runner-cum-noir feel for the big picture.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
At the bustling Tokyo International Film Festival today, I got to snatch a vacant seat—which was kind of easy, 'cos strangely very few people were actually there—at the screening of the new vehicle for Kiichi Nakai.
The guy is one of the favored actors of this el drabbo blog. Long(ish) story why I have such an ongoing affection for the guy: think a touching dramatic turn in Yojiro Takita's Mibu gishi den (When The Last Sword Is Drawn, 2003), and a side-splitting twist as a cowardly samurai boss with ill-fated fame in his tea-leaves (something to do with a bunch of 47 ronin), in the 'Samurai Cellular' episode of Tales of the Unusual (2000).
He also kicked arse as the most compelling ninja perhaps ever on screen in the flawed, but passably brilliant, Fukuro no shiro (Owl's Castle, 1999).
Anyway, Nakai's new movie is titled Jirocho Sangokushi ( Samurai Gangsters), and relates the tale—surprise, surprise—of a bunch of kind-hearted yakuza headed by Nakai's steely, yet compassionate title character, Jirocho. Think jidaigeki comedy/drama, with moments both hilarious and tear-threatening. Nakai doesn't disappoint, and neither does another fave, journeyman actor Ittoku Kishibe (Zatoichi).
While nowhere near the territory of Owl's Castle, with plot-holes and moments bordering on mundane and directionless, overall I loved the beast. There are some wild action set-pieces, and the vamping, Elvis-looking main villain is a complete hoot; it's a damn shame he wasn't utilized more.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
This one's having a hack at the unsuspecting at the Tokyo International Film Festival this week, and had its world premiere on Sunday night at same:
Kiru ~ KILL.
Simple title, and pretty uncomplicated, if unusual, premise: A live-action, 4-story omnibus romp that's themed around swordfight scenes and classic slice'n'dice katana blade moments that've been set up as if they were the climax of longer dramas.
Directors: this rubbishy blog's long-time favourite, Mamoru Oshii, plus Kenta Fukasaku, Takanori Tsujimoto, Minoru Tahara; Cast: Yoko Fujita, Rinko Kikuchi, Takuya Mizoguchi. In other words, ambrosial.
Take that, Roget. I looked this one up in my trusty, online thesaurus.com.
By the way, before I completely forget—you can snap into the Kill preview right here.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
The National Film Center is an integral part of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, and the whole building here—first developed in 1970, then entirely rebuilt in 1995, to a design by architect Yoshinobu Ashihara, who built the nearby Sony Building—is a shrine to all things cinematic.
It’s dedicated to the preservation and research of cinema, is a full member of the French-sounding Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film (probably because the société is French—it was set up in Paris in 1938), and this year there are retrospectives of local auteur Masahiro Makino (2008 is the centenary year of his birth), along with prolific French writer/director, Jean Renoir.
Also expect screenings of silent movies from the 1920s, by Teinosuke Kinugasa, through to more obscure classic Japanese cinema like Nigorie (1953), directed by Tadashi Imai—starring the sublime Chikage Awashima.
In addition, the 7th floor permanent exhibition includes books, posters, memorabilia and periodicals on cinema, in particular Japanese.
The collection includes 30,000 films, 20,000 books, 30,000 scripts, 42,000 posters and 372,000 still photos. They say that in their promo material—match those figures if you can. I’m still counting my personal collection.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
“For me, it’s about the music first… I don’t care if it’s on wax cylinder, taped off the radio, a gatefold-vinyl, or flac download. A tune is a tune, is a tune.”
At last count, Si Begg had at least 50 available digital download releases on Beatport alone, plus a wad over on this blog’s favourite digital downloader, Addictech.
Si Begg is the guy, Ken Ishii once told me, that was up there with the best producers on the planet, the man who has released mesmerizing records under multiple other aliases like S.I. Futures, Buckfunk 3000, Lenny Logan, Cabbage Boy, and Dr. Nowhere versus The Maverick DJ, for labels such as NovaMute, Tresor, Ninja Tune, Scandinavia, Language, Trope, and his own Mosquito and Noodles imprints.
Back in 2001, he released The Complete Death of Cool. In my book, it was the album of the year as much for its hilariously eclectic, musically brilliant content, as for the sardonic title. It came as no surprise then that when I interviewed him straight after the record came out, he told me a lot of producers took themselves way too seriously.Given his extensive experience with vinyl and CD releases of his own music (check out his entry on Discogs, and you’ll likely be bamboozled), plus his work with his labels, it’s downright essential to get his take on the digital download phenomenon.
“For me, it’s about the music first… I don’t care if it’s on wax cylinder, taped off the radio, a gatefold-vinyl, or FLAC download. A tune is a tune, is a tune. Of course, packaging and design do have a role to play, but it’s about the music first.”
There are, however, downsides, he suggests. “There are now so many releases to wade through, it can be hard work. 12-inches were a nice design ‘object’, and I still believe vinyl played on a decent system sounds better.”
“It has massively democratized parts of the music business, especially in the dance and electronica fields,” he assessed. “We’re getting closer to a more level playing field, where major labels don’t call the shots so much – in theory, a small label on Beatport has just as much chance as a major to get noticed and shift units.”
He’s on a roll with this theme. “You can release multiple versions of the same track for barely any extra cost, which leaves far more room for experimentation—why not stick up that weird track you thought was too ‘out there’ for the vinyl release?
“Even if it only sells 10 copies, it doesn’t matter. It’s easier to get stuff worldwide, with no high costs for the punters buying imports, and also far easier to get hold of the releases you want, rather than having to deal with anal or elitist record shops, and so on.”
On a final note, he echoes the sentiments a lot of like-minded peers are floating right now.
“I find that most people who are anti-download fall into two camps: Greedy people who think it makes the music easier to share, therefore will cut back on their profits – do you want people to hear your music? Or make money? – and the elitist types who liked the fact that they were one of only 800 people who had that rare Juan Atkins release on Metroplex, and enjoyed being part of a select ‘club’ of other anal types, and hate the idea that now just about anyone can download those rare tracks for a quid or so.”
The rest of this interview is stuck up on Beatportal here: Firesider with Si Begg. And the lad did a lovely remix of my Little Nobody track, We Call It Crack House, which you can check out by double-clickin’ here—sneaky propaganda bombadier beetle #22.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
I love your standard izakaya; they're one of the Japanese gifts to the fine art of wining, dining, and partaking of vast amounts of beer—without ever quite letting you feel like an alcoholic.
The food is sensational, and it runs the gamut between hideously healthy (sashimi, for example, which is the stand-out for me) to frighteningly fatty (my favourite of these latter treasures being a standard dish at most izakayas: ika.
Think glorious, full-cholesterol Kewpie mayonnaise swamped over oily, fried squid. Yum).
Then there are the dips into daring: basashi (raw horse meat) and shishamo (grilled smelts that are stuffed with roe and that you eat whole, head and tail and all, with a smidgeon of that ethereal mayonnaise I mentioned). For the even more adventurous, think raw octopus mixed with wasabi, and you might be lucky enough to stumble across inago—grasshoppers cooked in miso.
Izakayas are located everywhere all over Japan, from smaller towns to the metropolises like Tokyo and Osaka (where they’re basically on every corner, downstairs in basements, hidden up alleyways, and up above you on the 5th to 17th floor of towering buildings.
While the wet-towels (oshibori) at the beginning of proceedings serves to wipe away the grime of a hard day’s whatever and the grit of Tokyo pollution, the service from the hyperactive, eternally smiling staff is awe-inspiring stuff.
Even better, if you don’t speak the local lingo or get the gist of kanji, there're picture menus (the ones for the larger establishments are often fold-out contraptions in excess of one square metre) to get you through the experience, and they even rate the calories included in each dish and drink.
I could go on and on. I worship at these places, and I'd speak in tongues to demonstrate this devotion, if I just knew how. Frustratio iracundia.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Ever feel like you've been thrust into a '60s revisionist version of WW2?
Not so much Catch-22. I'm thinking instead of 1965's The Battle of the Bulge, helmed by regular Disney director Ken Annakin, starring journeymen soldier actors Henry Fonda and Robert Shaw.
Far be it for me to tart up the battle itself, but I'd like to draw your attention to a subplot in that movie. It was one that related to the real-life, dueling-scar bearing German Waffen-SS commando, Otto Skorzeny, who assembled a unit of English-speaking German soldiers, dressed them up in American and British uniforms and dog tags snatched from corpses and POWs, and operated behind ememy lines (here read our side) to misdirect traffic and generally cause disruptions aplenty.
Operation Greif was nicknamed the Trojan Horse Brigade, as the Allies mistakenly believed Skorzeny & Co. were planning to kidnap or kill their commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The general was subsequently assigned a look-alike in Paris, while thousands of American MPs were waylaid from more important chores, and put to work instead trying to hunt down Skorzeny’s men.
The American MP bit is vaguely ironic, because this February, I got tapped on the shoulder to play an extra in a Japanese movie set just after WW2—as an American MP.
And I'm Australian.
None of the other 12 gaijin roped into the movie to play American MPs were from the USA, either. Russian, sure. French, German, Brazilian, British, another Australian. The closest we got was one Canadian.
Which brings me to the Battle of the Bulge reference.
Weird as it may have been to see so many people wearing WW2-era American GI and MP uniforms, more surreal was the fact that the majority of these "soldiers" didn't speak English without a heavy accent, and they preferred rattling on in Russian, French and—yes—German between takes.
It was like those phony enemy infiltrators from the Bulge all over again.
Oh yeah, but we each had tags to prove our international flavor. These read "Gaikokujin", which is basically another reference to gaijin, or foreigners—as if it wasn’t already obvious that we (collectively) stood out on the set like sore thumbs or dismembered left feet, with our white helmets, wooden truncheons, faux M1 Carbines, and menacing scowls.
One of the reasons for these scowls was the cold weather; another the god-awful coffee on offer. A third was the title of the movie itself. It's one that a lot of people here seem to have trouble translating into English: 私は貝になりたい Watashi wa Kai ni Naritai. The title has been variously interpreted, but seems to shape up best as I Want to be a Shellfish, and is listed on imdb.com under this moniker.
The preview is up on YouTube here: http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=pFvpPv4mcqQ
Due for a theatrical release on November 22nd here in Japan, the movie stars actress Yukie Nakama (Trick, Shinobi, and one of the hottest faces in Japanese advertising right now), alongside Masahiro Nakai—a member of domestically über-famous J-pop band, SMAP.
Unfortunately, in my first two days on set doing the MP rounds, I didn't get to see either of these people (I later did get to meet Nakai-san at Toho), but it was February, a particularly cold winter, and the shoot was outdoors. No doubt they were somewhere cushy and warm with their feet up, laughing at the outtakes.
Instead I got to push and pull heavy prison gates, and wandered dusty streets with an actress dolled-up as a particularly unattractive prostitute. Going by this movie, all post-war hookers in Japan were hideous creatures, and American MPs six decades ago must've had remarkably open taste.
My only aspiration in this wasteland of extras was to ride about in the white on-set military jeep, which the Brazilian and the Canadian MPs got to do on both days. Lucky bastards.
They were the escorts for the military bus, on which rode Nakai's character, Toyomatsu Shimizu, who's been abruptly arrested as a war criminal following the cessation of hostilities in World War 2, and is now being tried for murder even though he believes he's not guilty of any wrong doing.
This story was also made as a TV drama last year, for NTV (ntv.co.jp/watakai/), starring Shido Nakamura from Letters from Iwo Jima and Death Note.
It's based on autobiographical notes by Tetsutaro Kato—during the war years, reputed to be one of the more brutal commandants of Niigata 5B POW camp, located 160 miles northwest of Tokyo—under the pen-name Ikuo Shimura.
During the subsequent occupation, Kato was tried and found guilty of an array of sordid activities, including beatings which left some POWs permanently disabled, and was sentenced to death by hanging for the bayonet execution of an American prison escapee named Frank Spears.
In 1959, Kato's yarn was adapted into a screenplay, dramatized, and directed by Shinobu Hashimoto—a man better known as the co-writer, with Akira Kurosawa, of Seven Samurai (1954)—and the movie starred Frankie Sakai, of Ghost Story of Funny Act in Front of Train Station (1964), and this blog's fave, Mothra (1961).
The ending was also vamped up to tweak the tragic.
Whereas Kato's sentence was conveniently commuted by Douglas MacArthur, thanks to family connections, and he left Tokyo's Sugamo Prison on good behavior in 1952, the fictional Toyomatsu Shimizu goes all the way to the noose.
Prior to his execution, Shimizu writes a long-winded farewell letter to his wife and son, the gist of which says that if ever he were to be reincarnated, he would hate to come back as a human being, and would prefer instead to be a shellfish living on the bottom of the sea.
Hence the strange title of this affair.
While Kato no doubt had a lot of time on his hands during his initial interment for war crimes, Sugamo Prison was an interesting place for the conjuring up of the original tale.
Built in the '20s to a European blueprint, the prison was located in Ikebukuro in Tokyo, on the site that the 60-storey Sunshine 60 building now stands, erected in the '70s as part of the Sunshine City shopping metropolis.
It's confided that the ghost of wartime Prime Minister, Hideki Tojo—himself an executed Class A war crim—haunts the retailers there, but in amenably Japanese style: after closing time.
So it came as some surprise to find myself dressed in that American MP uniform, standing beneath a huge sign that read "Sugamo Prison", with a big blue back-screen that'll no doubt be used to superimpose the CG ring-in for the prison complex itself.
My VIP job in this all-encompassing human drama?
Ceremonial gatekeeper. Sure, I got the helmet, the gun, and the girl. But I also had to drag two huge prison gates open and closed again, open and closed again, ad infinitum, as the director and his extensive crew shot and re-shot that white jeep (with the Brazilian and the Canadian) and a military bus driving through, for about eight hours all up.
Even more interesting, it seemed, was that the other gate-keeping sentry doing this manual labor was also an Aussie.
60 years on, Americans are, it seems, too busy for such mundane chores in Japan—as are the British, French, Brazilians, Germans and Russians.
Give the job instead to the newer kids on the block. It's a job that may in fact suit our talents, if you take into account that 220 years ago Australia started out as a penal colony.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
“Mothra would go down in flames, and probably smash into Tokyo Tower for extra effect, if Toho had any say in the big fight.”
Japan—the country that created vital cinematic stars Godzilla and Mothra—continues to immerse the world in some scintillating anime and manga, and is the home for the otaku—a term that loosely translates as ‘geeks’, but (perhaps) takes the notion further still into obsessiveness and occasionally creepy social ineptitude.
With these concepts in mind—and carrying much hidden emotional baggage that will remain rather churlishly unspoken here—I set about doing an inept and somewhat pointless vox populi of some of the newer DJs and producers on the block, all of them here in Tokyo and established and/or undoubted rising stars, with the goal of attempting to discover common answers to some less-than-world-shattering concerns.
Q1: In a grand master bout between Godzilla and Mothra, who’d claim the golden glove?
"I'd definitely support Godzilla," assesses technopop musician, Tomoko ‘Electron Tee’ Terasaki. "He's much cooler—and, besides, I hate moths!"
Techno DJ/producer, Shin Nishimura, agrees with Tee, except for the bit about anathema towards the common streetlight variety of moth. "He'd win by jumping and punching with that tail of his," Nakamura visualizes.
DJ and producer, Naoto Yamazaki (a.k.a. Naotoxin), nods. "He—or is it actually she?—is bigger than Mothra, and more powerful."
While producer, Yuki Ota (a member of eclectic electro outfit, Alone Together), just shrugs—"I've never watched any of those movies," he swears in a sincere tone—Ota's compatriot, Chichi (a member of the electro/industrial duo, Dick Drone), is far more animated and assured.
"Mothra would go down in flames, and probably smash into Tokyo Tower for extra effect, if Toho had any say in the big fight," he says.
The rest of this story shows up and scars the pages of the November 2008 issue of Geek Monthly magazine, out shortly.
Friday, October 3, 2008
“In spring, we have fun under full-blossomed cherry trees, eating and drinking and romping around with our friends. Then, of course, you need to be careful not to quaff too much booze...”
Right before it made its debut at the 20th Tokyo International Film Festival last October, Tokyo Marble Chocolate whipped up a wee bit of a local cinematic feeding frenzy and sold out all seats to the show within one day. I know, 'cos I missed out on that screening.
The director is Naoyoshi Shiotani, who previously worked on Blood+ and did the key animation for The Prince of Tennis. Even more impressive is that fact that the anime production studio behind the experiment is Production I.G, famously responsible for the animated sequences in Kill Bill: Vol. 1, and Mamoru Oshii's superlative Ghost in the Shell movies.
This is set to be the couple's first Christmas together, yet the duo end up spending it stressfully apart, thanks in no small part to a hyperactive miniature donkey wearing a nappy (or diapers, as the Yanks like to say)...
“It's probably the most funny and absurd creature appearing in the movie," Shiotani admitted. And he's absolutely right – it's brilliant.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
“Okay, so what we have here is the single most infectious groove to land in my lap since this whole Mix Doctor thing began. So much so that a guy walked in and caught me doing the Shake ’n’ Vac dance.”
Yep, we cracked DJ Mag - the October '08 issue (see above). Page 142, in the Mix Doctor section.
We submitted Little Nobody's original 1999 'Mind-Bending Remix' (by me and François Tétaz) of the Little Nobody vs. DJ Fodder track, Cocaine Speaking, hacked together earlier that same year by me and Jeff Willis.
That track was released on a Kiss-FM (Melbourne) compilation through Shock Records in 2000 (http://www.discogs.com/release/254783) under the DJ Fodder moniker, with Little Nobody credited as remixer as well as co-producer.
Then we released it on the Little Nobody album, Action Hero, in 2000 (http://www.discogs.com/release/429995).
Also that year it turned up in Sydney on 12-inch vinyl on the Nine09 label (http://www.discogs.com/release/80608) under the name Little Nobody vs. DJ Fodder. Are you confused yet? I am, and I'm one the people responsible for this fine mess!
Anyway, this obviously begs the question: why submit the track for consideration almost a decade later, in a magazine section devoted to up-and-coming new stuff?
Well, I never was one to resist a spot of mischief, and the fact is that it never really got all that far outside of Australia—although the now-defunct Muzik mag over in the UK bizarrely described it (in 2001) as "A bit like Gordon Brown breaking off from talking about monetary policy to dance the can-can. And we all know how great that is."
Truth to tell, the fact is that we're also in the process of resurrecting this brute of a track—we're collaborating with Sydney's Elektrax and Hypnotic Room imprints to serve up a slew of new remixes, including ones by Dave Tarrida and Mijk van Dijk, shortly.
So, we submitted the original to DJ Mag to see what they had to say 9 years after the track was hobbled together (without telling 'em that)—and they were surprisingly spot-on about the age:
Okay, so what we have here is the single most infectious groove to land in my lap since this whole Mix Doctor thing began. So much so that while I was hoovering the studio floor (always the best time to listen to new tunes), a guy in the adjacent studio walked in and caught me doing the Shake ’n’ Vac dance.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
So lamented Si Begg last week, in one of the desperately quickie e-mail exchanges we occasionally get around to having.
We were talking up Japanese producer, Toshiyuki Yasuda, who just did some crazy über-Kraftwerk, “Robo*Brazileira” vocoder vocals for my Little Nobody track, Robota. You can check out the unmastered, lo-fi version of the collaboration on YouTube here: http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=iZYjAPJWO4g
Toshiyuki’s also just unveiled the Autumn Session album, in collaboration with Pecombo, on his own label, Megadolly–just in time for the autumn season in the northern hemisphere, and fashionably out-of-whack for those of us hailing from the deep south, like Australia.
By the by, if anyone here is manly enough (or should that be “personally enough”? I always confuse my PC tags) to admit that they don’t quite get what a vocoder is, or how it works, check out the informative background lore thrown up on the suitably vintage Wendy Carlos vocoder Q&A page.