Sunday, December 29, 2013

Oyasumi Pun Pun #13

As 2013 comes to a close, so does my favourite manga series, Inio Asano's Oyasumi Pun Pun (浅野いにおのおやすみプンプン). Definitely the longest series that Asano has ever written, an emotional roller-coaster.

One of the reasons I started writing this blog was because I found that a lot of Japanese culture sites cover media that is unappealing to me. I don't want the shallow pop idols, ninja pirate robot action adventures, pre-pubescent protagonists for socially awkward man-childen with a lolita complex. I want real depth of character, social commentary, an engaging story. And Inio Asano never fails to deliver. The final episode of Oyasumi Pun Pun concludes an amazing story of innocence lost, the difficulty of adolescence, growth, loss, sorry, responsibility, and so much more.

Reading Oyasumi Pun Pun I'm reminded of Dan Savage's It Gets Better campaign, it doesn't deal with homosexuality, but it does deal with isolation and depression in young people. And I do find a final message of hope, even after great lose, if you can hold on and weather the down times, you can improve your situation and move on.

Each volume of Pun Pun comes in a simple coloured jacket, volume 13 is white (check under the jacket for some beautiful hidden art work). A symbolic finish to the series, as you can't handle the comic without leaving a finger print, which mirrors the central theme of loss of innocence. Everything you interact with leaves a mark, you can't erase it and go back to a white slate, and you must deal with the consequences of your actions.

I've talked a lot here without really saying anything about the story. If you've kept up with the story so far you may realise there is little hope of a happy ending for Pun Pun and Aiko. I expected the worst, and I was still surprised by the events, and there is hope for the future.. for some.

Oyasumi Pun Pun is without a doubt my favourite manga series. As a piece of art it ranks along side my favourite novels and movies. I can't recommend it highly enough. Sometimes shocking, sometimes funny,  sometimes scary. Always beautiful and always brilliant.

Inio Asano on Twitter:
Pun Pun at Shogakukan Comics:

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Yasutaka Tsutsui

Yasutaka Tsutsui (筒井康隆) may not be a familiar name to western audiences, but what if I said Paprika (パプリカ)? Or The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (時をかけた少女)? That would certainly draw a lot more recognition. Born in 1934, Yasutaka Tsutsui is a multi award winning author, and one of the major voices of Japanese science fiction.

The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction has a very thorough run down on his work. Including the fact that such a prolific and significant author has received relatively little attention by western audiences. (

Relatively few of his works have been translated into English. His most well known work to western audiences, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, originally published in the 1960s was translated by David Karashima in 2011. Andrew Driver translated Paprika in 2009, and a collection of short stories in 2008 titled Salmonella Men on Planet Porno. His most recent work to be translated in 2007 by Evan Emswiler was his 2003 novel Hell.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time has seen numerous movie adaptations, the 1983 version being my favourite, which launched the career of idol Tomoyo Harada (原田知世).

Also, the 2006 Japanese Academy Award winning anime version, directed by Mamoru Hosoda (細田守), showed that Ghibli have some stiff competition for the crown of leaders in Japanese animation.

And Satoshi Kon's (今敏) 2006 masterful adaptation of Paprika, is a seminal piece of Japanese film history.

But Tsutsui's work is not all high concept, award winning adaptations. Here is a 2006 adaptation of The World Sinks Except Japan (日本以外全部沈没). It is a black comedy, and a parody, criticizing the ideas of racism and nationalism. It is directed by Minoru Kawasaki (河崎実) who is known for his absurdist comedies. Check out Executive Koala (コアラ課長) if you've never seen it. Here is The World Sinks Except Japan.

Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction:

World Order - Last Dance

I promise this is my last music post for tonight. From the noise punk rock of Melt Banana to the happy jams of Cero, and finally on to a band known more for their dancing than their music, World Order. Since their debut in 2010 they have really captured the attention of the Japanese public, with numerous appearances on a menagerie of variety programs. This is not a style of music that I'd usually be interested in, but the quality of their unique dance style is simply amazing. Check out their latest single, Last Dance.

They'll  be travelling around Japan in late Jan, early Feb if you want to check them out, but you'll need to get in quick for tix.
World Order website:
Follow them on Twitter:

Cero - Yellow Magus

My second music post tonight comes from Cero (Contemporary Erotic Rock Orchestra) who released their new single this week. Their first studio album World Record was released in early 2011, and followed up with My Lost City in 2012. Their latest single comes with a Live DVD from the My Lost City Tour in Jan/Feb 2013. They are hard to classify into a specific genre, maybe if Sean Lennon joined Special Others? Very infectious vibrant pop with some great jams.

Check out the clip for Yellow Magus here:
Which I can't embed, so here is their track Mountain Mountain from the My Lost City album.

Their current tour which is in Sendai tonight, has already sold out next month in Tokyo and Osaka.
Official website:
Kakuba Rhythm site for Yellow Magus:

I found cero earlier this week while tumbling through 10000 professional tracks. A good place to check out new indie Japanese music.

Melt Banana - Fetch

While I've been busy over the past few weeks, I've missed a few things that I've wanted to blog about. The first is the new Melt Banana album, Fetch, that was released way back in October. The have a psychedelic clip for the second track, The Hive, up on YouTube.

The album is being released on A-Zap in Japan, Revolver USA in the US of A, and Forte in the UK. So you should be able to find it in stores if not online.

Follow them on Twitter:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Books from Japan

I've just stumbled across a new site that's great if you wanna keep in touch with what is happening in Japanese literature, Books from Japan. They provide news, commentary, and profiles on current Japanese authors, their works, and information on books that have won major literary awards since 2000, including the Akutagawa Prize, and Naoki Prize. There are also links to various translations where available.

Books from Japan:

Friday, November 29, 2013

Ghost In The Shell: Arise

I was in high school when Mamoru Oshii's (押井守) original Ghost in the Shell (攻殻機動隊) anime was released in 1995. It was about the same time I read Ray Kurzweil's The Age of Intelligent Machines. I'm not sure if Kurzweil's idea of the singularity had hit mainstream conciseness at the time, but they were ideas that lead me towards studying Computer Engineering. It was the philosophical side to Ghost in the Shell that attracted me as a teenager. The blurring of man and machine.

The Internet was just in it's early stages but it allowed me to track down an import of the soundtrack by Kenji Kawai (川井憲次). Kawaii wrote a lot of the soundtracks for Mamoru Oshii's animes, and also for the films of Hideo Nakata (中田秀夫) including Ring, Ring 2, and Dark Water. He is certainly one of my favourite Japanese film composers. Here are live versions of the main themes from Ghost in the Shell, and Ring.

I haven't kept up the Ghost in the Shell Series, Innocence, Stand Alone Complex, or the latest reworking, Arise. But something that drew my interest back to the new series was the soundtrack, since the original film's soundtrack was so memorable, I noticed that the new series' soundtrack was being produced by Cornelius the muti-facited mutli-instrumental musician who achieved fame in the late 90s on Matador Records. I'm not sure how Cornelius' eclectic style will match with Ghost in the Shell, he hasn't released a studio album since 2006s Sensuous, but has composer for TV commercials, and films. But you can check what he is doing for Ghost in the Shell Arise here:

Ghost in the Shell Arise 2 is in limited cinema release this week in Japan, and will be available later in the month on DVD.

Ghost in the Shell Arise website:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Billy Bat #13

It's been a busy weekend for new releases. Billy Bat (ビリーバット) jumps between many time lines, many characters, conspiracy theories, and mysteries. Volume 13 focuses on Michael Jackson look-a-like 1980's Kevin Goodman, not to be confused with the original protagonist Kevin Yamagata. Although they are both key successors (or 後継者) to the Billy Bat saga.

There is also flashbacks to a conversation between Hilter and Einstein, fake moon landings, and the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake (which also appeared recently in Ghibli's Kaze Tachinu).

I always enjoy the suspense and mystery the Naoki Urasawa (浦沢直樹) weaves through his stories, so equal credit needs to be given to Takashi Nagasaki (長崎尚志) who has worked closely with Urasawa for many of my favourite series including Monster (モンスター), 20th Century Boys (20世紀少年), and Pluto (プルートウ).

Billy Bat:

Friday, November 22, 2013

Real #13

Takehiko Inoue's (井上雄彦) Real (リアル) is always my most anticipated manga release of the year. I wait all year, spend an hour or two devouring it, and then begins the next year long wait for next November.

Volume 13 takes a break from the regular story line of wheelchair basketball, and focuses on one of the secondary characters, professional wrestler 'Scorpion' Shiratori (スコーピオン白鳥). Through a serious of flashbacks we are shown Scorpion's background, wrestling history, and what drives him to keep pushing himself even in the face of a debilitating spinal injury.

This is why I am drawn to Inoue's Real, I have no interest in basketball, or professional wrestling, but the depth of Inoue's characters is something that keeps me enthralled, a depth that I've rarely seen in another manga series. Inoue's passion for the people and their lives is shown through his involvement and promotion of the related sporting communities in real life.

For those who can't wait, you could always pick it up episodically in Young Jump starting with chapter 79 on November 28th.

Check out the Real webpage:
Takehiko Inoue online:
And on Twitter:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

No Laughing! New Year's Eve 2013

The first details for Downtown's 2013 'No Laughing!' New Year's Eve special have been released today. The Japanese title is 「絶対に笑ってはいけない地球防衛軍」 or in English "Definitely No Laughing! Earth Defence Force!" After recent visits to hospitals, airports, police stations, schools, and newspapers, I'm guessing by the title, there is nowhere else to go but space! So expect some Sci-Fi inspired madness on your TVs this New Year's Eve. This special has become so popular in recent years that it has challenge the traditional Kouhaku Song Contest (紅白歌合戦) , and it certainly gets my vote.

Check out the official webpage here:
Also catch the chatter on Twitter:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Samsa In Love, Murakami

The New Yorker has a new Hauki Murakami (村上春樹) short story, 'Samsa In Love', translated by Ted Goosen. You can check out the story here:

Asymtote also has a review up on their blog:

OOIOO - Gamel

OOIOO's new album, Gamel, will be released on November 22nd. Last time I saw an interview with Yoshimi she was discussed her love of traditional music, specifically the Ainu of Northern Japan. So with their latest release we hear OOIOO bring their experimental post-rock noise via traditional instrumentation. Gamelan (ガムラン) refers to the traditional instrumentation of Indonesia, mainly on the islands of Java and Bali. OOIOO are also touring around major cities later this month. Here is a live recording of the opening track of their new album, recorded last December in Yamaguchi.

For more details:
Also check them on Twitter:

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Revenge, Yoko Ogawa

I've recommend Three Percent before, definitely check it out if you are interested in international literature. This week the have a review of several collections of short stories including one by Yoko Ogawa (小川洋子) called Revenge. Translated into English by Stephen Snyder.

Yoko Ogawa won the Akutagawa Prize in 1990 for Pregnancy Calender (妊娠カレンダー) which was also translated by Stephen Snyder who has been responsible for translating much of her work in English.

Three Percent:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Shueisha English Edition

Once I had the confidence to start reading novels in Japanese, one of the first Japanese author's I became interested in was Otsuichi (乙一). Otsuichi is the pen name of Hirotaka Adachi (安達寛高) known for his mystery and horror short stories. Publishing company Shueisha (集英社) have been busy recently, putting some work into English translations of some of their most popular novels, including several by Otsuichi. My personal favourite is the Zoo anthology, which has seen a fantastic short film adaptation. Check out the trailer:

Check out some English translations of Otsuichi's work here:
Also check out the further range of Shuesha's English translations on Facebook:

I Am A Hero #13

Last weekend I just picked up and took a bite out of the latest volume of Kengo Hanazawa's (花沢健吾) zombie series I Am A Hero (アイアムアヒーロー). At the end of volume 12 we left Kurusu and his gang searching for survivors and a safer hideout at the local school, and this volume picks up the original group of survivors, struggling manga artist Hideo Suzuki, semi-infected school girl Hiromi, and nurse Yabu.

I've mentioned before the similarities to few other popular zombie franchises, the central characters' resemblance to the otaku Kondo Tatsumi from Max Brooks' World War Z, and the theme of immunity which is explored in Naughty Dog's PS3 classic, The Last Of Us. But with I Am A Hero starting in 2009, The Last Of Us only being released earlier this year, and the Japaense language edition of World War Z didn't hit stands until April 2010, and resemblance in story is purely co-incidental.

This definitely one of my favourite series in 2013, it manages to stay fresh among the proliferation of similarly themed zombie media. Kengo Hanazawa's sense of humour keeps the mood light, but the zombie action is brutal enough to please the most discerning zombie connoisseur.

Kengo Hanazawa's website:
Kengo Hanazawa on Twitter:
I Am A Hero Official:

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Vagabond #36

It's a bit intimidating picking up and start reading a series on the 36th volume, but I'm a huge fan of the work of Takehiko Inoue (井上雄彦) so I thought it was time to jump into the long running saga of Vagabond (バガボンド).

Although Inoue is most well known for the basketball classic Slam Dunk (スラムダンク), it was the annual wheelchair basketball series Real (リアル) that brought his work to my attention. All of Inoue's work shares a common theme, from Basketball to Bushido, they focus on artistic movement of the human body, and Inoue's amazing ability as an artist is shown in the care taken with the facial emotion of his characters.

Vagabond tells the story of Musashi Miyamoto (宮本武蔵), a ronin (masterless samurai), from the 16th-17th century. Inoue draws on the historical fiction of Eiji Yoshikawa (吉川英治), which has been translated in English by Charles Terry. Musashi himself was also an artist and author, his most famous work is the guide on strategy and tactics, The Book of Five Rings (五輪の書).

One of the most celebrated swordsman in Japanese history, there have been multiple film and TV adaptations of Mushashi's story. The most highly acclaimed being the 1955 Academy Award winning Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto directed by Hiroshi Inagaki (稲垣浩), and featuring samurai screen legend Mifune Toshiro (敏郎三舟).

Space Brothers #22

Space Brothers (宇宙兄弟) could more accurately titled Budget Meeting Guy. I have to commend Chuya Koyama (小山宙哉) for his realistic portrayal of the current state of the aerospace industry, but being consistently sidetracked by budgetary concerns doesn't make for an exciting or inspiring story. Hibito's continued absence removes the need for the 'Brothers' reference in the title.

In volume 22, Mutta and the Jokers crew continue their quest to save the ISS from cancellation, and we see the introduction of a Space-X type private company, Swing-by, who introduce a raft of new characters, and the surprising return of a few known characters. Hopefully with the introduction of Swing-by, we might actually see the return of some actual space missions.

I often think back to infrastructure that we saw during the original story arc that was covered in the movie adaptation, the previously establish moon base. It seems to disappeared along with the story to inspire kids to become interested in science, and was replaced with a pragmatic realism.

Morning Comics:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Asymptote - October 2013

The October 2013 issues of the quarterly literary translation journal, Asymptote, was released this week featuring a collection of contemporary translations from around the world. One of the feature articles is a short story by Yoko Tawada (多和田葉子), translated into English by Sim Yee Chiang.

In translating Soulflight (飛魂) Sim Yee Chiang has used the ambiguous nature inherent in the reading of Japanese kanji, deliberately employed by Tawada, and has used the Mandarin Chinese reading of characters names to highlight the foreignness and ambiguity that Japanese readers would face in the original text. Introducing an addition foreignness into the English translation to provoke a similar response in the reader. It makes the translator a visible part of the translation, which I know is frowned upon in some circles, but I personally welcome Sim Yee Chiang's personal intrusion into the translation.

I applaud Asymptote for providing the original Japanese text in parallel with the translation, and also a recorded reading of the original Japanese.

Yoko Tawada writes in both Japanese and German and has received numerous awards including the 1993 Akutagawa Prize for The Bridgegroom was a Dog (犬嫁入り). An English translation by Margaret Mitsutani was released in 2003.

Asymptote October 2013 Issuse:

Friday, October 11, 2013

Alice Munro and Haruki Murakami

Congratulations to Alice Munro on receiving this years Nobel Prize in Literature. I must admit that I'm not too familiar with her work. I've been hoping Cormac McCarthy will take the prize some day soon. But I know a lot of people here in Japan and abroad are championing for Haruki Murakami (村上春樹).

I'm not sure if it is careful planning or prescience from Murakami, but last month he released a collection of short stories from various international authors including one story from Alice Munro, Koishikte (恋しくて) - Ten Selected Love Stories, which I'm sure will charge back up the best sellers list this week in Japan. Murakami is a prolific translator of English literature, and he receives a lot of recognition for his work as a translator, which highlights the big difference between the valuation of translators in Japan and the second rate status they are afforded in English translations.

Yumiko Kotake (小竹由美子) is another translator who has translated a lot of Alice Munro's work into Japanese, including Too Much Happiness (小説のように), The View from Castle Rock (林檎の木の下で), and Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (イラクサ). She has also translated works from John Iriving and Paul Torday.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Attack on Titan

Most of the people who stumble across this article are probably going to be more familiar with Attack on Titan (進撃の巨人) than I am. I don't read much shonen manga, but this is a series that has really gained a lot of attention and success over the last few years.

I picked up a new Sony PRS-T3 e-reader this week, it seems to have come under the radio without much fanfare. It's only an incremental update from the T2, but a big improvement from my old PRS-650. It included a few vouchers for the Sony e-reader store, so picked a few manga that I've been eyeing for a while, Attack on Titan was one of them.

Written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama (諌山創), the first volume was released 4 years ago, in October 2009. I'm really impressed with the novelty of the setting, it makes a change from ninjas, pirates, and giant mecha, but I'm having a hard time really caring about the one dimensional characters. There is a common trope in lot of shonen manga, anime, and JRPG, where the teenage protagonist saves the world. Although to be fair, it's not a trope limited to Japanese culture, Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game suffers the same limitation. Adult characters are shown to be useless, incompetent fools who interfere with the potential of the youthful protagonists. In Attack on Titan, I have found myself cheering for the muted lumbering giants, because I feel like the characters Erin, Mikasa, and Armin are just bidding their time until they can fulfill their destiny and save the human race. Let me know if one of them gets eaten. That's a twist in the story that would increase my interest.

With several games, a spin-off manga series, it was really the anime that brought wider attention to the series. It was published by Wit Studio, a new animation studio formed in 2012, and directed by Tetsuro Araki (荒木哲郎) who worked for 10 years at Madhouse where he directed the anime adaptation of Death Note. For me, the marauding giants are the focal point of the series, and I feel that the anime is a successful adaptation of the source material, and even does a better job of capturing the giant's menacing and foreboding presence on the landscape.

Check out the author, Hajime Isayama's blog here:

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Unforgiven Review

I blogged about Lee Sang-il's (李相日) Unforgiven (許されざる者) a few weeks ago, but I thought I'd add my thoughts now that I've actually seen it.

Ken Watanabe (渡辺謙) does an amazing job filling Clint Eastwood's shoes in the main role, and is supported well by Yuya Yagira (柳楽優弥). Young Yagira plays a young alcoholic Ainu bandit, and outshines Jaimz Woolvett as the young side-kick from the original Unforgiven. I don't remember many other prominent Ainu characters or representations of Ainu culture in Japanese cinema. A similar but now extinct ethnic minority, the Emishi, were featured in Princes Mononoke.

Koichi Sato (佐藤浩市) is also mesmerizing as the power hungry law man, set on eradicating the 'outdated' rule of the samurai. He channels Gary Oldman's classic role from Leon, and I expect him to do well come award ceremony season.

The film's soundtrack by Taro Iwashiro (岩代太郎) also deserves some attention. The son of a songwriter, Iwashiro is known for his work with TV dramas, but recently moved in to the film domain. The western is a genre in that has had a huge impact on movie composers, largely thanks to the work of Ennio Morricone, the soundtrack acts as an additional role. So I was looking forward to a similarly distinguished soundtrack. Although some of the music in the early scenes were a bit distracting, I was really impressed with the music during the final act, I've been trying to track it down all week.

An all star cast re-enacting a highly well loved western classic, Unforgiven is bound to pick up a few Japanese Academy Awards, but it is sure to face some stiff competition from Hirokazu Kore'eda's Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる), and Hitoshi Matsumoto's R100.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Asymptote + Three Percent

As I find myself drawn toward translation theory, specifically Japanese literature and it's interaction with English, there are a few websites that I've begun to thoroughly enjoy.

Asymtote is a quarterly journal that focuses on contemporary world literature and translation. I stumbled across the interview with David Mitchell discussing his translation of the Naoki Higashida's the Reason I Jump. I've mentioned this work in an early post, and it's definitely worth checking out for anyone with an interest in Autism.

But what brought me back was the translation of selected text from Ramo Nakajima by Sayuri Okamoto and Sim Yee Chang. And for those interested in digging a bit deeper, Asymtote also provides the original Japanese. Whilst I'm not familiar with Ramo Nakajima, this translation has definitely whet my appetite for his work, and the Naoki Award winning The Night of Human Models has been added to my to-read list. Asymtote is a quarterly journal. The next edition should be available in October.

The other site recently added to my bookmarks is Three Percent, a website from the University of Rochester for readers, editors and translators interested in international literature. It features reviews of a wide range of literature and translations, and is a great place to search if you are looking for great world literature.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


The fourth movie directed by comedic icon Hitoshi Matsumoto (松本人志), R100, hits cinemas in Japan next month.

Nao Omori (大森南朋) is a furniture salesmen who seeks a bit of adventure in his life. After joining a enigmatic bondage club, he realizes it is not something that he is too interested in. But the club refuses to cancel his yearly membership, and he finds himself pursued by a series of increasing persistent dominatrix. 

This week also marked Matsumoto's 50th birthday, and he has stated in interviews that he has become increasingly aware of his advancing age. He has even questioned how long he can continue with the wildly popular slapstick of the yearly Gakki no Tsukai (ガキの使い) TV specials. This week was also the final episode after 8 years of the TV series Lincoln (リンカーン), a vehicle for Matumoto and his Downtown partner Masatoshi Hamada (浜田雅功), and their friends. It's definitely worth checking out some of the best of clips of Lincoln if you can, especially their sports carnival specials:

Peeping Life Wonderland

The latest collection of Peeping Life (ピーピング・ライフ) shorts are a collaboration between creator Ryoichi Mori (森りゅういち), Tetsuka Productions (手塚プロ), and Tatsunoko Productions (タツノコプロ).

Founded by Osamu Tetsuka, the home of Astro Boy, Black Jack and a mountain of animation that has influenced Japanese children for generations.

Tatsunoko Productions are equally a massive force in Japanese animation. Western audience will know them through Speed Racer, Gatchaman (which has recently received a live action remake), Samurai Pizza Cats, and Robotech. They also provided animation assistance with the original 1995 series of Neon Genesis Evangelion and 1998s Akira.

This collection of shorts delves into the back catalogue of both production houses to provide a hilarious new look at some beloved anime classic. From Testuka Productions there are appearances from a rebellious teenage Astro Boy who dyes his hair and complains about his iconic but unfashionable choice of clothing, and from Black Jack who finds that his lack of a medical license is not too reassuring to potential patients, Princess Knight, Ambassador Magma, Triton of the Sea, and The Three-Eyed One.

From Tatsunoko Productions there is Casshan, Yatterman, and The Genie Family.

If like me, you're not to familiar with some of the earlier anime from the 60s and 70s, here is a collection of clips from the various anime.

Casshan (新造人間キャシャーン)

Yatterman (ヤッターマン)

The Genie Family (ハクション大魔王)

Princess Knight (リボンの騎士)

Triton of the Sea (海のトリトン)

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Unforgiven

Yurusarezarumono (許されざる者) is a remake of the Academy Award winning 1992 Clint Eastwood classic, Unforgiven.

The movie gives some completion to influence that Japanese cinema has had on the Western genre. Starting with Akira Kurasawa's (倉澤明) Yojimbo (用心棒) that was adapted by Sergio Leone in A Fistful of Dollars staring Clint Eastwood. Samurai films had a huge impact in shaping the Western genre, specifically the work of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood, who both have left a lasting impression on the history of cinema. Eastwood's 1992 masterpiece, which he directed and starred in, was dedicated to the memory of Sergio Leone. And now completing the cinematic mobius strip, Unforgiven has now been remade in Japan as a period samurai drama.

Directed by Lee Sang-il (李相日), award winning director behind 2010's Akunin (悪人), and 2006's Hula Girls (フラガール). Starring Ken Watanabe (渡辺謙) in main role as a retired samurai who has given up his brutal past as a government swordsman looking to live a peaceful life in rural Hokkaido. It also stars veteran actor Akira Emoto (柄本明), young rising star Yuya Yagira (柳楽優弥) who won the Best Actor award at Cannes for 2004's Nobody Knows, young Sydney born Shiori Kutsuna (忽那汐里) who I know from the movie adaptation of the Beck manga and My Back Page with Kenichi Matsuyama (松山ケンイチ), and Eiko Koike (小池栄子) who appeared in the acclaimed Youkame no Semi from 2011.

The excellent casting is matched by the scenery of Hokkaido which makes a beautiful backdrop befitting the story. I'm expecting this movie to clean up at the Japanese Academy Awards this year. Definitely one to check out. Yurusarezarumono will be shown this month at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, and is to be released in cinemas in Japan on September 13th.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Billy Bat #12

The latest piece in the puzzle that is Naoki Urasawa's (浦沢直樹) Billy Bat takes us to New Jersey in 1981. A young artist who bears a striking resemblance to Michael Jackson is drawn into the web of Billy Bat.

After the recent events in volumes 10 and 11 it seemed like the story was slowly drawing toward a conclusion with a few clues to the origin of Billy Bat. Although the latest volume draws us closer to Disney-esque Chuck Culkin, and sheds light on the faked moon landings that appeared much earlier in the story. Volume 11 also marks the first appearance by Hitler, another historical figure chasing Billy Bat and the mysterious scroll with the power to alter history.

Although the previous volume hinted at the death of Kevin Yamagata, if 20th Century Boys and Monster have taught me nothing else it's 'don't expect that to be the last we see of Kevin Yamagata.' Now is the rise of a new artist to carry the torch of Billy Bat, Kevin Goodman.

Related Links:
Billy Bat's Morning Comics site:

Saint Young Men #9 + Bonus DVD

The latest volume of Saint Young Men (聖☆おにいさん) hit the shelves this week, and if you get in early there is a special edition that includes a short anime DVD produced by A-1 Pictures. The DVD includes two short animated sequences and promotional material for the DVD release of the Saint Young Men anime that will be released on October 23rd.

I'm actually a few volumes behind with this series, but I picked up volume 9 for the bonus DVD. It's nice to see that my Catholic primary school education came in handy for something, a few Japanese friends who aren't as familiar with christian theology have a bit of trouble picking up some of the Jesus references. But the world that Hikaru Nakamura (中村光) also draws on a wide range of Buddhist, Shinto and cultural references. We see Jesus and Buddha navigate an impromptu Momotaro play, enjoy their first setsubun, and hina matsuri. There are recurring themes and characters that appear, but each episode is a self contained story.

Related Links:
Saint Young Men Website:
Hikaru Nakamura on Twitter:
Saint Young Men movie on Twitter:
A-1 Pictures on Twitter:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Beat Child 1987

I've been looking for a reason to post a Blue Hearts clip for a while. They will feature in an upcoming documentary about the Beat Child rock festival from 1987.

Over the last 20 years summer festivals have grown to dominate the world music landscape. From Woodstock, Glastonbury, Lollapalooza, All Tomorrow's Parties, The Big Day Out, to Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic. They can shape the music of a generation. And everyone who has attended a summer music festival, especially one of the multi-day events that involve camping in crusty flood prone swamp, will grow to forget the cold damp misery of incessant rain, the mud caked shoes and socks, and no sleep. The fond memories of friendship and music remain.

One such legendary festival in Japan, called Beat Child, was held in Kumamoto in 1987. It was Japan's first all night music festival, and it rain non-stop, the music thrived, and 72000 attendees were soaked though. This event has gone into Japanese music history for the rain, and the passion of not only the drenched spectators, but the tenacity of the performers.

The line up consisted of The Heart, The Blue Hearts, Up-Beat, Red Warriors, Yasunobu Komatsu (小松康信), Yasuyuki Okamura (岡村靖幸), Takako Shirai and the Crazy Boys (白井貴子&Crazy Boys), Hound Dog, Boowy, The Street Sliders, Yutaka Ozaki (尾崎豊), Misato Watanabe (渡辺美里), Motoharu Sano and The Heartland (佐野元春).

Titled "Baby, Are You Alright? Beat Child 1987" (ベイビー大丈夫かっBEATCHILD 1987), the documentary will be in limited release from October 26th.

Short Peace

Short Peace is a collection of 4 short animated films by 4 acclaimed directors, plus a 5th opening sequence by Koji Morimoto (森本晃司).

The film was the idea of Akira director Katsuhiro Otomo centered around the theme of Japan. Otomo directs the first short, Combustable (ひのようじん・火要鎮), which takes place during the 18th century Edo period, and tells the story of a woman who starts fires after becoming obsessed with firemen. The second short, Tsukumo (九十九), by the director of the FREEDOM series Shuhei Morita (森田修平), also set during the 18th century, tells of a man lost on a mountain path who comes across a small forgotten shrine. The third film GAMBO directed by Hiroaki Ando is set is 16th century north eastern Japan and tells the story of a demon who is transported to the human realm and battles with a giant white bear. The final film directed by Hajime Katoki (カトキ・ハジメ), Buki Yosaraba (武器よさらば). The title is taken from the Ernest Hemingway novel A Farewell to Arms, and is set in the ruins of a near future Tokyo. The film shows a military encounter between 5 men and unmanned weapon system.

Short Peace was released last month on July 20th to limited theaters around Japan.

Saturday, August 3, 2013


A bit of a change in direction with this next post. I've been reading a few text on translation studies recently, and some of the topics raised have been relevant to the novel I just finished reading, David Mitchell's second novel number9dream.

David Mitchell is a British author that spent many years living in Japan before her return to England to pursue writing full time. Along with his wife, Keiko Yoshida, he recently released an English translation of Naoki Higashida's The Reason I Jump, Naoki's autobiographic insight into the condition of Autism. David Mitchell decided to the translate the book after gaining valuable understanding of his autistic son's life, and way of communicating with the outside world. I have friends and relatives involved in special education, so I'm very interested in checking out the book when I get a chance.

But there are another couple of common themes in the book that piqued my interest. I wrote last week about the latest Hyakuta Naoki movie, Eien no Zero (永遠の0). It deals kamikaze pilots and weather they were heroes making the ultimate sacrifice, or terrorists blinded by an unhealthy ideology. Similarly, number9dream deals with the lesser known kaiten (回転) manned torpedoes, and the commitment, sacrafice, or madness of the men who volunteered to drive them.

The protagonist is 19 year old Eiji Miyake who is searching for his father. Written from a Japanese perspective, it reads like a translation of a Japanese novel. There are multiple references to Japanese culture and terminology that are untranslated and mark the story as non-English, even though it was originally written in English. A translated novel from a source that never existed.

There are some phrases that I'm sure if I weren't so familiar with Japanese that would have passed me by without a second thought. The first of which is the waving of one's little finger. Back in Australia, it's a bit of an insult, and indicates a man who is lacking in "size", but in Japanese culture it refers to girlfriends, as in "are you single?" The second was the phrase "daughter in a box", which is pretty meaningless in English, but is a direct translation of the Japanese 箱入り娘. It refers to a daughter who is raised in a very socially restricted manner, and doesn't have much experience with relationships. What comes across as a rather unclear expression in English is much easier to understand if you're familiar with the phrase being translated.

But this quasi-translation is used rather inconsistently through out the novel. One moment people are eating yakiniku, jankening, and playing pachinko but the next chapter is all octopus balls and rice balls (not takoyaki and onigiri). First Eiji is reading manga and later in the story he reads comic books. This inconsistency threw me a bit, but maybe I'm just being pedantic.

This comes back to the role of the translator, are they supposed to translate the story so that it is relateable to the target culture which reduces the foreignness, or do they retain the foreignness of the story, keeping localized words, phrases, and sentence structures, which all mark the work as a translation. Personally I'm on the "keep it foreign" side of the fence. When the story is taking place in Tokyo, I want to feel and breath the crammed trains, the smoky pachinko parlors. The setting is an important character of any novel, I don't want it erased and painted over to become Sydney, New York or London.


It's 18 months old, but I came across this interview with Yoshimi (aka Yoshimi P-We, real name Yokota Yoshimi 横田佳美) of OOIOO (and Boredoms) fame. Or western audiences might know her as that Yoshimi from the Flaming Lips song. The most interesting part of the interview for me was her reaction to the idol groups that are dominating the Japanese music scene these days. Subtitles are available in English for those that need it.

And so I have been listening to my OOIOO records all weekend. A favourite of mine is the song UMO from the 2006 release Taiga. It reminds me a lot of the Sepultura song, Ratamahatta, both musically and the stop motion clip.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Eien no Zero

Eien no Zero (永遠の0) is the third movie to come from the work of Naoki Hyakuta, and the second this year after Monster was released in April. Eien no Zero was Hyakuta's 2006 debut best seller novel, which was also released in a 5 part manga series in 2010.

The story concerns a brother and sister who discover that their real grandfather was an ace pilot during the world war 2 who volunteered for the kamikaze squad. The film deals with some rather sensitive topics of wartime Japan, especially with the recently heightened tensions between Korea and China, and Prime Minister Abe's push to strengthen the Japanese military. The plot of the novel raises the question of whether the Kamikaze pilots are brave war heroes or terrorists, and it'll be interesting to see how that plays out on the screen.

From Ghibli's heart wrenching Grave of the Fireflies to Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima, which gave me my first perspective of war from the non-American/Australian side, I'm hoping Eien no Zero provides a valuable perspective on the war, and those who fought it.

The "Zero" in the title is a reference to the A6M Zero used by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Pacific War. Chasing on from Ghibli's latest anime, Kaze Tachinu (風立ちぬ), there is plenty on offer in Japanese cinema this year for fans of World War 2 era Japanese airplanes.

Directed by Takashi Yamasaki (山崎貴) who has found recent success with the Showa era film series, Always 3 Chome. Starring Junichi Okada (岡田准一) and Mao Inoue (井上真央) as war torn lovers in the flashback part of the film and Haruma Miura (三浦春馬) and Kazue Fukuishi (吹石一恵) as the present day grandchildren trying to uncover their families hidden past.

The movie will be released on December 21st in Japan. Check out the film's website here:, or follow the news on twitter:

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tsume to Me

The winner of the 149th Akutagawa Prize for the 1st half of 2013 was announced this month, and awarded to Kaori Fujino's (藤野可織) Tsume to Me (爪と目).

It was published earlier int he year in the April edition of literary magazine Shincho (新潮). You can check out an extract from the story here:

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Oyasumi Pun Pun #12

This series is a rarity for Inio Asano (浅野いにお) currently releasing the 12th and penultimate volume, with the final 13th volume due later in the year. Asano usually writes smaller stories within 1 or 2 volumes, such as A Girl By The Seaside from earlier in the year, or the 2005 hit Solanin.

But the brutal honesty presented in Asano's story are still present. Although how real can a story centered around a anthropomorphic bird-boy be? The surrealistic twist adds a softness to the harsh reality and emotional pain of the central characters.

The art of Asano is sublime, I'd love to frame some his artwork. But it is combined with emotionally crushing and gut wrenching stories that are so honest and painful that I sometimes find them difficult to read. Several years ago I read the first 7 volumes of this series as Pun Pun developed from a cute primary school boy with an innocent crush on a girl in his class, to an awkward adolescent, and onto an introverted sexually confused high school student. Picking up in volume 12, I see that Pun Pun's emotional strain has only increased as he tries to keep his dysfunctional life from disintegrating. Not for the faint of heart, but one of my favourite current series.

Asano Inio on Twitter:
Oyasumi Pun Pun Website:

I Am A Hero #12

The latest installment of I Am A Hero hit the bookshelves a few weeks ago. Issue 12 wraps up the introduction to the second group survivors including the mentally unstable and ultra-violent Kurusu (来栖).

The safety of the group's hideout becomes exposed after a break in by a wandering zombie, aka ZQN. And tension builds within the group as they argue about where to move.

We see several characters, like Hiromi from the first story line and Kurusu from the second story line, who manage to maintain some of their humanity and do not full succumb to the illness. With slurred speech but an inhumane strength and love of violence, these characters hold the key for the survivors, and future of the series.

These meme of immune and semi-immune carriers is slowly establishing itself as a zombie plot device. From 28 Weeks Later, to the current PS3 hit The Last Of Us, and now I Am A Hero. I mentioned this after the release of volume 11, but I'm really hoping to see this series picked up for a movie adaptation.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sayonara Keikoku

Based on the 2008 novel of the same name by celebrated author Shuichi Yoshida (吉田修一). Sayonara Keikoku (Farewell Canyon さよなら渓谷) tells the story of a mother, Satomi (An Suzuki 鈴木杏), who is accused of murdering her young son after his body is found discarded along side a picturesque mountain stream. Her arrest brings to light her relationship with her neighbours Kanako (Yoko Maki 真木よう子) and Shunsuke Oszaki (Shima Onishi 大西信満). Directed by up and coming director Tatsushi Omori (大森立嗣).

Sayonara Keikoku is the second work by Shuichi Yoshida to see a feature film release this year. The first released earlier this year was Yokomichi Yonosuke (横道世之介) staring Kengo Kora (高良健吾) and Yuriko Yoshitaka (吉高由里子), directed by Shuichi Okita (沖田修一).

But it was the Japanese Academy Award winning Akunin (悪人) that brought the writing of Shuichi Yoshida to a worldwide audience. With a masterful performance by the lead actor Satoshi Tsumabuki (妻夫木聡), co-staring Eri Fukatsu (深津絵里), and directed by Saniru Li (李相日).

Friday, June 28, 2013

Space Brothers #21

If you grow up watching The Simpsons there is that moment when you realised that the star of the show wasn't Bart, it was Homer, and it was a deliberate decision by the writers. Similarly it seems to me, that even though the title is 宇宙兄弟 (Space Brothers), the focus of the story is Mutta (六太), Hibito (日々人) is just a supporting character.

It's great to see another cameo by the Ghostbuster inspired scientists, and a mustachioed Peter Venkman/Bill Murray adding a bit of humour.

I'm not sure if I mentioned this last time, but it must be difficult to write a science fiction in the near future when the pace of current technology, and political maneuvering outpaces the events in the story. 3D printing which has made such rapid advances in the past few years, features heavily. And with the manga originally appearing in 2008, NASA has since seen drastic cuts, especially in its manned space mission, that make the future envisioned in Space Brothers difficult to realise. I wonder if these real word changes have lead to the current story line that seems to be scale back the ambition of the earlier volumes. Now we see Mutta attending budgetary meetings, and campaigning to continue the International Space station in an environment of decreased space spending.

Space Brothers is a series that is slowly losing momentum, it would be nice to see Hibito return after a fairly long absence, or to see Mutta finally realise his dream of heading to space, but at the current pace of the series it may not happen for a while.

Friday, June 14, 2013

neon - Special Others

Special Others have a new single out to commemorate their first solo show at the Nippon Budokan. And they have released a nice little clip to go along with it. But be warned, the clip is only available until June 30th! It's called neon, check out while you can! And if you're in Tokyo on the 29th, you should definitely go check them out, they put on an amazing live show.

Special Others website:
Special Others Twitter:

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Family Gypsy

Family Gypsy (ファミリー・ジプシー) is the latest photobook, travel journal from Ayumu Takahashi (高橋歩).

I first became aware Takahashi's work with the Japanese-English bilingual release of LOVE & FREE (I think it's called the NY Edition). I found the book when I was at the point where I was confident enough in my Japanese to try something a bit challenging. But having the English translation made it easy to navigate.

The story of Ayumu Takahashi is an interesting one, at 26 years of age, as an extended honeymoon, he and his wife decide to spend 20 months traveling around the world. Along the journey, Takahashi wrote about the adventure, and combined with poetry and a camrea. That journey became LOVE & FREE. After the success of that work, Takahashi has also traveled around Japan by himself, and now on their tenth wedding anniversary, and with 2 small children in tow, the Takahashi family once again journeyed around the world finding peace and happiness in the little things. Through North, Central and South America, Antarctica, Australia, Asia, Europe, Africa and back to Japan, this is Family Gypsy.

Ayumu's Website:
Ayumu Takahashi on Twitter:

Kaiju no Kodomo

Kaiju no Kodomo (海獣の子供) was published in the monthly magazine IKKI between 2006 and 2011. It was drawn by the very talented Daisuke Igarashi (五十嵐大介). I originally read the first 3 (of 5) volumes, and was drawn in by the beauty of the seascapes. The story tells of two mysterious children, Umi and Sora, who share a mystical bond with the ocean. An ominous meteorite falls into the ocean causing balance and unrest.

I just picked up volumes 4 and 5 this week, and I'm looking forward reading them. I also picked up volume 1 of an earlier series by Iragashi called Witches.

A lot of Igarashi's work is publish on the IKKI imprint, a small label owned by Shogakukan that publishes some alternative comics that don't appear in the major monthlies. It's definitely worth checking out for some rare manga gems.

IKKI's Website:
Daisuke Igarashi's Blog:

Monday, June 3, 2013

Overground Acoustic Underground + Brahman

This song from a biscuit commercial caught my attention today:
It's the latest single from Overground Acoustic Underground. The band formed in 2005 and has featured at many of Japan's summer music festivals. Four of the six band members also form the hard rock band Brahman which formed in Tokyo in 1995. If anyone knows these guys and can recommend which albums I should be checking out, let me know! Here is a track that I'm loving from Brahman:

Overground Acoustic Underground website:
Brahman and Overground Acoustic Underground on Twitter:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Boys on the Run

One of my favourite series at the moment is Kengo Hanazawa's (花沢健吾) I Am A Hero. And since I'm waiting for issue 12 to be released in the next month or two, I thought I'd check out some of Hanazawa's earlier work.

Boys on the Run tells the story of average guy Toshiyuki Tanishi, and his quest for the love of the new office girl, Chiharu Uemura. Tanishi's rather awkward sexual advances, leads him on mission to win the love of Chiharu by promising to physically beat a more sophisticated rival, Takahiro Aoyama.

The manga also found a movie adaption in 2010, directed by Daisuke Miura (三浦大輔). The movie stars Kazunobu Mineta (峯田和伸) as Tanishi who fills the role perfectly as he has adapted to the niche role of a young guy who overcomes his nerdiness to reach popularity. He played a similar role in 2009's Shikizoku Generation (色即せねれいしょん). Chiharu is played by Mei Kurogawa (黒川芽以). The ever mysterious Ryuhei Matsuda (松田隆平) also perfectly captures the arrogant and self confident Aoyama.

The movie also features music by lead actor Kazunobu Mineta's band, Ginnan BOYZ (銀杏BOYZ).

A TV drama of the series was also released in 2012, but it's heavy reliance on more fashionable actors, pop stars, and models in the main roles, would possibly detract from the charm provided by the actors of the movie.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

2013 Cannes Film Festival

The Cannes film festival starts up this weekend, and there are two Japanese films in the official selection competing for the Palme d'Or.

The first is Shield of Straw (藁の楯) by Takashi Miike (三池崇史). Prolific and hard working, it's hard to describe the work of Miike, as there is no comparable directors in the world of cinema. From the surealism of David Lynch, the violence of Tarantino, it was the shockingly graphic films like Audition and Ichi the Killer that helped develop his cult following in the west.

Miike's latest film features Tatsuya Fujiwara (藤原竜也) of Battle Royale and Death Note fame, Nanako Matushima (松島奈々子) from Ring, Ring 2, the Japanese remake of Ghost (Yes, the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore Ghost), and a long list of Japanese TV dramas, and stage, TV and movie star Takao Osawa (大沢たかお) who recently featured in the main role in the TV adaption of JIN (仁).

The other film up for the Palme d'Or is Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる). Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda (是枝裕和) who has previously featured at Cannes with Air Doll (空気人形), Nobody Knows (誰も知らない), and Distance (ディスタンス). Staring Japanese musician, actor, entertainer, heartthrob, Masaharu Fukuyama (福山雅治), it also features Machiko Ono (尾野真千子), Yoko Maki (真木よう子), and Lily Franky(リリー・フランキー).

Both films will hit cinemas in Japan later in the year.

Shield of Straw (Cannes Film Festival Summary)
Like Father, Like Son (Cannes Film Festival Summary)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Kirishima Quit Club Activities

It's difficult to capture the nuance of the title in English. The original Japanese title "桐島、部活やめるってよ"  is an unusual title that uses a casual form of Japanese as spoken by the high school students around which the drama unfolds.

The original novel by Ryo Asai released in 2010, features 6 intertwined short stories following 6 students and their inter-relationships. It is probably one of the most accurate depictions of social hierarchy of Japanese high school, and highlights the importance of club activities in defining a students self worth, and sense of belonging.

Hiroki who is close friends with Kirishima, a gifted athlete and popular student. Apathetically avoids training, or being a member of the baseball club, even though he would be the first student picked for the team. Fusuke is the reserve ribero (defensive position in volleyball) who is unexpectedly thrown into the spotlight when Kirishima is absent during an important tournament game. Aya is the leader of the brass band as the band prepares for a big recital. Ryoya is the head of the movie club which commands little respect from the other students begins to gain some recognition after winning a local film award. Mika is a member of the softball club, she is dealing with the death of her father and the effect this has on her and her step mother.

Quite often through out the novel references to music (aiko, Chatmonchy), movies (All About Lily Chou-Chou), fashion and current trends really seems to ground the novel in reality.

The novel was re-released in 2012 with an additional chapter from the point of Kasumi about her relationship with Ryoya, when they were junior high school students. The relationship forms an integral part of Ryoya's story earlier in the novel.

I wrote about the movie adaptation back in March. Directed by Daihachi Yoshida (吉田大八) , it won Best Picture and Best Director at the 36th Japanese Academy Awards. Featuring a superb cast of young actors and actresses including Ryunosuke Kamiki (神木隆之介) as Ryoya, head of the movie club, and Ai Hashimoto (橋本愛) as Kasumi, a member of the badminton club who was the subject of the added chapter in the 2012 re-release of the book. Some of the relationships in the movie have changed from the book, due to pacing. But I think the changes that have been made improve the cohesion of the story as a movie, even if I do prefer the additional insight provided by the more in depth back story in the novel.

The movie adaptation is most noticeable for changing the focus from the characters, to the pacing of the story. The same day's story is told from several characters' point of view before moving on to the next day's events. The complete story builds up slowly as the individual character's motivations and relationships are uncovered. This unusual telling of the story makes this a deserved winner of the Japanese Academy Award.

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Girl By The Seaside

There is a unique combination of honesty and innocence, beauty and strength of character in the work of Inio Asano.  The two volume series A Girl By The Seaside (うみべの女の子) is published under the Erotic Fx label.

The story deals with two young introverted kids who have trouble connecting emotionally with their peers and family. They find solace in their mutual antagonism, and find an outlet for their sexual curiosities and frustrations.

As I mentioned earlier, the honesty with which Asano deals with teenage sexuality is courageous. It is a great contrast to the rows and rows of exploitative, juvenile and adolescent manga at the bookstore.

The first time I noticed the work of Inio Asano was the ongoing series Goodnight, Pun Pun (おやすみプンプン). Aside for the fact that the main character is a boy sized bird by the name of Pun Pun, and chronicles his growing pains into adolescence. The real emotion of his struggle and pains is not lessened by Pun Pun's non-human form.

Even if the story lines were not some of the most unique, beautiful and honest stories that I've ever read, the artwork alone would be enough to keep me reading the work of Inio Asano. The city landscapes, the innocent faces, seductive artwork.

Although better known for the 2010 movie adaptation of Solanin, which the 2005 manga is probably the best place to start for anyone looking to jump into his work.

Inio Asano on Twitter:
Erotic Fx website: