Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hoshi Mamoru Inu

Based on the 2009 manga of the same name (星守る犬) by Takashi Murakami (村上たかし).

It tells the story of a protagonist who is just referred to as dad or father (お父さん), who loses his job and family, and finds himself in ailing health. The one thing in his life that brings him joy is his dog, Happy. Together they set out on a final journey up the eastern coast of Japan toward Hokkaido.

There are several reasons why I feel a special attachment to this movie. The first is Toshiyuki Nishida. One of the staples of afternoon TV growing up in the '80s in Australia was Monkey. And people may not recoginize his name, but everyone of my friends can recognize Pigsy. When I found out Toshiyuki was from Koriyama City just down the road from me in Fukushima, that just increased my fondness for him even more. He is the Charles "Bud" Tingwell of Japanese TV and cinema, and he really is the shining light of this movie with a superb performance of an older man with failing health who is losing touch with society. Although, Nishida's staring performance probably highlights the rather uninspiring efforts of his supporting cast members.

The second attachment I have with this film involves the journey up the coast of north eastern Japan, through Iwaki and up the coast of Fukushima. Completed 6-8 months before the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, the journey taken would have lead through coastal areas of Japan that are currently unaccessible due to radiation quarantine.

This is definitely a tear-jerker, especially for dog lovers. Similar to the real life stories of Greyfriars Bobby and Hachiko. While the ending here is telegraphed from the opening scenes of the movie, the final and rather brutal realization of story still packs an emotional punch.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Peeping Life - ET & World History

For the 100 Year Anniversary of Universal Studios Peeping Life have produced a special short featuring junior high school pair, Shota and Kota, with ET. I can't embed the video, so you can check it out here:

Also there is a new series featuring many old and new characters throughout World History. Many of these are available on Youtube, and English subtitles are available if you can't catch what's being said. A great way to pick up on some natural Japanese.
Check out more news about Peeping Life here:

Saturday, January 19, 2013


My introduction to the Berserk series was in 2000 through the Sega Dreamcast game, Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage. The depth of the themes and plots suggested more than the usual hack and slash fantasy title. The internet giving me a glimpse of more, but it was still the age of 56k modems. It wasn't too long before I had track down VHS fansubs, and ordered a copy of Susumu Hirosawa's accompanying soundtrack.

When I first moved to Japan it was one of the first manga series that I chased down at my local Bookoff. Although with my then rudamentary Japanese, I struggled through the first 3 volumes before they were relegated to the book shelf, for future reference once I had learnt a bit more kanji, and I searched for something a bit easier. Although Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys wasn't much of a step down in difficulty.

2012 saw the release of a new series of movies by Studio 4°C which also cover the Golden Age arc which was the story line covered in the original anime by OLM. The Golden Age arc covers manga volumes 4-13. I'm hoping Studio 4°C also continue on with the Conviction arc (volumes 14-21), Hawk of the Millennium Empire arc (volumes 22-35) and the current Fantasia arc (volumes 35-).

The 3rd film in the current Studio 4°C series is just about to hit cinemas in Japan in February 1st.

And for those that have always wondered Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage takes place between volumes 22 and 23 during the Hawk of the Millennium arc which also featured in an additional PS2 game.

The Berserk manga has just been made available in digital format in Japan, I've been reading it on my Sony Reader. So it's a good time to try and jump into this mammoth series if you have access to an epub reader or there's also an android app.

Also catch the author of Berserk, Kentaro Miura, on Twitter:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Youkame no Semi

Youkame no Semi (八日目の蝉 or 8 Day Old Cicada), is a novel written by Mitsuyo Kakuta (角田光代) originally published in 2007. In 2010 it was adapted into a 6 part TV Drama and then a movie adaptation directed by Izuru Narushima (成島出) was released in 2011. I'm only familiar with the movie adaptation, but hope to get around to reading the book someday.

It dominated at the 35th Japanese Academy Awards, winning 10 awards including Best Picture, Best Director (Izuru Narushima), Best Sceenplay, Best Actress (Mao Inoue), Best Supporting Actress (Hiromi Nagasaku), Newcomer Award (Nokomi Watanabe), Best Music, Best Cinematography and Best Lighting.
The story revolves around a young girl, Erina who is kidnapped at birth and raised by her kidnapper under a new name, Kaoru, until the age of 4. Young Kaoru, assuming her kidnapper is her mother, faces a rather shocking change of life when she is reintroduced to her biological parents. Feeling like she is being raised by strangers, it creates family tension that never quite heals.

The role of Erina/Kaoru is played by Mao Inoue (井上真央), who I've seen in the movei adaptation of My Darling is a Foreigner, and is also due to star in adaptaion of Hyakuta Naoki's (百田尚樹) Eien no Zero (永遠の0).

One of the main themes dealt with in this story is effect of the rather pervasive sects and cults of Japan's "New Religions" or Shinshukyo (新宗教),  and their effect on Japanese society. This was also a topic discussed in Murakami's 1Q84, but I don't think it highlighted the real problems these cults produce due to the science fiction nature of 1Q84. Youkame no Semi shows a more realistic portrayal of everyday within one of these groups which are more prominent in the corners of Japanese society than many people realize. I receive spam/pamphlets/newsletters in my mailbox from several groups every couple of months.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My Back Page

We have come to assume that Japan is a relatively safe society, free of social unrest and violence. Sure, there is the sliver of attention that Japanese gangs command in foreign media, through directors like Beat Takeshi, or the Yakuza (龍が如く) video game series from Sega. You may even be familiar with the Aum Sinrikyo (オウム真理教) sarin gas attacks on Tokyo subway in 1995. But even before that, there was the Japanese Red Army. A communist group that formed in the early '70s with the goal of overthrowing the Japanese government and monarchy.

Released in 2011, My Back Page chronicles the early career of mutli-award winning journalist and critic Saburo Kawamoto at Asahi Journal (朝日ジャーナル). Kawamoto, who is at first sympathetic to the ideological driven students who form the Japanese Red Army, is played admirably by Satoshi Tsumabuki  who also appeared in 2010's critically acclaimed Akunin (悪人). Opposite Matsuki is Kenichi Matsuyama who already feels like a veteran of Japanese cinema at the age of 27. Matsuyama enjoys throwing himself into a wide range of continuously challenging roles, and I think that kind of hurts his performance here, as he doesn't seem believable as the driven leader of an underground socialist movement.

Director Nobuhiro Yamashita also deserves some attention here for creating a believable early 1970s Japan. The film was even shot in 16mm, which almost gives the film a documentary feel in some segments, and matches the images with the time period.

I highly recommend My Back Page to anyone looking to dig a bit deeper at Japan's recent history into events that have molded it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Detroit Metal City

Detroit Metal City (デトロイト・メタル・シティ) by Kiminori Wakasugi is a few years old now. Originally released between 2005 and 2010 over 10 volumes. It was followed up with a concurrenlty released live action movie and anime adaptation in 2008.

It's not so much a dark comedy, more slapstick, coated with an absurd parody of death metal. The main character Soichi Negishi longs for success as an independant singer songwriter. But to pay the bills has found himself a member of the increasingly successful and KISS inspired death metal band, Detroit Metal City.
Although I'm yet to see the anime, I'm a big fan of Kenichi Matsuyama as Negishi. And it's hilarious to see Gene Simmons with a little cameo.

The anime series was produced by Studio 4°C who are responsible for the recent Berserk remake, and have also worked on Batman, Halo, Street Fighter, Thundercats, and Transformers anime. The advantages of the anime series is that it can ramp up the more extreme elements with sequences that are just not possible with a live action version. And it doesn't disappoint.

The Detroit Metal City manga has just been made available digitally in Japan. So if you have a Sony Reader, or there is also the app for Android phones and tablets. Unfortunately it's not supported on my rather dated Galaxy S.

Check out the author of Detroit Metal City, Kiminori Wakasugi, on Twitter:
And you can download the series from the Sony Reader Store here:

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Saint Young Men Trailer

And here is the video for Saint Young Men (聖☆おにいさん) that I mentioned just before Christmas. It doesn't reveal too much of a story, but the animation style looks great. Looking forward to this.

Meido Meguri

Meido Meguri (冥土めぐり, Touring the Land of the Dead) by Maki Kashimada is the 147th winner of the Akutagawa Prize. The novel contains two short stories, the titled Meido Meguri, and 99 Seppun (99接吻, 99 Kisses).

The first story Meido Meguri tells of the relationship between a wife and her terminally ill husband, and how she learns to cope living with a man who is drastically changed from the man she married. The sense of life being only half lived, and a melancholic acceptance of her new role as care taker and support to her semi-invalid husband. The same pervasive melancholy of a 30-something female reminds me of the works of Hiromi Kawakami, especially Sensei no Kaban.

The second story, 99 Seppun is a story of four sisters and their mother who all live together after their father leaves home, and the unusual relationships that develop. Told from the perspective of the youngest sister, the story tells of the small step from innocent doting younger sister, who then realises the idiosyncrasies of her older sisters and gains a sense of herself and a more independent world view. But it feels a bit like a b-side to the award winning first story.