Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Space Brothers #20

The latest volume of Space Brothers (宇宙兄弟) was released on Friday. If you get in quick you can grab the limited edition version with a bonus DVD which includes a prelude to a new Space Brothers animated movie, Space Brothers ~One Point of Light~ (宇宙兄弟 ~一点のひかり~), which will be released this summer on July 21st. It's interesting to note that the anime will only be playing at various planetariums around the country. Seems like a good way to young kids out to planetariums and interested in science.

The latest volume of Space Brothers deals with lose, and Hibito's absence further heightens this sense of lose, and I hope we see him back soon. Focusing more on Mutta, we see more on the back story of two of his current mentors, Vince and Piko, and how they have used the lose of a dear friend to fuel their ambitions and to never let go of their dreams. We also see the return of one of Mutta's original mentors from his youth, Sharon, who finally achieves one of her dreams, but this is tainted by the sense of loss she feels as she succumbs to her illness.

I'm not sure what Chuya Koyama has in store for the two Space Brothers, Mutta and Hibito, and even though this is one of the most regularly released comics I read, I wish the central story would continue at a faster pace. I'm rather impatient to see how this series finishes.


A light comedy directed by Shinobu Yaguchi and features one of my favourite young Japanese actors Gaku Hamada, along side Yuriko Yoshitaka and Japanese rock icon Mickey Curtis.
I first noted the slightly built Gaku Hamada in the 2006 release Golden Slumber. He had the small supporting role of an anarchic teen who lived on the streets. And then I saw in him in a main role in Ahiru to Kamo no Coin Locker, which features what I consider to be one of the best feature film portrayals of what it is like to be a foreigner in Japan. Then a comedic role in 2012's Space Brothers. But Roboji features Gaku in a more subtle comedic role that reminds me of Australia comedies produced by Working Dog Productions such as The Dish.

The female lead is played by Yuriko Yoshitaka, who I first saw in her film debut in the collection of short films for Otsuichi's ZOO. She appeared in the short film, Seven Rooms, which is possibly my favourite Otsuichi short story. So I'm always aware of her, when she pops up in various film roles and TV dramas. In Roboji she appears as a robot obsessed university student looking to pursue a career in robotics.

But the man who steals the show is the man inside the robot, Mickey Curtis, veteran of over 70 films, race car driver, rock and roll icon. Anyone one is a fan of King Crimson style progressive rock should check out Mickey Curtis and the Samurais 1971 album Kappa.
Back to Roboji, there is one thing that annoys me about the translation of the title of the film into English as Robo-G. The Japanese title, which I've just translated phonetically, is the portmanteau of robot and jiji (japanese for old man or geezer). It's a clever and fitting title. I'm not sure there is a suitable replacement title in English, but resorting to Robo-G feels like giving up too much, so I've stuck with the transliteration Roboji.

ab Sango

The 148th winner of the Akutagawa Prize is ab Sango (abさんご) by Natsuko Kuroda (黒田夏子), and at 75 years and 9 months she is the oldest recipient of the award. So all of you that are harbouring dreams of literary glory, it's never to late to start writing.

I've just started reading it, and even though it is quite short, as a non-native reader of Japanese, I'm finding the style of the prose quite difficult. When I started reading Japanese, I found it much easier to comprehend books written in basic kanji rather than the text for younger readers written in hiragana. Natsuko Kuroda's stlye of large sections of hiragana are a slow painful process for me, I find myself having to reread the same line several times to catch the meaning, and I would much prefer a version with more kanji! Then when she does use kanji, it can be equally confusing, as I found myself diving for my dictionary to discover that 禽 is just bird(鳥).

Anyway, I'm enjoying the challenge and hope to get through it in the next day or two.

Monday, February 18, 2013


Planetes is a four volume manga written by Makoto Yukimura between 1999 and 2004. I've just finished up watching the Freedom anime, and now this series. I'm a big fan of hard science fiction, which tends to focus more on a realistic portrayal of space exploration and near future technologies. Planetes focuses on Hachirota "Hachimaki" Hoshino and the crew aboard the space debris collection ship, Toy Box.

With all the recent announcements from several companies looking to finance and develop the asteroid mining industries, Planetes may well be the first science fiction series to hit their specified time line. The series sees the crew going about their business in 2075, although in reality it will be more likely all the future space mining jobs will be left to the robots. NASA themselves noted that the scenario presented the manga is highly unlikely due to the high cost, and low value of salvageable materials. Japanese space agency JAXA must have a permanent division just for dealing with anime and manga consultations after they were asked to help in the development of this series, and even more recently with the Space Brothers franchise.

A 26 episode anime series was produced by Sunrise in 2003. They are also responsible for several series of Gundam, Freedom and Patlabor, so they definitely know how to handle their SF. Although my personal preference is to leave out the giant robots, so I strongly recommend Planetes.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Freedom is a 7 part anime series directed by Shuhei Morita (森田修平) released between 2006 and 2008. A lot of the design work was done by Katsuhiro Otomo (大友克洋) who is better known as the director of Akira and Steam Boy. The theme song 'This is Love' was performed by J-pop superstar Hikaru Utada (宇多田ヒカル). The series was commissioned by Nissin Cup Noodles in celebration of their 35th anniversary in 2006, and produced by Sunrise. Each episode features some rather heavy and obvious product placements.
The story revolves around a group of boys living in moon colonies on the far side of the Moon called Eden. The Earth was abandoned 160 years ago due to environmental degradation that left it inhospitable to humanity. Lead by Takeru, the group of boys find out that Earth may not be as unlivable as they are taught in school, and set out to return to Earth to discover for themselves.

One of the first things I noticed were the similarities to Pixar's WALL-E also released in 2008. In both stories, humanity leave Earth due to the inhospitable nature of the environment, and live in large highly controlled colonies in space. The controlling bodies in each story also restrict knowledge about the true condition of a revitalized Earth in order to retain their power and control over a captive population. Replace WALL-E and his gang of freedom fighting robots with Takeru and his gang of boys and the plots are very similar.

But the ideas of humanity losing controls of their freedoms as technology advances toward a big brother state is also a common theme not only in Katsuhiro Otomo's earlier works of Akira and Steam Boy. Bosozoku (暴走族) inspired groups of youth fighting against the oppressive overbearing authorities who are abusing technological advances. Shuhei Morita's directorial debut with Kakurenbo also features a group of children rebelling against their lose of freedoms in an increasing dystopian future Tokyo.

Those of you are fans of Otomo's work should definitely check out Shuhei Morita as well, who I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more from in the future.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Nagisa Oshima

It's several weeks late but I wanted to point everyone over an article about Nagisa Oshima written over on Slate by Dana Stevens.

Oshima who died several weeks ago should be mentioned along with Akira Kurasawa whenever you are talking about Japanese cinema. Specifically, Japanese New Wave (ヌーベルバーグ from the french nouvelle vague) or the difficult to define Pink Film genre.

In Realm of Senses, as discussed by Dana Stevens at Slate, was intentionally made to push the boundaries of Japanese censorship at the time, and several sections of the film had to be physically developed in France to avoid prosecution. Just a warning that this clip is NSFW.

But one of my first recollections of Japanese cinema was of David Bowie and Takeshi Kitano in Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence. I was possibly very young when I first glimpsed  as it seems to have entered my conscience at a young age. Although it wasn't until much later that I sat down and watch it.
Another film of Oshima's that I want to mention is 1999s Taboo staring Ryuhei Matsuda. It was Oshima's final film and deal with homo-eroticism of the very mail dominated world of the samurai. Brokeback Bushido?
These three films represent the later half of Oshima's career, a fearless director who wasn't afraid to push the boundaries, or more correctly, a director who intentionally push the boundaries of cinema.