Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Battle Royale," My Favorite Japanese Cult Flick...

And that's the trailer for Battle Royale, with Kitano Takeshi. Those related to me may know him as "Vic Romano" from MXC. However, here in Japan he's a ubiquitous TV personality, highly respected film director and actor. Battle Royale was just an acting gig for him, but he makes the most of his limited screen time. This movie also features a young Kuriyama Chiaki, who went on to American pop culture iconic status as Gogo Yubari in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Volume One. Several of its other stars- like bad girl Shibasaki Kou- have gone on to varying degrees of show business success, so I'd compare this movie to the 80s commie paranoia flick Red Dawn with its cast of teens and young adults like Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Grey and the great Harry Dean Stanton in his film debut as a gun-totin' toddler.

It's similar to Red Dawn in that its hearty seasonings of violence and ridiculousness make it eminently watchable and rewatchable. You can enjoy it on any number of levels. I mean, if you're into this sort of thing.

And I am.

As you can probably guess this movie caused quite a stir here in Japan when it debuted, but most of the people I meet have never seen it. Or even if they do know of it, they think it's a curiosity, not all that good (contrary to its almost legendary status in the States) or else merely extremely silly. They also tend to think I'm weird for liking it. No argument there.

Whenever I'm asked what Japanese films I like, I list the typical Japanophile favorites- Kurosawa, Kurosawa, Kurosawa, plus Miyazaki Hayao and his Studio Ghibli animated masterworks.

Those usually get appreciative nods, and the Miyazaki mention often leads to more questions, such as, "Have you watched Laputa?" or "Have you watched Porco Rosso?" The charming Totoro remains a universally beloved classic so sometimes at that point the conversation gets rerouted down the Totoro Track and we travel along through a Ghibli-inspired landscape while we reminisce about our favorite scenes. So of course I've seen those- except Porco Rosso, but it's only a matter of time. However, when I get to Battle Royale...

That's when people crack up and exclaim: "Eeehhhh?!!?"

And because I love the over the top score in its intro scene, here's the first 9 minutes or so:

Monday, January 28, 2008

When the 2-Way Misunderstandings Come Fast and Furious on My Other Blog, I Come Back Here...

And it's with a gift of love... a mountain trip to Japan, 1959...

Enjoy the feelings of warmth and belonging.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Japanese Lends Itself to Colorful Expressions... and Tests!

Sorry I haven't written in this blog for a while. There's not a whole lot going on in my life here in Japan worth writing about these days. Just smooth sailin'. Things are going quite well but the flipside of that shiny coin is things have become very boring. I'm thinking about having another Tokyo junket to shake things up, maybe over my next 3-day weekend or during Golden Week. There may be romance blossoming but that's all anyone needs to know for now.

In the meantime, the Japan Times Online has taken up some of the content slack. One of my favorite aspects of learning Japanese is the way native speakers come up with so many creative usages. While we Americans refer to a vain balding man as having a "comb-over," which is too on the nose and not so interesting, in Japan a similar hairstyle is refered to as "barcode hair," which is funnier and creates a vivid mental image. It does look like a barcode!

Japan Times has an article on the "secret" language used by Japan's working women. If you don't want to read the entire article, here's the main list:

* Tabitomo (traveling companion) — an illicit lover, used in reference to extramarital affairs.
* Yuryo bukken (excellent property) — a real-estate term used here to mean a male colleague considered a possible romantic interest.
* Kakurenbo oji (hide-and-seek prince) — a man who ignores his female colleague until just before it's time to knock off for the day.
* Katorina — a man who wreaks havoc on the office environment. So named for the hurricane that devastated New Orleans.
* Ichigo (strawberry) — used figuratively to describe a pimply complexion.
* Ganburon — an unsightly male who grows his hair long. Formed by stringing together gan (face), busaiku (unappealing) and ronge (long hair).

My favorites are yuryo bukken, katorina and ichigo. Ichigo is brilliantly visual. And many people I've met here are still fascinated by Hurrican Katrina, so I'm not surprised it's entered the slang vernacular here in such an appropriate way.

And in news that hits closer to home (several people I know had to change travel plans this weekend because the shinkansen were almost all booked up), the yearly university-entrance exam rite has begun.

I don't know how it is in Europe, but this is very different from the American way of getting a higher education. Each year, graduating Japanese high schoolers have to make the journey to testing centers for rigorous university entrance exams. Failure means a year of further cram school and status as a "ronin," an old school samurai term for a "masterless warrior." Kurosawa Akira made some great movies about these samurai and their adventures, but for the exam flopper it's a time of uncertainty, anxiety and hard work.

Whereas we Americans take the SAT, fill out a form, pay a truckload of money and off we go.

For those who pass, life begins to arrange itself into a familiar, timeless pattern; it must be something of a relief after all the pressures heaped on them in high school. Their parents did it, their aunts and uncles did it, their older siblings did it. School, a degree, a job, marriage and a child. They're all set. However stultifying that may seem, once in college Japanese students tend to indulge in that universal ingredient of matriculated life: beer, beer and more beer. And also, they drink beer.

I do know of one lucky young man locally. He's so brilliant he gets to skip his senior year of high school and go straight into Chiba University where he'll study physics and go on to contribute mightily to humanity's accumulated scientific know-how.

Maybe he'll even successfully blow up the planet!