28 August 2007

That's not pain, that's passion!

From the camera of Jason Kim at our Karaoke session in SF!

Next up: Karaoke in Tokyo!

26 August 2007

Rhapsody in August, and storytelling

Yesterday I went with some friends to this month's installment of the Akira Kurosawa festival in Mitaka. Although I missed most of it, every month this festival shows one or two of Kurosawa's movies, in mostly (but not precisely) chronological order.

One of the things that surprised me when I first went to the festival is that, while Kurosawa's name is well-known, he's not a standard reference point of people in the industry, the way he is in the US. In the US, you can pretty safely assume that anyone in the entertainment business has seen Seven Samurai, and Rashomon; and that they have some idea of Kurosawa's ouvre outside that. Before this festival, I had probably seen seven or so of Kurosawa's movies (my favorite, hands-down, is Ikiru).

However, that wasn't the point of this post! Yesterday we watched Ran, his beautifully cinematic remake of King Lear; and Rhapsody in August, which is what this post is about.

Rhapsody is not a bad film, in fact I enjoyed most of it. For one thing, after the hig opera of the jidaiteki (period) films and the out-and-out weirdness of Dou Desu Ka Den, watching Kurosawa direct normal characters in Rhapsody was a great break (the primary characters are a grandma who survived the Nagasaki atomic bomb, and her materialistic grandchildren). The movie definitely is an old man's movie (Kurosawa was 81 when he made it), and it reflects an old man's attitude about the decline of culture. However, it's still a reasonable story about the reconciliation of several generations and despite their differing priorities.

The things that were controversial at the time of the film's release seem like total non-issues to me; the film has a very negative view of the atomic bombing, but it's a film about a family who lost their patriarch to the bomb so that's natural. Some depictions of American were criticized as obsequious, apologizing for the bomb; but in fact Gere's character seemed to me to simply be having a humane response to the loss the characters around him had suffered.

But the story is another thing. Again, most of the film is good, as by small moments the grandchildren and grandma come to grips with each other. The grandma is slowly losing touch, which is portrayed very straightforwardly. But the ending ruined the movie; namely, that there isn't one. At the end of the movie, there's a another "grandma is losing touch" episode, but it has no consequences and no resolution (in fact, we don't even see the end of the episode; the movie cuts abruptly to credits while the families are chasing the determined grandma down a dirt road in a torrential rainstorm).

There simply is no coda, no ending, no meaning assigned to the issues the characters have been dealing with for two hours. Will the families move to Hawaii or not? (this is the central plot question of the film) Don't know. Will grandma go? Can she continue to live alone in this country house near Nagasaki? Don't know. That might all be fine if the final sequence provided some character insight that justified it; but it doesn't.

Making this extra-scary, the group I was this with was happy with the ending. Why? Because it "didn't put an explicit meaning on the movie." Sure, that's like saying you enjoyed the evening because an axe murderer didn't assault you; true, but no defense of the events. No, you don't have to tie everything in the plot up neatly with a ribbon on top, but a story should have a sense of conclusion at the end.

Now, the friends I saw this with are all highly educated, well-versed members of the industry. The reason their reaction scared me is because it made me think, "Will Japan ever be able to make mainstream worldwide entertainment?" If you've been through even the slightest amount of the mainstream story-development thread in America, it's painfully clear what was wrong with the ending: there's nothing the characters have learned and brought back to their lives. Happy ending, sad ending, whatever: audiences want a feeling that the events of the story have come to a stopping place. If you were a live storyteller around a campfire, and you tried to end the way Rhapsody in August does, your audience wouldn't let you go!

Sigh, it's gonna be a hard struggle to get successful content produced here.


Now playing: Vampire Weekend - Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
via FoxyTunes

25 August 2007

Appliances, Pt. 2

The refrigerator was freezing the vegetables, so I was motivated to follow on to the earlier post of "Kanji you might find on a washing machine" with this one, "Kanji you might find on a refrigerator".

Kanji Reading Meaning
冷蔵庫 reizouko Refrigerator
冷蔵室 reizoushitsu Refrigerator compartment (lit. "room")
冷凍室 reitoushitsu Freezer compartment
設定ロック settei rokku Setting lock
tsuyo(i) strong
chuu medium
yowa(i) weak
ソフト冷凍 sofuto reitou Soft freeze
急冷凍 kyuureitou Fast freeze
キッチンタイマー kicchin taimaa Kitchen timer (yes, my refrigerator has a built-in kitchen timer)
スタート sutaato Start
ストップ sutoppu Stop

Now playing: The Proclaimers - I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)

21 August 2007

Another miracle of Multi-lingual Product Marketing

The toilet paper randomly bought at the nearby 24-hour store is called Elleaire.

The tag line says (in English), "Elleaire is made with the finest quality and ultimate softness, in order to bring comfort back into your life."

Below that, it says, in Japanese, "100% Pure Pulp."

20 August 2007

Firefox Mac OS X -> Death Spiral

I love Firefox and here in Japan I'm totally dependent on the awesome perapera-kun plugin to work through Japanese web pages (also, Google Browser Sync is pretty addictive as well).

But man, on Mac OS X, Firefox just slows down, and down, and down... This isn't the same as the while-holding-mouse-down problem, this is a progressive slowdown that accumulates over time (it's probably not a coincidence that memory size increases). I have to restart regularly. I just found a great workaround that makes restarting pretty painless, but I'm surprised this doesn't get more attention on Mozilla boards. What's the haps?

If I wasn't using the extensions, I'd switch to Camino for sure.

18 August 2007

A Tale of Two Books

I've recently read two books that had diametrically opposed effects on me.

Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion is essentially a rant against the evils and narrow-minded thinking of religion (and aggressive defense of atheism). I substantially agree with his point but the book contained little that made me think or explore the topic further; as my housemate Matt said, "Poking holes in weak theological arguments doesn't seem especially fruitful."

On the other hand, The Black Swan: The Effect of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb takes as its central thesis that Gaussian distributions are fundamentally incorrect and should be stricken from our analysis habits. That assertion is wrong in the fields of endeavor where I spend most of my time, and the prose itself far inferior to Dawkins'; yet, the book and it's strongly and personally argued points made me think at every turn. There's a decent chance I will reread the book (rare for me), not to reabsorb the main thesis but to relive the side arguments and intellectual explorations it inspired.

I'm sure I'll write more about the Black Swan book; after all, the author starts from experience and then applies models, an approach I'm much more comfortable with. And, I fundamentally believe in the applicability of his thoughts to the world of finance, where he originated, and wish more people grasped the fundamental risks he highlights (which I was exposed to some years ago via chaos theory).

17 August 2007


Shorter report than usual, since I was busy in meetings a lot! But still some stuff at http://www.stoneschool.com/Work/Siggraph/2007/.