Film Culture & Homage

Funny Japanese Commercials: Glico Company x Star Wars

Pocky, produced by the Glico Company, is a very popular brand of Japanese biscuit sticks with flavored coatings that has been sold since 1966. It comes in a large variety of flavors like chocolate, almond, strawberry, melon, banana, green tea, coconut and many others.

The latest release is a series of Star Wars-themed products that is hitting the shelves in Japan this week, and one of the highlights is the light saber-like giant Pocky sticks. And to promote these products, the company has made a series of commercials that show Darth Vader and the Stormtroopers visiting the Pocky factory in Japan.

Posted via: Twitch Film

Shanghai: A City of Chaos or a Filmmaker's Dream?

Photos and story by David Simpson

Recently I took a trip to Shanghai to visit friends. I stayed in the city for five days of catching up on stories, drinking, dining, sightseeing, and enjoying good times. After I returned to Japan a lot of people looked very skeptical when I told them of my upbeat stories from China. Translation, how could you have a good time in a smog filled city jam packed with Chinese running around in a big rat race? My interpretation seemed to be dead on when I quizzed people on their reservations about China.

However, this underscored a couple of important things for me. First, you can have good times no matter where you are as long as you are with your friends and secondly, most people tend to have a narrow minded view of China especially their Asian neighbors. I am not saying China is Disneyland but in my case I have lived in Asia for over 15 years (Korea and Japan) and had the pleasure of traveling a lot so I have a seen a lot of the changes up close and personal. In my opinion, the social and economic changes going on in China are on some levels no different that what has transpired in many other places. For example, Japan 30 years ago.

While I was in the airport on the way back to Osaka, I picked up a great book that sums up China for me, it's called Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang. The excerpt from the back cover summary reads, "Every year in China millions of migrant workers leave their rural villages to find jobs in the cities. These people are the driving force behind China's economic boom..." The book takes a look at the powerful and humane forces which are shaping modern China as oppose to the issues which come and go. Great book, I highly recommend it if you are interested in China.

In Shanghai I felt I was seeing exactly that, a city of strivers, a splendid mix of the old and the new. A frontier land filled with chaos and opportunity, much like the feeling of Korea for me in the late 90s. Also, while I was there didn't really see any of Mao's teachings, more like a city run ragged with capitalism. Anyway, enough mushy nostalgic talk. Let's take a look at some of the filmic places I visited in Shanghai:

Shanghai Circus World So I have been told no trip to China is complete without a trip a Chinese Circus. You were given strict rules not to take any photos inside or use any recording devices, but of course the filmmaker in me couldn't resist. While we sat their in the dark the whole time I hoped that my flash wouldn't accidentally go off and make one of the performers bounce off the concrete, by the way they don't use nets. They perform these death defying feats night after night for fraction of our salaries. Wouldn't it be wonderful to base a film one of these performers?

Vue Bar / The Bund On the first night I was their we ended up going to the Vue Bar, one of the most stylish bars I have been to and I have been to my fair share of bars globally. Spread across the 32nd and 33rd floors of the Shanghai Hyatt’s West Tower, Vue Bar boasts (predictably, given the name) stunning view of The Bund and a pretty relaxed vibe. The best place to hang out is outdoors near the jacuzzi with a view of the stunning sykline. The whole time I while drinking my mind run through flights of fantasy. Wouldn't this place make a wicked spot for an Asian version of Hot Tub Time Machine or a science-fiction thriller?

Tianzifang Market I have read that, before 1998, it was a noisy street market. At present, under the help of local government, it has developped into an art street with many studios, craftwork shops, design shops, galleries and cafes. While in Shanghai we visited this market twice. Also, while I was there my wife and I bought a few items and my friend's Chinese wife acted as our proxy bargainer/negotiator. We got to see her skills in action as she tussled with the vendors. I thought this market would be a great spot to film the more hip artsy side of China, maybe a drama scene?

Movie Star CD/DVD Hands down one of the most interesting shops I visited. It looked like any normal video store with shelves of boxed DVDs neatly organized by categories. I browsed the new release section, foreign films titles, Japanese anime, network TV series, the classics, etc. They even had Rossetta Stone and popular software on sale such as the Adobe Creative Suite. Of course the whole store was an illusion, everything in it was completely fake. My friend said to the sales lady, "these are all fake?" she responded with a big proud smile, "yes, I know!" They are also very good with the sales tactics, the staff would point at a title, "this is very good movie, have you seen it yet?" or "would you like a basket?" I saw customers with baskets full of DVDs, 10 yuan($1.60) without box and 12 yuan with. And yes of course I sampled a few DVDs for myself, so far the quality has been excellent! Lol! ...These stores operate in China's legal gray area. I could see myself making one of those documentaries on the fake DVD trade where the store owner tells her story from the shadows with a modified voice to hide her identity.

Pearl of the Orient and Whore of the East, Shanghai has been dragged through an incredibly chequered past of invasions and occupations. This created a wild city of opium dens, underground gambling joints, brothels, gangsters and decadence, all brought to an abrupt end by the suffocating grip of Communist rule in the late 1940s. But, Shanghai is staggering from the shadows once more. The honorary capital of China has that old glint in her eye again.

As I said, I was only in Shanghai for 5 days so this is an extremely small slice of what is available there and the surrounding provinces. I had a great time though and would love someday to set a film in China. What you guys think is Shanghai just chaos or a filmmakers dream?

Photos and story by David Simpson

Studying Japanese: Takashi Miike's 10 Ten Films of All Time

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  So far learning Japanese has been a real challenge. You have to learn three alphabets and a whole new set of pronunciations before you can even really get into the language. When I first arrived in Japan I suffered under a wrong assumption about learning the language. I thought if I just came here I would end up learning it naturally. How wrong I was, the right kind of practice is necessary. One of the biggest changes in my approach has been the realization of the simple rule - input first output second. I guess like trying to master any new skill whether it be golf or filmmaking, we have to observe good examples first. So what I tend to do now is listen to Japanese Pod 101 (lots of excellent graded listening) in the morning and the evening do my best to watch a Japanese film. Thus, choose something that interests you for the foundation of your Japanese listening input. I am a humble language learner but I enjoy it.

Recently I have been into Takashi Miike's films as they are always interesting and off the wall. Also I respect him as a director due to his prolific output of films. He is always working, this one of the goals I aspire to in my filmmaking.

Takashi Miike's body of work encompasses the most diverse approaches to filmmaking of any director alive today, from direct-to-video police dramas to avant-garde art movies. On top of this, Miike seems to make no distinction between modes of filmmaking—not only from project to project but within each film itself. His closest American equivalent might be Quentin Tarantino, who shares a wildly egalitarian view of film history, but Miike is almost unique among living filmmakers in that he advances this view within a traditional studio system. Where Tarantino, who makes a film every few years, is expected to produce Art, Miike, who releases anywhere from two to seven in a given year, can operate below such scrutiny. Forgoing Art, Miike has built a career at the intersection of work and play. - Mubi

Anwyay, you may find this Takashi Miike top ten list useful for your language learning:

A yakuza of Chinese descent and a Japanese cop each wage their own war against the Japanese mafia. But they are destined to meet. Their encounter will change the world. Despite this sometimes Kitanoesque detatchment and calm, the movie succeeds in making you really care for and relate to the charakters. I think this really is a big accomplishment. Finally combining this more conventional, ‘humane’ crime/drama story with the outrageousness of the beginning and the end, and making this combination work, shows how brilliant Takeshi really is.

A family moves to the country to run a rustic mountain inn when, to their horror, the customers begin befalling sudden and unlikely fates. All of the technical elements in the film are superb. Miike treats us to a lot of interesting cinematography, the location/setting of the Katakuri home is wonderful, and the performances are good. You are going to have a great time watching this film and if you are familiar with Miike I think it is safe to say that this film is more shocking that even Ichi the Killer. Why? Because at the end of it you feel all warm and fluffy inside and I dare say nobody expects this from Takashi Miike. I certainly didn’t.

An executed samurai takes an existential journey throughout time, space and eternity in search of bloody vengeance. For those of you not familiar with the works of Takeshi Miike, suffice it to say that he is determined to mine the human subconscious in search of new and exciting ways to make people throw up sushi and tempura on the carpeted floors of Tokyo multiplexes. Think of it as Jodorowsky’s El Topo combined with his Holy Mountain, then turned into a time traveling samurai flick as filtered through the mind of a genius prankster. The broken structure is far more complex than Nolan’s ‘Memento’ and far more effective as it allows you to experience the agony that Izo is constantly feeling.

In the 1800s, an American returns to Japan to find the prostitute he fell in love with, but instead learns of the psychical and existential horror that befell her after he left. If you are a fan of horror and want to see something you have never seen before, something truly shocking, then give this film a try. Granted it does take about 20 minutes to start coming together and the lead actor comes off a bit cheesy but once it gets started it never lets up to until the end. Takashi Miike is a genius. He can make your jaw hit the floor and just when you think you can pick it up again he stomps it back down.

A yakuza enforcer is ordered to secretly drive his beloved colleague to be assassinated. But when the colleague unceremoniously disappears en route, the trip that follows is a twisted, surreal and horrifying experience. It is best to approach Gozu as a prolonged nightmare, complete with personal demons and elements of religious imagery interweaving, as all notions of conventional narrative development are done away with in favor of an almost stream of consciousness presentation where the real, the dream and the purely metaphorical are smashed together and left in shards for the audience to reinterpret as they see fit. With Gozu, Miike takes his personal style further than even the hall-of-mirrors-like surrealism of Audition; creating a dark and distorted recreation of a nameless Japanese underworld that is labyrinthine and claustrophobic throughout.

Miike insists the film defies genre, his main motivation in filmmaking being to provoke the viewer into questioning his/her own feelings. Exemplifying the extreme reactions that develop out of the conflict between disengagement with people and surroundings and the need to belong to someone or someplace, Miike’s morally ambiguous protagonists in Audition relate a dark tale of emotional insecurity, guilt, and fear-driven obsession culminating in an unforgettable portrayal of violence. By its conclusion, the look of the film has changed dramatically as it spirals to its ambiguous, unsettling end. The genius of all this misdirection resides in Miike’s capacity to challenge the viewer’s ability to pinpoint just where the movie changed, in effect ratcheting up the tension to uncomfortable levels by actively exploiting the viewer’s own confusion.

A group of assassins taking on over 200 guards and a final battle that takes up a third of the film’s running time is the end result of straight bad assery known as 13 Assassins. Set around 1844, this classic samurai genre film portrays bored samurai who finally get to see some action as Naritsugu, the films villian, is trying to obtain absolute power and goes on a killing spree. I have to give Miike a pat on the back for offering mainstream audiences an earnest look at vintage Samurai cinema. And as a huge Kurosawa fan, I really don’t say that lightly. It is curious to see Miike do something so straight-forward and crowd pleasing. The cast is truly star galore with some of the biggest names in Japanese acting, and experienced supporting actors. All of which do a terrific job.

City of Lost Souls raises some interesting topics mostly about different races and how we after all are very similar no matter what “race” or nation we belong to. All the characters are more or less tragicomic and show that there’s absolutely no culture or person in the world who could be described as “perfect” or without flaws; people in City of Lost Souls are selfish, stupid, violent and proud of themselves so these are exactly the same things which plague every human being in the world.  This is one wild ride to experience and even though it’s not the director’s masterpiece, it’s still very interesting film and personal to say the least. No sequels and not much publicity, the movie oozes with style and the action is brilliantly choreographed.

A salaryman and yakuza are each sent by their bosses to a remote Chinese village but discover more then they expected. To analyze the film’s rabid lust-for-life philosophy and examine the complexities of the script would be a media student’s dream come true. Rich in symbolism and wild directorial flair, Miike continually pushes the question of whether technological progress, modern day perceptions of civility and even spoken language itself are adversaries or allies to man’s untamed nature and desire to be free. The film’s very much about our need to dream. But it also tackles important issues such as the encroachment of civilization and the importance of keeping some places pristine and innocent, no matter how valuable they might be to the rest of the world.

Yet tempting as it is to dismiss the film as little more than a stylish compendium of ultraviolent sensationalism made with Miike’s characteristic verve, this would be to ignore the film’s high level of sophistication and the incredible intellectual demands which it makes on viewers. It would have been really easy for most actors, upon reading the script for Ichi the Killer, to decide to play Kakihara with campy exuberance. Surely a sadomasochistic yakuza hitman who dresses like The Joker from Batman would be pretty excitable. Asano is not most actors, however, and plays the role with a scarily calm demeanor. Sure you’ll go in anticipating the violence but there really is more to it then that. We think it is his most ambitious project, his swan song, and one of the best experiments in film to date.

Posted via: Japan Cinema

Will there be another 'Rachel' in the Sequel to Blade Runner?

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  Illsheep is not a movie update website, however, when it comes to certain movies such as Blade Runner(based on 'Do Androids Dream of Illectric Sheep?) we like to stay informed. So far Ridley Scott has mentioned talk of Harrison Ford possibly returning to the film and also the character of Rachel. Like many other fans of the movie the Rachel character is one of my favorite. In my opinion she definitely has that other worldliness about her fused with a chic noir style.

Blade Runner Love Theme Song:

This is what the Sean Young had to say about the character of Rachel returning to Blade Runner 2:

Well, I did meet with Alcon, the company that owns it and is planning to do the remake with Ridley. I did meet with them, but I think at that point they just wanted to meet me and I don’t think they have any plans of using any of the original people, although I can’t say for sure. I do think, let me just say it right here, I do think it would be a disappointment to the audience not to have Rachael in it but you know what, folks in Hollywood make mistakes all the time.

Posted via: Slash Film

What do you think? Should there definitely be another Rachel android character in Blade Runner 2?

Portrait of a Projectionist: A Touching Homage to a Rapidly Vanishing Craft

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  Recently I watched a roundtable discussion with several directors including Quentin Tarantino. He was quoted as saying: "I won't be a director forever. Part of the reason I’m feeling this way is, I can’t stand all this digital stuff. This is not what I signed up for. Even the fact that digital presentation is the way it is right now — I mean, it’s television in public, it’s just television in public. That’s how I feel about it. I came into this for film. Film is quickly disappearing in favor of the digital."

Portrait of Ridwaan Fridie. A film projectionist in the Labia theatre in Cape Town, South Africa for the past 24 years but with big changes on the horizon where does that leave Ridwaan?

What do you think about film giving way to the new digital medium?

Posted via: Philip Bloom

After Earth Official Trailer 2013 - Will Smith Sci-fi Movie and Viral Campaign

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After Earth (originally known as 1000 A.E.) is an upcoming science-fiction thriller film directed by M. Night Shyamalan also known for The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs. The film stars Will Smith along side his son Jaden and will publish a comic before the movie is released to set the stage for the back story. It is set far in the future and involves a crash landing back on a "unfamiliar and dangerous Earth." This viral video shows an alternate history that begins with a spacecraft crash in 1908 and the discovery of a technology called "Lightstream". I think the video looks fantastic and I like the idea of films using viral videos to get some of the exposition out of the way before the show starts.

One thousand years after cataclysmic events forced humanity's escape from Earth, Nova Prime has become mankind's new home. Legendary General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) returns from an extended tour of duty to his estranged family, ready to be a father to his 13-year-old son, Kitai (Jaden Smith). When an asteroid storm damages Cypher and Kitai's craft, they crash-land on a now unfamiliar and dangerous Earth. As his father lies dying in the cockpit, Kitai must trek across the hostile terrain to recover their rescue beacon. His whole life, Kitai has wanted nothing more than to be a soldier like his father. Today, he gets his chance.

Here is the trailer for the movie:

What do you think of the movies publishing comics or viral videos to set the back story?

What is the Impact of the Digital Revolution? A Must Watch Documentary 'Press Pause Play'

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The documentary has been circulating for sometime now but it is must watch. A fantastic look at where the world is headed in the midst of the digital revolution and it's impact on art and culture. It shades light on new hopes and strategies and also takes a look at the dark sides of the issue. The documentary is for anyone interested in the creative arts. Watch a wide range of insightful interviews and stories from musicians, film directors, digital media artists, etc.

PressPausePlay from House of Radon on Vimeo.

The Craft is Gone One of the most fascinating aspects the digital revolution is how it separated the creative process to an extent into knowledge of craft and creativity.

To be a good photographer before you had to know how to develop and print your own film and understand the way the camera worked. Now that doesn't matter. The same thing with music to be a great musician you really had to know how to play your instrument or you really had to know how all the technology worked. Now all you have to know is how to turn on a computer...

Moby

Link: Press Play Pause

Would love to hear your comments. How do you think the digital revolution will impact on art and culture?

Skywalker Ranch: A Look at the Ultimate Otaku Crib

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Star Wars blew me away when I was a kid(still does), The Battle of Hoth, one of my favorite scenes.

One of the major themes on this site is Otaku Lifestyle Design. We have to look no further than George Lucas and his Skywalker Ranch for envy and inspiration on how to put Otaku at the center of your life. A lot of people shit on George Lucas but I draw an enormous amount of inspiration from his accomplishments and how he has structured Lucas Film. Even the sale of his empire to Disney I think is good move as long as they maintain its integrity.

In today's world I don't think going out and shooting your films for pleasure and expecting to get paid for them is really gonna to support a sustainable lifestyle. I think you have to attack the OTAKU lifestyle from a number of different angles as George Lucas has(not that he had to worry after the success of a New Hope). First, he made his films and kept the rights for the collectibles. Then he used those revenues to finance the other films and build his empire into Lucas Arts (video games), Lucas Industrial Light and Magic (VFX work), Skywalker Sound, Lucas Animation, etc. For example, going forward I will be doing a number of things to share and maintain my lifestyle such as workshops, continuing to sell collectibles, freelance gigs for factual pieces, maybe iPhone apps, etc.

Anyway, the point of this post is I really just wanted to show you George's pimped out crib, Skywalker Ranch. This short piece was filmed by Philip Bloom, a UK director and cinematographer. I have recently been really getting into his site. He generates a lot good work and shares a lot of amazing stuff.

Skywalker Ranch from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

Would love to hear your feedback. Do you have any ideas or experiences on sustainable ways to maintain your creative lifestyle?

Post via: Philip Bloom

The Story of Film: An Odyssey - Sublime Yasujiro Ozu

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Mark Cousins, Donald Richie and Kyōko Kagawa discuss the life and films of the sublime Yasujiro Ozu. Award-winning film-maker Mark Cousins provides a worldwide guided tour of the greatest movies ever made and tells the story of international cinema through the history of cinematic innovation. He does a fantastic job at narrating this story and bringing it to life. As I get more into Japanese films I am starting to like a wide range including the contemporary and classic. From this short piece when can see that Ozu was in a class of his own we it came to being an Otaku.

The most challenging of the films were made by this gentle rebel who is buried in this grave outside Tokyo. People cross the globe as we did to get here. As you can see they leave whiskey and wine because the person who is lies here was a drunk. There is no name on the grave, no date of birth or death. Just the Japanese character '無常 mujō nothingness, the void. The man whose is buried here was kind of a philosopher but more importantly perhaps the greatest director who ever lived.

What were some of Yasujiro Ozu's technical and narrative innovations?

  1. Low Camera Height
  2. Ellipsis

You can see the full episode at the link below.

Link: Channel 4

Kill Bill Vol. 1: Production IG's 'The Origin of O-Ren-Ishii' Anime Sequence

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Production I.G. is a Japanese anime studio and production enterprise, which was founded on December 15, 1987. The letters I and G actually derive from the names of the company founders Mitsuhisa Ishikawa and popular character designer Takayuki Goto. They are well known for Patlabor, the Ghost in the Shell series, and the famous anime sequence in Kill Bill Volume 1. I thought it might be fun to recap the short Kill Bill animation sequence. This sequence shows a brilliant amount of creativity and talent. In my opinion this could branch off to become it's own independent story.

Anime scene from Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill volume 1 (2003). This scene shows the early years of O-Ren Ishii aka Cottonmouth (Lucy Liu) and her rise to power in the Japanese underworld.

Link: Japan Cinema