June 28, 2009

The Disneyification of Ponyo

Hayao Miyazaki's latest, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, will be released in the US this August through the distribution of Walt Disney Pictures.

Compared to the Japanese poster (above), the English-language poster is awfully similar to Disney's Finding Nemo poster. It's an easy way to grab moviegoers' interest, especially people who are not familiar with Miyazaki's films.

But aligning a Hayao Miyazaki film with a Disney film feels almost disingenuous. Fantastical, morally ambiguous, and unafraid of mining despair, his popularity in America has partly to do with the departure his films present from the straightforward narratives and black-and-white morality of American kiddie animation. So why risk pitting Ghibli and Disney together? There's plenty of room in the movie world for both studios to represent their worldviews.

June 27, 2009

Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging and American Teen

Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging and American Teen – two films I watched today that had some unlikely similarities. Angus, the 2008 film directed by Gurinder Chadha, follows the trials and tribulations of Georgia, a 14-year-old schoolgirl living in Eastbourne, England. The film is adapted from the popular teen novel series by Louise Rennison. American Teen, also from 2008, is a documentary directed by Nanette Burstein that focuses on a handful of high school students in Indiana as they make their way through senior year.

A studio-made teen comedy and an indie documentary. It’s be easy to assume that the former would follow the ready-made formula of teen films, while the latter would give a real, unvarnished take on the lives of teenagers. In reality, the line between the two was surprisingly blurred. Both films rely heavily on character stereotypes and feelgood narrative trajectories, handily grabbing the viewer’s interest and making them root for the characters.

Angus Thongs & Perfect Snogging

On the surface, Angus doesn’t have a plot worth getting into. Georgia’s central problems are her big nose, her failure to make the new boy in school notice her, and her upcoming birthday party, which she is determined to hold in a club (never mind she’s not old enough to get it into one). With the dreamy crush boy who plays bass, his icy blonde bitch girlfriend, the parents who don’t understand, the film has its share of stock characters.
The protagonist, however, is refreshingly everygirl. As Georgia, actress Georgia Groome is appealing without being distractingly pretty, charming without being (that dreaded word) feisty, unself-conscious, witty without sounding like she swallowed a thesaurus, and self-absorbed and selfish in the way a kid who hasn’t been exposed to the outside world can be. No matter how trivial her woes may seem, Chadha never condescends to the character, treating her with characteristic warmth. That Georgia can’t be reduced to a type is one of the film’s strengths, and grounds the film in something like reality.

American Teen 

Meanwhile, American Teen has its subjects labeled even before you watch a second of the film. The film’s promotional poster features the high school kids recreating the Breakfast Club poster. You already know you’ll be seeing the jock, the princess, the nerd, the dreamboat, and the weird girl. But despite some interesting echoes of the teen film favorite, such as when the “arty” girl starts dating the homecoming king, it’s evident that the students are not reincarnations of Molly Ringwald or Ally Sheedy.
The film’s ready-made labeling, though clever, almost undermines the subjects. After all, a large part of the film is their fight to create an identity for themselves as they get ready to graduate from high school and enter adulthood. One girl plans to study in California even as her parents object, adamant about getting out of her hometown. Another girl nearly cracks under the pressure to get into the University of Notre Dame, where the majority of her family attended. Making them the Weird Arty Girl and Queen Bee almost defeats the purpose.

Having watched the two films back-to-back, I couldn’t help laughing at how both films culminated with a dance party, with all the central characters present. Angus overdoes it slightly by tying up the dangling threads in the plot to give all its characters a happy ending, while American Teen has a bittersweet prom scene that shows some of the students getting what they always wanted, and others suffering inwardly. But why have closure? They have their whole lives ahead of them.

June 24, 2009

Shallow Depths

A newly-constructed building on the Waseda campus. Looking down at the ground has never made me so dizzy.

June 23, 2009

Suck it Up

A dollmaking school/doll shop in Shibuya. If you find these dolls eerie...

...you ain't seen nothing yet.

I imagine the shop owner as a no-nonsense person who suffers no fools. He/she would have absolutely no patience for the customer who coos and fawns over the dolls, but recoils upon seeing the heads. Dollmaking is a serious art, after all.

June 22, 2009

Fab in Any Form

The Beatles in Kubrick form at a store in Shibuya, a testament to their enduring popularity. The day I meet a kid who cannot recognize a Beatles song is the day I will feel genuinely old.

Still, I find myself wondering when that will be. After all, The Beatles reached the pinnacle of their career when my father was young, but I can watch the opening scene of A Hard Day's Night for the twentieth time and still find myself irrepressibly charmed. A black-and-white, 45-year-old film that took place in a bygone era, yet the band in their youth always feels like a blast of fresh air.

June 21, 2009

An Homage to Matryoshka Dolls

Tarako Kewpie--a Kewpie doll wrapped up in a salted roe cocoon. (If you have to ask why, you don't know Japan.)

Fun fact: the Tarako Kewpie photo collection was shot in Vladivostok, Russia, with the cooperation of Vladivostok Air.

June 20, 2009

June 11, 2009

June 9, 2009

Freight Bike

(In Yoyogikoen.)

Japan doesn't have a public recycling system where people can redeem aluminium cans or bottles for cash. But clearly, these cans are worth something. Hence, the sight of a man hauling garbage bags full of beer and soda cans around on his bike. His timing was off, and he ended up being scolded by the municipal garbage collection workers.

Incidentally, the boots and hat let me know that it's the same guy from yesterday's post. (The photos were taken on different days, though.)

June 7, 2009


(The am/pm in Yoyogikoen.)

After you... again, on the side of the waste bin. Sometimes I wish I didn't notice these things.

June 4, 2009

Please Decide Your Agenda

(In Hibiya station.)
The latest in Tokyo Metro's series of posters encouraging good manners on the subway. This series began in April 2008, and a new poster is unveiled each month. What was initially viewed with fleeting curiosity has slowly become a pop culture phenomenon. (It must mean something if someone outside of Japan uses the posters as their profile pic on Facebook, right?)

The posters are hilarious in their dead-on depictions of the types of "inconsiderate manners" we see on the train. For example, the above poster outlines a situation I encounter with amusing frequency: oyaji salarymen practicing their golf swing with their umbrellas as they wait on the platform for the train. (And the people walking around them, idly wondering how much it would hurt if the umbrella hit them.)

At times the posters skew too far towards the outlandish, becoming a parody of what they supposedly stand for. But perhaps Tokyo Metro understands that no matter how on-the-mark their posters are, some passengers will still inconvenience others. So why not have fun with it?