Sunday, December 15, 2013

Kmye Chan: Not Just a Flash in the Artistic Pan

Unless you’ve had your head buried in one very deep sandbox, you’d have noticed that Japanese art, film, music and fashion has had a huge impact on the stylings of its Western brethren. 

With this in mind I occasionally yack with foreign musicians and creative types about the influence of Japan on their own art, and this month I placed the spotlight on French artist Kmye Chan, with whom I’ve been liaising about a potential book cover (it's called Planet Goth and will be published in 2014 with Kmye's 'Dancing Puppet' painting, left, on the front).

The artist's name itself was a giveaway: Kmye CHAN.

Chan in Japanese is an honorific suffix originally used for babies, but these days employed to refer to anyone with an endearing quality, be the individual a super-cute grandmother or a zany seal (look up Tama-chan online for one example).

Kmye is an amazing painter, someone who has taken the obvious influence of manga and rendered it anew in a style also reminiscent to me of American comic book artist Steve Ditko. 

Who are your favourite manga artists, and which stories did you most enjoy as a fan?

“My favourite would easily be Yukito Kishiro — reading Gunnm [Battle Angel Alita] was a turning point in my drawing life. Both the artwork and plot were something completely new and out of this world, so far as my fifteen-year-old self was concerned!

“I love Ai Yazawa (Paradise Kiss, Nana) for her bittersweet shōjo characters and quirky linework. Graphically, I am also always amazed by Kaori Yuki’s art... When I started drawing, her work was my ultimate reference since I collected her manga and art books! And last, but not least, in my teenage years I was a massive Rurouni Kenshin fan [by Nobuhiro Watsuki] — this series still occupies a sweet spot in my heart and I happily read it over and over again.”

So you obviously would you say you’re more influenced by shōjo (girls) than mecha (giant robot) manga. Are the two compatible?

“That being said, I have read and loved my share of mecha/kaiju manga: Neon Genesis Evangelion has been a staple in my manga collection. Of course, both are compatible — they are different but both equally enjoyable. I would actually love to see a mecha manga storyline drawn with a typical shōjo manga style. That would be an interesting twist!”
“My artwork is undeniably more influenced by shōjo manga — you can see this in the flowing clothing and hair, the highly detailed, decorative style that is typical of shōjo has always been something I have been fascinated with. There is something inherently beautiful about it, where shōnen manga style [aimed at teenage boys] in general is more focused on reflecting action and movement.


READ MORE OF THIS INTERVIEW @ FORCES OF GEEK.


Monday, November 11, 2013

A Battle Royal バトル・ロワイアル

You've likely already heard the rumours — forget what you think you know about The Hunger Games franchise since it's pretty darned blatantly sourced from better film Battle Royale (2000).

Thing is, that's in turn based on Kōshun Takami's 1999 novel, and there's a manga series of Battle Royale that was published from 2000 to 2005, illustrated by Masayuki Taguchi.

But let's get back to the cinematic outing.

This violent, often wildly hilarious — and disturbing — gem is p'raps not quite so obscure now, thirteen years on, as when it was first released in Japan.

Battle Royale would've made a far more fitting obituary for its director Kinji Fukasaku rather than its lesser sequel three years later — which in fact his son Kenta polished off after the director's death at age 72.

You certainly couldn’t take style, content and inspiration any further a field from Fukasaku, Sr.'s earlier adventure schlock-romp Legend Of 8 Samurai.

So clear your frazzled Hunger Games brain.


It’s a not-too-distant future.

Japan is again a fascist state. An arbitrarily-chosen bus full of high school kids are knocked out with sleeping gas, kidnapped, then shipped on to an isolated island — where they’re informed by their embittered former teacher Kitano ('Beat' Takeshi Kitano) that the only way they will leave said island is by killing all their classmates — or by ending up in a body-bag themselves. 

In order to enforce this mandate, each student is shackled with an exploding collar, à la Wedlock, and Kitano punctuates the students’ plight with a well-aimed penknife to one of the girl’s foreheads, thereby launching a battle for self-preservation.


READ MORE @ FORCES OF GEEK.
 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

All Roads Lead to Nihonbashi (日本橋)

 It's funny how you can live in a place for a decade and miss a lot of what's right there nearby.

It's autumn, the weather's been glorious here in Tokyo (here read cool that the scorching summer we just went through), and the leaves are starting to turn colour-wise.

A couple of days ago I was on tight writing deadlines, but it was superb weather again so I decided to skip out and finally go explore the area in central Tokyo around the Nihonbashi, literally Japan Bridge — which was built a century ago in 2011, but rests on what has been a vital conduit spot for this city since the 17th century.

And I'd never even seen it before now except in ukiyo-e woodcuts by Hiroshige.

Japan Bridge is also the setting and title for a 1956 movie — Nihonbashi — by the great Japanese director Kon Ichikawa.

Ichikawa's first film in colour tells a riveting yarn of two geisha fighting for control of the Nihonbashi area, along the way brushing kimono with ghosts, murder, infanticide and flying daggers.



Read more of this piece and glimpse a swag of additional images @ Forces Of Geek.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Production I.G: The Little Details


A long time ago, while conjuring up some superbly detailed artwork, my friend intimated that God resided in the details.

Not being Christian per se, and without a religious millimetre illuminating anywhere on my body, I didn’t have a clue what this guy was on about, or which dippy deity he referred to. The only thing similar I’d heard was that Old Nick (you know, the Devil) was in those same details.

Which rendered me somewhat confused.

That is, I until around 16 years ago — when I first watched Mamoru Oshii’s enthralling anime feature Ghost in the Shell (1995).

While the original manga pages — titled Kōkaku Kidōtai in Japanese, written and illustrated by Shirow Masamune — pushed quirky as much as cerebral, light-hearted and a trifle perverted, this animated movie interpretation by Oshii, of Patlabor fame, was dark, a tad more intelligent, and the most innovative cyberpunk romp since Akira (1988).

It also led to an obvious Wachowski siblings’ homage with The Matrix in 1999.

Truth is, Ghost in the Shell knocked off my cotton socks to hammer home the studio behind the film — Production I.G — as my favourite Japanese anime company. It’s a lofty perch that I.G retains nearly two decades later.

Here’s where I get to lob in some silly puns relating to the introductory ‘theme’: God knows I.G deserves it, and by Heaven above they go for the jugular of those little details, glean ‘em, tweak ‘em, and quite often leave you gob-smacked, gasping for more with each successive experiment in style, form and technology. Halle-bloody-lujah.

To start with, there’s so much damned depth to I.G productions.

Not just the background animation or those aforementioned little details; it goes beyond the superlative character designs, the tight direction and slick production values; the depth lingers somewhere beyond this production company’s penchant for risk-taking along with clever marketing panache.

They’ve got to be doing something right to have established themselves at the forefront of the severely stiff competition that is the Japanese animation industry, and further to have maintained that position.

Likely this has to do with the talent involved at the studio.

READ THE REST OF THIS 2-PART PRODUCTION I.G OVERVIEW — PLUS A BRAND NEW INTERVIEW WITH KENJI KAMAYAMA — @ MADMAN.

...with thanks to Francesco Prandoni @ I.G and Ben Pollock @ Madman.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? is now published


Over the past year I've been working on this new book, novel #3, Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? — which brings together such disparate elements as 1940s and '60s comic books, a sci-fi/dystopia, pulp influences, and hardboiled noir trying desperately to skulk somewhere beneath the coattails of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.

Anyway, it was supposed to be published via Perfect Edge Books in the UK on September 27th this year, but has sneaked out of the blocks early and is now available from Amazon UK and Amazon USA in paperback form at least (the eBook will probably come out late in September). 

I still can't believe it's out there, and of course I can't resist hawking it here!

There are Japanese elements to the book, after all. Key character Midori, a.k.a. Prima Ballerina, is of Japanese descent. Lead character Pretty Amazonia (pictured here, conjured up by artist Juan Saavedra), is a hybrid of super-powered girls' anime characters from things like Sailor Moon and PreCure. She spends free time kicking round a manga volume of Candy Candy.


And she gets around in a ship named the Magnetic Rose (check out Katsuhiro Otomo's 1995 anime Memories).

There's also a cameo by another character that plays on the Fuchikoma 1-man tanks used by members of Section 9 in Ghost in the Shell.

So, Japanese refs and hawking aside, I'm pretty buzzed about this one and hope you get the time at least to check it out.

While the price (for the paperback) may seem a little steep, just remember it's 473 pages, with 35 illustrations. And it makes a great door-stopper.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

BREAKING CAMP: Running School Camps in Japan is Weird


Last week, after twelve years in this country, I did something for the first time that's apparently quite the lure for English teachers in Japan, mostly because of the bonus-extra cash — going on a school camp during summer vacation.

In this case it was a three-day affair, attempting to teach a bunch of junior high school girls I'd never before met, without any idea of their English language level and no access to a PC, whiteboards, textbooks or a photocopier.

The lessons were conducted on the tatami-matted floors of their shared rooms at an inn near Yamanaka Lake, and my particular group of nine included the rowdiest and more stubborn members of the entire camp. I had one kid constantly questioning everything we did—sadly in Japanese rather than the language we were supposed to be practicing—along with a grumpy scowler, a girl who thought she was a bird, rivalries, and mood swings galore.

There were tears almost as often as there was laughter.

To top things off, one of the Canadian teachers had a meltdown, locked herself in her room, and refused to teach—meaning the other four instructors inherited that class as well.

Joy.

Being stuck teaching 13-year-olds from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm every day had me climbing the walls—and fired up to do something creative. Like drink a lot of beer from the convenience store located a kilometre away down a road in the middle of a tiny village with no streetlights.

READ MORE @ FORCES OF GEEK

Friday, July 26, 2013

12 Years in Tokyo


Yep, I'm still a bit stunned—today is my twelfth anniversary of living in this country, so I've been away from Melbourne (my old stomping ground-cum-home town) for well over a decade now.

The plan was originally six months.

When I arrived on July 26th, 2001 the world was, cliché as it might sound, a different place.

It was the year Stanley Kubrick's and Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was supposed to take place, but didn't.

That July the World Trade Center attack in New York was still over six weeks away, Junichiro Koizumi had just become prime minister of this country while George W. Bush had been kicking back in office in the U.S. for seven months. John Howard (shudder) had run Australia into the ground for six years already.

Wikipedia had been online for just six months, the first Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films were released and Jean-Pierre Jeunet directed Amélie. In 2001 Japanese cinema was also on a roll: the great Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell) delivered up live-action deep-thinker Avalon, while anime-wise we were blessed with two brilliant films by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) and Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress).

Personally? I was still running my record label IF? and doing odd tracks as Little Nobody, but became more focused on local food, saké, travel and journalism. I found myself living in Shin-Koiwa here in Tokyo, in a place called "Hikari Mansion"—named, perhaps with perverted jocularity, in line with
the Japanese concept of a ‘mansion’: myriad apartments thrown together in the single building, with each separate flat containing one or two tiny rooms and a more compact bathroom. 


I worked for the rather evil Nova franchise teaching English to pay the bigger bills, and did articles on the side for The Daily Yomiuri, an English language off-shoot of right-leaning Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun.

Twelve years later I'm married and I have a gorgeous daughter in Grade 2 at elementary school—who recently did the bloody brilliant cover art for my latest book.

Some things have stayed the same, like the sticky late-July humidity that assails Tokyo every year, like now, but I'm today not going to whine. It is, after all, part of the charm of the place.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Big (Screened) in Japan


While here in Japan we're often forced to wait an absolute eternity for blockbuster movies from abroad to hit the screens — just as an example Star Trek Into Darkness doesn't arrive until 23 August, making this the last country listed on imdb.com to screen the sequel, three months after even Iceland — there are some home-baked goodies to keep us entertained.

It helps, of course, if you're into anime and manga, which I most certainly am, and 2013 is bubbling with big-screen versions of some titles you may've heard of before.
 
For starters there's something out later this month (July) courtesy of the great Katsuhiro Otomo, the genius behind both the Akira (1989) movie and manga, and one of my favourite Japanese comic book short-story books in English: Memories.

If you've never picked up this weighty tome, you should, since it's a 250-page compendium of shortstories veer wildly from surprising twists verging on Twilight Zone to silly slapstick, but it’s the title-tale ‘Memories’ that always grabs me.

A space salvage vessel with a cranky crew finds a drifting Marie Céleste with plush carpets, chandeliers, empty books and homicidal robot watchdogs — not to mention a mummified cadaver reaching out from beyond the grave.



With his new film Short Peace, Otomo has negotiated with Shuhei Morita, Hiroaki Ando, Hajime Katoki and Kōji Morimoto to produce a four-part short story omnibus, apparently based at least partially on Otomo's 1979 manga of the same name.


READ MORE @ FORCES OF GEEK

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Two New Books Now Available


Quick update, since I’m over-excited as always when these things happen—my next two books are available (early) to order through Amazon.

Yep, I'm being greedy/self-indulgent (tick applicable) and publishing two of 'em.

The Condimental Op collection, officially out in July, is already in the hands of some of my mates if not yet my own, and Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?—due out in September—is now available for pre-order.

Just click on either novel’s moniker to go to the associated Amazon page. Both even have heavy discounts for any aspiring early birds.

And I’ll love you to death as a bonus.

What have either got to do with Japan? Well, Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? has very little—aside from lead character Pretty Amazonia (pictured here, conjured up by artist Juan Saavedra), who's a hybrid of super-powered girls' anime characters from things like Sailor Moon and PreCure. She even spends time reading a manga volume of Candy Candy.

And she gets around in a ship named the Magnetic Rose (check out Katsuhiro Otomo's 1995 anime Memories).


And there's a cameo by another character that plays on the Fuchikoma 1-man tanks used by members of Section 9 in Ghost in the Shell.

Otherwise, this is a novel paying equal homage to 1930s/40s noir by the likes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett as it does to sci-fi/pulp and the silver age 1960s Marvel comic books by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Jim Steranko, Roy Thomas, Barry (Windsor) Smith, John Buscema, and their ilk.
 

Set in Melbourne.

The Condimental Op is a collection of noir, surreal stories, comicbook asides, hardboiled moments, fantasy, dystopia, sci-fi, snapshots of Japanese culture, and the existentialism of contemporary experimental electronic music—bringing together recent short stories, older material, new comic book art, and a range of pop-culture articles written about music and Japan from 1999 to 2013. 

Included are articles on bon odori, saké and fugu, along with reviews of Japanese flicks by Satoshi Kon and 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano.


Plus there's a minor spotlight on the joys of working on English subtitles for a feature by Mamoru Oshii.

The cover art is actually by my 7-year-old daughter Cocoa, and I love what she did here.

BTW, hats off to my awesomely indulgent publishers, Perfect Edge Books, and to all and everybody who’s read (or bothers to read) either tome mentioned here.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Aussie-Made Madmen Dishing Out Japan

Just did an interview with the very cool people @ Madman Entertainment in my hometown Melbourne—with their opinions on all things Japanese including anime and Akira Kurosawa. It's up at Forces Of Geek

Here's a sample or two:

"Australia has had a long history with Japanese cinema, TV and anime even if we didn’t always realise it at the time.

"For many years TV has been a window on Japanese culture through shows like Monkey Magic, Shintaro, Star Blazers, G-Force and Astroboy; and also culturally adjacent shows like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. I think this has made Australia more receptive to seeing media from Japan.

"Also, for cinema, the growth of the Japanese Film Festival over the years demonstrates the popularity of the cinema here."


...and...

"The most ubiquitous name is certainly that of [Akira] Kurosawa. His breakthrough film Rashomon [1950] was so well-regarded that the first Foreign Film Oscar was created just for it. He gave us samurai films and helped inspired countless spaghetti westerns.  

"The Hidden Fortress and Sanshiro Sugata even helped shape Star Wars."

Read the entire piece here.