Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat - 2011

Hey mates,

I'm dead sure there's a separate entry somewhere here in this blog to stick this update, but I'm chilling out with La Familia as the New Year wind-up and beginning is more important in Japan than Christmas (in my case I get to celebrate both!), so in the meantime I'm putting this here in case anyone's at all vaguely interested.

My debut novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat will now definitely be published, through US label Another Sky Press, at the end of January 2011.

It's a bit of a cut-up fusion of genres and cultures (blame 10 years in Tokyo and the rest in Melbourne, aside from six months in London and a little bit of time on the Gold Coast).

My editor (Kristopher Young, who penned Click), when pressed, put it thus:

"The book itself is sort of... well, indescribable, really - noirish, subtly sci-fi, hard-boiled, futuristic; Blade Runner with a touch of Sam Spade, a smattering of Orson Welles circa Touch of Evil, or The Third Man. And a shot of bourbon."

Anyway, though I'd struggle to insert my own work in the same sentence as these cool people (a list that includes Kristopher himself), I like to believe that's what we've at least fractionally achieved...

While we're still in the edit on the book (mostly cleaning up and organizing the cover artwork - front and back both done by the insanely cool Scott Campbell), we have a sneak preview of the original, unedited first two chapters here, plus you can pre-order the beastie if that insane compulsion grabs you - it's retailing at only US$4.50 plus postage.

Cheap is always good.

Plus we've got some great feedback to the tome from magazines, newspapers and blogs like The Age, Vice, Filmink, Forces Of Geek and Impact.

You can find out more plus peruse the better-tuned propaganda and info online at
Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat

Anyway, I'm obviously over the moon about publication of the bugger in the new year and hope you have the inclination to check it out. If you do find the time to potter over something a little different... read away.

I'd love to know what you think!

Otherwise, two wise last words here: HAPPY NEW YEAR. Oops... them's three, not two.

All the best,

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Well now, ‘tis indeed that time again – the hilariously silly, completely self-indulgent Yuletide season that rounds out yet another year passed by; a few weeks in which people reflect and wax nostalgic over the past 12 months, bandy about inane Top 10 lists, thank-tank the best and worst, and drink way too much at rabble-rousing Christmas parties.

Never quite one to be left out of a bit of wining, dining, carousing, or making twee judgment calls myself, I here get to ruminate over Japan’s celluloid offerings in 2010 and in general. Read on and/or weep.



2010 been an absolutely dire year for TV anime, with most of the more innovative studios (Madhouse, Production I.G, Gonzo, Studio 4°C) seemingly in hibernation over the past twelve months – or at the very least keeping their claws sheathed.

While Madhouse did pull off something nifty in the Redline feature movie directed by Takeshi Koike, and Keiichi Hara’s anime movie Colorful was one of the cinematic highlights this year, the medium was lacklustre on the tellies.

It’s quite clear that the Japanese anime scene is going through a rough patch right now, very much like that which has crippled the newspaper/magazine and music industries, which may (or may not) have much to do with either the Internet or the global financial downturn or both; I’ll leave that appraisal to better qualified people.

So, it may come as some surprise to discover the series that rates as the best animated program on Japanese tellies this year.

But with all disclaimers aside, I'll readily admit it – I'm hooked watching this show every Sunday morning at 8:30, and not only because it's my four-year-old daughter Cocoa's preferred eye candy.

HeartCatch PreCure! (ハートキャッチプリキュア!) is an infectious, disarming, super-cute kids’ series that lacks the annoyance value of, say, Pokémon and has enough humour and action quotient (they kick giant monster arse every week) for adults to lose themselves in it as well.

Having kicked off on TV Asahi (Channel 10) in Tokyo back in February this year, HeartCatch is the seventh version of the long-running girls’ concept series created by the 'mysterious' Izumi Todo – actually none other than an alias for the creative types at Toei Animation.

To my mind the current is the infinitely better interpretation to date; last year’s, for example, called Fresh Pretty Cure!, was just plain bland.

By contrast, for a young girls' romp, there's a surprising sense of patience in the development of the story-telling arc of HeartCatch PreCure!, there're the surreal kaiju-style monsters every week, the villains ham it up, our heroes aspire to fashion, and the character designs are exceptionally cool.

What’s it all the fuss about, anyway?

The yarn started up with our shy, upright schoolgirl heroine Tsubomi (Cure Blossom), swathed in pink, then she was joined by trusty neighbour and fashion-minded sidekick Erika (the all-blue Cure Marine). Five months into the series, the third heroine emerged with the gold enshrouded, androgynous Itsuki (Cure Sunshine) – who dresses in boys clothes but shines in her girly PreCure persona. More recently the mysterious, reticent senior high school student Yuri was revealed to be the somewhat bitter Cure Moonlight.

While it's obviously aimed at the purchasing powers of the parents of the target demographic, there's something for everyone – even the more critical expat foreigners and their open-minded kids.

And it’s hands-down the best anime thing to screen on TV in Japan this year.


1. Thirteen Assassins (d. Takashi Miike)
2. Redline (d. Takeshi Koike)
3. Colorful (d. Keiichi Hara)
4. Villains (d. Lee Sang Il)
5. Space Battleship Yamato (d. Takashi Yamazaki)
6. Cold Fish (d. Sion Sono)
7. Assault Girls (d. Mamoru Oshii)
8. The Last Chushingura (d. Shigemichi Sugita)
9. Caterpillar (d. Koji Wakamatsu)
10. Zebraman: Vengeful Zebra City (d. Takashi Miike)

© ABC All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Yakuza Hunters

Actually released last May but currently doing the rounds of the cinema circuit (including the recent Tokyo Film Festival and the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival before that), the Yakuza Hunters calls itself “a new action, violence, and gore-packed film series that stars Asami - considered the new muse by the Japanese action movie directors of today.”

I’m guessing that they mean directors more inclined toward action of the violent and gore-related variety, since Noboru Iguchi cast the undoubtedly gorgeous adult video “muse” (real name Asami Sugiura) in RoboGeisha (2009) and The Machine Girl (2008).

Which can only be a good thing, really, since anybody who may've distractedly wandered into the pages of this digital limbo should have cottoned on to the fact that I’m a wee bit of an Iguchi fan.

For the two-part Yakuza Hunters, the directorial team Towa Eiken (Kazufumi Nakahiira and Shinichi Okuda) asserts in propaganda notes that they’ve created the coolest possible heroine for 21st century sensibilities – which is quite possibly correct but depends in large part on where those personal sensibilities lie.

In the plus column – aside from, of course, Asami – they’ve also got on board Yoshihiro Nishimura (the director of Tokyo Gore Police) as special gore FX chief, and Tsuyoshi Kazuno (The Machine Girl, RoboGeisha) in charge of VFX.

The synopsis I got from the people at CREi Inc. (formerly known as Media Shogun Ltd.) here in Japan tells the storyline far better than any of my own rambling attempts:

“Asami plays a legendary Yakuza Hunter, always out for revenge against yakuzas who kill with no mercy the people dear to her. Usually, she is cool and calm, but once the flame is set on fire, Asami is invincible! The over-the-top action scenes – all done by Asami herself – are absolutely breathtaking, and when she saves the day it’s a guaranteed standing ovation from the audience! Are you ready to witness the birth of the coolest heroin [sic] in high heels??”

In Part One, called appropriately enough The Ultimate Battle Royale, Asami takes on former fellow gang member Junko, a traitor who's swapped allegiances to join a dastardly yakuza gang that dabbles in drugs and prostitution – and eventually kills members of Asami’s group.

Hence obligatory all-out, yakuza-destroying mayhem.

Part Two, dubbed The Revenge Duel in Hell, sees Asami’s return from the yakuza-destroying battlefront to visit Inokuma, the man who taught her the skills of being a Yakuza Hunter in the first place.

What she finds instead is a district panhandled by more diabolical yakuza types who are planning to build a casino; they’ve also called in cold-blooded killer Akira for protection.

After several friends are systematically slaughtered, Asami steps in to take down the lot.

While the violence quotient gets a bit much, these movies are still a downright hoot, packed with drop-dead girls in an array of skimpy costumes and hilarious Japanese gangster stereotypes.

And there’s some history here – the Yakuza Hunter concept makes tongue-in-cheek references to the Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion movies from the early ‘70s, starring Meiko Kaji (Lady Snowblood)... themselves based on the classic manga by Toru Shinohara, claimed to have inspired Kill Bill, remade as Sasori by Hong Kong director Joe Ma in 2008, and also homaged in Japanese director Sion Sono’s quite brilliant Love Exposure.

© 2010 YAKUZ BUTING GIRLS Film Partners

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Flash in Japan?

Anyone who's wandered through this rambling depository has possibly come up against the continuing enigma that is HeartCatch PreCure!, the seventh (and easily best) in the girls' anime concept series developed by Toei Animation to lasso young girls' hearts, their mums' wallets, and the imagination of otherwise cynical types who once dug Sailor Moon.

For the first 24 episodes after the show kicked off in February, the closing titles theme song was 'HeartCatch☆Paradise!' by PreCure regular Mayu Kudo - and as the YouTube gems below vividly display, it's been quite the hit here in Japan for the rather eccentric dance moves as much as for the groove (the first one is the real McCoy).

I think my favourite is the Blues Brothers inspired number.

A couple of months ago, however, as of episode 25, Toei up and changed the ending theme to a gospelly number (I guess as a reboot to incorporate the two new heroines, Cure Sunshine and Cure Moonlight). Repetitively titled 'Tomorrow Song 〜Song of Tomorrow〜', it's also performed by Kudo but this one has been slower on the fanbase - although it does seem to be picking up of late as you'll see below:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Is this the greatest thing you could ever buy someone for Christmas?

“I'm was so impressed by Millennium Actress. The outstanding part of it was the sensation that the characters were ‘acting’ – I really felt as if I was watching a genuine actress when I watched that movie.”

So enthused Ryuhei Kitamura, the director of films like Versus, The Midnight Meat Train and Azumi, when I interviewed him late last year for a book project that fizzled when the publishers' economic hassles kind of interfered in things.

“I'm a live-action director and movie fan," Kitamura went on, "not an animation admirer, so I always love the anime that makes me feel like I’m not watching anime at all.”

Things often change dramatically in twelve months, but one thing that hasn't is my own humble opinion that Millennium Actress (千年女優 Sennen Joyu in Japanese) is one of the greatest Japanese stories ever told. It doesn't matter that it's animated, although stylistically speaking the animation does allow the director to get away with a series of superb visual tricks that would blow your typical CG budget out of the water.

That director, Satoshi Kon, was just 46 years of age when he passed away in August this year; he was in his mid 30s when he created this masterpiece.

Put into context, Hayao Miyazaki was a year or so older than Kon when he shot his first feature (The Castle of Cagliostro) and 60 years old when he made Spirited Away - coincidentally released the same year as Millennium Actress (2001).

I'm not about to here debate the worth of Spirited Away, a movie I've seen countless times and treasure highly. As anybody who bothers to actually trawl through this blog may've noticed, I'm a big fan of Miyazaki's body of work.

But I'm going to go out on a limb here and declare something I've felt ever since I first watched Kon's Millennium Actress for the first time several years ago: It's possibly the best animated movie ever made, regardless of nationality.

This presumption comes not just because the anime itself is so worthy, but for the depth of ingenuity at play in it's conception, in the script, and in the wonderful soundtrack by electro-pop musician Susumu Hirasawa, which also rates in the top three anime soundtracks to date - alongside Joe Hisaishi's score for Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Kenji Kawai's for Ghost in the Shell.

Millennium Actress is a play within a play that just so happens to be in animated form. The characters themselves are akin to those created by Akira Kurosawa or Yasujiro Ozu, the theme is grandiose, there’s suspense mixed in with unrequited love - as well as samurai, earthquakes, World War 2, and even a sci-fi flourish included for good measure.

As heart wrenching as it is invigorating, it goes still further to combine drama with tragedy, comedy with historical fancy, moments of action and violence with a piquant sense of whimsy.

Topping all this off is one of the strongest, more realistic and empathetic animated female characters in central protagonist Chiyoko Fujiwara, the actress of the title.

But the outstanding nature of Millennium Actress really shouldn’t come as any surprise since director and co-writer Kon also made Perfect Blue (1998) and Paprika (2006).

Kon’s directorial debut, Perfect Blue is a psychological thriller that owes perhaps as much to Italian horror meister Dario Argento (Deep Red) as it does to Alfred Hitchcock – and set the trend for the director’s own predilection for split personality characters and a blurring of the lines of reality/fantasy.

Kon had already cut his teeth as a supervisor on Mamoru Oshii’s excellent mecha anime feature Patlabor 2 (1993), then filled the roles of scriptwriter, layout artist and art director for Koji Morimoto on ‘Magnetic Rose’, the best part of the trilogy present in Katsuhiro Otomo’s Memories (1995).

He won awards from the Japan Media Arts Festival and the Fantasia Film Festival in Montréal, and the Chicago Tribune newspaper called Millennium Actress “a piece of cinematic art”.

That movie in fact tied with Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away for the Grand Prize in the Japan Agency of Cultural Affairs Media Arts Festival.

“Originally the idea of Millennium Actress was that the main character – the actress – is running through her ‘subjective time’, trying to play catch up with the other key character in the story. It’s reality as well as a play within a play, and for that action we wanted to describe an eventful life story over a long period,” Kon told me in an interview we also did late last year, in October.

“The first idea was the this simple sentence: ‘Once an old actress was telling her life story, but her memory was mixed up, various roles she acted in before started to filter into the tale, and it becomes a dramatic story.’ After that, the idea that the interviewer gets into the recollections of the actress, and if the interviewer appears as a character in those recollections, literally ‘gets into the recollection’, then this would be interesting.

“Then, while padding the plot and thinking deeper about the script, the intention to add in the Japanese film history aspect,” said Kon, a huge Kurosawa fan himself, “and to integrate her development into the changes in Japan over the ensuing period – which I wasn’t consciously thinking about in the beginning. Because of this depth, Millennium Actress became a movie you can interpret in multiple layers.”

The story, on the surface, is deceptively simple.

A film crew set out to make a documentary on reclusive, elderly actress Fujiwara – but what follows is a blurring of reality, a tectonic, unpredictable shift in time-lines, and a haphazard association with the plot lines in the old movies that made Fujiwara famous.

Add to this the actress’ long-time unrequited love, a secret crush felt by the documentary crew’s director, the devastation of Japan in World War 2, samurai battles, vindictive secret police, and rocket ship exploration – all of it somehow tied together beautifully by Kon – and you have yourself an anime treasure trove.

The influences themselves are rich enough to dwell upon: from Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (1957), which rewrote Shakespeare’s Macbeth in a samurai context, to the real-life actress Setsuko Hara – famous from the 1940s to the ‘60s in movies by Kurosawa (The Idiot, 1951) and Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story, 1953), who suddenly withdrew from public life in 1963, the same year that Ozu died - and has only been viewed once or twice in the ensuing 45 years by the prying Japanese media.

Pulling it all together is Kon’s visual palette, as breath-taking as his bold philosophical brush-strokes, which together create a gripping ride that’s been known to tug the hardest of heart-strings.

“I’ve never cried watching animation before,” manga artist Aiko M. told me recently. “Everything about this movie touched my soul.”

On top of this emotional provocation, Kon’s penchant for a blurring of imagination and reality – in this case of documentary and cinema – is at its absolute best here.

“I was thinking of a story which had the structure of ‘trick’ paintings; I wanted to make a movie that’s like one of those paintings,” Kon revealed in that chat last year.

This is a man who's arguably had a significant impact on two of the contemporary Western trendsetters of cinema - Christopher Nolan (Inception) and Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream) - and Millennium Actress is without doubt the director's foremost lifetime achievement, a classic piece of cinema unto itself that deserves all the recognition, respect and love it can get.

In fact I can't think of any better present to buy someone for Christmas, regardless of your religious persuasion or lack of one.

Any excuse to give this to someone you care about is a good one so far as I'm concerned, and the yuletide season gives me a good opportunity to get up on my soapbox and lecture a bit even if no one reads the cheat notes.

I got my copy of the Millennium Actress DVD from the fine people at Madman in Australia, who're wise enough to support this kind of magic - check out their version online here.

It's not often I play the capitalist tyrant demanding you spend your hard-earned dosh on something, but this movie wins one over in unexpected ways and it's just plain brilliant.

In the meantime, here's the trailer - which doesn't really do the movie justice at all.

Millennium Actress © 2001 Chiyoko Committee

Sunday, November 28, 2010

SPOTLIGHT: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Writer/director Hayao Miyazaki dabbled with plucky women in his anime previously, most notably with the character of Fujiko Mine in the Lupin III series – see The Castle of Cagilostro (1979) just for starters.

He also had younger heroines like the Pippi Longstockingesque Mimiko in Panda! Go Panda!

But in 1984, in Kaze no Tani no Naushika (風の谷のナウシカ Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind), with Nausicaä herself – the heroine of this sci-fi/post-armageddon action/fantasy tale, and saviour of the world it chronicles – we see the tell-tale signs of female strength that invade later Miyazaki classics like Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (千と千尋の神隠し Spirited Away, 2001).

The story here revolves around a world treading water (rather than on the mend) a thousand years after the apocalyptic war that’s poisoned the environment. Scattered settlements fight to survive, and one of these is the peaceful Valley of the Wind. The people here are ruled over by an ailing king and his willful, charismatic daughter Nausicaä – and all soon find themselves in a struggle not only with menacing giant insects but against militias from rival kingdoms and the threat of a return to the destructive old ways.

Amidst the action, intrigue, prophecies and surreal toxic jungle set-pieces are another couple of Miyazaki’s favourite themes: an appreciation of and support for the natural world around us, fantastic flying machines, and a huge, destructive robot.

Most Japanese people you meet will know this movie, they’ve all seen it as kids (and often as adults), and many cite it when they talk about favourite anime movies in their lives.

It’s rated in the personal Top 5 for anime director Kenji Kamiyama (Eden of the East), and Tokyo DJ/producer Jin Hiyama rates Nausicaä as his second-favourite anime movie of all time. “It’s the combination and comparison of this grotesque world with her beautiful mind and her honesty,” he raves.

It also has one of the best, most memorable soundtracks ever composed by the prolific Joe Hisaishi (Hana-bi). I've lost count of how many times I've heard little kids and their parents humming the iconic theme music.

Still, there are some important things to keep in mind when it comes to Nausicaä.

For starters the earlier manga series (also by Miyazaki) is a far more comprehensive and telling journey.

“You must read the manga,” urges musician Lili Hirakawa. “While the movie is great, it doesn’t tell you nearly enough about this world."

Additionally, this ground-breaking movie originally entered the West back in the ‘80s via a badly dubbed and horrendously edited version on VHS called Warriors of the Wind – an excruciating cut that makes little sense and a bitter learning curve for both Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, who've since insisted on a “no edits” overseas licensing clause.

The edits, however, have nothing on the cover.

That art (left) from the video cassette didn't even feature principle character Nausicaä at all - save for that lame ring-in in the top right-hand corner. Instead the foreground is dominated by a trio of males characters I'm pretty certain aren't in the film at any point, not even closeted away driving the tanks.

Fortunately an uncut and re-dubbed DVD version of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, with (even better) the original Japanese dub and good English subtitles, became available around the world in 2005, although I picked up my copy earlier on from Studio Ghibli here in Japan.

And the verdict on the ‘real’ version, in spite of the disclaimers? Quite simply brilliant - just avoid that VHS predecessor at all costs.

© 1984 Nibariki - GH

Sunday, November 21, 2010

大奥: The Lady Shogun and Her Men

One of my books when I was a kid was Stan Lee’s 1977 tome, The Superhero Women - which included a short tale of his, illustrated by John Romita, that previously appeared in Savage Tales #1 (1971).

‘The Fury of the Femizons’ featured a gynecocentric warrior society.

Yep, you read right: gynecocentric. Ahhh, the el cheapo thrills of an online thesaurus; for those without one, "gynocentrism" roughly acquaints to matriarchal and it's my new vocab discovery of the day - possibly good for use bamboozling posh and/or pretentious people at glad-bag dinner parties. Or not.

Anyway, in this particular society women call the shots while the men-folk are there merely to sit pretty and display a peck or two.

A similar theme was used in the 1977 second season of Space: 1999 in the episode ‘Devil’s Planet’, in which Commander Koenig crashes his Eagle on a planetary penal colony, where he finds himself the prisoner of the voluptuous Elizia and her equally S&M-inclined female prison guards.

The notion even shaped up an ongoing skit (‘The Worm That Turned’, 1980) in the British comedy The Two Ronnies... in which Mars Bars were hilariously rebranded Pa’s Bars.

Of course, Women’s Lib in the 1970s helped to shake up the conventional male/female wisdom personified in the ‘50s and Mad Men, and these days women do happen to run huge corporations and direct Oscar-winning films.

In Japan, however, things can be a little different.

Women’s Lib never actually took root here and at times the traditional Japanese family image resembles something like Leave It To Beaver – dad out earning a buck (as well as often drinking and carousing at yakitori bars at night) while mum's stuck in the kitchen and raising the kids; alternatively you can see many of them treating themselves at cake shops in Jiyugaoka with their erstwhile maternal mates.

While there have been matriarchal societies in the past in which women held sway over the men folk – even in fiercely patriarchal Japan – the last attempt here was probably the Empress Jingu in the 3rd century, though the historical veracity of her reign is these days contested anyway.

Not so surprising, really, when the Encyclopaedia Britannica notes that “aided by a pair of divine jewels that allowed her to control the tides, she is said to have begun her bloodless conquest of Korea in 200, the year in which her husband died.” The divine jewels sound like fun.

More recently succession to emperor has been regulated by the Japanese Diet (Parliament) and the current law excludes women from the the process.

Which brings us to the new Japanese movie The Lady Shogun and Her Men, titled more simply Ōoku (大奥) over here and released in cinemas last month.

If you look up Ōoku on Wikipedia you get this explanation: "The Ōoku refers to the harem of Edo Castle, the section where the women connected to the reigning Shōgun resided."

Directed by TV veteran Fuminori Kaneko, the film stars Kou Shibasaki (Battle Royale) as an alternate-reality 18th century shogun, and Arashi member Kazunari Ninomiya (Letters From Iwo Jima) as one of her gigolo-concubines, in a world decimated by an imagined disease that’s killed off most of the male population.

Think something a bit left-of-centre in shock/schlock value for local audiences.

It’s based on a more feminist, punchy manga by Yoshinaga Fumi (Ooku: The Inner Chambers) which had the smarts enough to win the 2009 James Tiptree Jr. Award for science fiction which expands or explores one's understanding of gender.

Yet this celluloid romp borders visually on an over-the-top J-Pop videoclip and while the script has all the hallmarks of a Japanese TV soapie (director Kaneko’s usual stomping ground), there are moments of fun and Shibasaki’s presence adds a deeper flavour.

For some of us, however, it feels like we’ve been here before – and honestly I think Ronnies Barker and Corbett did it better.

© 2010 The Lady Shogun and Her Men Film Partners

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Black Tokyo

I have two disclaimers I need to unravel hereabouts in order to set the record straight about me and Aux 88. The first one is that I'm a huge fan of the Detroit duo, and have been for well over a decade.

Also known as Tommy Hamilton (aka Tom Tom) and Keith Tucker, they've released through respected labels like 430 West, Submerge, Metroplex, Direct Beat and Studio !K7.

Too many of their releases are absolute classics, like Aux Quadrant on Direct Beat, which hasn't left my record crate in about 15 years; I also really dig the self-titled Aux 88 album they put out through Soundscape over here in Japan five years ago - it's hot.

So it should come as no surprise that I've been keeping an eye on the Black Tokyo project they're finally releasing through Puzzlebox this week on November 22nd... along with nifty associated furniture.

Fortunately I haven't been anywhere near disappointed; this is superb stuff.

While the name of the album itself is a wee bit misleading - after all this has been engineered and produced by two Americans from Detroit rather than persons Japanese residing anywhere near Tokyo - they get away with this by calling themselves Arashi Hoshino and Shin Muramatsudo here; also on board for the ride are bona fide local musicians Akiko Murakat and Erika Tsuchiya, and the opening track 'Intro (Japenesse)' has a nice monologue in nihongo over lush strings.

There are also track title references to Japan like Kyoto Station, Winter in Japan, Tokyo Telacom, Tokyo Drive and, yes, Black Tokyo.

Musically speaking the album brings together that classic Detroit techno sound along with the more riotous electro sensibilities and basslines that Aux 88 are famous for.

The title track references classic Detroit by the likes of Derrick May and Carl Craig, wrapped around vocal riffs Kraftwerk would be proud to claim, while Tokyo Drive is a crisp, bouyant reconsideration of classic electro and Electronic Cinema continues this theme with some floating/spacious vocal work-outs.

Then Stance (Interlude) again takes up the baton of lush strings from the opening number.

But for me it's the second and eleventh tracks, Groove Theory and Dragon Fly, that stand out here as something subversive and definitely ones to drop on a late night, up-for-it floor in order to mess with some headz.

I'm also a little biased, which brings me slap-bang into that second disclaimer I alluded to above.

When I recently rather cheekily bounced the idea off them about doing a remix for one of my Little Nobody tracks, Hamilton and Tucker promptly agreed.

Even more jaw-dropping was Tucker's extra added bonus comment that "the original mix sounds hot.” (Zounds!)

That mix - called The Condimental Op - is being released along with the Aux 88 rejig and another one by Chicago pioneer K. Alexi Shelby (Transmat/Trax/Warp) on old skool vinyl at the end of November 2010 through IF? Records, via British distributor Prime Direct.

It's already being spun, charted and is gathering steam thanks to support from Laurent Garnier, Trevor Rockcliffe, Alan Oldham, Inigo Kennedy, Kirk Degiorgio, Steve Poindexter, Jerome Baker, Lenny Burden, Mike Dehnert, Dan Curtin and Anthony Shakir.

Dave Clarke's also spun the Aux 88 remix on his radio show White Noise - twice.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Soon to be Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat

Melbourne (Australia) in the somewhat vaguely not-too-distant future. An alcoholic film-buff detective who smacks of vituperativity while leaning heavily on chemical dependency. An over-boiled world in climatic and moral decline, a mystery, a geisha, kanji clues, goats aplenty, several murders, the obligatory femme fatale, and an array of sweaty red herrings.

The novel I've been hacking away at for an absolute age (with huge thanks to Kristopher Young, Bob Young, and the crew at Another Sky Press in the US, plus insanely cool cover art by Scott Campbell), in the process helping me to shed 12kg over the past few months - an editing diet... nifty! - is about to be published next month.

If you're at all interested you can keep an eye on things on this sista/bruvva blog thingy: TSMG Updates.

In the meantime, if you haven't caught a glimpse of this flick (below) already, it's time you should - chances are it'll put you in solid with me once you do so, even if I'm ne'er the wiser. ;)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Old Skool Vinyl

Nope. We're not talking plastic shopping bags - which is what most Japanese think when you mention the word "vinyl", though it's pronounced something like veekneel over here.

I'm also not really interested in skirting the territory of the derivatives of ethene (CH2=CH2, with one hydrogen atom replaced with some other group), which is the scientific guff talked up on Wikipedia if you google vinyl.

The issue here is that other vinyl, a gramophone or phonograph record (yes, they do still make 'em), the analogue sound storage medium consisting of a flat disc with an inscribed, modulated spiral groove.

Here I'm also plundering directly from Wikipedia (sorry, but it's 4:20 a.m. and my brain isn't functioning enough to be inventive in any way), though I did fix analog so it reads as analogue.

Anyway, where was I?

Oh yeah, the picture above slapped around my senses - old skool vinyl, in particular a little flattened black nugget my label IF? will now be releasing through Prime Direct in the UK at the end of November.

It's one of my Little Nobody tracks, 'The Condimental Op' (I actually nicked this from a chapter title in my upcoming hack novel), with remixes by Detroit’s superb old skool vets Aux 88 (430 West/Submerge/Direct Beat/Studio !K7) and Chicago legend K. Alexi Shelby (Transmat/Studio !K7/Djax-Up-Beats/Trax/Warp/Artform) kind'a all going back to the source: Pure electro/techno, 2010s style. Well, me likes to methinks, anyway.

It's already been spun, charted and is gathering a wee bit of steam thanks to support from Dave Clarke, Laurent Garnier, Shin Nishimura, Trevor Rockcliffe, Alan Oldham, Inigo Kennedy, Kirk Degiorgio, Dan Curtin, Steve Poindexter, Jerome Baker, Mike Dehnert, Ryuji Takeuchi and Anthony Shakir.

This vinyl baby will be available from November 27th (incidentally my mum's birthday!) via Prime, but you can get a sneak preview (in lovely lower-res audio) here:

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ryuichi Sakamoto + YMO

Twenty-seven years ago Ryuichi Sakamoto made his not-quite-so-thrilling acting debut in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, opposite David Bowie, Tom Conti and Jack Thompson. He also composed the soundtrack.

We’re not here now to talk dramatics, since Sakamoto let his acting career slide. It’s the man’s music, including many more film scores, that has continued to flourish.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence was actually the first movie for which I created music,” Sakamoto is quick to point out. “I’ve liked movies since I was a kid, but I never imagined I’d compose music for them.”

Well before techno and house music, there was Yellow Magic Orchestra - a Japanese trio subsequently cited in the same sentence as ‘70s peers Kraftwerk, Cabaret Voltaire, Can, Throbbing Gristle and Tangerine Dream.

More recently they've been appearing on Japanese tellies to promote chocky treats Pocky, from local brand Ezaki Glico - first sold in 1966, the treat is a thin sliver of biscuit stick coated with chocolate, and you can check out the commercial here:

While these days YMO may be hawking popular snacks, three decades ago these above-mentioned bands improvised experiments with new-fangled synthesizers and analogue electronic gadgetry that eventually inspired a deluge of DJs, producers and bands across the globe to lay down the club sounds we now take for granted.

Sakamoto was a principle member of YMO, but it’s obvious he’s laid that legacy to rest rather than continue banking on yesterday’s glories.

“That’s in the past,” he confirms with a laugh.

“What can I say? There isn’t anything enlightening to add, except that my relationship’s still good with the other two members of YMO.”

After the wide-girth, experiential YMO years, conforming to a structured musical palette would be a difficult detour to take - something Sakamoto confirms.

“At the time I had no idea what I could refer to so I asked Jeremy Thomas, a British producer, and he recommended Citizen Kane. When I now contemplate Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, I’m not sure if the soundtrack succeeds as film music - but the director, Nagisa Oshima, encouraged me to produce it my own way without any inhibitions so it ended up rather like my solo music.”

Sakamoto subsequently scored three movies for Bernardo Bertolucci, starting in 1987 with The Last Emperor - for which he shared the Oscar with David Byrne and Cong Su - and winding up with Little Buddha (1993).

“When you create a soundtrack of course you care about emotion,” Sakamoto says, “but I’m equally intrigued with the actors and other elements within the movie - like the actor’s eyes, a slight movement of someone’s moustache; those things are vital to me. I want to paint the structure of the story through music even though this isn’t always required by a director.”

More recently Sakamoto composed the sound track for Women Without Men.

"It was awarded the Silver Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival," Sakamoto enthuses, quite obviously excited by the filmmakers.

“Shirin Neshat is an Iranian artist, originally involved in the visual arts, and this is the first fiction film she’s made - for which I did the music.”

Given Ryuichi Sakamoto’s long-term experience, it would be educational to understand how one annotates a line between the creation of a soundtrack and producing one’s own music for an audio release. The man’s response reveals that this lineation itself is blurred; it’s the people involved who make a difference.

“Both are my music, so there’s not so much dissimilarity,” Sakamoto muses.

“However, when it comes to doing a soundtrack there are clients, such as directors, and what they require is of principle concern. In that case it doesn’t matter how much I love the work I develop - if they don’t like it, that score goes straight into the trash. This is the major difference. Then we also have different taste and preferences and things may not always gel, so there is quite the added tension. By contrast, if it’s my own music I make the decisions and never have to deal with this kind of stress.”

The collaborative fusion of the two is key, however.

“Bringing them together is enriching because the odd demands of a film score force you to think outside your usual comfort zone, in order to meet the challenge; this is an essential experience for me as a musician.”

On the new release Playing the Piano Sakamoto combines twelve of his best known pieces, much of the content film music from Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, The Sheltering Sky and The Last Emperor. It’s been rendered far simpler as the album title suggests - recorded from live performances in Japan by the man behind the music, utilizing just a piano.

The album even comes with a bonus disc, Out of Noise, which is Sakamoto’s first solo studio opus in five years. Comparing this with Playing the Piano is like comparing milk-based food products and soft, white, porous sedimentary rock; they’re that diverse.

Out of Noise is a complicated journey that’s at times sublime, ethereal and prescient; at others the mood is challenging and focused, like an icy exercise in yoga meditation.

While the ageing process causes other avant-garde musicians to lose touch - or to shift into safer parts of the mainstream - Sakamoto continues to bracket himself with current musical concepts, technology and ideology, and he’s embraced the digital age as much as he did its analogue predecessor 30 years ago.

Yet you have to backtrack further still to uncover Sakamoto’s favourite movie soundtrack.

Without a moment’s hesitation he selects Nino Rota’s score for Federico Fellini’s La Strada (1954).

“That movie is fantastic and the music is superb,” he appraises.

Big thanks to Yoko for doing most of the work here, and to Filmink for organizing.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cure Moonlight!

2010 been an absolutely dire year for televised anime over here in Japan, with most of the more innovative studios (Madhouse, Production I.G, Gonzo, Studio 4°C) seemingly in hibernation over the past twelve months – or at the very least keeping their claws sheathed.

While Madhouse did pull off something nifty in the Redline feature movie directed by Takeshi Koike, and Keiichi Hara’s anime movie Colorful has been one of the cinematic highlights this year, the medium was lacklustre on the tellies.

It’s quite clear that the Japanese anime scene is going through a rough patch right now, very much like that which has crippled the newspaper/magazine and music industries, which may (or may not) have a bit to do with either the Internet or the global financial downturn or both; I’ll leave that appraisal to better qualified people.

There is a bright note here, however.

One series that's kept me amused and even a little infatuated over the past six months or so has been HeartCatch PreCure!, the infectious, disarming kids’ series you might've spotted elsewhere in this rambling blog.

The yarn started up with our shy, upright schoolgirl heroine Tsubomi (Cure Blossom), swathed in pink, who was joined by trusty neighbour and fashion-minded sidekick Erika (the all-blue Cure Marine). Five months into the series, the third heroine emerged with the gold-hued, androgynous Itsuki (Cure Sunshine) – who dresses in boys clothes but shines in her girly PreCure persona.

More recently, over the past few weeks, a reticent, quietly cantankerous and quite possibly bitter senior high school student, Yuri, was revealed to be the purple-shrouded Cure Moonlight - the predecessor of our other three champions who lost her powers in a big battle with Dark Pretty Cure (that's a long story for another blog entry - or not) and two weeks ago had those powers and her attire restored.

I'd like to pretend to have some dignity, but stuff that - bring on tomorrow morning's episode...

Oh, and my excuse is that I watch it to spend time with my four-year-old daughter Cocoa, who also loves the series. Which one of us digs it the most is up for debate.

For a bit of a sneak preview, here you get to see Cure Moonlight reclaim her identity a couple of weeks back (zounds!):

© ABC All Rights Reserved

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The HAL 9000 Building

Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower (モード学園コクーンタワ) is a relatively new building in Shinjuku that I've been passing nearby for months on the way to work, but I only got around to taking some happy snaps of the place the other day.

Better known to me as the HAL 9000 building because it houses HAL Tokyo, a special technology and design college (and it just looks so darned "designer modern", like something that'd be right at home in 2001), the Cocoon Tower was actually completed 2 years ago, designed by Tange Associates, the company set up by famous architect Kenzo Tange.

As far as facts and figures go, the 204-metre-tall (669 ft), 50-storey tower is apparently the second-tallest educational building in the world. I think the highest building I set foot in at Melbourne University clocked in at five storeys, which is a wee bit shorter.

Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower is currently the 17th-tallest building in Tokyo - and it won the Kewpie Doll when it was awarded the 2008 Skyscraper of the Year by

It certainly gets this wayward blog's nominations as well.

While it does stick out like a sore thumb directly outside the West Exit of Shinjuku JR Station, it's the kind of aching digit you're more than happy to put up with.

I guess we could throw in the old punchline here about suffering for art.

And speaking of HAL 9000, here he is for a bit of nostalgia's sake.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Love Songs

What music do you like to make love to?

A simple question, really.

“Sometimes I sing ‘Danger Zone’ in the bathroom. I like the music from Top Gun. When I was a child I dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot, and to this day Top Gun is my favorite action movie. But this is not bathroom music,” laughs Takashi Watanabe.

“Hmm. I think jazz house, because of swing and the punchy hi-hat accents and R&B horn riffs.”

As DJ Warp, Watanabe usually spins far harder techno and tech-house tunes.

Toshiyuki Yasuda, who makes music under his own name as well as doing vocoder crooning as Robo*Brazileira, jumps at the opportunity to answer this one. “Coleman Hawkins’s ‘Body and Soul’,” he cites.

“It never repeats the same riffs or theme throughout the tune, so I feel fresh and stimulated each time I listen to it - which is important for it, isn't it? Although actually no music is really the best, I think.”

“I like deep and dark minimal because it makes me erotic,” suggests Rie Kurihara (better known as veteran DJ/producer Ree.K), and then she goes one step further and debunks the idea in agreement with Yasuda.

The rest of this article is online HERE at Forces Of Geek.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Much Ado About Macross

Today I picked up the flier for Macross Frontier ~Sayonara no Tsubasa~.

I always hate it when they put those fancy squiggly things like "~" in titles, as it just looks twee, but aside from that inconsequential complaint the movie will hit screens across Japan from 26 February 2011.

The subtitle Sayonara no Tsubasa has been roughly translated in recent press statements as "The Wings of Goodbye", whatever precisely that means.

It's the sequel to last year's Macross Frontier ~Itsuwari no Utahime~ (more squiggling action, which actually does look better in Japanese: マクロスF ~イツワリノウタヒメ~).

That movie was directed by Shōji Kawamori (河森正治), previously the mechanical designer on Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell and Patlabor 2; he also acted in Oshii's Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters, created the original Macross Frontier manga - and apparently was responsible for the initial toy designs in the late '70s for the Transformers' Optimus Prime.

More importantly, Kuwamori was the creator, production supervisor, mechanical designer and writer of the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross (超時空要塞マクロス, Chōjikū Yōsai Makurosu) TV series, a 1982-83 sci-fi melodrama of the finest sort that, according to Kawamori, depicts "a love triangle against the backdrop of great battles" during the first Human-alien war.

And really that tells you enough - it's an awesome romp that has mecha action wrapped up with base human emotions like jealousy, rivalry and anger.

I loved it when I stumbled across it (on VHS) back in Australia in the early '90s.

Even better, however, Kuwamori also co-directed the ground-breaking Macross Plus (マクロスプラス) in 1994 - with Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop) - thereby creating a slab of absolutely essential anime.

Whether the new movie lives up to these original yarns is yet to be seen (obviously, since it hasn't even screened) but until the unveiling in February they have the website here for more pics/info... in Japanese.

In the meantime here's the bloody brilliant old trailer for Macross Plus; it used to feature on most of the 1990s videos released by Manga Entertainment in Australia (now better known as Madman).

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Yoyogi National Gymnasium

A couple of days a week I get to teach English to half-bored, half-cool students at a design college in Harajuku (right).

The view from our lecture room on the fourth floor is a superb one that takes in the Yoyogi National Gymnasium (国立代々木競技場), below, and I often find myself glancing out there.

Apparently internationally famous for its suspension roof design, it was designed by Kenzo Tange - the man behind the iconic Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku, which opened in 1991.

The Yoyogi National Gymnasium was built between 1961 and 1964 to house swimming and diving events in the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics; word is that the design also inspired Frei Otto's arena designs for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

The arena holds somewhere in the vicinity of 13,000 people and is now primarily used for ice hockey and basketball - but also was used for the 2010 World Judo Championships, and J-Pop star Ayumi Hamasaki has most of her Tokyo concerts here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Old Relics of Tokyo 東京

You’ll still find the structures in obscure narrow alleyways in downtown areas, or even in parts of Ginza - one of the most luxurious shopping districts in the world and the most expensive real estate in Japan - like this samurai armor shop (right) that I stumbled across last year.

I’m talking up architecture.

And no, not the newer, over-the-top miracles of stone, glass, plastics and metals that crop up in Odaiba and Ginza and Aoyama. This month I decided to peer instead into the rear vision mirror, looking for the sense of history that (sometimes) feels like it’s sadly lacking in this metropolis.

You can forget the ancient temples and shrines; they already get plaudits even though most of them have been recommissioned or rebuilt after the general destruction of the Great Kanto earthquake (1923), fires, and the Allied carpet bombings during World War 2.

So what precisely am I thinking?

Well, the wooden abodes, quite often plastered; they’re simple houses, shops and other treats with shoji doors and strange takes on the “bay window” concept.

You’ll see them poking out behind people in old Japanese movies like Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953) and Akira Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel (1948) or Ikiru (1952), most built before or during the Taisho period (1912-26) or early Showa era (1926-89).

When I moved into my apartment in Okusawa, near Jiyugaoka, five years ago there was a brilliant two story derelict house just round the corner (see picture above left). As-yet-unslain curiosity cat that I am, I just had to investigate.

The place was open to the street, yet—as per most Japanese derelict abodes—no squatters had ever lived there. In the drawers were old clothes including dusty kimonos, and while the tatami mats were water-logged and buckled up, and the building wasn’t in the best condition, it could’ve been fairly easily renovated.

Six months later it was torn down and replaced with a car park for the apartment block next door.

* The remainder of this self-opinionated rant is online now @ FORCES OF GEEK.

Monday, September 6, 2010

RIP Satoshi Kon

I'm still reeling and coming to terms with the news that anime filmmaker, screenwriter and manga-ka Satoshi Kon (今 敏), passed away on August 24 after a struggle with pancreatic cancer.

He was just 46 years of age, and therefore only a year older than myself.

But the list of Kon's achievements is a staggering one, and for me he was one of Japan's three leading anime directors, right up there with Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell) and Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away).

After all Kon - a true auteur - was responsible for the superb anime movies Perfect Blue (1998), Millennium Actress (2001) and Paprika (2006), along with the TV series Paranoia Agent.

Millennium Actress remains my favourite Kon movie.

It's as heart-wrenching as it is invigorating - and combines drama with tragedy, comedy with historical fancy, moments of action and violence with a piquant sense of whimsy.

The story itself, on the surface, is deceptively simple.

A film crew set out to make documentary on a reclusive, elderly actress named Chiyoko Fujiwara - but what follows is a blurring of reality, a tectonic, unpredictable shift in time-lines, and a haphazard association with the plot lines in the old movies that made Fujiwara famous.

Add to this the actress’ long-time unrequited love, and an equally lengthy secret crush felt by the documentary crew’s director, the devastation of Japan in World War 2, samurai battles, vindictive secret police, and rocket ship exploration – all of it somehow tied together beautifully by Kon – and you have yourself an anime masterpiece.

The influences themselves are rich enough to dwell upon – from Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (1957), which rewrote Shakespeare’s Macbeth in a samurai context, to the real-life actress Setsuko Hara, famous from the 1940s to the ‘60s in movies by Kurosawa (The Idiot, 1951) and Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story, 1953), who suddenly withdrew from public life in 1963, the same year that Ozu died, and has only been viewed once or twice in the ensuing 45 years by the prying Japanese media.

Meanwhile, Kon's Paprika is arguably to Inception precisely what Oshii's Ghost in the Shell was to The Matrix.

Late last year I had the chance to interview Kon-sama and the resulting article was published in the January 2010 issue of Impact magazine over in the UK. I forwarded on a copy of the article to him and he e-mailed me back in January to say "It will be good for my English studying. Thank you."

Which was typical of Satoshi Kon in my all-too-brief experience of dealing with a man who turned out to be humourous, genial, thoughtful, thought-provoking, and fun - he even contributed to my long-winded piece on sake.

So, as one struggling way to pass on my own personal kudos, here is much of that interview, promised in this blog a few months back. The insights are at times inspiring as much as enlightening regarding his essential body of work.


Why do you enjoy directing movies, and which part of creating them makes you the happiest?

“I find joy in the entire film-making process – I really enjoy every single moment along the way. From assembling the script to begin establishing the world view, then on into character designs and art setting, story boarding, and collaboration work with lots of staff for the actual drawing and background art – this all makes for a stimulating experience, and there’s so much stuff I want to do in editing or in the acoustic work, too. Whatever the output, be it a sentence, a picture, or a sound, concreting the idea together is someone who is, after all, nothing but an anime fan.

“After the movie is completed, visuals creation or interview to advertise is a very important mission too; these are great opportunities to look back at the way I directed and what kind of movie I ended up with. In the course of film making, there are actually no jobs I don’t appreciate – though of course it’s not fun to give up or compromise an idea for the budget or tight schedule, I believe those decisions are going to be beneficial for the entire movie world, so I never think those are negative things either. A strategic withdrawal is sometimes necessary, and it’s an important decision to make.

“Among these fun-filled processes, I prefer doing the storyboard.

"When I’m doing this, I really feel like I’m ‘making the movie’. Even if they’re the still images, the story is visualized by connecting pictures, so it’s like letting the actors act, shoot them, and edit them – all on paper.

"Everything about my film making is on the storyboard.

“I was originally a manga artist – so therefore, controlling the storyboard is really easy for me since the style of story boarding is like doing comics. Manga artists are good at drawing tiny pictures within the frames; the only major difference between storyboarding and a comic is the fact that the storyboard is the blueprint to move characters, and the time flow, divided by 24 frames per second, becomes the important factor.”

How would you personally describe the kind of movies you make?

“It’s difficult to answer to that kind of wide-ranging question!” [laughs]

“But if I do dare to put into words the movies I have been directed, it would be ‘fantasy based on a world that has reality’. To only describe the real world is not enough, and only fantasy is far too sweet to have. Therefore, I’ve wanted to make something that has reality in its foundations, then take off from there and fly into the domain called fantasy. Quite basically this mentality hasn’t changed since I was drawing manga, before making anime. I can’t say for sure that this philosphy will continue into the future, however.”

It's been said that "Satoshi Kon's forte [speciality] is in the surreal interaction of reality and dreams - which often drift into nightmares." Would you agree?

“Of course. The interaction of reality and dreams is a motif I still have interest in, and I keep bringing it back into my work. Since my debut Perfect Blue [1998] got attention for that motif, I intentionally used it as a central focal point in Millennium Actress, Paprika, and so on. I think the way in which I’ve handled this, along with my workmanship skills, have got better and better after using this motif several times.

“However, it’s not healthy to keep using the same motif again and again, neither for the audience nor creators – even when utilized in a different context. So I think it’s better for me to steer away from ‘the surreal interaction of reality and dreams’ for a while, though I’m still interested in the theme.”

You did your first script for Magnetic Rose, directed by Koji Morimoto and based on the work of Katsuhiro Otomo, in 1995. How was that experience for you?

"Magnetic Rose became the movie that gave me the first opportunity to use the ‘interaction of reality and dreams’ concept, but at that point I wasn’t sure how to place and blend reality and dreams, so my technique and workmanship were simple. Still, there's no doubt the experience with that script led to the common characteristics of my work, and that became the big turning point in my creation history. I was in charge of script, art setting, and layout. I liked the story and visual factor, though at the same time I often felt the differences between my interpretation and the producers'. But I can say that it made me interested in the directing job so it certainly was memorable for me."

Millennium Actress (2001) is a wonderful movie that manages to reflect Japan's changes in the years before World War 2, and since then. Was this your intention?

"The answer can be yes and no; it depends to which ‘intention’ belongs. Originally the idea of Millennium Actress was for the main character, the actress, to run through her subjective time – which in reality is a play within a play – and for that we wanted to describe an eventful life story over a lengthy period.

“Then, while padding plot lines and thinking about the script, the idea dawned on me to insert a Japanese film history aspect and integrate the actress character’s development; it became a movie you can interpret in multiple layers. The notion of change in Japan itself filtered out during the film making process, which I hadn’t thought about in the beginning. I wouldn’t say that I became familiar with history through making this movie, but Millennium Actress is a special film which gave me the opportunity to rethink the relationship between me and my country.”

In Millennium Actress reality and unreality become blurred, and it becomes a story within a story. Could you tell us more about the development of the script?

“The plan for Millennium Actress got started by a call from a producer who’d just watched Perfect Blue.

“I began by thinking about a story which has the structure of ‘trick’ paintings, since the producer told me that he wanted to make a movie that was as much like a ‘trick’ painting as Perfect Blue apparently was for him. The first inkling of an idea was a sentence, and it was this: ‘Once upon a time an old actress talks about her life, but her memory is scrambled, mixed with various roles she acted in, and together this creates a dramatic story.’ I made a rough plot from this first memo.”

It's said that the character of Chiyoko Fujiwara is loosely based upon real-life actresses Setsuko Hara and Hideko Takamine. Is this true? What other influences shaped her character?

“As the image model, as you say, Setsuko Hara and Hideko Takamine are the actresses who represented the postwar movies, but I was influenced by a lot of other actresses too. In Chiyoko’s background, the actress who retires all of the sudden is sourced from Setsuko Hara, while the bright smile in the chaos after the war comes from Hideko Takamine’s image. However, those influences are more about the ‘appearance’ images I borrowed; to create Chiyoko’s personality, I didn’t refer to any real actress. Of course, I was going through Ms. Takamine’s bio and many actresses’ interviews, so probably there might be parts I included from those without being conscious about it.”

And then there’s Paprika, the movie Kon released through Madhouse in 2006. The opening minutes of the movie introduce the pivotal character of police detective Konakawa and his recurring nightmare – which revolves around the spliced-and-looped discovery of a homicide victim. You then undercut this traumatic vignette with references to a roll call of Hollywood standards, like Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth, Tarzan the Ape Man, Roman Holiday, and Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, all rolled up into one sweet dream sequence. Which foreign film directors have most influenced you over the years, and why so?

“It’s a difficult question. John Ford, Billy Wilder, Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, George Roy Hill, Robert Altman – it’s endless. I can’t limit myself to the one. For dream sequences and the like Terry Gilliam stimulated me, especially in the beginning of Time Bandits, in Brazil, and in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. These are my favourite movies. For the technique to connect different times and space, I was hugely influenced by George Roy Hill’s version of Slaughterhouse-Five.

"However, for the basic idea of the movie, I think I learned more from Japanese director Akira Kurosawa than overseas directors. I don’t have nerve to say I’m influenced by him, since I just learned, but I often read Akira Kurosawa’s director interviews or his crew’s interviews while making my own movies.

“Of course there are important directors like Yasujiro Ono, Kenji Mizoguchi, Keisuke Kinoshita, Masaki Kobayashi, Kihachi Okamoto, Kon Ichikawa, et cetera, but there is no one like Akira Kurosawa – who produced numerous masterpieces and who defined such strength of image. People can identify his work at a glance. Not only the acting or look, but the theme music, art, camera angles, the light, the tools or cloths... everything.”


At the time of our chat Kon was gearing up for the release of his long-awaited next anime movie Yume Miru Kikai (The Dreaming Machine), again through Studio Madhouse.

"This is my own original story - therefore different from my previous work," Kon advised at the time.

"While I was developing the script, I heard about a movie called WALL·E... and I got a little nervous that it might be similar to mine. I can't tell you how relieved I was when I learned that the two stories were totally different," he laughed.

"In The Dreaming Machine, only robots are there. I want the audience to enjoy the adventures of robots who survived even after their parents - human beings - had become extinct. After Paprika, I ended up taking a vacation for over a year, so we've just started development on this. You can see this movie in 2011."

I'm not sure what Madhouse's plans for the movie may now be, or how far Kon had gotten in the production of the movie.

According to Wikipedia, Kon left a final statement on his blog here. There's a translation in English also here.

There's nothing really more to add here, except: Respect. We'll miss you, mate.


Perfect Blue © 1997 Madhouse / Paranoia Agent © Satoshi Kon・MADHOUSE/PARANOIA AGENT COMMITTEE / Millennium Actress © 2001 Chiyoko Committee / Paprika © 2006 Madhouse/Sony Pictures Entertainment (Japan) Inc.