Thursday, September 22, 2011

Kyoto 京都

I just got back from three rather intensive days in the grand old city of Kyoto.

In fact I skipped out on a rather legendary contemporary music festival (Labyrinth) to douse myself in some old school culture down in the former capital. Why? Well, even after a decade living in Tokyo I'd never actually been to Kyoto (crazy and inexcusable, I know).

I'd always wanted to spend more than a week down there to really experience it, but a group of my favourite students decided to take matters into their own hands - and treated me to three of the best days' traveling that I've had in years.

There was, of course, Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺 The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, above left), also known as Rokuon-ji (鹿苑寺 Deer Garden Temple). You've probably seen the postcards of this baby, or you may even have read Yukio Mishima's The Temple of the Golden Pavilion ...or you might've just glimpsed the photo in the desktop picture art of Apple's OS X computer operating system (shh!).

Anyway, it's a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto established back in the 14th century.
The current Golden Pavilion, however, was built far more recently (1955) since the original was burned down by a mad arsonist monk in 1950 - the subject of Mishima's novel.

That doesn't stop the place being so damned stunning, however.

Aside from 13 other temples and shrines, plus assorted rock gardens and Nijo Castle, we also took time out to investigate Gion (祇園) on Saturday, around dusk.

Gion is of course the home of maiko, geisha, ochaya (tea houses), kaiseki (multi-course dinner restaurants) and okiya (geisha/maiko lodging houses). Plus a swarm of tourists like me soaking up the atmosphere and trying to spy a maiko (an apprentice geisha, the flashier ones).

I took more than 250 photos on the trip, and sorry to share just two of 'em - but, then again, I don't want to bore you senseless with my own happy snaps. Make sure you get over to Kyoto to take your own. The city is brilliant.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Not-so-Oblivion Island

Production I.G's first 3D-CGI feature film Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror has received a slew of recognition thus far as Animation of the Year at the Japan Academy Prizes, Jury Recommended Work in the Animation Division of the 13th Japan Media Arts Festival (2009), the Nippon Cinema Award at the Nippon Connection Film Festival (Germany), the Visual Technology Award for the animation section of the 9th annual Video Technology Awards, the Digital Content Grand Prix 2010 - DCAJ Chairman Prize, Feature Films Competition Special Jury Prize at SICAF 2010 (South Korea), the Jury Special Mention at Fantasia 2010 (Canada), Jury First Mention at Expotoons 2010 (Argentina), and Jury's Special Mention at the 18th Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film 2011 (Germany).

Now add the Gold Kite for the Best Feature Animation Film for Young People and the Signis Argentina Jury Special Mention at the 10th annual International Film Festival "Nueva Mirada" for Children and Youth, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from September 1 to 7, 2011.

Otherwise known here in Japan as Hottarake no Shima - Haruka to Maho no Kagami (ホッタラケの島 〜遥と魔法の鏡〜), you can check out the official website here.

Great news for I.G, the people behind the Ghost in the Shell franchise.

The animation direction is by none other than Naoyoshi Shiotani (the director of the South Korean SICAF 2008 Grand Prize-winning Tokyo Marble Chocolate) and it's directed by Shinsuke Sato, the writer/director of Princess Blade (2001).

To fully appreciate the controlled, irreverent madness here you'll need to brush up on your basic knowledge of Inari shrines - plus a re-reading of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and re-screenings of Spirited Away, Toy Story, The Empire Strikes Back and the Rankin/Bass-produced 1964 stop motion version of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Here's a taster:

Friday, September 9, 2011

Prima donna plastic-fantastica?

Licca-chan (リカちゃん) was born on May 3, 1967 to Orie Kayama, a Japanese fashion designer, and Pierre Miramonde, a French musician. Her papa Pierre apparently liked his wife's family name (Kayama) so much that he adopted it as his own surname.

Licca’s favorite books are Anne of Green Gables and A Little Princess – both extremely popular girls’ titles in Japan and themselves made into anime series. As it turns out, Licca-chan not also loves dogs, eating Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream and reading the manga series of Doraemon, but also likes cross-dressing and role-playing. 

For instance there's Choro Q Licca, aka Race Queen Licca (who has her own racing car) and quite a few Hinamatsuri (Doll's Festival) Licca-chans worth up to ¥289,000 (US $3,750).

Then there’s bridal Licca, Chukyo Women's University High School Licca-chan, fast-food chain Mosburger Licca, the über-tanned Loco Neo Licca, Super Doll Knight Licca, and rollerskating Licca-chan; back in the ‘90s there was even Street Licca – who was a DJ in pink Converse runners carrying a très cool Rough Trade record bag – as well as a special ice-skating Licca for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. And in 2001 a pregnant adult version of Licca-chan was introduced to coincide with the birth of Aiko, the daughter of Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife Masako.

Here's the original 1967 commercial: