Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Round-Up + Gerry Anderson

Which brings us to the end of another Year of the Dragon, which is actually my year of birth — and what a year it's been here in Tokyo, as well as elsewhere I'm sure.

Over at Forces Of Geek, head-honcho Stefan asked us to submit our Best of 2012 lists, which I did and I'm going the put an excerpt of that list here:

Best Movies of 2012
The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Rust and Bone, The Master, Django Unchained, A Letter to Momo, Evangelion 3.0, Helter Skelter and Dead Sushi.

Best TV Shows
Smile PreCure!, Sekai no Hate Made ItteQ and Kamen Rider Wizard.

Best Song
Si Begg — UFO Original Soundtrack

Best Blu-ray/DVD Release
Captain America and The Dark Knight Rises.

You can check out a whole wad of other cool contributors' ideas for the greatest bits and pieces of 2012 over at Forces Of Geek, so take the time to investigate.

It's been a great twelve months for me personally, with the publication of my second novel One Hundred Years of Vicissitude (a surreal/slipstream/noir account of Japan from 1929 into the near-future), finishing a third novel (the comicbook/noir Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?), and having a few short-stories published via Shotgun Honey, Pulp Ink 2, Crime Factory, Weird Noir, Solarcide and Off the Record 2.

Next month there's another anthology I get to be involved in, and it's called All Due Respect, from the rather respected noir short story website run by Chris Rhatigan.

In the American and Japanese summer (winter in Australia) in 2013 we should also have out the anthology I'm doing with Another Sky Press, called The Tobacco-Stained Sky — which focuses on the noir/dystopic, near-future Melbourne explored in Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat.

More news as soon as I know.

Closer to home — ie. here in Japan, this month I also got to be a gaijin extra (think refugee running amidst fire and rubble) in the new live-action Gatchaman movie, aka Battle of the Planets.

It was filmed at an amazing, abandoned paper mill in Takahagi-shi, Ibaraki, the temperature was about 1°C, and there were aliens galore (getting coffee, as in this picture). The movie should be released next year.

Music-wise I just released (yesterday) my latest Little Nobody EP through IF? Records ('Behind the Meme Claw'), with remixes from Detroit legend Alan Oldham (DJ T-1000) and Sydney's Biz and Sebastian Bayne, and I remixed David Christoph's track 'Sandman' for We Call It Hard Records earlier this month. I've additionally had the chance to remix Chicago's Lester Fitzpatrick, and that'll be out on vinyl in 2013.

The melancholy thing was winding it up with news yesterday of the death of the great Gerry Anderson, the man behind such landmark series as Thunderbirds, UFO and Space: 1999, along with one of my favourite sci-fi movies, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (1969). Thunderbirds is equally huge in Japan — I picked up my ready-made Eagle Transporter at a very cool toy emporium in Akihabara — so I know a lot of people here will be sad as well.

I just wrote a piece on the man for Slit Your Wrists! magazine, but check out the incredible visual set-shots from Space: 1999 and UFO over at Gavin Rothery's site.

Reading-wise, it's been a superb year.

While I tend to gravitate towards old loves like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and the '60s Marvel comics scripted by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, writers that've made an impression over the past 12 months include Josh Stallings, Shuichi Yoshida, McDroll, Nigel Bird, Paul D. Brazill, Guy Salvidge, Yukito Ayatsuji, Tony Pacitti, Julie Morrigan, Chad Eagleton, Gordon Highland, Chris Rhatigan, Jay Slayton-Joslin, Gerard Brennan, Liam Jose, Chad Rohrbacher, Heath Lowrance, Dan O'Shea, Ed Kurtz, Kristopher Young, Patti Abbott, Matthew C. Funk, Julia Madeleine, Caleb J. Ross, Phil Jourdan, Michael Gonzalez, Craig Wallwork, A.B. Riddle, Andrew Nette, Haruki Murakami, Tony Black, Richard Godwin, Mike Miner, Erik Arneson, Joe Clifford, Court Merrigan, K. A. Laity, Carol Borden, W. P. Johnson, Benoit Lelievre, Luca Veste, Renee Asher Pickup, Dakota Taylor, Jessica Taylor, Laramore Black, Richard Thomas, Jonny Gibbings, Mckay Williams, and Martin Garrity.

I've probably missed someone vital, so apologies in advance!

Art and comics-wise you can do no better than check out Drezz Rodriguez (who does El Cuervo), Michael Grills (Runnin’ With a Gun), Nathan St. John (Baja), Marcos Vergara (La Mesa Habitual), Andrew Chiu, Harvey Finch (Logar the Barbarian), Denver Brubaker (The Tales of a Checkered Man), fellow Aussie Paul Mason (The Soldier Legacy), Giovanni Ballati, Saint Yak and Dave Acosta.

Anyway, enough rambling. Have a great new year, all the best for 2013 whatever you're doing and wherever you are, and as they say here in Japan: よいお年を (yoi otoshi o!). 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Flash in Japan: CAPE CAPERS

I have a wee confession to make.

Even though I live left-of-centre in the heart of Tokyo (actually Setagaya, about 25 minutes by train from Shibuya), lately I haven’t been thinking about Japan at all.

My brain has shelved lingua franca, ignored the neon signage, sushi train restaurants, the manga and anime - heck, even the saké.

Instead, I’ve had my head stuck in comicbooks.

And, yes, I do put the two words together (“comic” + “book” = “comicbook”) since I recently saw Stan Lee’s rant on Twitter about doing so.

No that I’m having a go at Lee regarding said rant.

What he said rang true, and the truth is I’ve been pretty much a life-long fan of The Man.

My next novel, which I actually just finished writing this week (I’m still editing and tweaking it into better shape) is called Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?...and it’s an homage to what Stan Lee established at Marvel in the 1960s - the so-called Silver Age of comicbooks - aided and abetted by creative types like Roy Thomas, Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, Syd Shores, John and Sal Buscema, Barry Windsor-Smith, Artie Simek, George Roussos and Sammy Rosen. 

If vaguely interested, you can read more about the whole caboodle @ FORCES OF GEEK.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Undervaluing the Great Kiichi Nakai

If we had a “Most Underrated Japanese Actor” category here, 51-year-old Kiichi Nakai would easily qualify - although the guy has been nominated for, and in fact, won a swag of Japanese Academy Awards, including best actor.

He also happens to be the son of the late Keiji Sada, one of Japan’s more venerated stars of the silver screen before his untimely demise in 1964 at just 37 years of age.

As an actor himself, son Nakai blossomed as the sensational focal-point of Fukuro no Shiro (Owl’s Castle, 1999), possibly Japan’s most underrated, must-see silly ninja movie. I love Owl's Castle for the story, for the action (even with its CG hiccups) and mostly for Nakai at his over-acting, endearing best.

I even ended up nicking an image and using that for the cover art of one of my Little Nobody LPs in 2009, the long-windedly titled I Have Become So Many People I Don't Know Who I Am (this is a quote from the movie). By the way, that's a free download, so go grab it if you want.

While he was nominated for his role of the principle ninja in Owl's Castle, Nakai had previously won the Japan Academy Best Supporting Actor award in 1994 for the drama Shijushichinin no Shikaku (47 Ronin), directed by the late, great Kon Ichikawa.

  Five years ago, Nakai sparkled in his supporting role in the high-profile Takuya Kimura (SMAP) vehicle Hero, for director Masayuki Suzuki, and he was also the mad, somehow sympathetic bad guy opposite Mansai Nomura in Onmyoji 2.

You can read more about Kiichi Nakai in my article @ Forces Of Geek.

Friday, October 19, 2012

100 Years of Underpinnings

This week my new novel surfaced on Amazon USA, and will be out shortly via Amazon UK and Amazon Japan.

After the big earthquake and tsunami in the Tōhoku region north of Tokyo last year, I felt like I very much wanted to give something back to Japan, my home for the past 11 years – a place that’s equal parts inspiring and puzzling, a fascinating collusion of kitsch and cool, with a history ten times longer than that of my home town, Melbourne.

One Hundred Years of Vicissitude was originally an idea I toyed with in 2007, and then shelved while I finished off Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat.

Some of the original notes did make it through to the final version, but at least 98 percent was written between September 2011, and April 2012 – and the tone is completely different.

The novel was swayed as much by family (my late grandfather Les, my wife Yoko and my six-year-old daughter Cocoa figured significantly in its composition) as it is by my two ‘home’ towns of Tokyo and Melbourne.

Aside the essential story of identical twin geisha, war, death and saké, other things weighed in on the mix and I’ve decided to outline some of these here – as they deserve all the kudos they can get – so, if you’re curious at all, read on at the website of esteemed noir/crime/mystery reviewer/journalist Elizabeth A. White.

Monday, October 15, 2012

100 Years of Vicissitude (published)

Hey, mates,

Yep, it's now confirmed – my second novel One Hundred Years of Vicissitude has just been published and is available as a paperback through new imprint Perfect Edge Books.

The novel is available here via Amazon USA – only $12 @ the moment (a $6 discount) in case anyone is… er… vaguely curious.

The Kindle version isn’t yet available, and orders through Amazon UK and Amazon Japan take a little longer. Still, friends of mine in Scotland and San Francisco already have a copy – though I haven’t seen one yet.

What’s the synopsis?

Roughly-speaking, this is the story of identical twin centenarians born on the first day of the Great Depression, one of whom loathes the other; it’s a purgatorial tour through twentieth-century Japanese history, with a ghostly geisha who has seen it all as a guide and a corrupt millionaire as her reluctant companion. Thrown into the milieu are saké, B-29s, Lewis Carroll, Sir Thomas Malory, Melbourne, The Wizard of Oz, and a dirigible – along with the allusion that Red Riding Hood might just be involved…

Some of the action also takes place in Melbourne as this is 5% a sequel/prequel to Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, which is actually available as a free PDF/epub.

Anyway, if you're bored, take a look-see. And the pretentious-sounding title is tongue-in-cheek, fear not...

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Incredible Zorori

He's a fox, he wears a Zorro mask, has 'Zoro' as part of his name (we'll forgive the missing 'r'), the blighter gets up to mischief, he unleashes belches and farts, and even has his nose shot off by a laser...

How was I ever going to be able to resist Kaiketsu Zorori, aka Incredible Zorori, a character created by Japanese writer/illustrator Yukata Hara, a man who also apparently wrote a tome called The Famous Fried Chicken Primary School.

To be honest, I was all set to do something this month that segued into a surreal Japan, the twisted lives of geisha and/or a warped afterlife, to coincide with the publication on October 16th of my new novel One Hundred Years of Vicissitude.  

But my daughter Cocoa just got back from the public library with her latest batch of the adventures of her hero Zorori, and I of course sat down to read over her shoulder. Surreal it is - comic adventures through a world populated by madcap animals and oddball beasties.

Cocoa has a lot to get through, and you can read more about Zorori @ Forces Of Geek.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Hard Labour & Other So-Called Travails

Bloody brilliant news for me – since I’m an Aussie, albeit currently an expat stuck in Tokyo – is that the fellow Melburnians @ Crime Factory are publishing their first anthology (Hard Labour) of Australian writers involved with the crime, noir and hardboiled genres.

This book is coming out on Oct. 8th, with sublime pulp cover art by Erik Lundy.

The line-up here is pretty mad – think Leigh Redhead, Helen FitzGerald, David Whish-Wilson, Garry Disher, JJ DeCeglie, Deborah Sheldon and more, including the Crime Factory crew themselves. I also have a story in the anthology, an unpublished prequel yarn featuring Floyd Maquina and Laurel Canyon from Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat.

By the way, if you’re interested at all in Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, the paperback is still just $4.74 from the publishers Another Sky Press, and they also offer the epub/pdf versions for FREE.

Otherwise, I’m hanging out for the publication of my 2nd novel One Hundred Years of Vicissitude next month (Oct. 26th) through Perfect Edge Books. This is where the Japan references hit hard. We just received a wunderbar review by very cool writer Raymond Embrack.

Recently I’ve done a couple of wayward interviews with some very nice people. I chatted with Lloyd Paige first up @ Today’s Paige, mostly about life in Japan, how it’s affected my writing, and specifics about character development in the upcoming novel.

I also just had gas-bagged with author Jeff Shear at The Six-Degree Conspiracy about both writing and making muzak (mostly my side-project Little Nobody) – hence allowing me to waffle on ’bout both passions – and did an interview in the latest (September) issue of WQ Magazine @ the Queensland Writers Centre, thanks to Jason Nahrung.

At the moment I have my head pretty much entrenched in novel #3, which I’ve blabbed about before in this blog. It’s titled Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? and is now sitting round the 60,000 word mark. There’s a lot more editing and reappraisal to go – but I’m pretty damned happy with progress here. Fingers crossed.

Other stuff coming up include a short story I’m lucky enough to have included in the charity-oriented Off the Record 2 – At the Movies, edited by Luca Veste and Paul D. Brazill and out at the end of this month. This actually features an all-star-cast of currently active pen-pushers I really, really dig – check out the line-up here. For this one I went with a kind of old-school, fun, Biggles-style.

I have more noir/horror aligned stories in Weird Noir (edited by K.A. Laity) and Crime Factory’s horror collection in the suitably titled Horror Factory, put together by Liam José.

Okay, personal rant out. Back to Japan-related stuff next entry.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Much ado about 'Kamen Rider' 仮面ライダー

The new Kamen Rider series, Kamen Rider Wizard, kicked off on TV screens here in Japan last Sunday morning in the show's usual 8:00 am timeslot, right before Pretty Cure.

Wizard (far left) took the mantle from Kamen Rider Fourze (the pin-headed hero in the picture, left) - the twenty-second take in a long-running franchise that kicked off in 1971.

That series commemorated the Toei Company show's 40th anniversary as well as the 50th anniversary of spaceflight.

Fourze, a.k.a. hilariously rowdy high school rebel Gentarō Kisaragi, was a barrel of fun.
Gentarō switched into Fourze via a transformation belt to fight monsters called Zodiarts, each of whom was modelled after one of the Western constellations.

Initially completely incompetent, after twelve months of fisticuffs he was quite the hero.

My daughter and I also loved the Kamen Rider before that: Eiji Hino, who took on the mantle of Kamen Rider OOO in the 2010-11 series and fought off villains called The Greeed. Of course, Eiji was aided and abetted by the disembodied arm of a Greeed called Ankh.

Aside from Ultraman and Super Sentai, Kamen Rider is perhaps Japan's best-known tokusatsu series - toku being the term applied to live-action film or TV romps that feature superheroes, martial arts, and much ado about special effects.

Funnily enough, Kamen Rider is also modeled on insects. The whole caboodle was created by manga artist Shōtarō Ishinomori (Cyborg 009) and I would say I'm a fan of the guy. A novel I recently wrote (One Hundred Years of Vicissitude) has a key character paying homage to manga pioneer Osamu Tezuka - but there's a secondary character dedicated to Ishinomori-san.

In that, however, he's called 'Shōtarō-kun' and he collects insects in a bucket.

(Read more of this article @ FORCES OF GEEK).

Monday, August 13, 2012

6:00 am in Tokyo

I’m spending most of my waking hours, and the ones during which time I should be sleeping, waylaid by Japan’s lovely August humidity – and also on novel #3 – Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? The current pitch is this:

Heropa: a vast, homogenized city patrolled by superheroes and populated by the adoring masses. A perfect place a lifetime away from the rain-drenched, dystopic metropolis of Melbourne. So, who is killing the great capes of Heropa?

Yep, as you can figure out, the Capes are superheroes. Kind of. It’s set in the future Melbourne dystopia of Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat (without being a sequel) where the only escapism is a computer game wherein people play out the role of superhero/villain. All fun and games until someone starts knocking off these superheroes… hence the mystery.

Thing is I’m just past the half-way mark of writing the thing, so I’m sure there’ll be more twists and turns to come that I have no idea about at this stage. I just today changed my mind regarding tone – I had a dramatic segment set for the finale, which worked (I thought) as author, but detracted from the over all tone of the project. The simple fun of the comic.

While it’s shaping up as a wink, aesthetically speaking, to the Golden Age of comics in the 1930s/40s (one of my favourite periods for the noir, pulp, movies and cars) this is definitely more of an homage to the classic 1960s work of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby at Marvel – and still gets to poke fun at the auspices of the Comics Code Authority.

There's also a sequence of a murder that reminded me of the death of Marat (and in particular that famous painting by Jacques-Louis David, so my wife Yoko sketched up this image above.

I waffled on a bit more about the writing stuff here.

Anyway, enough rambling. I need to get stuck back into the manuscript, if I can only ignore the fiendish cicada outside the window that sounds like a malfunctioning dentist’s drill.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Wolf in Stormtrooper's Clothing

It might well be that Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1999) is one of the most underrated anime offerings of all time – a situation no one into the more adult leanings of the medium should ascribe to.

Here you’ll find gallons of action, philosophical undertones, and sizable armaments involved - set alight with manic abandon. Kiddie stuff this most certainly is not.

With equally big gun anime production houses Production I.G and Bandai Visual working together here (along with one Mamoru Oshii) there was never any real doubt about the grown-up nature of this material or the quality of the animation.

Add to the military hardware and action a tall, dark, silent-type protagonist, a mysterious, unlikely femme fatale who’s a member of a terrorist organization, government-condoned death squads, post-modern German World War 2 helmets, gasmasks, full-on body armor, and – hidden amidst all this – some overt references to the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale.

Penned by Mamoru Oshii of Ghost in the Shell fame as part of his Kerberos saga, the alternate reality late 1950s story underpins Oshii’s earlier live-action film Stray Dog (1991) – a movie which starred actor Yoshikatsu Fujiki, who here returns to voice our hero Kazuki Fuse.

Fujiki also starred in Oshii’s more recent live-action movie Assault Girls (2009) and his presence is all the more reason that you should watch the movie in the original Japanese dub with English subtitles, rather than opting for the easy-listening local lingo.

The depth of talent involved in this production is guaranteed to smack around anyone vaguely interested in anime.

Kenji Kamiyama (later the director of TV series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) worked as sequence/animation director, the character designs (based on director Hiroyuki Okiura’s originals) were embellished on by Tetsuya Nishio (a key animator on Millennium Actress and FLCL) and you’ll also find Hiromasa Ogura - the man behind the surprisingly cool background art in Drawer Hobs (2011).


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Coffee & Soda, anyone?

OK, so this came out on the market a couple of days ago in Japan, and Suntory have been doing blanket advertizing on the telly and the trains here in Tokyo. 

The theme is fun - three Blues Brothers-like types running amuck in a fairground. Given that I love my coffee (and caffeine in general) and I've always dug soda water, the idea of a combination of the two was, well, intriguing.

I simply had to try it.

The verdict, sadly, was what most realistic people would expect. It was shocking. As much as I'm fond of coffee and soda water, never EVER shall the twain meet.

Suntory, you make pretty decent beer, but please (PLEASE) do not make fizzy coffee.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

APOCALYPSE THEN: How B-29 Bombers Burned Tokyo

I think I've mentioned here (several times over) that during the past year or so I've been immersed in the writing of my second book, this time with the focus on Japan from 1929 on.

One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is a blend of historical novel, surrealism, a mystery and noir; there's fantasy and a wee bit of romance in there as well, and I'm always ready for a hardboiled moment or two.

Included in this mix is an homage to classic Japanese cinema by the likes of Akira Kurosawa, Seijun Suzuki, and Satoshi Kon, along with actors Toshiro Mifune and Meiko Kaji.

There are nods to manga and comic books, medieval potboilers, Melbourne, Lewis Carroll, and Osamu Tezuka - along with the only visit to Tokyo by the Graf Zeppelin, saké, an eight-headed dragon, the sumo, geisha, James Bond, the Japanese Red Army, and a lot of other wayward stuff people might expect of me.

Also included is a pivotal dramatic tipping point, one that relates to the fire-bombing of Tokyo in March 1945.

Not long after I first arrived in Japan in 2001, I remember an elderly student, a child in that firebombing of the evening of March 9th and the morning of March 10th, 1945. He recounted a story that the Kanda River ran red. Whether from blood or the reflection of the fires all around, I was too timid to ask.

For the novel I ended up doing a lot of research into that fateful night. After doing so, I abridged several pages to put together a three-page summation. I toyed with this as the prologue for One Hundred Years of Vicissitude - but ditched the notion and instead integrated most of the facts and figures into survivor Kohana's diatribes about the event, early on in the story.

Coincidentally, I was writing up the fictional account here in Tokyo this past March, around the same time as the 67th anniversary of the aerial strike - though I was too immersed in the yarn to notice.

Disclaimers out of the way, let's start with the B-29. You might recall the one from the opening credits of the Watchmen film, emblazoned with "Miss Jupiter".

The American B-29 bomber had every right to call itself a ‘Superfortress’, since the contraption was a flying stronghold.

This was the largest aircraft inducted during World War II, a four-engine beauty flaunting a dozen 50-calibre M2 heavy machine guns mounted in five turrets, and one 20-millimetre cannon in its backside. All that was missing was a catapult.

While the plane’s length doesn’t ring so impressive - 99 feet, or just over 30 metres - the wingspan was 141 feet (43 metres) and it had an area of 1,736 square feet.

The bugger weighed in at 33,600 kilograms, prior to cramming in its particularly lethal payload.

The B-29 pushed the throttle to 357 miles per hour and it had a flight ceiling of 12 kilometres - making it practically immune to ground-based anti-aircraft fire and enemy fighter planes such as the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, which flew slower and lower.

I don’t know how you feel, but all these facts and figures bamboozle me.

In a nutshell, this was a huge thing that was well armed, flew higher and faster than anyone else, and carried a lot of bombs.

“The success of the development of the B-29 is an outstanding example of the technical leadership and resourcefulness which is the American way of doing things,” U.S. Major General Curtis LeMay wrote in the foreword to the airplane’s Combat Crew Manual, which also includes Disney-like cartoons and useful tidbits like what to do in case of snakebite.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Pulp Ink 2 & other stuff

OK, been a bit el slacko on the updates department here, prob'ly due to an array of factors:

(a) I just had a quick vacation and gig in Sydney, (b) other social media drains my time, (c) I'm working too much, and (d) I've been focused on polishing off the new novel One Hundred Years of Vicissitude - which should be out in late July or August - as well as a batch of short stories.

In fact the short stories have been a great romp for me, since I hadn't worked with this kind of thing since my early 20s.

Luckily, some of 'em are going to see the light of day away from my Mac.

One is being published in the Pulp Ink 2 anthology through Snubnose Press, which focuses on a playful horror/noir vibe - other contributors include Heath Lowrance, Julia Madeleine, Patti Abbott, Eric Beetner and Matthew C. Funk.

Another is the upcoming Crime Factory Hard Labour collection of Australian-made noir/crime yarns. I also have stories coming out via Shotgun Honey and Solarcide (more news about these later), and we're currently developing the post-apocalyptic noir anthology The Tobacco-Stained Sky.

But this blog is s'posed to focus on Japan, so let's get back to the novel.

One Hundred Years of Vicissitude focuses on Japan from 1929 on into the near future. A mix of surrealism, mystery, a smattering of dystopia/steampunk, a tad noir/hard-boiled, and there's sci-fi/fantasy in there as well.

Included in the mix are nods and references to classic movies by Akira Kurosawa, Kon Ichikawa, Seijun Suzuki, Masahiro Makino, Mikio Naruse, Satoshi Kon, Kenji Mizoguchi and Yasujiro Ozu. Some manga-ka you might know also get the homage thing - including Osamu Tezuka - along with the only visit to Tokyo by the Graf Zeppelin, sake, sumo, The Tale of Genji, James Bond, and the 1945 fire-bombing of this city.

There's some background guff about the whole caboodle now online @ the Pandragon Dan site.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Total eclipse of the something or other

The eclipse this morning, Tokyo 東京, circa 7:35 am... It was a very nifty experience, albeit a wee bit clouded up there. I'd actually "seen" a total eclipse once before, back in Australia when I was about 10 years old. This was more fun, since my 6-year-old Cocoa was so darned excited.

Here are me and Cocoa with our eclipse specs, looking like the audience at a 1950s 3D monster romp.

Cocoa's ones (the gold space-age pair) were absolutely brilliant. My disposable things weren't too bad...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

East Dragon, West Dragon

When I was a wee tacker growing up in Melbourne, my dad picked up this second hand tome called Myths and Legends, published by Paul Hamlyn way back in 1959.

The illustrators were the insanely cool Alice and Martin Provensen, and it turns out that Martin was also the originator of the first Tony the Tiger character for Kellogg’s - an iconographic '50s feline that decorates my fave coffee mug these days.

About five years ago, I started writing for an American magazine called Geek Monthly and, a few issues in, they showcased a relatively new artist/illustrator named Scott Campbell, alias Scott C.

To me, his images were akin to the Provensens, channelled via Blackadder writers Richard Curtis and Ben Elton, and then stretched to the point of surreal hilarity by Dr. Seuss.

I was busy hacking together a novel at the time (Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat) and my publishers at Another Sky Press asked if I'd decided yet who I'd like to get to do the cover artwork.

That was now a cinch - all I had to do was track down and ask Campbell if he'd be interested. After some crap detective work, I did so, and he agreed in an instant, very few questions asked, and turned out a way cool couple of goats.

I always wanted to interview Scott in order to find out the buried treasure beneath his easy-going artist facade - and I finally did so this last month, on the back of his fantastic new children's tome East Dragon, West Dragon, which my six-year-old daughter Cocoa loves as much as me, by the way.

So, you can read the interview over @ FORCES OF GEEK.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Rabbit Hole

Wunderbar early feedback to the upcoming novel, from the great, super-cool reviewer Elizabeth A. White (ta, mate!!):

"When Andrez Bergen burst onto the scene in 2011 with Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, one of the most wonderfully creative and unique books I’ve had the pleasure to read, I wondered how he could ever possibly top it. 

"Well hold on, ladies and gentlemen, because with One Hundred Years of Vicissitude Bergen is once again taking readers on a wildly enchanting journey down the rabbit hole to an ethereal world rich with Japanese and pop culture, one which seamlessly melds history and the hereafter. Prepare to have your mind opened… then blown."

Check out Elizabeth's site here - well worth bookmarking for her taste in literature (and I'm not talking up mine!):

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Eight Isn't Enough

Last weekend — after nearly driving myself to madness — I finished off my second novel (as I crowed about in undignified fashion below!) and on Tuesday, signed it to a new, rather cool publisher called Perfect Edge Books.

Yep, it goes without saying that I’m still over-the-moon at the present time, if somewhat exhausted, and to celebrate I quaffed a little saké.

Just a smidgeon, I promise.

Which brings me in a celebratory mood to this month’s Flash in Japan over @ Forces of Geek, and thereby to one of my favourite Japanese myths - which also revolves around saké, as all the good ones do.

I actually did the research on this subject a few years back, for an article on nihonshu (saké) in the pages of the late, lamented magazine Geek Monthly.

That was how I stumbled upon the tale of a monster with a taste for the hard stuff, especially rice wine.

In my new novel, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, I decided to nick some bits of my old research and stick them into the story, albeit padded out with dialogue, and (hopefully) a bit more fun.

The monster myth was one of them.

So, let’s jump straight into the unedited, raw manuscript I just finished - there might be a typo or two at this stage.

Just click HERE to go to Forces Of Geek.

Monday, April 2, 2012

One Hundred Years of Vicissitude

OK, I'm relatively over the moon, and a few kilometres beyond that. Last Sunday morning, at 7:09am precisely (I'm going by the time-tag on the email I sent), I finished off my second novel.

It's titled One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, and this time the focus is... JAPAN.

Strange, that, since I've lived here eleven years.

Here's the current promo-teaser we're using:

Narrated by a man we suspect to be dead, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude tells the story of identical twin geisha born on the first day of the Great Depression - and one of whom harbours an Iago complex toward the other. Thrown into the resulting concoction are zeppelins, A-bombs, 1940s Tokyo, 1970s Melbourne, King Arthur, Red Riding Hood, saké, and comic books.

I'll mention more here as things unravel, but in the meantime I'm heavily smitten with Damian Stephens' mock-up artwork - see picture.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tokyo International Anime Fair 2012

Well, it's been one week to the day since I popped in to this year's Tokyo International Anime Fair (東京国際アニメフェア), held as always at Tokyo Big Sight.

When I say always, however, I lie. The event was called off last year (for the first time in a decade), since it was scheduled a couple of weeks after the big Tōhoku earthquake.

It's nice to see it back.

We call this "TAF" for short; for reasons as-yet-unknown, the organizers drop the “I” bit, maybe because it just looks better in terms of logo concepts.

Think displays by anime producers like Production I.G, Gonzo, Madhouse, Toei, Studio Ghibli, Aniplex, Sunrise, Bones and Bandai flaunting their upcoming wares, and not just via the scantily clad pseudo-cosplay girls outside their booths.

Here's my overview of the last serving, back in 2010. You might even find I nicked some of the editorial there for this piece, since time is previous right now - I'm in the middle of finishing off my next novel, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, and in fact was editing the bugger on the sidelines of TAF.

“TAF is the Mecca for anime fans around the world,” Makoto Tsumita - the former marketing manager for the international division of essential anime production house Gonzo - mentioned to me about five years ago.

At that time, Japan produced almost two thirds of the animation watched around the globe “and 70 percent of this is produced in Tokyo,” a spokesperson for the TAF Executive Committee Secretariat told me in article that year for the now defunct Geek Monthly, making the argument that this city was the natural setting for the hugely successful anime trade affair.

“It’s the best place for foreign buyers to find everything under the same roof,” reported Stephane-Enric Beaulieu, a spokesperson for the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo.

According to the organizers, TAF2012 attracted 98,923 visitors during the four days of the Fair - less than that of the previous Fair in 2010, but the number of visitors on the Business Days were about the same, with an increase in foreign reps.

This year, the best displays were devoted to perennial favourites Lupin III, Smile PreCure!, and the zany merchandise for Hayao Miyazaki's old 1972 classic Panda! Go, Panda! (パンダ・コパンダ).

And I think that's half the problem: the things that excited me most this year are, well, three ageing franchises.

When I first started going to TAF events here in March, from 2002 on, there was a helluva lot of excitement about the brand new, innovative TV shows and feature films that would be unveiled for the first time.

Ten years on, with the changes in the anime/media industry and after the cancellation last year, things have changed.

While the pomp and ceremony, and definitely the professionalism, is still there - it all feels a little jaded and lacking oomph. Just a little. It takes more than cute poster girls, anime character suitcases, and flash cars to keep this wunderbar industry alive.

I know several of these companies, including I.G, Gonzo, Madhouse and Bones, will be working to rectify the problem - so here's to supporting them in these endeavours.

TAF2013 will be held from March 21 to March 24th next year.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Upcoming Japanese cinema, 2012

Well, by the time you read these words, the silly season is well and truly over (two months is fair enough time to lay it to rest), and over here in Japan we started 2012 with a bang: on January 1st there was a fairly hefty earthquake that shook Tokyo, just to ring in the new year in an oh-so-special special way.

Fortunately – this time around – there were no fatalities, tsunami or major damage.

Anyway, without further ado, I decided to get off my buttocks and do a mini round-up of some of the recent Japanese movies winging over your way.

You can over-analyze (or ignore) the article @ Forces Of Geek.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Booked #63

I usually try to keep this blog at an arm's length from my ulterior activities with writing and muzak - usually, but occasionally I fail. This is going to be one of those times, and apologies if you want to debunk the posting since it's hardly focused on Japan at all.

Over in the USA there's a highly-esteemed weekly podcast called Booked, in which two avid readers (Robb Olson and Livius Nedin) review and discuss books (mostly noir), conduct author interviews, and make recommendations for good books they’ve read. Their goal, they say, is to deliver book reviews by everyday readers, for everyday readers.

They've previously overseen tomes by Caleb J. Ross and interviewed Allan Guthrie and Gordon Highland.

For Episode #63 however, which just aired, they set their sights on my novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat. In fact they spend the first 28 minutes of the podcast doing an analysis/review. Obviously, I'm pretty darned chuffed (actually, I'd steer towards "decked").

These guys just rocked my little world.

You can tune in or download this podcast here, if you're at all curious. Regardless, Booked is a cool, laid back show helmed by two guys who are passionate about the page, and I highly recommend you bookmarking (boom-boom!) their website.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Odd Bedfellows on a Plate – Part 2

As I mentioned in the first part of this article back in December, Japanese food isn’t just about the sushi.

Or the fugu.

There’s a whole lot more, starting with the biggest meal of all – that consumed by... the sumo.

Sumo is one of Japan’s more internationally famous sports, probably because the spectacle of two exceptionally plump men – in a nation of exceptionally skinny people – wrestling one another, clad only in loin-cloths is, well, fascinating.

Sumo wrestlers would be nothing without their diet, though we do dangle the word “diet” here in an ironic sense.

Chanko-nabe is the food of the sumo. It’s a huge, simmering hot-pot that is chock-full of meat, fish and vegetables, best mixed with soy sauce, but sometimes also blended with mirin, miso, sake, and dashi stock (shavings of dried skipjack tuna mixed with edible kelp).

Leftover broth is often then consumed with a hefty plate of noodles.

It’s as highly nutritious in protein as it is gut busting, and is the principle dish gorged by sumo wrestlers to extend their hefty waistlines and add to already-impressive girths.

Some wrestlers enjoy the concoction so much that they quit the ring and instead become the chanko-cho, or chief chanko chef, for their wrestling stables, and eventually open their own restaurants – often with sumo memorabilia from their workhorse days adorning the walls.

READ MORE @ FORCES OF GEEK, with commentary from Japanese DJ/producers DJ Wada, Jin Hiyama & Lili Hirakawa.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Long in the Roof

Is this old? ...yes, it is bloody archaic!

This is the oldest abode I've yet discovered in Tokyo, a tumbling down hovel I accidentally discovered today in someone's enormous backyard in Ōokayama - yep, the same wonderland I explored in my last entry (see below).

I had to climb a fence and was harassed by an over-friendly Corgi "guard-dog" (it made me wonder if Queen Liz was in town), but was able to rattle off a few pics.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Old stuff, Ōokayama 大岡山, Tokyo

The other day I dropped my daughter off at her kindergarten and had a couple of hours to kill, so I wandered around the local area.

It's called Ōokayama, near Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and about 20 minutes by train from Shibuya.

Anyway, somewhere along the ramble I stumbled across this amazing oasis of miniature shrines alongside an artificial waterfall and huge carp in a pond. The place is located slap-bang in a minor valley, deserted and looked, well... old.

Obviously I loved it!

Plus there were some interesting old houses and objects around the same area. The refugee old rotary dial phone particularly appealed to me.

Also a great place to sit and read - since I'm currently getting into Shuichi Yoshida's novel Villain - and mull over the directions of my own, parts of which are going to be set in older Tokyo.