Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Satoshi Kon Should Have Directed the Sailor Moon Movie

I've only just now been made aware of the death of anime writer and director Satoshi Kon. Kon, for those who don't already know, created the films Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, and Paprika, as well as other projects. His work was critically lauded, to the point where he was hailed as the successor to Miyazaki.

To be perfectly honest, his films were, until quite recently, among the only anime I had ever seen-- at least, that I had seen at an old enough age to begin to appreciate cinema. I had seen Princess Mononoke and Akira, as well as parts of Ghost in the Shell, when I was younger-- too young to appreciate or critisise them adequately. But somehow, the films of Kon grabbed my interest in a way that other anime didn't at the time.

Anyway,the point of all this is that as part of my little Sailor Moon movie project, I was going to tentatively suggest that Satoshi Kon be the director. It would be oddly fitting, after all, for an anime director to helm a live action anime adaptation (even if the anime being adopted was far more artistically conservative than his work). It would also be intriguing to see what the money and resources of Hollywood could produce in the hands of an imaginative anime director like Kon. Plus, there's already a precendent for this sort of transition-- Hideaki Anno, director of Neon Genesis Evangelion, made the transition into live action filmmaking, directing a series a series of dark, artistic, and acclaimed live action films. . . and also Cutie Honey.

But, it's not to be. I've posted a couple of videos below, if only to give some idea of what could have been. But really, you should just go out and rent his movies.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Standoff of the Space Cowboys

This post is in response to a comment left by A.J. a few days ago:
Oh, and if you don't mind me asking what part of your Star Trek idea did the film incorporate? I think it's safe to assume it wasn't the part where they cover everything in lens flare.
The short answer: the creation of an alternate timeline, split off from the "canon" timeline, was something I was going to implement in my story.

The long answer. . .

The title of this post is the name that I was gonna give to my story. It's a silly name, loosely based on Gene Roddenberry's own nickname for Star Trek, "Wagon Train to the Stars". Nonetheless, in my mind the name stuck. The outline of the story is as follows:

A Federation Starship accidentally travels back in time to early 1960's Earth, crash-landing in the Caspian Sea. Their ship heavily damaged, and straddled between the Soviet Union and then US-allied Iran, things seem hopeless for the crew. Even if they could somehow manage to hide from the two biggest superpowers of the time, they won't last long without supplies.

However, they are quickly discovered and contacted by an oil tycoon hoping to mine the vast underground reserves of the Caspian Sea. The crew is offered protection and supplies in exchange for. . . well, they're not really sure, since the crashed ship is not all that terribly useful as an oil drilling platform. Neither is it terribly clear how an oil company, no matter how rich it is, can hide a bloody starship in the middle of the ocean from the Soviets and Americans. Still, the crew is hardly in a position to turn down his help. On top of all this, the crew has to clean up the messes they've made, like a photon torpedo landing on the border of two hostile nations, or crewmembers fleeing the ship.

Unfortunately, the ship's very presence in the twentieth century-- not to mention its contact with the oil company-- has opened up the possibility of historical alteration, destroying the timeline they know. However, the crew, initially, is in a position where they cannot be sure whether this is happening. The severe damage done to the ship's computer has almost completely erased its voluminous historical records. For instance, while some of the crew knew that an American president was going to be assassinated, no-one can be certain on what date it was supposed to happen. For all they know, the assassination that happened yesterday was supposed to happen tomorrow. As a result of this ambiguity, they cannot be certain whether their presense leads, in a hidden way, to the history they already know-- whether they were always part of history without even knowing it-- or whether history has actually changed.

The ship remains at the bottom of the Caspian Sea for five years. Up until this point, the crew has managed to adjust to their situation, and has seemed to contain any major historical changes. Unfortunately, the crew soon make what from their standpoint is a horrific discovery: a TV show called "Star Trek" that appears to be based upon their own future history.

AN ASIDE: Yes, yes, I went there. How cute of him, you all say. But aside from all the predicatable metafiction, I was always fascinated by the behind the scenes story of Star Trek. Indeed, it would be pretty interesting if they made a docu-drama TV series about the making of the show, with a title like "These Are the Voyages..." or some-such. It could serve as a sort of late-sixties companion piece to Mad Men (are you listening, AMC?).

Anyway, it's seeming more and more likely that history has indeed been changed and that the Federation, at least as it known by the crew, will never come to be. An ideological scism occurs, and the crew divides roughly into two camps: those who think that the original timeline must be restored, even if it means interference in the social and political structures of the day; and those who believe that this new history must be allowed to take its own course. The remainder of the series follows the conflict between these two camps.

That, more or less, was the idea of mine that was incorporated into the new film. There were all kinds of other aspects to this story, though. Most of them were only halfways thought through, and some might not have made it into the final version. Here are a few of those ideas, listed in no particular order:

- A powerful alien artifact stored within the hull of the ship-- this is actually what causes the time travel accident.

- A Klingon math genius who adopted the Vulcan way of life (can you tell it's fanfiction?) and is the only person who understands the artifact. She falls into a coma following the crash of the ship.

- An artificial insemination program that uses said Klingon's ova in combination with donated sperm to try and breed another math genius who can understand the artifact. This program does eventually create another genius, a young woman who is not only brilliant but also extremely volatile, due both to her Klingon genetics and her upbringing in a society that she doesn't really understand and that really doesn't understand her (she's not raised on the ship, but rather in contemporary human society).

- Remember the accused saboteur I mentioned earlier? As part of her plan to escape, she used nanobots and technobabble to change species, from alien to human. The process kills her within a few days.

- A human-Q hybrid, created to destroy the alien artifact (the artifact is like Kryptonite for "full-blooded" Q). As his powers are controlled by his human mind, he finds that many instances where his powers are used are either unconscious or occur in an almost rambling "stream of consciousness". The hybrid, very human in personality, is born in Venezuela and raised Catholic (SUBTLETY!).

- The whole series would be eighteen episodes long, and its structure would loosely be based on the James Joyce novel "Ulysees" ('Cause Bloomsday in Dublin is like a Star Trek convention-- that's my flimsy excuse and I'm sticking with it!)

That's about as far as I'll with this story for now. I know I keep promising a new Sailor Moon piece, and I'm working on it. It'll be up sometime.

Monday, August 16, 2010

They say the man who never climbs Mt. Fuji is a fool. . .

My ass.


It's taken me a few days to put this post together, mostly because of how long and difficult it is to upload large video files to YouTube, but also partly because of how burnt out I've been. See, last Wednesday and Thursday I went on a trip to climb Mt. Fuji. This climb had been on my to-do list since about a year before I left for Japan, ever since I realized that not only could the mountain be climbed, but that there were trails and stations built all the way up to the summit for that very purpose. The climbing season lasts from July to late August-- outside this time, many facilities are closed and the climb becomes much more dangerous-- and beginning Thursday of last week was the peak of the peak season, Obon week, when all of Japan would flock to the mountain and clog up the trails for hours. If I was going to climb the mountain, I had to do it soon.

So, packing a couple of bottles of water, four bags of what I assumed would work as trail mix (peanut clumps glued together with. . . honey?), and a couple of books for when I needed a useful phrase in Japanese, and an extra change of clothes into my backpack, I donned my brand new cloth jacket, borrowed a hiking stick left over in the common area of the house, and took the train to Fuji. It was four in the afternoon when I left. I planned it so that I would climb up all night and reach the summit by dawn. Witnessing sunrise on Mt. Fuji is a long-standing tradition for climbers, and since I didn't plan on climbing the mountain a second time (the continuation of the quote in the title says that the man who climbs Fuji twice is also a fool), I decided that I would climb overnight, even though my original plan was to climb during the day. Climbing at night turned out to be a mized blessing. . . actually, more pureed than mixed, but I'll get to that later.

This was my first real trip into the Japanese countryside (Mt. Takao was still kinda in Tokyo), and the sight of lush mountains and valleys was exhilarating, despite still being mixed in with a sizable amount of urbanization. I captured what I could from the train, and have embedded it below:

I reached the town of Kawaguchiko by nightfall. From there, it was another fifty minute by bus to the Fifth Station, 2300m above sea level, and the highest one can go up Fuji by car. By nine o'clock in the evening, I was off to the top. The nighttime view from the mountain, even near the start of the climb, was beautiful. The lights from the towns that surrounded Mt. Fuji filled the lowlands like lakes and rivers, and the clouds could be clearly discerned from the lights of the stars. I hope that imagery gave you some idea of what I saw, because my camera was next to useless in the dark. I tried to take some images of the towns, but they came out so poorly that they weren't even worth uploading. This is also the reason why there are no images of the trail itself, a mixture of gently sloped switchbacking trails and barely formed stairs made of volcanic boulders, sometimes so steep that they had to be scaled on hand and foot. It was slow going, due to a combination of sleep deprivation and oxygen deprivation, both of which only got worse as I went further up. It took seven hours to reach the eighth station, 370m from the summit, and by then, I knew I wasn't going to see sunrise from the summit. So, I took a seat near the eighth station's highest point, grabbed my camera, and filmed the sunrise. What I've embedded below is basically an hour of time condensed into about twelve minutes. Unfortunately, by the time sun actually comes out, the lens is covered in tiny water droplets and the image is somewhat blurred. . . but I'll get to the water droplets soon enough. For now, the video:

So that was sunrise. From there, I made my way to the summit. However, after climbing another hundred meters or so, I turned back. You may hoave noticed the ebb and flow of clouds that blocked the sunrise. Those clouds were actually forming on the mountain itself. They came in massive gusts, and when they hit, they got me and all the other climbers just a littler bit damper than before. Added to this was the fact that temperatures near the top were near freezing, if not below freezing. So, as I neared the top, saw that the winds were getting worse, that the clouds were obscruing more and more of the surroundings, and that the trail did not seem to be coming to an end, I made the decision to turn back. What was the point of going to the top if I wasn't going to see anything once I got there?

So, I made my way down. That's when things really went to hell. The clouds that formed at the top of the mountain turned into rain as they went further down the slope. . . cold, hard rain that stung skin thanks to the ever increasing winds that came that morning. What should have been a three hour descent to more like four hours, and felt even longer than the climb up. Half way down, I was soked. I had trouble walking without my pants falling down. Yeah, my pants were falling down. Laugh it up, fuzzballs! I was miserable. The trail. . . just. . . kept. . . going. Every time I thought the trail was done, that I had reached the bottom, or the fifth station, it just. . . kept. . .

Well, eventually, I made it, soaked to the core. Everything was wet. My wallet, my passport (fortunately, most of it was protected by a passport cover, but parts of it still needed to sit out and dry) my spare clothes, and my books. One of them was soaked so badly that I'll be amazed if I can ever use it again. My bus ticket was soaked, and for a while I was worried that the driver wouldn't accept it. My money was soaked, so I couldn't use the electric ticket dispensers to buy train tickets home. My camera bag was soaked, and I was afraid of using the camera when it was that wet-- hence the lack of daylight pictures.

God. . . I can only imagine how I smelled.

It was so bad at points that I simply could not imagine getting home. But I did, with very little to show for my trip. This was supposed to have been one of the highlights of my trip to Japan, but it turned out to be a dissappointment. I want to be positive about it-- after all, some good memories came out of it too, like the countryside, the sunrise, and the night view-- but given that I'm still having trouble getting by in Japanese, and the fact that I have to start looking for a job soon despite said lack of skill in Japanese, plus a few other things that have gone wrong. . .

Meh, enough whining.

I went to a party on Sunday, hosted at the Sakura Cafe in Ikebukuro. We played a game where we fished water balloons out of a pool using hooks attached to paper. Since the paper became fragile when wet, it took a lot of careful manipulation to fish the balloons out of the pool. But, somehow, I got the most balloons out of the pool and won free drinks for my team. That's something to be happy about.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I Have Become Everything I Hate

So I got one of those Facebooks. . . cause I heard it would be good for finding jobs. . . and stuff.

Seriously, I have no idea how any of this works. I signed up at around 7:50 PM Tokyo time, i.e. just before four in the morning Prince George time, and within minutes I got five friend requests! And I'm not even sure how many of these people I actually know!

Facebook. . . more like Assbook.

So, I guess, look me up under Jeremy Kavka.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Canadian Who Went Up a Train Platform and Came Down a Mountain

So Thursday I decided I need to get out of Tokyo, or at least out of downtown Tokyo. Thanks to Google Earth, I knew that the western-most portion of Tokyo Prefecture, specifically the area near the town of Takao, rather abruptly transitioned from dense semi-urban landscape to dense, hilly jungle. Expecting to do some strolling through small town streets and, maybe, a bit of of the surrounding hills, I pakced my backpack (which contained my Japanese books, a jug of water, and my camera, which I am NEVER leaving behind again!) and took the hour and a half long ride on the Chuo Line Rapid from Shinjuku to Takao.

But by the end of the day I had climbed a mountain-- namely, the 599 meter Mount Takao. It started innocently enough. After walking through the towns near Takao station, I came across a sign displaying a map of nearby trails. As I was hoping for a chance to actually travel into the forested hills, as opposed to merely admiring them from afar, I was thrilled. I arrogantly dismissed the peaks 599 meter height, the main trail's 3.8 kilometer length and the estimated 90 minute climbing time. After all, I'm losing weight I think, and I used to go sporadically to Tae Kwon Do so I have the nubile body of a long distance gymnast!* More seriously, I saw this a sort of dress rehearsal for my climb up Mount Fuji, which I have to get done during August while facilities are still open. So, I began the climb. I estimate that during the first kilometer, I climbed about half the mountain's height, an average grade of about 33%. Even assuming I only climbed a third of the height, that's still a 20% grade. Keep in mind that the steepest hills on, say, the Pemberton run are at about a 13% grade. And I was doing this on foot.

Given Tokyo's lovely summertime combination of heat and humidity, my clothes were drenched in sweat as a result of this climb. It was so bad that I actually went to a washroom, ran my shirt under water, rang it out and, while still damp, wore it. Three times. I figured my shirt is gonna be drenched anyway, so it may as well be drenched with water and not sweat.

I actually considered giving up, not knowing at the time just how hard this climb is really considered to be and just how much of an accomplishment it is to climb it, even if I am stopping every fifty-to-one hundred meters to take a break. But I realized that if I'm gonna make the leap in climbing Fuji, I'd better not quit on some rinky dink little mountain like this. So, after two hours of climbing (partly for breaks, partly for sightseeing) I made my way to the summit. As I neared the top, nearly every passerby greeted me. One lady even yelled out "HEROO!" while waving her hands enthusiatically. Was it because of special understanding, a bond, formed between those who climbed the mountain on foot? Was it tradition to greet everyone you meet along this particular passage? Was it because of the oft-noted politeness of the Japanese people? Am I just being melodramatic about this? Whatever the case. . . I kinda lost my train of thought, so here's some videos. If you really squint, you can see downtown Tokyo fifty kilometers distant in some of these shots.

*I case you're wondering, yes, that term is meaningless.
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