Thursday, September 23, 2010

Oh, to be a Japanese nerd in the early '80s. . .

Back in the early eighties, Gainax-- the Japanese animation studio that would eventually produce Neon Genesis Evangelion, among many other famous anime-- produced opening animations for Japan's Daicon (lit. Big Con) science fiction convention. Having discovered these animations on YouTube more or less by accident about ten minutes ago, I must now share them with you because they are awesome.

Here's the first animated short, from Daicon III. The animation is a bit rough, but it shows the starship Enterprise getting blown up by a schoolgirl, so I have to include it.

Gainax's animation for Daicon IV is a significant improvement over Daicon III. The animation is smoother and. . . well, just watch (it really starts to get good at the 2:00 mark).

Note: the next part of the Sailor Moon script will be taking place at a science fiction convention, so consider this a warning.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Imperial Palace Grounds

I've posted two new albums on Facebook featuring pictures from my visits to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. I didn't take the guided tour through the palace itself, but since it's free (I only have to book with the Imperial Household Agency) I just might do it.

Part #1:!/album.php?aid=16006&id=100001431858698

Part #2:!/album.php?aid=16007&id=100001431858698&fbid=115176925206702

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sayonara, Nippon

Hi Everyone.

During the past few weeks I've been trying to find work in Japan, with no success. The Japanese economy has been in real trouble since the sub-prime crisis. The yen is skyrocketing, the JET program had to make massive cutbacks in enrollment (which probably played a factor in my being rejected last year), English language schools have been going bankrupt, and as I reported earlier, the Working Holiday Makers Association announced it was going to close it doors just the day before I picked up my visa from the Japanese consulate. This is not to say that I completely blame the economy. . . the truth is, I've been avoiding the fact that I was not ready to make this trip. My Japanese was not nearly as good as I thought it was, and my particular teaching experience was clearly not what the companies I applied to were looking for.

Any prospective jobs that might have been available from now on would not begin until October, and even then, the paychecks would not be given out until late October (in Japan, paychecks are given out monthly, rather than bi-weekly). As my rent was due no later than today, and my money was running out, I faced two options:

1) Continue my lease, with financial help from my family, in the hopes of maybe getting work.

2) Submit my one-month notice of vacation, use my remaining month of time to do the things I wanted to do in Japan (apart from the more unrealistic, like visiting Hokkaido, Kyoto, and Hiroshima), and come back to Canada to look for work.

A couple of days ago, I decided, with great reluctance, that would have to come home. By mid-October I will be back in Canada. From there, I will temporarily return to Prince George before moving to Victoria, where I will seek employment, hopefully at the University of Victoria, Camosun College, or as a private tutor. While there, I also plan to continue learning Japanese, most likely by auditing courses at the University, like I did at UNBC.

I was hard coming to this decision. Yesterday I revisited the Imperial Shrine grounds just outside downtown Tokyo. I came here again because I had taken some beautiful photos of the area which were unfortunately lost. Coming here again, I was filled not with the sense of adventure that I felt durig my first visit, but rather sadness. Call me a sappy sentimentalist if you want, but the truth is, after only two months of living here, I'm already sad to be leaving. This place, despite the short time, despite my inability to communicate effectively, already seemed like home to me. As late as last week, I was convinced that that's exactly what Tokyo would be, at least for the year that my visa was valid.

I want to stress that I'm not giving up on Japan; I will come here again. In the two months I have been here-- leaving aside the stress of job-hunting, not to mention the play "Imagine 9.11" which I'll talk about some other time-- I have had one of the greatest adventures of my life. I lived, however briefly, in one of the world's great metropolises. I engaged with a totally different culture-- two years ago I had not even left Canada or travelled further east than Edmonton. I witnessed Shinto festivals and massive fireworks spectacles. I climbed Mt. Fuji. I fucking met Sailor Moon. And I've only just begun.

As I said, I plan to continue learning Japanese until I achieve some level of fluency. When the time comes-- maybe a year, maybe a few years-- I will come back, perhaps with my family as a tourist, perhaps as a student, perhaps with work already arranged. But I will be back.

And as I said, I ain't leaving tomorrow, either. There's still plenty I wanna do: re-visit Mt. Fuji (I never got any pictures of the mountain from the ground, and my Mom keeps bugging me to put up some pictures with ME in them); visit Nikko; visit Yokohama and Yokosuka; go to Tokyo Disney Sea for a day (money permitting); go to a few more Sailor Moon locations; and hopefully try one more time to get a picture with Miyuu Sawai.

Stay Tuned.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sailor Moon Location Tour, Parts #1-5

Seeing as I'm in Tokyo, I've been taking the time between job-hunting to visit some of the locations that were featured in, or inspired fictitious locations in, the various incarnations of Sailor Moon. The photo's I've taken of these locations have been uploaded to my Facebook as part of my new series, "Sailor Moon Location Tour".

For those who don't follow my Facebook, I've decided to link to the first five parts of the series. I'll paste the Facebook description of each album and provide the link to the album. Additionally, I'll embed videos that I recorded for part #4. Enjoy!

Sailor Moon Location Tour: Hikawa Shrine #1

The first part of my new series, touring the real life locations featured in Sailor Moon. For this first part, I'm showcasing Rei "Sailor Mars" Hino's home, Hikawa Shrine. Well, one of them, anyway. See, there are actually THREE Hikawa shrines in Tokyo, and all three of them were either featured in Sailor Moon or somehow influenced the design of a fictional location. The first Hikawa shrine, located in Akasaka, a few hundred meters away from Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown, was used as the model for the shrine featured in the anime.

Sailor Moon Location Tour Part #2: Hikawa Shrine #2-- Motoazabu

The second of Tokyo's three Hikawa Shrines. This one, located in Motoazabu atop the real-life Sendai Hill, is apparently the shrine upon which the Hikawa Shrine in the manga is modelled. Unfortunately, it's quite a bit less visually interesting than the one in Akasaka, which is probably why it was not used as the basis for the anime Shrine.

Sailor Moon Location Tour #3: Hikawa Shrine in Shirokane-Takanawa

The third of Tokyo's Hikawa Shrines. This was (purportedly) one of two shrines used in the filming of the Sailor Moon live action series. In addition to the shrine, there also photos of a neighboring Buddhist temple and cemetary, plus cats and bugs!

Sailor Moon Location Tour #4 -- Hikawa Shrine Shibuya

The fourth of Tokyo's three Hikawa Shrines. . . yeah, it turns out there were more Hikawa shrines than I initially thought. According to the internetz, THIS is the shrine used for the filming of PGSM. I could definitely see some resemblance when re-watching act 3 of PGSM, but the fact that the shrine was hosting its Autumn festival (I think. . .) made it a little hard to tell. The place was far more crowded than any of the other Hikawa shrines I had visited. The pathways throughout the shrine were lined with kiosks selling everything from fried chicken skewers to chocolate bananas to sex toys and posters of gravure idols. . . and yes, there WERE children present. In addition, at the main shrine a Noh play (I think. . .) was being performed, and to top it all off, a Mikoshi (portable shrine) was carried into the Shrine grounds. It was quite an event to behold, especially since I stumbled onto it completely by accident. There are videos of the event as well, which I'll put up as soon as I can.

Here's the link to Act 3 (part #1) of PGSM, if you want to compare. The shrine shows up at about 6:40.

Here's the video of the play that was performed at Hikawa Shrine in Shibuya. The videos are named "Noh Theatre", but as I said, I'm not certain whether it's Noh or Kabuki theatre. If anyone DOES know, a comment would be most appreciated.

And here's the mikoshi, on its way to Hikawa shrine.

Sailor Moon Location Tour Part #5-- Pedestrian Overpass!

A new Sailor Moon location, this time from my own home ward of Kita-ku! Today's location is a pedestrian overpass in Kita-ku's Akabane-dai neighborhood. What's so special about this overpass, you ask? Well, it is ONLY the place where Usagi and Luna first meet in PGSM. And where Usagi and Ami meet. And where Usagi and Ami first meet Rei. And so on.

Here are some videos so you can compare. The first is the PGSM location tour, filmed after completion of the series (unfortunately, the English subtitles are overlayed with Spanish subtitles). The second is the first part of Act 1 of PGSM (skip to about 4:25 for the revelvent scene. . . as well as some of the most powerful acting ever captured on film). As I said, this bridge is featured recurrently in PGSM, so you'll see it in plenty of other spots in the show as well.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It's Only Been Two Months. .

Since the next part of my Sailor Moon Movie series is Rei-centric, I thought I'd point you to my latest Facebook album, wherein I visit one of Tokyo's three real-life Hikawa Shrines. I'll update the blog as photos come in of the other two shrines.

If I Wrote the Sailor Moon Movie #18: Things I've Noticed About Japan, and how they relate to Rei Hino.

The last piece of the Sailor Moon script, as you may remember, was very Rei-centric. It is for that reason, as well as the fact that Rei is the most "Japanese" of Sailor Moon's characters, that when I consider how my experiences in Japan so far will affect the screenplay, my thoughts most often have turned to Rei.


For instance, what of the racist, ultra-rightist ideology in which she was raised (in my story, not the original-- see here if you're new to all this and just had a "what the fuck?!" moment)? What have been my experiences with Japan's racism, if any? How do these affect my portrayal of Rei, or Usagi, or Japan in general?

Getting slightly off topic for a moment, the first thing I can tell you is that Rei's bigoted little temper tantrum toward Usagi from the previous part of the script will likely be omitted. If my own experiences so far mean anything, it's that this sort of thing simply wouldn't happen with a character like Rei. In polite Japanese society, anger is not something that explodes under pressure (true in polite Western society as well) but neither is it something that can be forced out in a controlled but direct way, except perhaps in very specific circumstances. Rather, emotions like anger and contempt. . . leak. Like a poisonous gas. If the metaphor seems vague, trust me when I say that it becomes much more tangible when standing in front of a clerk glaring intently at the corner of her desk because she would rather look at that than you. It's for this reason, as well, that I'll likely remove the scene where Papa Hino berates Rei in public. In all other versions of Sailor Moon, Papa Hino is distant, more passively and subtly abusive. This will not only make him truer to the original (and to Japanese culture in general), but also more threatening. After all, what's scarier-- an old man screaming at a teenage girl, or an unseen man whose public face consists of tattooed thugs in suits driving BMW's.

But back to the first main point: how does racism in Japan manifest itself? Some of the most commonly discussed ways are institutional: for instance, restaurants that refuse entry to non-Japanese; restrictive immigration policy that makes naturalization nearly impossible; or, to cite my own experience, banks that refuse to give accounts to those who have not been in the country for less than six months. In these situations and others, it could be argued that there are other factors involved besides xenophobia-- the restaurants in question are very traditional, and the skills needed to attend such places without making an ass of yourself can only be acquired by being raised from childhood in Japanese culture; a country as crowded as Japan can't afford to open its doors to new citizens in the same way as a country like Canada; there could be legitimate security concerns behind the six-month rule for banks. But in addition to these institutional factors there are, of course, the ultra-rightists, who fetishize WWII and love to brag about the length of their intestines. I myself have yet to experience that side of Japanese society personally, apart from my little informal photo-op with an Uyoku Dantai group.

My own experience with racism-- or at least something likely to be racially motivated-- pretty much begins and ends with the infamous "Stare", the intent gaze that certain Japanese, of all genders and ages, give to foreigners, and which is not broken even after said foreigners clearly know they're being watched. It's happened to me so many times that it doesn't even bother me anymore, even in those cases where it's pretty blatant, such as when a Japanese woman cranked her neck back to look at me as she walked past. For this reason, I thought it would be fitting for Usagi's first encounter with Rei to involve the Stare: Usagi, running to school, stops to take a breather, while Rei, walking past, gives her the Stare. She'll likewise give the Stare to other minorities, like the Jain Indian on the bus-- it's better than that stupid "back of the bus" joke.

(As yet another aside-- I'm beginning to realize that I have a lot to get off my chest-- I've decided that the "cultural festival" from Part #4 of the script needs to go. I knew even as I wrote it that it's a contrivance, and I've only grown more uncomfortable with it. Thus, I'll have to think of a new way to get Usagi and Rei to meet.)

As a final note on this topic, I will say that I'll probably become more aware of racism as I get better at Japanese. The foreigners I've met so far have mentioned that they grew "annoyed" with some Japanese as they learned to understand more and more of the language. In a way, my ignorance may have been shielding me.

Losing Her Religion, i.e. Rei's Powers, and How These Connect with Her Beliefs

Something else I've neglected is the question of Rei's powers. Yes, the last part of the script showed that she does have psychic powers but it didn't show her dealing with the fact that she has these abilities. The main focus of Rei's introduction was that she (alone among the Senshi) had developed special powers before becoming a Senshi. These powers lead to Rei being generally feared by the community, with only Usagi willing to befriend her.

The explanation for her powers given in all Sailor Moon incarnations is that she's very deeply into the Shinto. This explanation seemed to satisfy people, and yet it always bothered me. For one, it negates her uniqueness as a reborn magical warrior by suggesting that anyone who puts in equal time and effort studying the rituals of Shinto could acquire the same powers she has. For another, it involves a pretty weird mixing of theologies, not to mention personal beliefs.

On the one hand, you have the "Sailor Moon" theology: ancient kingdoms, magic crystals, alien worlds, superpowers, reincarnation, and even a "Messiah" (their words, not mine!). This theology is, within the context of this fictional universe, very obviously "real". On the other hand, you have an animist religion exclusive to a small archipelago nation, and yet, in the context of Rei's abilities, this belief system is also clearly considered "real". Things only get more muddled in PGSM, whens it's revealed that Rei (as well as Minako) are Christians. Thus, Rei believes that the Judeo-Christian God is the Creator and Lord of the universe and Jesus Christ is the saviour of her soul, and yet she knows that she is the reincarnation of an ancient warrior sworn to defend the human reincarnation of a potentially god-like figure. One could make the argument that these beliefs are compatible, but it would be a real stretch. One could also make the argument that this is a show about superpowered girls in sailor suits and I need to chill out, but I think we're WAY past that point now.

My approach to this is tentative. . . there's a lot that I still need to learn about Shinto, and its approaches to other belief systems. Also, one of the few things I do know is that Shinto has long had to accommodate Buddhism, so the questions I'm dealing with are hardly new. My idea will require some more thought, and some more research, and will definitely ruffle a few feathers. It may even seem to contradict the core idea behind Rei. (BTW, if you're only interested in the "Japan Trip" part of this, and don't care about the story, I'll highlight in bold the part of this next segment that's based on my own experiences.) All that said, for your consideration. . .

Every day after school, Rei Hino ran as fast as she could to Hikawa Shrine so she could visit her mother. Despite a congenital heart disease, Rei's mother always managed to put in some work at the shrine. After all, it was a family tradition. On one of these days, Rei happened to spot a pair of ravens sitting on the fence just outside the shrine. The strange thing was, she knew these ravens, though she didn't know how. They were named Phobos and Deimos. Running into the shrine, Rei dragged her mother out to the fence. "Mama," Rei said, gesturing to the birds, "these are my old friends, Phobos and Deimos. Phobos, Deimos, this is my. . ."

She would never finish the introduction. Rei's mother lay on the ground, stricken by a heart attack. She died a few hours later. Rei never left the hospital-- that's how she knew her father never came by to visit. Over time, her father's absence would cause her to resent him, but at the time, her strongest emotion was not anger, or grief, but guilt. At some level, Rei truly believed that she should have seen her mother's death coming. She was told that feeling was normal. . . but no-one else really understood just how deeply serious she was in this belief.

Rei could never imagine that in the following years, she would take her mother's place at the shrine. Following the death, Rei was only just barely able to even live on the same shrine grounds where her mother had died. . . and the suspicions of some of the more superstitious members of the community did little to help. But in time, the grief, as it must, subsided, and guilt was put in its proper place. With her father almost always absent for career reason and her grandfather's mind slowly deteriorating, it was clear she would have to take a more active role in maintaining her family's heritage. And besides, it was tradition.

Tradition. That was the most convenient explanation for Rei's growing devotion to the shrine. It sounded dutiful, appropriately Japanese-- her father would have approved. But in truth, the reason Rei devoted so much of her time to religious duties was because she was good at it. For all her noble qualities, there was always a bit of vanity in Rei, a part of her that needed to feel superior in some way. Her ever growing aptitude in spiritual matters-- an aptitude that seemed, well, unearthly-- certainly fulfilled this need. She absorbed herself in the rituals and duties of a miko, far more so than the typical afterschool volunteers who put in an hour or two of work a day so they could have something nice to put on their college application. No-one was surprised by this-- she was her mother's daughter. Even her father approved; having a devoted miko for a daughter was politically safe (certainly preferable to a daughter who partied every night at Roppongi) and it kept her busy.

Indeed, this period saw a brief reconciliation between father and daughter. As they continued to bond, Rei's father decided that it was time for her to learn the truth about Japan's place in the world, and the various foreign influences who sought to undermine and corrupt the nation he loved. Rei was made to understand that as a miko, she was a guardian of Japan's cultural heritage, responsible for keeping out the barbarians. There were all kinds of inconsistencies in his supposed stance against the evils of Western modernization, but being of the tender age of twelve, she was well able to ignore them, or rationalize them, as need be. Besides, her beloved mother had always seemed ill at ease with those foreigners when she was alive-- now, at last, Rei knew why.

Rei did not remain in her father's favour for long. By the time Rei entered adolescence, she had decided that she would become head priestess of her shrine, a decision she believed her father would approve of. But adolescence changes a father's view of a daughter. Rei was now becoming a woman-- a woman who needed a husband, preferably one of influence. Thus, to her shock, Rei's father enrolled her in a Catholic school, ostensibly so that she could "weigh her options". He also provided her with a proper male in her life, someone "safe"-- after all, it was not healthy for a girl of her age not to be interested in men. Hence, Mamoru, the adopted son of a woman made modestly wealthy by certain unspecified royalty payments-- one who almost seemed like a son of his own-- became her "boyfriend", with the implicit understanding that he was to later become her "husband".

Rei hated her father for this. But, just as she was her mother's daughter, so too was she her father's daughter. She had learned by now the advantages of lying and manipulation, even though she despised it. In fact, as much as she despised it, it contributed in a perverse way to her own sense of superiority. Besides, it's not like her cynical truth telling about men, friendship, and love ever brought her anything worthwhile. Within a short time, she was the "Princess" of TA Academy. Idolized by the girls, ogled by the boys, and in a relationship with a boy who, while a bit bland, at least seemed decent enough (despite her father's endorsement of him), Rei's situation was. . . livable.

But the, one day, something changed, something that shook her out of her sense of arrogant complacency. Two things, actually. The first was the disappearance of a teacher from her school. Unlike with her mother, Rei was actually able to focus her intuition and help find her, if only in a slight way. The second was her attack on a young American girl named "Usagi", who she thought was an evil entity (other than being a foreigner). Not only was she wrong, but her attack, a Shinto enchantment utilizing an Ofuda, was utterly useless; Usagi just batted the Ofuda away like the harmless piece of paper it was.

It was stange. . . seeking her teacher, Rei once again felt spiritually connected, but putting her beliefs into practice later on proved useless. What when wrong. . . for that matter, what went right? In her confusion, Rei went to Ginza one evening. There, dozens of desperate fortunetellers and palmreaders line the sidewalks, sitting at their small candle-lit fold up tables, nodding off in the late night hours, wearing humiliating signs around their necks as they wait in vain for someone to seek their help, hoping against hope to make some money off of their one dubious skill in the midst of a horrible recession. Rei sat with one of these fortunetellers, and had the very beginnings of an epiphany. . .

Saturday, September 4, 2010

I Have Become Even More of What I Hate

After avoiding the nasty things for over a decade, circumstances (namely the need to get a Japanese bank account) have forced me to purchase a cellular phone.

Goddamn I hate this thing. It was easy enough to purchase, thanks to a nice Norwegian fellow named Martin who was getting a prepaid phone as well. I went to the SoftBank store in Shibuya because I was told they have English language service there-- I had never subscribed for mobile service before, and I didn't want to add my confusion with a language barrier. Unfortunately, once I got to the SoftBank store, they told me I had to go to a nearby discount store called Don Quixote (written in Katakana as Don Kihoote) to get prepaid phones. This is where Martin came in, guiding me to the store and serving as an interpreter, which was nice since getting a phone at this discount store when I had come all the way to Shibuya for ENGLISH SERVICE kinda defeated the point. Anyway, after about an hour, I got my phone and came home.

Setting up the hardware was pretty easy too-- slide in a chip and then put in a battery (on a related note, it doesn't come with a charger. . . dammit). Setting up the account, however, was a pain. The automated service I had to dial was, naturally, in Japanese, so I had to fumble about on the internet for a little while until I could figure out how to switch to English. This wouldn't have been SO bad, had it not been for the fact that I also had no idea how to input numbers into the menu. I spent fifteen minutes hitting the number for each menu item and pressing the ENTER button, not knowing that I wasn't supposed to hit ENTER. I only found this out by accident.

To top it all off, since it was cheap (about 3900 Yen for the phone, plus a 3000 Yen prepaid card) the thing is ugly. Take a look:

But at least it's done. Next on my to-do list is, of course, getting a bank account. I tried getting accounts at three big "traditional" banks, Mizuho, SMBC, and MUFG, but was told at all three that I need to be in the country for at least six months before they'll give me an account. Fortunately, after a preliminary job interview at Gaba, I was told that I could get an account at Shinsei bank. They wouldn't give me any trouble over my length of stay. . . but they would need a phone number. Well, with that part out of the way, I'll hopefully have a bank account by Monday.
Locations of visitors to this page