Jul 31

JQ Magazine: Nippon in New York — Sailor Moon, Liberty City Anime, Meg Okura

By JQ magazine editor Justin Tedaldi (CIR Kobe-shi, 2001-02). Justin has written about Japanese arts and entertainment for JETAA since 2005. For more of his articles, click here.

In the dog days of summer, it’s best to escape the heat in a place that’s cozy and cool. For those into Japan-related cultural events, this month offers a diverse selection of film premieres and live music—all in the comfort of indoor air conditioning.

This month’s highlights include:

VIZ Media

Aug. 4, 6

Sailor Moon SuperS: The Movie

E-Walk 42nd Street 13, 247 West 42nd Street

Empire 25, 234 West 42nd Street

$12.50

Sailor Moon, the beloved Guardian of Love and Justice, returns to the big screen for a special theatrical event! In the series, Usagi Tsukino is a clumsy but kindhearted teenage girl who transforms into the powerful Sailor Moon. Meeting allies along the way who share similar fates, Usagi and her team of planetary Sailor Guardians fight to protect the universe from forces of evil and total annihilation! The classic anime’s third movie, Sailor Moon SuperS is presented along with the never-before seen in theaters short, “Ami’s First Love.” All features are presented uncut and true to the original Japanese version, with English dubbed (Aug. 4) and subtitled (Aug 6) screenings available. 

Micah Joel Photography

Aug. 11-12

Play NYC

Manhattan Center, 311 West 34th Street

$25.50-$33.00

PLAY NYC is New York City’s first and only dedicated games convention. The weekend will feature three floors of playable games for all consoles, PC, virtual reality and mobile devices from studios large and small and developers old and new. Games will include indie projects with some larger triple A titles. Get access to some of the biggest games coming later this year and discover many you’ve never even heard of. PLAY NYC celebrates every facet of gaming in a way that only the Big Apple can by uniting players, developers and industry pros at a games event like no other.

GKIDS

Aug. 12-13, 15

Grave of the Fireflies

E-Walk 42nd Street 13, 247 West 42nd Street

Empire 25, 234 West 42nd Street

$12.50

In this special 30th anniversary screening, Studio Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies has been universally hailed as an artistic and emotional tour de force. As the Empire of the Sun crumbles upon itself and a rain of firebombs falls upon Japan, the final death march of a nation is echoed in millions of smaller tragedies. This is the story of Seita and his younger sister Setsuko, two children forced to fend for themselves in the aftermath of fires that swept entire cities from the face of the earth. Their struggle is a tribute to the human spirit. Directed by Academy Award-nominated Isao Takahata and presented in its digitally remastered and restored format, Grave of the Fireflies is one of the rare films that truly deserves to be called a masterpiece. English dubbed (Aug. 12, 15) and subtitled (Aug. 13) showings are both available for this engagement.  Read More


Jul 24

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘Amy’s Guide to Best Behavior in Japan: Do It Right and Be Polite!’

“For JETs and others who have lived and worked in Japan, many of these rules and customs might seem very familiar and would only serve as a refresher. Yet Chavez does an excellent job of providing a clear summary of many aspects of Japanese culture—all in 144 pages.” (Stone Bridge Press)

By Andy Shartzer (Shizuoka-ken, 2014-16) for JQ magazine. Andy graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in chemical engineering, and currently works for JETRO New York. He is also the Community Development Chair for JETAA New York.

The best part about world travel is the chance to step outside of our comfort zones and sometimes monotonous day-to-day routines to gain new and different perspectives of the world. Oh, and eat lots of amazing food, right? Not just that? Okay. Sorry, that was my stomach talking there.

In all seriousness, the chance to interact and learn from locals is an opportunity travelers should make the most of. But what if you haven’t brushed up on all the rules, customs, and etiquette of the country you’re visiting? And what if that country is Japan? And what if you’re boarding the plane now? Eesh. Well, instead of binging on reruns of Marvel movies, Amy Chavez has you covered with her new book, “Amy’s Guide to Best Behavior in Japan: Do It Right and Be Polite!” Chavez, a 25-year resident of Japan and tourist adviser who lives on Shiraishi Island (population: 600) in the Seto Inland Sea, provides a quick, easy-to-read overview of how to fully enjoy your experience in Japan and best incorporate the complexities of Japanese customs and etiquette into your homestay, study abroad, or quick jaunt to Japan. With some strong support from the educational “Amy Cat” (illustrated by Jun Hazuki), this 144-page book is the perfect reading material for your 15-hour flight.

For JETs and others who have lived and worked in Japan, many of these rules and customs might seem very familiar to you and would only serve as a refresher. Yet Chavez does an excellent job of providing a clear summary of many aspects of Japanese culture — not easy to do in 144 pages. For example, this author never quite learned the proper protocol for praying at Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, so the guidelines provided in this book (with pictures!) were very helpful. Even if you have spent a year or more as a resident in Japan, Chavez includes enough topics to ensure you learn a new thing or two — like a whole section on how to use Japanese squat toilets (Ooooh, you face the wall…who would’ve thought!).

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Jul 23

JQ Magazine: Book Review — New from Tuttle (Summer 2018)

Tuttle Publishing

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagata-ken, 2008-10) for JQ magazine. A former head of the JETAA Philadelphia SubChapter, Rashaad is a graduate of Leeds Beckett University with a masters degree in responsible tourism management. For more on his life abroad and enthusiasm for taiko drumming, visit his blog at www.gettingpounded.wordpress.com.

Tuttle Publishing has recently released two books: one showcases the capital of Japan at its hippest and most colorful, while the other is dedicated to the traditional splendor of its castles.

Tokyo: Capital of Cool

“Capital of cool” sounds like an appropriate phrase to describe the host of the next Olympics. Rob Goss’s largely pictorial tribute to Tokyo certainly succeeds in making potential visitors to the capital salivate.

Subtitled Tokyo’s Most Famous Sights from Asakusa to Harajuku, Goss’s work doesn’t intend to be the typical travel guide containing useful recommendations about transportation and accommodation. Most importantly for readers, Goss provides extensive information (much of it historical) about Tokyo’s most popular tourists areas. Of course, the fun of a Tokyo trip isn’t just limited to Shibuya, Ginza, Harajuku, and the rest Goss includes segments devoted to common day trip excursion sites like Kamakura, Nikko and Yokohama.

While the photographs are obviously the first thing that jumps out at readers—indeed, Ross scores at portraying Tokyo as a youthful, vibrant city—the images are definitely not the only useful tool for prospective visitors. Several maps appear in the book, displaying places of interest that even seasoned travelers may not be aware of.

Tuttle Publishing

Samurai Castles

Castles are lot more than opulent fortresses to gaze at—these palaces represent an integral facet of Japanese feudal and military history.

That’s the biggest takeaway readers will get from Jennifer Mitchelhill’s Samurai Castles. Her work (complemented by photographs from David Green) provides a comprehensive introduction to two dozen of Japan’s most prominent castles. History buffs are treated to more aforementioned locales as the author then lists Japan’s 100 most important castles.

However, before seeking out what venerable fortresses might be in an off-the-beaten prefecture, the author expounds on their rich history (whose use was first recorded in an eighth-century work entitled Nihon Shoki). Architecture aficionados will appreciate the chapter dedicated to such structures, and if you’re motivated to visit one of Japan’s more prestigious castles, you’ll have some idea what you’re looking at, since Mitchelhill supplies meticulous information about each castle, as well as practical tips for prospective visitors.

For more information, visit www.tuttlepublishing.com.

For more JQ magazine book reviews, click here.


Jul 19

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘My Year of Dirt and Water’

“From her pottery classes to family visits, Tracy Franz takes you to a sometimes magical and sometimes complex world, but one very much full in enriching experiences.” (Stone Bridge Press)

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagata-ken, 2008-10) for JQ magazine. A former head of the JETAA Philadelphia SubChapter, Rashaad is a graduate of Leeds Beckett University with a masters degree in responsible tourism management. For more on his life abroad and enthusiasm for taiko drumming, visit his blog at www.gettingpounded.wordpress.com.

If you wrote about your year (or more) in Japan, what would you say? What stories would you tell?

Welcome to the world of Tracy Franz. An English teacher at a university in Kumamoto, she welcomes readers to her “year of dirt and water.”

My Year of Dirt and Water (the books takes its title from a line when Tracy asks herself what she hopes to accomplish while trying to recycle those two objects) is a journal-like journey of Tracy’s world. Her JET alumnus husband Koun Garrett Franz (Kumamoto-ken, 1999-01) is spending a year training as a monk in a Buddhist monastery, so Tracy must navigate the complexities of Japanese life feeling like an outsider (she mentions at one point she always feels a distance that prevents her from feeling at ease in the country).

As the book is a diary containing an entry for each day, the content runs the gamut from the mundane to the only-in-Japan moments (such as Tracy’s pottery teacher incredulously responding to the author’s being unaware of her husband’s blood type) to her observations of life in the country (Tracy concludes, to the surprise of no one, that Kyoto is a bit crowded during Golden Week and possibly not the most comfortable destination for those accustomed to the Alaskan countryside) to the creepy (like an eerie night at an onsen with a university colleague).

Of course, a journal may not be an enthralling read for some (My Year of Dirt and Water is divided into four sections each named after a season of the year while the book’s chapters each bear the name of a specific month). Remarkably, a decent portion of the book takes place in the United States, where Tracy spends much of the summer visiting her husband’s family, which has a mother-in-law battling illness.

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Jul 18

JQ Magazine: Film Review — JAPAN CUTS 2018 at Japan Society

An “oh-my-god-it’s-too-accurate portrayal of first love” starring Aira Sunohara, Amiko makes its U.S. premiere at Japan Society July 16. (Amiko © Yoko Yamanaka)

 

By Katharine Olla for JQ magazine. A Friend of JET, Katharine taught as an ALT in a public elementary school in Gunma Prefecture from 2015-16. She currently works at Japan Society in New York.

It’s summer in the city, and that means another year of JAPAN CUTS, North America’s largest festival of contemporary Japanese cinema. From July 19-29, Japan Society will screen 30 films ranging from dramas and comedies to documentaries, anime, and experimental works. The festival will also feature special guest appearances by directors, documentary filmmakers, and actors, including the legendary actress Kirin Kiki, who will receive the CUT ABOVE Award for Outstanding Performance in Film.

It was difficult to choose just three to review, so I decided to watch films with strong female leads (because that’s one of the categories that Netflix tells me I like).

Kushina, What Will You Be

What if I just ran away and lived in the woods? is a question some of us ask after a morning commute on New York public transit. Get your fix by immersing yourself in the surreal, visually-striking world of Kushina, What Will You Be.

Anthropologist Soko (Yayoi Inamoto) and her assistant Keita (Suguru Onuma) trek through the forest to locate and study an elusive group said to be in the mountains. What they find is a women-only colony led by matriarch Onikuma (Miyuki Ono). Onikuma’s family consists of her daughter Kagu (Tomona Hirota) and granddaughter Kushina (Ikumi Satake), whose secret pastime is listening to her cassette player. After the outside world intrudes, how will this closed community react? And what is Kushina listening to on her Walkman?

This is Moët Hayami’s debut feature film, and it’s a labor of love: as its writer, director, art director, costume designer, and editor, with this level of care she’s managed to curate every detail of this film to create a truly singular world within a world. It’s hard to shake off after the credits roll.

Featuring an intro and Q&A with writer/director Moët Hayami and actress Tomona Hirota, Kushina, What Will You Be screens Wednesday, July 25 at 6:30 p.m. (international premiere).

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Jul 2

JQ Magazine: Nippon in New York — Hatsune Miku, JAPAN CUTS, Sailor Moon

By JQ magazine editor Justin Tedaldi (CIR Kobe-shi, 2001-02). Justin has written about Japanese arts and entertainment for JETAA since 2005. For more of his articles, click here.

Before and after the outdoor fireworks, enjoy some summer events in the cool indoors, whether it’s catching one of the dozens of films premiering at Japan Society’s annual festival, or enjoying anything from interpretative theater to the latest pop sensation.

This month’s highlights include:

© 2018 Movie Inuyashiki Production Committee : Hiroya Oku : Kodansha

Now through July 15

New York Asian Film Festival 2018

SVA Theatre, 333 West 23rd Street

Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street

$15, $12 seniors and students, $10 Subway Cinema members

From vicious, life-destroying phone scams to balletic battles between equally corrupt cops and yakuza, NYAFF offers films that reflect on contemporary society while offering extreme genre pleasures. There are self-referential takes on cinematic zombies, existential date nights, and teens finding their own corners of the world despite familial and societal expectations. showcasing the most exciting comedies, dramas, thrillers, romances, horrors and arthouse films from East Asia. Features the North American premieres of Japanese films Blood of Wolves (July 2), River’s Edge (July 3), Liverleaf (July 8), Midnight Bus (July 11), One Cut of the Dead (July 13), and Inuyashiki (July 15).

GKIDS

July 3, 5, 7

Fireworks

E-Walk 42nd Street 13, 247 West 42nd Street

Empire 25, 234 West 42nd Street

$12.50

Producer Genki Kawamura follows up his mega-hit Your Name with another anime tale of star-crossed teenage lovers with a sci-fi fantasy twist. Shy Norimichi and fast-talking Yusuke are goo-goo-eyed over the same elusive classmate, Nazuna. But Nazuna, unhappy over her mother’s decision to remarry and leave their countryside town, plans to run away and has secretly chosen Norimichi to accompany her. When things don’t go as planned, Norimichi discovers that a glowing multi-color ball found in the sea has the power to reset the clock and give them a second chance to be together. But each reset adds new complications and takes them farther and farther away from the real world—until they risk losing sight of reality altogether.

Courtesy of Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda

Premieres Friday, July 6

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda

Francesca Beale Theater, 144 West 65th Street

$15, $12 seniors and students

From his start pioneering synth pop music with Yellow Magic Orchestra, in the late ’70s to winning an Oscar for his score for The Last Emperor in 1988, Ryuichi Sakamoto quickly established himself as one of the most original and intuitive composers of his generation. But, never content to rest on his laurels, Sakamoto’s life journey eventually led him to find musical inspiration in the unlikeliest of places: the Fukushima nuclear disaster and a personal battle with cancer, both of which gave way to a late-life shift in his artistic process. With Coda, director Stephen Nomura Schible (a co-producer on Lost in Translation) crafts a portrait of the artist as an ageless man, one who can turn the worst news into the most refined and purposeful moment of productivity in an already storied career. Shot over five years, this graceful music documentary is an elegantly observed examination of the creative process, following as Sakamoto builds from nothing the album he must assume will be his swan song. Sakamoto and Schible will appear in person for the 7:00 p.m. (Q&A) and 9:30 p.m. (intro) screenings on July 6 and the 4:45 p.m. (Q&A) and 7:30 p.m. (intro) screenings on July 7. Q&As moderated by Sasha Frere-Jones.

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Jun 1

JQ Magazine: Nippon in New York — The Joy of Sake, BoroughCon, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

By JQ magazine editor Justin Tedaldi (CIR Kobe-shi, 2001-02). Justin has written about Japanese arts and entertainment for JETAA since 2005. For more of his articles, click here.

After an unusually chilly spring, it’s finally starting to feel like summer. Enjoy some seasonal events this month that celebrate the best of both fine art and pop art.

This month’s highlights include:

Courtesy of Asiasociety.org

June 6-7, 6:30 p.m.

New York Japan CineFest 2018

Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue

$12, $10 seniors/students, $8 members

Highlighting some of the most exciting new voices in cinema, New York Japan CineFest is an annual event that features works by emerging Japanese and Japanese American filmmakers. This two-day program of short films includes Sugihara Survivors, a short documentary film about Chiune Sugihara (considered Japan’s Oskar Schindler); Hatis Noit, a glimpse into the music of the titular musician whose experimental vocals recollect memories of snowy Hokkaido; and Dolphin Dreams, a groundbreaking experimental documentary that builds on the communicative power of dance to give audiences an unprecedented visceral experience. The first night’s program is followed by a reception.

© Yow Kobayashi/Yamaha

Thursday, June 7, 7:30 p.m.

Makoto Ozone: Jazz Virtuoso

Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street

$38, $30 Japan Society members

Celebrated jazz pianist Makoto Ozone, hailed by the New York Times as “thrilling, virtuosic and unabashedly personal,” performs selections from his wide-ranging repertoire, from Gershwin and Bernstein to Piazzolla and Ravel. Known for his large concert hall performances with prestigious philharmonic orchestras and jazz legends such as Gary Burton and Chick Corea, Ozone offers an upbeat, freewheeling and fearless solo in our auditorium.

Bakuretsu Records

Friday, June 8, 7:30 p.m.

Super Chon Bros Tour 2 (featuring Tricot)

PlayStation Theater, 1515 Broadway

$20

Prog rockers Chon and Polyphia have announced a second installment of their Super Chon Bros tour, set to take off this spring with help from TTNG and Kyoto-based Tricot. Rolling Stone calls the latter quartet “adrenalized math rock sped up and given pop’s candy coating.” Their meticulously painted set—complete with shadows and amps brushed into the background—picks up on the Kyoto band’s brilliantly colored math-rock, its hooks popping into view like neon splashes against a canvas.

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May 23

JQ Magazine: Film Review — ‘Isle of Dogs’

Isle of Dogs is a fun film and a stylistic ode to legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa about a boy and man’s best friend that’s full of beautiful visuals and is equally enjoyable for both kids and adults.” (Fox Searchlight)

By Andy Shartzer (Shizuoka-ken, 2014-16) for JQ magazine. Andy graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in chemical engineering, and currently works for JETRO New York. He is also the Community Development Chair for JETAA New York.

Isle of Dogs is director Wes Anderson’s first animated film since 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. While it has received mostly positive reviews (with some reservations), it’s still interesting to see Anderson hone his storytelling skills using a colorful and vibrant world created with stop motion animation. The story opens with a prologue titled “Before the Age of Obedience” that supposedly explains how cats became more prominent in Japan. Fast forwarding to “Japan 20 Years in the Future,” the movie cuts to fictional Megasaki City, its residents, and Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), an authoritarian who declares that all dogs must be banished to nearby Trash Island because of the outbreak of dog flu and snout fever. The first dog that arrives on Trash Island is Spots (Liev Schreiber), the personal guard dog of Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), the ward and orphaned nephew of the mayor.

Atari soon takes matters into his own hands and flies a propeller plane to Trash Island to find Spots. He unfortunately crash lands on the island (in the meantime getting a piece of the plane stuck in his head, ouch) but is rescued by a pack of five dogs: Chief (Bryan Cranston), Boss (Bill Murray), Rex (Edward Norton), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and King (Bob Balaban). The dogs—except for Chief, who was a former stray—agree to help Atari find Spots and accompany him on his journey to another part of Trash Island.

Though reluctant at first, Chief decides to join Atari and the other dogs after getting some extra persuasion from Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson), a female purebred dog. Back in Megasaki City, Mayor Kobayashi orders the extermination of all dogs on Trash Island. Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig), an American exchange student, gets involved and investigates further.

A couple fun Easter eggs in the film include: Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Inception) as a head surgeon, Yojiro Noda (lead singer of RADWIMPS) as a news anchor, and Yoko Ono (artist, singer, peace activist) as a medical assistant named…Yoko Ono.

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May 13

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘A Girls’ Guide to the Islands’

“While the book is largely a ‘what we did from beginning to end’ odyssey, Kamata’s vivid accounts of her journey with her daughter put you alongside them as they soak up culture.” (Gemma Open Door)

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagataken, 2008-10) for JQ magazine. A former head of the JETAA Philadelphia SubChapter, Rashaad is a graduate of Leeds Beckett University with a masters degree in responsible tourism management. For more on his life abroad and enthusiasm for taiko drumming, visit his blog at www.gettingpounded.wordpress.com.

Exploring local wonders with loved ones can conjure up magical memories—and an enormous sense of satisfaction upon overcoming numerous obstacles.

JET alumna Suzanne Kamata (Tokushima-ken, 1988-90) lived through such experiences, which are recounted in her nonfiction debut, A Girls’ Guide to the Islands. Such a title would indicate a guidebook for female travelers. But a scan of its second paragraph reveals the book is a first person travelogue of the author and her daughter Lilia’s exploration of their corner of Japan. Despite spending most of her life in the countryside, Kamata (author of Gadget Girl and The Beautiful One Has Come) has not just visited some nearby landmarks; she figures playing tourist in several locations would serve as good mother-daughter bonding experiences.

This treats the reader to a journey of art exploration. Lilia loves art and she wants to make a career out of it. Kamata also shares an affinity for art, which makes them perfect travel partners. A Girls’ Guide to the Islands is enhanced by the author’s illumination of the art she sees—such as Yayoi Kusama’s My Eternal Soul, which is painted in vivid colors that are considered unsettling in Japan (the artist’s iconic pumpkin sculpture in the island town of Naoshima also graces the book’s cover)—as well as the works that enthrall her daughter. Fortunately for them (and possibly surprising to some), foreign art from renowned artists was easy to locate in the rural museums they visited. Kamata and Lilia find one of Monet’s most famous paintings and Andy Warhol’s Flowers in Naoshima, as well as other works from other non-Japanese artists.

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Apr 23

JQ Magazine: Nippon in New York — Japan Day @ Central Park, Miyavi, In Praise of Natto

By JQ magazine editor Justin Tedaldi (CIR Kobeshi, 2001-02). Justin has written about Japanese arts and entertainment for JETAA since 2005. For more of his articles, click here.

As spring continues and the weather continues to warm, New Yorkers can enjoy activities all over the city both indoors and out.

This month’s highlights include:

© George Hirose

Sunday, May 6, 11:00 a.m.

Children’s Day Festival: Kodomo no Hi

Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street

$18, $10 Japan Society members, children ages 2 and under free

Hang the koinobori (carp streamers) and don your kabuto (samurai helmet): Children’s Day is on its way! Come join us for Japan’s national holiday where all children are stars and their happiness is celebrated. Enjoy a performance of Peach Boy (Momotaro) featuring storytelling, music, dance, taiko drumming and lots of audience participation. Continue the adventure with other authentic Kodomo no Hi activities!

Courtesy of Sonyhall.com

Sunday, May 6, 8:00 p.m.

Keiko Matsui

Sony Hall, 235 West 46th Street

$34.50, $74.50 VIP

Keiko Matsui’s music speaks to the hearts and souls of fans around the world, transcending borders and building bridges among people who share a common appreciation of honest artistry and cultural exchange. Journey to the Heart, her 27th recording as a leader, marks the 30th anniversary since her recording debut and is her boldest statement yet. On Journey to the Heart, Matsui more than delivers what she has come to be loved for breathtakingly beautiful transcendent melodies that transport the listener. A master storyteller, she crafts passionate and emotive songs with lush harmonies and global rhythms to create timeless musical anthems.

© Connie Ma

Tuesday, May 8, 6:30 p.m.

Cool Tokyo: Harajuku, Akihabara and Beyond

Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street

$14, $11 Japan Society members, seniors and students

From street fashion to street food, kawaii to cosplay, Tokyo is the epicenter of Japan’s latest trends. With so much to explore in this vibrant, fast-paced city, it can be hard to know where to start. At this talk, Sebastian Masuda, visual artist and founder of Harajuku shop 6%DokiDoki, and Abby Denson, comic book artist and author of Cool Tokyo Guide: Adventures in the City of Kawaii Fashion, Train Sushi and Godzilla, help to navigate Tokyo’s vending machines, subway etiquette, hidden treasures, and much more. Followed by a book signing reception.

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Apr 22

JQ Magazine: Film Review — ‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’

“Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi delivers a film packed with many of the attributes that characterizes Studio Ghibli at its best.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)

By Lyle Sylvander (Yokohamashi, 2001-02) for JQ magazine. Lyle has completed a masters program at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and has been writing for the JET Alumni Association of New York since 2004. He is also the goalkeeper for FC Japan, a New York Citybased soccer team.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower, the debut feature film from Studio Ponoc, an anime outfit founded by Studio Ghibli veterans Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura after Ghibli closed its doors in 2015, starts in medias res, with a violent firestorm engulfing the screen. A small girl with bright red hair escapes the maelstrom by flying away on a broomstick, pursued by dolphin-squid-fighter-jet hybrids. She plunges down through the clouds and crashes into a field, where her stolen cargo of glowing blue flowers scatters, instantly transforming the landscape as trees burst out of the earth to towering heights in the blink of an eye. Who she is, where she is, and why she needs to escape isn’t revealed until the final act.

Director Yonebayashi delivers a film packed with many of the attributes that characterizes Studio Ghibli at its best. In this story (based on The Little Broomstick, a 1971 children’s novel by popular British author Mary Stewart, a young female protagonist journeys through a fantastical world, battling witches on a magical quest. As in the best films of Hayao Miyazaki, the hand-drawn animation (a novelty in the CGI-dominated marketplace) depicts a European fairy tale setting while retaining a unique Japanese otherworldliness. This family-friendly film recalls such Miyazaki masterworks as Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Unlike those films, however, Mary and the Witch’s Flower falls short of being a masterpiece.

The animators invoke worlds upon worlds here: the green woods and mist-filled forests of England rendered in swooning evocative watercolors, and the show-stopping Endor, a psychedelic space from out of a dream or drug trip, packed with strange objects, unexplainable phenomena, students floating by in soap bubbles, fountains morphing into human form, grotesque creatures loping out of the shrubbery, only to disappear just as quickly. Endor is dazzling in an off-putting way (similar to some of the “worlds” presented in Ari Folman’s The Congress, where animated avatars engulf their originals). The action sequences are intricate and thrilling.

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Apr 10

JQ Magazine: JQ&A with Jazz Musician Meg Okura

“Japanese people are open and unafraid of owning music from other cultures. It’s a uniquely Japanese thing to embrace arts from other cultures and perform them at a high level.” (Taka Harkness)

By Allen Wan (Ishikawa-ken, 1990-92) for JQ magazine. Allen works as a foreign correspondent in Shanghai. He is also a lecturer in the executive MBA program at Jiao Tong University and currently serves as president of the Shanghai Foreign Correspondents Club. Allen would like to get in touch with other JET alumni in Shanghai who are interested in setting up a JETAA chapter.

Tokyo native Meg Okura defies convention. While forging a prolific career in music since graduating from Juilliard in the ’90s (working with the likes of Diana Krall and David Bowie to name a few), this Grammy-nominated jazz violinist continues reaching out to new audiences through her “world chamber jazz” that could mean anything from performing the erhu with her Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble or big band music from Japanese and Jewish composers.

As part of the NPO Trio, Okura recently released Live at the Stone, a collaboration with husband Sam Newsome (soprano saxophone) and Jean-Michel Pilc (piano) that creates a unique sound with hints of familiar melodies including well-known Yiddish songs and even excerpts of John Coltrane. Arriving May 13 is IMA IMA, Okura’s latest studio effort. A reflection on motherhood featuring the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble and trumpeter Tom Harrell, this new material will be showcased in an intimate live performance at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York on Aug. 20.

In this exclusive interview, Okura discusses her inspirations and also tackles taboo topics like whether the music industry needs its own #MeToo movement and the difficulty of making a living as a musical artist in the age of the internet.

You are known for your eclectic music, getting inspiration from jazz, pop, and all the way to 19th century Yiddish music. Is that a concerted effort to avoid being typecast in any particular genre?

I create music that is true to myself. Different types of music reveal themselves to me whether it sounds like Ose Shalom, J.S. Bach, Piazzolla, Coltrane or even YMO. I just welcome what comes to me. But don’t get me wrong, I am a firm proponent of straight-ahead jazz. I am a jazz musician first and foremost, but I also used to perform Brahms and Ravel, and have toured with Michael Brecker as well as many Jewish bands. So I just stay true to myself and try to accept my whole history and different life experiences.

Has being born and raised in Japan influenced your musical style? Why learn the erhu and not the shamisen, for instance?

Japanese people are open and unafraid of owning music from other cultures. For example, I am very unapologetic about learning the erhu, jazz, and Judaism—things that obviously belong to races, cultures, and traditions different from my own. It’s a uniquely Japanese thing to embrace arts from other cultures and perform them at a high level.

What got you hooked on Yiddish music, and did your husband have any influence on that?

Do you know that I have a big band called J-Orchestra? We play music by Jewish and Japanese composers including works by yours truly, who is both Jewish and Japanese. Not only am I a Jew but I have also studied German and Hebrew, so I always felt connected to the Yiddish melodies—minor melodies with major chords. I always cry every time I play “Oyfn Pripetchik.” My husband, Sam Newsome, on the other hand, is not Jewish. So he is not familiar with these melodies at all, and it works out beautifully keeping our music making fresh and unique.

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Apr 3

JQ Magazine: Book Review — New from Tuttle (Spring 2018)

Tuttle Publishing

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagataken, 2008-10) for JQ magazine. A former head of the JETAA Philadelphia SubChapter, Rashaad is a graduate of Leeds Beckett University with a masters degree in responsible tourism management. For more on his life abroad and enthusiasm for taiko drumming, visit his blog at www.gettingpounded.wordpress.com.

Tuttle Publishing has released another selection of Japan-related books, and the following quartet includes works that touch on Japanese etiquette, language study, Okinawan history, and picturesque Kyoto.

Japan: A Guide to Traditions, Customs and Etiquette

While studying Japanese, I learned the term shikata, which is translated as the “way of doing things.” However, as the late lecturer and writer Boyé Lafayette de Mente thoroughly documents, kata represents a lot more than a translation of “form”: It is a concept present in just about every aspect of Japanese society, whether it be the business world, poetry, or sumo. In essence, kata guides the country’s etiquette.

In Japan, the process of accomplishing a goal is just as significant, if not more significant, than the actual result—a notable contrast to the West. De Mente defines kata as the “way things are supposed to be done,” and he educates readers on how the concept has shaped Japan throughout its history and the present.

The author also touches on other cultural differences between Westerners and Japanese (such as communication styles) and people reading the book will probably nod their heads in agreement as they read certain passages, such as “Foreigners can live a lifetime in Japan and not fully understand how the Japanese system works the way it does” and why Japanese often express amazement at foreigners who can utter the simplest Japanese phrase. Japan: A Guide to Traditions, Customs and Etiquette is really an exploration of the Japanese psyche.

If nothing else, you’ll be amazing at how different Japan seems from the West.

Tuttle Publishing

Beginning Japanese Kanji: Language Practice Pad

Those seeking an introduction to kanji, or just a way to brush up on them, should turn to William Matsuzaki’s work. The pad is an excellent tool for busy people: The 334 kanji it presents lends itself to a simple, one kanji-a-day memorization for those aiming to study at a relaxed pace. Furthermore, each page contains terms utilizing the featured kanji and tips on how to write its strokes.

The kanji appearing in the pad is really nothing out of the ordinary, as you’ll see them in many (if not most) materials geared toward relatively novice Japanese learners. Adding to the book’s appeal, the inclusion of spaces to write the kanji (as well as sample sentences featuring the characters) is most useful for those looking to bolster their knowledge of the language.

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Apr 2

“If nothing else, CITY is a reminder that big city chaos can be entertaining.” (Vertical Comics)

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagataken, 2008-10) for JQ magazine. A former head of the JETAA Philadelphia SubChapter, Rashaad is a graduate of Leeds Beckett University with a masters degree in responsible tourism management. For more on his life abroad and enthusiasm for taiko drumming, visit his blog at www.gettingpounded.wordpress.com.

Work often gets in the way of fun times. But if you incorporate some creativity into your life, that doesn’t have to be the case.

Enter the world of Midori Nagumo, the protagonist of the comedy manga CITY. In this first volume (which began serialization in Japan in September 2016) from creator Keiichi Arawi (Nichijou), Nagumo is a very broke college student whose landlady is constantly hounding her for money. Her roommate Niikura refuses to lend her money when she realizes what Nagumo’s true intention is.

Nagumo has to resort to other avenues to raise money, such as stealing a clay figure with the aim of selling it. But she clumsily drops the object, rendering it shattered. Crazily enough, immediately afterwards she’s offered a job at a restaurant (where the incident happens).

Our protagonist accepts the job but still has issues. It doesn’t help that her landlady has a police officer help “move” (or steal) all of her stuff so she wouldn’t escape (as the stolen items are actually collateral). In the middle of the volume, Nagumo reflects on her life, telling herself that if she could continue to have lots of happy moments, she’d be unbelievably thrilled with her life.

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Apr 1

JQ Magazine: Nippon in New York — Sake + Rakugo, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Sakura Matsuri

By JQ magazine editor Justin Tedaldi (CIR Kobeshi, 2001-02). Justin has written about Japanese arts and entertainment for JETAA since 2005. For more of his articles, click here.

Spring has sprung in the Big Apple, and that means one thing: a new season of sounds, colors, and spectacular performing arts to match the blossoming sakura trees throughout the city.

This month’s highlights include:

Courtesy of Yukiko Takahashi

Thursday, April 5, 6:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.

Rakugo Event: Tozaburo Yanagiya III

Brooklyn Kura, 68 34th Street (Industry City)

Free

This special set of performances is held at the first Japanese sake brewery in New York State. Born in Tokyo, Yanagiya Tozaburo became a disciple of master Rakugo performer Yanagiya Gontaro III in 1999. He was promoted to the master Shin’uchi rank, in which he himself is certified to train disciples, in 2014. Ever since, he has performed all over Japan and appeared in the ShotenRakugo show and other television programs. During his first visit to North America this spring, he has performed at the University of Toronto, LaGuardia Community College, Hunter College, New York University, and Brooklyn Kitchen. Tozaburo was awarded the Agency for Cultural Affairs’ Arts Festival Newcomer Award in 2016. Tozaburo will share sake-inspired stories (while patrons can enjoy the real thing on the premises) along with a traditional story, “The Zoo.”

Tozaburo is also appearing at J-COLLABO’s Spring Festival in Park Slope on Saturday, April 7, at 3:00 p.m. For more information, click here.

Courtesy of Kazuo Miyagawa Family

April 12-28

Kazuo Miyagawa: Japan’s Greatest Cinematographer

The Museum of Modern Art, (April 12-29)

Japan Society, (April 13-28)

$13/$10 seniors and students, $9 Japan Society members

In celebration of the 110th anniversary of his birth, Japan Society presents an 11-film retrospective surveying the work of Kazuo Miyagawa (1908-1999), the most influential cinematographer of postwar Japanese cinema. Working intimately with directors like Yasujiro Ozu, Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi and Kon Ichikawa on some of their most important films, Miyagawa pushed Japanese cinema to its highest artistic peaks through his lyrical, innovative and technically flawless camerawork. This career-spanning selection displays his great versatility, including major masterpieces and rarely shown titles, screening in 35mm and new digital restorations. Co-organizer The Museum of Modern Art will host repeat screenings and additional Miyagawa retrospective titles from April 12-29. Preceding the retrospective, new 4K restorations of Mizoguchi’s A Story From Chikamatsu and Sansho the Bailiff, both shot by Miyagawa, will run at Film Forum from April 6-12.

GKIDS

April 22-23, 25

The Cat Returns

E-Walk 42nd Street 13, 247 West 42nd Street / Empire 25, 234 West 42nd Street

$12.50 all ages

Part of Studio Ghibli Fest 2018! From the legendary Studio Ghibli, creators of My Neighbor Totoro and the Academy Award-winning Spirited Away, comes a charming and magical adventure that will delight the entire family. Haru is walking home after a dreary day of school when she spies a cat with a small gift box in its mouth crossing a busy street, and she jumps in front of traffic to save the cat from an oncoming truck. To her amazement, the cat gets up on its hind legs, brushes itself off, and thanks her very politely. But things take an even stranger turn when later than night, the King of Cats shows up at her doorstep in a feline motorcade. He showers Haru with gifts, and decrees that she shall marry the Prince and come live in the Kingdom of Cats!

Courtesy of Ryuichi Sakamoto – Coda

April 25-27

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda

Cinépolis Chelsea (4/25-26), 260 West 23rd Street

Regal Cinemas Battery Park Stadium (4/27), 102 North End Avenue

$23

From his start pioneering synth pop music with Yellow Magic Orchestra, in the late ’70s to winning an Oscar for his score for The Last Emperor in 1988, Ryuichi Sakamoto quickly established himself as one of the most original and intuitive composers of his generation. But, never content to rest on his laurels, Sakamoto’s life journey eventually led him to find musical inspiration in the unlikeliest of places: the Fukushima nuclear disaster and a personal battle with cancer, both of which gave way to a late-life shift in his artistic process. With Coda, director Stephen Nomura Schible (a co-producer on Lost in Translation) crafts a portrait of the artist as an ageless man, one who can turn the worst news into the most refined and purposeful moment of productivity in an already storied career. Shot over five years, this graceful music documentary is an elegantly observed examination of the creative process, following as Sakamoto builds from nothing the album he must assume will be his swan song. Premiere Screening features a Q&A with subject Sakamoto and Nomura Schible.

Kikuna Mishima

April 28-29, 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.

Sakura Matsuri 2018

Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 990 Washington Avenue

$30 adults, $25 senior and students, free for BBG members and children under 12

Billed as a dynamic two days of traditional and contemporary Japanese culture inspired by BBG’s famous collection of flowering cherry trees, organizers will once again welcome tens of thousands of visitors to its massive 52 acres, home to over 12,000 kinds of plants (and, for that weekend, nearly as many cosplayers). Enjoy food and drink, events and activities for all ages while taking in live performances from New York troupe Dancejapan with Sachiyo Ito, the BBG Parasol Society Fashion Show, NYC’s own J-pop meets jazz favorite J-MUSIC Ensemble, and the Matsuri live debuts of DJ Sashimi and Tokyo-based rock duo Bo-Peep.

Want to stay in the loop on future eventsFollow Justin on Facebook and Twitter.


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