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 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 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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Jan 18

JQ Magazine: Theatre Review — ‘Mugen Noh Othello’

“In this striking setting, the noh theatrics perfectly capture and complement the emotions and thoughts recurring in Shakespeare’s play.” (Richard Termine)

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.

From Jan. 11-14, director Satoshi Miyagi and his company Shizuoka Performing Arts Center (SPAC) returned to Japan Society of New York with their sold-out production of Mugen Noh Othello. As with their previous Madea (seen at Japan Society in 2011), Miyagi and company adapt a classic play from the Western canon and infuse it with the stylistic conventions of noh. Specifically, Miyagi and his playwright Sukehiro Hirakawa re-tell the story from the viewpoint of Desdemona’s ghost, a traditional in the mugen (supernatural) style of noh. This style typically involves otherworldly beings, including gods, spirits and ghosts. Time is often depicted as passing in a non-linear fashion, and action may switch between two or more timeframes from moment to moment, including flashbacks.

Noh theatre is considered to be the highest art form among the five classical Japanese forms of theatre: noh, kabuki, bunraku, butoh and kyogen. The art form requires highly trained actors and musicians (Mugen Noh Othello featured a percussion ensemble of six). The actors usually wear masks to signify the characters’ gender, age and social ranking, and by wearing masks the actors may portray youngsters, old men, female, or even nonhuman characters such as demons or animals. Noh also contains a uniquely structured stage with the hashigakari, a narrow bridge that is used for entering. Since Japan Society’s theater contains a more conventional stage (albeit without proscenium), the hashigakari has been approximated. All actors enter through it, as if entering from another space into the new shared theatrical space with the audience. Throughout the performance, the actors chant in unison, further accentuating the otherworldly atmosphere.

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Dec 31

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘Zen Gardens and Temples of Kyoto’

“While Zen Gardens can be challenging to grasp, there is magic to behold.” (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.

Kyoto has served as the focal point of Japanese cultural forms such as geisha, noh theater and ikebana. And as John Dougill thoroughly details in Zen Gardens and Temples of Kyoto, the city has played an enormous role in the development of Zen in Japan.

A professor at Kyoto’s largest Buddhist university, Dougill explores the ties between Japan’s former capital and the Buddhist sect in this guide to Kyoto’s most prominent Zen gardens and temple sites. While not the birthplace of Zen in Japan, Kyoto could be considered its soul as the city has long housed renowned temples where visitors and monks have sought serenity.

At first glance, such a book would seem to be a largely visual journal featuring a score of beautiful places. Zen Gardens doesn’t disappoint in that regard as photographer John Einarsen captures the splendor of some very spiritual places. But it’s clear early on that the book will rely primarily on stories to chronicle the story of Zen in Kyoto—not surprising since Dougill has previously written about Japan’s World Heritage Sites and Kyoto’s history.

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Dec 23

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘The JET Program and the US-Japan Relationship: Goodwill Goldmine’

“While focused solely on the American experience, the outline of the history and intention behind the JET Program’s creation is a fascinating and illuminating one. One hopes that this book will be the start of the conversation and academic study on JET’s other accomplishments and help complete the picture of a fallible but venerable institution.” (Lexington Books)

 

 

By Eden Law (Fukushima-ken, 2010-11) for JQ magazine. Eden is the current JETAA New South Wales President (in Sydney, Australia) and Australian JET Alumni Association Country Representative, and handles the social media/website side for JETAA International as Webmaster. He also runs the Life After JET podcast.

Note: Spelling is always problematic when dealing with international differences. I shall be spellingProgramthe way it is referred to in the book and the title, to avoid inconsistencies. Apologies, especially to any fellow Australians reading this. However, Ill be keeping my quixotically placedus andrs.

Created in 1987, The JET Program has brought tens of thousands of young people from around the world to work, live and experience life in Japan. An international exchange program of a diplomatic nature, its aims were to improve global perceptions towards Japan and to internationalised Japanese local communities, all through the format of teaching and improving English skills in schools. Since then, articles and papers about the effectiveness of JET has focused primarily on its impact (or lack thereof) on the level of English language ability on the student population, leading to questions about the feasibility of maintaining the high costs of the program. At least once, the program came close to termination: In 2010, a Japanese government budget review panel called for the discontinuation of JET, before the subsequent administration of Shinzo Abe saved it, setting the agenda for expanding numbers in the lead-up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

More positive literature exists, of course: David L. McConnell’s Importing Diversity: Inside Japan’s JET Program, published in 2000, is the most well-known example, written by an academic who was once a JET participant. Seventeen years on, Emily T. Metzgar (Shimaneken, 1993-95), herself also once a JET and now an academic, has penned a follow-up of sorts, entitled The JET Program and the US-Japan Relationship: Goodwill Goldmine, which, as described in its title, confines its evaluation of the program on its international impact in relation to the United States and Japan. The JET Program justifies its restricted focus on this bilateral relationship on its assertion that the program was originally created with the United States in mind as the first target for Japan to improve its international image abroad. Statistically, 50 percent of the total number of participants throughout the program’s history have been sourced from the United States (and in an impeccable sense of timing, the book arrived on the eve of the program’s big 30th anniversary celebrations and JETAA conference in Washington, D.C., featuring Metzgar as one of the headline presenters).

Commentators seeking to put a more positive outlook on the program’s accomplishments have had to look outside of the hoary old topic of education. The JET Program settles on examining how it worked as a “soft power” initiative for Japan’s global image (the topic of how JET fared as an internationalisation agent of Japanese local community is, as Metzgar says, best left “as a promising research topic for an ambitious doctoral student,” though she does comment on these other aims later on). For those wondering, yes, the book argues that JET has been enormously successful in this aspect. Examples are plentiful in The JET Program: recalling the threat of JET’s culling high-profile American JET alumni in organisations such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and JCIE/USA defended it by referring to its “soft power” success. In other less fraught periods, the book cites senior members and policymakers of both governments who spoke positively of JET’s contributions to their countries’ relationship, implying acknowledgement of the same thing.

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Dec 18

JQ Magazine: Film Review — ‘In This Corner of the World’

In This Corner of the World is more than a good story with vibrant animation. It is a thoughtful work of art that holds its own against the other big anime hit of 2016, Your Name.” © Fumiyo Kouno/Futabasha/Konosekai no Katasumini Project

By Preston Hatfield (Yamanashiken, 2009-10) for JQ magazine. Preston is the English teacher you wish you had growing up. He taught in Kofu, Yamanashi on JET and later received his Masters in Education and teaching credential from Stanford University. He now teaches English at a public high school in the Silicon Valley, and is inspiring the leaders of tomorrow one dank meme at a time.

Raise your hand if you remember how it felt to watch Grave of the Fireflies. It isn’t often that you’re truly glad to have watched a film that slowly rips your heart out, but the iconic 1988 film about Japan during World War II did exactly that for generations of viewers. Nearly 30 years later, director Sunao Katabuchi (Mai Mai Miracle) has created his own anime masterpiece that is every bit as poignant, tragic and beautiful as Grave of the Fireflies.

Based on the award-winning manga by Fumiyo Kouno, In This Corner of the World follows Suzu, an 18-year-old girl from Hiroshima, as she is plucked from her life by a man she only vaguely knows and moves in with his family in the nearby naval port city of Kure. As Suzu acclimates to life with her new family, the audience gets a look at the daily ins and outs of domestic life for Japanese women at the time, from tending the garden and collecting locally grown plants to make their meals, to refashioning kimonos into trousers and robes. Suzu also struggles with learning how to be a good wife and ingratiating herself to her new in-laws and her husband’s hypercritical sister.

In the latter half of the film, Katabuchi shows how the war progressively deteriorates the Japanese’s sense of normalcy, comfort, and security. What was once a quaint seaside naval town is reduced to a scene of waking nightmare and blazing fire. There are incessant air raid sirens and evacuations to bomb shelters, government propaganda, espionage hysteria, overcrowded hospitals, and the incomprehensible annihilation of cities and the people who populate them. But despite a number of somber (if not heart-wrenching) moments, In This Corner of the World ends the way most of us wish Grave of the Fireflies could have ended, and that small dose of optimism makes the film much easier to sit with when the credits roll.

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Nov 16

JQ Magazine: Book Review — New from Tuttle (Fall 2017)

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 a selection of four books touching on subjects such as otaku culture, language/cultural tips for travelers, Japanese history, and inspiration for prospective visitors to Japan.

Tokyo Geek’s Guide: Manga, Anime, Gaming, Cosplay, Toys, Idols & More – The Ultimate Guide to Japan’s Otaku Culture

Many people have probably developed an interest in Japan through a deep affection for anime and manga (among other things). And with Tokyo being the obvious center of Japanese pop culture, this guide created by Gianni Simone serves as the perfect tool for otaku freaks to find heaven.

Tuttle Publishing

Tokyo Geeks Guide basically resembles a travel guide as it contains tidbits about where to explore otaku culture (such as bookshops, stores, events and even eateries—anime-themed ones are abundant in Tokyo). But you don’t have to be planning a trip to the capital to benefit from the book, though. Simone includes plenty of information pertaining to the history of manga, anime and video games in Japan.

Japanese for Travelers Phrasebook & Dictionary

At first glance, Scott Rutherford’s creation seems like a carbon copy of any other resource geared toward helping travelers avoid or limit communication miscues. And certainly, the book lists the standard customary helpful phrases for visitors to Japan trying to navigate the local hotels, airports, restaurants, etc.

But Japanese for Travelers provides plenty of useful advice about conducting good Japanese etiquette (e.g., what to do when invited to someone’s house) and culture (the section devoted to Japanese naming culture is interesting). Although the guide doesn’t intend to be the most thorough tool for language learners, it does include an English-Japanese glossary and numerous grammatical tips. And perhaps most importantly in this technologically reliant time, Rutherford dedicates a chapter to advising readers about how not to get tripped up by technology in Japan.

Tuttle Publishing

A Brief History of Japan: Samurai, Shogun and Zen: The Extraordinary Story of the Land of the Rising Sun

To many, the title of Jonathan Clements’s work would seem to be an absolute impossibility. Indeed, he uses that word in the preface to describe his task in telling a story that spans “millions of years.” But Clements settles on “specific moments of transformation” in eleven chapters that address periods of Japanese history ranging from the legend behind Japan’s formation to the “lost decades” that saw the country face a dwindling population and struggling economy.

While the information Clements provides at some points may be overwhelming, A Brief History of Japan does come to life through the collection of images appearing in the middle of the book (such as depictions of prominent figures and photos of landmarks).

Japan: Traveler’s Companion

Many, if not most, travel guides will feature an endless parade of “what to do and see” recommendations, and Rob Goss’s work is no different in a sense. But unlike some editions of Lonely Planet and Fodor’s, it’s clear when opening up Japan: Travelers Companion for the first time that the book will be anything but dry.

Tuttle Publishing

The subtitle appearing on its cover is “Japan’s most famous sights from Okinawa to Hokkaido,” but the inclusion of popular tourist destinations isn’t the reason to pick up the book. Amazingly beautiful colorful photos of the country’s most famous places will leave you speechless, and Goss includes helpful information for potential visitors about facets of Japanese life such as matsuri, cutting edge technology, and tradition.

For more information, visit www.tuttlepublishing.com.

For more JQ magazine book reviews, click here.


Oct 1

JQ Magazine: Film Review — ‘The Red Turtle’

A critical analysis couched in fiction of the Academy Award-nominated Studio Ghibli co-production (Sony Pictures Classics)

By Preston Hatfield (Yamanashi-ken, 2009-10) for JQ magazine. Preston is the English teacher you wish you had growing up. He taught in Kofu, Yamanashi on JET and later received his Masters in Education and teaching credential from Stanford University. He now teaches English at a public high school in the Silicon Valley, and is inspiring the leaders of tomorrow one dank meme at a time.

TL;DR: Directed by Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit, The Red Turtle is another visual masterpiece by Studio Ghibli (making its external coproduction debut here collaborating with a European team) with a unique artistic style that makes the scenery itself a prominent character. Though it lost me in parts, the story is poignant and evokes an array of feelings, few of which are pleasant, though nonetheless lifeaffirming. In order to fully appreciate this film (which has no dialogue), you need to be in a calm, patient, and cerebral mood. Also, make sure you watch it in a very dark room, as the film features numerous nighttime scenes that are hard to see with extra light.

You never asked from whence I came, if I had a family in my own land, if I was happy in my new life. I suppose you found those details immaterial as far as we were concerned, but you should know that from the moment I opened my eyes and coughed the seawater from my lungs on that accursed beach we called home, after surveying the island high and low, near and far, and discovering no human civilization from which I could find salvation, I devoted every precious calorie in my body to escaping that forsaken rock, ocean be damned.

Let my words carry across time and space; to echo across the sky and go bounding beyond the reach of the island that tethered me. Let me communicate what I couldn’t before. Let my memory endure, because I have lost everything else. Let me go.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw you, a scarlet leviathan that decimated my rafts like waves over sandcastles. I admit I never quite worked it out. Was it your will or the island’s that kept me from leaving? Who did I enrage so with my escape plan and headstrong persistence in the face of constant setback? I guess what I’m asking is, were you the warden of the prison, or just one of the guards? There in the open ocean I gazed at you, awe-struck, sure in that moment that you were going to kill me for being so daring.

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Sep 30

JQ Magazine: Film Review — ‘Hayao Miyazaki: Never-Ending Man’

“This tight, 70-minute documentary does not wander. It preserves a feeling of deliberate pacing and purpose through clever editing, and possibly even some deliberate misdirection, which echo Miyazaki’s personal deliberations.” (© NHK)

 

By Greg Beck (Hiroshimaken, 2006-11) for JQ magazine. Greg is a writer, producer, home brewer, and Social Coordinator for JETAA Southern California and Arizona. A former news producer for Tokyo Broadcasting System in New York, he currently works freelance in Los Angeles. For more cinema reviews, follow him on Twitter at @CIRBECK #MovieReview.

Receiving its East Coast premiere last night at Japan Society in New York, NHK’s new documentary on Studio Ghibli’s famed animation director Hayao Miyazaki offers a seemingly deep and undeniably personal look into the man’s current life, as well as his achievements and challenges, both artistically and—in his old age—existentially. True to Japanese-style filmmaking, we see a series of scenes as they happen, and are left to draw our own meaning. Still, this tight, 70-minute documentary does not wander. It preserves a feeling of deliberate pacing and purpose through clever editing, and possibly even some deliberate misdirection, which echo Miyazaki’s personal deliberations.

The film starts with Miyazaki’s retirement announcement at a press conference in September 2013. It then jumps forward two years, to an unseen and seldom-heard cameraman, whose perspective we take for this fly-on-the-wall documentary. Entering his gorgeous, countryside atelier, Miyazaki grumbles humbly, “What do you have a camera for? There’s nothing worth seeing. I’m retired.” He feeds birds, smokes, makes tea, and gripes about the complacency of Disney’s Frozen anthem “Let It Go,” but in no time shows that his creative drive is undiminished. Walking to a table covered in a pile of pages of new projects and material, he insists, “I’m a retired pensioner. I’m just fooling around now.” Read More


Sep 23

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘Kuma-Kuma Chan’s Travels’

“Takahashi’s warm watercolors and relatable stories are guaranteed to entertain readers of all ages, and the latest English-language addition to this series, Kuma-Kuma Chan’s Travels, is every bit as enjoyable as its two predecessors.” (Museyon)

By Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) for JQ magazine. Stacy is a New York Citybased provider of top quality Japanese interpretingtranslating and writing/editing servicesStarting from her initial encounter with Japan in her teensshe has built up a consummate understanding of the countrys language and culture, enabling her to seamlessly traverse between Japan and the U.S. and serve as a bridge between the two. For more information, visit www.stacysmith.webs.com. As a writer, Stacy also shares tidbits and trends with her own observations in the periodic series WIT Life.

Having spent three years on JET in Kumamoto, home of nationwide sensation Kumamon who didn’t yet exist when I was there, I must honestly say that I approach bear characters with slight trepidation. However, I was delightfully surprised to love every minute of my encounter with Kuma-Kuma Chan, the bear who stars in the eponymous children’s book series written and illustrated by Kazue Takahashi. Her warm watercolors and relatable stories are guaranteed to entertain readers of all ages, and the latest English-language addition to this series, Kuma-Kuma Chan’s Travels, is every bit as enjoyable as its two predecessors.

The previous two books, Kuma-Kuma Chan, the Little Bear (previously reviewed in JQ here) and Kuma-Kuma Chan’s Home, looked at a day in the life of Kuma-Kuma Chan on his own and when a friend comes to visit. KumaKuma Chans Travels is a bit more expansive, introducing readers to his world when he takes trips. I love the details at the beginning sharing what he brings with him on his journeys, along with accompanying illustrations such as a Thermos containing hot coffee. We later see him on top of a mountain drinking said coffee while watching the sunrise. These trips take place inside his head, but the descriptive text and beautiful pictures make you feel like you are with him everywhere he goes.

The series as a whole features a strong element of kawaii, or cuteness, which contributes to its Japaneseness. Also, there is an intangible sensibility to the stories that make them feel a bit different than traditional Western children’s books. In the inaugural KumaKuma Chan, the Little Bear, we learn about his daily routine, which includes aspects such as eating a big salad for breakfast with lettuce from his garden and personal grooming like trimming his nails and hair. I particularly liked the scene which shows him during the winter, rolling around to catch the sunlight as the day progresses with the kerosene heater nearby. For many JET alumni, I’m sure this scene will be reminiscent of days spent in school offices where this was the sole source of heat.

Courtesy of Museyon

For readers seeking a creature of a different nature, the Tyrannosaurus children’s books written and illustrated by Tatsuya Miyanishi is another series worth checking out. It currently features 13 titles, four of which have been published in the U.S. For those who would like to learn about these books and meet the acclaimed author, he will be at the New York and New Jersey locations of Books Kinokuniya at 2 p.m. on October 21 and 22, respectively. On both days, Miyanishi will be reading from and discussing his works, as well as signing books for those with purchased copies. For more dates in Texas, Washington and California, click here.

Kuma-Kuma Chan’s Travels is available October 1. For more information, click here.

For more JQ magazine book reviews, click here.


Sep 1

JQ Magazine: Manga Review — ‘She and Her Cat’ and ‘Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz — Glory of the Losers’

“In She and Her Cat, Shinkai does what he does best, using carefully curated imagery to set a somber tone that soothes readers into a quiet, meditative headspace.” (Vertical Comics)

By Preston Hatfield (Yamanashiken, 2009-10) for JQ magazine. Preston received a BA in English literature with an emphasis in creative writing and a minor in Japanese at the University of California, Davis. After spending an amazing year on JET in Yamanashi, he spent a year writing and interning with book publishing companies in New York. He currently lives in Cupertino, where he continues to cover local Japanrelated stories for JQ.

This season, Vertical Comics releases two notable titles. The first is She and Her Cat, a story by acclaimed animator Makoto Shinkai, the mastermind behind 5 Centimeters Per Second and Your Name. The second is Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz — Glory of the Losers, a multi-volume adventure starring everyone’s favorite fighting mecha. While very different in style, pacing, and subject matter, each title has a lot to offer its readers.

In She and Her Cat, Shinkai does what he does best, using carefully curated imagery to set a somber tone that soothes readers into a quiet, meditative headspace. From there he proceeds to unfold an understated vignette that explores adult depression. This is a timely story, our considering society’s gradual willingness to speak openly about depression and mental health more broadly.

“By contrast, Glory of the Losers delivers action, explosions, and braggadocio.” (Vertical Comics)

Shinkai’s protagonist, Miyu, is a sympathetic introvert who has a hard time asking for or accepting help from others, and she is also her own antagonist, a fact that will likely resonate with readers who have battled depression. One unique feature about this story, which is also at times strained, is that it is told from the perspective of the protagonist’s cat, Chobi. While some readers may feel that Shinkai could have done more with this story, it is nonetheless well told and tactfully, intelligently handled.

By contrast, Glory of the Losers delivers action, explosions, and braggadocio. Based on creator Yoshiyuki Tomino’s classic 1970s giant robot series, the story follows a common trope: In a post-apocalyptic world, humans have broken off into different factions to colonize other planets. But when a central military agency begins annexing free colonies, a small resistance rises in the name of freedom to end their tyranny. This is an enjoyable underdog story that may have particular appeal to middle and high school students.

For more information, visit www.vertical-inc.com.


Jul 15

JQ Magazine: Manga Review — ‘Kitaro and the Great Tanuki War’

The Great Tanuki War stands apart from the other Kitaro volumes because in this adventure, the stakes are higher than anything you’ve ever seen.” (Drawn and Quarterly)

 

By Julio Perez Jr. (Kyoto-shi, 2011-13) for JQ magazine. A bibliophile, writer, translator, and graduate from Columbia University, Julio currently keeps the lights on by working at JTB USA while writing freelance in New York. Follow his enthusiasm for Japan, literature, and comic books on his blog and Twitter @brittlejules.

A haunted house built on an ancient burial ground? That’s minor league. How about an entire nation built above an army of human-hating yokai who command a catfish large enough to cause earthquakes?

Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro and The Great Tanuki War is a manga volume that tells an epic tale pitting the titular character, Kitaro, against an army of tanuki and their powerful yokai allies. There are also a few bonus stories with Kitaro’s usual one-shot adventures. You may already be familiar with Mizuki’s famous character, but if you are not, you can brush up on his origin story featured in the first volume, The Birth of Kitaro, which JQ reviewed last year here.

This marks the third volume in the English collection of Kitaro stories published by the fine folks at Drawn and Quarterly. One of our very own JET alums, Zack Davisson (Nara-ken, 2001-04; Osaka-shi, 2004-06), has been doing his part to put Shigeru Mizuki’s timeless work on the map in the English-speaking world. He has served as translator for these Kitaro stories and also for Mizuki’s colossal four-volume manga history of the Showa period. Zack is a yokai expert in his own right and you can find out more about his career and JET experience in our vintage JQ interview with him.

As many consumers of Japanese media may already be aware, yokai are strange creatures or phenomena that originate in Japan and have become widely popular globally. Kitaro is a unique yokai who solves mysteries and fights for humans. The conflict between humans and yokai is often an issue of tension for him as he straddles both sides, but this conflict takes center stage in The Great Tanuki War, when an army of tanuki escape from their underground dwelling beneath the island of Shikoku (shout-out to our Shikoku JET alums!), to wage a war on the human residents of Japan.

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