“Argo f*** yourself.” – popular media and politics

Ever since I shifted to my current field, I’ve found myself watching more and more shows and films inspired by its themes, the people heavily involved in it, and the events that dot its colourful historical trajectory. Argo, of course, belongs to the latter group, and is certainly a fascinating example of reality defying all expectations about how the secret services really work. However, this film is also interesting as a small indication of how the aims of popular media and the choices that their creators make can negatively affect relationships between countries.

Definitely the best promotional picture of the lot.

Definitely the best promotional picture of the lot.

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Lawrence of Arabia: the importance of things past

Rather than the poster typically seen today, I decided to go for a slight more retro one...

Rather than the poster typically seen today, I decided to go for a slight more retro one…

When I joined the film group at my university this year, this classic was one of the films that I marked off immediately as one I had to see. I didn’t expect it to be as long as it was – I don’t really check such details anymore – and was stunned to be presented with a mid-film break! However, the challenge of sitting through more than four hours was worth it: despite some historical inaccuracies, the glimpses of politics was completely fascinating, for what happened and did not happen back in the early 1900s has huge implications for what’s happening in the Middle East today.

One thing that struck me as I was researching lightly for the purpose of writing this post is that photos of T.E. Lawrence show that the costume designer recreated what he wore with pretty darned good accuracy. Although history was indeed adapted for the needs of the theater, Lawrence’s level of empathy and integration into the groups of people he encountered was well captured. Considering how many Westerners are incredibly insular today, balking at the idea of cultural relativism and focusing on what’s in their interests without regard to the interests of others who share this planet, it’s fascinating to consider the experiences of someone who integrated himself so deeply into the Arab culture that he was deeply respected by many of them at the time.

It’s difficult to imagine such a tale today. Modern people so caught up in ‘getting results quickly’ that any seemingly impossible challenge would automatically be left by the wayside. Furthermore, the tendency today is for an ideal that is highly influenced by Western culture, which many justify by pointing to beliefs and practices that revolt us. Conversely, the practices and beliefs that make sense to us may be completely alien, even barbaric to them. This is not to say that I condone what is clearly problematic in terms of the rights of any person to life, food, shelter, education and so on, but I do have issues with the blatant condemnation of the so-called lack of rights that are not quite as ‘necessary’, so-to-speak. What I see instead is the great danger of losing all possibility of interacting with others if we do not even attempt to understand how they think. From what I have read since seeing this film, this is the argument that Lawrence tried to make for much of his life, and something that many people today would do well to learn.

The eighth memory of 2012: the poetry of a bittersweet romance

Well, Happy New Year…or, rather, あけおめ、ことよろ! And what better way to open up the year than with a story of endings and new beginnings?

Of all the series I watched this year, Utakoi was a funny one for me. A fair number of viewers seemed to think that it had been greenlighted because of the unexpected success that the Chihayafuru anime saw. Given that an anime series typically goes into pre-production up to a year or more before airing, I’m inclined to believe that both shows were part of an effort to highlight the beauty of traditional Japanese poetry, as represented by the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (Ogura collection of 100 poems by 100 poets) amongst female anime viewers. However, much as I promised myself to invest more time in analysing this show in relation to the poems, I simply never got into it.

Neverteless, there is one story that completely captured my heart. Spanning two episodes (though with roots tracing back one more), the sharp banter between Sei Shonagon and Fujiwara no Yukinari and the way they danced around each other with words was a joy to witness. And then that parting, bitter yet with the taste of sweet memories that sustain them both in the paths they have chosen. If there is one thing about Japanese stories that Western ones – which I would say tend to value the notion of being together, whether in life or in death – do not often seem to explore, it is the importance of memory, of those recollections of happy times spent together, even if a loved one is no longer there.

Look back at those memories; they are there to push you forward.

Look back at those memories; they are there to push you forward.

In some ways, I feel that this is precisely why I write about this hobby of mine. It’s not just about the joy of the experience as a story unfolds, or the fun of discussing it with others, it also about reminiscing about that experience, looking back on the good times wherein one can often find inspiration to keep going. I find myself doing that quite often: skimming back over posts I made long ago, looking back over what I’ve written for AS, or the comments I’ve left elsewhere. Of course, you could argue that it’s a waste of time, but that’s the poetry of this bittersweet romance.

King of Devil’s Island: Norway’s penal system, past and present

Or, in Norwegian, “Kongen av Bastøy”.

The year is 1915, the place the Bastøy prison, separated from the Norwegian mainland by a narrow fjord. It it to this prison that youths are sent to be moulded into respectable Christian citizens through schooling, hard work and discipline. However, when the hardened Erling is sent to the island, his defiance of the prison’s authorities and the moral foundation that grounds is a source of inspiration for others, and leads ultimately to a rebellion against the unfair system that confines them.

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Utakoi: love and poetry in the Heian era

Perhaps the most emblematic poem of them all…at least for those of us that came across from Chihayafuru…

It’s probably incredibly strange that an anime like this even got green lighted. A lot of people put it down to the relative popularity of Chihayafuru, a sleeper hit that no anime/manga/game related company had wanted to sponsor, not even its manga publisher, Kodansha. The unexpected attention that Chihayafuru drew to the card game karuta, in turn drew attention to the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu with which the game is traditionally played. Hence, Utakoi, which is adapted from a manga that looks at the stories behind the poems of this particular collection, compiled by Fujiwara no Teika.

One thing that amused me: most of the adults never ‘aged’. Teika was actually in his late 30s when he was supposedly liaising with Princess Shokushi, and ~70 when he finished compiling the Hyakunin Isshu!

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Sakamichi no Apollon: the curse of noitaminA strikes again?

Don’t you love those musical notes and symbols?

When it was announced that Watanabe Shinichirou and Kanno Youko would be teaming up again for the first time since Cowboy Bebop, and for a series centered around jazz, parts of the Western anime fandom exploded in reverent anticipation. Whilst Kanno has remained quite prominent as an anime music composer, Watanabe has only directed a handful of shows over the years, and English-speaking fans were understandably excited about the prospect of another series that could go down in history. However, when it was confirmed that Apollon would only have the standard 12 episodes of the noitaminA block, fear and disappointment replaced those formerly positive emotions. There was no way that the manga’s 9 volumes could fit into just 12 episodes, right?

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Norwegian Wood (ノルウェイの森): my first taste of Murakami on film

“I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me…
She showed me her room, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood?”

Norwegian Wood. Named after the Beatles song released in the 1960s. That’s also when the story is set, at the start of the Vietnam war, with the Japanese public up in arms over Okinawa being used as a base from which American forces were being launched. (It wasn’t subbed, but you could hear the protesters yelling something like “return Okinawa!” in the background.) But in the middle of all that upheaval, ‘ordinary’ people just kept trying to cope with life and love. And for Watanabe and Naoko, with heartbreak and death.

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Katanagatari: Truth, Lies, and History

Repeat a lie often enough and it will be believed.

Often misattributed in various incarnations to Vladamir Lenin or Joseph Goebbels, there is no official source for this statement. It is, however, an interesting way of interpreting “official” history. Another way to put it would be

History is written by the victors.

There is a difference between the two both in reality and in Katanagatari. The latter is what Shikizaki Kiki sought to accomplish, but the former is the fate that ultimately befell Togame.

Needless to say, spoilers ahead.

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In memory of 2010 part 9: the Best of the Rest

Where I speak of the shows that had their moments, but which don’t stand out completely in one way or another. A mixture of characters and couples, and scenes that I will watch again and again long after today.



Honestly, forget about the plot. The insane characters are what make this show, especially the cute and perverted ones we see here.

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Review: A Voyage Long and Strange

“What happened in North America between Columbus’s sail in 1492 and the Pilgrims’ arrival in 1620? ” Tony Horwitz notes that most Americans – including himself before he started working on this title – have little idea, having grown up believing that their country started when the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. And in a 464 page tome, Horwitz proceeds to fill in the missing 16th century by tracing the journeys of the early explorers across the land called America.

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