Daibutsu, Kamakura

Daibutsu, Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura, June 2010. There were thousands of school kids visiting that day. It was still great fun.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Death Trance

In an unknown place and unknown time, a master Samurai known only by the name of Grave (Tak Sakaguchi) searches for the ultimate battle. Never showing fear for any fight, Grave is the one and only swordsman able to steal the mysterious and legendary coffin from the holy Tougan Temple. In this world without reason, a young girl from the temple grounds follows Grave and the coffin wherever they may go. And so begins the deadly race to re-capture the coffin and its hidden power from Grave for good or evil. DEATH TRANCE embodies a mix of the modern Samurai movie with highly stylized post-apocalyptic MAD MAX cinematography. Filmed amongst the ancient ruins of rural Japan, DEATH TRANCE depicts non-stop battles between sword and gun, mortal & immortal, myth and reality within a stark desert and forbidden forest. In the end, will destruction win or hope prevail?

This movie was released in 2005 and includes actor Kentaro Seagal, Steven Seagal's son, so that might give you an idea about this movie. Unfortunately for Kentaro he has inherited not only his fathers acting ability but his father's hairline as well. But we only have to endure him in the opening scenes of the movie. I want to say it's a bad movie, but although it was a little slow, and the acting was pretty bad, and the dialogue was silly, it was actually strangely interesting. There is not much of a plot, either that or I missed it. But there was a lot of kung fu type fight scenes with a mix of the Matrix-type flying martial arts moves, most of it taking place in an eerie forest haunted by strange creatures and zombie-like monsters. Grave drags the coffin around the forest only to have it stolen by others who proceed to drag it around, all the while the coffin is followed by a small child no matter who has the coffin. Not sure who the child is or why she follows it around all the time, just another one of the odd aspects of this movie. But probably the oddest was when one of the crazy dudes in the forest came after Grave on a motocross bike. Hmmm? However, I will say that if you are looking for a movie with not much plot but just want to see a wacky Japanese movie with a bunch of decent fight sequences and a handful of pretty bizarre but somewhat interesting scenes (especially the final fight scene), then this is not a bad movie. Especially with a few beers and a bowl of popcorn.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Oneechanbara: The Movie

The movie adaptation of the hit Onechanbara video game series! In the year 20XX, scientifically created zombies roam the world in record numbers. Despite this, Aya is determined to track down her father's killer, a person who was once close to her. With sword in hand and wearing nothing but her trademark bikini and cowboy hat, she sets off to settle the score. Aya is joined on her path to vengeance by the chubby Katsuji and the gun-toting Reika. Together, they hack, slash, and shoot their way through a sea of the undead to reach the final showdown with a mad scientist and the destined duel with Aya's own sister.

This 2008 movie was mildly entertaining. What was interesting was how Aya and her sister had some sort of matrix-like superpowers but these powers were never explained. Also unexplained is why Aya battles zombies while wearing a bikini and cowboy hat. Of course I am not complaining. Aya, who destroys zombies with some sort of magical samurai sword, eventually joins up with another zombie battling female armed with a mini shotgun that amazingly never runs out of ammunition. Must be a magical shot gun I guess. Aya's new partner chose to wear a slightly more useful leather outfit. Another humorous aspect is how Aya's skills are truly tested when she has to face a kung fu fighting zombie. I've never seen a zombie with sweet martial arts moves before so it was definitely entertaining. There was a final flaming, crouching tiger/matrix-like fight scene which wasn't too bad. Unfortunately no clothing was inadvertently torn off in the fight however.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The "Edo way" consumed less

Edo way consumed less: book | The Japan Times Online:

Here is an interesting article from the Japan Times. The article is about a book from author Azby Brown, a professor at Kanazawa Institute of Technology. The book describes how conservation techniques from the late Edo Period (1603-1868) can be emulated today.

"The lifestyle of people in Japan around 200 years ago, which was guided by the principle of consuming less, would help to create a sustainable society in the 21st century, an American expert on Japanese architecture said."

Brown states that people in the Edo Period overcame many of the same problems confronting present-day society — issues of energy, water, materials, food and population — in unique ways.

One of the points that Brown makes which I completely agree with is how in the United States, most Americans live in homes that are far larger then they actually need.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Shrinking Japan

Most of you are probably aware of Japan's impending population decline and it's rapidly aging society. You may have heard of some of the serious threats from this decline such as depopulating rural areas, a pyramid pension system on the road to collapse, a shrinking economy.

If you have not heard of this issue or not thought too much about it, I recommend you read this excellent blog article from Spike Japan. It's a long post but well worth the time as it does an excellent job of describing Japan's population problem from the point of view of rural Hokkaido.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Hanzo the Razor: Who's Got the Gold?

The last entry in the chanbara trilogy about Hanzo "The Razor" Itami again stars Shintaro Katsu as the samurai constable who lives and plays by his set of rules. Part three finds Hanzo trying to ferret out the person who's filching newly minted gold coins from the treasury. Though the path to the perpetrator is long and labyrinthine, Hanzo wields his sharp-edged saber -- and his sexual virility -- to bring the culprit to justice.

In this final chapter in the trilogy, Hanzo discovers a female ghost who is protecting hidden gold at the bottom of a lake. But hey, this is Hanzo "the Razor" and no ghost is gonna stop him from gettin to the bottom of the truth, especially a female ghost if you know what I mean. Once again, Hanzo uses his special interrogation techniques on the ladies, including the female ghost. Not only does this film have female ghosts, it has corrupt loan sharking Buddhist monks as well. Although not as bloody as the second film in the trilogy, this final installment still fulfilled all of my expectations of a Hanzo movie including his trademark interrogation skills, unique training techniques to "toughen" his member up, good sword fights including a great final duel, bumbling assistants, and an intriguing mystery that takes all of Hanzo's unique skills and abilities to solve. This is an excellent conclusion to a very entertaining and very unique samurai trilogy. This is one samurai series that I wish there were more than three episodes.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

For Japan's cellphone novelists, proof of success is in the print - latimes.com

For Japan's cellphone novelists, proof of success is in the print - latimes.com: "One teenager who wrote a three-volume novel on her phone has gone on to sell more than 110,000 paperback copies, grossing more than $611,000 in sales."

Now we know why some people are constantly on their keitai and never look up, they are busy writing a novel.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Ballad: Na mo naki koi no uta

When the young boy Shinichi runs away from his life problems and fears, he goes to an old tree next to a Buddhist Jizo statue to pray for courage. The next thing he knows, he is appears in the feudal Japan of the samurai in the domain of Kasuga during the Sengoku (Warring States) era, in the midst of a battle. Here he befriends a famous samurai called the Demon Ijiri. Ijiri is feared in battle, but he proves to be a less successful lover. He has been in love with Princess Ren since his youth who has loved him in return, rebuking offers of marriage in the hopes of marrying for love. When the powerful and feared Lord Takatura asks for her hand in marriage, she dares not refuse him for the safety of her domain. Shinichi's family begins searching him where they also travel to the past and find him in Kasuga, but with them they bring shocking news to the domain leaders. The Kasuga domain had never been recorded in history, and their enduring battles with other clans were seemingly fruitless. In light of this news, Princess Ren is relinquished of her duty to marry the formidable Lord Takatura. Ijiri is overjoyed, as is the Princess Ren. Yet Lord Takatura is unaccustomed to rejection, and his rage results in a fearsome battle.

I watched this movie on a February 1st 2010 flight from Los Angeles to Japan. The movie stars Tsuyoshi Kusanagi who is a member of the popular Japanese pop group SMAP and also stars in the female lead Yui Aragaki who is also a famous model and singer. I love samurai movies and, although this was not the average sounding samurai flick with the time travel and all, it sounded interesting enough to watch. Well, it turned out to be pretty cheesy. I will give you a good example from the movie of how cheesy it is. Shinichi's parent's travel back in time to find there missing son and they travel to the past in their sport utility vehicle where they proceed to drive it around the feudal Sengoku landscape. The classic cheesy scene is when Shinichi and his parents help Ijiri fight Takatura when they blast their off-road vehicle through a great samurai battle between Ijiri's and Takatura's forces. It was pretty silly. There is one short but decent samurai battle scene near the beginning of the movie but the last battle with the car driving around was a complete joke.

Monday, February 08, 2010

I'm Back

Back from where you ask? Back from Japan. I had to travel to Japan unexpectedly last week and I just returned to the United States yesterday. There is not much for me to say about the trip but it was cold and it snowed a lot in Tochigi. I forgot my camera which sucks because at Narita on Sunday, there was an incredible sunset. From the terminal you could see the sun setting just to the left of Mount Fuji so Fuji was illuminated from behind with orange and gold light, quite amazing and too bad I did not have my camera to take what would have been an awesome photo. Oh well. Good to be back in warm California.