gwalla: (wryyyyyyyyy!)
Everybody loves sailor suits! )
gwalla: (wryyyyyyyyy!)
I love you, Hanzi Smatter.

Words to the unwise:

"New Rule: Just because your tattoo has Chinese characters in it doesn't make you spiritual. It's right above the crack of your ass. And it translates to 'beef with broccoli.' The last time you did anything spiritual, you were praying to God you weren't pregnant. You're not spiritual. You're just high." - Bill Maher

Seth MacFarlane and Red vs. Blue agree.
gwalla: (Default)
I'd been wanting to see a live taiko performance for a long time, so when I found that the S.F. Taiko Dojo was selling tickets to the U.S.-Japan Taiko Festival I snapped up a few when I went to the Cherry Blossom Festival last weekend. So this Saturday I took my folks to it, and had a blast

Taiko, if you're not aware, is a Japanese form of ensemble drumming. It also includes some elements of dance, with stylized swings of the drumsticks, and players sometimes moving from drum to drum. It had actually become neglected in its country of origin (it was traditionally an art of the lower classes, and therefore never gained the esteem and preservational interest given to, say, the koto), until grandmaster Seiichi Yahata moved to San Francisco and founded the S.F. Taiko Dojo, basically rescuing the art form from destruction. The S.F. Taiko Dojo's touring and advocacy rekindled interest in taiko in Japan, and since then many groups have been formed, including some who tour worldwide such as Kodo and Soh Daiko. It uses a wide array of drums and percussion instruments, including a pipe-like cylindrical bell, a marimba-like instrument, frame drums, and small tom-tom-like drums, but is most closely associated with very large drums: an ensemble will typically have several kettledrum-sized drums, and a very large two-headed drum that frequently takes center stage and can be played by two people at once. A taiko group going full-tilt can make one hell of a noise.

First up was Akita Tensho Taiko, an all-female(!) taiko group from Akita Prefecture. They were quite good. Then the S.F. Taiko Dojo did a very high-energy set of three pieces, including a new composition by grandmaster Seiichi Tanaka, and a Japanese-style lion dance by a lion dance master (who was a riot to watch). I was a little disappointed that they didn't do their big number, Tsunami. After an intermission, they had a performance by asian new age superstar Kitaro on bamboo flute backed by synthsizer. The flute playing was good but over-amplified, and overdrive did not improve the tone. The synth was better when it sounded like an asian string instrument rather than generic synth washes. Part of that set included additional backing by Yahata on a frame drum and the lion dancer on Buddhist bells, and a butoh dancer. That part, frankly, nearly put me to sleep. The dancer had a neat costume and makeup, at least. After that, the Taiko Dojo returned for a final piece, which was Tsunami. I should have realized that they weren't done since the big drum was on the side of the stage but had not yet been used. They dedicated the performance to the victims and survivors of recent natural disasters, including of course the hurricanes in the gulf states, the south asian tsunami, and earthquakes in the middle east. It absolutely brought down the house. Even Kitaro got a guest solo on the big drum—while his movements were clearly not as graceful as the regular drummers, his sense of rhythm was surprisingly good, and he really pounded that thing. I didn't know he had it in him. Afterwards, the performers were given plaques commemorating the event (although the Akita group did not come out for theirs for some reason). While leaving the theater, my dad commented that Tsunami made him want to "tear something down or build something up". It made me want to go to a taiko group and take classes, because it looks like a blast.

I thought that the performance was going to end at 10, but fortunately the Cherry Blossom Festival schedule was wrong about it and it ended earlier, which gave us time to get some dinner (theater popcorn doesn't cut it). We went to a Juban, a Japanese BBQ (actually pretty indistinguishable from Korean BBQ) place on the ground floor of the Kinokuniya building. The food was excellent, capping off a great night of entertainment.

Sunday morning I got up early (well, early for a Sunday), still unsure whether I wanted to go to the final day of the Cherry Blossom Festival or to the first ever Language Creation Conference at Cal. I planned to go to the conference, stay for maybe the first talk, then take BART to SF and see the parade, and finally BART back and catch the last bit of the conference. However: I'd stupidly left my camera on and drained the batteries, and no place carrying that kind of battery was open that early; it was rather dreary out, which made the parade seem a lot less appealing; that plan would have involved spending a lot of time I could have been at either event riding around on or waiting for public transit, which seemed like a waste; I'd probably miss the kendo performance anyway; and frankly the first couple of talks were so interesting that I didn't want to leave. So I wrote off the Cherry Blossom Festival parade and just spent the whole day at the conlang con. I don't regret it, either (there's always next year for the festival—but I do really want to see it sometime).

The real highlights of the conference were Sally Caves (creator of Teonaht, and also Star Trek character Reginald Barclay) talking about conlanging and the Internet, Ithkuil creator John Quijada (who looks like he could be The Rock's older, less-athletic brother) talking about cognitive linguistics and how ideas from it can be applied to conlanging, David "too many conlangs to name" Peterson's introduction to word-and-paradigm morphology (which more or less abandons the entire concept of morphemes in favor of relations between words), and lojbanist John E. Clifford's introduction to the concept of semantic primes. Clifford's talk was quite a bit more interesting than I expected, since I don't normally mess with philosophical languages, but he made a good case for its applicability to all conlangs, especially with regards to teaching them. Matt Pearson's talk on cases and argument structure—actually more on using cases for things other than just labelling the participants in an event, through split ergativity and such—was also interesting but I was running out of gas by that point. All of the talks were good, really. The only problem was that Jeff Burke, who was scheduled to give a talk on diachronic linguistics and conlanging (which sounded interesting) never showed and was unreachable on his cel phone.

Quijada's and Peterson's talks were particularly interesting, because the things they were talking about were totally new to me, and were about things going on "under the hood" of language, which among other things make sense of seeming irregularities or at least make them easier to deal with. For example, Quijada talked about how English uses the preposition "out" for both "the fire went out" and "the sun came out", even though they have opposite results (after the one, you cannot see the fire, but after the other, you can see the sun), and why. And while I'm still rather attached to morphemes (and have been known to invoke the dreaded "null morpheme" on occasion), I can see how word-and-paradigm can in some cases make things easier to explain. I'll have to play around with it a bit. It helps that both of them are very engaging public speakers.
gwalla: (domoslide)
Spider-Man and His Giant Sword-Wielding Robot meet El Mariachi
gwalla: (shit)
Comics betray growing xenophobia in Japan: Increased strength of South Korea, China fuels backlash

A pair of manga, one of which claims that "there is nothing at all in Korean culture to be proud of" while the other calls China a "world prostitution superpower" obsessed with cannibalism (?!), have become runaway bestsellers. The publisher is surprised with how popular they have become, but nobody seems particularly concerned.

The Hating the Korean Wave series began as a webcomic on the artist's site.

More fun from the nation that brought you Nida. I guess since their constitution forbids them from declaring war, they have to goad their neighbors into attacking first.
gwalla: (lon chaney)
Cry for the moooon!
gwalla: (lon chaney)
You've seen all those tattoos, T-shirts, and decorative wall hangings with Chinese characters that supposedly mean "love", "courage", "dragon", etc. Now find out what they really mean.

I want a tattoo that says "hand warmer and air conditioner"...

gwalla: (magma)
The existing systems of romanizing Japanese are unsatisfactory: Hepburn doesn't map directly to kana, Kunrei-shiki and Nihon-shiki's pronunciation is not obvious to non-natives (the primary users of rōmaji), waapuro is an anything-goes mess, and JSL is just odd. So, I've come up with my own solution, that I believe incorporates the best aspects of all of them. The advantages:
  • Pronunciation is unambiguous. There is only one case where the pronunciation the spelling suggests to a naïve speaker isn't really correct, but it's rare and close enough to be minor.
  • There is a direct mapping to and from kana.
  • Pitch accent—which can be phonologically salient—is marked, like JSL but unlike all other systems (including kana).
  • Can be written entirely in the Latin-1 character set.
  • A standard way of spelling a trailing small tsu.
  • Marking for rendaku
The latter two are not found in any of the other systems.

Of course, there are disadvantages:
  • That one case where the spelling doesn't precisely suggest the proper pronunciation.
  • Since it differentiates between homophonous kana, the spelling can not always be unambiguously determined from pronunciation by a naïve listener; however, the simpler spelling is usually the correct one.
  • Unlike NS and KS, it is not strictly "one consonant, one letter". I'm not sure if that's really much of a disadvantage at all, frankly.
  • Some verb conjugations seem slightly irregular. It shares this problem with Hepburn, but it seems to be a necessary compromise for good naïve pronunciation. And since kana are usually taught in organized rows and columns, I don't think it's much of a stumbling block.
The rules )

Ghibli

Jun. 27th, 2005 10:15 am
gwalla: (king crimson finger)
Should've done this back on the 14th, but oh well...

So, yeah, I saw Howl's Moving Castle. And I really enjoyed it. It's not as good as Spirited Away, I thought, but still definitely worth watching. The great animation and beautiful visuals you'd expect from a Miyazaki production. Unfortunately, the story isn't all that cohesive.

The movie is about a girl named Sophie who works in a hat shop in a sort of pastoral yet industrialized (there are trains and, as always with Miyazaki, flying machines) European neverland. There is a war brewing between the kingdom where she lives and a neighboring one, as the neighboring kingdom's prince has gone missing and blame is being thrown around. An encounter with a handsome young man with magical powers leads to a chase by creepy black amoeboid monsters sent by "the Witch of the Wastes". That night, Sophie encounters the Witch herself, who curses her, turning her into an old woman and preventing her from telling anyone about it. The next day, Sophie leaves town and walks into the wastes to look for magical help. She finds a turnip-headed and animate (but mute) scarecrow, and sneaks into the walking mechanical castle of the infamous wizard Howl, who is said to "eat the hearts of beautiful girls". Inside, she finds a little fire-spirit named Calcifer (voice of Billy Crystal, who fortunately does not ham it up more than necessary) who powers the castle. She also meets Howl's boy apprentice, Markl, who she convinces to let her stay as a cleaning lady. Howl—the young man from before—returns, and detects that she is cursed, but allows her to stay.

Howl at first seems unflappable, but he turns out to be somewhat childish and self-centered. At one point, he accidentally swallows a potion that changes his hair color because Sophie rearranged his potions, and throws a magical temper tantrum because he's now "ugly", oozing gallons of green slime all over the place. Typical for Miyazaki, there are no real villains (even the Witch of the Waste isn't all bad, just selfish); the real "enemies" are more abstract.

<SPOILERS (highlight to read)>You'd think the main story arc would be about returning Sophie to her proper age, but that kind of takes care of itself. The curse is reminiscent of Marco's in Porco Rosso, which fades when he behaves heroically rather than as a "pig". The actual climax of the film is the solution to something we didn't even know was a problem until well into the movie, and the ending doesn't really explain how some things are apparently fixed, leaving some loose threads even as one thread that had been in the background for a while is suddenly tied up from out of nowhere.</SPOILERS>

Four stars. Joe Bob says check it out.

The trailers I saw were a mixed bag. My mom cringed throughout the preview for Pride and Prejudice (starring Kiera "Lips" Knightly), which seems to have entirely missed the point of the book. Valiant seems like Chicken Run minus the wit, and Chicken Little is going for the Madagascar "throw pop references at the screen until something sticks" brand of desperate humor: the trailer even ends with an agonizing ripoff of Napoleon Dynamite's dance, which goes on way too long before Chicken Little is squished by a bit of falling sky. Those two together highlight that Disney learned exactly the wrong lessons from Pixar's success: instead of "people will go to see well-written animated movies with heart", all they got was "computer generated = moneyz". On the other hand, Sky High (which sounded lame on paper) actually looks like it could be a lot of fun, sort of a flip side to The Incredibles (it's live action, but the difference seems more a matter of degree than of kind). And March of the Penguins, a nature documentary, looks good too (it helps that baby penguins are adorable).

Just today I saw Isao Takahata's My Neighbors the Yamadas today with my mom, part of the Pacific Film Archive's Art of Studio Ghibli series. I'd seen it before (on the small screen) but she hadn't. We were laughing like mad. Think a Japanese equivalent of The Simpsons, but with the Ghibli charm: a modern, dysfunctional family ("Yamada" is the Japanese equivalent of "Jones") muddling through life despite themselves. It's based on a popular comic strip, and is done in a very simple style, but is very visually inventive: a bobsled run turns into a wedding cake, the family on a boat during a storm (a visual metaphor for life's challenges) references Hokusai's famous Great Wave at Kanagawa woodblock print, and an encounter with a motorcycle gang is suddenly rendered in a realistic style to highlight the seriousness and danger.  It's episodic, but not aimless; it builds to a satisfying conclusion. The segments are punctuated by famous haiku, sometimes ironically and sometimes with real relevance. It doesn't really require much knowledge of Japanese culture to enjoy (everyone can get the bit where the family is arguing, and young daughter Nonoko starts crying—Mrs. Yamada: "See, not in front of the children!" Nonoko: "*sob* I can't hear the TV!"), but it references Japanese culture (both contemporary and traditional) enough that there's no way it'd get a wide release in America. See it if you get the chance.
gwalla: (lon chaney)

Nullpo!

Jun. 15th, 2005 03:50 pm
gwalla: (domoslide)
ぬるぽ!
gwalla: (magma)
Found this through Neil Gaiman's blog (well, the [livejournal.com profile] officialgaiman LJ RSS feed specifically): photos of an abandoned amusement park. (Page is in Japanese but it hardly matters)

The rusted rollercoaster tracks sticking up out of the fog have a creepy, skeletal quality.
gwalla: (lon chaney)
Today I went to the Japantown Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco, and had a grand old time. It's a big street fair, on three streets. They had a band playing at a stage on one end, and let me tell you, you haven't lived until you've seen a bunch of old Japanese ladies in traditional kimono and geisha makeup dancing to "She's a Brick House". Had a couple of cups of sake, an unagi bento (yum!), some takoyaki, a baked sweet potato, and a little pancake thing stuffed with azuki bean paste with a name I've forgotten. Up at the peace pavillion they had some women's chorus (along with a cute keyboard player), and later a demonstration by some karate dojo with a troupe of kids. I signed up for a chance to win a trip to Vegas to see some big Sumo competition. They also had an anime viewing room in the Kinokuniya building, where they were playing Soul Calibur 2 and Marvel vs. Capcom as well as showing Macross Zero. Since I haven't seen any M0 since the last (probably in both senses of the word) Northern California Boardies Anime Night, I couldn't remember if it was a part I'd seen before or not. I signed their petition to have more anime showings in Japantown Center.

After I got home and had dinner, my folks and I went to see Kung Fu Hustle. Holy. Fucking. Shit. The trailer does not prepare you for how insane that movie is. It's not just over the top, it's over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house we go, over the rainbow, in a galaxy far, far away. The beginning was a little too graphically violent for my mom, but after that it just becomes silly as hell. There are all sorts of references to other movies. Not just kung fu flicks (although the fat old landlady in curlers doing Bruce Lee's silent hand-gesture threat is a riot), but Spider-Man, The Matrix, and even The Shining. There's also some very Looney Tunes inspired sequences. The whole theater was roaring with laughter. The CG effects are a little crude (the seams are definitely showing), but the fakeness kind of adds to the affect. Highly recommended.
gwalla: (lon chaney)
I've just discovered (in the Christopher Columbus sense, as in other people were already aware of it) a really excellent manga called Death Note. Here's the premise:
There exists a world other than this one, in which creatures called Shinigami (lit. "gods of death") live. Each shinigami has a notebook that he carries around with him, called a Death Note. With a Death Note, it is possible to kill anyone as long as you know their name and face, simply by writing their name in the book. It's also possible to specify the time and circumstances (as long as they're possible) with the Death Note; not doing so causes a death by heart attack.

One shinigami named Ryuuku, bored with his world, accidentally-on-purpose loses his Death Note (complete with instructions) in the human world, where it's found by a brilliant high school student named Yagami Raito. Raito discovers its power, and decides to clean up the world by eliminating all of the bad people (criminals in particular). Ryuuku, who Raito can see because he touched the Death Note, tags along as a sort of observer (but not exactly ally).

Rumors begin to circulate that the unexplained rash of heart attacks among criminals is due to some sort of god, which people start calling Kira. Interpol, alarmed (but conflicted) by these strange events, assigns their best detective to the case, a mysterious man known only as "L". With Interpol, the police, and others investigating, Raito starts to kill to keep people off of his trail. Soon it's turned into a game of mutual cat-and-mouse, with Raito and L each trying to uncover the other's identity in order to stop him, without revealing his own...
It's not too often that you see a anime or manga series centered around a full-on antihero—usually the closest you get is an "antisocial hero", tragic hero, or sympathetic villain. But Raito is the real deal: although he starts out ostensibly to "create a better society", his "ends justify the means" attitude borders on the sociopathic, and he's soon "sacrificing" innocent people (some of whom you get to know and like beforehand) to protect himself and feeling less and less remorse. Ryuuku is no help; he's basically amoral, and concerned mainly with his own entertainment. L, our antagonist, is to a degree sympathetic but, well, kind of strange.

While it's presented as a shonen manga (it originally ran in Shonen Jump), there is very little overt action as you'd expect, especially as it involves death and supernatural powers. But the Death Note's ability to kill at a distance means that most (but not all!) deaths occur "off screen" , and it feels more like a seinen. Most of the plot happens in Raito's internal monologue and conversations with the ever-present Ryuuku, and, later, in L's internal monologue and conversations with his police allies. The primarily internal nature of the narrative reminds me of Kobo Abe's work, particularly The Face of Another.

The art is very good, with a semi-realistic style that falls somewhere between Ryuichi Ikegami and Katsuhiro Otomo. Very clean linework. And ladies, Raito is definitely on the bishy side.

You can get English scanlations here. Each file is a zip containing an entire volume of the manga. The "pilot" is pretty good, but unnecessary, as it's mostly unrelated to the plot of the main series (as far as I can tell—I haven't finished the series yet); start with the first volume (chapters 1-10).

Good stuff.
gwalla: (lon chaney)
Ômoto-kyo, the Shinto sect (with Taoist influences) that Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba was a member of, considers Esperanto inventor L. L. Zamenhof to be a deity.
gwalla: (evil mickey)
Case in point: Cthulhu-tan.

Yes, a cute little anime girl version of Cthulhu. Along with several other Lovecraftian chibi girls.

Warning: not everything on that page is worksafe (although most is hardly titillating unless you're a pedo freak). The image under CG marked "new" in particular will make you claw your own eyes out. I'm typing this with the aid of a screen reader.

In other anime-cutesy news, figurines of the OS Girls are available for purchase. There is also a dedicated OS-tan  image board on the English-language Wakachan site (risen from the ashes of iichan).
gwalla: (evil mickey)
Azumanga Ringu! )

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