February 16, 2017

The relationship intensity curve


My grand unified theory of Japanese psychology and sociology is that Japanese society strongly favors introversion over extroversion. What many in the west see as Japanese oddness often comes down to extroverts puzzling about why they don't understand introverts.

For the introvert, the "Relationship" can be such a burden that the "one and done" mentality takes hold. "I so do not want to have to go through this again" + "I am so glad I'm through with the dating scene" = "This is my one true love!" A sunk cost rationalization for "All this effort must pay off!"

Sheldon Cooper being a case in point. It's exhausting enough to watch, let alone live through.

Another explanation points to a pretty consistent finding that emerges when the subject is explored with Japanese-Japanese and Japanese-American couples, at least on the pop psychology shows I've seen: the difference in what might be called the "relationship intensity curve."

In the "typical" Japanese relationship, the "passion" peaks early on and regresses to the mean more quickly. "Maintenance mode" is achieved in fairly short order compared to the "typical" western romance, which is supposed to just keep on going and going with lots of smoldering emotions.

In man-on-the-street interviews for a show I saw recently, less than one-in-five couples said they worked at "keeping the romance alive." The majority obviously thought it too tiring to realistically consider, and some said so aloud. Marriage is about comfort and convenience.

Not a never-ending Valentine's Day. The relationship between Sarek and Amanda in "Journey to Babel" on the original Star Trek may well approach the ideal (for Sheldon Cooper too).

Maybe the whole thing parallels the way high school in Japan establishes a kind of static social template while in the U.S. a teenager is expected to start climbing the social heights in high school and keep going all the way through college and well into his thirties.

These days, the big problem is that too many Japanese happily bench themselves after striking out a couple of times. No "long haul" for them. (As a certified introvert, let me tell you that this is perfectly normal behavior.)

Working at seeming odds with this phenomenon is the divorce rate. Although divorce has been legal in Japan since medieval times, the whole "gay divorcee" thing never took hold. People aren't supposed to go into marriage contemplating an out: "Well, if A doesn't work out, there's always B."

Be it a "confession," a "first kiss," or marriage, you're supposed to be all-in. Despite the fact that filing for a divorce is easy in Japan: in the case of "no fault" (90-plus percent of the time), both parties sign a form and file it with the family court. Done.

Alimony as understood in the west doesn't exist in Japan. A divorce is typically settled with a one-time payment. Maybe one year's salary and that's it. Child support, yes, but good luck getting a court order enforced if the non-custodial parent "forgets" to pay or moves away.

Still, it's common for working women to quit for an extended period (or permanently) once they get married and have their first child. Again, they're all-in on the cultural expectations. And from the raw statistics it seems to "work": the divorce rate is significantly lower in Japan.

This kind of headline is not at all uncommon: "PreCure Singer Mayu Kudo Announces Retirement Due to Marriage" at the age of thirty.

And nobody (aside from the activist fringe) pitches a fit decrying the terribleness of women who makes such decisions, or the terribleness of society for "forcing" them to. As a 2013 government survey revealed, such expectations don't come out of nowhere.

One in three young Japanese women wants to get married and be a full-time housewife, a government survey has showed, despite growing calls for increased female participation in the workforce.

Then again, with total fertility at 1.41 and the population dropping in absolute terms, marriage alone isn't enough. Maybe a little red-hot romance is called for, after all.

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February 09, 2017

Justice for all (Japanese)


I don't think it a stretch to say that Japan's sakoku ("national isolation") period from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century never really ended. It just lightened up a bit (after Matthew Perry and Douglas MacArthur took turns prying it open with the crowbar of military might).

The U.S. remains one of only two countries Japan has a formal extradition treaty with (the other being South Korea). But even that distinction can prove fairly meaningless, especially when it comes to civil matters and white-collar crime in particular.

For example, in divorce cases involving a foreign national, Japanese family courts will almost inevitably favor the Japanese party, regardless of what ruling a foreign court may hand down (which occasions no little bitterness on the part of divorced foreign nationals).

Following WWII, the Occupation forced the dissolution of the family-controlled vertical monopolies called zaibatsu. However, the zaibatsu soon reassembled themselves as the ostensibly more benign keiretsu.

During the economic boom times of the 1950s and 1960s, nobody on either side of the Pacific cared. But then came the rise of the Japanese auto industry and the fall of Detroit. U.S. law, in the form of the Sherman Antitrust Act, frowns on the keiretsu concept, especially in the auto parts industry.

The National Law Review reports that since 2010, "More than 30 companies [auto parts industry] have pleaded guilty to antitrust violations and paid approximately $2.4 billion in criminal fines." And while some guilty executives have "subjected themselves to U.S. jurisdiction,

Others appear to have taken the gamble that the DOJ will not be able to extradite them. In truth, it may not be such a bad gamble in light of the fact that the DOJ has yet to extradite a Japanese national for crimes committed under the Sherman Act [emphasis added].

Extradition treaty or no, Japan just isn't big on the concept for common criminals either. In an in-depth post on the subject, the Turning Japanese website wryly observes that,

An additional "benefit" of becoming legally Japanese [and being a Japanese citizen] is that you're protected (so long as you're on Japanese territory) from facing the justice system of other counties. If you do commit a serious crime overseas, and are arrested in Japan, you will face the courts of Japan and face punishment inside Japan.

What wrongdoers will face in Japan is the equivalent of the "village stocks" from Colonial days.


Public acts of contrition are de rigueur for public officials and titans of industry who get caught doing the wrong thing (or wrong things happening under their watch). Japan doesn't have "show trials" (no cameras in the courtroom during the trial). They do have "show apologies."

It's a very pro forma ritual. The guilty Pooh-Bahs, dressed like they're attending a funeral, stand in front of a swarm of reporters and television cameras and bow deeply. It's the Japanese version of the "perp walk."

Sony executives apologize for the 2011 PlayStation data breach.

After which it's common for the guilty parties to disappear from sight until they have "repented." In Japan, prison sentences across the board are spartan and severe (bail and parole are rare) but far shorter than in the U.S. (For truly heinous crimes, the death penalty is still applied.)

Essentially, they are metaphorically banished to Mount Koya.

Mt. Koya is renown as the home of the Buddhist Shingon sect (if you're in Osaka, it's worth a day trip). For a millennium it was also where defeated warlords and disgraced officials could "retire" instead of losing their heads. (And it's the setting for Serpent of Time.)

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February 02, 2017

The Wile E. Coyote Slinky


There's a scene in every Wile E. Coyote cartoon where he scampers pell-mell off the edge of a cliff. Still running in mid-air, he hangs there in space for a couple of seconds with that "Oh, crap!" look on his face before plummeting to the ground.


Well, that same effect can be duplicated with a Slinky.


The "Newtonian illusion" here is that our brains treat the top and bottom of the Slinky as a single object, rather than as two separate parts of an "information system."

The information that the top end has been dropped can't propagate down the Slinky any faster than the speed of sound in the Slinky (the speed at which waves propagate down it), so there's a delay before the bottom end "knows" it's been dropped. But it's surprising to see how long the delay is.

My common sense tells me the top and bottom of the Slinky are accelerating towards the center of mass at the same time the center of mass is accelerating downward. The bottom of the Slinky won't move until the center of mass catches up with it.

Looking at the video, though, the "information theory" explanation makes sense (even if it doesn't make any common sense) because the bottom of the Slinky simply isn't moving.

Likewise, gymnastics wouldn't be so physically and aesthetically compelling if we only saw the gymnast's bouncing center of mass, and not the gymnast's body rotating around the center of mass.

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January 26, 2017

The toast of Japan


Ah, the heroine in a hurry running out of the house with a piece of toast in her mouth. One of anime's tried and true tropes. Modern, fast, and tasty, toast is the ideal breakfast substitute for a girl on the go.


The category of "breakfast cereal" never took hold in Japan. A supermarket may stock a few boxes but not an entire aisle. The whole idea of a "sweet" breakfast is recent too. A "traditional" breakfast might include fish and rice and miso soup and natto (the grossest food ever).


On the culinary cultural spectrum, natto is at the opposite end of the scale as toast. A good many Japanese can't stand the stuff either. I would hazard that you see more natto eaten in television dramas than in real life because it just screams "old school" and fairly eccentric to boot.

French toast, on the other hand, is a dessert. As are pancakes. Both are somewhat exotic and yet easy to make. And so can be endlessly modified without much fear of failure. And, yes, there are countless French toast and pancake connoisseurs in Tokyo.

The daily melodrama series Toto Nee-chan devoted a week's worth of episodes on the magazine staff figuring out how to explain pancake-making to their readers in the late 1940s. In the end, a recipe wasn't enough. They had to use photographs, a real innovation at the time.

There is a simple and pragmatic reason for the popularity of French toast and pancakes. Few homes in Japan are equipped with the kind of kitchens that grace even the average apartment in the U.S. A full-sized oven is rare, counter space limited. Refrigerators are still small by comparison.

If they wanted, most Americans could make the dishes shown on America's Test Kitchen. Far fewer Japanese have the room for the basic equipment. A bakery is the only place where an enthusiastic baker can bake. And enthusiastic bakers are enthused over, as in Midnight Bakery.


And Ma're.


The typical cooking shows concentrate on the rice cooker, frying pan, sauce pan, microwave, and toaster oven. Somebody baking at home is probably using a countertop convection oven.

Here we get back to French toast (and pancakes): anybody can make it with the utensils and ingredients on hand.

The same goes for curry over rice (karee raisu), another visitor that's gone native. Curry rice is a 19th century import that seems older. The Japanese navy likely got the idea from the British navy (who got it from India), and universal conscription made it the national dish.


House Foods sold the first curry roux in 1926 and currently has a 60 percent market share. Their big seller going back to 1963 is "Vermont Curry." It is sweetened with apple paste, and apparently apples were associated with Vermont even in 1963.

Again, anybody can make curry anywhere with practically anything, as on all those anime school field trips.

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January 19, 2017

Regular Joe


Japanese are enthusiastic borrowers of English vocabulary. And if you are a girl, that includes English/European names. Off the top of my head:

Mary/Mari/Mariya
Anne/An/Anna
Lisa/Risa
June/Jun
May/Mei

Pretty much any name that conforms the rules of Japanese phonology can be transliterated directly (often with kanji equivalents), but popular names for boys are harder to come by. While June/Jun is quite popular, John/Jan/Jon is rare.

Dan and Benji/Ben qualify, though the latter is avoided because ben is also the kanji for bathroom.

Eugene/Yuujin passes muster. And if you're Russian, Yuri/Yuri/Yuri (a boy's and a girl's name in Japanese). Hence the anime Yuri on Ice, which has the titular character competing against a Russian skater with the same name.

The most recognizable boy's name in this category is probably Ken, as in the actors Ken Takakura and Ken Watanabe.

And then there's good old Joe.

Joe (Jou or Jō) is pronounced the same in Japanese and is a not-uncommon boy's name. The spelling "Joe" is often preferred by actors and artists who lived or are popular overseas, such as Joe Odagiri (小田切譲) and Joe Hisaishi (久石譲).

Joe Odagiri (above) studied at Fresno State. He reminds me a bit of of a young Robert Downey Jr. The Bug Master ("Mushi-shi") and Shinobi: Heart Under Blade are available from Netflix. If you're lucky, you might run across a showing of The Great Passage.

Joe Hisaishi is the stage name (derived from Quincy Jones) of the musician Mamoru Fujisawa. He composed the soundtracks for all of Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli films. And way over at the Quentin Tarantino end of the entertainment spectrum, for several Beat Takeshi films.

Odagiri and Hisaishi use the same kanji (譲) for their first name, which means "modesty."

Probably the most famous "Joe" in Japanese popular culture is Joe Yabuki, from the classic boxing series Ashita no Joe. The kanji for his name (丈) means "stout-hearted."

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January 12, 2017

Moore's law illustrated (II)


From PC Magazine in the early 1980s. Remember, these are kilo-bytes, one K being equal to 1024 bytes.


At the above prices, adjusted for inflation, 4 GB (giga-bytes) of RAM in 1982 would cost 22 million dollars and the memory card would be bigger than a regulation basketball court. Today 4 GB costs twenty bucks and is about the size of your thumb. Moore's law in action.


Thanks to giant magnetoresistance technology (GMR), which won its inventors the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics, the price/performance curve of hard disks has been no less staggering (also called Kryder's law).


Back in 1982, a 5 MB (mega-bytes) hard disk cost $1995. Accounting for inflation, $1995 compounds to $4975 in 2016 dollars. By comparison, a 500 GB hard disk today goes for one percent of the price, holds 100,000 times as much data, and is at least 1000 times faster.


As slow as those old 8088 and 80286 CPUs were, they often weren't slow enough. Back in the day, a figure you always checked on a computer's spec sheet was its wait states. That is, how long the CPU just sat there twiddling its thumbs waiting for other stuff to get done.

Related posts

Moore's law illustrated (I)
The accidental standard
MS-DOS at 30

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January 05, 2017

Holidays and Hanabi


If you want a job that cleans up on days off, work for the state department in a foreign country. When I was living in Osaka and confronted with the headache of filing taxes in the U.S. as well, I had to keep in mind that the American consulate was closed on U.S. and Japanese holidays.

Christmas isn't an "official" holiday in Japan. But it certainly is celebrated. It's turned into the U.S. equivalent of Valentine's Day, an excuse for couples to get all gooey over each other. In Japan, only guys get feted on Valentine's Day; White Day for girls is celebrated a month later.

(As you might imagine, guys get the better of the deal.)

Just about every holiday and local festival in Japan is accompanied by fireworks. Hanabi (花火) literally means "flower" + "fire."

Except on New Year's. At midnight on December 31, Buddhist temples ring their gong-like bells 108 times. If you're a real devotee, you get up early to watch the first dawn of the year (hatsuhinode). And then dress up in a kimono and visit the local Shinto shrine (hatsumoude).

Anything worth doing is worth doing en masse.

Meanwhile, nengajou, the equivalent of the Christmas card, are delivered on New Year's day in a coordinated burst of postal activity.

Japan has strict fireworks regulations for personal use. That's why sparklers are such a big deal in anime. There's a whole home-grown sparkler culture. Not like Utah, where July 4th and the 24th (Pioneer Day) sound like the climax of a Marvel superhero movie (fighter jets included).

But when it comes to official gunpowder-powered light shows, fireworks festivals aren't just bigger in Japan. They're huuuge. Especially during O-Bon, which is held in July or August (depending on the region's adoption of the Gregorian calendar). And Tanabata (July 7).


Local summer festivals and celebrations (compare to Pioneer Day in Utah and the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York and the Tournament of Roses parade in LA) put on big and elaborate parades followed by big and elaborate fireworks displays.

There are also regional fireworks festivals. Dancing, drumming, and float competitions (that can turn into demolition derbies) have been going on for centuries. And amusement parks and hot springs resorts that, like Disneyland, do it for the publicity and entertainment value.

For a little virtual touring, here's a "how-to" guide and a list of the major festivals.


The Tokushima Awa Odori festival gets national television coverage and has become a huge tourist attraction. You can find lots of videos on YouTube.

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December 31, 2016

New Twelve Kingdoms novel (still not yet)


On December 28, Shinchosha published an update on its Twelve Kingdoms website (and also to Fuyumi Ono's Twitter feed). Last year, Shinchosha announced that Fuyumi Ono was working on the next installment in the Twelve Kingdoms series, due out the summer of 2016.

That deadline came and went. Now at the end of 2016, Shinchosha has apologized that they had "nothing new to announce this year." But don't worry. A Twelve Kingdoms novel is still in works. However, "Ono Sensei's spell of ill health has dragged on a bit longer" than expected.

Shinchosha regrets not providing any concrete details and implores Ono Sensei's readers to bear with them a little while longer. They will continue to press forward, grateful for everyone's continuing support in the New Year.

Here is my translation of the recent update.

There are only four days left in 2016. Alas, having not made any new announcements this year, we have caused you a good deal of anxiety.

Ono Sensei is hard at work on her new novel. However, her spell of ill health has lingered a little while longer. In the face of your high expectations, we apologize for not being able to provide a firm publication date.

We are most grateful for your understanding and ask you to grant us a bit more time.

The film adaptation of Zan'e (『残穢』) was released in 2016. We hope to provide fresh details about The Twelve Kingdoms in 2017. Once we have a better grasp of the situation, we will first let you know on this website.

The staff of Shinchosha is pressing forward as one in order to make 2017 as wonderful as possible. We humbly request and appreciate your continuing support, and wish you all the best in the coming New Year.

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December 29, 2016

Any good excuse for a holiday


Think you deserve a little more time off? Feast Days were a big thing back in medieval times, basically holidays for your favorite saints and noted Biblical events. And there were a lot of them. Alas, only a few, like Easter and St. Patrick's day, are remembered and celebrated today.

The feast of Saint Crispian was memorialized by Shakespeare in Henry V. The battle of Agincourt took place on 25 October 1415, which coincided with the feast of the Crispin and Crispinian, the patron saints of "cobblers, curriers, tanners, and leather workers."

Rallying the troops, Shakespeare has King Henry pay homage to what had turned out to be very much a "working holiday."

This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.

Secular governments do the same thing today in a different guise. Hence "World Plumbing Day" (that was March 11, 2012, so you missed your chance to celebrate). In fact, the resolutions identifying these modern feast days for our modern saints and their causes are no less ubiquitous.

The record so far is held by the The 99th Congress (1985-86), that cranked out 275 (!) of these day/week/month/year resolutions, accounting for almost 40 percent (!!) of the "lawmaking" performed. Why? Well, opines Senate Historian Donald Ritchie,

There's also some political benefit to the members. [The resolutions] show that they have been paying attention to good causes in their districts that their constituents are concerned about.

A big waste of time, countered some killjoys, and 104th Congress (1995-96) officially stepped on the brakes, trimming the resolution-making business a good 90 percent. By the 112th Congress, though, they were back in business, with 156 passed.

That's just Congress. Though somewhat more measured in their application, presidential proclamations have typically had more staying power. Though why not make them all paid holidays? Toss in the special "week" and "month" commemorations and we'd never have to work again!

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December 22, 2016

Feeling what you hear


As I discussed last week, Popular Mechanics recently explained "Why You Can't Remember What Modern Movies Sound Like." My first reaction to the implicit challenge in that question was that I can sure remember what Chihayafuru sounds like.

I'm not just referring to an anime's opening (OP) and ending (ED) themes, though they are integral to the anime soundscape. The job of the OP and ED isn't just to keep your attention during the credit roll. They are key elements in marketing and promoting both the artist and the anime.

And perhaps most importantly, the OP establishes a mood and ambience that can fine-tune the genre before the story even starts. Think of how the Law & Order theme, together with the famous "doink-doink/thunk-thunk" sound effect, ties the whole franchise together.

In the Non Non Biyori OP, "Nanairo Biyori," Nano Ripe sounds just like Kotori Koiwai, the voice actor who plays Renge. Renge is a kind of Calvin & Hobbes character whose off-the-wall approach to life establishes the goofy yet endearing tone of the series.


At the other end of the emotional spectrum is Kalafina's dark and gothic "Magia" for Puella Magi Madoka Magica. The message is clear: this is not going to be just another cute magical girl anime.


And as far as ending themes go, Katsu Hoshi's arrangement of "The Rose" that closes out Only Yesterday revisits Bette Midler's Grammy-winning song (performed by Harumi Miyako) with a heartfelt interpretation quite apart from its original use in the 1979 Hollywood movie.


It's a perfect ending with the perfect musical accompaniment.

Chihayafuru does have a memorable OP ("Youthful" by 99RadioService), and an OP you like listening to is a nice reward when you're binge-watching a series. But when I say I remember what Chihayafuru sounds like, I mean the actual soundtrack.


First of all, though I'm sure the whole thing is rendered digitally, composer Kousuke Yamashita goes for a traditional classical orchestral sound (it's getting hard to tell the difference). Second, he develops a simple theme that comes to represent the entire emotional spectrum of the series.

Now, themes can go wrong. "The same only different" is the goal, not endless repetition.

Hikaru no Go suffers a bit from this. The "competition" theme is played on an electric guitar fed through a harmonizer with some backing percussion. That's not the problem. The problem is that the exact same riff is simply repeated in every big scene with no variation.

I suspect this was a budget thing, as it's a fairly low budget production (still a great story!). But it gets samey after a while, not evocative. (The matches of veteran players get more classical-sounding tracks, which are more effective.)

However, when done right, that "same only different" can really bury itself inside your brain. In a good way! The classic James Bond theme is a good example of a musical theme fully integrated into the cinematic narrative and all the more effective because of its familiarity.


Consider the first four notes of Beethoven's 5th symphony. Or the five notes from Close Encounters that John Williams builds into the soundtrack. For Chihayafuru, Yamashita starts with five notes too. By the time he was done, I was feeling like one of Pavlov's rats.

In a good way!


These five notes, revisited in hints, whispers, and variations, with different arrangements and instrumentation, trigger our brains to automatically recall the emotional cues we've already associated with them and prepare the brain for more of the same.

(The soundtrack is available from CDJapan.)

Yes, this is "cheating," as Patrick Doyle's score to Kenneth Branagh's Henry V was described by one critic.

Except movies are all about manipulating the senses. The question is whether we enjoy being fooled or end up feeling conned. Every time we hit the play button, we are giving the director the same challenge Penn & Teller make every week to their magical contestants: Fool Us!

A good movie soundtrack is a magic wand that makes the fooling all the more enjoyable.

Related posts

Hearing what you see
Chihayafuru
Kalafina
Puella Magi Madoka Magica

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December 15, 2016

Hearing what you see


Over at Popular Mechanics, Avery Thompson explains "Why You Can't Remember What Modern Movies Sound Like." Or rather, he presents the following arguments from the "Every Frame a Painting" blog and Dan Golding.



The former begins with man-on-the-street interviews, asking if anybody can hum a few bars from Star Wars. Everybody can. But what about the theme from any blockbuster Marvel movie made in the last decade?

Nobody can.

The culprit in this case is the "temp track." While a movie is being edited and the music is still being composed, the director uses excerpts from
existing compositions, often movie soundtracks, as stand-ins for what he expects the final product to sound like. Then he tells the composer: "I want it to sound like this only different."

When The Simpsons sets out to parody a musical but doesn't want to pay the royalties, the composer (usually Alf Clausen) will arrange melodies that are different enough legally while still being completely recognizable.

Similarly, many temp tracks end up sounding like the finished version. And some careless directors even forget about the "different" part and end up using the original temp track "by mistake." Either way, the result is an utter lack of originality.

Then again, counters Dan Golding, maybe not. Artists borrow from each other all the time. Or as Picasso (and Steve Jobs) put it, "Great artists steal." For Star Wars, John Williams borrowed from classical composers like Holst and the scores from old Hollywood westerns. Golding instead points to non-linear editing as the root cause.

Instead of a composition composed for an entire cinematic work, soundtracks can be created and performed digitally, and inserted in discrete units: five seconds here, ten seconds there. The soundtrack thus becomes another sound effect, creating mood and ambience with orchestrated sound, not telling a story through melody.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Then again, memorable movie soundtracks that spring to my mind do often predate the fully digitized non-linear era that came of age in the mid-1990s. Along with Star Wars (1977) by John Williams, Patrick Doyle's Henry V (1989) and Last of the Mohicans (1992) by Randy Edelman and Trevor Jones.

Chariots of Fire (1981) and Blade Runner (1982) by Vangelis were unique in being mostly digital scores that mostly predated non-linear editing.

On the other hand, the music in the original Star Trek television series is, well, "noisy." And it was orchestrated the old-fashioned way. Yes, the opening theme is timeless, but the stuff in the middle is often too loud and intrusive, manipulative and simply redundant.

Given the choice, I'll take the minimalist mood-shaping approach, music that creates ambience without encouraging you to pick up a baton or choreograph a marching band, even it means composers aren't using all the emotional arrows in their musical quivers.

Producers have concluded that if they're not making a musical or doing the American Graffiti thing, where the movie accompanies the soundtrack, less is more. And most of the time, they're right.

But that sorely lessens the chance of a composer and director coming up with the perfect combination that hits you right in the emotional solar plexus. As with Patrick Doyle's score, slowly building beneath Kenneth Branagh's Saint Crispian's Day speech, the right movie music has the power to raise a scene to a state of transcendence.


And speaking of borrowing from the classics, here is Bill Pullman's "Saint Crispian on the Fourth of July" speech from Independence Day. You won't remember the music but it heightens the impact of the words without overpowering them.

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December 08, 2016

Interview with a translator


My sister Kate interviewed me for her Romance & Manga blog. As I explain in the interview, I was a "professional" translator for only about seven years, and was pretty much in perpetual starving artist mode.

I'm the PGA golfer who realizes he's never going to rank above 70 and figures he might as well save it up for the senior tour. And get a "real" job. Number 70 on the PGA tour makes around $12,000 a year. It's a move up or move out kind of thing.

For now, translation is "one of those hobbies that takes over your life." But being an otaku, that's the whole point. In any case, this is the kind of give and take forces you articulate stuff you often just think about.

Like blogging, it's thinking out loud, pontificating on a digital street corner, and it was a lot of fun.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Or start with Part IV and scroll down.

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December 01, 2016

Earthquakes and the JMA


The Japan Meteorological Agency classifies earthquakes in absolute (Richter scale) and relative terms. This provides the public with practical information, especially when the epicenter often isn't directly below the locations most affected (click image for full size).


So the 7.4 magnitude (later revised .1 upward) earthquake the Monday before last rated at worst a "5-" in actual effect ("seismic intensity") on land.

The earthquake struck at 5:59 AM (Japan time). That meant the 6:00 AM news (2:00 PM MST) was immediately interrupted by "earthquake coverage," which follows a pretty standard format.

No talking heads (at first), no reporters babbling into the camera with no idea  what is going on. The screen switched to a live feed from Onohama harbor in Iwaki, Fukushima, closest to the epicenter. Pertinent information is relayed via on-screen text or audio.

At 6:02 came a tsunami warning, worst-case at three meters. Not disastrous, but enough to be concerned about.

The audio at this point turned, well, excitable. I imagine the poor guy had just gotten to work and hastily swallowed a liter of coffee. Pretty much: "Flee for your lives!" The red-highlighted text on the screen said the same thing. With explanation points.

Recalling that 16,000 people died from the 2011 Tohoku tsunami, this concern is understandable. (The 7.4 magnitude mainshock this time has since been categorized as an aftershock to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.)

The fishermen certainly weren't taking any chances. As I said, the live feed was from Onohama harbor. It was fascinating to watch all the fishing boats rev up and head out to sea. In twenty minutes, the harbor was empty. Very impressive.


I do wonder about the "crying wolf" problem.

As it turned out, the deepest tsunami was five feet in one location and was more of a tidal surge. Most everywhere else along the coast, it was a foot to eighteen inches. One small boat capsized and nets drying on the docks got washed into the harbor.


But nobody is questioning the "better safe than sorry" policy, and certainly not in Tohoku.

Along with its early warning system, the JMA provides public data on earthquakes. Whenever NHK flashes a warning, I go to the JMA Earthquake Information site (Japanese/English). As you will see, earthquakes are a fact of life in Japan. (Click on a date in the left-hand column for details.)


As illustrated above, the colored round dots indicate the relative magnitude. Clicking on the map (such as here) lets you zoom in.

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November 24, 2016

"Ghost in the Shell" trailer


Yes, another movie I won't be seeing for a while.

Okay, I'll get to the trailer. But first this silly whining about Scarlett Johansson not being "Japanese." Silly because she's playing an android whose only "human" component is her brain, and has swapped "shells" more than once. Besides, phenotypic racial characteristics in manga and anime are highly malleable, to say the least.


It's true that casting Japanese as Japanese in Hollywood is a perennial problem. But in Hollywood, everything's ultimately about the box office, which also points to a perennial supply and demand problem.

As an Asian-American ethnic group, Japanese (1.3 million) lag behind Korean (1.7 million), Vietnamese (1.73 million), Indian (3.18 million), Filipino (3.41 million), and Chinese (3.79 million).

Except for the cream of the crop (Ken Watanabe), a Japanese actor with any kind of talent can get more and better work in Japan (and won't have to speak English). The reverse is true too, which is why (with rare exceptions) "Americans" in Japanese productions are so often played by Europeans who "look" the part.

So while Star Trek creates roles for Japanese actors, aside from George Takei, it has a hard time finding Japanese actors to play them. Thus we have Rosalind Chao in Next Generation (who doesn't look Japanese) and Linda Park in Enterprise (who more or less does) and John Cho in Star Trek (close enough).

I always wondered why they just didn't make Linda Park's character Korean. It's not like there was any continuity to preserve.

In any case, the setting of Ghost in the Shell is postmodern and post-mini-apocalyptic, taking place in a Japan that, like Los Angeles in Blade Runner, has become a polyglot tossed-salad of Asian cultures. So it's hard to hung up about the specifics of national identity.

Anyway, who's to say Johansson isn't Japanese? How many people know that Dean Cain (Lois & Clark) is a quarter-Japanese? (I didn't until I looked it up.) Risa Stegmayer (American father, Japanese mother), co-host of NHK's Cool Japan, doesn't look especially Japanese, especially seated next to the very Japanese Shoji Kokami.



Meanwhile, the very Japanese Hiroshi Abe plays a Roman architect in the Thermae Romae movies.

This anecdote by Peter Payne (who lives in Japan, where he runs an online store for otaku) is a good antidote to this plague of third-party offense-taking:

Once I was watching an episode of Alias with my [Japanese] wife, and there was a horrid scene in which some female spy went to "Japan" (which appeared to be shot in a sushi restaurant about ten minutes from West Hollywood), painted her face white like a "geisha" and proceeded to extract information from her target despite not knowing his language. I was livid that in the 21st century TV producers couldn't even come close to getting basic imagery right, but my wife was enthralled with it, laughing at each new hilarious plot twist.

It's always a good idea to make sure that those on whose behalf you are getting offended would actually get offended by what you think would offend them. Because they might not have the slightest idea what you are talking about. (See also here.)


As far as that goes, the great Takeshi Kitano plays Aramaki in the movie, which I do consider inspired casting.


But enough with that, back to the trailer.


Based on this small sample, it looks like the movie is using material from Masamune Shirow's manga (the girl-on-girl stuff), Mamoru Oshii's animated film (the opening sequences are an exact match), and the second season of Stand Alone Complex (directed by Kenji Kamiyama), in which the Major gets some hefty "shell" repair.

The live-action version also draws its existential moodiness from Oshii. Like Blade Runner, Oshii's versions are more psychological thrillers, far "heavier" than the manga. The same shift in tone can be seen comparing the Patlabor anime series to Oshii's Patlabor feature films.

Stand Alone Complex is a straightforward cybernetic police procedural.

Like Sherlock Holmes, Major Kusanagi has adapted to the needs of the director, the story, and the medium. Shirow's Kusanagi is a futuristic take on a Connery-era "Jane Bond." Oshii's is closer to Rutger Hauer's Roy Batty from Blade Runner, while Kamiyama's approximates Mark Harmon's Gibbs in NCIS.

Explaining why he broke with Oshii's interpretation, Stand Alone Complex director Kenji Kamiyama quipped, "The first episode would be the final one!" People would get bored of watching a character search for her identity for half a year."

So far, I rank Stand Alone Complex and Solid State Society as the best of the bunch (the Tachikoma robots being no small reason why). Like The X-Files, the Stand Alone Complex seasons are tied together by season-long arcs, interspersed with science fiction stories that work well on their own.


But we'll have to wait a while to see where Hollywood's live-action version ranks in the franchise.

Ghost in the Shell (manga) 1989–1990
Ghost in the Shell (theatrical release) 1995
Innocence (theatrical release) 2004
Stand Alone Complex (TV anime series) 2002–2006
Solid State Society (movie in the SAC arc) 2006
Arise (OVA series) 2013
New Movie (movie in the Arise arc) 2013
Ghost in the Shell (theatrical release) 2017

And while we're on the subject, the Ghost in the Shell "Special Edition" DVD is for sale at Amazon for ten bucks.

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The Shirow franchises (2)
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