Sunday, January 24, 2016
Living in Japan was amazing on so many levels. Up in the north country I found a warm community and a kind host family who made me feel like one of their own. I taught English in the Morioka area for about four years overall. There is a great sense of design in Japan, which you can see in the way everything is manufactured and presented. This extends to the how spaces are set up, as well. I often felt conscious of moving through environments that were groomed with loving affection. On a more personal level, I also enjoyed how safe and friendly it felt to live in that society. I've never understood or related to the way men particularly behave in the US, which I often see as pretty aggressive and competitive. It was a relief to be in a place where kindness was the cultural norm. It was also great to soak up traditional and modern culture. My curiosity to seek out interesting books and music flourished, and my inner landscape was forever defined by festival dances, koto and shakuhachi, kabuki, and artists like Ryuichi Sakamoto. I enjoyed spending weekends traveling around with friends, playing guitar, and searching shops for treasures. One neat discovery was finding a series of books that showed cross sections of classic tv/movie monsters. Ultraman was the reigning king of kids books when I was there, so it was pretty common to find cool stuff devoted to the many kaiju developed for Eiji Tsubaraiya's classic series. Cross section illustrations were traditionally printed in black and red and they included cool little details around each subject to identify various scientific details- what a fun way to engage curious kids about their favorite kaiju! Here are few samples (Toho's Godzilla and Gamera appear last). Enjoy!
Saturday, January 23, 2016
Shout Factory is hosting a fun live-streaming marathon on their site today of Japanese live-action classic, Super Sentai Zyuranger. "Join Shout! Factory TV on Saturday, January 23rd at 9 AM (PST) for the Super Sentai Spectacular streaming event! See where the worldwide phenomenon Power Rangers began with a three-hour live stream hosted by Tokusatsu expert August Ragone featuring episodes of Super Sentai Zyuranger, the original Japanese series that inspired the franchise." Fans can find other fun stuff streaming on Shout Factory such as Ultraman, Ultra Q, Danguard Ace, Thunderbirds, and Mystery Science 3000. Enjoy!
Sunday, January 17, 2016
It seemed like weekend television was filled with great entertainment for kids when I was growing up. Yeah, we had Saturday Morning Cartoons (!), but we also got to see great sci-fi/horror classics broadcast during late afternoons on stations out of New York. Godzilla was a favorite, stomping both sides of the spectrum between lovable mascot and atomic-age terror. I recently came across these cool vintage posters from around the world. I love to see how films are interpreted for different cultures. Do you have a favorite Godzilla movie? Enjoy!
Friday, January 8, 2016
New release: Film Archives Entertainment has announced a cool new CD box set (signed edition!) that pays tribute to movie classics from the 1980s. "The 1980s were a fun, exciting time in pop culture... and especially at the movies! 1985 in particular was a cultural lynchpin for a whole generation. We traveled through time in Back to the Future, hunted for treasure with The Goonies, and hung with friends in St. Elmo’s Fire. Music was always part of the adventure; the film scores of Jerry Goldsmith, John Barry and Alan Silvestri, and hit songs by Oingo Boingo, Tina Turner and Brian Ferry instantly conjured up the characters we love from their movies. Now 30 years later, this 6-CD set allows us to travel back and revisit BACK IN TIME... 1985 AT THE MOVIES in a celebration of one of film music’s most iconic years! Over six and a half hours of music including: A brand new recording featuring the great David Newman conducting the debut of the Varèse Sarabande Symphony Orchestra, a new all-star orchestra featuring some of the best musicians in Los Angeles. The is the film music recording event of the year! Included: all of the top 10 box office hits of 1985, Academy Award winning and nominated scores, complete CDs of The Back To The Future Trilogy, Out of Africa and The Goonies." More info here.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
Maybe we didn't have multi-function, ergonomic controllers or sky's-the-limit hi-res graphics, but we got to see the first games- ever- appear in arcades and in stores during the Star Wars and Disco-fueled 1970s. With just a few well-placed dots, our imaginations filled in the rest, and we were transported to the worlds of Pac Man, Berzerk, Defender, and Asteroids. I loved playing demos of the Atari 2600 in our local department store, where I first saw the system in 1977. My dad had just moved us far away from friends and family to northern Washington, where our meager dinner table often depended on what he could catch scuba diving off the coast. Spending money on a video game seemed too extravagant, though I did manage to score quarters for my visits to the arcade downtown. Like the generations that followed, I felt the drive to play as often as possible so I could improve my scores. No game whipped me into a frenzy like Defender, where painful calluses and heart-pumping anxiety inspired my first epiphany about obsession and moderation. My favorite was probably Berzerk, which featured Cylon-like robots and electronic sounds that, in some ways, helped to prepare me for Kraftwerk, YMO, and DEVO. But most of all I was fascinated by the graphics of the early games and they still hold a special place for me. I'm currently gearing up to teach a High School course inspired by Ready Player One by Ernie Cline and I hope to recreate a number of the trials from the novel. To get into the spirit, I finally picked up that Atari 2600 system I had wanted so much back in '77. I was browsing through cool Transformers and Star Wars toys at a bi-annual toy show here in the Bay Area when I spotted a large box on the floor filled with controllers, games, and an immaculate 2600. The woodgrain glowed like a million suns from inside the box. It was love at first sight. The guy gave me a great deal on the whole collection and I burned rubber back up 101 to plug it into my flatscreen. Sitting on the floor like a kid, I tried my best to help Pac Man, avoid the killer robots in Berzerk, and to disintegrate asteroids. But that Defender will have to wait for another day. Here is a sample of some of those games designed for arcades and for the 2600. Enjoy!
Monday, January 4, 2016
The most significant story arc when I was coming of age was Frank Miller's run on Daredevil. I was already interested in traditional Japanese art, but Miller's words and pictures really helped to fuel a larger passion for Japanese culture and history. Along with his Japan-influenced Wolverine and Ronin mini-series (and Clavell's Shogun!), I was primed for Japanese Studies in college. I even moved there to work for a few years in a small town in the northeast part of the main island. I'll share more about that story soon, but Miller's work plays heavily into a current fascination I have with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I totally missed out on these guys during the 1980s and early 1990s. You see, I was in college when TMNT made its debut (in May 1984), and then living in Japan during the first big wave of cartoons and toys. By the time I moved back to Greenfield, MA (just up the road from Mirage Studios in Northampton), I kind of dismissed the whole thing as a derivative of the Miller series I had loved- plus a dose of X-Men and Fantastic Four. I was young and quick to sum up my impressions, and boy was I wrong. IDW just teamed up with DC to release a Batman/TMNT crossover, so, being a Batman fan, I finally had the right doorway for me to find my way into their world. I've spent the last couple of weeks super inspired to take my first real look at what Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were up to back then, and I'm pleasantly surprised to discover some really fantastic and original work! Any references to Miller (via the dialog, characters, pacing) is now just a fun reference within the larger context of the Ninja Turtle world- brief nods of familiarity for my inner-fan, if you will. I then had fun chatting with Kevin at a convention over the weekend (we have a mutual friend). For a few minutes we talked like two fans about Daredevil and old comics- it was awesome. When I got home, I discovered a new documentary film about the history of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles called Turtle Power. The DVD is on Amazon, but you can also check it out first for free on Youtube (see below). If you are a long-time fan, or someone like me who is new to the Turtles, this doc is a great overview! One of the things I loved most about the movie, bedsides helping me catch up with 30 years of history, was recognizing Kevin and Peter as fellow cartoonists who loved the stuff I loved back then. The film takes us on a ride with them via vintage videos and interviews, as their creation went from cottage industry to global phenomenon. I thought back to those early years when I was living in western Mass after Japan, aware of their studio down the road, and I felt a new glow of pride for those local boys. I used to frequent their Words & Pictures Museum and wish that was still around to inspire young artists- but you can still visit the virtual museum here. If you are interested to learn more, check out the ongoing TMNT series and reprint collections by IDW, and the 2003 cartoon on Youtube (closer in tone to the comic than the original cartoon from the 1980s). Coincidentally, Mark Hamill announced some details today about his upcoming role as a villain in the new TMNT cartoon from Nickelodeon. Have fun, Mark! You're joining another great universe of fascinating characters and great stories. Enjoy!