Archive for the ‘Movies and TV’ category

Hanzawa Naoki

September 1, 2014


半沢直樹 HANZAWA NAOKI, the most popular live-action Japanese drama in years, is well worth watching, and its roaring success there and elsewhere is indicative of a major problem in the nations’ corporate culture.

Hanzawa is a brilliant, hardworking, charismatic, successful banker with a loving, beautiful, and sacrificially supportive wife and cute kid. He does due diligence and then gives both his support and friendship to the small businesses he deems promising (this alone makes him a kind of unicorn in Japanese banking). No amount of overtime is too much for him. And he’s out for revenge.

His top target is the banker who years ago induced his father to commit suicide by denying his small business a loan extension. He wants to overcome this man and reform the bank for which he works. By the end of the first episode, however, Hanzawa is fighting for his career, as corrupt superiors who have cheated the company for personal gain frame him and put him on the chopping block.

A typically meek Japanese worker would take the fall. In the words of one character, in Japanese corporations the superiors take the credit for the subordinates’ successes, and the subordinates take the blame for the superiors’ failures. Hanzawa is different, though. He fights ruthlessly and swears to his enemies that he’ll get a double helping of vengeance for their wrongs (BAIGAESHI DA!). Sakai Masato nails the combination of niceness and scariness required for this starring role.

It’s tense watching. Hearing the theme song again would give me a myocardial infarction. The creators, like the author of the original novels, clearly find catharsis in showing how personal advancement and protection of the organization have long come before doing the right thing at Japan, Inc. and THAT is why the country has fallen. Some of Hanzawa’s bosses are acid. The others are base. Yet the love of Hanzawa’s wife and the loyalty of his friends and subordinates keep him (and you) believing in people enough to carry on.

I’ve had plenty of time to calm down since finishing the series (the ending wasn’t just a cliffhanger, it was like falling off a cliff; a sequel is certain to follow some day) and what most sticks with me is the creators’ passion for reform. I respect Ikeido Jun for becoming so well-versed in business (he worked for a bank for years), yet still preserving his idealism enough to leave his company at 32 to write crusading books like this. He made it to the biggest possible public stage. HANZAWA NAOKI is likely too Eastern to ever come to the U.S. but you can still take some inspiration from its existence.


Robin Williams

August 12, 2014

I grew up thinking I’d see plenty of actors like Robin Williams, but then I didn’t.

On his comedy, Jeet Heer says: “Robin Williams (like David Foster Wallace) had alien minds: he thought quicker than we did and could make us share in his alien perspective. Williams had a hyper-link mind before hyper-link was invented. He could free-associate faster than you can google. Williams was perhaps the only person in history who snorted cocaine in order to slow down the speed of his mind…Just as Joyce wasn’t just a novelist but really all novelists rolled into one, Williams was all stand-up comedians in one body…As a meta-comedian perhaps Williams’s biggest influence was the TV remote control: he replicated the ever-shifting screen.” (more: A commenter responded to this: “This is why, to me looking back, some of his most memorable film work was in ‘Aladdin’.  Because he could flash through all these influences/characters without a body slowing him down.”

I find the comparison to a remote control astute. I recall multiple references to channel-surfing in my childhood; the unfocused jumping from one world to another, with dozens or even hundreds (satellite!) of choices, must have been a huge conceptual change to adults of the time. Not only was Williams preternaturally talented; he also met a need of audiences of the time for an artist who could personify the dizzying pace of the new era for people.

And yet before today it had been a long time since I’d seen a Williams performance or heard anyone talk about him, to be honest, but I think a big reason for that which no one has mentioned yet is the culture changed to become more like him, making him seem less unique. “Family Guy” is an obvious example of a show with the same irreverence and free association; on an interpersonal level we’re doing Williams-style free-association constantly through memes and GIFs; conversely, on a personal level we don’t have the same appetite for the media rush and instead find ways to control or channel it.

Comedy aside, Williams’s pathos also clearly had a huge effect on people, and not just because he played Dad so often. Reviews of his sentimental movies are mixed, to be kind, but their emotional core, Williams’s heart seeming to burst out of his body and his face displaying how overcome he was by how MUCH life was, was genuine. Today’s news makes clear to me what I heard him saying in those scenes: that life is overwhelming both for better and for worse, and we can either get away from it by withdrawing or handle it together through kindness.

Video Starring Children Sets Off Debate During Mexican Election Campaign

April 14, 2012

Video Starring Children Sets Off Debate During Mexican Election Campaign
The short film has been diffused on social networks by the movement Nuestro México del Futuro
El País: Un vídeo protagonizado por niños desata la polémica en plena campaña mexicana
Paula Chouza reporting from Mexico City April 13, 2012

(Knowledge of the Spanish language is not necessary for understanding this video.)

It is a world of children, but children with the vices of adults that live in a society rife with corruption, violence, drug trafficking, and environmental problems. This is the concept of a video spread across the Internet that has incited the fury of a good part of the Mexican political class just ten days after the official beginning of campaigning for the presidential election on July 1.

The advocacy group Nuestro México del Futuro (Our Future Mexico), which defines itself on its website as a “social movement that calls on all Mexicans to express their visions of the country in which they would like to life,” produced the film, four minutes in length and exceptionally harsh, which has already been seen on the web by over 10 million people. The assault of a citizen with a razor blade in broad daylight by a seven-year old boy, the image of a corrupt politician who is not yet twelve, gives these incidents a macabre realism that has frightened politicians, who asked this week for the video to be taken down.

Miguel Ángel García Granados, a representative of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), called the film “detestable” on Thursday because it used minors. “This is not the way to solve the problems of this country,” he said to the media. In the same sentiment, Mario Di Constanzo of the Workers’ Party said that “the use of children to portray prisoners, drug traffickers, and police constitutes a violation of childrens’ rights. PAN politician Rosi Orozco said it was “lamentable that children were manipulated and used, and that they will be stigmatized as future delinquents, prisoners, and drug addicts.” With these words, the legislators called for the Secretariat of Governance to prohibit the diffusion of the film, which would seem to be difficult because it has already been published on social networks, where the institution does not have the power to intervene because Mexico has not regulated them.

Our Future Mexico released a statement in response to the polemics saying that it was trying “to represent the opinion, not of any institutions or individuals in particular, but rather of millions of Mexicans.” The movement is sponsored by many companies, among them the insurer Grupo Nacional Provincial (National Provincial Group). Its objective is to gather the visions of citizens and compile them in a book titled El Decreto de Nuestro México del Futuro (The Decree of Our Future Mexico). The group has announced that said publication will be given to the presential candidates when it is ready.

At the end of the film, a girl looks at the camera and says, not in vain, “If this is the future that’s ahead of me, I don’t want it. Ms. Josefina, Mr. Andrés Manuel, Mr. Enrique, Mr. Gabriel (the candidates): time is up. Mexico has already touched bottom. Are you only going for the position, or are you going to change the future of our country?”

Meisa Kuroki and Others Named Japan’s Best Jeanists of 2011

October 5, 2011

Meisa Kuroki Jeanist 2011
Ms. Meisa Kuroki, Best Jeanist of 2011. Photo taken in Minato-ku, Tokyo by Naho Kudou.

Meisa Kuroki and Others Named Best Jeanists of 2011
Yomiuri Shimbun: 黒木メイサさんら、ベストジーニスト初受賞
October 5, 2011

The Best Jeanists of 2011 Awards, hosted by the Japan Jean Conference, was held in Minato-ku, Tokyo on October 5th to honor the celebrities who look the best in jeans. The winners in general voting by the selection committee were Arashi singer Masaki Aiba (28) and actress Meisa Kuroki (23), who won awards for the first time.

Ms. Kuroki said joyfully, “I’m very happy to receive this award. I wear jeans every day, at work or at play.”

The Global Fighting Spirit Award, designated for Japanese working abroad, was bestowed on Inter Milan football player Yūto Nagatomo (25). The selection committee also honored actress Miki Maya (47), entertainer Chinatsu Wakatsuki (27), and former world boxing champion Katsuya Onizuka (41).

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Japan Broadcasting Corporation Karaoke Competition in Taiwan Has 250 Contestants

October 2, 2011

Japan Broadcasting Corporation Karaoke Competition in Taiwan Has 250 Contestants
Yomiuri Shimbun: 台湾でNHKのど自慢、250組ノド競う
Kazuhide Minamoto reporting from Taipei October 1, 2011

Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK)’s “Proud of My Voice” (のど自慢 – Nodo Jiman) karaoke competition began in Taipei’s Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall on the 1st.

This is the 12th time the contest has been held abroad; the last time was in Mexico 6 years ago. According to NHK’s public relations department, there were 1480 applications, the most ever for a competition abroad. The previous record was 674 for the contest in San Paulo, Brazil.

The first round was October 1, and 250 Taiwanese people and Japanese expatriates participated. Songs from a wide range of genres, from enka to pop, were performed. The final round will be tomorrow, on the 2nd. The competition will be presented on NHK’s main station the night of October 29.

Many people in Taiwan are interested in Japanese music, from the elderly who learned Japanese in school to the young Japanese subculture enthusiasts called the “Hari Tribe” (in honor of Taiwanese manga artist and blogger Hari Xingzi/Hanichi Kyōko/哈日杏子).

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“Wrinkles”: An Exceptional Comic, An Outstanding Movie

September 20, 2011

Wrinkles 1
A photogram from Ignacio Ferreras’s animated film Wrinkles.

Wrinkles 2
A vignette from Wrinkles by Paco Roca, winner of the National Comic Award.

“Wrinkles”: An Exceptional Comic, An Outstanding Movie
The cinematic version of Paco Roca’s comic is screened in Zabaltegui
El País: ‘Arrugas’, un cómic excepcional, una película sobresaliente
Gregorio Belinchón reporting from San Sebastián September 19, 2011

Arrugas (Wrinkles) is not just any comic. It is the comic that has demonstrated that Paco Roca is a master. It is the comic that has vignettized Alzheimer’s. Replete with perfect visuals, with artistic twists and turns that take the reader into the horrifying world of the loss of memory, Wrinkles depicts the degradation of Emilio, the retired branch director of a bank, day by day in his home. Wrinkles is now a film. And what a film it is. Produced by Manuel Cristóbal, who rejected offers to make it with real-life actors “because the magic would have been lost”, and directed by Ignacio Ferreras, responsible for the drawings which perfectly duplicate Roca’s lines, the film was screened at the first hour of this morning. It was a pivotal moment, as it was the first time Paco Roca saw it.

The author, who won the 2008 National Comic Award for this work, did not seem very nervous before the screening. He made small talk with Ferreras, who was sitting on one side, and this journalist, who was seated at the other. During the screening, the artist asked the director a pair of questions about certain changes and artistic decisions. The rest of the time, there was respectful silence in the theater accompanied by a murmur of tears in the background. The session ended after 87 minutes. There was applause. The first spectators, who ran out of the theater, missed out on a gift: Rosa Lema, age 101 and suffering from senile dementia, sang a song during the credits, a treasure the soundman found in one of the homes he visited.

After turning on the lights, Roca sighed with relief: “Obviously some things changed, including the characters [one of the protagonists even had a different nationality], but the spirit is there. It says what I wanted to say.” Cristóbal explained: “The trick of going to white when Alzheimer’s begins to devour neurons during the vignettes couldn’t be translated to the screen. It didn’t work.” “It’s not important,” answered Roca, “because I see my comic there. I was worried about the ending, how the threads would be tied up and whether it would hold up. It certainly does.” He turned to his right and embraced Ferreras, who had been watching him from the corner of his eye with a certain precaution. “Congratulations.”

It will be another thing to see it in theaters. Now, with the picture already finished, Cristóbal is negotiating the commercial distribution. “We wanted to do it with Wrinkles already in hand, so they could see it and know its potential.” Judging from this morning’s screening, it has that in abundance.

Amparo Muñoz, A Beautiful Broken Toy

March 1, 2011

Amparo Muñoz Miss Universe 1974In 1974, 20-year old Amparo Muñoz (center) became the first Spaniard to win Miss Universe. (EFE)

Amparo Muñoz 2005Amparo Muñoz in November 2005, the year in which she published her memoirs. (EFE)

Amparo Muñoz, A Beautiful Broken Toy
The only Spanish Miss Universe has died in her home in Málaga at age 56 after suffering from a protracted illness
El País: Amparo Muñoz, un bello juguete roto
Diego Galán, Madrid, February 28, 2011

The most beautiful woman, Amparo Muñoz, has passed away in Málaga at the very young age of 56. She received this crown in 1973, when she was Miss Spain, and in 1974 when she won Miss Universe. But she was a woman with strong will, and six months into her reign of the universe, she abdicated because she felt manipulated by the contest organization, which obligated her to constant trips and presentations. Her love for liberty was one of her defining characteristics, and perhaps for that reason the press ran roughshod over her.

She was born in Vélez Málaga to a family of five children which did not have the means to provide her more than a junior high school education. After taking stenography and typography classes, she found work as a secretary, which seemed to be her destiny. But immediately after her victory in the world of beauty, the world of cinema took interest in her. In Vida conyugal sana [Wholesome Married Life], directed by Roberto Bodegas and written by José Luis Garci, she played the temptress of José Sacristán, a married man obsessed with publicity. In Tocata y fuga de Lolita, by Antonio Drove, she was the rebellious girl who displayed her beautiful bust, a big contributor to the movie’s popularity. In the 70’s, Spanish cinema was at the height of destape [double meaning: “liberalization” and “nudity”], and the splendid figure of Amparo Muñoz found 9 titles in which to reveal itself, including Sensualidad (Germán Lorente, 1975), Clara es el precio [Clara is the Price] (Vicente Aranda, 1975), and La otra alcoba [The Other Bedchamber] (Eloy de la Iglesia, 1976), in which Amparo starred alongside the man who would be her first husband, the actor and singer Patxi Andión.

After appearances in Volvoreta (José Antonio Nieves Conde, 1976), Mauricio, mon amour (Juan Bosch, 1976), Acto de posesión (Javier Aguirre, 1977), and Del amor y de la muerte (Antonio Giménez Rico, 1977), among other films, her cinematic career took a notable turn when she began a relationship with the producer Elías Querejeta, facilitating her appearances in films as important as Mamá cumple cien años [Mama’s 100th Birthday] (Carlos Saura, 1979) and Dedicatoria (Jaime Chávarri, 1980), which called her to the attention of other directors in both Spain and Mexico, such as Felipe Cazals (Las siete cucas [The Seven Cuckoos]), Antonio Artero (Trágala perro [Take That, Bitch]), Pilar Miró (Hablamos esta noche [We Will Speak Tonight]), Fernando Méndez-Leite (Sonata de estío [Summertime Sonata]), Jaime Camino (El balcón abierto [The Open Balcony]), Emilio Martínez Lázaro (Lulú de noche [Lulú of the Night]), Imanol Uribe (La luna negra [The Black Moon]), and Fernando León de Aranoa (Familia).

Amparo Muñoz’s movies had their highs and lows with regard to quality, but she grew as an actress throughout her career. Her personal life frequently made the gossip pages, however. She disappeared from film for seven years (1989-1996), living provisionally in the Philippines. There were reports of legal trouble there, where she was sued by a brand name-sized company, and in Spain, where upon her return she was arrested for suspected possession of heroin.

Scandal-loving journalists preyed upon her, publishing true and false stories alike. In 1990, the magazine Ya published an article by Rosa Villacastín which assured that “AIDS has left Amparo Muñoz on the brink of death”; two days later, the same journalist said that the actress had reached the “terminal phase,” claims Amparo Muñoz debunked through medical analysis on Julián Lago’s television program La máquina de la verdad [The Truth Machine]. In that same interview, she was asked if she had ever taken heroin, and journalist Jesús Mariñas even jabbered that she had practiced prostitution, an accusation which left her in tears.

In 2005, she published her memoir, La vida es el precio [Life is the Price], in which she recounted her relationships and her passage through the world of drugs. “I’ve lived my life the best I could, never intending to harm anyone. If I have hurt anyone, it has been myself and my parents, who have suffered a great deal on my account. I’ve always respected everyone, most of all God, though I haven’t been treated with respect myself. I hope that people will start to do that now,” she said, perhaps not expecting that her wish would only be granted upon her death, as a beautiful broken toy.