Coming unbelievablely close to crying to happy tears, today’s visit to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo had me see the entire creative smorgasbord of Miyazaki’s background works, so overwhelmingly powerful in its unique beauty and expressiveness I was in absolute awe time and time again. While many of the exhibits were clearly designed with children in mind ( in another sense Miyazaki’s works tend to bring out the hidden child in our psyche ), the mockup animation studio, plastered all over with ORIGINAL MIYAZAKI coloured concept sketches, storyboards, stole most of my time as I pored over each drawing, in particular those of Mononoke Hime, as if the close physical proximity in the presence of such grandeur would transfer some of its creative potency to me. Alas, nothing.

By a mere stroke of luck, Pixar Animation Studios was also hosting an exhibition of its concept works under the auspices of Miyazaki. On its own this would have generated an enormous amount of excitement ( all the concept works are also originals, the pastels on the Finding Nemo coloured storyboards still flaky ), but when pitched against Ghibli’s wonderful work I couldn’t bring myself to appreciate it fully. Certainly the animators from Pixar attest to the influence of Miyazaki’s works ( see picture above ), where they’ve painted a much iconic Totoro poster complete with Mike and Sullivan, surrounded by signatures and praises from many of their animators, the main caption reading “To Hayao Miyazaki : Your work is an inspiration to us.”

Jun 27th 2004
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I read with a mixture of disdain, grate and insufferance on the part of the rearers the Straits Times ( online ) article : “Luohan no longer a prized catch now”, how the iniquited, ostensibly luck-bringing, great fengshui inducing fish is been abandoned in the truckloads by their capricious owners. To quote, “Oversupply killed their value and appeal. ‘After a while, they became so cheap, they had no value. So there was no point,’ “. How convienient for you buggers, but unfortunately the Flowerhorn’s fate was sealed the day some anonymous idiot thought it smart to meddle the fates with yet annother innocuous fish, as yet more other idiots bought it hook line and sinker.

Don’t tell me because people appreciate the Luohan for its intrinsic beauty; I know rearing fishes have some therapeutic merit but this fish justs looks…unsightly compared to his other aquatic brethren. This deplorable fad is just like the bubble tea boom a few years ago, only this time the precipitate is a living object and can’t be poured down your sink, but rather inundating the island’s freshwater bodies with new, befuddled inhabitants. You can imagine my incredulity when I last saw a whole school of them swimming along the bays of the Singapore River, no joke.

Let’s just hope no one decides next that some poor animal is really excellent for ushering in good fengshui, or woe, woe to their species.

Jun 26th 2004
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Tian Zhuangzhuang’s Springtime in a Small Town is a quaint little piece of cinema set in China during the post 2nd world war period, a brief, uneasy intermission between the end of the Japanese invasion and the Communist Takeover. In a small, derelict war torn town in Southern China, a doctor ( Zhang Zhichen ) from Shanghai pays an unexpected visit to his old school friend Dai Liyan, whose wife ( Yuwen ) he now recognizes as the woman he had a brief but passionate affair ten years ago. No longer in close proximity with his husband because of his poor health and temper, while still bearing feelings for her former beau, the arrival of the guest sets off an uneasy tension amidst the small household, complicated more by Liyan’s younger sister who also takes a liking for doctor.

Springtime is one of those films I’ve come to recognized ( together with a few others like the Korean Take Care of my Cat and One Fine Spring Day ) where seemingly nothing important seems to happen and the narrative justs drags on ceaselessly, certain anathema to Hollywooders and many other moviegoers, but whose real value lies in a small conscious effort on the viewer’s part to invest alittle patience or even better, a second viewing, where they’d be greatly rewarded.

Beautifully shot in slow, deliberate takes through the shadowy corridors of the old house, it evokes the same aesthetics last felt in Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love, no stranger because of DP Li Pingbin, who worked together with Doyle.

Highly recommended, but Hollywooders *yawns heard*, you’ve been so caveated.

Jun 19th 2004
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Now sitting in front of a whole class of university girls doing a self-introduction (自己紹介)was not something I anticipated coming anytime soon, but today while visiting a Sensei ( to discuss a summer trip to Korea ) at Musashino Joshi Daigaku (武蔵野女子大学) I was caught right in the middle of her class and had to yield helplessly. Giggles, curious stares like I was some wierd zoo animal, I was feeling dizzy immediately with all the blood from my brain drained to swell my then completely reddened face.

That position however, had a heck of a paramount view below, haven’t seen such a spectacular vista for a while. Now there was Yumiko…Mai…Ayumi…what’s your name again ? *laughs*

Jun 7th 2004
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It was way back during my secondary school days when I first studied about the pioneer artists of Singapore in my arts theory class, a small group of talented individuals banded together by their collective passion for the visual arts. Some names that are still fresh in my mind were the late Chen Wen hsi, Chen Chong Swee, Georgette Chen, the calligrapher Pan Shou, as well as Liu Kang ( His son Liu Thai Ger is presently the chairman of NAC, the body overlooking my scholarship ) who has just passed away 2 days ago, the last of the pioneer artists.

During a Chen Wen hsi Retrospective exhibition that was held at the Singapore National Museum about 10 years ago, I had the good fortune of meeting with Mr Liu Kang personally. I remember vividly how me and my classmates caught him sipping ice-cream with his wife at the YMCA Macdonalds, where after we followed him and asked for his autograph at the exhibition. Dispite the huge age gap he was most hospitable and approachable, exhorting us in our pursuit of the arts as young individuals, just like he had done so. Although pursuing a different course in the arts now, the experience I had with him them was certainly one of the highlights of my younger school days.

Jun 2nd 2004
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Heat, an explosive and highly entralling crime genre piece was the first exposure I had of director Michael Mann’s outstanding work. His sleek portrayal of the 2 hardened protanganists, namely De Niro and Pacino, ( especially the tense exchange in the cafe has come to be remembered as one of recent crime cinema’s most memorable scenes. ) as well as the film’s many electrifying scenes have had palpable influence in the film industry, including Hong Kong’s laudable Infernal Affairs and PTA.

The Insider is an equally impressive piece, with much less action set pieces but no less engaging plot. Al Pacino once again, together with Russell Crowe and Christopher Plummer ( forever remembered as the handsome Captain in the Sound of Music, having lost none of his charisma ) lend themselves to powerful performances, topped by Mann’s sensuous use of music and Dante Spinotti’s beautiful cinematography, and you have a masterful piece at hand.

Michael Mann is fast becoming one of my favourite directors.

A Sight and Sound review of the Insider is posted on the comments page.

May 28th 2004

Art exhibitions seem to be in the wind recently, this morning together with 2 taiwanese classmates I visited the Bunkamura Art Museum in Shibuya, Tokyo to view the Monet – Great Impressionists exhibition, which includes pieces by some other notable painters like Seurat, Signac, Bonnard and Renoir. While many of the artists’ greater works were not on show, ie Renoir’s “Le dejeuner des canotiers”, more commonly known as the Amelie Painting, it was exhilarating to see Monet’s Waterlilies in person.


Tokyoscape, on the way home from Shibuya.

Later at a bookstore in Shibuya, my attention is quickly drawn to a promotional movie trailer playing off a small TV, its music, mood and visual style just screaming Shunji Iwai. Hana & Alice, Iwai’s latest film. I was seized by an intense and involuntary urge to tear off the movie poster and boot, but my friends shook their heads violently in disapproval. Saddened, I was however jolted back to my senses, remembering succintly the exact purpose of my studies in Japan, the earnest passion I have for the moving image and narrative that was in a huge part, attributed to the artistic influences bore by watching Iwai’s cinematic magnum opus, Love Letter.

Apr 30th 2004
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For the uninitiated, learning the Japanese language is an exhaustive, detrimental exercise that hacks away at your english roots, enervate and debilitate, period. Its 3 form writing system, namely Hiragana, Katagana and Kanji ( chinese characters ), scares the bollocks out of non-native learners and make Japanese one of the toughest language to master. For english speaking folks, its the katagana form that carries the heaviest destructive payload. Katagana is used extensively to pronounce foreign names and subject matter, so for example “Tape Recorder” in english would translate as :

Te-pu-re-ko-da

1) Curtain – “ka-te-n”

2) Locker – “Ro-ka”

3) Mechanical pencil – “She-ya-pu-pen-she-ru” ( sharp pencil )

And don’t even get me started on the word “accessories”, or “whiteboard”.

Apr 28th 2004
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Talk about uncanny serendipity. Today morning I was at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum to view an exhibition on 17th century Flemish and Dutch painters, which included some works by Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrant and Vermeer. As I sat down near a resting area by the main entrance after I’ve finished, this caucasian gentleman wearing a cap and spotting a most distinctive sharp, angular nose walked by. He could have been any of those tourists around, but he wasn’t just any other tourist. This man is Captain Jean Luc Picard, commander of Starfleet Enterprise, Prof Charles Xavier, leader of the X-men.

I couldn’t believe my eyes, but I also couldn’t pass up such a good chance to get an autograph, so here you go. Mr Patrick Stewart was all friendly and courteous, an exemplary British gentleman indeed.

Apr 18th 2004
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Tsukiji Fish Market, located near Ginza in Toyko, is the largest of it kind in the world, trading about 90% of all the fish products consumed in Tokyo. Shige, my landlord’s good friend, offered to take us there after a casual conversation once about me wanting to go take a look. We set off this morning at 3.30am ( most of the interesting action happening at Tsukiji are during the auction hours, where bids are made for the ridiculously sized tunas ( Maguro ), around 430-530 am ). The market grounds span huge warehouse like buildings, for display of auction items and after sold, they are moved to another area where restaurant chefs and other regular buyers make their pick.

As we made our way through the auction markets the widest gamut of sea food products laid before us, one more bizzare than the other. Shige points to me some huge chunks of red bloody meat in a big foam box, whispering “whale-ru“, and I felt my heart sink. We ended up spending most of our time at the tuna auction areas, seeing these uncanny, gigantic sized fishes been traded, each weighing up to a ton and priced a couple million yen. As daylight drew and the shouts sizzled, we headed for a nearby eating place and had maguro-don for breakfast, fresh from the catch.

Apr 17th 2004
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Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli, the birthplace of revered animation pieces like Mononoke Hime and Spirited Away, is located in Koganei, Tokyo, a quiet suburban neighbourhood about 15 minutes trainride away from Shinjuku. Hidden in a peaceful corner surrounded by typical Japanese households, its identity is only revealed by the studio sign in front of its front porch, no totoro statue, no Ohmu figurine, as unassuming and modest as it can be. On its side entrance a meeting room with glass windows reveals original Miyazaki artwork hanging on the walls. Entrance into the actual building is strictly for staff members only, but I was already more than awed to be in such close quarters where some of the world’s most wondrous animation pieces were created.

Next stop, Ghibli Museum, Mitaka Tokyo.

Apr 11th 2004

For all its high tech gadgetry and advanced technology, Japan is in primeval times when it comes to international film releases dates. Only now are Master and Commander, Peter Pan getting ready to kick off screening here in Tokyo. New films are going to have to take a backseat here while I’m in Japan, the pricey tickets not helping either.

If there’s any consolation, the dvd stores here are really good; they stock titles you can never find in Singapore, and its probably a good time to catch up on good films that I have missed or simply haven’t been exposed to yet, and that’s alot. Going to be adding a new list on the side menu here under new dvds watched, so far, Soderbergh’s Limey and a totally unknown but fantastically shot film called Dinner Rush.

Apr 9th 2004
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