At the outset, Zhang Yimou’s latest wuxia film House of Flying Daggers ( simply named Lovers here in Japan ) is a delightful visual treat – everything is just so beautifully photographed, from the flowy, opulent garbs adorned by the courtesans, with hues so intense the colours threaten to bleed off the screen, the rich, smooth tones of skin worn by the actors, bloodied nose notwithstanding, and the quintessential bamboo forest battle, drapped in a lush, misty green tint, just to name a few hightlights. In fact, one can probably argue that the director and DOP ( Zhang Xiaoding, who also shot the brilliant film Spring Subway ) spent more effort in prettying up the sets and characters than even the last grandiose work Hero.

Having said all these, it becomes all the more painful that the story fails on so many grounds, undermining the fantastic cinematography and what the film could have ultimately been. Perhaps it was a blessing that I was able to watch this amidst the proprieties of the Japanese, for I wager the singapore crowd would have had zero tolerance for any hammy spectacles, filling the cinema with uproarious laughter.

On a side note, my taiwanese friends were quick to quip that Andy Lau has been finding it hard to shake off his undercover woes ever since Infernal Affairs.

Sep 5th 2004
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Sometimes there are moments in the course of one’s languid mundane life when a piece of music playing off the radio or amps immortalizes a particular, brief span of one’s life past, dizzying memories spinning back into your psyche, the zeitgeist rekindled. For filmmakers, animators and individuals working with moving visuals, the experience comes in the form of an unborn but lucid mise-en-scene, as yet defined but flushed with creative possibilites, its mood utterly defined by the music coursing through one’s consciousness. Track number 3 on the Nouvelle Vague CD is the latest additional to this family.

Now whatever filmwork that may be spurred on by this music is too early to say, but its definitely caught the attention. And if not, well, its still some great Bossanova music.

Aug 29th 2004
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I’m starting to get quite numb to the mini quakes that come and go every few other week, nasty little critters that start by rocking the foundations and then everything else begins shaking in tandem motion, pretty much like a wasted you on a swell PVD night at the disco, only more real. These days I keep telling myself if its not capable of dethroning my stopclock off the top of my monitor there’s no immediate need to evacuate. Takeshi+Kojima ups the ante by saying if it doesn’t wake them up ( the last one, most powerful to date, came on a morning about 3, with only me still awake but they were obviously unperturbed, ), its trivial. For someone who usually doesn’t rouse from my sleep unless I’m stabbed in the heart, that’s so very comforting.

Anyway, a planned trip to the sea today with Takeshi+Kojima was thwarted by an impending typhoon, Takeshi conjuring up vivid and graphic descriptions of my gaunt and frail figure getting carried away by the gales and my molecular structure getting re-arranged in the process. Maybe next time. We ended up hanging around Ebisu, Shibuya and Ueno. Click here for Takeshi+Kojima’s post.

Aug 27th 2004
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Kickstarting the 2nd installment of the Spiderman series with a montage of comic panels by the great artist Alex Ross was certainly a welcoming way to setup the right mood, prepping the audience for the story ahead, and despite in my opinion, parts of the film that suffered from a rather awkward pace of editing and several repetitive scenes that didn’t quite add additional value to the narrative, Spiderman 2 still scores pretty well with fantastically choreographed action sequences ( those who are somewhat familiar with CG, compositing and rotoscoping will have an idea just how much work was needed for the seamless integrated movement of Dr Oct’s tentacles ) and the ever enjoyable J.Jameson, Parker’s Daily Bugle boss spewing note-perfect, rapidfire caustic. Of course, “drowning” out a mini sun in the city’s river depths was laughably ridiculous.

Aug 16th 2004
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A night’s out cycling trip with Takeshi+Kojima had me realize that Tokyo Towers ( made notably famous by the serial OverTime ) was but a mere 30 minutes cycle away, which makes it nearer than Shinjuku from our place. Anyway we were enroute to a bookstore in Roppongi Hills, your posh, up culture living district of Tokyo where seemingly everything is wafted with a palpable feel of swank. Washed in inadequency I sank into the comfort of books, the joint a classy 24 hr Basheer+borders, only cooler, but the price of this boon is levied in the cost of the books. Next we walked over to Roppongi Hills Mori Towers, where the Japan Premiere of The Last Samurai was held. Here a 5 star-ish cinema stands and heck, if I am to pay 25 dollars for a movie, let it be here, not so much for its posh deco and feel but because I at least get to choose where I sit.

Oh and, Steam boy is showing right here.

Aug 15th 2004
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Just got word that Kazuaki Kiriya’s sci-fi flick Casshern will be released on dvd in late October. I’ve yet to watch this, but I really like the main character design and if the trailer’s any indication of how the film’s final colour grading will be presented, its going to look fantastic, very much like what we’ve seen in UH3.

Meanwhile, news on setting up of Lucasfilm’s Singapore branch have been confirmed, great news indeed. It’d be most interesting to see where the local animation scene will go from here.

Aug 3rd 2004

Exhibiting palpable influences from an eclectic mix of Art Noveau, the Impressionists, Surrealists, Gustav Klimt, and manga art, Japanese illustrator Yoko Tanji’s works ellicit an unspoken feel of quiet poignance, cast in autumn shades with gloom forever lurking round the corner. With a colour palette awash in sombre, intense reds and browns, oblivious, detached characters, felicity is probably not the artist’s favourite subject.

www.tanji.jp

Jul 28th 2004
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Getting blasted by sucessive waves of Hanabi “sonic booms” certainly doesn’t sound like music to my ears, but just inevitable runoff from a solid, nonstop display of dizzying fireworks that lasted for an astounding 45 minutes. If there’s any place to watch a decent Hanabi, Yamashita Park in Yokohama must rank amongst the tops – solitary, rocketing shards of flame that climbs rapidly, disappearing momentarily before inundating the entire sky with not one, but 3 staccato bursts of spiralling, blue light; slow travelling, red sparks that spawns a thousand, luminous offsprings; plain wierd fireworks that deposits lanterns like emanations; and not forgetting my personal favourite, the “Contact” effect, wave after wave of blinding, exploding incadescence that lights up the entire sky for a brief but estactic moment, thunderous cheers rousing from beneath.

When the spectacle was finally over, my ears were throbbing, neck stiff from the prolonged skyward angle, and my back aching after standing for too long, but heck, it was worth it. One down, its Hanabi season in Japan.

Jul 18th 2004
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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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