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Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

Aug 10, 2021

Torches & Twisties: My Top 10 Takeaways from Tokyo 2020*

*Note: Tokyo 2020 took place in 2021.

With Tokyo 2020’s very Japanese transformer cauldron extinguished once more, it’s time for a quick look back at the games. Like past years, I was pretty thoroughly engrossed in the proceedings for the two week span with plenty of excitement to go around. It’s perhaps slightly melancholic to notice one of my top takeaways from Pyeongchang 2018 was the athletes’ smiles, something we were robbed of this go around due to safety precautions. And while those masks and empty stands will always serve as a time capsule from these games, I’ll do my best to move past them and talk about a few of the other things we’ll remember in years to come. So in no particular order, here are my top ten takeaways from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

10. Surfing is the Best

Ask me now what I’ll remember most about Tokyo 2020 and I’d have to guess it would be staying up late and watching the totally awesome surfing competitions. I doubted this would work but the head to head format of knockout rounds with 30+ minutes of watching these guys and gals try to catch the right wave, throw the biggest trick, and then block their rivals was somehow both peaceful and exhilarating.

9.Mixing It Up Works

There was a trend this games towards mixed gender competitions and generally I was a big fan. This was particularly the case in the Mixed Relay Triathlon which had two men and two women, each competing in a 300m swim, 6.8km bike, and 2k run. Mixed swimming, table tennis, and archery events were also successful. When the Olympics try new things, they tend to lead to more entertainment, so I say, mix it up even more. This doesn’t apply to just gender. Tweaking the rules of sports to make them slightly different in the Olympics can lead to very fun results as we saw in the track cycling events. I called for it after Rio but the Golf tournament should be altered a bit to make it stand out (match play, stableford, something just a bit different). And there are other events ripe for the mix up as well.

8. Sport Climbing is a Great Spectator Sport

New on the menu at this Olympics was rock, aka “sport” climbing. For its inaugural bow, the main three disciplines were put together into a “combined competition.” Speed had the climbers racing up a pre-set course in 7 or 8 second bursts. Bouldering had them trying to solve difficult but low to the ground climbing puzzles. Lead found them trying to get as far up a course as possible, setting their rope as they went. The scoring system for the final was an awesome ranking system where the climber’s place was multiplied across the three disciplines and the lowest score won. So if a climber finished 2nd in speed and 5th in bouldering, they would be on 10 and their final place would be up in the air until all the climbers had finished the lead, meaning there was all kinds of drama throughout that final. Unfortunately Paris is going to split speed off into its own medal event and bouldering and lead will be combined, which is too bad as it’s fun to have specialists competing in events they aren’t the best at. What will (hopefully) be much better about Paris is the fans. It turns out sport climbing competitions are big parties with a DJ spinning music while the climbers do their things, making for a what looks to be a super fun spectator sport.

7. Not a Good Year for Soccer

Both the Mens and Womens soccer tournaments were pretty uninspiring. It could have been scorching hot humid weather or the empty stands, but it just seemed like very few of the matches ever got out of first gear. That was certainly the case for the USWNT who turned their Rio quarterfinal exit into a Tokyo bronze, but looked downright awful in three of their six matches. As for the men, I don’t think anyone, even the Brazilians, think that this gold medal-winning Brazil wouldn’t get blown off the pitch by the 2016 gold medal-winning Brazil. Blah.

6. A Few Sports are Actually Better in Prepackaged Segments

I know that sounds controversial. Almost all of the events are better when you can watch them as intended and let the drama naturally unfold. This is particularly true with surfing and sport climbing and the cycling events. But it isn’t the case with all Olympic sports and I actually found that NBC did a good job of packaging the swimming and track events for general consumption. Unlike almost every other event, I don’t think I would have gotten more had I just watched the full version of those on the app.

5. Gymnastics = Still Great

Gymnastics is starting to feel like the NFL. You know you aren’t supposed to enjoy it because of the damage it does to the athletes, but it’s just so freaking awesome to watch. Obviously this games’ storyline was dominated by Simone Biles and her twisties, but c’mon how amazing is it that Suni Lee still won Gold? And then MyKala Skinner, who wasn’t even supposed to get a chance at a medal, won the Silver on Vault? And then Suni got another medal?! And then Jade Carey got a freakin Gold on floor?!? and then Simone came back and got a Bronze on beam after all that?!?!?! If that isn’t what the Olympics are all about… man.

4. Athletes as Spectators: a Missed Opportunity

One thing that’s always fun about the Olympics is seeing the big stars at other sports’ events (remember Bubba Watson at Beach Volleyball at Rio?). So it seems like a big opportunity missed that the already in-bubble athletes were only allowed to attend their own sports’ events. Seeing Megan Rapinoe at fiance Sue Bird’s gold medal match, or Shaun White inexplicably at the skateboarding events (assumedly as part of NBC’s team) really pointed that out. Had more athletes been able to attend events more widely, those 98% empty stands could have been just 70% empty which could have made a pretty big difference to both the competitors, and the audience watching at home.

3. The X Games are Now Olympics

The X Games were a major highlight of my summers back in my late teens and early 20s. Thinking about it, I guess it was kind of like how I watch the Olympics now. While I know they’re still happening, I really haven’t paid much attention for the last decade and a half. But it doesn’t matter because the competitions have now just become part of the Olympics. This Olympics saw the first medals handed out for Skate Park, BMX Park, and Skate Street, all mainstays of the old X Games. And there were even a few names from those old days. Take a bow Rune Glifberg and Daniel Dhers. I know the response to Skate Street was a bit tepid, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The big question now is if we are going to see the vert pipe or big air arrive sometime soon. I wouldn’t be surprised, but I’m okay with leaving the moto events at home.

2. We Should Indeed Talk More About Mental Health

I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say here, but it makes sense to me that if you put a ridiculous amount of pressure on yourself to be the best in the world at something, there will be some pretty nasty side effects. And when the collective pressure of a nation and commercial television and media infrastructure get into the mix, it gets worse. It’s complicated, but we can do a better job.

1. Big Wins by the Women Sealed It

The USA trailed the Chinese in the gold medal count for most of the games — but huge wins by the USA Women’s Basketball, Water Polo, Beach Volleyball, and most notably Volleyball (their first) — as well as a surprise win by Jennifer Valente in the track cycling Omnium event pushed the USA past the Chinese by one single gold. The Olympics are not singularly about getting more gold medals than the Chinese… but that was a pretty awesome comeback.

Posted by enderzero at 3:49pm on Aug. 10, 2021    
Sep 23, 2010

Fantastic Fest From Afar

Today is the first day of Austin’s Fantastic Fest – undoubtedly one of the coolest film fests in the country. Set at the game-changing Alamo Draft House Cinema, Fantastic Fest features best genre and foreign genre flicks of the year. The mission is to show fun, scary, gross, hilarious, and just plain weird movies that you might not get a chance to normally see in the theater. Unfortunately, I won’t be there this year – but here is a quick look at what’s playing.

13 Assassins by Takashi Miike had its debut at Toronto and is a fitting closing night film for the fest. Other flicks playing at Fantastic Fest that I have mentioned here before include Japanese thriller Cold Fish by Love Exposure‘s Sion Sono, the stylized star-studded actioner Bunraku, and trip fest fave Enter The Void. Pretty much every HK action flick at TIFF will be at Fantastic Fest. This includes Dante Lam‘s Fire of Conscience, Andrew Lau‘s Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, and Wilson Yip‘s Ip Man 2. Finally two other festival faves that might make their way to a theater near you, the Korean thriller The Housemaid and Matt Reeves‘s very well received Let the Right One In remake Let Me In.

The Cool

I’m not sure why but the Mel Brooks classic Spaceballs keeps coming up in conversation recently. If I was at the fest, I’d be sure not to miss this raucous Spaceballs Quote-A-Long. Another cool looking flick is the documentary Nerdcore Rising about the new brand of videogame and pop culture reference filled hip-hop known as Nerdcore. Guillermo Del Toro is involved with two Spanish language thrillers at the fest: Julia’s Eyes and Agnosia. The Butcher Bros. out-there horror which I had the pleasure of seeing at Sundance, The Violent Kind will also play.

The Kick Ass

Along with the actioners I mentioned above, there are plenty of cool martial arts flicks at the fest. Tony Jaa returns with his Muay Thai stylings in Ong Bak 3. Action choreography legend Yuen Woo-ping directs Michelle Yeoh in True Legend. Gallants is a martial arts comedy that stars a whole bunch of HK legends. Donnie Yen stars in Black Mask director Daniel Lee‘s latest, 14 Blades.

The Rising Sun

Fantastic Fest always brings in the best in Japanese Cinema – especially when it’s wacky. Co-directed by three of Japan’s wackiest, Tak Sakaguchi (Samurai Zombie), Yoshihiro Nishimura (Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, Tokyo Gore Police), and Noboru Iguchi (RoboGeisha), Mutant Girls Squad promises to be an absolute crack up. On a bit more serious note, Yoshihiro Nakamura follows up last year’s Fish Story with the suspense thriller Golden Slumber. And a film I am very excited about: Takeshi Kitano makes his return to Yakuza films with his ultra-violent Outrage.

The Just Plain Weird

Machete Maidens Unleashed is a hilarious sounding docu about the world of 1960s-70s exploitation films in the Philippines. Norwegian Ninja tells the possibly true story of a ninja sent to spy on the USSR by Norwegian King Olav. Naan Kadavul is a “music-infused Tamil epic about a dope-smoking Vedic superman and a group of beggar slave children.” …wow. Finally – be sure not to miss the action-sci-fi-horror-sfx romp of the season, Sharktopus

Lemme know if you makes it to Austin.

Posted by enderzero at 6:50am on Sep. 23, 2010    
Apr 29, 2010

VCFest2010 – LA’s Asian Film Fest

VCFest – now known as the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival – begins today at a variety of sites across LA. Here is a quick look at a few of the notable films on the fest’s slate:

The People I’ve Slept With – USA
Quentin Lee and Koji Sakai team up for this rollicking sex and identity comedy starring Karin Anna Cheung. This film serves as the fest’s U.S. Centerpiece.
Screens Sat 5/1 7:00pm at DGA

Bodyguards and Assassins – Hong Kong
VC’s closing night film is a big budget HK historic actioner directed by Teddy Chan. The film takes place in the wild west that was Hong Kong in 1906 and stars such notable HK actors as Donnie Yen, Tony Leung Ka Fai, and Simon Yam.
Screens Thurs 5/6 7:00pm at The Aratani (in Little Tokyo)

She, A Chinese – China
This film from female filmmaker Guo Xiaolu looks to be an interesting character piece about identitiy and gender roles in modern China. It is preceeded by the short film Let Fly by UCSB Film grad Laurie Tsou. Congrats Laurie!
Screens Sun 5/2 4:00pm at Sunset 5.

VC’s Digital Posse – USA
Speaking of UCSB Film grads, VC’s popular Armed with a Camera shorts program is back and includes the short film Slip and Slide by Ms. Emily Lu. A collection of 10 other short narratives and docus screen along side. Pretty cool.
Screens Weds 5/5 8:00pm at The Aratani (in Little Tokyo)

Clash – Vietnam
If you enjoyed 2007’s The Rebel (which I loved), then you might want to catch this actioner directed by The Rebel‘s 1st AD Le Thanh Son and starring The Rebel stars Johnny Nguyen and Veronica Ngo.
Screens Sun 5/2 7:00pm at DGA

Beijing Taxi – China
Female director Miao Wang has put together a modern day portrait of China’s capital from the perspective of three taxi drivers in the days preceding the 2008 Olympics.
Screens Sun 5/2 6:30pm at DGA

The Taqwacores – USA
Straight from critical acclaim at Sundance, Eyad Zahra’s story of a Pakistani-American punk rock and identity makes its LA debut at VC.
Screens Fri 4/30 10:00pm at DGA

Last Train Home – China
I was a big fan of this Chinese migration documentary at Sundance.
Screens Sat 5/1 3:30pm at Sunset 5

The Chinese Connection – Hong Kong
Don’t miss this free outdoor screening of the 1972 Bruce Lee classic. It screens in the Madang Courtyard (Western & 6th) on Friday 4/30 at 8:00pm.

Villon’s Wife – Japan
Tadanobu Asano and Takaku Matsu star in Kichitaro Negishi’s highly decorated drama set in 1947 Tokyo.
Screens Fri 4/30 7:30pm at Sunset 5 and Weds 5/5 4:30pm at Downtown Independent

The Mountain Thief – Philippines
This interesting sounding narrative explores the poorest of the poor who live in Manilla’s largest dump. Writer/Director Gerry Balasta went so far as to cast the actual inhabitants, teaching them how to act in the process.
Screens Sat 5/1 12:30pm at DGA and Sun 5/2 5:00pm at DGA

Adrift – Vietnam
“Bui Thac Chuyen’s seductive and atmospheric rumination on sexual awakening as modern day Vietnam enters a social and moral crossroad.”
Screens Weds 5/5 7:00pm at Downtown Independent

Red and White – Indonesia
This historical drama set against Indonesia’s 1947 struggle for independence boasts the highest budget of any Indonesian film and is said to have some pretty impressive battle scenes.
Screens (for FREE) Fri 4/30 5:00pm at DGA

Hope you can make some screenings.

Posted by enderzero at 11:52pm on Apr. 29, 2010    
Feb 18, 2010

Sing for Goemoney

Long time favorite email forwarder and contributor Goemon finally has his own outlet for web-scoured hilarity. Follow his tumbls at Goemoney and prepare for a guaranteed good time.

Posted by enderzero at 10:06am on Feb. 18, 2010    
Sep 30, 2009

Fantastic Fest in Review


I just spent five great days at Austin’s Fantastic Fest and the experience was awesome. Aside form the 17 films I watched, the festival had plenty of other cool events on offer. This year founder Tim has opened up a bowling alley/party space called The Highball next to his amazing Alamo Draft House Cinema which offered the perfect place for the late night hanging and unlimited free skee-ball! The Fantastic Fest Debates were especially hilarious as after each debate (or roast) the contestants literally duked it out.

The cinema itself is something to behold. A 6 screen stadium theater with seats and sound on par with Arclight. But the real innovation is the full service restaurant built in. They have figured out the perfect system to keep the wait staff unobtrusive – you just write down your order on a little flag and they come by and pick it up. There is a long narrow table in front of each row to set your beer or burger and a little aisle below each row where the wait staff walks. I don’t know why no one has tried this in LA, but the formula is a winner.

All things considered it was a real blast. A world of thanks to Dan for making it happen. We’ll definitely do it again next year.

Now on to the film round-up (in order viewed):

FIRST SQUAD – Rating: 4 out of 10
This Russian animated feature is by the Japanese team behind Animatrix. The animation is cool but the horribly implemented documentary device of bad actors pretending to be history experts totally ruined the movie. This isn’t Waltz with Bashir, it is an action cartoon. There were a few cool story elements, but overall they weren’t enough to keep me awake.

GENTLEMEN BRONCOS – Rating: 9 out of 10
This new film from Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre) is as wacky as possible and genuinely HILARIOUS. Everything works, especially Jemaine Clement as one of the best characters of the year. It slowed down a tiny bit after the very strong opening, but the ridiculous fantasy sequences go a long way to smooth out the pace. This film certainly exceeded my already high expectations.

REC 2 – Rating: 6 out of 10
I was quite impressed by this horror-thriller’s clean look. The story works and there are some good thrills, but what is most remarkable is the first person narrative device that the filmmakers fully commit to with great success. More than any movie I’ve ever seen, this film feels like a videogame – and it is fun.

This film is about college students who train little supernatural creatures to battle teams from other colleges. While it may have a pretty bizarre premise, it is actually a quite traditional story about a loser guy who falls for a girl who is out of his league. All things considered, the film works and is pretty fun.

HARD REVENGE MILLY – Rating: 5 out of 10
This is a super low budget Japanese blood and guts actioner. The skeleton of a story doesn’t provide much to chew on, but the film does succeed at finding new ways to splatter the camera with watery blood.

ZOMBIELAND – Rating: 8 out of 10
This flick is most definitely the top of the zombie movie heap. It is maybe not quite as hilarious as Shaun of the Dead, but it certainly provides a lot more zombie killing thrills. The film has some great set pieces, an amazing cameo, and Emma Stone is Bodacious.

This is a really enjoyable wacky Japanese high school flick with some good acting and pretty decent effects. However, the real star of the film is the biting criticism leveled against fringe elements of Japanese society.

K-20: THE FIEND WITH 20 FACES – Rating: 3 out of 10
This big budget Japanese superhero film borrows heavily from every other superhero film you’ve ever seen. There may be some fun stunts and wire work, but the plot is just plain horrible. Worst of all, this film is sloooow and is far far too long.

UNDER THE MOUNTAIN – Rating: 3 out of 10
Two annoying kids save New Zealand from evil underground aliens whose story doesn’t make any sense.

YATTERMAN – Rating: 9 out of 10
Yet another genre mastered by Miike! This time it is the comic superhero comedy. The story is awesome with a lot of genuine emotion. The CG is top notch (as compared to the disappointingly low budget look of The Great Yokai War). The action sequences are fantastic and reminded me of playing the Dreamcast classic Powerstone. Overall this film in f*ing fun!

CLIVE BARKER’S DREAD – Rating: 5 out of 10
There wasn’t a whole lot wrong about this very indie thriller – but there wasn’t that much right either. I’d call it pretty damn mediocre and it is not helped by the generally unsatisfying ending.

VAN DIEMEN’S LAND – Rating: 7 out of 10
This story of a grueling prison camp escape in 18th century Tasmania is a bit slow and cerebral, but overall it is a well told story with some very nice cinematography.

MANDRILL – Rating: 8 out of 10
Mandrill is the Chilean James Bond and it is amazing! Ernesto Diaz-Espinoza follows up Mirageman by again directing the incredible Marko Zaror – who has got to become an action star around the world. The film is fun and funny and really does everything right. On top of that, the filmmakers and stars are very approachable and cool guys. Way to go.

Terry Gilliam’s Heath Ledger swan song was the only “secret screening” I caught. I liked the performances and the way it all came together but was turned off by the very cheap CGI (where were the magic visual effects of Brazil?) and overall I was unconvinced by the plot.

DISTRICT B13 ULTIMATUM – Rating: 2 out of 10
This film was very disappointing after the awesome District B13. There with no semblance of a story and almost no parkour! What the hell?

LOVE EXPOSURE – Rating: 7 out of 10
While there is a very different 100 minute movie somewhere in there (remake?), the 237 minute version is certainly an ambitious and generally successful undertaking. Melding a coming of age story with many Japanese sexual elements and borrowing a lot of themes from A Clockwork Orange, this film goes all over the map but is quite satisfying in the end.

METROPIA – Rating: 7 out of 10
This is a pretty cool sci-fi tale about big brother, all very stylistically animated.

Posted by enderzero at 3:37pm on Sep. 30, 2009    
Jul 10, 2009

Fun with Synchronized Webcams

Japanese band Sour employed an army of fans with webcams for this very innovative video.

Nice find ADK.

Posted by enderzero at 3:57pm on Jul. 10, 2009    
Apr 15, 2009

Wolf+Pig=Cool Animeta

Always on the look out for cool animation. This original idea is out the jp.

Good find J.

Posted by enderzero at 8:17am on Apr. 15, 2009    
Sep 10, 2008

Big season for JP Cinema


With Toronto currently unspooling, the festival season is now in full swing – and there are quite a few offerings from big name Japanese filmmakers.

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea – Hayao Miyazaki
This new Ghibli film directed by the one and only Hayao Miyazaki opened in Japan in July and made its international debut at the Venice Film Fest a few weeks ago. I’ve loved everything Miyazaki has ever touched – so no surprise I am highly anticipating this – which has so far received pretty positive reviews.
Official Site (JP – but some good pics)

Achilles and the Tortoise – Takeshi Kitano
I’ve missed Beat Takeshi’s last couple films (Takeshis’ and Glory to the Filmmaker!) but from all accounts that is a good thing. This seems to be another personal film about an artist with no real talent and features a good deal of his own paintings (like a number of his past films). I’m all for deeply personal (Kikujiro is one of my favorites of his) but how awesome would a new Takeshi gangster flick be?
TIFF writeup (also at Venice)

Sky Crawlers

The Sky Crawlers – Mamoru Oshii
A new anime from the acclaimed director of Ghost in the Shell, Innocence, Patlabor, and Jin-Roh – this sounds like an interesting diversion from his normal world of red-eyed villains and mechsuits. Best described in the TIFF writeup:

Dwelling in a pneumatic void of memories live the Kildren, teenagers destined never to grow up. Unless they are killed in action, they persist forever in a dull adolescence. The Kildren are a human breed of fighter pilots; created to play the much-needed game of war in a world that keeps real conflicts at bay, they are hired to entertain the citizens of Europe with their celestial battles.

TIFF writeup (also at Venice)

Still Walking – Hirokazu Kore-eda
Kore-eda is back with a story of life, death and family in modern Japan. Those who have never seen his 1998 classic After Life (Wandâfuru raifu) should really check it out. The English language remake is in the works right now in H.wood.
Tiff writeup

Tokyo Sonata – Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Kiyoshi tries his hand at family drama with a story that follows a man who loses his job but can’t admit it to his family. Familiar territory perhaps, but Kiyoshi is fantastic with his characters and this will be an interesting examination of honor in Japanese society no doubt.
Tiff writeup

Detroit Metal City

Detroit Metal City – Toshio Lee
I don’t know much about Lee (apparently most of his work has been in TV), but this adaptation of a famous manga has all the ingredients for some great JP wackery. Not to mention the fact that it co-stars Gene Simmons!

Souichi is a timid, sensitive and innately polite music geek who moves from the Japanese countryside to Tokyo with big dreams: he aspires to sing sugary love ballads and become a chart-topping sensation. But life does not turn out the way Souichi had hoped, and the only gig he can get is that of front man for the notorious band Detroit Metal City (DMC). Wearing a cape, tights and ghostly demon makeup, Souichi storms the stage each night as Johannes Klauser II, smashing guitars and spewing verbal filth in songs about murder and rape.

TIFF writeup

Hmmm, no Miike films at Toronto this year, though his English language western hit Sukiyaki Western Django is coming out in theaters this week. Be sure to catch it if you can. Also, I just finally caught Yoji Yamada’s beautiful Love and Honor (in the theater – two years after it was at Toronto) and it was everything I had hoped it would be.

Posted by enderzero at 1:34pm on Sep. 10, 2008    
Feb 29, 2008

Friday = Web Vid Weekly Roundup

What may become a semi regular feature around here, I’d like to bring you some of this week’s best/funniest/most popular web videos.

First is the DeLorean Dance Jam Ghost Ride the Whip.

See more of this week’s best after the jump…

Posted by enderzero at 12:39pm on Feb. 29, 2008