Horrible But Exceedingly Clever

When my old rock and roll alco-compadre DV was here for a whirlwind visit last June, one of the missions on his checklist was to try and track down Takashi Miike movies. He figured, quite reasonably, that it might be easier to find them in the black markets in Seoul than in Chicago.
That didn’t turn out to be the case, and we failed Mission Miike miserably, combing the Yongsan black market and Namdaemun in vain. Still, we had a reasonably enjoyable time trying, which is what life’s all about, after all.
Although DV’s tastes have always been more extreme than mine in most things, I was keen to check out these movies that he was so intent on finding. In the last few months, I’ve been bittorrenting my little heart out, and have managed to download and watch a handful of Miike’s movies, and they’ve, like, blown my mind, man. Phrases like ‘fanatical intensity’ and ‘horrible but exceedingly clever’ are used to talk about Miike’s transgressive oeuvre. That doesn’t even begin to describe it.
So far, I’ve watched

and I’ve never seen anything like them. I don’t know if I love or hate them, to be honest, but I’m glad I watched them. I must admit I don’t know bugger-all about Fine Cinema. I don’t have any trace of the fanboy otaku fetishization of things Japanese that seems to elevate some of the lamest Japanese culture-crud to cult status. I like David Lynch, and Kubrick, and I like Gilliam and Jim Jarmusch too, but I couldn’t possibly engage you in an intelligent discussion of why. I just do, OK?
Don’t know much about no art, but I knows what I likes.
Still, I do know when something I’ve seen or heard or read has reached into my skull and scrambled the curds around. I walk around in a daze for a couple of days, and then puke up some poetry, or get valve-clearing drunk and bang my head against the wall for a while in search of the reset button.
Those are good things, in case you were wondering.
But Miike’s stuff? That’s a whole other kind of thing.
Here’s a little quote from a book called ‘Agitator — The Cinema of Takashi Miike’ :

“When Kiyoshi accidentally strangles her in his rage, he takes her home and deposits her corpse in the garden greenhouse. He sends the visitor (who has been filming throughout with Kiyoshi’s consent) into the house to fetch some garbage bags, then continues to mark the parts of Asako’s body that he intends to cut off for easier disposal. He discovers that he becomes aroused by the sight of her naked body, then turns to the camera and says he finally discovered the feeling he couldn’t acknowledge before: a desire to have sex. If this is what he repressed, then he has been denying himself since his children were born. The moment when being a parent became more important than being a lover, he conformed to his duty and repressed his desires. The choice to make him rediscover a desire for sex (which he will then naturally act upon because realisation equals liberation) instead of a random other emotion is therefore anything but exploitative. It’s quite the opposite: being true to the character and to the film’s theme.”

Which sounds a little out there perhaps, but defensible in terms of story and character. If it offends you, though, you’d best not read further.
Because that paragraph doesn’t begin to describe what happens later in the scene — or what happened in the previous scene for that matter (in which Asako is raped and murdered by Kiyoshi) — events so simultaneously horrendous and hilariously bizarre that you find yourself dazed by the utter nastiness of it. Kiyoshi begins to have sex with the corpse — filmed in unswerving, all-revealing Miike style — and finds himself unable to, er, withdraw, apparently due to rigor mortis. After the corpse voids its bowels on him during his struggle to disengage, doglike, things proceed to get worse.
Yes, worse.
Miike’s been making movies for a little over a decade, and in that time he’s made more than 40 of them. The half-dozen or so I’ve seen so far have opened up and played a flashlight around in corners of my brain that see the light rarely, if at all. The sex scene, if that’s what you can call it, in the last ten minutes of Gozu, for example, as illuminating as it is of the allusively Lynchian psychological mysteries of the main character, had me, unshockable me, sitting there with jaw literally agape at the imagery. I won’t go into details, since spoilers suck, but it was the first movie I ever went back and watched again immediately after the climactic (and utterly bizarre) finish, looking for the threads that led to it.
If you want scrape your mind raw, and get down deep inside the churning sh-tpool that is our modern global culture, get right into some Miike. If you can laugh at rape and murder, giggle along with necrophilia and dismemberment, this stuff’s for you. Indelible memories of Miike were part of the engine behind my rhetorical flourishes in this piece I wrote up the other afternoon. The twining of sex and violence is a worrisome thing, of course. Every Miike movie I watch leaves me feeling a little guilty for laughing, and a little dirty for watching, I admit. But I also feel a little awestruck at the artfulness and audacity of it all. And once the distorting lens has been removed as the credits roll, the parodies of human viciousness that I’ve been watching have illuminated some things for me.
Miike brings it together pretty well himself, in an interview here :

C: In the torture scenes, the needles below the frame are like having needles stuck into your own eyes.
MT: Yes, I did want the audience to feel it. Particularly Japanese men, wanting to have a nice wife, a pretty wife, and to be happy – it’s something they all want to do. I knew by getting them to sympathise with the character, I could make them feel the pain that he’s going through.
C: Can you tell me about your use of sound to create atmospheres? Like the noise of the piano wires…
MT: When things are being severed, I’m using meat with a similar-type bone. When we were recording the sound, rather than turn up the recording volume, we put the microphone very close, almost in the hole – I wanted the audience to feel the vibrations, coming through.
C: Any other influences?
MT: (grins) I like Monty Python.

I’d recommend you watch a few Takashi Miike movies, but you might hate me afterwards.
[Update : In some kind weird blogospheric serendipity, I see Matt’s just posted something about The Happiness of The Katakuris, which was a Miike remake of a Korean film, The Quiet Family. Weird.]

Flickr Kicks Orkut Ass

I’m not real big on the ‘social software’ thing, but Stewart and the gang at Ludicorp have made such a cool, cool thing with Flickr. Join me, why don’t you? The water’s fine!

Lost In Translation

I watched Lost In Translation last night, and it made me feel all funny in my special place. Well, not really, but I can’t figure out if it really was a Fine Filmic Experience or not.

DIRECTOR (in Japanese to the interpreter): The translation is very important, O.K.? The translation.
INTERPRETER: Yes, of course. I understand.
DIRECTOR: Mr. Bob-san. You are sitting quietly in your study. And then there is a bottle of Suntory whiskey on top of the table. You understand, right? With wholehearted feeling, slowly, look at the camera, tenderly, and as if you are meeting old friends, say the words. As if you are Bogie in “Casablanca,” saying, “Cheers to you guys,” Suntory time!
INTERPRETER: He wants you to turn, look in camera. O.K.?
BOB: That’s all he said?
INTERPRETER: Yes, turn to camera.
BOB: Does he want me to, to turn from the right or turn from the left?
INTERPRETER (in very formal Japanese to the director): He has prepared and is ready. And he wants to know, when the camera rolls, would you prefer that he turn to the left, or would you prefer that he turn to the right? And that is the kind of thing he would like to know, if you don’t mind.
DIRECTOR (very brusquely, and in much more colloquial Japanese): Either way is fine. That kind of thing doesn’t matter. We don’t have time, Bob-san, O.K.? You need to hurry. Raise the tension. Look at the camera. Slowly, with passion. It’s passion that we want. Do you understand?
INTERPRETER (In English, to Bob): Right side. And, uh, with intensity.
BOB: Is that everything? It seemed like he said quite a bit more than that.
DIRECTOR: What you are talking about is not just whiskey, you know. Do you understand? It’s like you are meeting old friends. Softly, tenderly. Gently. Let your feelings boil up. Tension is important!
Don’t forget.
INTERPRETER (in English, to Bob): Like an old friend, and into the camera.
DIRECTOR: You understand? You love whiskey. It’s Suntory time! O.K.?
DIRECTOR: O.K.? O.K., let’s roll. Start.
BOB: For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.
DIRECTOR: Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut! (Then in a very male form of Japanese, like a father speaking to a wayward child) Don’t try to fool me. Don’t pretend you don’t understand. Do you even understand what we are trying to do? Suntory is very exclusive. The sound of the words is important. It’s an expensive drink. This is No. 1. Now do it again, and you have to feel that this is exclusive. O.K.? This is not an everyday whiskey you know.
INTERPRETER: Could you do it slower and… ?
DIRECTOR: With more ecstatic emotion.
INTERPRETER: More intensity.
DIRECTOR (in English): Suntory time! Roll.
BOB: For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.
DIRECTOR: Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut! God, I’m begging you.

What do you reckon? I’d like to hear from you, dear reader, what you thought about the movie. I know precisely jack sh-t about film, and place myself firmly in the ‘I dunno much about art, but I knows what I likes’ camp. Bill Murray, as everyone hastens to say, was pretty damn good, I thought, but was the movie all that, really, or just Japanophile pandering?
Inquiring wonderchickens want to know. Great movie, or just goodish?

Not Responsible

Given that Koreans are inclined — except in those areas of Seoul where us freakish, hairy, buttery barbarians are commonplace — to stare unblinking, or point and giggle when spotting a non-Korean, and are also known on occasion (when they’re pretty sure we’re not in earshot) to make westerners-as-apes jokes, this made me giggle. I don’t mind the stares as much as I used to, unless I’m having a bad day. I’ll probably have to get used to it again, living out in the boonies as we do now.
Anyway, I am so getting this made into a T-shirt.

lessons learned.jpg

The writing is Japanese, not Korean, but that’s OK. I’ll get that added in later. [found at The Site Which Must Not Be Named]

Digital Revelation

My birthday present this year, back in early August, was meant to be a digital camera. I’d done my research and come to the conclusion that the best bang for the most minimal buck was the Canon Powershot A70.
Unfortunately, that was right around the time that I became unemployed again. This usually does not worry me in the least, but seeing as how I’m all adult and bewifed and all, we decided to defer the purchase of any non-necessary stuff until I got re-employed, which I recently have been.
Hooray for me, skyrockets in flight, doves are released into skies of deepest azure, the baby jesus laughs with glee, etcetera.
Point being, friends, that the camera was delivered yesterday, and it’s been well over a year since I’ve bought anything for myself other than food and beer, relentlessly frugal as I am and downright cheap as She Who Must Be Obeyed can be, and I’m like a kid with this thing.
Now I don’t know the first goddamn thing about Art and Photography and all that crap, I just want to use this amazing new technology to help me remember. As regular visitors to the ‘bottle may know, I’ve had me some Amazing Adventures, mostly lubricated with whatever chemical stimulant easily came to hand. The problem with that, unfortunately, is that in my dotage I have rapidly fading memories, and rapidly fading images in my brain of who I did, and how what and when I did what I did, never mind why. And very few pictures to help the stories emerge, when I’m in a story-telling mood.
From regret at this deplorable synaptic deficit, therefore, I’ve resolved and now have the technology to make images, on the fly and without expense, to document for myself my life. My Life. Starting now! Not unlike Matt’s new thang, or Shelley’s new photo projects and pursuits (and hopefully career), I guess, but more artless, naturally, and less public. I plan to share little things that I particularly like, but it can be assumed that they may not have anything like the significance for you out there, my friends, that they do for me. Me and my brainfarts.
I am interested in becoming more skilled at seeing, and at capturing images that approximate what I see, but that will come with time and practice, I hope. I have little of either thus far. In the meantime, though, what fun!
Here are a few for you out of the dozens I took today. I don’t know if they’re ‘good’ or not, and I don’t care. I like them and that’s all that matters at this point, and I’m thrilled with the effortless alacrity of it all. I hope you like them too, if only to help you get a better mental image of the place whose portrait I’ve been trying to paint with words alone.

DMZ (and Bondaeggi)

Since I am inexplicably uninterested in writing anything at the moment, here’s some pics from the Deviant’s digital camera (covet covet covet) of our trip to the DMZ, and of DV himself, about to chow down on some bondaeggi (silkworm larvae). Mmmm, insectalicious!

DV about to eat a yummy bug. I made him do it. He was not terribly impressed.
Guards, guarding.
Assuming the position – half hidden behind the wall to minimize the size of the target presented. Seems a bit silly to me.
The guard post to which I managed to discreetly expose about two thirds of one butt-cheek while standing in the elevated concrete pagoda thing. Also the post from which the North Koreans apparently take pictures of tourists. Hope I didn’t precipitate an international incident.
UN side : lovely crushed granite. DPRK side : dirt, with weeds. Amusing, darkly.

CBC Home Delivery

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is running a push-technology trial called CBC Home Delivery, incorporating content from across the range of CBC media outlets. Everything old is new again.
Unlike good old Pointcast (remember that?), this freaking rocks. I’ve just received the first dispatch, and it is amazing, and includes a long and well-done piece on North Korea. (Edit : And Peter Gzowsky interviewing Iggy Pop – two heroes for the price of one.) Give it a go! It started in February, and will unfortunately end, at least in the trial phase, in June, but it’s worth it.

This Is A Test Of Korean

한국 말?

Edit : Woot! It worked for me, at least, on IE6. That was my very first MT-hack, and I’m pleased as hell that it seems to have worked. If you don’t see some Korean up there (or, come to think of it, even if you do), please let me know which browser/version you’re using.
Crap, now I have to worry about spelling in two languages, at least one of which I don’t speak worth a damn.
Edit again : If you can’t see the Korean characters above, can you also not see the Korean, Chinese and Japanese characters in this post at glome.org (from whence I have borrowed the UTF-8 encoding tricks to try and make this work)? Can you see them in one or the other, or both, or neither? Thanks for the help!
(Edit : I found this today, coincidentally – “an open community of bloggers who post in one or more languages about material discovered in one or more other languages.”)


I brought this up in a Metafilter thread recently, and was, if not shouted down, at least soundly spanked. While there have been 321 deaths thus far as a result of SARS, the World Health Organization has recently mentioned that there are over 3000 children dying every day from malaria at the moment, in Africa alone.
That’s a lot of dead babies, friends.
I will hasten to note that I do think SARS is a worry, and is not solely a media-homunculus, shoved into the spotlight to terrify and entertain us until the next Big Scary Thing comes along. It is a Big Scary Thing in its own right, and will hopefully be contained before it becomes Captain Trips.
Nonetheless, I thought a few illustrations might help to put things into perspective. If we set SARS Patient Zero have occurred on February 12 of this year, these are the way the numbers look as of April 28 2003, according to the WHO. Each tiny black dot is a human life.

Deaths from SARS, February 12 2003 to present : 321
321 deaths

Let’s have a look at some more happy fun numbers!

Read More

Comedy Gold


Usenet September happens everywhere eventually, and although it’s true the Something Awful forums are not as wildly creative as they used to be, by god, the goons can still occasionally pull off a thread that floors me. This is one of dozens of equally brilliant .gifs from a recent ‘animate art’ thread. The tenor of the forum is full-on Teen Geek, but the creativity is scorching, sometimes.