The Disregarded Gamer

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a1029970023_10Every year in June, I sit down and watch as much of E3 as I possibly can. E3, for those of you who don’t know, stands for Electronic Entertainment Expo and is a conference held in Los Angeles (I watch it online). It’s basically a place for all the biggest gaming companies to show off new technologies and computer games in development.

Actually, I’m not a massive gamer. Sure, I like games. I like them well enough to have written my dissertation on the similarities between games and theatre and I also like them well enough to consider gaming to potentially be one of the most powerful and fascinating mediums for storytelling in existence. But I simply can’t afford to keep up to date with the gaming world.

So why I sit and watch E3 every year, I’m not sure. I just enjoy it I guess. I find the air of excitement alluring and I can feel the passion that comes off from both developers and fans when something new is unveiled. I find each technological innovation fascinating even if I wont actually shell out for them myself. I find it inspirational (it’s no coincidence that I was writing my dissertation at this time of year!), compelling and just generally excellent.

But, and this is a big but: I always find the commercial side of it so frustrating. I actually would go as far as to say that commercial gaming represents the very worst of humanity. Yep, big claim, but I hold by it.

Last year I was appalled by the blatant propaganda apparent in most of the games announced. I actually began making a tally of the number of game trailers which began with a white man murdering a non-white man, usually a stereotypical terrorist. In the end, I gave up because pretty much all of them were thus. Propaganda in games has always been terrible, hence why I’ve boycotted Call of Duty and the like, but last year it was so distastefully paraded that I ended up feeling a bit sick.

This year, it was to be another kind of evil: Commerce itself.

Gaming has always been a competition between a few companies. Sony and Microsoft always battle it out to become the most powerful and preferred party while Nintendo plays hopscotch in the back garden. This used to be a sort of necessary evil as companies tried their damnedest to outdo the other in terms of technical innovation and quality of games. But this seems to be changing a bit now. That is, the battle is the same, but the tactics are different and they seem to me; dirtier.

Firstly, we have the concept of ‘exclusivity’.

Each console, Playstation and Xbox (I’m leaving out Nintendo on account of them playing hopscotch and not really bothering anyone), have had exclusive titles. That is, titles which are only available on their own consoles. I find this whole concept problematic to begin with.

This doesn’t exist in any other entertainment or artistic medium in the world. Can you imagine if films produced by Dreamworks had to be viewed on a Dreamworks player? Or seen only in a Dreamworks cinema?

Now, if something is made on a specific piece of kit and will only work on said kit, then fair enough. But what Microsoft and Sony are doing are buying up as many game publishers as they can and limiting games which could easily work on both consoles to just one, making sure the buyer has to buy that one. Sure, a game might work better on one machine than the other, but it should be the consumers choice which to get. Instead, that choice is being taken away from the consumer and if they are not willing to fork out for both, then they will simply loose the ‘privilege’ of playing certain titles.

The reason I feel that this is out of order is because the companies are not necessarily doing anything to earn their sale, they’re just creating a system which forces the sale. In this scenario, it is the consumer who suffers not the companies. No matter which company gets more sales or more followers, the real looser of the competition is the consumer because s/he must either submit to buy both or be be shunned by one.

I understand that each company must make money, however they should really have to earn it, not just try to force it out of the buyer. It should be the privilege of the company that a buyer has chosen to purchase their product, not the other way around.

And on that note, I am brought to my second niggle with the whole situation. Now this one mostly just applies to Microsoft at the moment, as Sony seem to be being at least a little bit considerate of the consumer…for now.

For a while these gaming companies have been playing a sneaky game with their products. For years, the gaming community has had a thriving market for pre-owned titles. Shops which trade in games for cash or credit and then sell them on…I think we all get the concept because it has existed forever, for every product imaginable. However, now gaming is becoming a much more complicated affair in this regard.

There are already safeguards up for certain games making the buyer of a pre-owned game suffer a penalty of sorts for not shelling out on a new, fully priced product. Perhaps certain content that is free with new copies has to be payed for in pre-owned ones. Now though, things are really going awry.

Microsoft recently made a few rather vague announcements that their new console will limit the sale of pre-owned games and along with it the prospect of lending a game to a friend. It’s still a bit vague exactly how this will all work, but it looks as though game publishers will be able to choose whether or not their games will be usable pre-owned. There is a possibility that they can be, however the buyer must pay a fee. This would mean that the price of pre-owned games in the shops would go up, not really making it viable to buy them pre-owned anymore. It would also mean that a friend would have to pay a fee to borrow a game from you.

Again, this doesn’t exist in any art form elsewhere in the world. I can freely lend books, art, DVDs or anything. And again, it is the consumer who is suffering because the company wants to maximize their income. It is pure commercialism with a blatant disregard for the consumer – Actually what it sounds like, is extortion.

I’m not even going to get started on the fact that it might be mandatory to be connected to the internet for online ‘checks’ every 24 hours else you loose the ability to play games… O_o

All of this, shows the darkest, most careless side of capitalism. There is no care for the people actually paying to use these products and it really does seem as if we’re supposed to be privileged and thankful that these companies have blessed us with their technology. No, it should be the other way around. We’ll pay you for this stuff because you prove that our investment will be worth it. You deliver the very best product you possibly can, the most enjoyable and eye-blisteringly awesome games and you do it for us. Without the buyer there is no market, so why are gaming companies treating the buyer so badly?

It makes me sad because I genuinely believe in games. I believe that they could be the most innovative, beautiful and wonderful medium for artists and storytellers in the world. They have already proved that they really do have the capacity to transport the spectator to another world, to make the spectator’s own journey the real story of the piece. But at the time being, I feel like I’m getting kicked in the face by a business man who’s pointing at my wallet and laughing the whole time I’m trying to go on this magical journey.

A few things have been forgotten here. Firstly, art has been forgotten. There are some tremendous and wonderfully talented artists working in games today, but I feel as though their work is being bastardised by the commercial aspect of gaming. Also, the audience is being forgotten, I don’t mean the audience as in walking £££ signs, I mean the human beings who will involve themselves in the art of the game and take something from it.

To end; Jerzy Grotowski said of theatre: In order to exist theatre needs at least a performer and a spectator. These are the two most important elements bar none. The same is true for games; you need the game and the gamer. Without the gamer the game is meaningless. Irrelevant. Worthless. The gamer is the one who brings the game to life, who experiences it and remembers it.

It would do these big companies good to remember this.Porsche-Penis-extender

Lost. Found. Remembered

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picture197Last week, I decided it was about time to put some pictures up on my walls. After all, I have been living in this room for about 7 or 8 months already and I haven’t made any attempt to make it my own.

Not having the money or attention span to go out and buy pictures or posters I instead decided to open an ancient chest of old bits and bobs that I have had hidden away in the darkest depths of my room (actually, I use it as a bedside table).

As the old chest creaked open, months old dust rising from it, I found myself wondering; what on Earth was in there? I had no recollection of any specific thing I had exiled into the chest and no idea what may have appeared from within. Waving my hand in front of me to clear the air, I peered into the dark, neglected chest and saw nothing exciting whatsoever… Just creased and dirty paper, half used pencils and a spider that would make Peter Parker himself recoil in fear.

Once a small, yet epic battle had occurred and it became apparent I would in fact have to work around this eight legged menace, I set to work pulling out all the old pieces of paper, trying to cause as little discomfort to the Spider as possible.

Rifling through them, I was delighted to find sketches and scratches from an age long past, a boy almost unrecognisable. Here, were line drawings of superheroes, anime girls and Star Wars characters. There was a portrait of my very first girlfriend right behind a kick ass picture of Samurai Jack.picture190

All these, were drawing and sketches that I had done not so very long ago, and yet they had been almost forgotten until this moment. In me flashed a deep nostalgia, as I began to remember the boy I used to be, and I couldn’t help but feel gleefully childlike again.

Rooting a little bit deeper I found some super short stories I had written in Barcelona two years ago. These flash fictions were surreal and vividly colourful; a real tribute to the time I spent in Barcelona. They captured perfectly the half crazed and (quite honestly) alcohol induced haze that has settled over those months of my life. I started to pine for those steep, winding streets, for that almost nonsensical architecture and those insane inhabitants.

Among these stories was a poster for the show we had created and performed there, once again, displaying well the mindset of that timepicture195

And then, after this, I came to what I like to call; The Seemingly Endless Age of Despair and Belated Teenage Angst.

Four abstract paintings rendered skillessly in watercolour. I remember this point in my life quite well because I didn’t enjoy it much. This was a time in which I would assemble my painting materials, sit and prepare to colour some comic-like masterpiece. And then, no sooner as the paintbrush had touched the page I would toss it aside in anger and frustration that nothing creative was occurring. Covering my hands in paint, I’d scratch and punch the paper not realising quite how melodramatic and ridiculous the whole thing was.

Still, I was quite proud of this one. I call it…Rage. <_<picture192

Well, this wasn’t a particularly dark time in my life, just a time I was being particularly foolish. Even so, it’s good to be reminded of it now that I can look at these and laugh. Truthfully, I’m just glad I didn’t attempt any poetry during that time. No doubt it would have been awful, the kind which would make poor William Pratt cringe.

There sure was a lot of crap I dug out of that chest, but it’s all on my wall now, displayed proudly. Not because I think any of it is artistically strong, but because each and every piece reminded me of myself at a different stage of my life. Some were sweet, some were cringe worthy, all were wonderful.

Coincidentally, today I received a message from WordPress reminding me that I’d been here for a year. That’s a year of blogging. A year since I left drama school.

It’s a funny and rare thing when one has a chance like this to reflect on who they once were, and by degrees, who they are now, and it should be cherished. Through these old discoveries I was sent on a sort of journey through my life. I didn’t really have any great epiphany on the way, and I didn’t learn any valuable lessons, it just made me smile. Simply and plainly.

If any of you have a secret chest of old crap hiding away, I highly recommend you fight off what ever monsters are safeguarding it and delve in. Go through all your old drawings or stories or diary entries or whatever it is you did back then. See if you remember being the kid that first put them there, and be happy to be the adult who took them out again.

See if you can go on a similar journey to me. It’s fun, you’ll enjoy it. It only takes 5 minutes and you can take a cup of tea with you.

I hope it makes you smile too.

Sandwiches and cigarettes with Hayao Miyazaki

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A few weeks ago I wrote a post detailing my first few days in Tokyo, with the promise that I’d follow it up with more details at a later point. A promise that I abruptly failed to deliver on. So, now I’ll try to fill in a bit on something cool which happened.

After our first show in the AiiA Theatre, we had a small meet and greet with members of our sponsors and other interested parties. During the night, we were told that our schedule was being suspended on a certain day because we were to be taken to the actual Studio Ghibli for a small tour. Now this, it may not be commonly known, is relatively rare. Rare enough that they have resorted to placing a very obvious piece of paper on the front door which states; ‘Studio Ghibli is a closed studio. We do not offer tours’.197758_10200499802631282_529193703_n

The studio is a collection of buildings in Koganei, Tokyo. It’s a lovely area and pretty perfect for the studio. It’s very green, very peaceful and very pretty. Jeff (who was showing us around and also happens to be the producer of the English dub of the upcoming From Up On Poppy Hill) told us that for some reason the local area was really badly planned, resulting in oddly laid out properties and lots of space in between them, filled with trees and other greenery. It really is the perfect place for the studio and gives the impression that these people are living the ideal ‘artist’ lifestyles.

It might also be interesting to note that Gainax have their studios there too. Unfortunately despite desperately wanting to meet Hiroyuki Yamaga (director of Wings of Honneamise (which I wrote a blog about here) and writer of Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket) I didn’t get the chance to see them.

On the way to the studio we were shown a beautiful building which was designed by Hayao Miyazaki himself and where all the Ghibli employee’s children stay during the day. As soon as they saw us, all the kids began running wild, shouting and jumping around, whilst their poor carer chased them desperately trying to calm them down. Next we walked passed, if I remember correctly, Studio 5, which is where the background art is done. And a few other studio buildings, but for the life of me, I can’t recall what happened where.

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Studio 5

The one place I do remember pretty well, is Miyazaki-san’s private studio. Stopping outside the building, we were shown where Miyazaki’s car was parked and told how he spends his day before being invited inside. After an appropriate period of suspense had played out, the man himself appeared in all his prolific, fantastically bearded glory.

I guess it comes with being one of the most important artists currently working, but when such a man enters the room, the effect is profound. An excited (and almost fearful) hush falls over the room and you can almost hear the collective hearts in the room skip a beat. I must admit, I’m not the sort of person to get star struck and I had to laugh a bit looking around the room at all the faces filled with so much admiration that they’d lost all control. It was a beautiful moment which I’m so glad I could be a part of.

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That is me in the stripy shirt and spotty trousers.

After he kindly signed and personalised pictures for us all, he thanked us for all our work and cracked out some sandwiches. Saying; ‘please smoke if you like – I’m going to’, he sparked up and we all dug in.

And let me tell you, these sandwiches were completely excellent! I took the box mine came in, but I think it got lost in transit. It’s a shame, that was a memory I’d cherish.

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Cast and crew of Princess Mononoke with Miyazaki and Suzuki.

We had a lovely time speaking to various people around the room and basking in the glory of the situation. Our Asitaka (the lead in the show) showed off riding Yakul (his trusty elk, played by another actor) and we all mingled most effectively.

After a wonderful time we were all hustled out and Toshio Suzuki took us into one of the other studios and showed us around a bit. Unfortunately I have to be a bit secretive about anything we may or may not have seen inside the studio, so I’ll stop there.

It was a wonderful, dreamlike time. We were told that we had somehow reminded Miyazaki and Suzuki of their younger selves and we had inspired them, just as they had us. Hearing that from some of our most respected figures was amazing and people cried and I laughed at them and a great time was had by all.

The next evening Suzuki took us all to dinner and I spent the evening talking about Ultraman G with Seiji Okuda, the executive producer of Death Note.

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My autograph. The umbrella was added because the character I play carries one around in both our show and in the film.

This day really made me reflect on the last few years. I’ve done some amazing things in the past year or two, and this was just one of many. I’ve trained under Gennady Bogdanov, heir to the Meyerhold legacy. I’ve made a show with Andrzej and Teresa Welminski, lead actors from Tadeusz Kantor’s Cricot2 company and wonderful artists in their own right. I’ve performed at a whole bunch of international venues including the legendary Moscow Arts Theatre. And now I’ve met Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki.

All these things attribute to a rather bizarre feeling; the feeling that I actually exist. I’m not getting weird here, I’ve not had some grand existential breakthrough, but it is a real feeling. Not that I exist on a molecular level and not even that I’m someone worth knowing about. But, just that I’m managing to exist in this world that I’ve chosen to be a part of. When I decided that I would be an artist, I sort of meant I’d write in my room and perform to my friends and family. But now, I feel like slowly, slowly I’m actually beginning to exist within the art world.

Obviously it doesn’t actually make a difference to my art no matter who I might have shared sandwiches with. But it does encourage me that I’m on the right track, that I really do exist in the same world as these great things and people, and that I might actually consider myself a real artist sometime soon…As opposed to a pretend one, that it.

Acceptance of my Liebster Award

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liebster-award“Ever heard of the Liebster Award Jack? If not, you’re about to because I just nominated you for one.”

What a very exciting comment for somebody to leave on one’s blog! This is what I woke up to this morning, and in my bleary eyed, half asleep state I felt incredibly humbled without even knowing what a Liebster Award was. I’m the sort of man who gets extremely over excited if anybody so much as hits the ‘like’ button on my blog. If a post gets more than one like, I am overcome with pride, and if anybody follows me I’m as giddy as a child on Christmas. So, to realise that somebody likes my blog enough to give me an award is absolutely grand. Although, I must admit it did make me feel slightly guilty about my lack of activity recently!

I have the lovely Linda Torlakson over at Thoughts and fears about dying (and living!) to thank for my Liebster so, thank you Linda!

I first came across Linda during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) where she provided much support and encouragement. Her blog is a lovely collection of posts and articles on writing and blogging, occasionally delving into questions of human nature and psychology. It’s a really nice, heartfelt blog which I highly recommend.

Now that I have been nominated for a Liebster Award, it’s probably a good idea to work out what that is, right?

Liebster is a German word meaning ‘dearest’ or ‘cherished’. Linda says that it has nothing to do with how many readers or likes you have, but simply shows that somebody out there is reading and enjoying your work.

The idea is that someone nominates a certain number of people for an award, and then each of them nominate their own people and so on and so forth. It’s been compared to those chain mails we’re all far too familiar with, but the difference is; Liebster Awards are nice, not annoying.

The person nominating you will ask 5 questions and then, you’ll ask your people 5 questions also.

So, here are my questions from Linda and my answers:

1. Why did you initially launch your blog?

I initially launched it as a way to research for my children’s novel Sketch. Each post was related to something I was writing about and gave me the opportunity to learn about it through writing about it. It was also a way for me to practice writing in general and to sneakily promote my acting work.
2. Is that still its primary purpose or has it evolved into something else?

Yes, and yes… That is still the primary purpose however Sketch has been on the back burner recently. The blog became more a place for me to speak my mind and ponder over subjects I found generally interesting. That was never my intention but I’m glad it has become this.
3. How does your blog reflect who you are (or who you wish you were)?

I think it shows off a less scruffy version of myself. A place where I can actually sort through my thoughts and think about what I’m saying, rather than just rambling as I do in person.
4. What do you hope to offer readers through your blog?

I just hope people find some sort of interest through it.
5. What are your five favorite blogs to read and why? (I’m giving you a head start on the nomination process should you decide to accept)

Well, I feel like this question is cheating! So I’m going to list my 5 nominations underneath:

1. Unbound Boxes Limping Gods – From writer Cheryl Moore this blog is a collection of shorts based on characters from her story Unbound Boxes Limping Gods. Cheryl describes her writing as ‘experimental feminist fiction and poetry’. This is deep, involving stuff illustrated by the author. I highly recommend it to any writers, or those who enjoy stories.

2. Brains are cool – This blog belongs to my friends boyfriend Barney Low. It’s a collection of  ‘ruminations about consciousness’ which although complex have been made accessible and easy to read by Barney.

3. HarsH ReaLiTy – From Opinionated Man. A blog about the harshness of reality (obviously) with scatterings of his own writing and poetry.

4. Otherwhere – News and film reviews from around the world, specifically looking at Japanese and Korean cinema.

5. Alastair Savage – Another writer blogging about his thoughts on poetry, fiction and pretty much everything else. Also placed throughout are extracts from his own fiction. Alastair has some very cool and interesting views on the world. Well worth checking out.

And now my questions to thou humble few:

1. Are you happy?

2. Does your blog help you fulfill your creative needs?

3. Do you write for you readers or for yourself?

4. What is your favourite city in the world?

5. Do you think that internet distribution of art (blogging, myspace, etc) and the fact that it is easier than ever for people to get their work seen by others, could eventually do away with the idea of commercial success for the arts (that’s nothing to do with artistic or creative success, just numbers on an atm)? Do you think that’s a good or bad thing?

Once again. Thanks very much Linda!leibster

Hello Japan

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DSC_0033As a kid I always wanted to visit Tokyo. It seemed like an amazing place, filled with cats and robots and anime-a-plenty. Well, yesterday I arrived in Tokyo where I’ll be performing Princess Mononoke with Wholehog Theatre! To come here for a work reason, and to perform in the theatre no less, feels amazing!

As first impressions go, this is a pretty crazy and exciting place to be! The funny thing is; it at once feels extremely foreign and strangely familiar. I think in this internet age, we have access to so much information, images and movies that we have a good sense of what a great deal of places are like before we actually see them in person, so we don’t find it so surprising when we actually arrive – wandering around the amazingly eclectic Shinjuku area of Tokyo was a lot like this. Things like the way the buildings are laid out, the songs the traffic lights play and things like that are exactly as I pictured them to be.

Upon arrival, we were taken straight to our hotel; The Listel Hotel in Shinjuku. It’s a lovely little place with fantastically 70’s style rooms. The best thing, was walking in and finding a complimentary cotton kimono laid out on my bed! Wasting no time, every male member of the cast donned these and met in the hallway whilst the women looked on and shook their heads at us. In our excitement at least four of us (spread over two rooms) forgot our keycards and locked ourselves out, wearing nothing but our new found kimonos.

Some great features of the room are a built in radio which plays obscure Japanese talk shows and a decent sized tv with some Japanese channels. Usually, the last thing I want to do in a hotel is watch tv or listen to the radio, but it’s just so interesting to see it here. Another enjoyable, if not rather surprising feature is the bathroom, and more specifically the toilet. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say; it’s all a bit much for my English sensitivities!

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Shinjuku, my temporary home

Wandering around Shinjuku is like a childhood dream come true. Everywhere you look, there are flashing lights and massive cartoon-esque signs. Pop music seems to linger in the very air and beautiful people on 20ft billboards are forever looking down at you.

There  are just so many exciting bizarre things to see at every moment. At one point, me and a few of my buddies; Adam and Andy, were walking down the street when a truck drove past dragging a trailer with two giant bikini clad robot anime girls singing pop music. Andy has since told me that they had chairs built into their groins…maybe they’re part of some sort of theme park ride? Who knows. Since then, we’ve seen this Giant Robot Truck (GRuck) several times.

The GRuck

The GRuck

Soon after this, we decided to pop into an arcade. Now, one thing to know about Tokyo, is that one does not just ‘pop into’ an arcade! It was five floors high (actually there was a sixth, but we dared not go in, on account of how pink it was and how many pretty girls there were in there). Still, me and Andy ran around the place with childlike grins on our faces watching the various pros playing on dance machines and other gadgets which defy comprehension.

Another thing me and Andy got over excited about was a Cat Cafe! Unfortunately, it was all booked up, so all we saw of it was the reception, which looked conspicuously like a vet. Still, we’ll be booking a place for next week at some point.

We also wandered into the Shinjuku red light district which is a fantastic blaze of lights, music and colorful dress senses. A really exciting, lively place to be, and I imagine the night life is amazing.

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Between all of this craziness are the temples. These are beautiful classic Japanese houses with lovely gardens and miniature shrines. In one, we drank water from a pool decorated with a dragon, in another, we played with Coy fish, making them swim circles around our hands. I found it really interesting watching people come and pray or make wishes at the shrines. I didn’t realise this was still such a large part of Japanese culture. I think it’s a shame we don’t have things like this in London. There’s something very peaceful, spiritual if you like, about it. I think from a purely practical point of view it would be wonderful to have somewhere to stop off at on the way to work, where we have a moment to reflect on the day, what we’d like to achieve from it, make a wish, etc. Obviously these shrines mean more than this to these people, but still, it would be nice.

Another very cool feature is of course the food! Noodles are pretty much my favorite thing ever, so to eat real, proper, genuine, yummy noodles is ace! Everywhere you go there are noodle and rice bars. Genuine Onigiri is also excellent – so, very excellent!

Partially related to food is the excessive amount of vending machines we see everywhere. A very exciting feature of these is the ability to get a can of hot coffee out of them for 100YEN, that’s about 67p. These are so obviously and incredibly useful that I find myself wondering why we don’t have many move vending machines in London… Oh yeah, it might have something to do with the fact that they’d most definitely get cracked open by someone a week after being installed. I’m told that Tokyo is the safest city in the world, and on the face of it, it looks likely. There’s no obvious signs of vandalism anywhere, bikes are left unchained in the street and walls of washing machines are left outside (possibly due to teeny, tiny houses) and nothing gets stolen. The whole bike thing took a while for me to get my head around. No one steals the bikes? What do you mean no one steals the bikes? But…They’re bikes…? I think everyone I know in England has had a bike stolen. I sort of thought bikes were supposed to be stolen. But hey. It’s very nice to know people are considerate and decent here, but it’s just a bit…weird…

On the way to work

On the way to work

All these things are mixed up within a beautifully maintained city. It’s very open and there are parks and trees everywhere! It makes such a huge difference, making everything feel that much more welcoming and pleasant. The whole city is very friendly and as I said, apparently the safest city in the world. An interesting personal observation; I remember going to Moscow and feeling sort of intimidated by the lack of English (etc) at first. But here, there is no more English, yet I feel super confident and street-wise. I’d have no qualms hopping on the metro and recon I could find my way around easily enough, or just wandering the streets. I now know this is purely psychological! When I went to Moscow the most useful piece of advice I was given was; ‘You will probably die’. Here, on the other hand, People have said; ‘You defiantly won’t die’. I thought I was relativity strong willed and open minded and I hadn’t realised how much these things effected my point of view right from the outset, but apparently, they really have. Obvious perhaps, but interesting nonetheless.

Last night a few of us went out into Shibuya, a hugely busy and popular area of Tokyo, where we met a nice guy who has been living here for a year who was able to tell us some very interesting things about Japan, Tokyo and the quality of life here, outside of our fairy tale vision of the city. I was very glad of this and he told me that he’s been blogging about life in Japan, so it’ll be interesting to have a look at his stuff at some point.

And of course, one very important thing we did was check out the theatre that we’ll be performing in! It’s the AiiA Theater in Shibuya. The theatre is rather large and rather respectable, so it will be extremely exciting to get inside of it! Of course it’s worlds away from the New Diorama in London, dwarfing it in size, so it’ll certainly be tricky adapting to such a large space…and such a large audience!

DSC_0031It’ll be great to see even more of the city if I can, but so far, my biggest impression of Tokyo is that it’s very green, very shiny and very wonderful. I hope I’ve given an idea of what it’s been like so far. I always find these travel blogs so hard to write, because I’m trying to give a sense of something which is also completely new to me!

I’ll do a separate post on our work in the theatre and any other exciting things we do throughout the next few weeks. But for now; Sayonara.

The Wings of Honneamise and THAT scene

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honneamise-726389Being involved with the first ever stage adaptation of a Studio Ghibli film, it will come as no surprise to anyone that I’m surrounded by other Ghibli enthusiasts and general anime fans. Of course, when surrounded by these sort of people and these subjects, one will undoubtedly find their interest in such things re-ignited with more fire than before. This is certainly how I am feeling at the moment and because of this I have been watching a number of anime titles I have up to this point never seen before.

Last night, I watched a fantastic little film called Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise.

Wings of Honneamise was released in 1987 and is the first and only full length feature film produced by animation studio Gainax. The film takes place in an alternate version of Earth in which an industrial revolution is flourishing despite the impending war between two nations (Honneamise and ‘The Republic’). At this time, the Space force is working (much to the amusement of the ‘real’ military) towards putting the first man in space. That man is Shirotsugh Lhadatt, who only joined the space program because he didn’t qualify to join the more reputable air force. Lhadatt is a bit of a slacker, only continuing his work with the space program as a way to ensure he can continue to live comfortably compared to the many homeless and jobless of Honneamise.

Whilst wandering the streets one night he meets Riquinni Nonderaiko, a kind hearted religious girl who is preaching against the many injustices and sins of the world. The two become friends and Riquinni’s enthusiasm about what the space program symbolises rekindles Lhadatt’s pride in the program. This is why he volunteers to take the role of first astronaut, despite the obvious danger to himself.

And this is pretty much the basis of the film. From here on we learn about the characters, we see the effect the space program has on both the people and the governing body of  Honneamise, we watch the conflict between the two nations build, using the space program as a catalyst to wage their inevitable war, and we see the growth of our main characters.images

Wings of Honneamise is generally considered one of the finest examples of Japanese adult animation. However, most reviews are often worded something like this:

‘One scene short of a masterpiece.’

‘One of the best animes I’ve ever seen, despite ‘that’ scene.’

‘A beautiful film ruined by one ugly scene.’

Many, many people agree that there is a single scene in the film, often referred to as ‘that scene’, which soils the overall experience the film offers. If you have seen the film, you will instantly know which scene I’m referring to. If you haven’t, then you should know that I’m about to start giving away spoilers for the film, so if you intend to watch it, you might not want to read on.

The scene in question comes about two thirds into the film, when Lhadatt attempts to rape Riquinni in her home. The scene is very coldly realised and unrelenting in its portrayal of the act. Lhadatt attacks Riquinni as she is undressing, pinning her to the floor before he realises what it is he’s doing and stops himself. At this point Riquinni gives him a well deserved braining with a candlestick, knocking him unconscious. The next morning, as Riquinni is leaving home, Lhadatt runs after her to apologise but instead she insists that she be the one to apologise for hitting him. ‘You’ve done nothing wrong,’ she says, ‘You’re a wonderful person and I shouldn’t have hit you. Please forgive me or I shall never forgive myself.’ Well, that all sounds pretty awful and misogynistic now doesn’t it? But  y’know…I’m  not so sure.honneamise3

Now, before I go any further, allow me to explain myself. I despise the way rape is used in media nowadays. It seems to me that whenever a story requires a female character to be hurt, traumatised or damaged in any way, rape is the first port of call. Whenever a man has to be shown as being evil, he’ll rape, or threaten to rape someone. Websites such as Women in Refrigerators exist as a reminder of our frighting and frankly disgusting preoccupation with rape. However, when I was reading reviews of Wings of Honneamise after having seen it, I found myself disagreeing with people’s disgust at this scene. I felt that a lot of people didn’t understand why the scene was in the film at all, and many think the film would be better without the scene. So, I’d like to offer my point of view, what I think the scene’s function is and why I think it is important that it remains.

Right, so, from the outset I am very very surprised how few people mention the scene which comes before ‘that scene’. Some background first: When Lhadatt first comes into contact with Riquinni she is living in a small house outside of the city. Throughout the film we see her life systematically destroyed by the commercialist world they live in; first her electricity is shut off, then her house is demolished to make room for a power plant. She moves into a seemingly unused church after this, which is where ‘the scene’ takes place.

Just before, the two of them meet outside in the rain and rush home together. When they get inside Riquinni takes off her wet boots and some money falls out of them which she shamefully picks up, whilst Lhadatt and Manna (a little girl living with Riquinni) pretend not to notice. For the rest of the evening Lhadatt ignores Riquinni, refusing to look at her until he begins watching her legs from beneath the table. Now, for me, the whole money in the shoe thing was an obvious sign that Riquinni had been prostituting herself to make ends meet. This is reinforced later when Lhadatt mentions that Riquinni ‘must be at…work…’. I’m very surprised that so few people seem to have picked this up.

This fact sort of changes everything. For a start, it goes towards explaining why Lhadatt is so angry with her, and why he allows his frustration to take control. Whether or not Lhadatt is in love with Riquinni is up for interpretation, but it is plainly obvious that he cares for her and that he is attracted to her. The fact that he tries to befriend Manna and offers to give Riquinni the money for a solicitor after her home is destroyed shows that the attraction is not purely physical. So when he learns that she is whoring herself, but still will not consent to anything other than a platonic relationship with him, he is deeply hurt. His anger at her for selling other men the sort of attention that he would have cherished from her sparks his anger and he takes on a certain ‘if they can have you, so should I’ mentality.

But this is not all. Riquinni acts as a pillar of strength for Lhadatt. She renews his pride in his mission, and that what he is doing is right, that he isn’t simply part of what she considers a sinful, unjust world. This is extremely important given that before he goes to visit Riquinni he undergoes a press release in which someone tells him to make up something about why the space program is important and what it symbolises for mankind. By his reaction it’s plainly obvious he is loosing any faith in ‘why’ he’s doing it. Directly after this a news reporter tells him that 30,000 people could be re-homed if the space program cut its funding by half. The reason he goes to Riquinni after this is for some kind of support and reassurance. Instead, he finds out that the purest, most innocent and righteous person he has ever met is prostituting herself. This feels like a betrayal to Lhadatt who is not smart enough to notice the necessity of her actions. He simply feels like she is making a ‘compromise with God’ which is exactly what he suggests earlier when asking why she wont be with him. She replies by saying ‘it’s that sort of compromise that made the world what it is today!’, so it hurts Lhadatt to find her making exactly that sort of compromise. I also wonder, even though it’s never said, that Lhadatt might be able to provide for her if she let him. The main problem of course, is that Riquinni sees no romantic future with Lhadatt whatsoever.

Earlier in the film, Riquinni gave Lhadatt a holy book which he has been reading, trying to understand her point of view. When he finds out she has given into the harsh, sinful side of reality, he looses all will to be anything else and so too gives into his temptation.

During the attack he pauses. As he lies on top of her he suddenly realises what he is doing and stops himself. This moment acts as a symbol as well as a literal event. Lhadatt’s realisation is not just the realisation that he is capable of raping a woman, but that he is part of the military driven society which has forced her into prostitution. It’s only at this moment that he really hears the words of the news reporter. Well over 30,000 people, like Riquinni, cannot afford homes, and are being forced to find ulterior methods of securing income simply to survive because of large scale projects such as the space program. In many ways, the rape of Riquinni has already been carried out, and she had already been defiled by the society they live in, a society which Lhadatt plays a lead role.

None of the above defends Lhadatt’s actions, and in fact shows that he is no better than anyone in the film. He does an awful thing which shocks both the audience and himself. Many reviews I’ve read criticise this scene for destroying a character who had up to this point been rather likeable. I would argue that this is the point of the scene, in which we are shown that nobody, not Lhadatt nor Riquinni are without sin, and are affected by the state of their society.

The later scene, in which Riquinni apologises for hitting Lhadatt backs this up as soon as we realise that Riquinni is not really saying sorry for clocking Lhadatt over the head with a candlestick, but that she is saying sorry for giving into sin. Just as Lhadatt cannot see the necessity of Riquinni’s work, she can not see the righteousness in it. She understands she must do it to provide for herself and Manna, but she sees herself as sinful and wrong. There’s also the possibility that Riquinni is in complete denial about the whole thing. This leads on to something else people have criticised.

Lhadatt doesn’t seem to feel much remorse about the whole thing. It’s never mentioned again, he doesn’t seem to brood over it. In fact, it seems to be almost entirely swept under the carpet. This is generally considered to be bad taste on the part of director and writer Hiroyuki Yamaga, and a sign that the scene served to real purpose other than to shock. I think it’s something else though, I think it’s firstly another example of one of the films main themes; denial (the denial of sin, the denial of being a part of a corrupt government, etc) Lhadatt is denying the event just as much as Riquinni is. It’s also a cold reminder of human nature. I suppose in Lhadatt’s head it is easier to pretend it never happened than to face up to the fact, especially if Riquinni seems content to do so.

These are the films darkest moments, and show our characters in the most negative light. It also comes just in time for the final part of the film in which the action really picks up. Lhadatt is pursued by an assassin in a somewhat rather absurd chase scene, and then we’re onto the final stint in which the rocket is finally launched into space. Then effect it has though, is that we can never really shake the feeling that the scene has left us with. Our connection with Lhadatt has weakened and we cannot wholly root for him any more. This, being the desired effect. Once Lhadatt has reached space, we are left wondering if it was really worth it. If Lhadatt is the kind of man who should be named a hero and an innovator, which is likely to happen, and we wonder if the space program was worth the poverty and conflict that it caused. It’s actually quite hard to feel good for the people of Honneamise.

This is really important given the final prayer of the film.

Just a quick note – I watched the film subtitled, and have realised that it differs a fair bit from the dub. So my understanding of the end is based on the sub translation.tumblr_mbehctdXq51qj7fjto1_1280

‘Is anybody down there listening to this broadcast? This is mankind’s first astronaut. The human race has just taken its first step into the world of the stars. Like the oceans and the mountains before, space too was once just God’s domain. As it becomes a familiar place for us, it’ll probably end up as bad as everywhere else we’ve meddled. We’ve spoiled the land, We’ve fouled the air. Yet we still seek new places to live, and so now we journey out to space. There’s probably no limit to how far we can spread.

Please. Whoever is listening to me. How you do it doesn’t matter, just please; give some thanks to man’s arrival here.

Please, show us mercy and forgive us. Don’t let the way ahead be one of darkness. As we stumble down the path of our sinful history, let there be always one shining star to show the way.’

This is a great achievement from a flawed species. It could spell new hope, or new disaster. Is it a good thing Lhadatt finally reached space? The answer is simply yes, because it shows that through everything, human perseverance has won through. It is also positive because the men and women of the space program were working towards the betterment of mankind, not a political leg up. However, it is what comes next which would tell.  Reaching space may fill many with hope of a bright new era of innovation and perhaps peace, or, as is suggested earlier in the film, if taken into the wrong hands it may spell new and inventive ways for the two nations to bomb each other.

It is neither an optimistic nor pessimistic end to the film, and this is important. I think if the film and the characters had not reached the lows that they had, then the ending would not have been so poignant.

One final note:

I found an article here that describes the scene and says that anyone who defends it is ‘intellectually dishonest or just human filth’. Well, I guess I fall into this bracket, so, human filth it is. But, the writer did include a few things that made me raise my eyebrows:

Apparently, in the commentary track the assistant director, Takami Akai, says that ‘Riquinni reveals herself as a “strong woman” by completely forgiving Shiro and saying that it was her fault’. Well…I don’t really know what to say about that. Obviously I’d argue that it suggests the exact opposite, and that she, like Lhadatt is in fact shown to be very weak. This doesn’t change my analysis of the film, but it does make me wonder just what were the original intentions of the film makers, and if they were consciously aware of all these interpretations people now make.

Another thing that really shocked me was that Akai apparently mentions that he wanted to use animation rcels from the attack as promotion material. Fortunately, people hid all of the production materials from him. Obviously, this can in no way be justified and that all this paints Takami Akai in a very bad light, but I haven’t listened to the whole commentary track myself, so I can’t say anything for sure.

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And so there you have my 2 pennies worth! Whatever the film makers intentions may have been, the fact is that ‘that scene’ is not merely one scene among many, but feeds into the whole rest of the film, and I think it has to be viewed this way. To many people seem to take the scene on it’s own, as a horrible and shocking piece, which it is, but when taken as a part of the whole it is not completely gratuitous or unnecessary. Are there other ways the film makers could have portrayed this? Probably. But they chose this way, and instead of just booing it, it’s important to see why it’s there.

Another meaningless coincidence…

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I have read The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy many times, and I am sure I will read it many times more.

Recently, at work I have been getting rather annoyed at the amount of time I’m wasting listening to Smooth Radio and the repetitive noise that is Karrang (which is still playing the same songs I used to listen to when I was 15). And so, instead of sneaking books around in my pockets and swearing under my breath every time I have to put it aside to actually do some work, I have decided to try listening to a few audio books.

Today,  I decided to start listening to the Hitchhikers Guide, read by Douglas Adams himself. I was instantly reminded just how perfect this book is and how the introduction pretty much sums up my entire world view in roughly 600 words.

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Tonight, I arrived home, plugged myself into the matrix and the first thing I saw was the Google main screen, which today features an animated image of a computer desk, along with moving dials, a window looking out into space, an automatic door which opens to reveal a certain paranoid android, a travel bag, a towel and of course the great guide itself.

Completely unbeknownst to me, today marks the 61st birthday of Douglas Adams, and I couldn’t help but laugh thinking to myself ‘How like Adams to present me with such a marvelously pointless coincidence’.

So, to celebrate his birthday and to honour the book, I thought I would post the aforementioned introductionwhich I think is a small masterpiece of literature in itself.

If you have not read the book then I sincerely urge you to do so, if you have, then let’s read it again to mark the day…or simply just to re-read it once again.

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Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy, lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time.

Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.

Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.

And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realised what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.

Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terrible, stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost forever.

This is not her story.

But it is the story of that terrible, stupid catastrophe and some of its consequences.

It is also the story of a book, a book called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – not an Earth book, never published on Earth, and until the terrible catastrophe occurred, never seen or even heard of by any Earthman.

Nevertheless, a wholly remarkable book. In fact, it was probably the most remarkable book ever to come out of the great cooperation of Ursa Minor – of which no Earthman had ever heard either.

Not only is it a wholly remarkable book, it is also a highly successful one – more popular than the Celestial Home Care Omnibus, better selling than Fifty-Three More Things to do in Zero Gravity, and more controversial than Oolon Colluphid’s trilogy of philosophical blockbusters Where God Went Wrong, Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes and Who is this God Person, Anyway?

In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker’s Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects.

First, it is slightly cheaper; and secondly it has the words ‘Don’t Panic’ inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.

But the story of this terrible, stupid Thursday, the story of its extraordinary consequences, and the story of how these consequences are inextricably intertwined with this remarkable book begins very simply.

It begins with a house.

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, copyright © 1979 by Douglas Adams