December 2016 movies

Here are the movie reviews I wrote for the December issue of EL Magazine, which was ditributed in Tokyo last week.

RZ6A8660.JPGA Bigger Splash
The emotional frenzy wrought by Italian director Luca Guadagnino in his first English-language film helps to distract from its weak underlying plot premises. Tilda Swinton is Marianne, a rock star resting up her shot vocal cords on a sun-drenched Mediterranean island with her younger lover Paul (Matthias Schoenarts), who’s also recovering from something self-inflicted. Their idyll is shattered by the arrival of Marianne’s ex, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), an old school debaucher who brings along his jaded daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson), and, in a bid to win back Marianne, proceeds to ruin everyone’s life. Though the film’s notable quirk—Marianne is mute by necessity—is also its default source of humor, it allows Fiennes to run away with the film, mugging shamelessly in an attempt to prove that Harry is still a force of nature. The fact that he’s a monumental jerk in the bargain is telescoped too soon, so when the shock ending implicates him it doesn’t feel as heavy as it should. The externals, including references to actual pop music and a real world subtext of refugees passing through, add nothing, so Fiennes gets the movie all to himself. (photo: Frenesy Film Company) Continue reading

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Media Mix, Nov. 27, 2016

Possible negative legacy: Volunteer uniforms for 2020 Olympics

Possible negative legacy: Volunteer uniforms for 2020 Olympics

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the quixotic movement to cancel the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The downside of the Games that is mainly discussed in the column has to do with the cost and, to a lesser extent, the virulent nationalism that turns so many people off, but there are other reasons given by anti-Olympics advocates to call off the event. On the surface, these other reasons may sound desperate, but in actuality they could really have a negative effect if they happened. One is earthquakes. Japan, not to mention the Asia-Pacific region in general, seems to have entered a long period of increased seismic activity, and the likelihood that a major temblor could hit the Kanto area in the next four years is high. Of course, that likelihood is greatly diminished during the two weeks that the Olympics actually takes place, but if a major quake happened in the year or so leading up to it, it could undermine preparations to the point where the Olympics might have to be moved somewhere else. Another, less mentioned reason is the Emperor’s health. Some reports have said that the Emperor’s desire to abdicate before he dies came about partly as a response to Tokyo winning the right to hold the Olympics in 2020. Those who were living in Japan when Emperor Showa died in 1989 will remember that a six-month period of mourning ensued, during which events of a celebratory nature were cancelled or otherwise frowned upon. The Emperor himself knows that if he died during the months leading up to the Olympics it would cause all sorts of problems for the Games. For sure, they would go on, because the world has too much at stake, but a substantial portion of the Japanese population would say that it is disrespectful and would call for them to be cancelled. However, if his son had already ascended to the throne, his death would not have the same effect. It seems the Abe administration, which would just rather not talk about such things, is willing to take that chance and is working against early abdication. Continue reading

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Cheap Trick, Oct. 1999

I recently realized that almost all of the music reviews I wrote for the Japan Times in the 90s and the movie reviews I wrote for the Asahi Shimbun during the same decade are not available on the Internet, so I will remedy that by slowly, methodically posting them here on my blog. I have not edited these, so all the prejudices and dumb assessments remain. Enjoy. Continue reading

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Media Mix, Nov. 20, 2016

Rena Nonen

Rena Nonen

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the scandal surrounding the Japan Record Awards. As is clear by the column, all the various players in the media work together to promote one another’s show business interests, so the idea of fostering quality and individual talent has almost nothing to do with honoring creative work. Though I’m sure readers will give me grief over my belief that Japanese pop music is terrible–not all of it is, of course, but the mainstream stuff is sufficiently, uniformly bad–the point I’m making, which is hardly a new one, is that all these various business entities conspire to oppress originality and elevate mediocrity. The culture is so rife with self-importance that often players confound their own interests just to maintain its primacy. For instance, last summer actress Rena Nonen reappeared after two years of inactivity. Nonen shot to fame in 2013 in the NHK morning drama, Amachan, and was considered at the time to be the hottest new face in movies, but apparently she had problems with her talent agency after she started activities outside of their control, so they punished her by not giving her any work. Her contract finally expired this year and she is trying to reenter show business, but she has to change her name to do so. She now is simply known as Non, even though Rena Nonen is her real name. Apparently, her old agency, LesPros Entertainment, still feels it has dibs on that name and because of their pull in the industry no one will hire Nonen if she uses it. LesPros could have simply overlooked Nonen’s extracurricular activities and continued promoting her, and probably would have made a lot of money in the process; but because of some unspoken rules in the industry they were compelled to isolate and then ostracize her, going so far as to deny her use of her own name. And, apparently, it’s not over. Some show biz media are saying that LesPros is still considering legal action against Nonen, which would effectively end her career. And that’s the real point: You go against the powers that be, and you’re finished, regardless of whatever talent or appeal you may possess. Continue reading

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“On connait la chanson” July 1998

I recently realized that almost all of the music reviews I wrote for the Japan Times in the 90s and the movie reviews I wrote for the Asahi Shimbun in the 90s and early 00s are not available on the Internet, so I will remedy that by slowly, methodically posting them here on my blog. I have not edited these, so all the prejudices and dumb assessments remain. Enjoy. Continue reading

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Media Mix, Nov. 6, 2016

marijuanaHere’s this week’s Media Mix about the Japanese media’s demonization of marijuana as its profile improves throughout the world due to medical applications. Though the column mostly addresses the legal problems that marijuana faces in Japan, the economic angle is worth discussing. The main point of Hiroyuki Arai’s Diet speech about marijuana in May was that its re-regulation for medical use could save the government a huge amount of money because it is so cheap to grow and distribute, whether it’s used to combat depression or alleviate the side effects of cancer treatments. At the moment, the LDP is desperately searching for ways to bring down the country’s skyrocketing health care costs, but the fear of pot as a “dangerous drug” is too overwhelming. Or is it? Could it actually be that certain parties have vested interests that would be undermined by decriminalizing marijuana, such as the pharmaceutical industry. It’s a supposition that can’t be discounted, but it should be noted that Otsuka Pharmaceutical is already working on a product overseas that uses active ingredients in marijuana as a palliative treatment. In fact, Masamitsu Yamamoto, the late liver cancer sufferer who was arrested for growing marijuana for his own use, went to Otsuka to ask if he could be granted an experimental license to use the product, but they told him it was against the law—in Japan. So in this case there is a Japanese company that is already taking advantage of relaxed marijuana laws abroad–it doesn’t make sense that they would oppose decriminalization here. In any case, the media refused to cover Yamamoto’s case, which he himself fought as a human rights issue. Though human rights get a lot of lip service in the Japanese media, they lose out in the argument if the other side cites “the greater public good,” which seems to be easier to advocate in the marijuana debate. Despite the popularity of movies like The Pineapple Express, the general public has been conditioned to view marijuana as akin to heroin and cocaine in terms of addictive, crazy-making properties, and so they don’t say anything one way or the other. Unlike in the U.S. and Europe, there is no underground bedrock of casual users, past or present, who are predisposed to support legalization. As one Japanese woman who lives in California and uses medical marijuana to relieve her depression put it on her blog, there are lots of Japanese people who are curious about pot, but they can’t even talk about it on social media because they think they’ll be arrested just for writing about it. The propaganda is that effective.

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Jonathan Richman, June 1997

I recently realized that almost all of the music reviews I wrote for the Japan Times in the 90s and the movie reviews I wrote for the Asahi Shimbun during the same decade are not available on the Internet, so I will remedy that by slowly, methodically posting them here on my blog. I have not edited these, so all the prejudices and dumb assessments remain. Enjoy. Continue reading

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