Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Having hogged my brother's Notionwerks website for years now I've finally gotten my bones together to set up my own domain. After much deliberation I've finally settled on ( tying into the cinematography, chiaroscuro thing ) One has to realize that with the word "light" within the name its only too easy to end up sacrosant sounding ie "", nor did I wanted something too corporate, not running a business here. Right now its all but an empty shell, but go to for a peek.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Isao Yukisada's tearjerker Sekai no Chushin de, Ai wo Sakebu ( Crying out love at the centre of the world ), though employing an egregiously cliched, age old melodramatic narrative that is sure to have teenage girls swooning for the lead actor's undying love in the film, is redeemably executed with accomplished skill and beauty ( no small part due to Shinoda's photography ). As unabashedly sentimental as the film is, the superbly timed use of Ken Hirai's moving ballad can really get one reaching for their hankies.

Regrettably, this marked the final film shot by DP Noboru Shinoda, a long time collaborator with Iwai Shunji, whose cinematography work included Love Letter, Swallowtail Butterfly and April Story.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Tokyo Tower, in all its night glory. Merry Christmas folks. :]

Thursday, December 16, 2004

To celebrate Takeshi's last day of work ( Takeshi+Kojima are bound for Montreal come late January. *sniff* ) and my film school admission, we had a nice dinner at a restaurant in Nakameguro, where as we were making our way there I was told a scene in Lost In Translation was shot just a street away, outside a Pachinko Parlour. Hmm. Back home we were then treated to Kojima's exquisite Mandarin cheesecake, honto ni umagatta. With some free time on my hands finally, a few events are in order, not least some decent photo trips, Takeshi dittos that.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Perhaps the Japanese were once again exercising their usual diffidence and propriety but me and my friends just could not for cat's sake control our uproarious laughter yesterday while watching Pixar's latest outing The Incredibles. Coupled with Pixar's now reliably excellent plot and visual delivery is Brad Bird's unique direction, a style ringing close to the underrated Iron Giant. There's a hint of mischievious nature seemingly missing from Pixar's past works that is beautifully integrated here, the Warner Bro's animation touch if you will.

Highlight today however must go to the receipt of Toho Gakuen's letter of acceptance, my film school starting next April. Kojima-chan was noticably more estatic than me when told the news, chotto bikkurishita. *laughs*

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Its uncomfortably cold this time of the year in Tokyo, but it can only get colder. There is a palpable change in the air, the seasons in gradual transition. Everyday as I cycle to school I witness the maple leaves cover more and more of the walkways and pavements but still the trees seem reluctant to lose their yellow skin for the scarlet reds. If only I wasn't so caught up with school work I could have spent an entire afternoon photographing this beautiful sight, imbued with nature's rich colours and textures. Let's hope there's time yet.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

It would seem at long last that the talented folks up at SquareSoft ( now Square Enix ) have decided finally to make right the debacle years ago that was to become FF : The Spirits Within. I've always yearned for a Japan tight FF film with inputs only from their own design team. FF7 - Advent Children, original planned a game, was rescripted and will soon be released as a CG film direct to DVD. I've never followed the FF games but the redesigned CG character Cloud is simply put, beautiful. Better yet, his antagonist Kadaj, ( screen shot below ) looks so devastatingly cool, been a baddie has never felt so good... *rants on like an overexcited kid*

Monday, November 22, 2004

If, Miyazaki Hayao fan or no, after a viewing of his latest animation film Howl's Moving Castle one detects a perceptible difference from his previous works, not so much with the style and visual treatment, but storyline, that's because it is - the script is an adaptation of a children's book by British author Diana Wynne Jones. Though this detail does little to hinder the film's overall greatness, I cannot but feel a sense of detachment, as if the distinctive, Hallmark Miyazaki visuals are just one soul removed from the story. It is not typical of Miyazaki to center his theme and message on the romantic relationship of the protaganists, themselves usually contributing only a certain fraction to a bigger, broader subject that is the more important message he wishes to convey.

Of course, this simply isn't a Miyazaki story to begin with. Certainly my deplorable level of japanese is also hindering my ability to understand the story fully. ( no, no subtitles for a Japanese film in Japan, it makes sense. ) Let's hope I get to see the dvd soon with subtitles and personally no, nothing comes too close to Mononoke Hime , period.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

It was only yesterday did I discover that the National Museum of Western Art in Ueno Park houses a most impressive collection of paintings running the gamut from movements like Romanticism, Post-Impressionism, Dada to Pointilism. ( Being able to recall these semantics, admittedly, credit must go to my Victoria School AEP teacher, who tormented us with lengthy essay assignments on art movements. ) Some noteworthy names included Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Tiepolo, Pollock, Rosetti, heck, they even had an El Greco. But certainly the highlight had to be the Delacroix ( housed in a quaint, original Delacroic frame ) even though the painting on display was a lesser known work I couldn't remember, but standing in its presence where the master had worked his magic some 200 years ago still gives one considerable kick. Now all that's left to do is to see Liberty Leading The People in Louvre.

Monday, November 01, 2004

As visual echoes of the lusciously photographed 2046 continue to course unbridled through my brain, threatening to inundate and flood out lesser, perceived inferior imagery, one lucid observation comes quickly to mind - Doyle and WKW have once again topped their personal standards of the brillant marriage of visuals and content. Pausing momentarily to evaluate recent chinese film history, with the exception of perhaps John Woo, ( with his gun totting, slow mo antics ) no director and DP have created film images so strong and intense in personal style that they are almost instantly recognizable as such. As Tony Leung converses with a character we could never see, often hidden behind a door or out of frame, we are at once cut off and unable to assert our presence, lessening the experience more akin to that of a voyeur. This motif continues from In The Mood and becomes ever more pervasive here, alienating our role as an unobtrusive, obscured viewer.

Watching 2046 gives the attuned moviegoer a collective chance of appreciating the best work of 3 masterful auteurs - Doyle, WKW and Tony Leung, all in excellent form, with the sum of their respective creative inputs culminating into a portmanteau work that is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

There's an extraordinarily electrifying and exhilarating scene in Kazuaki Kiriya's live action rendition of the anime Casshan: Robot Hunter, where the protaganist Tetsuya, having realized that he is the reborn warrior Casshern, lays complete and utter waste to an impending army of invasion robots without so much as breaking a sweat, in between looking devastating stylish and with his affection Luna tucked safely in his arms. The adrenaline rush can be likened to watching the finer moments of those antiquated Hong Kong kungfu flicks where the hero finally learns his skills and starts to kick some, only this is shot with tons more style and coupled with excellent music.

Having raised the bar to its apex hitherto however, the plot starts its descent into sanitized morality issues and lengthy, philosophical ramblings on the ravages of war, but with a fairly disjointed and convoluted narrative so far, one finds it hard to relate to any of the characters, much less their idealistic musings. My take would be to sit in for the stunning visuals, but leave the human ethics lessons at home.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

" How happy is the blameless vestal's lot! The world forgetting, by the world forgot. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd. " -- Alexander Pope

Not enough praises can be sung of Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, indeed, though filmlovers familiar with screenwriter Kaufman's work have come to expect much from his writings, the basis of which gave birth to bold and inventive works like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, none of them exhibits the sensitivity and romantic longing that envelops Eternal Sunshine "like a soft blanket on a chilly night", quoting BFI's Sight and Sound. This added emotional element raises the film to a higher plane where, bar entities devoid of feelings, makes anyone wonder about their memory backlogs and if Lacuna( really such a good idea.

Michel Gondry makes up a third of the triumvirate of genius minds, along with Spike Jonze and Chris Cunningham, whom with their pool of vastly influential MTVs have undeniable shaped the look of the industry. Come the day when Cunningham embarks on his feature, the creative circle would then be complete.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Early autumn is upon Tokyo and temperatures are taking a steady dip, hitherto 15C and going straight down till winter. Certainly one of the highlights of autumn here would be the beautiful fall foliage, think the gradiose setting where Maggie Cheung and Zhang Ziyi slugs it out in Hero, minus the morbidity of course. Gotta head down to Shinjuku Kouen for some shots once the leaves starts to scatter and will post them here soon.

Earlier on a post dinner conversation with Takeshi+Kojima and Shige had them caveating me about the killer winters here in Domiru Meguro where we reside, for a resident here had apparently froze to death last winter. I counted "can't sleep too much" far too many times to dismiss it as a joke, I suddenly feel like an eskimo living in the caps, give or take the polar bears. "SCHOLARSHIP STUDENT IN JAPAN FREEZES IN SLEEP, REQUIRES THAWING."

Now that would be quite a heading.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Oh and er, can someone please remind from time to time that I ought to be keeping up to speed with the Korean movie scene. Oldboy, Spring, Summer, just to name a few to get hold of.
Wes Anderson's audaciously eccentric The Royal Tenenbaums, though clearly not suited for all tastes, joins the ranks of films ( Hu Jinho's One Fine Spring Day been another ) that when given a second viewing, garners a considerably deeper dimension and quality.

Perhaps upon initial viewing in the theatres during its cinematic run I had yet to acquire a nuanced taste for Anderson's bizzare narrative style, but this time round the excellent performance of the actors, with their outrageously hilarious dialogues had me laughing out maybe too laughly. Coupled with an eclectic soundtrack, beautifully executed art direction and photography, this is one unforgettable film. With the Criterion edition dvd going for just 16.39, its impossible to pass this up.

Watch out for his next feature, The Life Aquatic.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

In the climatic showdown from Mamoru Oshii's original Ghost In The Shell, Major Motoko Kusanagi confronts the cyberhacker Puppetmaster codenamed 2501, under the aegis of a formidable Type X10-er crab tank. This intense and impactful battle within the "floating museum", coupled with Kenji Kawai's haunting score is remembered as one of recent anime's most memorable scenes.

Innocence, though retaining most of the prequel's characters, embarks on a different storyline, this time told through the travails of Bateau and Togusa, both looking even more stoned than in the original. The film, now augmented with considerably more 3D shots, introduces sleeker mecha designs and stunning sets, while still keeping up with superb 2D animated characters. ( the quality varies at times, one thinks this might have to do with sub-outs for different animation houses ) Though not nearly matching the first film's brilliance, the weaker finale is alleviated in part by Motoko's return, whose "ghost" have been drifting in the network eversince her union with the Puppetmaster. Worth a look just for the visuals alone.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Not unlike the Pasar Malam we have at home, Tokyo's Meguro version of the bazzar ( called Matsuri, ie festival ) substitutes your local Kueh TuTu's and glassjelly assorted drinks with Takoyaki and Yakiniku stalls. Though missing the accompanying fairground that usually pairs with the Pasar Malam, the Masturi offers Kingyosukui - the goldfish scoop. The workings are austere; you pay 300 yen in exchange for a paper scoop - and you're free to scoop as many goldfishes as you like off a shallow tray - if you are good enough.

Takeshi and I had a field time watching this small little girl dressed in Yutaka attempting a bountiful catch, where she had 3 sizable goldfishes up against her scoop, her eyes lighting up momentarily till the combined weight tore through the thin paper. Kojima-chan laughs and adds the ambitious girl's going make it big when she grows up.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

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

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

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

Monday, August 30, 2004

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

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

Friday, August 27, 2004

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

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

Monday, August 16, 2004

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

Sunday, August 15, 2004

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

Oh and, Steam boy is showing right here.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

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

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

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

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

Monday, July 19, 2004

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

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

Monday, June 28, 2004

Coming unbelievablely close to crying to happy tears, today's visit to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo had me see the entire creative smorgasbord of Miyazaki's background works, so overwhelmingly powerful in its unique beauty and expressiveness I was in absolute awe time and time again. While many of the exhibits were clearly designed with children in mind ( in another sense Miyazaki's works tend to bring out the hidden child in our psyche ), the mockup animation studio, plastered all over with ORIGINAL MIYAZAKI coloured concept sketches, storyboards, stole most of my time as I pored over each drawing, in particular those of Mononoke Hime, as if the close physical proximity in the presence of such grandeur would transfer some of its creative potency to me. Alas, nothing.

By a mere stroke of luck, Pixar Animation Studios was also hosting an exhibition of its concept works under the auspices of Miyazaki. On its own this would have generated an enormous amount of excitement ( all the concept works are also originals, the pastels on the Finding Nemo coloured storyboards still flaky ), but when pitched against Ghibli's wonderful work I couldn't bring myself to appreciate it fully. Certainly the animators from Pixar attest to the influence of Miyazaki's works ( see picture above ), where they've painted a much iconic Totoro poster complete with Mike and Sullivan, surrounded by signatures and praises from many of their animators, the main caption reading "To Hayao Miyazaki : Your work is an inspiration to us."

Saturday, June 26, 2004

I read with a mixture of disdain, grate and insufferance on the part of the rearers the Straits Times ( online ) article : "Luohan no longer a prized catch now", how the iniquited, ostensibly luck-bringing, great fengshui inducing fish is been abandoned in the truckloads by their capricious owners. To quote, "Oversupply killed their value and appeal. 'After a while, they became so cheap, they had no value. So there was no point,' ". How convienient for you buggers, but unfortunately the Flowerhorn's fate was sealed the day some anonymous idiot thought it smart to meddle the fates with yet annother innocuous fish, as yet more other idiots bought it hook line and sinker.

Don't tell me because people appreciate the Luohan for its intrinsic beauty; I know rearing fishes have some therapeutic merit but this fish justs looks...unsightly compared to his other aquatic brethren. This deplorable fad is just like the bubble tea boom a few years ago, only this time the precipitate is a living object and can't be poured down your sink, but rather inundating the island's freshwater bodies with new, befuddled inhabitants. You can imagine my incredulity when I last saw a whole school of them swimming along the bays of the Singapore River, no joke.

Let's just hope no one decides next that some poor animal is really excellent for ushering in good fengshui, or woe, woe to their species.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Tian Zhuangzhuang's Springtime in a Small Town is a quaint little piece of cinema set in China during the post 2nd world war period, a brief, uneasy intermission between the end of the Japanese invasion and the Communist Takeover. In a small, derelict war torn town in Southern China, a doctor ( Zhang Zhichen ) from Shanghai pays an unexpected visit to his old school friend Dai Liyan, whose wife ( Yuwen ) he now recognizes as the woman he had a brief but passionate affair ten years ago. No longer in close proximity with his husband because of his poor health and temper, while still bearing feelings for her former beau, the arrival of the guest sets off an uneasy tension amidst the small household, complicated more by Liyan's younger sister who also takes a liking for doctor.

Springtime is one of those films I've come to recognized ( together with a few others like the Korean Take Care of my Cat and One Fine Spring Day ) where seemingly nothing important seems to happen and the narrative justs drags on ceaselessly, certain anathema to Hollywooders and many other moviegoers, but whose real value lies in a small conscious effort on the viewer's part to invest alittle patience or even better, a second viewing, where they'd be greatly rewarded.

Beautifully shot in slow, deliberate takes through the shadowy corridors of the old house, it evokes the same aesthetics last felt in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, no stranger because of DP Li Pingbin, who worked together with Doyle.

Highly recommended, but Hollywooders *yawns heard*, you've been so caveated.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004


Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Now sitting in front of a whole class of university girls doing a self-introduction (????)was not something I anticipated coming anytime soon, but today while visiting a Sensei ( to discuss a summer trip to Korea ) at Musashino Joshi Gakuen (??????) I was caught right in the middle of her class and had to yield helplessly. Giggles, curious stares like I was some wierd zoo animal, I was feeling dizzy immediately with all the blood from my brain drained to swell my then completely reddened face.

That position however, had a heck of a paramount view below, haven't seen such a spectacular vista for a while. Now there was Yumiko...Mai...Ayumi...what's your name again ? *laughs*

Thursday, June 03, 2004

It was way back during my secondary school days when I first studied about the pioneer artists of Singapore in my arts theory class, a small group of talented individuals banded together by their collective passion for the visual arts. Some names that are still fresh in my mind were the late Chen Wen hsi, Chen Chong Swee, Georgette Chen, the calligrapher Pan Shou, as well as Liu Kang ( His son Liu Thai Ger is presently the chairman of NAC, the body overlooking my scholarship ) who has just passed away 2 days ago, the last of the pioneer artists.

During a Chen Wen hsi Retrospective exhibition that was held at the Singapore National Museum about 10 years ago, I had the good fortune of meeting with Mr Liu Kang personally. I remember vividly how me and my classmates caught him sipping ice-cream with his wife at the YMCA Macdonalds, where after we followed him and asked for his autograph at the exhibition. Dispite the huge age gap he was most hospitable and approachable, exhorting us in our pursuit of the arts as young individuals, just like he had done so. Although pursuing a different course in the arts now, the experience I had with him them was certainly one of the highlights of my younger school days.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Heat, an explosive and highly entralling crime genre piece was the first exposure I had of director Michael Mann's outstanding work. His sleek portrayal of the 2 hardened protanganists, namely De Niro and Pacino, ( especially the tense exchange in the cafe has come to be remembered as one of recent crime cinema's most memorable scenes. ) as well as the film's many electrifying scenes have had palpable influence in the film industry, including Hong Kong's laudable Infernal Affairs and PTA.

The Insider is an equally impressive piece, with much less action set pieces but no less engaging plot. Al Pacino once again, together with Russell Crowe and Christopher Plummer ( forever remembered as the handsome Captain in the Sound of Music, having lost none of his charisma ) lend themselves to powerful performances, topped by Mann's sensuous use of music and Dante Spinotti's beautiful cinematography, and you have a masterful piece at hand.

Michael Mann is fast becoming one of my favourite directors.

A Sight and Sound review of the Insider is posted on the comments page.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Hellboy, Kill Bill 2, and now, Troy. The list keeps growing, not to mention having missed the entire Singapore Film Festival altogether. I am so not okay about this. Really missing the sundays in Singapore when I would be watching very often, 2 shows back to back with my movie kakis Gatchaman and Torei, then talk about it over dinner, when a single miserable ticket here in Japan would cost just as much as all the activities mentioned above, add free seating ( reads : you're not guaranteed a seat for a popular film even if you have a ticket, gotta wait for the next screening ), and you have a wonderful time at the cinema.

So if you're a Singaporean ranting about expensive movie tickets on weekends, quit complaining. Period.

Which reminds me : Heard a conversation by working professionals once on ticket prices for the Singapore Film Festival : *in an incredulous tone* " Freaking $8.50 per ticket ????!!! Why not just wait for it to screen on Arts Central ? I refuse to be held on a ransom like this !! "

I almost wanted to bash his f**king head in, and pardon my language.

Friday, April 30, 2004

Art exhibitions seem to be in the wind recently, this morning together with 2 taiwanese classmates I visited the Bunkamura Art Museum in Shibuya, Tokyo to view the Monet - Great Impressionists exhibition, which includes pieces by some other notable painters like Seurat, Signac, Bonnard and Renoir. While many of the artists' greater works were not on show, ie Renoir's "Le dejeuner des canotiers", more commonly known as the Amelie Painting, it was exhilarating to see Monet's Waterlilies in person.

Tokyoscape, on the way home from Shibuya.

Later at a bookstore in Shibuya, my attention is quickly drawn to a promotional movie trailer playing off a small TV, its music, mood and visual style just screaming Shunji Iwai. Hana & Alice, Iwai's latest film. I was seized by an intense and involuntary urge to tear off the movie poster and boot, but my friends shook their heads violently in disapproval. Saddened, I was however jolted back to my senses, remembering succintly the exact purpose of my studies in Japan, the earnest passion I have for the moving image and narrative that was in a huge part, attributed to the artistic influences bore by watching Iwai's cinematic magnum opus, Love Letter.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

For the uninitiated, learning the Japanese language is an exhaustive, detrimental exercise that hacks away at your english roots, enervate and debilitate, period. Its 3 form writing system, namely Hiragana, Katagana and Kanji ( chinese characters ), scares the bollocks out of non-native learners and make Japanese one of the toughest language to master. For english speaking folks, its the katagana form that carries the heaviest destructive payload. Katagana is used extensively to pronounce foreign names and subject matter, so for example "Tape Recorder" in english would translate as :


1) Curtain - "ka-te-n"
2) Locker - "Ro-ka"
3) Mechanical pencil - "She-ya-pu-pen-she-ru" ( sharp pencil )

And don't even get me started on the word "accessories", or "whiteboard".

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Talk about uncanny serendipity. Today morning I was at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum to view an exhibition on 17th century Flemish and Dutch painters, which included some works by Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrant and Vermeer. As I sat down near a resting area by the main entrance after I've finished, this caucasian gentleman wearing a cap and spotting a most distinctive sharp, angular nose walked by. He could have been any of those tourists around, but he wasn't just any other tourist. This man is Captain Jean Luc Picard, commander of Starfleet Enterprise, Prof Charles Xavier, leader of the X-men.

I couldn't believe my eyes, but I also couldn't pass up such a good chance to get an autograph, so here you go. Mr Patrick Steward was all friendly and courteous, an exemplary British gentleman indeed.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Tsukiji Fish Market, located near Ginza in Toyko, is the largest of it kind in the world, trading about 90% of all the fish products consumed in Tokyo. Shige, my landlord's good friend, offered to take us there after a casual conversation once about me wanting to go take a look. We set off this morning at 3.30am ( most of the interesting action happening at Tsukiji are during the auction hours, where bids are made for the ridiculously sized tunas ( Maguro ), around 430-530 am ). The market grounds span huge warehouse like buildings, for display of auction items and after sold, they are moved to another area where restaurant chefs and other regular buyers make their pick.

As we made our way through the auction markets the widest gamut of sea food products laid before us, one more bizzare than the other. Shige points to me some huge chunks of red bloody meat in a big foam box, whispering "whale-ru", and I felt my heart sink. We ended up spending most of our time at the tuna auction areas, seeing these uncanny, gigantic sized fishes been traded, each weighing up to a ton and priced a couple million yen. As daylight drew and the shouts sizzled, we headed for a nearby eating place and had maguro-don for breakfast, fresh from the catch.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, the birthplace of revered animation pieces like Mononoke Hime and Spirited Away, is located in Koganei, Tokyo, a quiet suburban neighbourhood about 15 minutes trainride away from Shinjuku. Hidden in a peaceful corner surrounded by typical Japanese households, its identity is only revealed by the studio sign in front of its front porch, no totoro statue, no Ohmu figurine, as unassuming and modest as it can be. On its side entrance a meeting room with glass windows reveals original Miyazaki artwork hanging on the walls. Entrance into the actual building is strictly for staff members only, but I was already more than awed to be in such close quarters where some of the world's most wondrous animation pieces were created.

Next stop, Ghibli Museum, Mitaka Tokyo.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

For all its high tech gadgetry and advanced technology, Japan is in primeval times when it comes to international film releases dates. Only now are Master and Commander, Peter Pan getting ready to kick off screening here in Tokyo. New films are going to have to take a backseat here while I'm in Japan, the pricey tickets not helping either.

If there's any consolation, the dvd stores here are really good; they stock titles you can never find in Singapore, and its probably a good time to catch up on good films that I have missed or simply haven't been exposed to yet, and that's alot. Going to be adding a new list on the side menu here under new dvds watched, so far, Soderbergh's Limey and a totally unknown but fantastically shot film called Dinner Rush.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Yesterday night my landlord and his gf invited me to a short film screening at this place called Pink Cow in Shibuya. It was raining when we stepped out of the house, the weather so cold I was breathing vapour, and they were laughing at me for making such a spectacle of it. Dinner was at this really cool sushi place not far from Pink Cow, you have to down 10 plates in 20 minutes to pay a lower price for each plate. Doesn't sound like much, but 8 out of 10 plates were raw, and I don't quite stomach that. The chefs make the sushi from iceboxes of fresh seafood just next to you, refilling empty slots in the belt. It was quite authentic sushi...I is authentic. :]

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Greetings everyone. :] Its already my fourth day in Meguro, Japan and have finally gotten online. A swell place to be for starters, exciting and interesting sights at every corner, but I've also quickly discovered the exorbitant price of life in Tokyo. Just yesterday I was in a cafe in Shinjuku with my friends and forked out 760 yen ( more than S$10 ) for an ice Teh Tarik of sorts. Thankfully, my senior Martin and landlord Mr Takeshi have been most hospitable, offering valuable help whenever they can.

Also a very big thanks to those who sacrificed their sleep on my departure day to see me off, and many apologies that I had to leave in such a flurry. Big thanks folks. :]

Anyhoo, there's a river about 5 minutes from my place where the cherry blossoms are blooming, beautiful sight. Folks are just lined up along the river pavement carousing and partying, i've even spotted a group Shabu-shabu-ing away. These blokes sure know how to enjoy life . Picture on the right is my apartment in Shimomeguro. Click on the image for a bigger version.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Ok, nothing too poetic and lengthy before I leave, but i'm sure to miss the Jalan Kayu prata and mutton soup very very much, as with all my friends back here. But when you gotta go you gotta goodbye Singapore, hello Japan.

See you folks in Tokyo. :]

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Bernado Bertolucci's The Dreamers = People drinking, smoking crack and having sex. Those were the highlights, in any case. Going to wait till I have more brain juice before attempting to write more about the film. For sure though, its an immersive piece, with richly and opulently textured sets, and what I can say, more than your fair share of opulent, nude female figures.

Friday, March 26, 2004

One week to my departure for Japan, clammy hands, nausea, pre-nihon anxiety seeping in. To add to that, there's been little worth catching it at the cinemas, not to mention my having to miss Hellboy.

I pray Bertolucci's Dreamers will at least salve some of the pain before I take off.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Some pictures of my rented place in Meguro, Toyko, where I'll be staying. Big thanks to Mr Takeshi, my landlord of sorts. I like the big windows just next to bed.

Also, the Singapore International Filmfest website is up, is it just me or there are so few films this year ?

Sunday, February 29, 2004

With a plot device so slow its almost guaranteed to elicit loud bahs or snores from the average moviegoer, Peter Webber's Girl With A Pearl Earring will no doubt, however, be highly appreciated by fine arts students or anyone who is fairly familiar with Vermeer's artwork. While it is a common affair in films to have allusions to famous art pieces, ( DaVinci's Last Supper, Hopper's Night Hawks and David's Death of Marat, just to name a few ) GWAPE ups the ante with staging of Vermeer's works so pervasively it runs from the first scene of the film until the last, an unabashly esoteric piece of film art. Certainly, a good knowledge of the artist's work is not a prerequisite in appreciating the beauty of this film, but having one puts you on quite a different dimension. DOP Eduardo Serra ( whose much earlier work The King's Trial was also based on Vermeer's paintings ), reconstructs each shot with amazing detail and clarity, especially the artist's working studio.

A painful reminder of my arts theory classes in Victoria school, where more often than not, I opted for an afternoon at the games arcade rather than listening to my lecturer rant on about aloof artists and their movements Romanticism, Neo-classicism, what have you.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Giving a short speech at the Takashimaya NAC scholarship inception award. That's the last time you'll catch me in a suit for quite a while.

For the full press release, click here.
Had dinner with 3 of my senbei ( seniors ), folks who have studied in Japan on the same scholarship program. Some quick excerpts :

Cool : I have been checking out this film school in Toyko called Toho Gakuen College, and coincidentally one of my senbei had graduated from there. She told me they had industry/internship links with NHK and Toei, and many students who graduated from there have gone on to become film directors and DPs. Nice.

Not so Cool : Also from the same senbei, movie tickets in Japan cost 1500 yen, STUDENT RATE, ( which comes to about 24 sing dollars ). Now that is just so great, yeah.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Listening now to the OST of exalted Korean film Memories of Murder ( see film review in earlier post below ), scored by Japanese musician Taro Ishiwaro ( he also wrote the music for The Inanimate World ), hauntingly mezmerising. I exhort all to watch this fantastic and disturbing film.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Thailand director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Last Life in the Universe, an austere and beautifully shot film ( no small thanks to HKSC Christopher Doyle's brilliant photography ) is at its very heart, the simple story of two hopeless souls meeting in tragic serendipity and learning to have hope in their lives again, albeit clumsily. Maximizing the creative cinematographic prowess of Doyle, as well as a refined, minimalistic script, ( both protaganists, especially Kenji, played with relish by Tadanobu Asano , barely speak more than a few lines in every conversation ), Pen-Ek blends the nuanced performances from the 2 actors with the richly designed and detailed production incidentals ( sets, notably Noi's ramshackle home, in all its ransacked glory, music, supporting roles ) with great effect. The result is a highly accomplished film low on flashy visual spectacles ( cept perhaps for the moments when Kenji's Yakuza past is revealed, with much applaud ), high on emotional impact, and very good filmmaking.

On an interesting sidenote, as the credits rolled several loud "huhs" could be heard, a mixture of disdain and bewilderment. Last life, lacking a definite and clearcut ending ( ie Kenji and Noi driving their VW into the sunset ), greatly disturbs the hollywooders.

Sometimes, the journey is indeed the destination.

Monday, February 02, 2004

In an early scene from Sofia Coppola's off-beat romantic comedy Lost in Translation, Charlotte ( Scarlett Johansson ) posts herself at her high-rise hotel window, peering over Tokyo's featureless urban landscape like an angel keeping watch, forever invisible and at once detached from her distant subjects. Later on in the show, she visits a shrine in the old imperial capital of Kyoto and witnesses a traditional Japanese wedding. Sheltering beneath a huge red parasol and garbed in picturesque costume, the two newlyweds link hands. Charlotte looks on quietly. In both instances, no words or maudlin narration were needed to convey the poignant sense of quiet, luscious melancoly so intended, yet the intensity of the final mood expressed was multiplied manifold without. It is exactly with such a cinematic framework of toned down, unobtrusive visual style and quiet narrative treatment that the movie Lost in Translation is built on, something so rarely seen in Hollywood productions and which wholeheartedly won me over.

In light of my approaching journey ( I am set for a 3 year film study course in Tokyo come March, courtesy of the National Arts Council ), watching this film is like a harbinger of solitude, heralding my days of impending loneliness and loss.

Surely this is a film I will not easily forget in my days to come.

*For a more poetic and expressive review of the film, check out the comments box.

Saturday, January 31, 2004

Just a quick reminder on current films to catch.

House of Sand and Fog
Lost In Translation
21 Grams
Last Life In The Universe
A Good Lawyer's Wife
Torque ( just to enjoy the taosiao stunts, i'm no motor-siao )

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

D-mystifying the DVD

I wrote this blog in response to an article in today's Life section titled : "Disc Overdrive" , which attempted to cover some information regarding DVD pricing, censorship and quality in Singapore, but instead dished out some laughable hogwash and a gamut of loud, verbal responses from me. Herein subject notwithstanding it is noteworthy to mention here that this article is an excellent example of a coverage in a trusted print media providing false information and inaccuracies in reports because the interviewed party stood to gain from what they would be quoted on, as well as the reporting party's lack of knowledge in the field, which then makes one wonder : How much of what you hear or see on the news is actually accurate ?

Anyway. I quote " And there are hardcore buyers who BELIEVE there is a difference in quality between the different regions ". Well surprise surprse - there certainly is, and its not a matter of belief for sure. Let's quote point to point and try to do some damage control.

Quote : " While distributors say there is no variation in quality between DVDs of different regions... "
Fact : No difference my foot. These guys must be watching with their eyes closed. The local code 3 version of Wong Kar Wai's In The Mood For Love had cropped titles, oversaturated and crushed colours, the altogether feeling of everything blending into everything else. In short, think VCD. Folks who are familiar with photoshop can liken it to a jpeg file saved over a thousand times and getting all details mixed up and "dirty". In comparison, the Criterion Edition of the same title, code 1, had crisp clean images, correct colours, and for once I could see the whole title in full frame. Bliss. The same problems reprise itself for Amenabar's The Others, as well as MIB. Then again, if the distributors had said there was a difference in quality, it wouldn't sound too good for sales would it ?

Question : Ok, so all code 3 dvds have crap quality.
: No no no. REGION CODING OF DVDS IS NOT AND NEVER AN INDICATION OF QUALITY. Rinse and repeat please. However, because local code 3 releases have so conscientiously churned out crap material that we have come to associate code 3 dvds with inferior quality. Korean dvds, all on code 3, have beautiful, outstanding visuals most of the time. On the contrary, a code 2 Japanese version ( Japanese dvds are the world's most expensive ) of Tsui Hark's Blade sucks, but that's because they started out with a bad print. THE MOST IMPORTANT CRITERIA IN DETERMINING QUALITY OF ANY DVD IS THE ORIGINAL COPY ( on beta format , I believe ) BY WHICH IT IS MASTERED FROM, AND BY ITS MASTERING TECHNIQUES AND CARE TAKEN TO IT.

Question : So Why ? Why is it that Singaporean dvd makers can't get a good print ?
Answer :
Oh, because we chip chip Singaporeans want the same thing, i mean pseudo-same thing at 10-15 dollars cheaper ! Any discerning buyer should smell a rat when supposedly identical items on sale have a marked difference in price of as much as 30-40%. Something must be missing, for there is no free lunch when it comes to buying dvds. You can get good deals once in a while, but not all the time on all titles.

Question : You're just a nitpicker, that's what you are. A small difference in quality for a big difference in price, why not ?
Fact :
I am really particular when it comes to quality for my dvds. And the difference in price is definitely enticing. But the insiduous factor here is the small difference in quality. If you were to take a look at the code 1 version of MIB, then the code 3, you'll be able to tell : code 1, crisp images, code 3, almost crisp images. It is this ALMOST that is very important, because its like an image on screen that focuses and blurs on and off, and an entire movie of this will make your viewing experience very very frustrating. You're spending more for a quality product that you'll be enjoying for the rest of your life, so why compromise ? I certainly wouldn't, but hey, I'm a nitpicker.

Quote : " is a fact that dvds cannot be censored after they are produced "
Fact :
As far as I know this is quite right, unless they have some unknown encoding device that can burn out the parts to be censored. However, Singapore makes it even easier by not importing the titles that need censoring, so you get to watch nothing at all ! Nadda. Most RA films you get to watch in theatres here are almost guaranteed never to be found in dvd format here, titles like Schindler's List, Ryan, Fight Club, Se7en. Even seemingly decent PG titles are mysteriously absent here, stuff like Great Expectations, Road to Perdition and Minority Report. Wierd huh ?

Question : Ok, after all this banter, so where would be the best place to get dvds ?
: You don't really have to ask do you ? For chip chip code 3 dvds, everywhere. For your good quality code 1 releases not found here, Amazon would be your best bet, and for Korean/Asian and Japanese films, and respectively.

Friday, January 23, 2004

January 22, DJ Paul Van Dyk at the powerhouse. Music was good, and the laser strobing lights feeding me with the illusion that I can dance really well, with every girl looking real pretty as I groove to the heart pounding beats.

Head hurts now. Off to bed.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Mona Lisa Smile - beautiful photography, laudable performances, but somehow, *yawnz*.

For a film that advocated "free thinking", original thought, fighting tradition and being yourself, its production methods were anything but. This is your Hollywood vehicle at its most archetypal.