Field Guide

When I'm down in the trenches debating misogyny in media, I run up against that line between portraying misogyny and being misogynistic.

At left is a classic George Lois cover about what the sixites were doing to young women. At right is an article from Details in which bankers whinge about not being able to spend fat stacks on hookers and blow any more.

Sometimes it really is this easy. Nabbed from The Reverse Cowgirl.

Sukiyaki Western Django

I've finally decided to resign myself to the undeniable influence of Japanese agent provocateur Takahashi Miike, the uncompromising sadistic creative force behind Audition, Multiple Personality Detective, and Ichi the Killer on my own creative pursuits.

It would be hard to argue that my viewing of Ichi the Killer didn't fuel a complete re-evaluation of Japanese pop and fringe culture that fed directly into the creative approach behind Shinigami and Tentacle Hunter, with emphasis on the latter, but Sukiyaki Western Django represents something of a reconciliation between us. I was originally drawn into the movie by the audacious anachronism of a Japanese matinee idol with a labret piercing decked out in a hybrid of Tokyo street fashion and Spaghetti Western costume and further drawn in by the apparent cameo by the eponymous ambassador to Asian cinema Quentin Tarantino, but the revelation that it was a Takahashi Miike film made me apprehensive in a way that necessitated a viewing.

Sukiyaki Western Django is best described as Miike beating Stephen Chow senseless with a tire iron. Comparing it to Chow's now classic Kung Fu Hustle is as unavoidable as it is inadequate. True it is just as ludicrous of a spoof with many of the same tropes, but where Chow injected the whimsy of classic American cartoons and the pure self indulgent spectacle of Akira Toriyama anime, Miike infuses Django with the narcisisstic anachronistic flare of Baz Luhrman's Moulin Rouge and an earnest yet sarcastic investment in the western genre to rival David Cronenberg's A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.

With the exception of Tarantino the cast is entirely Japanese yet in an amusing twist the vast majority of the spoken dialogue is in heavily accented and poorly structured english, sly satire of the long dead Spaghetti Western. American fans of Miike's work will recognize his fondness for playing with spoken language from the Lynchian Gozu where an American character reads her dialogue off cue cards written in romanji, but the effect is much more akin to the lighthouse shoot out in Battle Royale in which the polite teenage girls snarl at each other in Yakuza tough guy one liners.

Much like Shinichiro Watanabe's Samurai Champloo, it helps to know Japanese cooking to understand the joke behind the title. Sukiyaki, which Tarantino's character makes, describes, and throws at a woman is a Japanese noodle dish whose significance in the title is to complete the appropriation of the Italian Spaghetti Western. "Django" then is the true title of the film with "Sukiyaki Western" establishing the genre.

Fusions of Japanese and American cinema have been done in varying forms since Kinji Fukasaku directed the Japanese portions of Tora, Tora, Tora! to varying degrees of success with a surge in popularity within the last decade most notably in Kill Bill Volume One, Samurai Champloo, Afro Samurai, Speed Racer, and Road to Perdition most of which were American led productions cashing in on lucrative Japanese tropes and cliches. The problem with most of those productions and even lesser ones like the spate of reamkes of Japanese horror films including Miike's own One Missed Call is that few have managed to step out of the shadow of the material they borrow from to become a truly unique film. Even Kill Bill, for all of it's unmistakable Tarantino flair still feels more like a patchwork quilt of homages than a singular film.

Miike, however, has no time for such indulgences and eschews any obvious homages or references to pre-existing work to create a singular ideosyncratic vision much like Pineapple Express and in direct contrast to Hot Fuzz. The influences of period and genre are unmistakable, but not of individual films from the period and genre, which creates a much more coherent and independently enjoyable experience. As much fun as the Pegg-Wright winking is, at the end of the day I'd rather enjoy James Franco attempting to kick the windshield out of a car while behind the wheel for what it is than being told which film he saw it in or being made to feel like I'm sitting a movie geek SAT exam, wracking my brains to see if my kung fu is strong enough to recongize who kicked the windshield out of a cop car while driving it in what movie.

To me Sukiyaki Western Django represents Miike stepping out of the shadows of fringe cinema and take his seat at the table as one of the world's premier action-comedy directors along with other idiosyncratic entertainers such as Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz, Sean of the Dead), Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Pineapple Express), Ben Stiller (Tropic Thunder), and Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Rocknrolla) at a time when the genre is not only thriving but dominating it's more serious cousin. Sukiyaki Western Django is for anyone who managed to see past the gore and tits of Afro Samurai to be deeply disappointed that it didn't do anything interesting. It's for the people that thought that singing Nirvana in Moulin Rouge was cool, Sweeney Todd needed more samurai swords and less singing, and that Wild, Wild, West just plain sucked.

It ain't easy being green II

More musings by my hypothetical Brainiac 5:

“Am I concerned about Ultra Boy’s effect on the children of the United Planets? In a word no. I would imagine that somewhere, somewhen there has been a tense and angry meeting of executives about the subject, arguing back and forth between the inevitable backlash from purportedly concerned parents and the potential revenue streams related to using his comically absurd antics.

It has not escaped my notice that I have been inextricably linked to him in this broadcast, I am a twelfth level intelligence and you are sixth at best editing together footage for an audience you cynically assume to be fifth or fourth. I am capable of extrapolating you see, and this wondrous power suggests to me that this diatribe is being used as a voice over for footage of Ultra Boy drinking ludicrous amounts of alcohol and then setting himself ablaze while trying to light a pipe stuffed with some narcotic I do not want to contemplate the existence of.

This fact, and the eventual controversy he will cause, do not concern me in the slightest. Why should I wring my hands at the fate of children who set themselves on fire when statistics on the matter will conclusively prove that they would have done so with or without Ultra Boy? It isn’t as if the Science Police would allow a broadcast that functions quite well for them as a de facto wiretap to be interrupted over something so petty.

In all honesty, the tragic stupidity of a chosen few will serve as a smoke screen for an even smaller, far more important minority. It is inescapable that there will be a certain amount of children who will see me speak, and it will stir something in them. Being of this terminally lost, self indulgent civilization they will understand little of what I say, but they will understand just enough to realize that they wish to understand more, and as they grow and seek the knowledge their parents disdain, they will slowly but surely undermine and subvert the very foundations of this crumbling empire until one day their parents and by extension the establishment will wake up to find that in the long dark sleep of their ignorance they have lost control to these brilliant few.

So I invite you to use me as an ironic foil for his stupidity, and I further invite the audience the men and women of the United Planets to invent sordid drinking games to put them in the stupor that Ultra Boy lives in because it will make the business of apprehending everything you hold dear and replacing it with something worthwhile all the easier. Ultra Boy will indeed be the downfall of society, but not in the way you imagine.”

“Why do I smoke? I had thought it to be self evident, but you are never lost for finding new and disturbing ways to lower my expectations of human intelligence. Smoking, at one time in your history, was a grand and poetic paradox at the heart of human civilization. It was a burgeoning industry that was instrumental in maintaining a rigid status quo of life from the nineteenth century through to the twenty third. Smoking sapped the health and disposable incomes of the working class, distracting them nearly as well as alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine from the larger unpalatable truths about the status quo they were fenced into. It was a subject that could constantly be revived for public debate regarding the legality of it’s use and the inane details of when and where it ought to be allowed to keep the public discourse out of inconvenient arenas. It fueled and maintained the healthcare complex from both the perspectives of the medical establishment and insurance firms, while funding a myriad of charities and events through tax revenue and regularly debated advertisement. Smoking was a brilliant tool of conformity and control marketed and mythologized as an expression of individuality and cavalier fearlessness.

Smoking now of course represents the ultimate victory of the main aim of human scientific pursuit within that same timeframe; the harnessing and reversal of natural processes. This of course started modestly with ideas such as gas lamps to make work and leisure possible at night, caffeine and other pharmaceutical products designed to interrupt and adapt sleep cycles, snowballing from there into mad fever dreams of dominating and subverting nature in new and frequently horrifying ways. I need not reiterate what science on this planet has wrought in the intervening years, but the amusing passage from ironic tool of repression to curious taboo of the cigarette is worth noting.

Cancer, emphysema; these are matters of history that have long since passed out of the public vernacular, and yet it is rare and even incredibly taboo to be a smoker in this day and age. Not for the long conquered ill effects of inhaling the smoke from burning leaves into your lungs, but the fearful hand wringing by the establishment of the anti-social free thinking image associated with the smoker throughout antiquity, which is laughable at best since the brand of free thinking most usually associated with the historical smoker is a louche sort of affair that lends itself more to petty crime and a lack of common sense than it does intellectual superiority or genuinely subversive acts.”

“There is a certain indomitable quality to the human spirit that I have come to both admire and disdain. I have seen Garth- Lightning Lad- broken and bleeding with a smile on his face. I have seen him clawing himself away from a brutal beating by the Science Police, his fingernails snapping and breaking against the concrete as blows continued to rain down on his cracked and broken ribs. He is confident that his strength of will will see him through and his faith in his comrades is as well placed as the synapses in his brain. This self same spirit is what convinced me that helping him to found the Legion would be a worthwhile pursuit. That Garth will never bend or break heartens me and allows me to indulge in some measure of hope for his people and planet.

However, Garth has my backing, a twelfth level intelligence. Our opponents, most notably the Science Police, do not. However, they maintain that same dogged determination as Garth, which leads me to believe that it is more than simply a faith in my ability to carry him through that drives his spirit and by extension theirs, which is a source of some consternation for myself. I have made it clear to our enemies that their determination is moot. I am likely the most intelligent entity in the universe and most certainly the most intelligent entity on Earth. Victory will inevitably be mine. The Science Police once shared with Garth a vision of the future, a vision of their future; it was their boot crushing his face again and again as long as could be done. Allow me to use this to explain how utterly hopeless it is to oppose me. Even that simple profane dream is not safe from me. No enterprise, no wish, no plan, no hope is tenable should I oppose it. You may attempt to slow, inconvenience, annoy, or stymie me. You may brook as great or as little opposition to me as you wish, it is destined to fall to ruin. I alone am Brainiac 5. I am the unstoppable force, there is no immovable object.”


This is a treatment I wrote up for a personal take on the Japanese legend of Momotaru, the Peach Boy who expelled the Oni from Japan.

The Japan we know is a juggernaut of concrete spires a-glow with neon sigils, a bustling center of technology and fashion that the rest of the world claws and struggles to keep up with, but this was not always so. In times long past, man did not enjoy unchecked hegemony over the land, he struggled and fought against primal forces that stalked the land in fantastical shapes; animals, demons, ogres, and even some forms that defied description of the written word. There was a time in history, long buried under shame and embarrassment to be forgotten when the great nation of Japan was dominated by these forces, the shogun’s very castle occupied by marauding oni who swam from their island to Edo in search of conquest and sport.

The shogun’s men fought valiantly but were swiftly crushed, as many as a dozen falling at once to the mighty beasts’ kanabos. Within a fortnight the army was routed and the oni descended on the shogun’s castle which they transformed into their personal den of iniquity after murdering the shogun, ravaging his wife, and imprisoning her in the dungeon below.

Unknown to the oni, the shogun’s wife was impregnated. Whenever the oni passed out in drunken torpor, her former servants attended to her, and on one such night they delivered her baby son, whom they concealed in a giant peach imported from the oni’s island. The baby was then secreted over the castle wall and floated down the river, hopefully to find a better life.

The next morning, an aging woman out in the country side was doing her wash, when she saw the peach floating down the river. Amazed at the sight, she waded out to retrieve it and brought it home to her husband. Once inside, they heard the baby boy crying and opened the peach to find him concealed inside. They named him Momotaru as an homage to his origin and raised him as their own.

Momotaru grew up to be an incredibly strong and hard working young man, who did the work of four men out in his parents’ small rice paddy, which he was able to extend to the largest in the prefecture through hard work and accumulation of wealth. Unknown to Momotaru was the fact that his parents were forced to pay a hefty tribute to the occupying oni. He was kept out working in the paddies whenever the oni came, as his parents knew he would never bow to such creatures no matter how troublesome the results could prove to be until one morning when his father had fallen ill and he was left to tend the household.

When the oni came around to collect his regular tribute of rice and coin, Momotaru slew the beast with his bare hands and took it’s kanabo for his own, slinging it to his waist from a sash. When his mother chastised him for his actions and declared that more oni would surely follow, Momotaru told his mother to make him enough millet dumplings to last him on a trip to Edo, as he planned to travel there to overthrow the oni once and for all.

On the morning of his departure, Momotaru was met by a dog who began to follow him. When he questioned the dog, she answered that her pups had been eaten by the oni, and for the price of one of his dumplings, she would sniff out any oni hiding along the way for him. Momotaru agreed and they traveled on until they met a pheasant who called to them from the air. She begged for help, her eggs were being stolen by a marauding oni looking for a treat. The trio were too late to save the eggs, but Momotaru and the dog struck down the oni and killed it.

He then offered the inconsolable bird one of his dumplings if she would scout the path ahead from the air for oni riding out to meet their advance, and she agreed. The trio continued on until nightfall when they came upon a village, where they stayed the night at the inn. In the morning, they were woken by the local yakuza and the village elders, who had already heard about Momotaru’s feats in battle against the oni.

They begged him to find and apprehend a scurrilous monkey who had robbed them of what little riches the oni had left them with, and Momotaru agreed on the condition that in return he could take the young woman of his choosing as his wife in return. The men hastily agreed, and so the trio set off in search of the monkey, whom they pursued to a cave in the foothills of mountains not far from the town.

Cornered, the monkey pleaded for his life. He offered his services in stealth to help them defeat the oni in exchange for his life and one of Momotaru’s millet dumplings. The foursome then returned to the village along with the stolen goods, where Momotaru was faced with the decision of choosing a wife. He told the women to go home and bake him a batch of millet dumplings. Whoever baked the best, he would marry.

And so Momotaru, his new wife, and the animals all depart for the final leg of their journey. They stop on the outskirts of Edo and wait for the pheasant to see what they’re up against. The pheasant returns to say that the oni have retained about a hundred samurai that they keep in their service by threatening to kill their families should they attempt seppuku. The monkey then suggests that they wait until nightfall, at which point he left on his own and stealthily stole every one of the hundred swords without anyone stirring.

So when Momotaru arrived to the shogun’s castle to do battle with the oni, the human samurai panicked and were forced to come out brandishing kitchen knives, wooden practice swords, and boat oars. He then declared that all their swords belonged to him, and thus their service. He took the swords to prevent them from committing seppuku once the oni were defeated and their families were safe. They pledged their loyalty to Momotaru as the new shogun should he survive the coming battle, and the monkey led them to their swords while Momotaru, the dog, and the pheasant went on to fight the oni.

But the monkey led the samurai to the wrong place and revealed that he was an oni shapeshifted as a monkey to kill Momotaru and take control once Momotaru had killed the leader of the oni. The monkey oni slew all of the samurai and returned to the castle to await his chance. Unfortunately for him, the leader of the oni could see quite well that he would not escape Momotaru alive and hid himself as a rat in the castle. Frustrated and angry at his disappearance, the pheasant and dog revealed that they two were really oni as well and they attempted to kill Momotaru. He bested them easily, then continued on to free the prisoners in the dungeon below, with the rat oni following close behind. Momotaru found a dying woman in one of the cells who revealed to him that she was his mother, and his father was the leader of the oni with her dying breath.

The leader of the oni retreated back to Oni Island with this information secreted away while Momotaru anguished at the secret truth of his parentage. Still he became the new shogun and raised a son, hoping to put time and distance between himself and the truth. However as he aged and his hair thinned, he began to notice that his skin was becoming redder and redder, which he countered by secretly having his face powdered like a geisha and wearing heavy robes everywhere to conceal the rest of his body until one night his wife noticed that there were horns growing through his thinning hair, proving his worst fears true.

In a panic, Momotaru murdered his wife and sawed the horns off, leaving nothing but nubs behind. He bundled her body and the horns in a sack and threw it over the wall and into the river as he had been as a baby. He then ordered his son, now a man, to take fifty samurai and conquer Oni Island, knowing his son would not return. He reasoned that he was doing his son a kindness by sending him to a heroic death, rather than let him grow old and eventually become a full oni like his father.

Momotaru’s ploy worked, and his father sent the head of his grandson, Momotaru’s son, back to him in the hands of a single survivor. Momotaru then set off to Oni Island alone, swimming out to the island with nothing but his kanabo slung at his waist. Oni fell by the scores to his wrath and he beat a bloody path up to and into his father, who expressed a smug kind of glee at his son’s final embrace of his true nature. Even so, Momotaru murdered his father and swam back home.

Returning home to his bedchamber, Momotaru was greeted by a shadowy figure. His dead wife returned as a twisted hanya. She fell upon him and slashed his throat, killing him while his eyes were still open wide in surprise.

It ain't easy being green

Snippets of dialogue and musings from my version of Brainiac 5.

"The fundamental truth of any doctrine is that it will decay. History is not so kind as to tell us when. There is no radioactive half life that tells us when a manifesto of peace is sung to the beat of the drums of war, when a religion of unity divides and conquers, when an uprising of democracy devolves into tyranny.

One can only hope, and must do so fervently, that the Legion- our struggle to this point- is quickly and decisively lost to history before it reaches that most tragic of critical masses. I have no doubt that no matter how righteous we remain, no matter how strictly scrupulously we act, the doctrine of the Legion will be used to propagate the very things that we seek to eradicate today. This is the problem with speaking to the future of course. It may have already begun; already word of the uprising on Earth has spread throughout the United Planets. These words might very well be the epitaph of the Legion, a bitter memory of a better time. This is the eternal paradox of the revolutionary

The predicament of our times is that we fear the future, which is most poignantly displayed by the fear of youth that necessitated our uprising. It is tempting to embrace the future, to turn to that which our elders eschewed, but replacing one extreme with another is never the answer. No, what we must do is fear for the future. The future is a perpetual birth, and if we are to see the future take a better shape then we must take responsibility. The Legion must become the midwives of the future if we are to achieve anything of note."



Welcome to it.

These are my ramblings. Have a go if you think you're hard.