Monday, July 28, 2014
      ( 2:10 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

The guy with the mohawk on the right is Bobak Ferdowsi, a systems engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I ran into him outside the Quentin Tarantino panel yesterday and had a chance to tell him how much I enjoyed the NASA panel on Thursday. I didn't talk to him long because he seemed tired and I didn't think I could offer much worthwhile conversation to a systems engineer at NASA.

Also on the panel was astronaut Mike Fincke, Jim Green (NASA's division director of planetary science), and, of course, Buzz Aldrin who was wearing a shirt that said, "Get Your Ass to Mars." A potential Mars mission was the primary subject of the panel.

Actor Seth Green moderated the panel. I like Green but he was a little annoying on this panel. His attempts to inject youth oriented humour were invariably awkward from his comparing operating the Mars rovers to getting his driver's permit to saying at random moments, "Spring break on Mars!" I really, really wished he would stop doing that.

It seemed, though, related to the very reason NASA was apparently at Comic Con for the first time--to get younger people excited about space exploration. But the best moments were when the panellists abandoned this and simply spoke as themselves. Aldrin was making pretty much no attempt to sound hip, which was really nice, and Jim Green's passionate descriptions of Martian landscape features were wonderfully earnest.

Here's the video I got, including Seth Green's excruciatingly awkward reference to Ellen DeGeneres' "selfie" at the Oscars.

The number of times I heard selfies mentioned on panels I think a memo must have gone out that selfies must be mentioned at all cost.

I'm happy to say someone else has uploaded much more video from the NASA panel, a user named Emese Gaal. Here's some video she posted of Jim Green answering an audience question about the Fermi Paradox:

The other really tired meme I was exposed to at the Con was the one about Sean Bean dying in every movie and television series in which he appears. It was part of the marketing for Legends, an upcoming series starring Bean as an FBI agent, the panel for which I sat through in order to see the NASA panel.

Bean wasn't there but cast members Tina Majorino, Morris Chestnut, and Ali Larter were. The most interesting of the three by far was Majorino who I'd seen on Veronica Mars. She also plays an FBI agent on the show and she discussed preparing by actually taking real FBI qualifications tests, telling the audience how very difficult they are. The conversation started to move on when the moderator interrupted to ask Majorino if she passed the tests. Majorino smiled and looked down at the table before modestly replying, "Yes."

Larter, meanwhile, seemed extraordinarily vapid. She talked about going to a gun range with a female FBI agent and remarking how heavy the handguns were. She asked the agent if she used special smaller guns for women to which the agent replied, no, she uses the same guns as the boys do. "I thought that was so fascinating!" said Larter.

Before the panel, we were treated to a screening of the pilot episode for Legends. The concept is that Bean is an undercover agent named Martin Odum who gets dangerously close to disappearing into people he's pretending to be. I guess it's basically an Alias knock-off, though I've never seen Alias so I can't say for sure. Apart from Bean's performance, I can't say there's much to recommend the show. The intelligence of the writing seemed to be about on par for a TNT or USA series--Odum has an estranged ex-wife with whom he may or may not still have chemistry, he has sexual tension with his boss played by Larter who is at one point forced to pose as a stripper and give him a lapdance to communicate to him while he's undercover. And the FBI's technical people are portrayed as not knowing the difference between the words "upload" and "download".

Here's a White Walker I saw earlier that day:

Well, I still have a lot more to talk about so tune in to-morrow. I saw enough on Friday to fill a whole Con. I leave you with this image of the exhibit hall on Thursday:

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Sunday, July 27, 2014
      ( 9:01 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

This picture of Quentin Tarantino apparently looking right at my camera came from the Dynamite 10th Anniversary Panel, the publisher of Tarantino's upcoming collaboration with Matt Wagner, a crossover series between Django Unchained and Zorro. However, while most of the first part of the panel consisted of discussions about the comic, of course questions from the audience quickly turned to exclusively Tarantino related questions.

The one that's making news, which I failed to get video of, was a question regarding whether or not The Hateful Eight, a project which he famously shelved after the script was leaked, would be filmed after all. Tarantino surprisingly responded to the young man wearing a jersey with a number 72 on it that, yes, Hateful Eight would indeed be greenlit. He joked, "Just for you, buddy!" but it was clear he was serious about going forward with the project when he did nothing to discourage the enthusiastic applause in response to his confirmation.

I could've gotten good video, too, because I was in the centre aisle in a queue behind five other people waiting to ask questions. As it turned out, the guy in front of me got the last question of the panel, I was right there at the front when the panel concluded. My question had been a follow-up on something Tarantino mentioned earlier in the panel, that he had screened several movies for Wagner before starting the project, which is apparently a regular practice of Tarantino's before embarking on collaborations. I wanted to know the titles of the movies he'd screened for Wagner. He did partially answer my question in revealing that the villain of the story will be inspired by Samuel Fuller's western The Baron of Arizona.

Anyway, here's the video I did get:

There'll probably be more video later because, as you can see, I was certainly not alone in recording:

Although there have been plenty of times where I've seen people recording whole panels but then never afterwards seeing the footage on YouTube or anywhere else. Which makes me wonder, do these people just record panels for their own private viewing?

This year, rules on recording and taking pictures were much more explicitly outlined at the beginnings of panels. Of the three panels I saw that Disney was involved in all forbade video and only one of them allowed still photos. Meanwhile, a guy who came out before the NASA panel I saw on Thursday practically begged the audience to get as much footage as possible. Unfortunately, the battery was dying in my camera at the time so I didn't get a lot of footage but I did get some--I'll post it to-morrow when I've had time to become less exhausted.

For now, here are some photos from the last day of the Con--Doctor Who had a much less conspicuous presence this year but I did see the first two Doctors in the event hall to-day. I got their attention by calling out for William Hartnell:

I made a point this year of asking people whether or not they made their own costumes and if they had a web site they'd like me to plug. This woman, who had no web site, not only made her own costume but she's also her own character.

When I saw her, she was twirling her umbrella so the clear plastic strips twisted around her. She had no web site and seemed content just to be photographed.

Here's something a little more elaborate, also constructed by the wearer:

Anyway, I have lots more to share, expect a longer entry to-morrow.

Twitter Sonnet #650

Hot centaurs dressed as undead fall apart.
A fish waits beside the five minute stair.
Armour compels a triceratops' heart.
Old and thin the jokes of Bean's death wear.
An elk's shadow wore a suit for Fuller.
Painted grins outpace the Cheshire Cat's lips.
Reflective Falcons bow to the ruler.
Origami hunters crumple their tips.
The tesseract that's not a cube is blue.
In the labyrinth, everyone has five names.
Female Lokis appear more than Thors do.
The three Palmers play Norwegian word games.
Batman in Lego form isn't so great.
The Strong of many voices will trick fate.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014
      ( 9:12 AM ) posted by Setsuled  
Blogging this morning from the Coffee Bean on Broadway on my new laptop. I got the cheapest Asus they had at Best Buy. It doesn't have a disk drive but otherwise really answers all my needs. And it's light. The Con exhibit hall opens in about an hour.

For lunch yesterday I walked from the Con to Buca di Beppo, a big Italian restaurant that was totally empty at noon just a block away from where every restaurant and cafe was crammed like clown cars. They had ravioli for eight dollars and I was able to use this thing to get some colouring done on my comic.

To-day's Saturday, normally the Con's biggest day but there's nothing I especially want to see to-day. I'm probably going to check out the Twin Peaks panel though it sounds like only the blu-ray producers and Kimmy Robertson (Lucy Moran) will be there.

The Hobbit panel is to-day and although I don't hate the movies exactly I don't really have enthusiasm to wait to see it in Hall H, particularly when the whole thing is likely to be online anyway. I could be wrong, but I don't think there's been anything in Hall H this year to compel anyone to camp out overnight to see. People were walking in directly on Thursday, I heard. Friday had the Game of Thrones panel and I assume that drew a crowd. I was initially planning on trying to catch that one but changed my mind when I realised it, too, would likely be online—and indeed I've already seen clips from it.

I have seen a lot of good things over the past couple days--this year I've made it my mission to see interesting things that sites like AICN and io9 aren't covering and so far I think I've succeeded pretty well.

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Friday, July 25, 2014
      ( 6:57 AM ) posted by Setsuled  
No, I didn't forget--Happy Birthday, Peter Suschitzky, the latest free chapter of my web comic, The Casebook of Boschen and Nesuko, is online.

Here's an interview with Suschitzky--it begins at five minutes fifty seconds, preceded by brief reviews of movies unrelated to him--it's from a movie review show.

Here are some examples of Suschitzky's work:

To-day's also my friend Amee's birthday--Happy Birthday and may the Force be with you.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014
      ( 7:09 PM ) posted by Setsuled  
I have a NASA pin now.

Twitter Sonnet 649

Sanded knee paper adheres to elbow.
Sliding exercise rocks belong to Gym.
Platinum mist resolves to Jean Harlow.
Corkscrew chipmunks May Pole the ash's limb.
A turned television sussed the bottle.
Trashless hashtags dissemble the ball cap.
The listless sky-writing drags the throttle.
Street lanes of dull murders condemn the sap.
Short sleeved pin shame kept the metal basket.
Organic lightsabre robes fade in smoke.
Clean air concrete falls on the bad gasket.
Ragged ostriches assembled your Coke.
Toys find Christmas faster than rats or cars.
The moon made man designs round trips to Mars.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014
      ( 8:00 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Here's my first Comic Con exclusive--this June bug flew past me when I was across the street from the convention centre, landed, and started burrowing into the grass.

He didn't seem to mind when I pulled the grass blades aside to take pictures. But eventually he moved to another spot.

I also saw some women catcalling at a guy dressed as Wolverine on the escalator, a day after I commented on a post on Facebook about how women generally don't catcall like men do. Though, to be fair, they just seemed to be asking for his number.

I thought this was an interesting promotion for SyFy's show Ascension in the Gaslamp Quarter outside the Con--those are mannequins on the awning.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014
      ( 5:16 PM ) posted by Setsuled  
Did you ever wonder what would happen if the Doctor and Romana met Travis Bickle and Iris in Edwardian London? Well, I more or less found out yesterday when I listened to the Fourth Doctor audio play "The Justice of Jalxar". One of the best Doctor Who audio plays I've heard so far, the story takes the opportunity to show how the Doctor's philosophy conflicts with a vigilante killer's.

It isn't actually Travis and Iris from Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, of course, but the references are pretty obvious. A character named Bobby (Mark Goldthorp) is a hansom cab driver into whose cab a young prostitute named Mary (Rosanna Miles) hops one night, begging him to take her away from her life before her pimp, Harvey (Adrian Lukis), shows up and forcibly coaxes her away. Afterwards, the cab driver, who has a very severe idea of justice, takes a special interest in the girl and gives her some money on the side.

When the Doctor encounters him, Bobby even has a line about the rain wiping the scum off the streets. Of course, sex can't be referred to at all on the show, much less prostitution, so Mary is referred to by Harvey as "the best pick-pocket in the East End" and there are references to a "house of ill repute."

The audio adventure also features the return of Professor Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago, portrayed by Trevor Baxtor and Christopher Benjamin, respectively, who portrayed the characters originally in the 1977 serial The Talons of Weng-Chiang. It was nice to hear them again--though I gather they have their own series of spin off audio adventures.

This is the fourth audio adventure I've listened to featuring Mary Tamm as the Doctor's companion Romana and definitely the best. A two part serial about a war between humanity and an invading race of time travelling pregnant worms that preceded it was excruciatingly bad.

Well, to-morrow's the first day of Comic-Con. I can't believe it's already here, it feels like it ought to still be months away. As usual, my posts may be brief or infrequent during the Con, but I will post here and there. Expect lengthier reports beginning Monday.

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Monday, July 21, 2014
      ( 4:40 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

One of the well known problems with capitalism is the wedge it drives between the rich and the poor, the ugly contrast between the comfortable lives of the few rich and the often humiliating lifestyles of the poor, disdain imposed on their modes of living by a society that values conspicuous wealth. Akira Kurosawa frequently used his films to discuss this issue, one of the most vivid examples being his 1963 film High and Low (天国と地獄, Heaven and Hell). The film is also about a murder and a kidnapping and while the killer is an example of the embittered poor, Kurosawa does not advocate with the film the actions the killer takes in response to the injustices of capitalism. Nonetheless, this brilliant film is a powerful argument about the largely destructive effects of capitalism.

I hadn't seen High and Low in more than ten years before I bought the blu-ray a couple weeks ago. One of the reasons I picked it up to replace my old DVD is that it features commentary by Stephen Prince who generally provides excellent commentaries for Kurosawa movies but this one turned out to be particularly informative, much more so than his commentary for the recent release of The Hidden Fortress. He discusses how the bizarrely lenient laws regarding the punishment of kidnappers portrayed in the film were in fact the real laws currently in place at the time of the film. When it's discovered that the kidnapper accidentally kidnapped the son of wealthy executive Kingo Gondo's chauffeur instead of Gondo's own child, the worst he can expect if he's caught is a prison sentence of five years.

The film's divided into two parts, the first focusing on "Heaven" and the second on "Hell". Most of the first segment takes place in Gondo's home and feels like a stage play--as Prince notes in the commentary, the whole sequence was played out and filmed in real time with two cameras, the footage from which Kurosawa later edited together. The performances this draws from the actors, together with Kurosawa's ingenious blocking, are truly remarkable. The movie's thematic conflict is set up through contrasts between Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) and his chauffeur, Aoki (Yutaka Sada).

Even though it'd been established some time earlier that it was Aoki's son who was kidnapped, when the police arrive led by Detective Tokura (a cool and relaxed Tatsuya Nakadai), they speak almost exclusively to Gondo while Aoki can be seen standing pathetically in the background holding his son's sweater.

It's the chauffeur's very meekness that so unnerves the powerful Gondo who, in a fascinating moment, paces vigorously against the curtains when Aoki finally begs him to pay the ransom. But Gondo had been in the middle of a delicate manoeuvre to buy out shares in his shoe company and he'd leveraged everything, including his home, on doing so. So, he's driven against the wall to argue, is it his responsibility to save a child's life at the cost of his livelihood? The tension here perfectly lays bare the fundamental, cruel conceit of capitalism.

My favourite exchange, though, from this opening scene of great exchanges is between Gondo and his right hand man in business, Kawanishi (Tatsuya Mihashi) who at first supports his boss's refusal to pay the ransom. He's eager to take a flight to Kyoto in order to deliver the check that will secure Gondo's takeover. However, the next morning Kawanishi suddenly sides with Gondo's wife, Reiko (Kyoko Kagawa), who had been pleading with her husband to pay the ransom. Kawanishi raises several good points, including the fact that Reiko's dowry was in large part the foundation of Gondo's fortune so she ought to have a say in the matter. But Gondo smells a rat and confronts Kawanishi about his change of heart and Kawanishi admits to being swayed by the other executives. He says he lost faith in Gondo when Gondo even considered paying the ransom, demonstrating he lacked a respectable killer's instinct. The fact that Kawanishi had actually formulated real, valid arguments for a point of view opposite his I thought was a brilliant display of psychopathic capitalism.

"First you must learn to smile as you kill if you want to be like the folks on the hill," as John Lennon wrote in "Working Class Hero". In fact, Gondo does live on a hill, in full view of the squalid apartment where the kidnapper lives, as we learn in the second half of the film.

Toshiro Mifune, Kurosawa's long time leading man, largely disappears from this more cinematic segment where the lead is shared between an effectively cold and agitated Tsutomu Yamazaki as the kidnapper and Tatsuya Nakadai who heads a large team of police detectives. The methods of finding clues and tracking down the kidnapper are covered in exhaustive detail, Kurosawa fascinated by the police procedural, one of the things that recalls his earlier film Stray Dog.

But while one of the detectives observes the kidnapper was right in describing Gondo's home as an obnoxious sight, the film doesn't seek to empathise with the criminal in the way Kurosawa did with Stray Dog. As we watch the kidnapper roam "Hell", from a crowded dance hall to a heroin den, he wears large, reflective glasses as though to suggest he's been so twisted up, consumed by his resentment of the world around him he barely has a personality of his own anymore.

Twitter Sonnet #648

Gangly distortions dilate the pale crust.
Slashes of fern shadows drizzle the moon.
A trombone phoenix emerged from the rust.
Frozen bells herald an orange desert boon.
Background iguana hunger chills the shot.
Spiralling moon eyes'll clink on the glass.
Cream doughnut valleys isolate the dot.
The orange forest people arrange the grass.
Statues of giant noses never blink.
Stalwart wizard plastic farmers may melt.
Broken stoppers do no duty to sink.
Computer hunters take the tower pelt.
Black tree lined mountains bulge with fake water.
Whale ribs fade above the eyelid's daughter.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014
      ( 2:49 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

I may never see every adaptation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass but I've been making the effort for years now. So my quest has brought me to the very difficult to track down 1949 French Alice in Wonderland (Alice au pays des merveilles). Part of the reason it's so hard to find is that Disney exerted a lot of legal effort and succeeded in preventing its release in the U.S. until the 70s so that it wouldn't compete with Disney's 1951 adaptation. They needn't have bothered--the 1949 Dallas Bower film is quite inferior even to Disney's imperfect animated film but it nonetheless has a few nice qualities.

The film wastes time with an opening segment explaining how all the weird citizens of Wonderland are really people Lewis Carroll knew at Oxford and the Queen of Hearts was in fact Queen Victoria. This is completely contrived for the film and the connexions serve neither to provide insight into the real people and Carroll or into the book. Though Pamela Brown delivers a funny, irreverent performance as Victoria and a perfectly mean and arrogant turn as the Queen of Hearts.

Carol Marsh plays Alice competently--she's pretty and her very formal acting education through the Rank Organisation is right for Alice though she doesn't bring any insight to the material. It's almost more of a nice reading than a performance, especially compared to my two favourite Alices, Anne-Marie Mallik in the Jonathan Miller version and Kristyna Kohoutova in the Jan Svankmajer version--the former bringing out a brooding, petulant, somnambulism and the latter a very childlike sadism, both performances harmonising with the story of Wonderland to bring insight into the dream reflections of Alice's mind.

The 1949 film is much more about Carroll's mind--portrayed by Stephen Murray--but a very dull version of Carroll whose main trouble in life seems to be for some reason his obsession with getting the bell removed from the tower at Oxford. Alice comes across as sort of a cursor for this bland version of Carroll to arbitrarily navigate the events of the book.

The film does get a lot stronger once Alice actually gets to Wonderland and the events of the book are observed. The residents of Wonderland are all portrayed by the stop motion animation of Lou Bunin which is charming but compared to the energy and character of the 1951 Disney film looks rather lacklustre. The 1949 film has musical numbers, too, and they, too, compare rather unflatteringly to the songs in the Disney film, coming off as almost atonal with extremely bland or awkward rhymes.

However, I think this is the only time I've actually seen lobsters dancing a quadrille, not counting John Gielgud dancing on the beach in the Jonathan Miller film, and it has an understated, strange charm.

Not so hard to find anymore, I see someone has uploaded the whole 1949 film to YouTube a month ago--and a better quality video than the DVD I bought (for cheap) off Amazon which appears to be a VHS transfer. If you want to see the quadrille, it's at the fifty seven minute point:

The design of Wonderland has a minimalist, generally red, black, and white design that's pretty but also sort of harsh and cold.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014
      ( 2:40 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

How does one approach normal physical and emotional relationships after a lifetime of only abusive or repressive relationships? A teenage orphan named Shun awkwardly attempts to begin a relationship with a prostitute in 1968's Nanami, The Inferno of First Love (初恋・地獄篇, The Inferno of First Love). It's slightly corny and the end of the film is a stupid piece of melodrama but it's also kind of sweet and has a few moments of genuine insight.

The film opens with Nanami (Kuniko Ishii), the prostitute, taking Shun (Akio Takahashi) to a hotel room. She undresses for him and they kiss and spend some time rolling around in bed but he's too shy to go any further.

So he tells her about himself, how after his mother abandoned him as a child he went to live with a couple who are more or less his foster parents. We learn later the stepfather sexually abuses Shun regularly, something a police psychiatrist unearths but for some reason does nothing about.

He hypnotises Shun in an interesting scene where we see his memories playing like a movie projected on a screen and, when he gets to the scenes of abuse from his stepfather, his stepmother (Kazuko Fukuda) steps in front of the projector, demanding the sessions stop, please.

In another instance where the film uses the concept of film in an interesting way, he accompanies Nanami to her former high school where a friend of hers is showing his student film. Shun initially is very rude to the other boy, obviously feeling jealous that Nanami is paying attention to someone else--Nanami, in a more benign display of immaturity, doesn't understand why Shun is being rude. The film is partially in colour--and The Inferno of First Love briefly switches to colour for it--and we see Shun empathising in spite of himself with the film about the young filmmaker's unrequited love for a classmate. I thought this was a nice way of showing how art and film in particular can be a healing influence.

Shun's best friend is a prepubescent girl he meets sometimes in the park. Although he's attacked by a mob who thinks he's a paedophile in one over the top scene, Shun clearly seems to bond with the child because they're close to the same level of emotional development. He's frightened of sexuality as we see in one overlong scene where he follows Nanami into a basement studio where she poses for fetish photos.

Nanami also tells Shun about herself in that first hotel room scene, how she had started out posing for nude photos before gradually becoming a prostitute. Her parents were the ones who originally sent her to work as a nude model and her life is quite innocent in comparison to Shun's. Though I think the filmmakers may have been slightly more critical of her career than the film succeeded in being--in one funny scene, a crazed food cart proprietor strips down and poses in the street.

A friend calls Nanami outside to laugh at the man and Nanami unconsciously comes outside half naked, nonetheless laughing at how silly it is for someone to be posing nude for the public.

But despite the English title, the film's much more about Shun. Nanami seems to basically be leading a happy, stable life while Shun seems as though he might never fight his way through the fog of distorted feelings life has generated around him.

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Friday, July 18, 2014
      ( 2:29 PM ) posted by Setsuled  
Happy birthday, Hunter S. Thompson, the next free chapter of The Casebook of Boschen and Nesuko is online. Here's a healthy way to enjoy whisky:

A lot of interesting people were born to-day: The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Machine Gun Kelly, Nelson Mandela, and Screamin' Jay Hawkins were all born on July 18 as well.

Twitter Sonnet #647

Chipped yellow paint upside drowning wing sweat.
Thousands of hats like Grane's in the fire.
Wrong red chips yellow for the ducat bet.
Conrad Veidt smiled at a spare tire.
Relays through Heaven and telegraph skip.
Broken stops cheapen lacquered periods.
The X axis abducts through the Y's dip.
Squeezed eye graphs then flash stars in myriads.
Repealed Rapunzel cabbage braids wither.
Ordained dorsal cellophane lips dissolve.
Counterfeit red seaweed coils slither.
Gum cholesterol yarn planets revolve.
Faraway freeway elbows launch the boat.
Mobs of paper dragons crammed in the coat.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014
      ( 5:36 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

The water was shut off for five hours in my building again to-day--from 9am to 2pm, and I've been getting up at 10am. So I got up a little early this morning and went out to breakfast--eggs, asparagus, mushroom, and swiss on a thin bagel from Einstein's--slightly more decadent than my usual oatmeal but at least I got my protein for the day. Then I went to the tide pools. The tide had been coming in for some time but the crabs were out in impressive force.

These pictures were taken with a new camera I bought a couple months ago. It's the Canon Elph 115, the new version of what my old camera is, I think--I'm not entirely sure since the label has long since rubbed off my old camera.

It feels like a downgrade, though, because the new version is missing manual exposure adjustment, which is pretty aggravating. Looking at reviews online I see I'm not the only one complaining about this. It has a selection of prefab exposure settings that come along with tinting in some cases. One of those attempts to dumb things down that actually makes things so much clumsier and less personal. The exposure for "daylight" was much too bright for me--I tinkered with the contrast in Paint Shop Pro for some of these.

The new camera does seem to take better macro shots--some of these are through a few inches of water but the crabs and shells still come out nice and sharp.

After this, I still had hours to go until there was water at my place again so I drove around ten miles north on Interstate 5 to Oceanside where I found an enormous comic book store had opened since the last time I was there. I bought two volumes of Moyoko Anno's Happy Mania, seven and eight, a series I've been reading gradually over the past several years. Comic book shops seem like such delicate phenomena, I get excited when I see one. Though I guess it's odd timing considering Comic Con is next week.

Traffic coming back was amazingly sluggish so I took a slightly roundabout route. So much for getting a bunch of work done to-day in preparation for the Con. But I've already decided to put in more time to-morrow and Saturday than I normally do. I had to fight the impulse to wander around Oceanside. I love exploring, that's how I used to spend my free time from 1999 to 2003 or 04, back when I could fill my gasoline tank with ten dollars. It's a much more expensive habit now but moving into a new place in another part of town has kind of rekindled the itch--it's amazing how much of San Diego I still haven't seen.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014
      ( 4:32 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

There are traps made of paperwork, bills, and cultural expectations and there are traps made of sand. In an effort to escape one for a few days, Niki Junpei finds himself caught in the other in 1964's The Woman in the Dunes (砂の女 "The Sand's Woman"), a beautiful film about the boundaries that shape human behaviour.

Junpei (Eiji Okada) is a schoolteacher and an amateur entomologist who takes three days off from his busy life in Tokyo to catch insects living in the sands of a remote desert located on the coast. He captures the little creatures and pins them to a board, the parallel to his own capture by the local villagers being rather obvious. When he misses the last bus home, he accepts an invitation to take a rope ladder down into a huge pit in the sand where a woman (Kyoko Kishida) lives alone.

He stays the night, marvelling how the woman, who is never named, spends all her days and nights fighting the sand--using an umbrella to keep sand off the food, constantly shovelling sand to keep it from burying the building, and putting sand into crates that are hauled up out of the pits by the villagers. It's a sort of surreal, sinister cottage industry--people living in pits contribute sand to a criminal organisation that then sells the sand under the table to construction companies who use it to build cheap, substandard buildings and bridges.

When he asks her how she can be a part of such a scheme, she shrugs and says it's not her concern. The world outside the pit is like another planet to her. She doesn't argue with Junpei when he points out the advantages of living outside a huge pit of sand, she's simply and very completely accepted the pit as her reality.

She loves Junpei, wanting to have sex with him right away--he wakes up on the first morning to find her sleeping naked a few feet away--but her love for him is entirely due to the fact that he's trapped in the pit with her. She has no interest in any other aspect of who he is--she listens with smiling indulgence when he talks about insects and she seems curious about Tokyo in the way one might be interested in celebrity gossip. But, really, she's content to accept whatever the pit provides.

She's not the first woman we see in the film--Junpei, before being captured by a villager played by Koji Mitsui (who I remember best as the gambler from Kurosawa's The Lower Depths), thinks about his wife while he relaxes and we see visions of her on the dunes.

A first time viewer might take her as the Sand Woman of the title. His thoughts beginning with a rumination on all the responsibilities of city life he concludes with the responsibilities "men and women" have to each other, saying they're "slaves to their fear of being cheated. In turn they dream up new certificates to prove their innocence."

The woman in the pit is the opposite in that she basically expects nothing from Junpei except to provide a warm, male body. In its references to unions and extorted labour, the film may be interpreted as a criticism of communism. But it's really not that specific--it's a much bigger story about a human compulsion to escape freedom.

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