Monday, October 25, 2021

But Which Mountain?

Two extremely powerful psychic children are chased by Donald Pleasence and Ray Milland in Disney's 1975 film Escape to Witch Mountain. A badly written film filled with too many plot convenient coincidences and vaguely established character motives, it nonetheless has a few moments of magic.

Tony (Ike Eisenmann) and Tia (Kim Richards) are the supernatural siblings, recently re-orphaned after their foster parents passed away. We meet them as they're trying to adjust to life in the orphanage. On an outing one day, Tia spots Donald Pleasence about to get into a car and knows he'll die if he does. She warns him and he avoids getting into the car just before a truck slams into the passenger side. He realises these are exactly the kinds of kids his employer, a powerful and irritable rich man played by Ray Milland, is looking for. For what nefarious purpose does the sinister Aristotle Bolt (Milland) seek powerful psychic children? He lures them to his fabulous--and, by God, I mean really fabulous--mansion. He gives them ice cream and a combination playroom and bedroom cluster of chambers all to themselves. It all looks too good to be true.

And so Tia says her powers tell her. Yet we never actually learn what Bolt wanted them for. He makes a vague speculation about how they could easily find oil wells. So he wants to use them to make money and all he gives them in return is, apparently, anything they want. I'm not seeing the downside here.

It's weird from that angle but as a point of character development it's also pretty wobbly. Think it through a second. Powerful and absurdly rich Bolt gets it into his head one day he needs someone with psychic powers. He needs that someone so bad he tells his top man to scour the land. In one scene, he angrily promises to fire Pleasence if he fails to deliver once again. All of this would naturally lead one to believe he must have a very strong, specific reason to retain the services of a psychic. You don't launch the kind of manhunt evidently underway because you wake up one morning thinking, "Gee, I bet a psychic would come in handy in the world of business." The performances by Milland and Pleasence are of course the best in the film but, for that reason, I was left wanting knowledge of their motives all the more.

But the kids escape and go on the run. They're helped by Eddie Albert who drives a Winnebago that presumably runs on petroleum from a well that was found without aid of a psychic. It's not hard for them to stay a step ahead of their pursuers because the kids can push cars off cliffs with their minds or pluck pistols out of people's hands. But then a sheriff jumps out from behind a corner after waiting for them at the exact spot Eddie Albert randomly decides to drop them off. There's absolutely nothing about the chain of events that makes sense yet it's almost worth it when Tony thwarts the sheriff by animating his coat rack with his magic harmonica.

There are few nice ideas like this. The kids take on a bear companion briefly, which I liked. But these moments are always couched in bafflingly bad dialogue filled with senseless justifications or conflicts. When Tia wants to free the bear, Tony argues with her that they shouldn't because they can't take care of the bear once they're in the woods. As though the bear is unable to care for itself and would render the children no assistance in their flight from an angry mob that thinks they're witches (of course, the bear almost immediately turns out to be useful for exactly this).

The sequel has a different screenwriter so I might check it out.

Escape to Witch Mountain is available on Disney+.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Dangerous Dances

A French dance troupe inadvertently takes LCD and horrific hijinks ensue in 2018's Climax. A loosely structured film that was largely improvised by mostly non-professional actors, I'd have thought it'd be fairly boring if someone had explained it to me before I watched it. It's actually not bad, mostly due to the choices made in terms of composition and subjects made by director Gaspar Noe and cinematographer Benoit Debie. I'm not sure it's good enough to justify the effort put into it but it's far from a disaster.

The film begins with interview style footage with the characters as they talk about themselves and the troupe. They're putting together a performance for a competition in the U.S. and each of them talks a little about the work they put into it and their hopes. The interview footage is shown on a television framed by stacks of books and DVDs.

This is the only part of the film I'd really call postmodern as it seems like the director informing us directly on all his influences going into the production. Certainly I didn't need him to tell me Suspiria was an influence--the dance troupe running around screaming in green, red, and yellow light would've been enough.

There's not really a plot. Following a successful rehearsal, the dancers start partying. They're drinking sangria, which looks nicely like blood, and slowly they become aware of being weirdly aggressive and horny. One dancer has a little boy whom she fearfully locks in the power room to protect him from everyone else but then she loses the key. You see her frantically running about looking for it as the camera follows other characters or occasionally stops to focus on her.

You get a nice sense of the party continuing its path to hell outside the camera frame. Sometimes Noe follows a character out of the dance hall back to the dorm rooms or the kitchen. Someone gets lit on fire and runs offscreen. Someone who thinks she might be pregnant tearfully confides in another dancer before being beaten up by a third who wanders in. Everyone has his or her own dramas about sex or relationships that get reduced to something primal under effects of the drugs.

In fact, before the drug took hold, mostly all any of them could talk about was sex. Who would they have sex with, would they consider fucking someone of the same sex, would they have an abortion, etc. And they generally seem a bit shallow, which makes them also seem more vulnerable. They don't have the mental tools to begin to grapple with their situation.

The only people in the film with acting experience are Sofia Boutella and Souhelia Yacoub. Boutella gives a certainly unrestrained performance, particularly in one scene where she screams and pushes her hands down her hose.

I found myself hungry for a little more substance in the material. As it is, it's kind of like watching an aquarium of humans. But I've seen worse movies. The only part of this one that really annoyed me was when the camera went upside down for a few minutes near the end. I guess Noe was going for disorientation but it was mostly just frustrating.

I thought it was a little sad they couldn't get the rights to real music and had to use generic dance beats for the whole film. But maybe that's just what this kind of dance music is supposed to sound like? I can't say I've been in any European dance clubs lately. Or ever.

Climax is available on Showtime.

Twitter Sonnet #1485

The circled scalp completes the headless square.
One time the reeds possessed another name.
We journey down beneath a human stare.
A hamster moon is gliding slow for fame.
Where flocks of gentle pigs ascend she waits.
The inky clouds were thin and partly white.
The carrot cubes could serve as decent weights.
We filled the parchment fast with flower plights.
The gathered flowers spread resources wide.
The verdant board could boast a number crop.
The wooden die accrued an extra side.
We stapled ears to end the naked top.
Computer boards reviewed the docking fees.
The question sheet was fed to hungry trees.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Orbiting the Looking Glass

A pretty young woman flees a civil war between the sexes only to run afoul of murderous sheep and a lazy pony unicorn. 1975's Black Moon is a surreal delight, obviously influenced by Luis Bunuel, Ingmar Bergman, Lewis Carroll, and maybe Andrei Tarkovsky. It never approaches the level of its influences but it's a perfectly decent string of dream logic and the best movie I've seen from director Louis Malle.

I've only seen a few other Louis Malle films, none of which led me to expect something like Black Moon. Viva Maria is a moderately fun adventure film; Pretty Baby (made subsequently to Black Moon) is an interesting drama but not something I'd go out of my way to watch twice. I've only seen part of Au revoir le enfants--I caught the beginning on TV decades ago and wasn't able to finish for some reason. But was already finding it sentimental and annoying in the manner of many prestigious European films of the late '80s. None of those films have the bedrock of perverse fun to be found in Black Moon.

Lily (Cathryn Harrison) escapes from a male firing squad killing female soldiers and from a gang of female soldiers executing a male soldier. She ends up at a beautiful old manor house (belonging to Malle in real life, according to Wikipedia). In the lushly furnished interior, the soundtrack is briefly taken over by a cat walking on the piano.

She meets a bedridden old woman (Therese Giehse) who communicates with a large rat in gibberish and demands women bare their breasts to her so she can suckle. Lily's shirt seems to unbutton on its own throughout the film. In one scene, her panties continually fall off while she's trying to sternly lecture the old woman. I kept expecting them to fall off in a later scene--it would've been a good, potentially very funny, visual callback, but it didn't happen.

There's a gang of naked children running around, chasing a pig Lily occasionally runs into as well as the very handsome Joe Dallesandro who seems to come to kissing Lily. His character's name might also be Lily, or at least that's what the female Lily appears to deduce from telepathy. Is this a comment on the conflict between the sexes introduced in the beginning? It's hard to say.

In Bunuel's surreal films, even if it's not clear what something symbolises, you get an instinctive sense of his attitude about a topic, an argument that can't quite be put into words. Black Moon doesn't have that. It's closer to Lewis Carroll except Lily herself produces as much nonsense as the people in her environment.

Ultimately, the ideas in this film don't run very deep but watching a pretty girl try to navigate weird things in a beautiful manor house is enough to please me.

Black Moon is available on The Criterion Channel.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Mugen Again

I caught the second episode of the new season of Kimetsu no Yaiba last night and, as I suspected, it consisted, I think, entirely of footage from the movie. Having it juxtaposed with the animation in the first episode, though, reminded me of how the movie was criticised for looking no better than the television series. Now I can clearly see the direction is at least better in the film footage. There are more creative angles and there are fewer scenes of characters just standing there talking about what they're going to do.

The opening theme was new, though.

The influence of Rengoku's popularity is obvious. Within the context of the overall story, there's no other reason he's more deserving of prominence in the opening than, say, that spider family from the middle of season one or the demon in the haunted house whose drums altered physics. But I do like Rengoku and his weird, constant, unblinking stare, an unrelenting beam of genki.

But my favourite characters are Nezuko and Inosuke. This first episode had one of my favourite moments from the movie--Inosuke riding a train for the first time is like an excited dog in a car. His exultant laughter as he presses his boar head to the window cracks me up.

I noticed he takes off the head in the opening. There's more and more merchandise showing him without it, too, which is disappointing. That boar's head is 60% of his appeal.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Wolves and Rabbits

I'm currently working at a very small junior high school, I'll be here for a month. I was here for a month last year at around the same time so I'm reconnecting with a bunch of students, some of whom barely remember me. One of the tiniest first year students who had seemed especially attached to me last year, though, is now a tiny second year student who definitely remembers me. She was a little sulky this year because she thought I'd forgotten her name but when I called her by name she immediately perked up and wanted to open a salvo of all her small store of English. I asked her to recommend an anime series to me. First she said, "Kimetsu no Yaiba."

"Everyone knows Kimetsu no Yaiba," I said. "What is something only you like?"

Her friends were gathered round as she thought and thought and they giggled when she finally said, "Jujutsu Kaisen."

"Everyone knows Jujutsu Kaisen!" I said.

Finally, she recommended Beastars, which I'd never heard of. I was happy to find the whole thing on Netflix when I went home.

I've seen the first two episodes now and it's not bad, pretty interesting, even. I'm not a fan of the furry aesthetic but this show doesn't have the super-ironic, anti-sexual, cloying furry humour. It imagines an alternate reality populated by strange animal/human hybrids. There's a social divide between herbivores and carnivores and eating meat is a big taboo. The show is set on a college campus where, at lunch time, the carnivores are forced to enjoy soy burgers.

The interesting thing is how assumptions of predatory instincts underlie all social interaction. The concept is a little similar to Zootopia but with a darker, distinctly Japanese edge.

The main characters are a wolf named Legoshi and a rabbit named Hal. Legoshi is in the drama club where a self-possessed, widely admired stag is at the top of the social food chain, regardless of where evolution may have placed him on the actual food chain. Legoshi is mostly pretty laid back, though he conceals anxieties about his own predatory instincts. When he starts to earn the stag's respect, he finds this respect makes him naturally want to work harder for the stag. This adds to anxiety over his suspicion that he may be a murderer, having found a desire to consume flesh occasionally overrides his conscious mind.

Hal, meanwhile, is ostracised because she's a slut. This is revealed in episode two and I laughed because, I thought, of course. She's a rabbit. But it makes for an interesting juxtaposition when Legoshi is shocked out of his anxiety over wanting to eat her to find she wants to eat him. So to speak.

It's very surprising in a Japanese series. Virginity is considered a virtue here for boys and girls. Girls proudly carry cherry charms on their school bags and boys brag about how they haven't had sex. Any time a character is portrayed as promiscuous in an anime, it's usually an older, often villainous, character, or the anime is out of the ordinary. So this one seems to be.

The animation is an interesting mix of cgi and 2d animation that hasn't gotten old yet but I suppose it might. The opening theme is some nice stop motion animation. The only thing that bugs me so far is that Legoshi wears suspenders and a belt--and his suspenders don't cross or connect in the back.

That video has over 39 million views!

Twitter Sonnet #1484

The yellow grass was hair from golden vaults.
The healthy drink produced a kind of bread.
We gathered late to drink a set of malts.
We cluster early honours fit for lead.
The slower light was waiting back behind.
For reasons lost the circuits took the chick.
You crank the pad to make the tape rewind.
Reversing streams creates a haunted brick.
At table five, the napkin carries weight.
A something schmutz defaced the bent lapel.
A mouth exceeds the mask it quickly ate.
Behold the bill and eyes of M. De Spell.
The lawless meat reflects a hungry moon.
A rabid dream permits a tasty boon.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

One Murder Down

Only Murders in the Building ended its first season last night with an episode that was both funny and exciting. One could argue the series hasn't achieved the depth to its characters it seemed to be aiming at occasionally but as a comic bookish caper it's a hoot so I see no reason to complain.

Spoilers after the screenshot

And I was right, it was Jan. I'm not usually good at guessing the killer on these things, especially because I don't usually feel like trying, so maybe it was obviously Jan to everyone. I will say my prediction that it was Jan had nothing to do with any clues presented on the show but entirely on story mechanics which, for a detective series, is not a good sign. If you suss out the killer, it should be because you notice something about their schedule not adding up, an object that places them on the scene of the crime, a witness you think is unreliable. In this case, it was entirely because of her level of connexion to the main cast, the point in the season in which she appeared, and the way she was written into the group with a ruse function ("the annoying new girlfriend").

But on the point of story mechanics, remember at the start of the season I talked about the writers secretly wanting a relationship between Mabel and Charles? Well, it turns out Jan was sleeping with Tim Kono--so Charles' girlfriend was sleeping with Mabel's boyfriend. The characters make a point of saying there's nothing wrong with there being such a vast age difference between the two. I still don't think the writers have the guts to pair Mabel and Charles in this day and age but I think this is a sure sign they really want to. Often writers have villains do things they'd like to get away with having their heroes do, like when Steven Moffat had the Master regenerate as a woman on Doctor Who or Simone Simon in Cat People having the greater psychological nuance than the supposed heroes of that film.

It turns out Jan isn't an especially nuanced character, though. But that's not such a bad thing because her scheme to gas the whole building and her maniacal, fixed stare and grin made her a delightfully campy, very comic-bookish, villain. Steve Martin on the other side of the relationship, talking about how he was finally able to open up because of his relationship with her and the podcast team, doesn't quite have the same traction. Neither does the resolution of Martin Short's relationship with his son or Mabel's relationship with Tie-Dye Guy. All that stuff is overshadowed by the brilliant physical comedy of a partially paralyzed Steve Martin trying to use an elevator (and being ignored by his neighbours) or the dialogue when Mabel and Oliver try to break down a door.

I was reminded again of the inevitable Twin Peaks influence when Charles delivered his summation speech about how Tim Kono's murder brought the community together. This used to be one of the primary appeals of the pilot episode of Twin Peaks, how, instead of the shows about weekly murders and the whole thing being about the puzzle, Laura Palmer's death was something with emotional weight for a whole town, something that by itself should be enough to occupy an entire series. Recently I've had two different Gen Z people tell me they like the pilot episode of Twin Peaks less than subsequent episodes. My suspicion is that the episode is still having the same effect on viewers but these two people I talked to interpret that effect differently--that is, they don't know how to interpret their own emotional reactions to a filmmaking style that isn't as Apollonian or as much about dialogue as popular shows and movies tend to be nowadays. I keep remembering how one reviewer of Twin Peaks season three said she is normally able to just listen to shows without looking at the screen but found she couldn't do that with Twin Peaks.

Only Murders in the Building can tell me it was about one murder that brought people together, but it's not exactly what it makes me feel. Even so, it's pretty entertaining.

Only Murders in the Building is available on Disney+ in Australia and on Hulu in the U.S.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Meeting That Which has No Substance

The '70s and the early '80s are normally considered the Dark Ages for Disney animated films but I'm starting to think the latter '00s were much worse. 2007's Meet the Robinsons is at least better than Chicken Little, easing up a bit on the cynical, imitation Family Guy humour. Meet the Robinsons chooses instead to ape Futurama with its story of a smart kid who winds up travelling to the future. The strongest parts of the film are the beginning and the climax. The middle, when the main character actually meets the Robinsons, is comparatively weak but still not as bad as Chicken Little. Even so, it's never as interesting as some of the worst of Disney's pre-2000 films. The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Pocahontas might be failures at heart but they both have definite points of interest. The best Meet the Robinsons can manage is to be adequately entertaining. There's nothing memorably bad, good, or strange about it.

The first act introduces Lewis (Jordan Fry), a precocious orphan who invents devices that tend to explode, in one case splattering people with peanut butter and jelly. Fed up with rejections for adoption, Lewis decides to seek out his birth mother. To do this, he decides to unlock his infant memories with a new invention he calls a "Memory Scanner".

Disney shows once again how skilled they are at animating children. Lewis and his roommate, "Goob" (Matthew Josten), have the natural mannerisms and vocal habits of real children, especially Goob.

This is yet another film with a male protagonist. With the one notable exception of The Lion King, Disney films post-The Little Mermaid always fared better with a female protagonist. Why were they trying so hard to get movies about boys off the ground? I suppose that makes it ironic that, after buying Star Wars, they've felt obliged to make the new films about women.

Lewis meets a time traveller at the school science fair, Wilbur (Wesley Singerman), and goes off to the future with him to meet those Robinsons.

It's difficult not to think of Futurama as the soft edged, brightly coloured ship swoops through the soft edged, brightly coloured city. The resemblance deepens as Lewis is introduced to the alien shock gags and antics of the Robinsons.

The cast is light on celebrity voices though it does bring in Adam West again, following on his role from Chicken Little. This time he plays a superhero pizza delivery man.

After the early scenes successfully get you invested in Lewis' endeavour, these middle scenes succeed in divesting the story of all emotional appeal, being a series of lame gags.

One scene in the climax, featuring an evil bowler hat turning people into zombies, is surprisingly creepy. Still, it's not quite enough to elevate the whole film.

Meet the Robinsons is available on Disney+.


This is part of a series of posts I'm writing on the Disney animated canon.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Saludos Amigos
The Three Caballeros
Make Mine Music
Fun and Fancy Free
Melody Time
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
Alice in Wonderland
Peter Pan
Lady and the Tramp
Sleeping Beauty
101 Dalmatians
The Sword in the Stone
The Jungle Book
The Aristocats
Robin Hood
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
The Rescuers
The Fox and the Hound
The Black Cauldron
The Great Mouse Detective
Oliver & Company
The Little Mermaid
The Rescuers Down Under
Beauty and the Beast
The Lion King
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Fantasia 2000
The Emperor's New Groove
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Lilo and Stitch
Treasure Planet
Brother Bear
Home on the Range
Chicken Little

Monday, October 18, 2021

That Knowledge has Trapped You

It's said David Lynch never intended to reveal Laura Palmer's killer on Twin Peaks and that he only did so when the network forced him. I can see how not revealing the killer may have made for a better show--though it seems like Lynch made up for it by tracing out a million insoluble mysteries within the one. But the episode in which the killer is revealed, episode seven of season two, really is a masterpiece.

I love the sense of disturbing disorientation Lynch achieves with the scene in the Great Northern where Mike tries to identify Bob. It starts with the familiar exterior of the waterfalls which dissolves into a little painting of the falls on a shelf. As the camera very slowly pulls back, we hear strange, percussive sounds along with Mike saying, "No" at intervals in a distressed, somewhat irritated tone. It's not until after the camera has pulled out a good a deal that we see the sounds are coming from people in military dress uniform practicing with tennis balls. Who are they? What are they doing? As is so often the case with Lynch, it's absurd yet credible. Hotels do get all manner of strange customers and a military band practicing some kind of routine with tennis balls in the lobby isn't very far fetched. But it adds to the general atmosphere of urgent, confused anxiety so perfectly.

I like how the killer is revealed to the viewer without anyone on the show but the new victim sharing in the discovery. I love how everyone at the roadhouse seems to sense something is wrong anyway. It's after the buildup that begins with the Log Lady telling Cooper something is happening, that there are owls at the roadhouse. There we see Donna crying for no apparent reason and Bobby looking faintly lost. Bobby's feeling can be explained by his recent fight with Shelly after his reaction to her financial trouble is impulsively to distance himself from her. He's a scared kid. Donna's distress is totally mysterious, like the girl running across the school yard in the pilot.

I notice Cooper touches his finger to see if the ring's there, the one the Giant took in the premiere. His hand is concealed by his mug so we can't quite see if he has the ring or not, so it's not implausible that it turns up a few episodes down the line. But why did Cooper reach for it? I suspect Lynch intended to convey that it had returned, and it's one of the things that makes me suspect the episodes not directed by Lynch or involving him are not part of the same timeline.

Twitter Sonnet #1483

The numbers add to five but minus two
A seven times an eight was half a cup.
In forty feet, a mile's width's the clue.
The twenty axis shifts a little up.
A cycle eye revisits towns for clouds.
Expensive bread was built of cheaper parts.
The flour coats the water's drizzling shrouds.
The seven cards have swooshed beyond the deck.
The cherry curtains push the eyes within.
The ticking vinyl cools the empty flame.
The standing horse betides what must begin.
The bloody cup contains a vagrant name.
Returning beats announced the whisp'ring hem.
The watching wind disturbs the hoary limb.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Still in Gotham

I think at this point we can say Batman "trailers well." Seeing the new trailer for The Batman, I was reminded of the crowd going wild on first seeing The Dark Knight's trailer at a showing of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. That's probably no accident. The music almost sounds like Hans Zimmer and, in general, there's a Batman Begins vibe about the visuals. And yet Matt Reeves' take is supposedly less interested in the realism of the Nolan films. Certainly the way bullets bounce off Batman's chest without even causing him to break stride is much further from reality. But Robert Pattinson's Batman seems enough like Christian Bale's that the differences stand out distinctly. The fact that Pattinson's smaller and less macho, almost feminine, certainly boyish, stands out. Yet at the same time, there's a definite sense of tenacity you don't get from the Nolan trailers. More than any other Batman, this trailer makes me think he's a guy who won't let anything stand in his way.

Colin Farrell is unrecognisable as Penguin. In fact he sounds a lot like Robert DeNiro. I'm reminded of how Nolan didn't want to use the Penguin in his films because he considered him too unrealistic. What's so unrealistic about a fat gangster? I suspect it's a sign that Nolan's familiarity with the source material is drawn more from Tim Burton's films than from the comics. Well, however he got there, he made at least one masterpiece with The Dark Knight. The odds of The Batman being anywhere on that level seem slim but I never would've thought Joaquin Phoenix could distinguish himself in Health ledger's shadow.

I feel like they decided not to disguise Batman's voice the way Christian Bale did and yet I still can't make out what Pattinson says when he punches the glass in the trailer. Maybe I'm the only one. Anyway, I want to see this movie.

The Signs are Everywhere

Halloween has definitely landed in Japan, as you can tell from the decorations at the mall to-day. It's even more pervasive than last year.

You'd never guess it only recently started to catch on. I was with a Japanese friend, Shuichi, and he told me he was amazed how quickly Halloween was catching on, too.

We were there to get lunch at a shabu-shabu restaurant with a friend of his. It was my first time eating shabu-shabu, which is a sort of buffet style restaurant where you pick up dry noodles and uncooked vegetables at the bar and then boil them in water or dashi at your table. You're given strips of raw meat sliced paper thin and you swish each piece in the boiling stock, cooking one bite at a time. We had various dipping sauces, too, as well as a small dish of raw egg for dipping the meat in. It was good but I couldn't keep up with the quantities of food my companions were capable of eating. After four trays of pork each as well as noodles and tofu they also had ice cream and fresh waffles for dessert. I contented myself with some ice cream with pineapple.

Here are some more big beautiful spiders I've seen recently lately:

Friday, October 15, 2021

Rengoku Returns

Season two of Kimetsu no Yaiba premiered on Sunday and I finally watched it when it premiered on Netflix yesterday. As has been widely reported, the new season is repeating the same story as the massively successful Mugen Train movie, splitting the film up into seven episodes. But of course that means there will be a lot of new material so it's basically Mugen Train: The Extended Edition. The first episode focuses entirely on Rengoku Kyojuro (Satoshi Hino) and serves to provide an explanation of all the bento lunches he's eating at the beginning of the film. It turns out he bought out the entire stock of a restaurant after rescuing the proprietor and her granddaughter from a demon.

It definitely feels like they're milking Rengoku's massive, probably unexpected, popularity. I can't overstate the reverence virtually every student, boy and girl, of every grade, holds for Rengoku. My young friends in the art club constantly draw him and he's always spoken of in solemn or sadly affectionate tones. Considering the next arc in the manga is evidently a torrid tale of a red light district that has nothing to do with Rengoku, the makers of the anime probably had to go this route.

He is a charming character--pure-hearted and self-sacrificing, his only quirk being his unblinking love for food. The new episode begins with a lovingly animated sequence of soba noodles being prepared for him.

He is almost a propaganda hero, like the men who mutinied over borscht in Battleship Potemkin. Altogether, Kimetsu no Yaiba is a marked shift in anime to a more conservative story about honorable men fighting to protect the women they love. That's not to knock it, in fact I'd say Japan is a lot healthier playing out these stories in fantasy instead of electing strong men presidents (indeed, it seems like there's another prime minister resigning every day).

I'm interested in Mugen Train: The Extended Edition but I have to admit I'm more interested in catching up to the next arc. Maybe I should get caught up on the manga.

Kimetsu no Yaiba is available on Netflix in Japan and Crunchyroll in the U.S.

Twitter Sonnet #1482

The silver catch awaits a breaded fly.
The numbered air reports a water sound.
We built with solid steel a metal pie.
We buried cake beneath a frosting ground.
The bottled water held a gazing fish.
To light the path, a murky mould was dropped.
We gather milk to fill the deeper dish.
You see the image here was clearly cropped.
The gasping nose would hardly load a sneeze.
Collections strongly frame the stuttered tube.
We're selling phoney honey straight to bees.
The answer's writ in form of Rubik's Cube.
The youthful fire burns through tasty treats.
The destined train abides his final feats.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

The List of Suspects Contracts and Expands

I caught up on the newest two episodes of Only Murders in the Building last night and they were two of the best episodes of the series. "Fan Fiction" was one of the funniest, featuring a group of "superfans" of the characters' true crime podcast.

Spoilers for episodes 8 and 9 after the screenshot

Episode eight also had a running gag about how Charles' new girlfriend, Jan, is the group's proverbial Yoko, acting like she's suddenly part of the group in order to make suggestions no-one likes. Jan is the bassoonist who, if you remember, was my pick for the killer. Episode eight ended with her apparently being stabbed to death, which made me think I was right and that the stabbing was a fake out. Episode nine begins by revealing the stabbing was indeed not fatal and ends by providing evidence that makes her look guilty. Which makes me think she isn't. I guess we'll find out next week.

Episode nine isn't quite as good as eight but it's still really good. Martin Short continues to display admirable energy levels. And I was amused by the idea of Jane Lynch playing Steve Martin's stunt double.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021


Spider webs shroud the ripe persimmons near the junior high school, a sure sign of autumn here in Kashihara, Japan. Persimmons are associated with the season and persimmon trees can be found at the foot of the hill near the big junior high school where I worked up until to-day. To-morrow I go to a different, smaller school in another part of town but I will be going back to the big one in January. Until then, I'll be missing many of the students, particularly the art club students who all gathered together this afternoon to present me with artwork and say "Thank you!" in synchronous.

I would share the artwork but I'm not comfortable giving anything like personal details of students online. One girl expertly inked a drawing of Nezuko from Kimetsu no Yaiba dressed as a pirate. She knew I liked pirates and she knew Nezuko is my favourite character on the show. I couldn't tell her all the ways it was an appropriate gift for me.

Most of the artwork the students gave me was of characters from Kimetsu no Yaiba or Jujutsu Kaisen, though I have yet to finish seeing all the episodes of the latter. But it's what the students love so I'm very happy to receive it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The History of the Miss Mystery

I noticed something about all the English text books at the junior high schools I work at here in Japan. They teach the reader that the titles for men and women are "Mr." and "Ms.", the latter pronounced "Miz". No mention is made of "Miss" and "Mrs.". I told one of the teachers I work with that this is by no means reflective of my experience as a native English speaker in the U.S. But as I thought about it, I wondered if I had the appropriate background to speak to the issue. I see "Ms." regularly on online news sites, I'd just totally forgotten it was pronounced "Miz", I always thought it was an abbreviation of "Miss". I'd been disabused of this before and, as I now recall, soon forgot again, probably because I can recall no instance of anyone actually using the pronunciation "Miz" in real life. But how many opportunities have I had? When I was in university and community college before that, anyone referred to by their last names were "Professor" or occasionally "Doctor". When I worked at J.C. Penney, everyone went by their first names, even the store manager. I referred to everyone by first names in my teaching jobs in the U.S. The last time I can positively remember using Mr., Miss, or Mrs. is high school. I don't remember any "Miz" in those days and clearly remember plenty of "Miss" and "Mrs." I graduated in 1997. Could things have really changed so much since then? According to many of the sites that come up in google, they have. But I also see sources which claim they haven't and generally the difference in opinion on sources lines up with their political bias. I checked other countries, too, and found an Australian site where women polled were under the impression that "Miz" was reserved for divorced women and possibly lesbians.

The argument in favour of "Miz", a controversy I thought, until recently, had died in the '90s, seems to be that a woman is made implicitly subservient to men by adopting her husband's name. I know there are occasions where a husband has adopted his wife's name instead, though. Why isn't the answer to give men a marriage dependent honorific? It seems as much a commentary on the value of marriage, the concept of creating a single unit from two individuals, as gender. What last names should the children of a marriage have? Should they have to pick a side when they come of age?

In any case, I'm not convinced the English text books are conveying an accurate idea of native speaker English. I've noticed that ping-pong is referred to as "pinpon" in Japanese but the English textbooks force students to say "table tennis", I suspect because "ping pong" is trademarked. Who knows what other interests are invested in these text books?

Twitter Sonnet #1481

The ghost of curry walks despite its heart.
Thematic trolls traverse the plastic wood.
The panicked horse was hit by poison dart.
Alone, the playful maiden lately stood.
A cube of sand could crush a cherry dream.
The errant knife presaged the ribbon ring.
To lee, the prow's unlike the dame she'd seem.
Electric green permits the car to sing.
The image pizza blurred our waking talk.
A question card was cut to fill the class.
A phase around the mountain heeled the walk.
A team of horses led her 'cross the pass.
Evolving words are clamped in boiling lard.
The language fits a tiny index card.

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Love of a Car

For some people, the only peace they can find is by devoting themselves to projects, away from other people. That certainly seems to be the case for a young man in 1983's Christine. John Carpenter's adaptation of a Stephen King novel I haven't read is partly a nice, raw tale of teenage misery and partly an admirably balls out, violent car chase flick. It's the story of a living car who kills people--and I have to admit, I was rooting for her by the end.

Arnie (Keith Gordon) is a prototypical nerd. He even wears tape on the middle of his black rimmed glasses after a bully crushes them. Yet, the cruelty and insensitivity he suffers from in greater and lesser degrees from parents and classmates is credible. His parents going ballistic about the idea that Arnie would buy a car on his own makes sense, yet their anger also believably crosses the line to disastrously inconsiderate of Arnie's natural need to assert himself.

No, I don't think Arnie is justified in acting more and more like an asshole, but it's also completely understandable. When it comes to the car, I'm inclined to interpret her as something like a wild animal. I've heard in King's novel, the car is definitely possessed by the spirit of a man who killed himself in the car while in Carpenter's film its lifeforce is left totally unexplained. I like Carpenter's concept a lot better. It's far more interesting to study the car and try to discern the nature of its personality and limits of its intelligence than it is to just see some guy's personality in it.

It really is sweet the way she returns the--admittedly compulsive--affection Arnie lavishes on her. And then I also find myself rooting for her because, if you think about it, even if she has the ability to heal herself, it's kind of hard for a car to arrange just the right circumstances where she can kill people. She needs speed and tenacity. My favourite part is when she pulls out of a burning gas station, on fire, to go after the last bully.

That being said, I also really like Harry Dean Stanton as the police detective. I love how sure he seems to be that Arnie's lying about painting the car after it'd been vandalised. As though he's somehow intuited that the car is a demon with healing powers. Stanton completely sells it.

In addition to a lot of '50s classics on Christine's radio, the film also has a particularly groovy synthesiser score from Carpenter.

Christine is available on Netflix in Japan.