What in some countries would be merely retro or even geeky, in Japan can be mainstream and inventive.
The Ultraman franchise continues to innovate and expand despite its age. As promotion for the Blu-Ray release of Ultra Seven in November, Tsuburaya Productions has got together with a manufacturer from Sabae in Fukui Prefecture, said to be home to Japan’s eyeglass frame manufacturing industry.
The Ultra Seven x Black Ice is a series of eight eyeglasses products designed in the trademark Ultra Seven colors that use highly durable Carbotitan hybrid materials to create the eyewear worthy of a superhero.
The special limited edition spectacles will set you back over ¥50,000 (nearly $500) and won’t be yours until next April (you can pre-order them from December). Clearly these are for the serious collector!
This latest development follows previous Ultra Seven hashed beef food products, an Ultraman luxury guitar, and even an appearance by Mother of Ultra in a series of Kyushu shopping mall TV ads. And if that’s not enough, head on down for a drink at the Ultraman Monster Bar in Kawasaki.
This time we see Japan’s love of stylish retro combining with its very lively eyewear market — an industry which has seen the launch of its own fashion magazine of late, plus collaborations with the likes of Monster Hunter and Rilakkuma, and hi-tech advances such as JINS Meme glasses that tell you when you’re tired and the Fun’iki Ambient Glasses, which link with your smart device.
In Japan retro sci-fi TV shows are not just for geeks, they can be forward-thinking fashion accessories too.
Yes, Japan’s most famous unofficial mascot, that lovable jumping yellow pear Funassyi now has a kid brother.
If you believed Funabashi in Chiba Prefecture already had enough mascots with just one, others thought otherwise. The unstoppable industry that is Funnassyi has been joined by a sibling, Funagoro.
Funagoro is half-pear, half-caterpillar. While he is a similar color to Funassyi, if a bit smaller, there is one major difference: he has a tail. And he can squirt pear juice out of it.
It’s not the first time that Funassyi’s family members have been mentioned but this is the first public appearance. Apparently the pear mascot has a whopping 274 brothers and sisters. Funagoro is the 56th brother, just in case you are counting.
What next for Funagoro? It depends on whether the world can cope with two Funassyis.
Okay, we don’t know if this qualifies as a “trend”. It may only be one inventive person. But it got us thinking nonetheless: Is this cute or creepy?
The realm of Japanese kawaii has certainly spawned some manifestations that are hard to categorize or understand. And there is already a word for when the “cute” ventures into the grotesque — kimo-kawaii.
But “2.5D masks” — two and a half dimensional paper masks — might need an adjective all of their own.
The series of anime face masks have sprung up recently on Japanese social media, originating from a tumblr account that documents the creators adventures around Japan wearing the anime character face decorations.
The designer also includes details on how they are made — in funky animated gifs, natch — and downloadable files for those who want to make their own masks. Just don’t choose the mask model that’s called “Lolita”. (The other three choices are “Timidity”, “Cheerful” and “Grace”.)
The 2.5D Mask tumblr account began in September and showcases the female creator and her masks as she goes to various locations around Japan (typically incongruous ones). The anonymous designer’s Twitter account goes back further, though, at least to July, so this project has been developing over the summer.
Time will tell if this kicks off beyond a minor subculture into a real meme. People are encouraged to download, print and make their own 2.5D masks, and then share them online using the hashtag #2_5dmask. Could this start a revolution?
Japan has always had a thing for papercraft and 2.5D Mask says making the mask only requires a regular household printer and some basic tools. It also taps into the love for dressing up (cosplay) and is like a paper kigurumi costume, only because it’s just a mask, it kind of looks a bit spooky. It’s like the girl’s body has been taken over by an anime invader.
Perfect for Halloween?
Morinaga opens pop-up “Kabe-don Cafe” in Harajuku with doll-waiter for seducing women against a wallWritten by: William on October 9, 2014 at 10:25 am | In CULTURE | No Comments
Food maker Morinaga is opening a pop-up cafe that has a special “kabe-don doll” artificial waiter to seduce female patrons.
To celebrate the release of its Cafe Marriage caramel and chocolate pudding dessert on October 7th and the Cafe Marriage Mont Blanc aux marrons and almond pudding on October 14th, Morinaga has decided to create an interactive experience for lonely women who want to get the sensation of being placed against a wall and kissed.
It is opening a pop-up “Melt! Kabe-don Cafe” in Harajuku’s SoLaDo from October 11th for six days, every weekend for the rest of the month. If you go there and try the new Cafe Marriage (that’s marriage in the French sense of the word, meaning a blend), you can then experience kabe-don with a special waiter/doll/mannequin contraption.
We expect most women in other countries would find this creepy but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say. And besides, there are plenty of odd cafes for men to perv over girls in Japan. Why shouldn’t the women get their fantasies realized once in a while?
Kabe-don is a word meaning when a man places his hand against a wall, trapping (in a good way!) his female partner there so he can lean in for a smooch. Okay, when we write it like that it sounds rather scary but you can imagine the pose, right? Of course, it is only a “fantasy” if the guy is a hunk.
Here the look of the “waiter” puppet (does
he it qualify as a “hunk”) is clearly a rift on the butler cosplay cafes that already exist for women who like to be served by a handsome man dressed to the nines like a servant.
Don’t believe us? Watch this promo video.
The kabe-don doll itself (or is it more like a puppet? The word in Japanese is the same, ningyou) is a bit reminiscent of a sex doll, which as we know has more mainstream acceptance in Japan and even appears in promos for major recording artists. Don’t get us wrong — we’re not suggesting that Morinaga’s cafe offers any extras on the menu that involve getting more personal with the artificial waiter! Either way, Morinaga’s “waiter” is definitely in an uncanny valley all of its own.
Try the sweets and kabe-don doll experience at SoLaDo Harajuku on October 11th, October 12th, October 18th, October 19th, October 25th and October 26th.
A major trend in the Tokyo art world over the past few years has been the temporary “art-jacking” of old buildings and facilities just before they are scheduled to be knocked down.
This was a major success at the former French Embassy, which allowed artists to take over every corner of its old premises for the extravaganza that was “No Man’s Land” back in 2009 and 2010.
Trans Art Tokyo, whose current edition is running now, has been transforming old (and some new) buildings in the Kanda neighborhood with various art exhibits and events. This year includes a flying whale! The publisher Shogakukan also invited people to graffiti its walls as a tribute to its manga output over the years shortly before its building was pulled down.
This also extends to reclaiming the buildings on a permanent basis, such as the case with 3331 Arts Chiyoda, a former school that is now one of the capital’s premier art centers.
In BCTION some seventy artists and artist gropus have taken over all nine floors of a building in Kojimachi, central Tokyo, and turned the whole thing into a big installation shortly before it is going to be demolished.
Increasing the sense of this being a secret event, visitation is by reservation only. Work on the installations began in August and then the main exhibition was for the first half of September. However, some events and “encore” exhibits are being held at the end of the month.
The main disadvantage to this is that BCTION has gone under the radar somewhat and did not get as much coverage as other similar art-squatting events in the past, which is a shame as the events and exhibits (so far) looked impressive.
As the 2020 Olympics loom and bring with it a bonanza of new development works, many old buildings and districts will be making way for shiny new venues. While in limbo awaiting their fates, the spaces open up exciting opportunities for artists and designers.
The first one came out in July 2013 and caused quite a stir. Now comes the follow-up.
“Suichu Ni-so” (“underwater knee-high socks”) is a photography series by Manabu Koga devoted to — you’ve guessed it! — young ladies diving under the water wearing knee-high socks (and swimwear too, of course). The idea sounds ridiculously simple but actually the visuals are quite fresh, almost hypnotic, like a whole new aquatic landscape.
Koga’s new 96-page photography book “Underwater Knee-High Girls plus” hits local stores on October 20th, priced ¥1,800 (around $18) plus tax.
Part of the appeal comes from the fact that the models have all kinds of props with them, some of which — like umbrellas, raincoats and rabbit ears — just shouldn’t be there (i.e., underwater) in the first place. Apparently the knee-high socks are designed especially for diving in, created by a “mecha designer” who is also working on the new “Gundam Build Fighters” TV anime series.
Models featured include Risu Shima and Manami Yamaguchi.
Red Bull Music Academy has produced a great series of documentaries about the little-known world of Japanese video game music.
The series is called “Diggin’ in the Carts” and so far parts 1 and 2 have been released. Each episode is around 15 minutes long and have English subtitles.
Composers featured in the series include Hirokazu Tanaka, Hitoshi Sakimoto, Shinji Hosoe, Hiroshi Kawaguchi and Takenobu Mitsuyoshi (both above), Masahi Kageyama (below), and many more.
The series highlights how important video games and their soundtracks were for the generation growing up in recent years, and “yet for most of us the composers behind these timeless melodies remain faceless”. The central thrust of the series is to put a face to these undervalued composers and argue that video game music has been probably Japan’s largest musical export to the rest of the world.
Here is Episode 1: “The Rise of VGM”.
In this episode we look at the birth and rise of music in video games. From the earliest sounds and melodies to the first fully formed continuous music to be pioneered in the arcade games from Namco. We meet Junko Ozawa, one of Namco’s earliest sound team composers, and also the legendary Hirokazu ‘Hip’ Tanaka, who joined Nintendo in 1980 and was responsible for composing some of the giant’s most loved classics like Metroid and Tetris.
The series is directed by Nick Dwyer and Tu Neill.
For some reason they have elected not to put the other full episodes on YouTube (yet?) but they exist as heavy videos on their own site that don’t really embed well.
The first episode was released in early September. Episode 2 is called “The Outer Reaches of 8 Bit” and is out now. The final three episodes are scheduled to go online over the next few weeks.
Watch the rest of the series when they are released and see other bonus content over on the Red Bull Music Academy website.
On a side note, one of the most famous composers of Japanese video game music, Mamoru Samuragochi, was exposed as a fraud earlier this year.
Descendants of “villain” in Korean box office hit “The Admiral: Roaring Currents” sue over historical inaccuraciesWritten by: William on September 16, 2014 at 9:58 am | In CULTURE | 1 Comment
Descendants of a figure depicted as a “villain” in the current Korean box office smash “The Admiral: Roaring Currents” are suing over the film’s alleged historical inaccuracies.
“The Admiral: Roaring Currents” revolves around the 1597 Battle of Myeongnyang, a victory for the Korean Joseon navy despite the odds. The Koreans had only a dozen ships against the invading Japanese’s 133 warships.
The film, known simply as “Myeongryang” in Korea, stars famed Korean actor Choi Min-sik (“Old Boy”) as Admiral Yi, the commander of the Korean last stand. Released in July, it has grossed over $100 million and been seen by over 17 million people. It is now the most successful film in Korean box office history. It received a limited release in America this summer.
Detractors have accused the film of having an nationalistic agenda. Its release and popularity at a time of Japanese and Korea tension over territorial and historical issues is certainly unfortunate for politicians, though the reasons for its success may also be more innocuous. Ordinary Koreans have much affection has for Yi, the underdog protagonist hero, and film’s distribution company is said to have a monopoly over local movie theaters.
Facing incredible odds, Admiral Yi held his ground even when ordered to fall back and devised strategies to hold the Japanese ships at bay. His leadership qualities are greatly admired by Koreans today and a translation of his diary into modern Korean has been a bestseller.
Not everyone feels that “The Admiral: Roaring Currents” is accurate or fair, however.
The suit, filed against the producer and director Kim Han-min, the screenwriter Jeon Cheol-hong, and a novelist, relates to the portrayal of a side character in the film.
“Our ancestor’s name has been defamed for commercialization and we are also suffering from stigma,” say descendants of Bae Seol, a Korean general whom the film depicts as a rival to Yi. Bae is often said to have deserted the battle but alternative theories say he was allowed to leave the battle due to illness. He was later captured and executed.
His modern-day descendants have asked for screenings of the film to be suspended.
Being the season of the rice harvest, at this time of year there are lots of traditional festivals around Japan. Just this weekend (a long three-day holiday weekend) we saw several portable shrines (omikoshi) around Meguro and even in the heart of Shibuya.
But every year in early September there’s another kind of festival hosted by students from Tokyo University of the Arts, one that is part art carnival though with plenty of nods to the same modus operandi of a traditional Japanese matsuri.
It’s called Geisai (“Gei” means “arts” and comes from Geidai, the nickname for the college, while “sai” means festival) and the three-day festival always features elaborate (and huge) floats that show off the students’ creative talents. There are also performances and music during the festival, with the events happening at the main campus but also spilling out into the streets of nearby Ueno.
The students compete to see which team has the best float as they parade them around, wearing colorful clothes that sort of resemble the usual garb that shrine-bearers at festivals usually wear, with some extra flourishes.
This tiger float was the winning entry in the festival. The mouth is amazingly well made.
God knows what they do with the giant floats after the festival is over, though.
Also check out Tokyo Art Beat’s photo report on a Geisai event a few years ago.
[Images via NetGeek.biz]