Apr 9, 2014

The Misconduct of Haruko Obokata

Japanese academic and mass media discourse surrounding Haruko Obokata case is, as to be expected, disgraceful. Issues that should have been raised include: 

1. Poor academic skills training on all education stages up to and including doctoral level. 

2. The accountability of institutions and the absence of institutional checks to control research quality.

3. The scarcity of support systems / mentorship programmes for developing ideas into knowledge within the academia.

Instead, have a discourse of a young woman-scientist who made a mistake and is solely responsible. Her male mentors are without fault. She has been banned from mass-media appearances, and instead forced to cry and apologise during a press conference. 

Sounds familiar?

Feb 6, 2013

Jan 31, 2013


In relation to my previous note and homage to Akari - my friend Taku, a choreographer, kindly sent me a new piece of fascinating insight (thanks!). Apparently, the girls were not only calling Akari through gestures, spotlight and lyrics, but they also quite physically saved a spot for her on the right side. The routine was asymmetric, which is most visible here:

In other idol news, Minegishi from AKB48 shaved her head, wept and apologised to the fandom for sleeping with a guy, while her fellow member Kasai had her long-anticipated photobook cancelled, pulled, and banned over a scandal and investigation concerning child pornography.

What a month, Japan.

Jan 11, 2013

Calling Akari

Two weeks ago, five energetic and brilliantly produced girls of Momoiro Clover (Momokuro, thereafter), who had started as street performers just four years before, reached the pinnacle of Japanese TV entertainment: the New Year's Kouhaku concert.

We've seen this in the past, of course. Most Japanese idol groups start from the streets, then move to small indoor venues and slowly (if ever) climb the industry ladder. Only a few groups ever reached a national audience, among them the hottest Japanese act of the last few years, AKB48. But after AKB48, with its 200+ members stretched across a myriad of subgroups, reached the million-selling, national idol status some time ago, the magic, for some, disappeared. After that, it was not anymore a story about a group of tired but dream-driven teenagers performing daily in a small dark theatre in central Akihabara. With the help of millions (and, again, brilliant/ruthless producing efforts) AKB48 got huge, reached their goal, became icons, and, paradoxically, had not much else to do. The symbolic day of AKB48's huge Tokyo Dome concert - their biggest dream - was also the day the groups's lead singer and media face left the group.

Momoiro Clover, while similar to AKB48 in their managing style (as all J-idol groups are) and song choice, are conceptually quite different. There are only five members (although they started with six). They sing predominantly live, despite the dance routines being much more demanding. They are less obviously sexualised compared to AKB, and the emphasis is put on "fun" and "wackiness" (according to their official taglines, AKB48 are "idols that you can meet", and Momokuro are the "weekend heroines" - weekend because of their school schedules; heroines because of their superhereoine/sentai gimmick). Most of all, however, Momokuro fans praise the girls' hardworking spirit. "They don't have it easy", a Japanese fan told me, "but you just know they enjoy everything they do."

Sure, the catchphrases are still scripted and the whole gimmick heavily micro-produced. But it's done so exceptionally well you buy into the myth with ease. Momokuro fan creativity is exceptional as well - be it during concerts or on the internet. But I digress.

So, Kouhaku. Every artist's dream. Visibly nervous girls take the stage, sing and dance two songs. The whole Japan gathered at homes at the evening of December 31st enjoys the performance. And there is much to enjoy - audibly out of breath, at some point the girls activate giant beaming robo-eyes on their costumes (3:32-3:40), which is pretty much the coolest thing all night.

But is this it, I wonder? Has Momokuro, which I knew from their early indie times, finally made it big? Will it be the end of this intimate empathic link between the performer and the audience, the link so many fans told me they felt (and some stopped feeling towards AKB48)?

But come the 4 minute 15 second mark and an unnoticeable percent of the audience starts crying, and I know Momokuro will be alright. But let me explain.

In the second song, "Ikuzee Kaitou Shoujo" girls introduce themselves:
 "Yes Yes We are the Momoiro Clover"

And then they say their names:

"Reni, Kanako, Shiori, Ayaka, Momoka".

However this time they add another name to the mix: "Akari", who is the previously mentioned sixth member of the group, who quit some time ago. This is, to my knowledge, the first time Momokuro sings this version since Akari's last concert.

Not geekservice enough for you? Freeze the frame at 4:16 and see how the girls point at the camera when they say "Akari" - not a part of the routine.

More? Watch the spotlight when the names are spoken. Each member has their own colour, and during "Akari" a blue spot is lit on the far right side - where she would originally stand.

In the words of the internet: "This is not rubbing it in for the member who quit. It's a friendly message - 'look Akari, we made it - also thanks to you'".

These are the little things that matter, that humanise the idol experience (another example is the famed AKB48 documentary in two parts). It doesn't get any more intimate for the fans, however meticulously scripted by the manager this all might be. We are sharing a feeling here, participating in semi-secret emotional exchange. The fans know the girls, they tracked their friendships, they cried when one of them had to leave, and now they're calling her one more time. Youtube comments and message boards are full of grown women and men confessing they cried tonight.

They cried after they called Akari.

(Thanks to KevKev and Alex for the pic and links)

Aug 17, 2012


After some deliberation we invested in a twelve-month unlimited cinema pass. This is good for several reasons, but mostly because I can now go to see bad movies on a big screen whenever I want, without the £12 worth of guilt.

So, remembering some old headlines, I went to see the first female-directed Pixar movie, a story with a strong feminist hints, an active girl-protagonist and an unusual take on family bonds.

That was not the movie I saw.

The music was nice, the animation was great and there were a few sweet spots you couldn't help but be smitten by, instantly. But it was all hardly brave. Bravish at best.

The girl in the centre. Sort of, anyway.

The director replacement drama is a story we don't know enough about to judge, but I cannot shake the feeling that most of the things I didn't like about the movie were a result of the "creative differences" Chapman was fired for. And these things I didn't like are, in short:

* it doesn't make sense where it should

This includes the witch copied from Miyazaki, the will-o'-the-wisp logic, the overall clumsiness of the main "magical" plot that feels like some horrible wheel-of-timenian fantasy, only without a hundred new characters every couple of minutes. Which brings us to

* the lack of character depth, quality, and, especially, lack of characters overall

This, as I understand, was supposed to be a character drama, with only a handful of protagonists to better emphasize the family relations. This would explain the lack of friends, relatives or acquaintances (and the mute brothers). But is really noone there for Merida? Perhaps we are to assume those people are there, somewhere; perhaps not - which is to add to the loneliness and drama of the heroine (why, then, we have the clans, the stereotypical servant?...)

* the action bits and the funny bits

The three brothers/bears (yes, I get it), the castle escape, the muffin pranks... 8-year-old girl sitting next to us chuckled during the first few gags, but by the last ones it got boring for everyone. Babies and animals. And then some more babies and animals. It was like watching Tony Soprano during his therapy.

* finally, the main character

Beautifully animated hair, but not very inspirational otherwise. Has her journey, manages to postpone her fate a bit, but is still a girl in a man's world, bound by the male choices.

All she can hope for is to become like her mother: a non-nonsense, orderly female figure among the all-male clan, respected - but only until something important comes up and she is elbowed aside, or bound naked by men with ropes and spears.

Jul 17, 2012


It's been a while since I assembled a desk, a sofa bed, or a pair of Billy bookshelves. Three years or so. After a period of nomadism, we now rent a room with a small garden; we have snails, gas bills and a TV license.

I walk the empty roads between the nearest bus stops, in search of something remotely familiar, and there it is.

Nov 1, 2011


O smiesznych ┼╝artach zdaje sie jest teraz dyskurs u inteligencji blogujacej, i tu jeszcze, i tu tez o, no i tak mi sie przypomniala ta koszulka co mi ja Michal zrobil wlasnymi rekami kilka lat temu, ale dowcip, jak sie okazalo, nie byl odpowiedni w kazdej sytuacji.

(dygresja: i znowu na sluzbowej maszynie nie mam polfontow i nie bede mial nigdy, long story).

(quasi-dygresja: druga koszulka od Michala juz byla wrazliwsza, bo i bardziej meta -- zamiast Gregorego byl Wilq, get it?, a "not" bylo przekreslone.)

 Ale ale, bo tu przeciez koniec listopada, a wiec dochodzimy do watku co nas bawi w Japonii, i jest na przyklad kostium na zabawe halloween (rok temu pisalem o innym):

Party Joke -- oto jestesmy "Gaijin-san", panem obcokrajowcem, i pierwsza kontrowersja jest z dodaniem -san ktore ma to "gaijin" zmiekczac i utulac, i wszystko juz jest ok. Sam kostium jest jak widac niezwykle prosty, bo zeby byc obcokrajowcem na japonskiej maskaradzie wystarczy dlugi nos i wielkie niebieskie oczy. rozowy granitur, niebieska mucha i brwi not included; included natomiast w secie okularowym ponizej:

Zwracam uwage na kropelki potu na twarzy powyzej, bo jak wiadomo, kazdy gaijin strasznie sie poci.

Gdy nos to dla nas za malo, moze wtedy zainteresowac nas kompleksowy zestaw "Obcokrajowiec Czarna Broda", dostepny w tym samym sklepie za smieszne 700 jenow:

Takie tam sobie zarciki.