Tag Archives: Japan

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I Used To Be Excited for Big Hero 6: An Asian-American’s Perspective

By Guest Contributor Sunny Huang

Two weeks ago, Big Hero 6 premiered to critical acclaim at the Tokyo International Film Festival. Even earlier, it made a big splash at New York Comic Con. And it will open tomorrow as a likely box-office success — a projected $51 million in its first weekend — in the U.S. But with less than a full day to go, I am surprised by the lack of substantial criticism for it.

Frozen generateda firestorm of controversybefore it was released in mass and niche publications, yet there is little for Big Hero 6, which goes to show just how much Asians and Asian-inspired media are pushed out of the conversation. And the only criticisms that have appeared focus on the film’s episodic storytelling and choice of Fall Out Boy for the soundtrack, instead of its lackluster Asian representation and continued cultural appropriation by Disney. In fact, Big Hero 6 is being lauded for transcending these problems, when it is the very embodiment.

Don’t get me wrong. I used to be excited for Big Hero 6.When the first trailer and voice cast were released, I cried.

After spending my childhood barely seeing myself and my people represented on screen, I immediately made my brother watch the trailer. As a 20-year old, I was so happy that my 10-year old brother would have the chance to grow up without self-resentment. I was so grateful to know he would have the chance to not loathe his race because he would see characters who looked like him be appreciated. It was a chance I did not have.

When the trailer was over, I yelled at him. Look, look!An Asian character! Another character who’s Asian besides Mulan! From the biggest animation studio today! Do you know how many people like us will see how progressive this movie is?! To that, he just stared at me and said—

What? I thought he was white.

It was then I realized something was wrong. This movie was being marketed as progressive and beyond its time for giving its studio the opportunity to address “its historical reputation for ethnic homogeneity and cultural appropriation.” But if an Asian-American kid could not identify the main character as Asian, as part of his own group, then what else was wrong?

Turns out, a lot. The protagonist’s racial ambiguity just started the conversation.

The film is based off the Marvel Comics characters of the same name, but with major differences—many of them questionable, and some of them outright wrong.

SPOILERS for both the movie and the comic under the cut.

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The Forgotten Story of Japanese American Zoot Suiters

By Guest Contributor Ellen D. Wu, cross-posted from Nikkei Chicago

Sus Kaminaka was a zoot suiter: one of the many young people in 1940s America who embraced a distinctive, working-class urban aesthetic characterized by flamboyant fashions and irreverent comportment. Kaminaka and other hipsters sported pompadours and ducktail haircuts, “drapes” consisting of broad-shouldered, long fingertip coats tapered at the ankles, pleated pegged pants, wide-brimmed hats, and watch fobs. They also loved to party. Jazz, jitterbugging, lindy hopping, drinking, casual sex, and “cool” were just as integral to the lives of zoot suiters as their characteristic dress.

Sus Kaminaka was also a Nisei: a second-generation American born to immigrant Japanese parents and raised in the farmlands of California’s Sacramento Delta region. Planning to follow in his father’s footsteps, Kaminaka enrolled at a local agricultural college to study truck crops.

But President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, signed on February 19, 1942 and authorizing the secretary of war to “prescribe military areas… from which any or all persons may be excluded” completely upended his ambitions. Ostensibly region- and race-neutral, the order targeted Pacific Coast Japanese Americans. Forced to leave school, home, and community, he soon found himself in the Stockton Assembly Center, one of the 16 temporary way stations for the 120,000 Nikkei (persons of Japanese ancestry) en route to longer-term concentration camps.

On incarceration, Kaminaka’s worldview changed entirely. Previously intent on earning his college degree, a goal he now considered hopeless, he dropped out of his center’s adult education program. Once “proud of living in the best country in the world,” Kaminaka abandoned the idea of registering for the franchise. “I don’t think I was too interested in voting anyway because I didn’t know what it was all about and my vote didn’t mean a thing,” he shrugged. Deciding that hard work was an exercise in futility, he instead “concentrated on having fun like [he] saw the other kids doing.” Before the war, he used to regard Nisei girls as “something sacred” and “never had any dirty thoughts [about] them.” But in Stockton, he shed his “nice boy” reputation. He signed up with an eight-member “gang,” and spent his days and nights chasing young women and going to camp dances. It was during this time that he also acquired his first zoot suit.
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Can Gareth Edwards Build A Global Godzilla?

By Arturo R. García

The release of the trailer for the latest Godzilla release spawned a pretty good discussion over at The Mary Sue Wednesday, including this critique from a fan:

It’s too early to tell just how “global” this new Godzilla is, but it would be really nice if it acknowledged that the death of human beings is universal and is no more or less tragic by virtue of location, nationality or ethnic background. I don’t see that happening for the promotional campaign, because the people who make trailers and commercials are frequently different from the actual filmmakers, and tend to be somewhat problematic at the best of times – so I don’t see them doing anything different from the norm.

Because the sad fact is that lots of people are going to look on the deaths of non-Western non-white people in films, even outright disasters, as they do for real life: as sad or upsetting, but not *quite* as upsetting as if it happened to “their” people – even if it takes place in a western city with an ethnic majority. It isn’t cinema’s job to challenge those preconceptions, but cinema is in a strong position to make a difference. Would it really be such a problem for a film to make the “bold” statement that the death of thousands of non-Westerners is just as tragic as the death of thousands of Westerners? Would that really constitute “reverse”-racism? Is that infringing on white people’s representation in the media?

The first trailer doesn’t give us a lot to go on on that score. And even if the film’s IMDB cast list counts at least six people of color involved, what we see here is mostly focused on white characters (starting with the nameless white soldier who jumps into near-certain doom at the beginning). But the only POC featured, Ken Watanabe, will likely be playing a key character in Godzilla canon — Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, the man behind the invention that killed the original Godzilla in the monster’s 1954 eponymous debut.

But a piece of the synopsis has me, at least, hopeful that this film won’t just aspire to be a “reimagined version” of the character’s first appearance, and will show better judgment in picking which parts of Godzilla canon to explore.

SPOILERS UNDER THE CUT
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Excerpt: On The Death Of Fukushima Plant Hero Masao Yoshida

Former Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant manager Masao Yoshida. Image via RT/Agence France-Presse

The ex-head of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant Masao Yoshida, 58, died at a Tokyo hospital of esophageal cancer on July 9, 2013. Doctors have maintained repeatedly that Yoshida’s illness has had nothing to do with exposure to high doses of radiation.Yoshida is believed to have prevented the world’s worst atomic accident in 25 years after the Chernobyl catastrophe in 1986.

After March 11, 2011, when an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima nuclear plant, General Manager in the Nuclear Asset Management Department of the Tokyo Electric Power Co., Inc. (TEPCO) Masao Yoshida remained in charge of the rectification of the consequences of the disaster for more than six months, barely leaving the station.

It was Yoshida’s own decision to disobey HQ orders to stop using seawater to cool the reactors. Instead he continued to do so and saved the active zones from overheating and exploding. Had he obeyed the order, the whole of north eastern Japan would possibly have been uninhabitable for decades, if not centuries.

After the catastrophe, the Japanese government ordered the forced evacuation of about 80,000 residents from a 20km no-entry zone around Fukushima plant which became unlivable.

On November 28, 2011, Yoshida was admitted to hospital, where cancer was diagnosed.
- via RT

The Friday MixTape–6.8.12 Edition

We start this week’s mix with Lauryn Hill, who had, to say the least, an up-and-down week: on Sunday she made a surprise appearance at Hot 97′s Summer Jam and it looked like Hill was poised to embark on the full-on comeback fans have been waiting for for years.

Then, on Thursday Hill was charged with failing to file three years’ worth of federal income taxes, sending her to a prospective court date later this month. According to Reuters, Hill could face a year in jail if convicted. Here she is in happier times with “Everything Is Everything.”

Next up is a group whose summer is starting on the right foot: not only has Canada’s A Tribe Called Red has scored an opening slot for Major Lazer in Montreal on June 29, but one of the group’s members, DJ Shub, just won the country’s Red Bull Thre3style DJ competition, meaning he’ll represent Canada in a worldwide battle in Chicago this coming September. Get a taste of their style here with “Redskin Girl,” then check out their album Electric Pow-Wow here:

Next up is a young man who’s started drawing attention to himself–the kind that leads to the label “Mexico’s Johnny Cash.” Mexicali-born Juan Cirerol has taken a talent for punky riffs and welded it to what’s become his genre of choice, norteño music. But, even while his style has changed, his approach hasn’t.

“I like to think and do things in a DIY way. That’s how I consider myself punk,” he told San Diego CityBeat. “I haven’t left my ideologies that can be considered dominated by punk. I just decided to do it the way it’s done in my country.”

A good example is this track, “El Corrido De Roberto.”

Here’s a staggering factoid: Japan’s POLYSICS have been around for 15 years(!) and they’re celebrating the occasion with a new album, 15th P, which features not only a cover of “Mecha Mania Boy” by one of their bigger influences, Devo, with vocals from Devo’s own Mark Mothersbaugh. And, if you’re up for a little bopping around your house or desk today, here’s another track off the album, “Electric Surfin’ Go Go.”

Our last video is under the cut, seeing as how it’s mildly NSFW, both for language and (ahem) aesthetic reasons. But, since we haven’t checked in on John Cho in awhile, enjoy this deleted scene from Harold & Kumar Go To Amsterdam–it’s actually an alternate opening for the film–that Racebending turned us on to.
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DISGRASIAN OF THE WEAK! Vagina Whitening (That’s Right, You Heard Me)

By Guest Contributor Jen Wang, cross-posted from Disgrasian

One year I vacationed in Mexico and spent the entire time in the water, body surfing and boogie boarding. My skin got really dark, which I don’t care about one way or another, though I am afraid of sun damage and skin cancer, in that order. I made one mistake that trip though, and it wasn’t forgetting sunscreen (always, always remember sunscreen). My mistake was going to see my grandmother right after. The first thing she said, once she got over the shock, was “How did you get so dark?!” For the rest of the visit, she introduced me to her friends as “My Granddaughter-Who’s-Normally-Not-This-Dark.”

Light skin is still prized in Asia for a number of reasons that have to do with longstanding notions of race, class, and gender. Good thing then, that there’s a booming market for skin whitening creams, many of them manufactured by Western companies! And good thing the companies who make these creams also make commercials, because quite a few of them–beyond their creepy, disturbing premise–are kinda hilarious.
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Coming Attractions: Jiro Dreams Of Sushi [Culturelicious]

By Arturo R. García

You might want to keep an eye out at your local arthouse theaters around March 9, when Jiro Dreams of Sushi is scheduled for release.

As the trailer above begins, David Gelb’s documentary would seem to deal with master chef Jiro Ono, who has developed his 10-seat restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, into a $300-a-plate hot ticket. But this extended trailer clues us in on a deeper story: when will Jiro finally hang up his knife? And can his son, Yoshikazu, possibly live up to Jiro’s legacy?

Open Thread: Racism Isn’t Good Sportmanship, Soccer Fans

Jay Smooth, over at Google Plus, shared this screen grab of the trending topics after the USA women’s soccer team lost to Japan’s soccer team:

Trending Topics Post-Game

By the time, I saw it, the offending messages of “Japs” and “Pearl Harbor” had been replaced by “Congrats Japan” – but searches for the terms Jay circled bring up angry and frustrated Twitter users responding to the initial tweets.

Readers, did you notice any game related racism, either on or offline?