Rose vs Tonight: Fantasy and Reality

In which I attempt to solidify some vague thoughts on the differences between The Purple Rose of Cairo and Tonight, at the Movies.

On the face of it, 今夜、ロマンス劇場で or Tonight, at the Movies is a Japanese variation of Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). Both are stories about a movie-loving person falling in love with a character who literally comes out of a movie. In Tonight, it is a budding scriptwriter and assistant director named Kenji who comes to love the adventurous Princess Miyuki. In Rose, it is Cecelia, a waitress in an unhappy marriage, who falls for dreamy archaeologist Tom Baxter.

Though both begin with the idea of a dream coming true and involve the main character having to make a choice that determines the ending, Rose presents the fantasy alongside brutal reality, and its ending is rooted in the latter. Sad ending, but the most likely logical outcome. Tonight gives us a fantasy that becomes reality, with just a hint of melancholy, and gives us an ending that is closer to a fairytale.

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Seeing Self in a Spork

In which I attempt to lay out my thoughts on Forky and how the character is an interesting parallel to our humanity and relationship with God.

Toy Story 4 introduces us to a number of new characters, including Forky – a creation that Woody’s new owner, Bonnie, cobbled together from bits of craft materials and a spork. Forky serves as a comedic figure with an identity crisis completely different from anything Woody or Buzz has ever experienced.

The central characters of the Toy Story movies are almost always grappling with some form of identity issues. We first meet Woody when he finds his status as favourite toy threatened by the appearance of the shiny new space toy, Buzz Lightyear. Then in Toy Story 2, Woody contemplates the possibility of life in pristine condition but without joy – forever on display but never for play. The third movie forces Woody to face the unhappy truth of a grown-up Andy who doesn’t need him anymore, and asks him to consider life with a different master.

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On Why I Like Visiting Japan.

I need to go pick out photos from my Japan trip to post on my blog now that I’m done editing them all… But in the meantime, I was pondering why I like visiting Japan as much as I do.

I’ve been to Japan four times now, and I’ve enjoyed every single trip. And I would go again. My friends and family think I’m a little bit nuts or Japan-obsessed by now. I don’t feel particularly obsessed by it though. After turning it over in my mind, I think I’ve figured out the primary reason for being so keen on holidaying there: It gives me a sense of achievement and is slightly confidence-boosting.

I like Japan because it’s clean and safe, and it has an excellent train network that enables me to go nearly anywhere I want to go without needing to get on a bus (I’m more intimidated by the thought of taking a bus than a train). There are lots of scenic places, and interesting cultural differences to observe. Then there’s the fact that I have consumed enough Japanese media to have a strong liking for specific things (One Piece is awesome, some of their TV dramas were really fun to watch, and their celebrity “idols” amuse me). There’s also Disneyland. haha

But mostly, my enjoyment of visiting Japan is largely tied in to the fact that I can communicate/understand the language, albeit in a very rudimentary sense. This means that combined with everything else, it has become a place I can go to easily on my own. (The other place would be London, which takes twice as long to reach and is even more expensive. :( ) When I manage to have a simple 3-line exchange in Japanese, such as asking for directions, I feel delighted. When I manage to read (or more or less guess at reading) a label, I feel like I can give myself a small pat on the back. When people look at me in surprise and wonder how I dared to go there three times all on my own… It’s just nice.

When you spend literally all your life hearing things like, “You’re Chinese, so you should speak Chinese” and “How come you can’t speak Chinese?” or “Eh, you’re from Penang; how come you can’t speak Hokkien?” it takes a toll on you. When you start to feel like a second class person or daughter or friend because you aren’t fluent in Mandarin/Hokkien/Cantonese, it really sucks. Hearing things like “Why didn’t you learn Chinese?” or “Maybe I should have sent you to a Chinese school” really digs a hole inside one.

Sure, my English is great, but sometimes it feels like no one really cares about that. All they care about is why I – an ethnic Chinese – cannot fluently speak these languages that are supposedly my mother tongue. It’s depressing, and discouraging. My current cell group friends are nice people, but it’s taxing to constantly hear “friendly” jibes about why I can’t speak Hokkien. I had a close friend in uni who would speak Cantonese to me occasionally – on purpose – because he knew I could understand him, but he wanted to “test” me and see if I’d ever respond in Cantonese. (To the credit of all my classmates in Edinburgh, no one ever asked me why I can’t speak Mandarin nor did they expect me to do so – or if they did, they never said so to me.) I have colleagues who joke about it sometimes too. I still sometimes feel regret from my parents that I’m not fluent in Mandarin or the dialects; occasionally I think I hear a note of embarrassment in their voices when they tell other relatives or friends that I can’t understand Chinese. (With my parents in particular, it makes me feel absolutely horrible and guilty and like I’m useless compared to my sisters. Sometimes I think it’s better for me to be away from them because they don’t have to be embarrassed by my failure in this area of life, and that I don’t have to be held up to the yardsticks that are my sisters.) All this affects me, though I try to not show that it’s opening old wounds and that it stings much more than they’d imagine. I guess I must have succeeded at hiding how much it hurts me since people just keep on joking about it and saying the same things, assuming that it has no weight at all. I wish it carried no weight at all with me. Then I wouldn’t feel so badly about myself in this respect.

So going to Japan – especially going alone – gives me a feeling of “hey, you know what? At least I can speak and understand just enough Japanese to get by on a holiday on my own. It’s something!” Everyone might subconsciously consider me lacking or second-rate because my Mandarin is nearly non-existent, but at least I have some vague grasp of this other language that few of my friends have and visiting Japan temporarily frees me from the burden of being perceived as being second-rate.

Mini Post

I have come to the realisation that 90% of the time, I do not really enjoy designing logos. I don’t think my gifts bend that way. Then again, sometimes I don’t really know which way my talents lie. I enjoy drawing much more, but I actually think that I’m a naturally stronger writer (of fiction).

Hmm. My true talent is probably retention of completely pointless trivia. And high, high tolerance for repeated instances of things that I like – food, music, etc. (How else does one explain why my three favourite songs on my computer have playcounts of over 120?)

This short post is brought to you by: Project for a Completely Unnecessary Logo that I am Compelled to Do.


Musings on Bible Study Sessions

Confession time:

I find it difficult to appreciate standard Bible study sessions. And I mean, really difficult. Largely because they are kind of boring. :/

I know how hard it can be to lead Bible study discussions and such – I’ve had to do it before and it can be tiring, scary and exasperating. You need people to participate and they rarely ever want to talk, which means you often have to force people to talk and that isn’t really a great way to go around doing things. So I appreciate the effort the Bible study leaders put into it – obtaining and preparing the materials, and so on.

But I can’t work up interest to be an active participant in discussions where the questions are basically Sunday School level. What does the lost sheep represent? Should we be like Mary or Martha? Questions that are totally straightforward, with very obvious or expected answers. How else can such questions be answered? The lost sheep refers to us, and obviously we should be like Mary rather than Martha. Any other reply would be silly or pointless. It irks me even more when the study leaders feel like they must get everyone to give an answer to the same question. Uhm, how many versions of “yes, we should be like Mary” do they want to hear? Sometimes I feel like giving stupid answers just to point out the utter banality of the questions.

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Artist’s Block

Writers have writer’s block, and I think artists have artist’s block, or art block. I think, for my part, there are two main types of art block.

Type 1 art block is when you want to draw, but somehow the picture isn’t coming together. The proportions are wrong, the perspective is off, the composition is weird, the colours are wrong… something and anything goes wrong. This is the frustrating type. Often results in paper worn thin or rendered unusable because you’ve erased the pencil lines too many times, or it results in a lot of wasted paper because of mistakes along the way that can’t be rectified with an eraser. If it’s a digital piece you were trying to work on, you just end up with a blank digital canvas. Or, after hours of trying to get a picture right but never proceeding past the sketching or inking phase, you end up ditching the file because you just know it’s not going to work.

And Type 2… Type 2 is when you can’t even pick up a pencil. Or you can, but you end up just holding it and doing nothing but looking at the pencil. It feels like all the life has drained out of your hand, out of your arm. Maybe it even feels like life has drained out of your whole body. You’re just completely blank, either devoid of emotion, or so overcome by emotion that you can’t feel anything any more. At the same time, it isn’t as though you can’t make a picture work right (as with Type 1). It’s more of completely lacking the will to create a picture at all. Perhaps you can see the image in your mind’s eye – the picture you want to create – but it simply doesn’t connect to the rest of you. It’s like having an image in mind, but the hand holding the pencil doesn’t feel like your hand. You’re just not there, somehow, for whatever reason.

I wonder if other arty people have the same types of art blocks…

Of Heroes and Villains

Random thoughts before I go to bed:

Why do so many movie villains speak in such crisp British tones? It’s as if they all go to a villain academy and take a course called “How to Speak with a British Accent.” I like that accent, but really… isn’t there any other accent they can use? (That said, I will admit that using that Brit accent – spoken in the right tone of voice – is pretty effective in immediately conveying the impression of “superiority”, of someone who is self-confident or who has a great deal of self-command.)

Why do villains tend to have more impressive or cooler outfits than the heroes? Is there a rule about hero/villain costume design that I’m not aware of? haha

Why is it that in many modern movies, the villains are so much more complex and appear to have more depth than the heroes? There is a tendency for the heroes tend to be a little more “flat”, or less developed as characters in comparison to the villain. I wonder why that is. Can they not be just as complex? Or is it just that there somehow exists a need to explain the evil? One can be good for the sake of being good, but you can’t be evil just for the sake of being evil? Hmm.

Time to sleeeeep.


The MU Shutdown and Fandom

I feel compelled to ramble about all the recent fuss over piracy, SOPA, and the shutdown of major filehost Megaupload… specifically how the latter relates to the Japanese media fandom. (It’s almost 2AM at the point of starting this, so here’s hoping I make sense. haha)
*Edit; realised a line’s gone missing somehow: Well, SOPA and the Megaupload shutdown aren’t directly related but since they’re kinda sorta related it’s just easier to lump them all together in one rambly blog post. haha

The Megaupload shutdown affects me because, you see, a large segment of people who follow Japanese media rely heavily on filehosts like Megaupload (known as “MU” to fans). Fans in Japan who are kind enough to record and upload TV shows (often immediately after they air) – variety shows, TV dramas, etc. – to a variety of hosting sites, of which MU is perhaps the most popular. (Or second most popular at the moment, maybe. I haven’t exactly conducted a detailed study of filehost popularity amongst J-media fans.) Thus, fans like me who are not based in Japan have the opportunity to download and watch these TV programmes to which they would otherwise simply not have access.*

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Learning Languages

I was reading this article on Tofugu today about the methods of learning Japanese kanji*, or rather “The 5 Biggest Mistakes People Make When Learning Kanji.” Point #4 jumped out at me:

You Learn Kanji Like Japanese School Children (i.e. In The Wrong Order)

It notes that Japanese kids learn kanji progressively, based on simplicity of meaning rather than simplicity of appearance. Just because the kanji looks simple doesn’t mean the meaning it carries is equally simple, and vice versa. This makes sense for them because they’re kids, after all. When you’re seven years old you might not be able to grasp the same abstract concepts a seventeen-year-old or a twenty-seven-year-old would. So you can’t go throwing words that look simple but have complex meanings at kids.

The thing is (says the article), applying the same system to adult learners is rather flawed. Adults can jolly well comprehend all the complex meanings that children cannot. So it would seem to make more sense for an adult to learn kanji based on simplicity of appearance first as the meaning isn’t such a big deal anymore.

I think that is a very accurate observation. One that perhaps also applies in a similar way to adults learning any other language. Think about it. In most language classes, you go through all the basic stuff – pronouns, numbers, colours, greetings… and then you get into simple conversations. “How are you?” “I am fine, thank you.” “What time is it?” “It is three o’clock.” After a while, this begins to get boring. I mean, how interesting is it to spend a whole lesson learning to construct a sentence that is barely anything more than “I woke up at 7am and I had bread for breakfast?” (I’m recalling my Spanish lessons a couple of years back here.) After a while this gets boring, especially when you have no practical application for it. Even when talking to friends, do you really need to tell them that you came back from work, took a bath and then had chicken for dinner? It is unutterably dull.

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