Trailer Tuesdays: Godzilla (2014)

I don’t know what annoys me more, the fact that Hollywood keeps remaking old movies instead of doing something new—because they think that our new technology can totally make the movie better—or that when Hollywood remakes these movies, it constantly features white people even in a story that is about the Japanese!

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Trailer Tuesdays: The Wolverine

As released in the middle of last month, ladies and gents, here is the trailer for The Wolverine. I’ll admit that I’m pretty psyched. I’ve long waited for a film which takes on Logan’s relationship to Japan, and the time that he spent there. When the film was announced, I was hoping for a film that would recount his time in Japan before World War II, with his wife, Itsu, and their son, Daken. Perhaps we’ve seen too much in the way of Wolverine fighting those who have the same powers that he does (re: Sabretooth, Lady Deathstrike), and I’ll accept that movies are going to be different than Earth-616.

World War II has James Howlett in Japan, performing his typical acts of self-sacrifice and heroism, saving the life of the man who would become Yashida, the yakuza boss and corporate magnate. It does seem, however, that the relationship established there has come to haunt his future, as Yashida seems keen to have Wolverine’s immortality for his own. He is, as the official synopsis has it:

Out of his depth in an unknown world…vulnerable for the first time and pushed to his physical and emotional limits.

It’s the intrigue around that fact that makes this trailer so exciting for me. What does Wolverine do when his defining ability, the source of some of his greatest triumphs and his most harrowing agonies, could be taken from him? How does he fight Yakuza enforcers and the deadliest assassins in Japan minus the ability to recover instantly from his wounds?

I think it will actually make for a more compelling story, overall. Wolverine is a man who usually only knows emotional and mental desperation. His healing factor means that he’s stronger, moves faster, can fight longer, and fatigues more slowly, and without it he’s going to come up against enemies who can challenge him physically, both superhuman and not. If the true measure of man is “how he stands at times of controversy and challenges”, or “how much of himself he can give,” then surely we will see a more intimate picture of Wolverine when he faces not only defeat, but death with his failures.

There are a few other things that this trailer has me excited about. I’m interested in how the film will take on Viper (whose character you might know as Madame Hydra). She’s portrayed here by Svetlana Khodchenkova (of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), who seems to have all the manipulative Eastern European femme fatale vibes necessary for the role. Director James Mangold has it that she “views Logan like a great hunter might view hunting a lion in his quarry. There’s kind of an admiration, a desire to destroy and a desire to consume and to have and to hold.”

THE WOLVERINE

That actually brings me to both of my other points. Between Viper, Mariko Yoshida (in the red wig), and all of the ninjas we see in this trailer, there’s going to be some pretty decent costuming. Now, that could go one of two ways. It could just make the whole thing seem cartoonish and overdone. But given the sources it seems to drawn on, inevitably including Tokyo street fashion and our popular conception of ninjas and samurai, I’m inclined to believe that those over-the-top elements fresh out of anime and comic books could be the right choice, with sufficient individuation to give us a sense of character through costume. That’s what I’m hoping for at least.

I’m also hoping for some strong fight choreography, something I often see as lacking in superhero movies, with The Avengers being a notable exception. I’ve certainly been disappointed by all of the X-Men titles in this regard. So the prospect that I’m going to get my wish with this film leaves me watering at the mouth, frankly. It seems unavoidable. With a cast of master assassins and martial artists, including Yukio and Kenuichio Harada, whom you may know as the Silver Samurai, artfully directed martial arts choreography seems implicit. I, for one, will be sorely upset if this is not the case.

The Wolverine comes out in the US on July 26.

Idol Life Isn’t the High Life

Usually when I discuss K-pop and J-pop, it’s all about the music, but today there’s something a little more serious that has come to light. Being an idol in Korea or Japan is all about the image, no matter if you’re male or female, and every aspect of an idol’s life is strictly regimented to uphold that image. When that illusion of perfection is tarnished, however, the repercussions can be severe, and in this case that’s blowing up the internet gossip sites and fansites alike, the consequences almost seem akin to the abusive hazing rituals that we’ve come to know in America.

In the final days of January, Minami Minegishi, one of the members of Japanese super group AKB48, was caught leaving the home of another male pop star (Alan Shirahama of GENERATION) after spending the night with him despite the strict ‘no dating’ rule within the group. After being exposed, Minami was demoted to the position of kenkyuusei (trainee) despite being one of the longest participating members, being part of AKB48 since it first started in 2005. Not only that, out of a desire to show how truly sorry she was, she shaved her head and issued an apology on YouTube.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Deity: Judaism in Anime

Moral of the Story: there isn’t any really.

I have spent the last couple of weeks trying to figure out what I would do for my next Sunday post, and realized I had approximately zero ideas. Zip, zilch, nada. So then I decided to think about what anime featured different religions. You have plenty of anime that feature Buddhism, Catholicism, and other variations of Christianity. But then it occurred to me that I had never heard of an anime featuring Judaism or anyone Jewish.

Doing a little research, I did discover that there is a very tiny Jewish presence. Most of the references to Judaism in manga have been in relation to the Holocaust. In Black Lagoon (which I have not watched/read), there is a Jewish-American lawyer. There have been multiple adaptations of The Diary of Anne Frank. In addition, there seems to be another series about the Holocaust called Adolf that has Jewish characters. However, I haven’t been able to find out much more about the series besides that it exists.

But that’s pretty much it. When you consider that there are only 2,000 Jewish people in Japan (which is 0.0016% of the total population), it’s surprising that there is anything at all. (Stats are from Wikipedia, so they must be true.)

Have you guys seen any Jewish influence/characters in anime? Let me know in the comments!

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Christianity in Anime

As with any situation where some people try to represent a tradition they don’t really know that much about, the Japanese are pretty ace at reimagining Christianity in the weirdest of ways. (Disclaimer: Yes, I know America does the same thing when they make every Buddhist monk a master of kung fu or something, I know as far as Christianity is concerned Christians have some of the least space historically to complain about appropriation, but that’s not what I’m gonna focus on today.)

Christianity first came to southern Japan with the first merchants during the European age of exploration, circa the 17th century. The Japanese government had finally restabilized itself following the Warring States era, and the ruling Tokugawa family decided that the foreigners’ religion (among other foreigner things) was a threat to the nation, and implemented a closed-borders policy, where no foreigners went in and no Japanese went out. Part of this policy made being a Christian a capital offense. This went on for over two and a half centuries, until the Tokugawa regime was toppled, America bullied Japan into reopening, and a new government was established. To this day, the population of Christians in Japan is about 1% of the total number of Japanese.

tl;dr: Historically and currently, Japan doesn’t have a lot of Christians and the Japanese in general (yay sweeping generalizations) don’t really get or care about getting a grasp on the meat of the doctrine, since they mostly all follow a vaguely atheist mix of Buddhism and Shintoism.

In part, because of the fact that Christianity isn’t really understood, there are a lot of really crazy anime that involve Christianity since it can make a theoretically great backdrop for anything with a supernatural plot. You may remember my Manga Mondays review of Hellsing? Well, it’s my honor to start there.

Hellsing’s main characters are English Protestants fighting vampires, and good god are they bloodthirsty, but not as bloodthirsty as the amoral and nigh-sociopathic forces of the

Catholic Church’s Division XIII, the Iscariot unit. They are basically a holdover from the most vicious and brutal of Crusaders—willing to kill anything—human or supernatural—that doesn’t profess the Catholic faith. At one point in the story, the Pope (who may or may not be JPII) gives permission for actual Catholic crusader armies to level London, as the first step in a Reconquista of the heathen Protestant islands. Yikes. The Church is by no means perfect, but I’m pretty sure that the Vatican does not have legions of crack soldiers for this sort of purpose.

Also, there’s, y’know, the gun.

There are also a lot of misconceptions about religious life. For example, Sister Esther of Trinity Blood and Sister Rosette of Chrono Crusade both have romantic interests in their male companions, Father Abel, a priest, and Chrono, a demon, respectively. Rosette’s also drawn in a super fetishistic way—thigh highs and garter belts under that habit? Of course there are. Trinity Blood also goes against current Catholic doctrine with a female Cardinal, but Caterina’s so badass that I don’t give any bothers about that.

In Rurouni Kenshin filler as well as in Samurai Champloo, the main characters encounter secret Christian groups in southern Japan, and they often wield plans to take over Japan like real Christian groups wielded rosaries.

A particularly strange case is that of Saiyuki—the story is based on a founding myth of Mahayana Buddhism, for cripe’s sake, and the main character is a Buddhist priest, but in the anime at least, we see statues of the Virgin Mary protecting a town from demons in a way that nothing Buddhist can.

And there are dozens of anime, mostly romantic (they’re a particularly common setting for shoujo-ai like Maria-sama ga Miteru) that are set in Catholic schools, but where the chapels are more of a place for a dramatic scene change than a place for worship.

I could go on for a long time, here. But I won’t. There are certainly anime that represent Christianity more reasonably. In the new anime Kids on the Slope/Sakamichi no Apollon, the main character moves to Kyushu and the friends he makes are Christians. In general, he has a typical Japanese reaction—he doesn’t get it, but he doesn’t resent them or try to convert them or anything either. They just happen to be Christian, with no guns, demons, or corny, chaste, and over-dramatic girls-love involved. To be fair, this is a slice of life anime and most of the rest I mentioned are fantasy in some way, but nevertheless, it was a breath of fresh air to see it.

What other anime do you know of with weird religious overtones or themes, readers? Let me know in the comments. For now, though, that’s a wrap on this week’s Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus.

Tune in next time and get some religion!