Sakura-Con 2015: Day Three — The Ending (which includes my final panels, autograph session, and thoughts)

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Cosplayers in front of the Exhibition Hall

 Sunday, April 5

Sunday ended a three-day sojourn into a world of make-believe, one that enriches the real world by being unreal.  I saw the older adherents of this love of anime with my first panel of the day, slipped into discussions on supernatural beings with the second, spent an unreal amount of time waiting for an autograph, and ended with a nod to martial arts and multiculturalism.

9:30-11:30, Otaku 25 and Older, back again! (Panels 6, 4C-1)

Scorpion.  Monkey D. Luffy.  Some dude in a hat who normally dresses as Sub-Zero buts needs his costume repaired. What do these three people have in common?  To be fair, the first two are anime characters, but panelists played them during the Otaku 25 and Older panel, which returns to Sakura-Con from Portland.  To be more fair, the man dressed as Scorpion is known as Animeman73 on YouTube.

I have a confession to make: one of the reasons I joined this panel was to find a girlfriend make new friends with people around my age who love anime.  While I did have friendly seat-neighbors, I didn’t become buddy-buddy with anyone.

The format was as follows: the panel would ask a question.  The panel would answer the question.  The panel would then ask audience members to come up to the mic and answer the same question.  These questions covered the following topics: getting into anime, getting into anime later in life, anime as an art form and inspiration, is there a place for anime style on TV?, anime as a tool for social commentary, the benefit of attending anime conventions, and where does anime go from here?  Within the answers themselves sprouted more topics, such as whether anime conventions should be more inclusive (sci-fi, fantasy, etc.) and if ads and commercials should use anime characters, as they do in Japan.  Also mentioned were favorite anime series, including the original Bubblegum Crisis, Outlaw Star, and Sword Art Online (which I heard about during Sakura-Con 2013).

I found myself nodding to the series mentioned (many people got into anime with Voltron, Thundercats, Transformers, Go-Bots) and to the points being made.  Then again, this is my age group. :-)

The panel ended 15 minutes early, even including a Q&A, which asked questions such as, “Will otakus be pushed out, like in Vancouver?” and how can we “break anime” to people our own age (The answers, respectively, were “no,” as they’re too big a presence here and in Portland, and “be proud” of anime around people you know.  One person in the audience suggested describing the show you watch to someone first, then mention it’s an anime after they act interested).  The early end-time gave me more time to search for something Full Metal Alchemist related for Vic Mignona to sign.

*Exhibition Hall Scramble, Part One*

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One of my favorite photos from Sakura-Con, despite not quite cropping out the sign for compost.

I was specifically looking for a t-shirt, but I also noted the Exhibition Hall rows I visited so that I could continue searching after the second panel ended without covering the same ground.  I did not find a t-shirt, but I did receive a handout from a female cosplayer (not the one in the photo) on the Yuki Yuna Is a Hero booth.

11:45-12:45, The Weird World of Gegege no Kitaro (Panels 6, 4C-1)

Kitaro cosplay!

Kitaro cosplay!

Time for Zack Davisson’s second panel, this one about his area of expertise: Japanese yōkai!  Even better, I found the subject of his talk hanging out in line.  Davisson was also excited to see him and posed for a photo with him after the panel finished.  He said he’s never seen anyone cosplay Kitaro before.

The panel began with Davisson showing us how popular Kitaro is in Japan.  There’s Tottori Yōkai Road, which includes sculptures of yōkai from Gegege no Kitaro, a Kitaro train, a Kitaro airport, and even Kitaro toilet paper.

The origins of Kitaro borrow from Lovecraft, as well as Japanese lore (Kitaro is the last of the yurei zoku, which is a monster race that lived on earth before humans, much as Lovecraft’s old gods predate human civilization).  His parents summon a human to “hear their testament.”  When the human returns to the house, the wife has been buried, while the husband lies dead on the floor.  The wife, however, was pregnant when she died, and her unborn child (Kitaro) claws his way out of both her womb and her grave.

Main Characters in Gegege no Kitaro

Kitaro: He fights yōkai who harm humans.  His special powers include hair that can turn into needles and shoot at enemies, remote-controlled geta, and his chan-chan-ko (spirit vest), which is woven from the hair of his dead ancestors and is his most powerful weapon.

Medama Oyaji: Kitaro’s father.  When he died, his corpse liquified, except for an eyeball, which grew a new body.  He is very wise and gives Kitaro advice on the yōkai he faces.  He loves taking baths in a teacup.

Neko Musume: A half human, half yōkai whose uncontrollable cat instinct comes out when she smells fish or mice.  Of all the characters in the manga, she changed the most over time.  She also appears more in the anime than she does in the manga.

Nezumi Otoko: Literally “Rat Man.” Mizuki’s favorite creation, Nezumi Otoko is also half human, half yōkai.  He’s 300 years old and doesn’t bathe.  A scoundrel, and the voice of the narrator.  Donald Duck to Kitaro’s Mickey Mouse.

Origins of Kitaro

Of the most popular characters in Japanese anime (Doraemon-1969, Mighty Atom-1952, Hello Kitty-1974, Gundum-1979), Kitaro is the oldest (he was created in 1933) and the only one who looks to Japan’s past (the rest look to the future).  His origin story borrows from the legend of the ubume, a woman who dies while pregnant, first created in the Edo period (1603-1858).  Kitaro himself comes from the Showa period (1926-1989) and from kamishibai, a shadowbox puppet show that was popular around Japan, but went into decline with the rise of TV.  Though Shigeru Mizuki made Kitaro famous, Masami Hito created the character, whom he named Hakuba Kitaro (literally, Kitaro of the Graveyard).   Three of the kamishibai crossed over into manga, when one could rent manga to read (kashi-hon).  Mizuki worked on the manga, and when Hito retired, Mizuki asked him if he could continue the series and make Kitaro his own character.

An important thing to know about Mizuki is that he was a child prodigy when it came to drawing.  He was so good that he gave his own art show while in fourth grade.  In WWII, he lost his left arm in an Allied bombing and had to relearn how to draw with only one arm.

At first, Mizuki ripped off American horror comics (sometimes panel-for-panel).  Then he was kicked off the series over money, and the series was given to Kanako Takeuchi.  Mizuki created Kitaro Yaba for another publisher, and it ended up being more successful than Takeuchi’s series.

Then Mizuki got lucky.  Around 1962 or 1963, Osamu Tezuka, the grandfather of Japanese anime, pulled out of the popular manga magazine Shonen Jump over money.  Needing another manga to serialize, they asked Mizuki to come in.  One consequence of this was that he had to make his character more kid-friendly, since Shonen Jump‘s target audience is young boys.  First, he changed the title to Gegege no Kitaro (Mizuki couldn’t pronounce his name when younger, and so his nickname became “gege,” which is where the title comes from).  Kitaro also couldn’t drink or smoke anymore.  Finally, what had been a horror comic became a versus series.  Every episode, he fights a yōkai, and since there’s no continuity, you can pick up reading anywhere.

Two more innovations he created (one of which heavily influenced Miyazaki) was the yōkai mura, where all the yōkai live together (Totoro-like — also influenced the bathhouse in Spirited Away).  The other was to reinvent Japanese mythology, so that people’s conceptions of what yōkai look like match how Mizuki draws them.

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Kitaro through the decades

While Mizuki is still alive (he’s 93) and continues to work, he got bored in the 1980s and decided to turn Kitaro into a teenage sex comedy (called After Gegege no Kitaro).  As it’s “a full-on porno,” Davisson said it probably won’t ever be released in the U.S.  Another manga that may not make it over here is Kitaro’s Vietnam War Diary, in which Kitaro leads a group of yōkai to Vietnam, where they destroy the invading Americans (Mizuki is a lifelong pacifist).  There’s also Kitaro’s Family Musical.

One reason why it’s taken so long to translate Gegege no Kitaro into English is that people only want to translate the best parts, not all of it.  When Davisson wanted to translate it, Mizuki asked him to list thirty things he’d want to translate, saying, “That way, I will know if you know me.”  Of the thirty he sent in, Mizuki crossed off one and said, “That’s garbage, but you can have the rest.”  Currently there’s one volume out (which I picked up from the library soon after Sakura-Con was over), but there will be more.

Q&A

Since you can guess the questions, here are the answers:

  • The last volume of Showa: A History of Japan is at the printers.
  • The first volume of Kitaro is mainly the 1960s transition from Hakuba Kitaro to Gegege no Kitaro, including some stories that appeared in both, and were selected by the publisher.  By the 1980s, Mizuki left the series to his assistants, who made it more kiddish, while these stories still have a bit of an edge.  The next volumes, however, will have stories selected by Davisson.  Normally, he would’ve had books to sell, but Emerald City Comic-Con “wiped me out.”
  • Mizuki is also known for a folklore dictionary.  For the 25th anniversary edition of Drawn & Quarterly, Davisson got to include seven entries out of the 12-volume set as a test, and encouraged us to write to Drawn & Quarterly if we want to see more, as they take fans’ comments seriously.
  • Davisson is currently translating a biography of Hitler that Mizuki wrote, showing how far-reaching Mizuki’s talents and interests are.
  • He then asked us a question, “What came first, the TV series or the theme song? (It was the theme song)  While he didn’t know how to play the song off the Internet, he did sing some of it for us.

 *Exhibition Hall Scramble, Part Two, and Lunch*

Final round!  While announcements of winners of booth prizes and final signings and cosplayers swirled around me like cherry blossom in the breeze, I decided that — large as it was — a wall scroll of Full Metal Alchemist:Brotherhood would suffice for signing purposes.  Plus, it was cheaper than a t-shirt, and way cooler.  With scroll in hand, I texted my friend at the manga library to see if she wanted to grab lunch, then finished my sub in an alcove on the 4th floor before I saw her reply.

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2-4, Vic Mignona Autograph 3 (Autographs, 4B)

While I could most likely have brought my food inside while waiting (unless “outside food” includes food purchased at the Convention Center), I gobbled it down before rushing in to wait for a Vic Mignona autograph.  I got there a few minutes before they were letting people line up (you couldn’t line up earlier than 30 minutes before).  It was a shorter line than yesterday, and I was standing in roughly the end of the first half of the line.  Knowing that I’d only be able to get one thing signed, I contented myself with a photo, as an announcement at 2 pm stated that he would try and stay for everyone and that if you wanted a photo with him to have your camera ready in order to move the line as quickly as possible.

Two lines over, people were lined up for Johnny Young Bosch, which is pretty amazing, considering that he started signing at 11 that morning and was scheduled to stop at noon.  My manga library friend got her autograph then, but since many people wanted his autograph, Bosch decided to stay the entire day.

Kanako Ito left and WIT Studio arrived before I got to the signing table, where Mignona was selling photos of himself with different characters he’s voiced for $10 (if I hadn’t found anything, I could’ve bought one of them).  A woman dressed as a Klingon told us he had a free CD on the table (and others for sale).  I grabbed one, because nothing beats free.  A double-CD called The Gospel of John, it does indeed appear to be The Gospel of John, as “narrated, composed, and performed by Vic Mignona.”

Learning from past blurry images of celebrities, I pre-focused my camera.  The staff member I passed it to took a photo of the signing, but then pressed the button too fast when taking a photo of me and Mignona.  Second time was the charm, though, and since the person in front of me asked him to write a whole bunch of series’ names on her memorabilia, along with a lengthy message, I merely said, “Thank you,” and left with my wall scroll for my friend’s sister, who I later heard was freaking out about it.  Then I noticed that, underneath his signature, he had written “Ed,” which will lead to more freak-outs on her part.

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4-5, Closing Ceremonies (Main Stage, 4A)

Yep, Johnny Young Bosch was still signing autographs as we went into the main stage area for closing ceremonies.  Here the winners of the various contests were projected on the screens, and we were treated to a martial arts show by Body Movement Arts.

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Then voice actor David Vincent came out and we saw a glitch-free version of the opening ceremonies video by Daniel Thompson.

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David Vincent

Next, Vincent announced the contest winners, which I’ve posted in the order they were announced.

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Winners — Jazzy and Dustin Kofoed

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Group — Pitch, Please; Chibi Idol — Emi, Haruhi, Bettie; Audience — Ted Tagami; Judges — John; Idol Winner — Jemma

After Vincent announced the karaoke winners, Idol Winner Jemma took the stage to sing her winning song, complete with dance moves.  Very cutesy, and she looked thrilled.  You can see her performance of the same song during the competition here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zX-KFlRrBk

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AMV contest winners were next.  While I didn’t get to see all of them, I correctly picked the best trailer:

Best Trailer: Attack on Badassdom (Maboroshi Studio) –“Knights of Badassdom” Theatrical Trailer – Attack on Titan

Best Concept (Trailer): Harlock Into Darkness (DriftRoot) — “Star Trek: Into Darkness” Theatrical Trailer – Space Pirate Captain Harlock

Best Tech/Artistic: Unbound (Ryuu-Dono) — “All Is Violent, All Is Bright” by God Is an Astronaut – Various (5)

Best Drama: Levity (PieAndBeer) — “All I Want” by Kodaline – The Wind Rises

Best Fun: Another Fanny Service Video (Ileia) — “Wiggle” by Jason Derulo ft. Snoop Dogg – Kemeko Deluxe

Best Action: Ultra Fighting Bros (Irriadin & Daramue) — “No Scared” by One OK Rock – Various (11+)

Best Upbeat/Dance: Ho-Kago Teastep (MoonieAMV) — “Highscore” by Terminite and Panda Eyes – K-ON!, K-ON!!, K-ON! The Movie

Best Romance/Sentimental: The Confession (GuntherAMVs) — “I Wont Say (I’m in Love)” by Susan Egan – Katanagatari

Judge’s Choice (Comedy): Ship Happens (VivifxAMV) — “I Ship It” by Not Literally – Various (23)

And finally, the Best of Show went to…..

Anime 404 (BakaOppai) — Various Audio (16) – Various (36)

…which we got to watch.  I laughed so hard my sides hurt afterwards.

Then came time to reveal the Sakura-Con 2016 mascot.

Third place: Laura Jun

Second Place: Samantha Kays

First Place: Vania Chong

You can see the three winners (and their mascot drawings) here: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=837338139654040

After Vincent thanked all the guests, we were treated to the traditional Korean dancing of Oolleemm.  A line of drummers followed their leader around the stage, sometimes running after her, as she played something similar to a gong with a stick (probably a kkwaenggwari).  She kept time with it, often speeding up and slowing down, as well as playing it louder and softer.  A final hit with the stick held against the instrument stopped the dance and the instruments, only for her to start them up again.  In this way, she led them around the stage in snake formations and suicide wheels.

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After applauding them, Vincent said that Sakura-Con holds a special meaning for him because Sakura-Con 2006 was the first convention he was invited to.  At that point, Chris Louck worked for Sakura-Con, but wasn’t the ANCEA president.

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Chris Louck

Louck then came out and told us that the silent auction raised over $40,000 for the Make-A-Wish foundation.  To end the festivities, he had everyone stand and say, “BANZAI!!” three times.

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And that was it.  Time for final photos of cosplayers (a pile of them posed with Oolleemm just outside the theater), and then the Con was over.  I almost stopped on one floor to get a picture of Groot, but decided to stay on the escalators.  Leaving the Convention Center, I saw attendees say goodbye to friends from other cities, other states, other countries.

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If only Viz hadn’t screwed up the release….

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Final Thoughts

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Why do I love anime and anime conventions?  For anime: its creativity, its characters, its worlds, its lessons, its animation, its fight sequences, its music. For conventions: its costumes, its panels, its camaraderie, its PEOPLE — some of whom pass as shades through other parts of society.  I witnessed blind people doing cosplay and a girl in a wheelchair reaching for manga in the library.  I saw female lovers comfortably holding hands and heard twenty-somethings expound upon a culture that remains only slightly less foreign to me now than when I lived among its citizens.  Even guide dogs roamed the halls, sometimes dressed up in ridiculous costumes (well okay, I didn’t see any dogs dressed up in ridiculous costumes, but I did see guide dogs).  No one is excluded, except for those who would exclude others.  Harassment isn’t tolerated.  Bigotry isn’t tolerated.  Sexism isn’t tolerated (despite fan service).  That’s not to say they’re nonexistent in anime culture, but it’s not sanctioned and runs counter to the ideas that sustain conventions.

And that’s what I love about them.  I feel self-conscious in the real world, but in the world of the Con, I don’t have to worry about being myself.

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Until next year…

If you want to see all the photos I took during Sakura-Con 2015, just click on the link.

Sakura-Con 2015: The Tiring–Day Two (which includes more photos, fewer panels, and the manga library)

Are you ready for some cosplay?!

Are you ready for some cosplay?!

Saturday, April 4

On the second day of Sakura-Con, I replaced my shoulder-strap bag for a backpack and left my laptop at home, which made everything easier to carry.  I also attended fewer panels than the first day, in that I went to none.  Not that there weren’t good panels to be had (the Lady Librarian did one on Princess Mononoke), but while my mind was telling me “yes,” my body was telling me “no.”

11-12, Cosplay Skit Contest (Main Stage, 4A)

Zapp Brannigan and his cohorts from Zapp’s Spaceship of Love

I arrived at Sakura-Con early enough on Saturday to be in the first of three lines to see the Cosplay Skit Contest.  While walking into the venue, background music confirmed that, yes, there is a Japanese version of “Let It Go.”

Three guys from Zapp’s Spaceship of Love hosted the festivities, with humor and bad jokes filling the time in between contestants, often including Brannigan’s skirt tunic.  Also featured: some sexy unsexy dancing.

1. Luigi’s Ballad (Game Grotto) — Luigi serenades Princess Toadstool, only to have Mario come in and rap that she should choose him.  In the end, she chooses Toad.  As funny as it sounds, and proves that Mario’s a jerk. ;-)

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2. Belly Dance (Fabumi Cosplay)–Two females dancers with more muscles in their stomachs than I have in my body.  Pretty freakin’ awesome.

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3. Problems with Being Haoru (Team Hiro) — Haoru wants to go swimming, but it’s snowing outside.  A parody of Frozen, complete with songs.

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4. Fancy Dancy Magic Prancy Fun Time (Subarashi and Ren-Ren) — Though boasting an impressive title, the dance moves weren’t as impressive as the ones by Fabumi Cosplay, but it included the female of the duo “accidentally” kneeing her partner in the balls.

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5. Road to Sakura-Con (Fruity Cosplay) — characters from Diablo, having already become gods there, decide to become gods of Sakura-Con.  Included a song from the movie Diablo, with altered lyrics.

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6. A Transy Masquerade (Onix Heart) — What it sounds like, complete with a fight scene.  Curious which anime this is taken from.

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7. Logging Out (The Jem Friends) — A she-robot (and I’m sure I’ll get corrected on this by fans) can’t find her boyfriend, so she kidnaps another boy and takes him to her world. His sister attempts to save him.  Complete with mechanical laughter!

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8. Seme and Uke: How To (Danion Biscuits) — This one confused our announcers, as one of them thought this skit was about ukuleles and was puzzled when it didn’t feature any. The audience and Brannigan knew what to expect, however, and while I didn’t, I could guess.  Nothing to really take pictures of, but the description’s in the title, and ended with a kiss between the two contestants: both female, both dressed as boys.  For the uninitiated…http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaoi

9. Full Metal Circe du Soleil (Crystal Nova Cosplay) — Brannigan had trouble pronouncing Circe du Soleil, until the host dressed as Bidoof told him, “It’s French.  Don’t pronounce the last letter of each word.”  Arguably the best performance of the morning, as Heather Lynch (dressed as Edward Elric) did crazy stuff with a scarf.

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Then it was time for the hosts to stall until the judges picked the winners, at which time, all the acts were brought out.

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Game Grotto won best comedy.  For their victory speech, the person dressed as Mario said (in character), “I’m the best!”  “That Mario is such a jerk,” the announcers agreed.  Best drama went to Crystal Nova Cosplay.  Heather’s response (in character) was, “Don’t ever call me short.”

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Then it was time for the audience favorite.  Brannigan manipulated the audience noise (and response) by raising and lowering his arm, then went to each of the acts and measured the applause.  He thought there were a couple that were close, but his fellow announcers decided there was a clear Audience Choice, and that was Fabumi Cosplay.

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 12-2, Cosplay Costume Contest (Main Stage, 4A)

The Cosplay Skit Contest led into the Cosplay Costume Contest.  I left during part of the contest to eat lunch, as I was starving, but here are the contestants I saw.

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*Lunch*

Another day, another tuna sandwich from Goldberg’s To Go.  This time, with TWO pickles.

1:30-3:30, Sumi Shimamoto Autograph 1 (Autographs, 4B)

On Friday, I’d asked one of my friends if she or her sister wanted Sumi Shimamoto’s or Vic Mignona’s autograph.  They wanted one of each.  Since that meant I’d have to stand in line four times (only one item can be signed per turn), I decided to split the difference: I’d go for Shimamoto’s autograph for my friend, and Mignona’s autograph for her sister.  Shimamoto-san had the better autograph time on Saturday, but searching the Exhibition Hall for something she could sign proved fruitless, unless I wanted to spend close to $500 on a drawing of Kyoko Otonashi.  Luckily, I had a Plan B.

I got in line around 1:30 and was surprised by how short it was.  Staff cut off the line at 1:55, but I was ahead of the cut-off.  The people around me noticed she was taking photos with fans, too.  One person there had bought tons of poster board for the guests to sign.  I found out from him where to purchase them and kept that in mind for next year.

Considering how big a voice actress Shimamoto-san is, I’m amazed I got to her signing table in less than 45 minutes.  She recognized me from our interview, and I gave her assistant my camera.  Her assistant had trouble with it at first, but the photo came out beautifully.

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 Cosplay in the Courtyard

Since I had free time before my next event, I went outside and took photos of people cosplaying.  While there, I ran into my friend Andy, who was also taking photos.  He didn’t have a pass for Sakura-Con, so he couldn’t enter the convention space.  I don’t know if you can get a press pass as a photographer, but I told him he should look into it, as his photos are the work of a professional, while mine are of a good amateur.

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 3:30-5:30, Vic Mignona Autograph 2 (Autographs, 4B)

Having once again found nothing for a guest to sign, I went in with my souvenir program…and was directed to the front of the third line.  And I hear his lines move slowly.  After sitting there for a few minutes, I left to do more productive things, since he had one more autograph session tomorrow, and at a better time.  Plus, I could use the extra time to find something for him to sign — like a t-shirt.

I mulled around the Exhibition Hall, skirting the first row of Artist’s Alley.  Since the creators of Spinnerette were at Anime Boston, there were no artists I recognized from last time (see Sakura-Con: Episode One) .  I did, however, check out the Artist’s Show — hidden in a corner of the fourth floor.

The Manga Library

I thought about going to an Ikebana Class, but decided against it at the last minute, and Lady Librarian’s panel would cut into dinner, Cosplay Chess, and my remaining energy.

Instead, I went to the Manga Library (204-205), where I chatted with one of my friends and read some Maison Ikkoku.  First was Maison Ikkoku: The Graphic Novel, which was such an old translation that it read left to right.  I then picked up Volume 4 (2 and 3 were missing), which followed the standard right to left manga translation model. I stayed there for about an hour.

Since Lost and Found was down the hall from the Manga Library, I popped in there to see if anyone had found my bag since yesterday, but no one had.

*Dinner*

Having finally discovered that Subway was on the fourth floor, I ordered a 12′ meatball sub. I could’ve eaten another one, too.  Since the weather was nice, I ate outside, but had the bad fortune of sitting near smokers.  So much for fresh air.

5:30-7:30, Cosplay Chess: Main Game (Sakuradome, 6E)

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Seong Mi-Na’s and Ash Crimson’s teams size each other up

When I received approval for my press pass, one of my friends told me, “You must see cosplay chess!”  Having seen it, I believe having an arena-style chessboard with stadium seating (so that people can look down on the board, instead of having their view obstructed by audience members sitting in front of them), would have increased my enjoyment of the event.  As would making it a half-hour shorter.

As seats were filled, we were entertained  by a break-dancing staff member.  Then the battle began between Ash Crimson, Seong Mi-Na, and their teams.

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The first battle

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Time for Monopoly!

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Sora from Kingdom Hearts used amazing acrobatics during his fight sequences.

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Yep, there were Power Rangers.

The worst thing about cosplay chess is that it’s chess.  The best thing about it is the battles.  Some are humorous, others breathtaking.  They included acrobatics, Monopoly games, guest appearances, fatalities, and humor.  Snake from the Metal Gear series participated (complete with a cardboard box he could hide in), as did Sub-Zero from the Mortal Kombat series.  Star-Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy couldn’t get Ash Crimson to remember his name until late in the game, while Kakashi Hatake from Naruto corrupted a youthful opponent with a dirty book.  And the cosplay characters weren’t confined to the chess board.  In the audience, I saw the best Lum costume I’ve ever seen, but as happens so often at conventions, I saw this one when I couldn’t conveniently ask for a photo.

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Big Hero 6’s Baymax helps Hiro in his match.

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The ending battle between Ash Crimson and Seong Mi-Na.

The two-hour match sucked all the remaining energy out of my body, so I left after it finished.  Looking ahead to Sunday, I saw a couple of panels I wanted to attend, including Zack Davisson on Gegege no Kitaro.  Oh, and Seong Mi-Na’s team won.

Next post: The final day of Sakura-Con 2015!  More panels!  More photos!  More standing in line!

Sakura-Con 2015: The Quickening–Day One (which includes panels, a lost item, and an interview with Sumi Shimamoto)

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Friday, April 3, 2015

Back in 2005, I went with a friend to Anime Boston.  We went for the first day only, with him driving back that evening as my contacts sucked all the moisture out of my eyes.  Digital photography had been out for a few years, but I still had a film camera, and I filled a roll.  That was the first anime convention I attended.

Two years ago, I went — also for the first day — to Sakura-Con.  This time, I took photos with a point-and-shoot digital camera and wrote about my experience on this blog, while mentioning my experience in Boston.  Sadly, Sakura-Con has since gotten rid of day passes, so the only passes available to the public are weekend passes.

My Sakura-Con 2015 journey began when I found out I could apply for a press pass as a blogger, and did.  Even better, I scored an interview with Sumi Shimamoto, who has done voice acting for as long as I’ve been alive (I’m not speaking metaphorically; her career started the same year I was born).  So, with one bag carrying my laptop and a notebook, and another bag carrying my DSLR camera, I was ready for Friday’s festivities.

10-11 am, Opening Ceremonies (Main Stage, 4A)

I was a bit late to the opening ceremonies, due to a delayed bus and technical difficulties with one of the computers used to register press and industry representatives (i.e. it died).  Still, I was able to catch part of the opening performance…

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…including the opening video, despite technical difficulties (they played it again at the closing ceremonies, glitch-free), before heading to my first panel.

Note: all the information provided during the panels was provided by the panelist(s), unless included in brackets or otherwise noted.

10:30-11:30, Manga Translation 101 (Panels 4, 4C-4)

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This panel was conducted by my friend, Zack Davisson.  He is a translator for Dark Horse (Satoshi Kon) and Drawn & Quarterly (Shigeru Mizuki).  After opening in Japanese and finding another convention goer who could speak it well enough to converse with him, he switched to English and provided a brief chronology:

1983: reads his first translated manga (I Saw It)

1988: takes Japanese as only one of two junior high school students in the class (he memorized phrases, but didn’t really learn them)

2000: moves to Japan as part of the JET program (this is when he really learned Japanese)

2005: receives MA in Japanese while in Japan, with a focus on Edo period ghost stories

2007: starts his website, Hyakumonogatari (literally, “100 stories”)

2011: translates his first manga (Showa: A History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki, with the fourth and final part scheduled to come out on July 21)

2014: nominated for the Japan-US Friendship Commission Translation Prize

He then gave his three tips for being a manga translator:

1. Learn Japanese

2. Learn More Japanese

3. Learn English

Rei, Asuka, and Shinji running away ;-)

Rei, Asuka, and Shinji running away ;-)

But what does the word “manga” mean?  It comes from the artist Hokusai, an artist during the Edo period, who wanted to separate his serious work from his doodles (man=frivolous, ga=pictures).  There are four different ways to translate manga:

1. direct translation (manga=frivolous pictures): sucks as translation

2. usage translation (manga=comics): a bit better

3. interpretive translation (manga=Japanese comics): the best and most common kind of translation

4. no translation (manga=manga)

Because interpretive translation is the most common kind, a writer is usually attached to one translator, so that there’s continuity between the translations.

Rules of Manga Translation:

1. Everything goes in the box.

The speech balloons are certain sizes, and while the translator can request horizontal or vertical balloons, all the words in the speech bubble must stay in the bubble.

2. Translation shouldn’t sound like a translation.

This is often the difference between a fan translation and a professional one.

3. Everyone shouldn’t sound the same.

One must pay attention to voice, tone, and character.  The reason this is a bigger problem with Japanese than with other languages is that English is a low context language (the meaning is in the words) while Japanese is a high context one (the meaning is in the situation).

After these rules, Davisson threw up a few pages from Satoshi Kon’s Opus in the original Japanese with direct translations, to see how we would translate the work, keeping in mind the rules above.  There are other issues.  In Japanese, there aren’t swear words; instead, they use personal pronouns to denote how they feel about others.  In some cases, words don’t translate well (oftentimes, you can toss out those words).  Japanese manga also includes sound effects for everything.  The most difficult one to translate is “shin,” which means “silence.”  Davisson usually translates it as ….  He then showed us his translated panels to see how we did.

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Gogo Yubari, Kill Bill Volume 1

Before answering questions from the audience, he gave us some advice:

1. Practice!

To get good at something, you need to speed about 10,000 hours on it, or at least six years of Japanese.  A great way to practice is to buy a Japanese manga that’s been translated into English, translate the original, and then compare your translation to the professional one.

2. No scans!

In other words, don’t do fan translations.  “I’m not judging you if you do them,” Davisson said, “but if you are, stop now.”  Fan translations make it difficult for companies to do professional ones, since the Japanese companies look on those kinds of translations as stealing.  When American companies hire translators, they will do a background check to see if the translator has done fan translations.  If so, that person will be blacklisted.

3. Good luck!

While practice, networking, and face time are important, it ultimately comes down to luck.  And, unlike other languages, one can’t use CAT (computer aided translation) to help translate manga because of the difficulties in translating a high context language to a low context one.  Davisson recommended going on proz.com, which offers freelance translation work, for practice and for building up a portfolio.

During the Q&A, someone asked if Davisson had met Mizuki.  He did briefly, but he said that manga artists in Japan are considered untouchable and are kept away from the public.  Usually, one has to go through their agents.

For people interested in manga translation as a career, he warned that translating doesn’t pay much; you usually need a second job to support yourself.  Another problem is how to get out of the manga bubble.  With Showa: A History of Japan, Davisson fought for the word “manga” to be excluded from the title, as that would limit their audience (there’s a bigger audience for WWII history than there is for manga).  Still, with the success of Attack on Titan, he’s hopeful that the increased audience will mean more leverage to translate more manga, since the U.S. lags behind the foreign markets of China, Korea, Spain, France, and a few other countries in manga sales outside Japan.

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*Lunch*

I ended up having an enjoyable conversation with a gentleman while eating my overpriced personal pizza at the back of the Exhibition Hall, though I forget what was said.

12:30-1:30, An Interview with Sumi Shimamoto (Press Only, 208)

When I received permission to interview Sumi Shimamoto, the email stated that she would be doing a press conference.  Thinking I would be sharing the room with others, I only wrote down three questions.  When I arrived at the interview site, all of us discovered that we would have 10 minutes of one-on-one time with her. I had the second-to-last time slot (at 1:10), so I added more questions and milled about in the hallway until it was my turn.

As this would be my first celebrity interview (and my first interview since working for my high school newspaper as a freshman), I was nervous.  Fortunately, I made Shimamoto-san laugh on my first question, and the interview went smoothly from there, despite the fact that I had to write quickly to transcribe her answers.

You can read the full interview here.

Two interesting side notes:  I later remembered hearing her answer about The Sixth Sense when watching a Japanese show devoted to voice actors, particularly older voice actors, which means she must’ve been on that show.  Also, when I was researching her on IMDB, I came across a movie she starred in called Unico in the Island of Magic.  A few weeks earlier, I had been trying to find an anime about a unicorn who is whisked from place to place, but I couldn’t remember the title.  Looking up the plot summary of the original film (The Fantastic Adventures of Unico), I realized I had found my movie.  ありがとうございます、島本さん!

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A cosplay duo

2-3 pm, Race and Ethnicity in Anime (Panels 8, 206)

My afternoon panels started with this one, hosted by two recent female college graduates from Portland, one of whom wrote on The Last Airbender for her thesis.  Not surprisingly, the panel was very academic, which means it included interesting information sometimes delivered dryly.  One of the better parts included slides of different anime characters, during which the audience had to guess the character’s race, ethnicity, and nationality.

The panelists explained that Osamu Tezuka, the godfather of Japanese anime, was influenced by Walt Disney, and Tezuka influenced Miyazaki, which is why characters in anime often look Western or of mixed nationalities.  There are other reasons.  One is a phenomenon called mukokusei: lacking clear Japanese national, racial, or ethnic markers, culturally odorless (definition provided by researcher Dana Fennell).  This, in turn, is caused by four factors:

1. Anime as a fantasy-scape

Everything’s exaggerated (think of the “colorful hair phenomenon”).

2. Anime as cultural capital

Since the Meiji Era, and particularly since WWII, Japan has been reconstructing its cultural identity to resemble the West, and anime and manga is a 4 billion dollar industry in the U.S.

3. Lack of production funding

The basic face has to be easy enough for different people to be able to draw it, and on a limited budget.

4. Globalization of Western beauty standards

For example, lighter skin is considered prettier than darker skin.

Naruto group photo

Naruto group photo

We then discussed identifiers of race and ethnicity (for the former, things like hair and skin color, hair type, and speech patterns; for the latter, clothing patterns, language and accent, values, food, customs, etc.)  and discussed a study by Amy Shirong Lu, in which pictures of anime characters removed all clothing, color, and background signifiers and asked people to identify the character’s race.  Lu found that the race tended to match that of the person looking at the picture, with 82% of the characters picked as white, despite only a quarter of the characters qualified as consensus characters, and 205 out of 341 having a known nation of origin or race.

Finally, Japan thinks of race differently than Americans do:

1. 98.5% of the people living in Japan are Japanese (compared to America being almost 78% Caucasian).

2. The largest minorities in Japan are Asian (Chinese, Korean, Ainu, Ryukyan).

3. You can live in Japan all your life and still be considered a foreigner.

Therefore, who we consider to be minority characters in anime would not be considered minority characters by the Japanese.  As one of the panelists pointed out, how many Koreans do you see in Japanese anime?

4. Japan has radically different perceptions of race, cultural appropriation, and two-dimensional [anime] characters than the West.

When Avril Lavigne’s Hello Kitty video aired in the West, many writers thought she was culturally appropriating Japan.  Japan, on the other hand, loved it.  From their point of view, she can never be Japanese, so it’s fine to show her appreciation of all the touristy, kawaii things about Japanese culture.

(For more information on the studies included in this panel, you can search EBSCO)

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Asuka Langley from Evangelion

 3:30-6, Anime Music Video Contest (Main Stage, 4A)

I briefly checked out the AMV Contest, just long enough to lose a reusable bag while grabbing some water and to see and vote on the trailer contest, for which I picked Attack on Badassdom.

4-6pm, Ghost Without a Face: Lady Librarian Presents an Investigation of the Origins of Spirited Away’s Kaonashi (Panels 7, 3AB)

 Like the previous panel, this one was also very academic, but delivered with enough wit and fascinating information as to feel like you’d just attended the best university lecture on the subject.  For those of you who’ve only seen the English dub of the film, Kaonashi is No-Face.  And yes, Lady Librarian is a librarian.  Also, every time the mic cut out, she said, “Mononoke-e-e-e,” which is an unknown possessing spirit that traces its origins from the Heian Period in Japan, which I learned thanks to this panel.

If I were to go over all the information covered by Lady Librarian, it would take you as long to read it as it took me to witness it.  To summarize: the focus of the panel was to discover what kind of spirit Kaonashi is by discussing the different spirits and yōkai present in Japanese folklore and mythology, particularly ones that share traits with him.  What makes it difficult is that he seems to blend several spirits together, yet by combining folklore and Jungian psychology, Lady Librarian convincingly argued that Chihiro brought Kaonashi with her, and that Chihiro is a Miko, a child of the gods.  If Haku is her animus, then Kaonashi is her shadow-self, and she must resolve her connection with Kaonashi before she can resolve her connection with Haku (which she does).

You're under arrest!

You’re under arrest!

So, what led Lady Librarian to this conclusion?

1. Chihiro meets Kaonashi at the same point on the bridge as she met Haku.

2. He exhibits traits of Nō drama (his mask), a Gaki (has an enormous belly, spindly necks, and skinny arms), a Hikikomori (he pulls his mask inward, hasn’t developed a private and public persona — like a mask), and a Muenbotoke (a ghost who died without a family to take care of him or her in the afterlife), but is not completely one or the other.

3. The full title of the movie in Japanese is Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi.  Kamikakushi is a folk legend in which a god steals someone, usually from a remote mountain village.  When they are returned, they sleep for three days, after which time they either go insane or receive magical powers. In addition, a Kamikakushi parallels death and rebirth as a metaphor for the journey from childhood to adulthood.

4. Chihiro, like a Miko exorcising a demon, asks Kaonashi three questions before he goes on his rampage in the bathhouse: 1. Where are you from?  2. Who are you?  3. What do you want?  She also admonishes, purifies, and pacifies him.

5. Traditionally, someone has one name as a child in Japan, and then would claim a different name as an adult, which explains why Chihiro’s name is taken from her by Yubaba, only to be returned when she’s matured enough to claim it back.

For more information on ghosts and yōkai, Lady Librarian recommended The Catalpa Bow by Carmen Blecker, which is the best book on Japanese mythology, and Zack Davisson, who is the resident expert on yōkai, specifically mentioning his panel on Gegege no Kitaro on Sunday.

While the slides and notes aren’t up on her website yet, you can read more interesting facts about Japan on her website: http://ladylibrarian123.blogspot.com/

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Bender from Futurama

*Dinner*

I couldn’t find Subway (it’s on the fourth floor), so I ate a delicious tuna sandwich at Goldberg’s To Go with potato salad and a pickle.  Not crazy about the pickle, but the potato salad was good.  I then went to Lost and Found, but no one had turned in my bag, so I left my contact information with them, just in case it was turned in later.

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The Joker

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And more amazing costumes!

6:15-7:15, Awesome Anime Openings (Panels 7, 3AB)

I only saw a few of these, including one called Exploding Man, which is self-descriptive.  Bizarre anime openings is more like it.

6:45-7:30, Anime Twitter Panel (Panels 4, 4C-4)

A stamp for 18+ panels

My stamp for 18+ panels

This was the only panel I needed my stamp for, and I arrived 15 minutes late.  I could’ve saved myself the trouble.  The panel is described thus in the Souvenir Program: “Are you a part of Anime Twittter?  Do you have no idea what Anime Twitter is?  Come visit us, talk about the community, make some new friends, and learn how to make great posts in 140 characters or less!”  In actuality, there was a screen filled with Tweets too small to read and a panel of three guys who didn’t do much.  One of them kept telling people to get off their phones and talk to people and then yelled at the ones who left.  I waited until he was distracted and escaped with a group of cosplayers.

7:45-8:45, Final Fantasy XIII with Rachel Robinson (Panels 2, 4C-2)

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Confession: I haven’t played Final Fantasy XIII.  I haven’t watched anyone else play Final Fantasy XIII.  And yet I went to this panel, because why not?  It ended up being the only guest panel I attended, and proved that you don’t have to have a structured panel to have a great one.   Robinson started by going into her background, which includes watching Hannah Barbara cartoons and mimicking the characters, and later taking a dialect class with Larry Moss, who can do roughly 75 different dialects (when asked about it, Robinson says she can do about 20).  Currently, she’s involved in Dragon Ball: Xenoverse.  She then opened it up to questions, which she answered until the panel ended, even taking photos with fans in the hallway after the panel was done.  Looking at her bio on IMDB, I also see that she’s a classically trained pianist and has perfect pitch.

In FFXIII, she plays a character named [Oerba Yun] Fang (Wikipedia entry).  Since Fang is from a planet “Down Under,” the writers chose to give her an Australian accent.  Robinson was super-excited to be in it, as she knew how big a deal it was, especially as Fang is one of the playable characters.  She didn’t know there would be two other games in what would form a mini-trilogy, which made her even more excited (though she only appears briefly in the second game).  While she also read for the parts of Vanille, Hope, and Lightning, she’s glad she didn’t get the part of Hope.  And, despite acting in video games, she doesn’t own a console gaming system because, if she did, she would “play for hours.”

Someone asked her about the unusual relationship between Fang and Vanille.  She said they adore each other, but it’s meant to be an unusual and ambiguous relationship, though some of her most fun interactions were with Snow [another playable character].  When asked who her favorite villain was, she said, “Cid Raines is kind of an asshole,” and prefers bad guys who hide in the background before revealing themselves [she must love Kefka from FFVI].  Also, if she could fight someone as Fang in real life, she said, “I would want to destroy Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze because oh my god awful.”

For a film on voice actors, she recommends I Know That Voice, which is a documentary, over In a World [surprisingly, both came out the same year].  From directors, she prefers “a director who trusts you to do your job,” which she had in FFXIII.  Other video games she’s done include StarCraft 2 (Blizzard) and The Elder Scrolls Online “but not Skyrim.”  She also wants to be in the Marvel universe.

When asked if she prefers working in anime or games (she played Zorin Blitz in Hellsing, among other series), she said she likes both.  As for tips when voice acting?  She tries to drink a lot of water, and there’s a miracle drink that [director Taliesin] Jaffe told her about when working on Hellsing [X] that helped, since you “scream a lot when you’re a Nazi vampire.”

Speaking of anime, I wish I’d gone to the FUNimation panel the following morning, as there was an announcement of a project that Robinson’s “been sitting on for a year.”  I’m thinking it’s this one.

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8:45-10:15, Anime Showcase of 2014 (Panels 7, 3AB)

One of the reasons I like going to conventions is to hear about the hot new shows.  This year, I knew about Attack on Titan, but not Kill la Kill nor the ones suggested by the two male panelists here.  They showed the intros for each series and then put up a slide that mentioned the genre and where it’s playing (e.g. Crunchy Roll, Hulu).  Unfortunately, I came 15 minutes late to this panel, so I missed the shows mentioned before 9. Here are the ones I did hear about:

Haikyuu (sports, comedy) — about volleyball

Barakamon (comedy, slice of life) — a city boy calligrapher is sent to a rural island as punishment

Terror in Residence (psychological thriller)  — show things from two terrorists’ point of view

Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun (comedy, romance) — a shonen (young boys) show that pokes fun at shojo (young girls) anime, which tend to be romances

The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior (comedy, romance, slice-of-life) — a sweet and funny series with great characters

Tokyo Ghoul (action, psychological thriller) — the main character is a boy who becomes a ghoul and has to adjust to ghoul life

Fate/stay night Unlimited Blade Works (action, fantasy) — branches off in a different direction from the original series, for the better

Space Dandy (comedy, sci-fi) — “a mix between Johnny Bravo and Cowboy Bebop,” and you don’t need to see the episodes in order

Parasyte – the maxim (action, drama, thriller) — similar to The Thing, a parasite comes to earth to murder whole families, possibly humanity in general.  In the series, a parasite takes over the main character’s hand.  Watch the first three episodes before you make a decision on it.

Rage of Bahamut: Genesis (action, adventure, fantasy) — based on a mobile game, this series uses a lot of religious figures.  And unleashing Bahamut would be a bad thing.

Your lie in April (drama, romance) — about a piano prodigy who one day loses his ability to hear music, and a female violinist.  The panelist who liked this show did so because they play actual classical music, the one who didn’t because the show kept throwing jokes in the middle of serious scenes and he wasn’t sure how he should respond.  He still recommended seeing it, though, as the ending is “one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.”

The Seven Deadly Sins (action, adventure, fantasy) — the most shonen show of 2014, and it’s ongoing

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One of the best costumes of the Con

The last panel started their Q&A around the time I had to leave to catch a bus, so it worked out well for me — except that the bus was packed, and no one from Lost and Found had left me a message about finding my bag, though my phone had overheated earlier and shut itself off.

Since the first event I wished to attend on Saturday wouldn’t start until 11, I could sleep in…a little.

Press goodie bag and badge

Press goodie bag and badge

Next post: Day Two!  In which I don’t go to as many panels, but instead to something called Cosplay Chess…

Sakura-Con 2015: An Interview with Sumi Shimamoto

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 Born December 8, 1954 in Kochi, Kochi Prefecture, this prolific Japanese voice actress’s debut was in 1979 as Mutsumi Hoshikawa in The Ultraman TV series.  Later that year, she was cast as Lady Clarissa in The Castle of Cagliostro.  Since then, she has appeared in numerous films and television series, including several Miyazaki films and as Kyoko Otonashi in one of my favorite animes, Maison Ikkoku.  Currently, she is starring as the voice of Dayan in Neko no Dayan.

After starting with pleasantries in English and Japanese, I began with my first question.  Unless noted below, all of my questions were in English, and all of her answers were in Japanese.  A translator acted as intermediary.

GS: This is your second time at Sakura-Con.  Since you rarely attend anime conventions in the U.S., what made you decide to return to this convention?

SS: (Laughing) Because they invited me! I hope I’ll be invited a third time, too.

GS: You worked with many different directors on Maison Ikkoku.  How does that experience compare with working on a movie with one director, such as Miyazaki?

SS: When I work on a TV series, it feels like I’m commuting to work.  With a movie, I feel there’s a deeper involvement, and that we’re creating something greater.

GS: Who are some voice actors that you admire?

SS: I admire many voice actors — for instance, the actor who played Maetel in the space train movie [voice actor Masako Ikeda in Galaxy Express 999] — but there are many other examples.  Sadly, they are departing one by one from this world.

GS: You’ve had a long career, as long as I’ve been alive.  What are some of your most treasured memories?

At this, she looked surprised and asked me in English, “You are 35?” to which I replied, “Yes, but I’ll be 36 in a few weeks.”

SS: The Castle of Cagliostro, in which I play Lady Clarisse.  It wasn’t my debut [as a voice actress], but it was the same year as my debut, so it has a big place in my heart.

This led naturally to the next question.

GS: What’s it like working with Miyazaki?

SS: (Laughs) I’m nervous every time [we work together]!  It’s not often that there’s an ‘okay’ take with him.

GS: Do you still remember how to do every character’s voice?

SS:  Not all of them.  For instance, I played the wife of the dead husband in The Sixth Sense on TV [the Japanese dub].  My kids were watching the movie and asked me if I played her, as it sounded like me, and I said, “No.”  That’s an example of my forgetting a role I’ve played.

GS: What is your favorite anime series?

SS: [Soreike!] Anpanman.  It was 27 years in the making, so I felt very involved with the show.

At this point, the translator asked me if I meant series she worked on or in general.  I said in general, so he rephrased the question.

SS: I really like Sazae-san.  Have you heard of it?

GS: No, I haven’t.

SS: There’s no one in Japan who doesn’t know it. It’s been around for [over] 40 years.

GS: Wait, is it the one about the Japanese housewife and her family?  I think I do know it.

At this point, there was a knock at the door.  The guest relations person poked her head in and told me I had about a minute left, so I should start wrapping up the interview. Since I had no more questions to ask, I asked for a photo, saying, “写真をとってもいいですか。She posed for a couple of them, then signed a card nearby with a cat drawing on it and gave it to me.

SS: This is a series I am working on right now [Neko no Dayan].  I hope you will tell people about this show.

With that, the interview was over.  After grabbing all of my bags and thanking Shimamoto-san in Japanese, I did some slight bows and left the room.  Her full voice-acting credits can be found on IMDB, though they don’t yet include Neko no Dayan.

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Kazuo Ishiguro in Seattle

Monday, March 30, 7-8:30 pm

Seattle Central Library, Microsoft Auditorium

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In person, Kazuo Ishiguro is funny.  He started off his book reading by saying the following:

“I’m going to read the first three pages of my book, not because these are the best passages in the book, but because they happen to be the first three pages.  Also, people never know if they should applaud or not after the section is read, kind of like at a concert, where you’re not sure when to clap.  So, let’s say not to clap after I finish reading.”

Of course, people did clap.  And who could blame them?  Ishiguro is the rare author who writes best-selling books which are also critically acclaimed.  When I got to the Microsoft Auditorium of Seattle Central Library roughly 20-25 minutes before the reading was to begin, it was packed.  I would’ve sat a few rows closer, if not for tall people obstructing my view (and viewfinder).  I ended up sitting a few rows further back, next to two nice ladies.  When I asked if the seat was taken, one of them said, “We’ve been saving it for you.”

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Before Ishiguro came on, the library photographer roamed the aisles, security kept checking in (don’t remember them being so active when Ursula K. Le Guin was in town, but then, her event wasn’t as packed as this one, and they seemed to be concentrating on keeping the stairs and aisles clear).  I also listened in to the conversation next to me, where both ladies were mentioning other books of his (the one on the aisle had read most of them).  I helped them with some movie trivia, as the one closer to me couldn’t remember the actress who starred in movie version of The Remains of the Day (Emma Thompson, paired with Anthony Hopkins, as they had been for Howards End the previous year).

Finally, one of the librarians came to the podium, mentioning that the closing times for the library would be announced during the reading, for which they could do nothing, as the library closed at 8.  But, Ishiguro would stay to sign books, and she told us which exit to use when we were finished.  She was followed by a representative from Elliot Bay Books, who remembered when Ishiguro first visited Seattle for A Pale View of Hills (according to an article online, it was actually for The Remains of the Day, so I may be remembering this incorrectly).  It had been a small gathering then, in the Elliot Bay Books basement (the current Central Library is only 11 years old next month).  Then he remembered the excitement around The Remains of the Day from the people who were at his reading and had already read the book (this was before it won the Booker Prize).  The next time, the gathering was much larger.  Ten years ago, when Ishiguro came for Never Let Me Go, the Microsoft Auditorium was able to host the event — and hold a lot more people.

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The representative then introduced Ishiguro, who read those first three pages.

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After Ishiguro finished, he sat down with the man for a short Q&A before it was turned over to the audience.  Ishiguro said he had thought about setting The Buried Giant in a war zone, such as France during WWII or Bosnia in the 90s.  “But people would be talking about the historical details if I did that,” Ishiguro said.  So instead, he chose a time that went back to folklore (“not literally, but metaphorically”).  Luckily for him, there is a historical blank of about 80-90 years in the history between the Britons and the Anglo-Saxons, and that is when his story is set.

He also incorporates parts of Arthurian legend into the story, since evidence exists that the real King Arthur was a Briton who fought the Anglo-Saxons and forged a peace between them.  The Buried Giant takes place during this peace, and since Sir Gawain is the youngest of the knights in the Arthurian tales, Ishiguro decided to make him the oldest person here.  Like an old gunfighter (Ishiguro based him on John Wayne and James Coburn’s personas), he is from a way of life that no longer exists, and in this way is a cousin to Stevens, the butler from The Remains of the Day.

Added into the mix is a mist of forgetfulness, which allowed Ishiguro to ask questions of what society should and should not forget, and — on a more personal level — when a couple should “remember dark passages, when should they forget,” which he does through an old couple, Axl and Beatrice.  And what happens when shared memories are different, or fade?  Would we want all those memories back?

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The final topic covered before the audience had a go at it was his use of music in his books.  He doesn’t use any music in this one, but “the big decisions I make in a novel, I make intuitively, like a musician deciding one take over another.”  This is also why “only later do I think up a clear reason of why I put stuff in my novels.”

The following questions from the audience and answers from Ishiguro are paraphrased, except where quotes are used.

Q: Why does the narrator say “you” in your novels?

A: It makes it sound as if the narrator is addressing the reader.  In the past, that hasn’t been true.  In Never Let Me Go, the narrator is addressing other clones; in The Remains of the Day, another servant.  This makes the reader feel “they are eavesdropping on a closed world.”  In this book, however, the narrator is almost omniscient.  Originally, Ishiguro had the narrator addressing an audience of slaughtered children through history, “but then I back pedaled, so don’t worry if you read it and didn’t get that. It’s entirely my fault.”

Q: What technique do you use so that the reader knows more than the character?

A: One reason Ishiguro loves first person narrators is for that reason.  “People always reveal more than they realize when they are talking to you,” he said.  We use certain skills to discover that information; he wants us to use the same skills when reading his books.

Q: Concerned artists that influenced him, asked by the moderator.

A: Charlotte Bronte he likes and was heavily influenced by, but he loves Dostoevsky and has no Dostoevsky in his writing at all (“I love Demons, sometimes translated as The Possessed, because everyone in the book is mad.  A new character appears and you think, ‘Maybe this one is sane,’ but then he turns out to be mad, too.”).  On the other hand, he finds Proust to be “a snob,” but the way Proust deals with memories is similar to how Ishiguro deals with them (and Proust “can write sublime passages”).  As for Charlotte Bronte, “I re-read Jane Eyre and Villette three years ago, and realized how much I had ripped them off.  Both books show how “a first person narrator can seem to be confiding in the reader while at the same time holding something huge back.”  With Bronte, it’s usually who she’s in love with.

Q: About how he reaches intellectual decisions when writing, and how the dragon comes in.

A: The second part he didn’t want to answer because it might spoil the book — he merely stated that the dragon is in the book because “I needed a dragon for the story” (it’s his concept idea).  As for the first part, he’s carried around a notebook since 1982 in which he writes down abstract ideas.  From these ideas might spring a novel.  If it’s a good idea for a story, “I should be able to write about it in 3-4 clean sentences.”  In both Never Let Me Go and The Buried Giant, he treats the sci-fi and supernatural elements, respectively, as normal.

Q: What is the importance of the landscape?

A: For this book, he imagined it looked like Iceland, since that looks like a mythical landscape, with parts that are inaccessible, even though the book takes place in England.  In Never Let Me Go, all of England became “this boring little town called Norfolk.”  “If something was within the beliefs of the people, it exists in reality (in The Buried Giant).”  The beliefs express the hopes and fears of the people.

Q: Why wasn’t Never Let Me Go set in the future?

A:  “I didn’t have enough energy to create a future world,” he said.  Also, it was much creepier to put it in the recent past.  For that book, the only historical change he made was, what if there had been a breakthrough in tech during WWII, instead of in nuclear physics?

The final question came from two rows behind me, since Ishiguro felt that he and the moderator had been ignoring the people back there.  She was asked to come closer and speak her question, but when she got within a manageable flight of stairs from them, Ishiguro said, “That’s far enough,” prompting laughter.

Q: “What do you think is the role of the fiction author today?”

A:”I can only talk about me and what I appreciate in other authors,” Ishiguro said.  “Having written novels for over 30 years, I know I have no practical answers to solving the problems of the day.  All I’m wanting to do is share emotions and feelings about being alive and being human and to understand those feelings.”

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Then began the exodus for home for some and for the signing line for others.  The woman who had sat next to me left before the audience Q&A began.  The other woman I found in line after I bought a copy of The Buried Giant for Ishiguro to sign.  “We’ll pretend we’re friends and I’ve saved you a place in line,” she said.  Thanks to her kindness, I got through the line within a half hour, even though –as we found out when we got to the front — Ishiguro was posing for photos, with the representative from Elliot Bay Books taking most of them with an array of cameras.  But we have a ways to go before we get to that point.

In the meantime, this woman and I began talking.  I found out she was a teacher and mother; she found out I was a creative writer and blogger.  I gave her one of my cards with my blog information on it.  I also found out what her name is, due to the sticky notes being passed out for the signings.  And no, I’m not going to print it here, since I didn’t ask her permission first, even if it is only her first name (but I do hope she’s reading this).  We noticed, as we passed the table full of books, that some copies of The Buried Giant had a black border around the pages, making it look even more like a mythical book.  I didn’t trade my copy for one of those, however.

Anyway, we discovered we could take photos with him and this woman gave the Elliot Bay rep her camera, but then my book was taken by Ishiguro’s representative first, so I handed over my camera at the same time and quickly explained how to operate it.  The rep ended up focusing on the glass behind us, which was better than my blurry photo of Le Guin and less orange than my photo with John Scalzi, but not as clear as the photo I took with Thelma Schoonmaker (which is not on my blog, but trust me, it’s awesome).  Ishiguro was making comments the entire time about it being a serious/professional camera, which made me laugh, while the person taking the photo admitted, “But I’m not a professional photographer.”  He ended up taking two photos, the second of which is produced below.

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After the photos were taken, and despite telling the woman in line that I was going to ask Ishiguro about narrators (since I’m having difficulty with mine in my novel), I merely stood in silence as he signed, thinking the answer to the question rather too long for a signing line.  But that’s okay.  I have a feeling his book may do a better job of answering my questions, or maybe I should let intuition take over.  It seems to have done well for Ishiguro.

A Return to the Orange Road

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“I Want to Return to That Day” may have been the ending to the series, but it was not the final installment in the Kimagure Orange Road story.  Eight years later, a second movie came out, entitled New Kimagure Orange Road – Summer’s Beginning.

The first movie is a masterpiece, so I was hoping the second film, at the very least, wasn’t an embarrassment.  It isn’t.  Much like Before Sunset finds a way to continue Jesse and Celine’s story without ruining the first film, Summer’s Beginning finds a way to continue the Kyosuke-Madoka-Hikaru story in a way that honors their first film.  In fact, what surprised me most is that, great as the series is, the two movies are better, as they peer deeper into the hearts of their protagonists.

The plot of the second film is that a future Kyosuke, shooting photos during the Balkan War, “time slips” at the same moment that his younger self “time slips” when hit by a car.  The younger Kyosuke’s soul wakes up three years later, in the world of the older Kyosuke.  Meanwhile, his 19-year-old body cannot wake until its soul is returned, but that requires finding out where the soul of the 22-year-old Kyosuke is hiding and returning it to its body, for only the older Kyosuke can send the younger Kyosuke back.

While wandering around the city, 19-year-old Kyosuke runs into Hikaru.  Hikaru asks him a question lost in the noise of traffic.  When he incorrectly guesses what the question was and answers accordingly, it leads Hikaru to think things are not going well between Madoka and himself.

Like the first film (not to mention the TV series and OVAs), the music is excellent, despite being composed by Kajiura Yuki this time, as opposed to Sagisu Shirō.  Unlike the first film, we witness the use of Kyosuke’s power (and the appearance of his grandparents, though still no Yuusaku or Kazuya) and the return of some of the humor and light-heartedness from the TV series.  It even includes a character introduced in the two OVA episodes titled “Stage of Love=Heart on Fire!”: former teen idol Hayakawa Mitsuru.

The most welcome development in this film, however, is the return of Hikaru.  Though she still loves Kyosuke, she has learned to accept that he is now Madoka’s boyfriend.  And yes, because of her misunderstanding there is a scene where both of them come dangerously close to ignoring that fact, but it is handled in a way that does credit to Hikaru, and reveals Kyosuke’s true feelings, as well.

There are moments reminiscent of the best moments in the first film.  Madoka playing the piano alone as Kyosuke watches from a tree.  Hikaru and Madoka meeting after a long absence.  Madoka playing the same song after Grandpa and 19-year-old Kyosuke unsuccessfully try to retrieve the older Kyosuke (she tells them the piece is called “Kyosuke Number 1″).  And, perhaps the most poignant moment of all, Kyosuke sleeping with Madoka for the first time.  He’s his usual bumbling self, but then he gives a speech to Madoka that is beautiful — not because it’s a great speech, but because it’s honest in conveying what he feels about her at that moment, and authentic in the way he fumbles for the right words.

And yet, it falls short of the first film in a few ways.  Here, the Power seems to work (or not work) as a deus ex machina for the plot.  In addition, because it’s a gentler film, there’s no amazing Hara Eriko performance (though all the voice actors — who are the same ones who did the voices from the TV series through the OVAs — do great work).  The first film also pays more attention to emotions portrayed through small details, such as Kyosuke removing the wind chime that Hikaru gave him, and feels tighter in its construction.

Still, there’s a lot to admire about this film.  While not the masterpiece that “I Want to Return to That Day” is, Summer’s Beginning is better than it has any right to be.

Note: Since the second movie was released by ADV Films, instead of AnimEigo, you can watch it dubbed or subtitled.  Do not watch the dubbed version.  Just watching a few seconds of it, I noticed two things: the voice-acting isn’t as good, and the translations are different from the original Japanese, while the subtitles are more accurate.

Dame Edna’s Fond Farewell — Thursday, January 15, 7:30 pm, Moore Theatre

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Goodbye, possums!

Due to a friend booking her Hawaiian vacation at the same time as her ticket to see Dame Edna’s Farewell Tour, I got to see the show instead of her.   Held at the Moore Theatre, I sat in a good seat.  A really good seat.  If I were one row closer, I might have caught a gladiolus at the end of the night.

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Taken from my seat

As was this photo.

As was this photo

In order to see my first (and last) Dame Edna show, I had to endure rain, and not the usual drizzly crap that passes as rain in Seattle.  This was umbrella-worthy galoshes-wearing rain.  I almost said, “Screw it,” and stayed home, but I’m glad I didn’t.

The crowd was a mix of old and young, gay and straight, rich and poor, men and women, men dressed as women, and women…actually, they were pretty much dressed as women.  To my right were two men, the one next to me wearing blue eyeliner and a dress.  On my left sat a male couple.  They were dressed as men.

The show ran two hours with an intermission.  It began with a dance number that included Dame Edna and four dancers (Ralph Coppola, Brooke Pascoe, Eve Prideaux, and Armando Yearwood, Jr., who looked like they stepped out of A Chorus Line), followed by an E! True Hollywood Story style exposé on Dame Edna’s life, shown on a screen framed by her trademark glasses.  Then she came out, denouncing it all as lies, before launching into stand-up, in which she picked on members of the audience. For this section of the show, she was joined onstage by a piano and her accompanist, Jonathan Tessero.  Some of the highlights:

  • She looked up at the balcony and made fun of the people sitting there for not having enough money to sit on the main floor.  She also said, “I will glance at you throughout the night, but only in direct proportion to how much you paid.”
  • She made fun of an old man in the audience, calling him “senior.”  She thought better of him, however, when — during the second half of the show — she asked him what his favorite sedative is, and he said, “Scotch.”  “He might have more of his faculties than I thought,” she replied.
  • She picked on four women in the audience, asking what they did for a living and making fun of their clothes.  She mentioned their names throughout the night: Betsy, Jean, Joan, and Kay.  She also made fun of Kay’s husband, Rich.  When she asked what kind of home they had, Kay said, “It’s a Tuscan house.”  “You know they have a lot of those houses in Tuscany,” Dame Edna replied.  The best response, however, was when she asked what color her bedroom was.  “Cream.”  Steering it away from the obvious, Dame Edna said, “So you’re talking about the walls.  The walls are cream.  And the ceiling?  Is the ceiling cream?  And how about the bed?”  “Teal.”  Dame Edna congratulated Kay on her adventurous colors.  “We have other colors, too,” Kay said.  “We have black.”  “And what is black?” Dame Edna asked.  “The chairs.”  “You have chairs in your bedroom?  So you like to have people watch?”

The first half ended with another song and dance routine.

Out in the lobby, you could take pictures with a backdrop featuring Dame Edna, purchase Dame Edna merchandise (which included the glasses, a boa, and an official program), and even buy a drink called a Possum.

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I thought about buying a program, but when I see something for free, I tend to not want to buy anything…which is also true when I see something I’ve paid for.

The second half of the show featured a “spiritual” Dame Edna.  At one point, she told us she had been observing the audience the whole night, reading our karma, and she believed she had found two people who would be a perfect wedding match.  So, up onstage came Wesley and Louise.  Wesley looked to be in his twenties, gay, with partially dyed hair.  Louise was 70+ (maybe 80+), a widower, with white hair.  This was the funniest bit of the night, even though Dame Edna’s attempt to call Wesley’s friend Alicia to tell her the good news ended up reaching her answering machine (and this was after the first attempt, to call his other friend, didn’t connect).

After the throwing of the gladdies, we were shown a montage of clips from Dame Edna’s 60-year career, played once again in the “lens” of her glasses. They included clips with Joan Rivers, Robin Williams, and even Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles.  Then, Barry Humphries came out in a tux, top hat, and cane and addressed the audience as himself.

“When Dame Judi Dench was acting in a play in London,” he said, “someone came to her dressing room and asked her, ‘Don’t you find they cut into your evenings?”

We laughed.

“Thank you for cutting into my evenings, and I hope you can join me for my next farewell tour,” he ended, touching his nail-polished fingers to the brim of his hat.

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Dame Edna’s Glorious Goodbye -The Farewell Tour ran from Thursday, January 15 through Sunday, January 18 at the Moore Theatre in Seattle.  She picked Seattle as the first city in which to start her American farewell tour — a city she has visited twice before.  I attended the opening night show, which was apparently the same show that Seattle Times theater critic Misha Berson went to.

Walking the Orange Road

Madoka, Kyosuke, and Hikaru

Madoka, Kyosuke, and Hikaru

On Wednesday, I finished the classic anime series Kimagure Orange Road.  On Saturday, I watched the first movie (I still have the OVAs and the second movie to watch).  Titled The Kimagure Orange Road Movie: “I Want to Return to That Day,” it serves as a conclusion to the original series.

That series deals with 15-year-old Kasuga Kyosuke (Furuya Tooru) as he tries to decide which junior high school girl he loves more: the perky and fun Hiyama Hikaru (Hara Eriko) or her best friend, the cool and athletic Ayukawa Madoka (Tsuru Hiromi).  He also must contend with Hino Yuusaku (Kikuchi Masami) — Yuusaku was childhood friends with both Hikaru and Madoka, but later developed a crush on Hikaru (they are both a year younger than Madoka, who is the same age as Kyosuke).  In addition, Kyosuke must keep his horny friends Komatsu Seiji (Nanba Keiichi) and Hatta Kazuya (Tatsuta Naoki) from his younger sisters, twins Kurumi (Honda Chieko) and Manami (Tomizawa Michie).  And if that weren’t enough, both he and his sisters are ESPers, which means that they have special powers (called “The Power”) they inherited from their deceased mother.  If they are caught using their powers, they’ll have to leave town.

The series is more light-hearted and humorous than the movie.  The film also omits two major supporting characters: Yuusaku and Kyosuke’s five-year-old cousin Kasuga Kazuya (Sakamoto Chika), who also has “The Power.”  Both the series and the film have excellent soundtracks, while the movie is better animated.

Since “the Power” often leads to comic situations in the TV show, it is not used in the movie.  Instead, the film focuses on the relationship between Kyosuke, Hikaru, and Madoka during Kyosuke and Madoka’s final year in high school.  As they prepare for their college entrance exams, a kiss between Kyosuke and Hikaru forces him to decide which girl he loves more (if you’ve seen the series, his choice won’t come as a surprise).  That choice allows Hara to give one of the greatest of voice-acting performances.  Though Kyosuke breaks up with Hikaru and asks her never to see him again, Hikaru won’t let go so easily.  Hara’s performance covers all the emotions that Hikaru is experiencing, including suppressed ones.  The movie hinges on her performance, and it is stunning.

And sad.  It is sad because the film is about the change that must happen to everyone as they grow up and leave friends and lovers behind.  People rarely stay with their first loves, or even their second ones.  It might be that Kyosuke and Madoka’s relationship doesn’t survive the trials of college, but for it to succeed at all, Kyosuke has to be mean to Hikaru, and Madoka has to cast off her best friend.  Futures are built on the ruins of past relationships, and while some may wait and hope for greenery to sprout through the debris, others know that more fertile ground lies elsewhere, if only we can leave the wreckage behind.

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The 10 Best New Movies I Saw in 2014

This list includes all the new movies (first run) that I saw in 2014, regardless of their release date (full list here).  As long as they weren’t archival and were watched in a theater, they were eligible for this list.  And yes, this is by no means a representative list of all the great films I saw.  Now let’s get to it!

10. The LEGO Movie (Chris Miller, Phil Lord)

Everything was awesome with this movie that was basically a huge product placement for Legos…and filled with joy from beginning to end.

9. Love is Strange (Ira Sachs)

This story about a gay couple (played by Alfred Molina and John Lithgow) isn’t on this list because of its timely issues (gay marriage, housing crisis), but because the performances of Molina and Lithgow are so wonderful.  The film steps a little wrong with the drawn-out ending, but that’s a small fault for a film that cares so much about its characters.

8. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)

I can’t say this is Anderson’s best film, as I’ve only seen the last three films he’s made, but this is the best of those three, depending not only on Anderson’s evocation of a Europe that vanished between the wars, but on Ralph Fiennes truly decent (and wonderfully acted) M. Gustave, which gives this film its emotional center, and its heart.

7. Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho)

I enjoyed The Host but felt it lost steam once it crossed its halfway point.  Not so Snowpiercer.  We have a hero who must grow into the role (Chris Evans), a mentor who is not all that he appears to be (William Hurt), and a wonderful performance by Tilda Swinton in a role originally written for a man.  Plus, unlike other movies about rebellion, this one truly contemplates the consequences of “winning,” while giving us characters that have depth.  When some of them die, we truly feel the loss.  Moral ambiguity at its best.

6. Last Days in Vietnam (Rory Kennedy)

The hardest category to choose best films from this year was documentaries.  I easily could have put four on here (Supermensch and Life Itself being the other two).  Maybe I should’ve limited it to one documentary, but Rory Kennedy’s film about the fall of Saigon and the efforts to relocate the Vietnamese who had collaborated with the U.S. to other countries is an incredibly well-made film about an incredible — and little-known — story, particularly to those of us who were born after the war ended.

5. American Hustle (David O. Russell)

Yes, this technically came out in 2013, but I didn’t see it until last year, so I’m putting it on this list.  David O. Russell’s tale of a con-man helping the Feds is too good to leave off, with crises created by Bradley Cooper’s headstrong and possibly inept FBI agent narrowly averted by Christian Bale’s quick-thinking con-man.  Plus, Bale, Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence are exceptional.

4. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)

One could argue that J.K. Simmons’s character in this film is too abusive to his students to have lasted as long as he has at a prestigious music school.  To that I have two words: Bobby Knight.  But it doesn’t really matter: the real story here is two actors pushing each other to their limits: Simmons’s teacher and Miles Teller’s student, who is so driven to be one of the great drummers that he will suffer extreme abuse to get there.  The  climax of the film is a lesson in how editing can create emotional tension.

3. The Case Against 8 (Ben Cotner, Ryan White)

The best documentary of the year deals with the decision to challenge Proposition 8 through the courts.  It results in the unlikeliest of bed-fellows and a reminder of how wonderful human beings can be when they forget to hate each other.

2. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)

Linklater deserves all the accolades he’s been getting for this film, which follows a boy (Ellar Coltrane) through twelve years of his life, by filming the actor who played him (and most of the other actors) over a twelve-year period.  It reminded me of the best parts of my childhood through its patchwork of moments.  This film made me smile.

1. Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)

The best movie of the year is more tightly knit than Boyhood, with layers upon layers of meaning, centering around a priest (Brendan Gleeson) who is faced with death at the hands of a parishioner who was sexually abused by one when younger.  The best handling of faith that I’ve seen onscreen — not as something that solves all our ills, or has all the answers, but as something that can provide comfort in uncertain times.

….And 12 Honorable Mentions, in no particular order: Like Father, Like Son (Kore-eda Hirokazu), Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon (Mike Myers), The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese), Nebraska (Alexander Payne), Life Itself (Steve James), How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Dean DeBlois), A Letter to Momo (Okiura Hiroyuki), Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski), Burning Bush (Agnieszka Holland)Lucky Them (Megan Griffiths), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves), The Legend of the Princess Kaguya (Takahata Isao)

An Evening with Cary Elwes–Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 7 pm

The date in the title will tell you how far behind I am in my blog posts.  Originally, Elwes was supposed to be at Town Hall on Wednesday, December 3rd at 7:30, but the date conflicted with something else, and so my money was refunded, the venue was moved to the UW Bookstore , the date was moved to a Tuesday, the appearance was now free, and it began at 7.  I spent the week buying copies of As You Wish for my brother and sister, and then decided to get one for me, as well.

Learning from the Scalzi signing, I brought my DSLR to take photos this time.  Arriving around 6:30, I found a group of musicians playing songs for the people upstairs, where chairs had been arranged in rows.  Other people stood.  I found a seat near the back.

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Taken from my seat.

The musicians ended on time, but Elwes was not yet in the building (though there was a boy dressed up as the Dread Pirate Roberts).  In the meantime, the organizers held a raffle.  Prizes included an audiobook version of As You Wish (with members of the cast reminiscing about their experiences) and three pairs of tickets to SIFF’s The Princess Bride Quote-Along.  More time passed.  Then, the announcement came that he was in the building.  A short wait later, and the man himself was introduced to the cheering and whooping crowd.

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By that point, the boy dressed up as Roberts was in the front row.  Elwes noticed him, saying, “It’s uncanny.  It’s like looking into a mirror.”  He picked the boy up so that all could see.

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Then, Elwes sat down with Nicole Brodeur, who was the moderator for the evening (and different from the person in charge of the raffle).  He explained that the idea for the book had come out of the 25th anniversary celebration with the cast and crew, but that he couldn’t remember much of what had happened during the film when he agreed to write about it, so he wrote to Norman Lear (one of the executive producers of the film).  The legendary Lear sent Elwes all the production notes, telling him that once he looked at them, he would remember everything.  “And of course he was right, because he’s a genius,” Elwes said.

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Elwes with Brodeur

Brodeur then asked him about the first scene he shot with Andre the Giant (Elwes did impressions of Andre the Giant, William Goldman, and Rob Reiner while telling these stories).  It’s the scene when Westley is given the pill that will revive him from being mostly dead.  Fezzick asks Inigo how long he thinks it’ll take, and then Westley says (and Elwes checked with the audience for accuracy), “I’ll beat you both apart! I’ll take you both together!”  At that point, Fezzick says, “I guess not very long,” except that Andre never got to that line.  Instead, he let out a giant fart.  Or, if you prefer, a fart by a giant.  Elwes looked at the crew, and the first person he saw was the sound guy.  The fart lasted 15 seconds and felt like a mini-earthquake.  When it ended, Reiner asked, “Andre, you okay?”  to which Andre grinned and said, “I am now, boss.”

Another story he told is when they shot the scene with Billy Crystal as Miracle Max.  Reiner told Elwes to hold in his breath because they could see his chest rising and falling on the monitor.  He then went over to Crystal and whispered something in his ear.  Elwes later found out that what he said was, “Go for it.”

“For the next three hours, Billy did what I can only describe as medieval Yiddish humor,” Elwes said.  Reiner was laughing so hard that he was barred from the set, having to direct through a monitor set up in a separate location.  The next to be banished was Elwes.  The close-ups of him in that scene were done elsewhere, while in the long shots, a dummy stood in for him.  “Mandy Patinkin says he only suffered one injury on the set, and that was a bruised rib from trying not to laugh during that scene,” Elwes said, adding that he didn’t know a rib could be bruised.

Others stories from the set included the one about the stuntman who played the ROUS that Westley fights in the Fire Swamp getting arrested the day before they were to finish shooting in that location, Wallace Shawn being convinced by his agent that Danny Devito was the first choice for the role of the Sicilian (“If you’re an agent, NEVER tell your client that someone else was a first-choice.”), and of drinking with Andre after the New York premiere.  In the latter story, Elwes noticed that a guy kept following them from bar-to-bar.  When he pointed the man out to Andre, Andre saw him and laughed.  As it turns out, Andre once fell on a guy after a night of drinking, so the NYPD sent a cop to follow him every time he went out to the bars.

“They said it was for my own safety,” Andre said.

At some point during the evening, Brodeur asked him what his favorite line in the movie is.

“It’s a bit obscure,” he said, “but I’ve always been fond of ‘Anybody want a peanut?'”

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After that, the floor was open to questions from the audience.  The first question came from someone who asked whether Elwes could still do the fencing scene from the movie.  “Of course,” he said, but then said he imagines some people think he fences all the time, which isn’t the case (he said this while pretending to fence while making toast).  He’d have to get into practice again.  Another person asked what it was like kissing Robin Wright.  Since they became very good friends during the film, he said it felt strange, and they often got into fits of giggling during the kissing scenes.

The last question was from little Westley (I think his name was Cody), who asked if that was real fire in the Fire Swamp scene.  So that people could hear better, Elwes picked him up so that he could speak into the microphone.  “Yes it was,” Elwes said, “so do not try this at home.”

There was a short break, then people were lined up (based on what row of seats they sat in) to get their book(s) autographed.  People who tried to cut in line from a row farther back or from standing room were rebuffed by the awesome staff.  A plea was also made after a few signatures that taking photos of Elwes was okay, but “please do not take video.”  I noticed that no one posed for photos with Elwes, which was a smart decision, as it would’ve lengthened the amount of time needed to wait in line.  In fact, this was the quickest line movement I’d ever seen at a signing.  Despite being roughly nine rows back, I waited a half hour or less for him to sign my three copies.  A few people also went around with sticky notes ahead of time to write down to whom the signatures should be addressed.  The sticky notes were then placed on the signing page.

Signing a book a few people in front of me

Signing a book a few people in front of me

Elwes asked everyone’s name as he signed their books and shook their hands.  When I got up there, I planned to tell him, “My brother’s favorite line from the movie is the same as yours.”  Instead, I said something like, “My brother’s favorite line also yours the same.”

“What?”

“My brother’s favorite line from the movie is the same as yours.”

He then asked, “Are all three yours?”

“Yes.  My brother, my sister, and me,” I said, pointing to each book in turn. He nodded and as he finished the last book, said, “There you are,” and slid it to me across the table.

I checked the books before I left.  Between the recipient’s name and Elwes’s signature, he had written, “As you wish!”  Which, of course, was totally conceivable.

Special thanks to Jana Monji for alerting me when Cary Elwes added Seattle to his book tour schedule.  You can read her interview with him about the book on RogerEbert.com.