Thursday, October 29, 2009

New Ninja movie by zainichi director

from Japan Times:

Friday, Sept. 18, 2009

Ninja epic not all about action

Staff Writer
Producers, both here and abroad, have been busy scouting film properties among the anime and manga of the 1960s and 1970s, from kiddie cartoon fluff such as "Yattaman" to the apocalyptic thriller "MW," created by manga maestro Osamu Tezuka.

Given the growing popularity of the originals around the world, the target audience is often not only nostalgic Japanese graybeards, but also young foreign fans.

Yoichi Sai's "Kamui Gaiden" would seem eminently exportable to these fans. Based on a classic manga by Sampei Shirato that ran in "Shukan Shonen Sunday" from 1965 to 1967 and then again in "Big Comic" from 1982 to 1987, "Kamui" has a hot-blooded ninja hero, played by the star du jour Kenichi Matsuyama, as well as action scenes galore, choreographed by Hong Kong-trained Kenji Tanigaki (see my June 12 profile at

Those expecting a fun two hours with campy chopsocky are in for a letdown, however. Shirato was a pioneering alternative-comics artist who injected "Kamui" with his own leftist politics, including a pointed critique of discrimination and inequality in Japanese society. Sai's screen version, with a script by Kankuro Kudo, is more on the entertaining than politicizing side, but it preserves the core of Shirato's dark, violent vision. In his Japan, outsiders are, not merely marginalized, but hunted and exterminated like vermin.

Sai is the right director for this story, if background and filmography are any criteria. A zainichi (ethnic) Korean, Sai has often examined the lives of minorities and social marginals in his films, from his 1993 comedy "Tsuki wa Dotchi Deteiru" ("All Under the Moon"), whose hero is a cynical zainichi cabby, to the prison comedy "Keimusho no Naka" ("Doing Time," 2002) and the zainichi family drama "Chi to Hone" ("Blood and Bones," 2004).

At the same time, Sai had not had much action experience prior to "Kamui" and the shoot, which began in April 2007 and wrapped in September 2008, was long and grueling. That effort is visible on the screen — and not always in a good way, with airborne battles that look a bit labored instead of lyrical, as though, after weeks of 20-hour days, everyone was running on fumes.

But energetic and inspired action moves are also on abundant display, many of which are supplied by Matsuyama as the inhumanly agile ninja hero. Also, compared with Kazuaki Kiriya's "Goemon," a recent period actioner with the weightless look and feel of a video game, "Kamui" packs far more of a visceral punch — the positive side of all that heavy breathing.

Kamui (Matsuyama) is raised by a ninja clan and becomes one of its strongest fighters, but feeling hemmed in by the clan's rules and yearning for freedom, he decides to leave it. The story proper begins after he has taken this fateful step and is being relentlessly hunted by his former fellow ninja as a traitor and renegade. After eliminating his pursuers one by one, he meets and befriends Hanbei (Kaoru Kobayashi), a fisherman whose rank in the social pecking order is almost as low as his own.

Hanbei, however, ends up being chased himself by the minions of Gumbei (Koichi Sato), a local lord who is convinced that his favorite horse has been killed by Hanbei. Kamui helps him escape and, in return, Hanbei takes him to the remote island village he calls home. There Kamui finds Sugaru (Koyuki), Hanbei's wife — and a runaway ninja like himself. Thinking Kamui has been sent to assassinate her, she tries to kill him and, even after he pleads his innocence of evil intentions, is slow to trust him. But Hanbei's teenage daughter Sayaka (Suzuka Ohgo) takes an immediate liking to this dashing stranger.

Then the island receives a visitor — a ship on the hunt for the killer sharks that infest the surrounding waters. The captain, Fudo (Hideaki Ito), is playing a double game, however, and pulls Kamui into it. Soon our hero is faced with a choice that could cost him his life.

"Kamui" thoroughly demythologizes the ninja of fabled secrecy and cunning, showing them as a closed society of absolute conformity and amoral duplicity. Quitting a ninja clan is like quitting the old Sicilian Mafia — you leave as a corpse or not at all. Also, once you are a clan renegade, you can never rest easy, since friends and lovers can suddenly reveal themselves as deadly enemies. Whom can you trust? The short answer, Kamui finds, is "no one."

This may sound grim, but Matsuyama, who made his breakthrough as the sweets-addicted detective L of the "Death Note" films, is an eye-riveting combination of feral grace and intensity as Kamui. Also, while flashing those wary-animal eyes, he gives the character a humanly likable and tongue-in-cheek comic side. Meanwhile, Hideaki Ito, so stiff as the pure-hearted skin-diver hero of the "Umizaru" films, delivers an exuberant stemwinder of a performance as Fudo, all toothy, menacing grins and hammy, vicious energy. One reference point is Gregory Peck as Ahab in "Moby Dick" (for the shared beards and borderline nutso affects). Another are the charmingly ruthless villains that were a specialty of postwar star Tetsuro Tanba.

A sequel is implied at the end, which is only right, since Shirato's manga epic has hundreds more pages yet to film. But if Sai wants to take a break who could blame him? Fortunately for us, he got "Kamui" in the can before he and everyone around him collapsed of exhaustion.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Missile Defense on the Peace Island

Missile Defense on the Peace Island

I just got home from 3-weeks in South Korea. It was quite a trip.
During my last two days I was visiting Jeju Island (about 500 miles south of the Korean peninsula) which is recognized by UNESCO as being a place of world class environmental quality and one that hosts many endangered forms of corals and other sea life. To say it is a jewel would be an understatement.

Soon after arriving our delegation of five activists, which included some real notables in the South Korean movement for democracy and peace, we were brought to the offices of Jeju Solidarity for Participatory Self-Government & Environmental Preservation. There we were shown a most impressive 50-minute video about the struggle on the island to stop plans by the federal government to build a Navy base on the south side of the island. Jeju calls itself the "Island of Peace" and activists wonder how a Navy base, hosting Aegis destroyers outfitted with missile defense systems, could be considered a compatible use.

Three villages have been approached to host the base and the first two turned the government down. By the time the third village was asked the government had decided to offer bribes of $100,000 each to the respected sea diving women who are known for searching the bottom of the ocean for sea urchins which they then sell to make a living. The third village, Gangjung, is predominately opposed to the base but the bribes created enough of a division to cause the government to say they will build the base in this village.

Gangjung, like the rest of Jeju island, is most famous for growing tangerines in this tropical climate. Tourism is the second industry as people come from around the world to experience the wonders of the lush volcanic island. A long walking trail takes people across the island and recently the government has removed Gangjung from the walking trail maps so they can limit the numbers of people who would see the active signs of resistance amidst the splendid beauty of the rocky seaside where the proposed Navy base is to be built.

When I asked activists who the government said they needed the base to protect against the answer was followed by much laughter: pirates they told me. The truth is that the US will be jointly using the Navy base with the South Korean Navy as a port to deploy Aegis ships that will be used to help surround the coast of China and to give the US the capability to choke off China's ability to import 80% of its oil through the Malaka Straight that flows right off Jeju Island.

The villagers of Gangjung do not see the Navy base as offering them much. Their local economy is thriving from the tangerine groves that are everywhere in the town and from the abundant numbers of tourists who come there to experience the seaside. In fact the Navy base would take significant portions of their village land now used for farming and would destroy the environment. The rocky shoreline would be covered with cement and the proposed base pier would extend to the edge of where the fresh water Gangjung River flows into the sea.

Kang, Dong Kyun, the mayor of the village and a key protest leader, told me that 70% of the drinking water for the community comes from the river and would surely be negatively impacted by the Navy base. Take away our water, he said, and you destroy the town.

Throughout the village you see many tall bamboo poles with yellow flags on them that say, "We desperately oppose the Naval base." But no one in the government wants to listen to them. They have tried all the usual steps of meeting with government officials, organizing protests, and they recently tried to recall their provincial governor in a special election but did not turn out a high enough percentage of voters to make the vote official.

They've now set up a camp along the rocky coastline where some are now holding a round-the-clock vigil. More tents will be erected in the coming weeks as construction is set to begin at the end of this year. When I spoke to the village people in their community center last night there were key activists from other parts of South Korea who are trying to help.

I was deeply touched by the good people of Jeju. Mayor Kang told me, "This is the land of our ancestors that we must pass on to the future generations. This village must not be used as a 'strategic' base but must be preserved. The government is dividing people against each other which is the worst thing of all. The long lasting people will ultimately win."

I told the mayor and the village people that because the proposed base would have Aegis destroyers homeported there, with missile defense systems on-board, that the Global Network must do all it can to help them with their valiant effort. Just as we did what we could to support the people in the Czech Republic last year in their effort to resist US missile defense deployments, we must do the same for Jeju Island. That is what solidarity means.

Who will speak for the fish, the coral, the rocks, or the water I asked? We must all do it.

It has been a remarkable journey to South Korea and one that I am proud to have taken. I have met splendid people who are doing their best to resist the destruction of their democracy by corporate interests, the destruction of their farming lands, and the expansion of militarism. There are many fights going on in the world that we all have to be concerned about, more than we can all handle I know, but every now and then one comes along that represents all of these important struggles in one bundle. That is Jeju Island.

I hope that once we get the Jeju Island video, expected in a few weeks, that all of you will get a copy from us and show it in your community. I promise that everyone who watches it will be moved beyond tears about the beauty and the wonder of the island of peace. We must help bring the struggle on Jeju Island to the world.

Bruce K. Gagnon
Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
PO Box 652
Brunswick, ME 04011
(207) 443-9502 (Blog)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rest in Power, Gina Hotta, Executive Producer, APEX Express on KPFA Radio

Eugina Haruko Hotta (Gina, or "G" of APEX Express)
June 15, 1953-September 29, 2009

This is a tribute to the 1 person responsible for securing a platform for the progressive voices of the minorities of Japan in the Bay Area - Gina Hotta, a fierce advocate for social justice and particularly the empowerment of the Asian & Pacific Islander voices through media and organizing. She produced APEX Express on KPFA in Berkeley for 20 years - and 10 of those years, she consistently went out of her way to ensure representation of zainichi & Okinawan voices, as well as the progressive Nikkei voices on her show that also played a key role in illuminating the vibrant API hip hop scene, and before, the Asian-American jazz explosion and the cultural dimensions of the Third World organizing struggles of which she was part.

It also surfaced, unfortunately only after Gina's passing, that she was a staff of Japan Pacific Resource Network (JPRN) and an integral member of the larger progressive JPRN community in Japan and the US. Located in Oakland, JPRN is a respected ally organization of Eclipse Rising since founding.

Eclipse Rising represented at the Memorial held to celebrate and honor the life of this amazing sister & comrade, Eugina Haruko Hotta in Oakland. Here are some quotes from the speakers that together convey the depth of her humanity and the depth of her commitment to social justice - it is no wonder that she was always there to make sure that groups like Eclipse Rising had a venue to inject our voices into our communities.

Some folks who spoke moving words in her memory and honor were:
Ann Hotta, Gina's sister
Penina Taesali
Jeff Chiang
Brenda Wong Aoki
Greg Morizumi, member of the Eastside Arts Alliance and Eclipse Rising ally "Papa G"
...and many more, but here are listed (in order of appearance) those whose excerpts are quoted below.

"Gina was very proud of her blue-collar experiences"

"She wanted us to envision a better world, grounded in the past - the past was very important to her... she was very proud of her Japanese-American heritage, but at the same time, openly critical of Japanese imperialism. She was a staunch internationalist, and she identified with the Third World communities"

"She was the alchemist of all social movements..."

"...a builder of bridges, alchemist of light"

"1 thing about Gina is, when she got your back, she REALLY got your back, period. NOT just about an issue, but por vida she was with you all the way. How many people can you really say that about anybody, really?"

"It is said that she is the single most responsible person for the creation of a generation of API media warriors today"

Eclipse Rising is honored for the opportunity build upon the platform to speak out to the Bay Area community that she was instrumental in securing for us. We will always carry your legacy in our hearts... Travel well, sister Gina.

Deepest condolences to the Hotta family and we together mourn a loss of a dear spirit in our community. Thanks to every one with their time, energy, artistic talents, food, and other skills that put together a truly touching Memorial Service.

--Eclipse Rising