All the laser beams, neon lines, wireframes, Knight Rider-esque cars called Fairlady Z, and er… giant salamis floating in space that you could want in this 1983 demo reel by Japan Computer Graphics Lab.
I’m still not entirely sure if this project which “aims to spread human ride robots” is in earnest or some kind of satirical sci fi art concept. Sometimes in Japan it’s hard to tell. It’s also entirely possible for any given thing to be both. I think “both” is probably the answer here although if it is a joke or has jokey elements, then it’s a joke carried out with unusual thoroughness and commitment. Well, unusual if you’re not Japanese, anyway. Obviously as usual any humour, intended or otherwise, has been missed by 90% of the lumpencommentariat on YouTube. As I’ve pointed out before, like the British the Japanese have an international reputation for being somehow both joyless stiffs and unpredictably eccentric, but in fact both nations across all social classes share a deep affinity for daft, surreal, mocking humour that doesn’t necessarily register in the USA, or with their neighbours in mainland Europe/mainland Asia respectively.
If you’re reading this at work you can visit the comprehensive and quite pretty Suidobashi Heavy Industry site to design your own Kuratas. My effort can be seen in the picture above, a $1.8 million/¥190,813,241/€1.38 million super-kawaii ‘Hello Killy’ model that would be ideal for attending a lipsync meet-the-fans appearance by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu at a shopping mall or annihilating the last cowering remnants of the human race on the orders of Skynet. Again, perhaps both at the same time.
The people behind Suidobashi definitely have tongue in cheek for parts of the video below, one example being the unsettling and slightly deranged “smile shot” function at about 3:00. The robot will also hit targets only “from time to time.” On the other (robotic) hand, the prototype seems to be an actual and quite impressive thing that the artist has really built. It appears you can buy one from Amazon. You can also buy– via the related purchases on the same page– an 8.6 metre long Stegosaurus. Obviously.
Oh, and here’s the other hand I mentioned.
Minor spoiler warning because this is a discussion of Christopher Nolan’s new film Interstellar, if that kind of thing causes you angst. Nothing that wouldn’t be seen a mile off by any intelligent viewer of the trailer or the film itself, nor is there anything that wouldn’t be seen coming at interstellar distances (GET IT?) by any science fiction fan.
Interstellar is the story of three middle-aged white rappers who talk and gesticulate into a fish eye lens while a giant octopus monster fights a huge robot… no, wait… this is the plot of the video for Intergalactic.
The real Interstellar is a really well-crafted film with some beautiful imagery and design. Despite being an overlong and self-indulgent movie, the nearly three hour running time doesn’t feel like you’ve been wasting your life, despite parts of it seriously dragging on and outstaying their welcome. Certainly it’s better for a film like this– i.e. one that tries to be at least somewhat thoughtful and credits its audience with a little intelligence– to be hyped as the film of the moment than it is for utter shit like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or some ghost train jump scare horror movie to dominate the landscape. Apparently working out how to depict some of Interstellar‘s spacetime phenomena has directly helped the understanding of real astrophysics, and there can’t be many films or film makers who can say that.
The bad news:
Interstellar is actually about an intergalactic space mission via a wormhole, so its title is wrong for a start. Probably we have The Beastie Boys to blame for making it impossible that somebody as pathologically serious as Nolan could use it as a title for his film. On the evidence of his films to date, including Interstellar, he and his brother obviously also have major parental abandonment issues that they should work out with a therapist so they can move on with some new ideas in their scriptwriting. Like all of Nolan’s films it’s far too long and somebody ought to have the guts to make him lose at least 45 minutes from his running times. It’s ironic that Interstellar mentions relativistic time dilation so much, because each one of the scenes involving action or movement seemed to go on for longer than the entire three hours I was sitting in the auditorium, and not in a good way. He is not a great editor, or director of editors. Inception played to this weakness, or at least masked it, because time being stretched out was part of the plot. In general, though, action sequences shouldn’t make you want to look at a clock to see when they’re going to end.
From the moment he appears on the screen, Matt Damon is obviously suffering from the SPACE MADNESS that countless good, bad and indifferent sci fi films have hammered to death as a plot device, not to mention it being a fixture of Star Trek, and every other sci fi show getting around to it eventually, as satirised perfectly in the eponymous Ren & Stimpy cartoon. No amount of Nolan solemnity can divert from the fact that this character is not very far away from floating around raving and eating soap like an animated chihuahua, especially with Chekhov’s manically disassembled robot (cf. The Black Hole) prominently featured just before Damon’s character appears. The carefully described relativistic physics and kitchen sink futurism of the first two thirds are unceremoniously airlocked in a ridiculously anthropocentric and cheesy final act because apparently love can break spacetime in your favour. A black hole is no biggie if you do a Peter Pan and simply believe enough, although Interstellar is still about 90% less saccharine than the similar Gravity. It’s not quite as logical or realistic as the All You Need is Love denouement of Yellow Submarine, though.
Michael Caine. Again. We get it, Chris, you want him to be your dad. Take it somewhere private.
The entire film could be compared to a pizza with lots of toppings; it’s clearly one item, quite a delicious one in fact, but it’s still basically junk food and all the pieces it’s made from are unavoidably obvious. To mention just a few: Transcendental space trips from 2001. Also HAL 9000 and the black Monolith from the same film, mashed up into a sardonic cuboid Jonathan Ives iRobot. On the subject of clunky, sardonic robots the most direct and therefore laughable comparison is again with Disney’s atrocious The Black Hole, but there’s also Moon, Wall-E, Forbidden Planet, K-9 from Doctor Who and even, shit, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Oh, hey, there’s the scene from Aliens where Ripley wakes up on a space station. There’s the space hangar from Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, et al. I wonder if somebody’s going to sneak in and steal one of the spacecraft because the hangar has inexplicably lax security? The barren inscrutability of alien planets from both radically different film versions of Solaris– somehow– plus a large dollop of the latter Soderbergh version’s 12 step-esque emphasis on transcendence through hitting rock bottom. There’s the romantically run down dustbowl near future farm house from Looper. Blatant self-plagiarisation of the gravity-shifting punch up, upside down buildings and nested timelines from Inception, though with greatly diminished returns.
There are even some large, distinct and undigested chunks of Farscape, although I doubt Nolan would ever admit to watching Farscape. He did use a Muppet as part of the main cast, though (Anne Hathaway). She urgently needs to learn more than two facial expressions, but she deserves some sympathy for having to deliver the mostly incredibly cheesy speech about love, in which both the love and the speech itself come from absolutely nowhere. It’s one of several sermons that bring the film to a screeching halt, but she does the best she can with it. Not last and not least– sardonic cuboid robots preserve us– there’s a last act story beat involving a deliberate plunge into a black hole, ripped whole from The Black Hole. At least there isn’t a wild west style shootout with laser guns.
It’s a tribute to Nolan’s strengths as a film maker that Interstellar is at least worth slightly more than the sum of its parts. It would just be nice if those parts were assimilated enough that it didn’t feel like a stumbling Frankenstein’s monster made of sci fi tropes and not the more philosophical, internal exploration it’s obviously aspiring to be. The same plot could have led to a wonderful, genuinely moving film under the directorship of somebody who approached it as magical realism instead of having the mentality of a kid playing with toy spaceships.
I wouldn’t say that Funky Forest: The First Contact (ナイスの森 Naisu no mori) is a good or neccessarily a very funny film for the most part. But it is a film in which the scene above occurs, which is a kind of recommendation if you’re a fan of this blog and its usual subject matter. After a passing high school student is persuaded to use her navel to power up a Cronenbergian television that gives birth to a miniature sushi chef through its puckered sphincter-screen, the scene ends like this:
To which the only possible response from her– and us, probably– is:
(More animated GIFs follow: give them a few moments to load.)
Just two more images I scanned from the old British boys’ magazine/comic Eagle, posted here very belatedly purely because I just found them on an old HD and I don’t know why they never got published.
Coincidentally, the “colour-reflex conditioning” to which Mike is being subjected (above) looks very much like the Zoom ice lolly being advertised below. It’s like he’s being frontally aggravated by the business end of a massive Zoom lolly, which can happen when you’re tripping your tits off like young Michael here. Mike Lane = Migraine?
Perhaps some of those special sugar cubes on the coffee table made their way into the Lyons Maid factory. It might explain where they got the idea that being Commander in Chief of the Galaxy Patrol would be fab. Only Zoom fans are in it, baby. Fab was (and I think it still is, in Britain) another ice lolly, by the way.
I also love the delightfully gauche and virtually meaningless “New Zoom is great” as a marketing line. Product is great. It just is.
Frank Pavich’s Jodorowsky’s Dune is a confusing phrase, but the documentary itself does absolutely everything right in terms of a compelling story, an incredibly charismatic protagonist, and a genuinely inspiring and uplifting message. Alejandro Jodorowsky is the bonkers auteur who made surrealist cult films like El Topo and The Holy Mountain with a mentality more akin to a prophet or a cult leader than a film technician, so it’s no surprise that he was drawn to Frank Herbert’s zeitgeisty eco-messianic novel. If Jodorowsky is any kind of prophet then he’s the Anti-Hack. For him it’s all about the passion, the politics and the image. Making perfectly constructed emotion-manipulating and money-making machines is not interesting to him at all. For a while in the 70s there were so many serendipities raining down onto him that it seemed the universe wanted Jodorowsky to make Dune, and it would brook no contradiction. It’s also depressingly inevitable that a dementedly overambitious project by an idiosyncratic and unapologetic genius like Jodorowsky would fail to thrive in Hollywood’s sterile earth.
This film about the abortion of another film reveals what a magnificent thing Dune could have been. Seventies sci-fi painter Chris Foss designed space ships and buildings. French comic artist Moebius designed the characters and costumes. The villainous, genocidal Harkonnens were styled by H.R. Giger, later famous after he was poached by Ridley Scott for production design on Alien. The grossly obese and megalomaniacal Baron Harkonnen would have been played by– who else?– the grossly obese and megalomaniacal Orson Welles. It’s both hilarious, typical and tragic that Jodorowsky failed to tempt Welles with money, but immediately secured a “yes” when he promised food. Salvador Dalí was to be the Emperor of the Galaxy (for about two or three minutes, because he wanted to be paid $100,000 a minute). Mick Jagger was on board, playing an androgynously beautiful version of the role that eventually went to Sting in David Lynch’s version. Imagine that as a casting session: who’s the best actor, Jagger or Sting? It’s like, do you want to eat the rotten wormy apple or the rotten maggoty orange? Continue Reading
It’s been out a while, but I only just got around to Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, the enigmatic, glacial barely-horror film in which an alien (Scarlett Johansson) drives around in a white Transit van and preys upon lone men in Scotland. I’ve not read the novel by Michel Faber, upon which the film was based, so this discussion is purely about the latter. There’ll be spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film and you’re one of those big babies there’s plenty of other things to read on this blog.
You know some bad news is coming, because I’ll start with the good. The film captures the bleak beauty and grey light of Scotland perfectly. It looks like the most grimly lush Radiohead video ever, if Radiohead singles were ever nearly two hours long. The score by Mica Levi puts many a mainstream horror soundtrack to shame with its angular, insectoid weirdness. Over the past year or so I’d say that only Cristabal Tapia De Veer’s peculiar score for Channel 4’s Utopia was better, more inventive or more crucial to the production’s atmosphere. Johansson seems to pick her acting roles at random out of a hat, and in the wrong film she can be stiff as a board and half as interesting. Given the chance, though, she can do great work. Making one of Sofia Coppola’s dreary chorus line of autobiographical Poor Little Rich Girl non-characters sympathetic (Lost in Translation) is quite an achievement, even when Bill Murray brings his full chemistry set. In Her, Spike Jonze and Joaquin Phoenix trowel on the protagonist’s lonely, nerdy life as a sadsack spod so thickly that we don’t doubt he’d take up all manner of hikikomori activities. It’s Johansson, however, whose voice performance really sells the concept of an incorporeal artificial intelligence product that loves and is lovable while at the same time never really anybody’s at all.
Conversely in Under the Skin, Johansson barely speaks through the whole film, but watch the extraordinary and chilling way her amoral, calculating character performs feminine charm and accommodation then a split second later looks like a dead cod lying on a bed of ice at the fishmonger’s. The only character comparison that immediately comes to mind is Daryl Hannah as Pris and Joanna Cassidy as Zhora in Blade Runner, inhuman humans who know exactly which male buttons to press but would snuff any man, woman or child without blinking. Hannah and Cassidy never got as much to do in Blade Runner as Johansson does here. Continue Reading
Attentive viewers may notice some subtle Christian imagery in this clip from early 1970s Japanese TV show Ultraman Ace.
Only joking. It’s about as subtle as a man throwing a rubber kaiju through a ten storey building. Either the makers of this series had absolutely no idea what blasphemy is, or they understood it perfectly well.
Anyone who’s unfortunate enough to have seen the relentlessly grim Nolanised fun vacuum that was Man of Steel may also get flashbacks to it when they witness the gay abandon with which Ultraman blithely annihilates huge swathes of the city and (although unseen) presumably also thousands of the citizens he’s ostensibly protecting. In Ultraman’s version of reality it must pay off big time if you have shares in construction, emergency services and infrastructure companies.
Another experiment in re-soundtracking J-pop videos with highbrow Modernist composers: see also The Rite of Spring (Onions). By the way, I’m officially staking my claim as the originator of the J-pop video/Modernist orchestral soundtrack mashup genre, OK? Not that I imagine many other people would want to lay claim to it.
Anyway, this time it’s Perfume’s Spending All My Time (directed by Tanaka Yuusuke), in which the scarily wholesome autotuned J-pop robo-idoru appear to have been locked in a room where they amuse themselves with OCD hand rituals and by complacently shattering ornaments with telekinesis, like chirpy Harajuku versions of Sadako from the Ringu series, versus György Ligeti’s Lontano, best known from the immensely effective and creepy soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s film of The Shining.
1. Mute the audio of Spending All My Time.
2. Press play on Lontano. I suggest starting about two minutes in.
3. Press play on Spending All My Time.
4. In seven days you will die.
5. Not really. You may have screaming nightmares about the young ladies from Perfume exploding your head like an egg in a microwave, though.
PS: On Youtube there are re-enactments of this video by three overweight Mexicans and by a man with three copies of himself. Because, you know, of course.
In July I visited Orford Ness, the former military testing site on the Suffolk coast. In the 1930s it was one of the places where the technology that became known as RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging, now normalised as an actual word, “radar”) was developed, then it was a base for the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, and finally it was a powerful radio installation responsible until 2012 for broadcasting the BBC World Service to Europe. It’s now owned by the National Trust. Access is severely restricted and visitor numbers are strictly controlled because of the danger from unexploded ordinance, and to protect an extremely rare and fragile habitat of vegetated shingle. It’s also situated on a long spit that has to be accessed by boat. As you’ll see from the pictures, probably the only way to describe it if you’ve not been there is as a kind of temperate maritime desert. I was there on an extremely rare hot, dry and sunny day when you could walk around without being blown over sideways. Not much can live on the Ness permanently. Despite growing up not far away from Orford, and living in the vicinity on and off over the years, the inaccessibility and isolation of the place plus the fact that I don’t have a car had always conspired to keep me away from a place that I found fascinating. Continue Reading