retsuko: lady rainicorn and princess bubblegum from the pilot episode of Adventure Time (PB + Rainicorn)
Yesterday, Yebisu and I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Big Hero 6, which is one of the rare movies that I didn't want to end because it was so beautiful and so entertaining, and because the ending of the film provided a springboard for so, so many stories that would be equally as fun and interesting as the movie itself. This isn't to say this was a perfect or flawless film, but it's pretty damned good in almost every respect, and that is saying quite a lot.

There are quite a few plot summaries that are easily available on the web, and I don't want to add to what's been already said in that respect. Some of the plot aspects that I found especially interesting, though, had to do with the depiction of science and scientific process. Science, although it provides our heroes with their gadgets and weapons, isn't a solution to all problems, or something that's so simple and quick that it looks like magic. Instead, science is something all of the characters think over carefully, and get their hands dirty for. In one pivotal (and very touching) sequence, we see that one of the characters went through so many proto-types for a project that he forgot which number he was on, and what time of day it was. Being smart and willing to approach problems through trial and error is never, ever shown as a liability for any of the characters, and the story is richer for it. No one gets a free pass to becoming a hero/heroine.

The design aspect of this film, from the robots to the city of San Fransokyo, is excellent. It's hard to say where to begin with this: the Golden Gate bridge has been re-imagined in the most wonderful way, and a lot of classic SF buildings have, too. (I crossed my fingers that City Lights would appear, but it didn't, to my slight disappointment.) Everything in the city, from the signs to the trolleys, was just beautiful, and if the whole movie had just been a tour through the city, I probably would have been good with just that. (Note to my subconscious: If you want to add this city to your map of dream!San Francisco, please, please, please go ahead.) But there was more than that--all of the objects and homes and buildings around our characters felt right. Hiro's home, in particular, has that "lived in" patina of family photos/fannish posters/random pictures on the wall and discarded projects and games strewn around the floor of his bedroom that make it feel like a real space, not just a CGI, story-necessitated one.

The overall plot is the only place where things start to get shaky: for anyone who's seen a film before (or read the works of Joseph Campbell), certain aspects are visible miles away. This is a mostly a pretty kid-friendly film, although death and revenge are two of the major plot elements, so perhaps think carefully before taking younger kids. But if your kid is up for it, you won't be disappointed. Stay until after the credits have rolled to catch a scene that is just... well, it's hilarious, and I was so happy because it validated a theory that I'd formed halfway through the story. :D
retsuko: watanuki freaking out with a pig in his hands (omgwtfbbq!)
Just thought I'd bring these links over here (they're languishing on my Google+ account, but then again, there is a lot of languishing on Google+ these days): We Are Comics, a wonderful blog that aims to show comics fandom's diversity by encouraging its readers to submit their photos and fandom origin stories. Such a lovely, positive step for fandom as a whole, after a lot of nonsense for the past few months.

AND, an amazing Kickstarter campaign here for a video game based around ritual dance combat. This one looks like it's in danger of not meeting its goal (although it did have a very ambitious fundraising goal, all things considered), and I'm really hoping that someone will come out of nowhere with a lot of money, because this game looks like so much FUN. I wish I could back for more, but that's not feasible right now. Check them out!
retsuko: (girl & her dog)
Over on the Onion's A.V. Club, there's an interesting discussion around the question: what is the pop culture gift you'd like to share with everyone? There are some fabulous answers there (the always awesome Tasha Robinson lists "My Neighbor Totoro" as her pick, effectively affirming (and stealing) my original answer), but I thought I'd like to add my $.02:

1) Abel's Island, by William Steig: This lovely book is one of the best things I ever read as a child, because it taught me how to deal with solitude and not fear being by myself. I was a very serious child, and although I had friends, I often found myself with large blocks of time, with little to do. When I read this deceptively simple story, I learned quite a lot about what to do with those chunks of lonely time. Abel is a mouse from a well-to-do family who's never wanted for anything in his life. One day, due to a silly accident, he's swept across a river and stranded on an island, all alone. Days stretch into months, seasons change, and Abel is largely alone the whole time, plotting his escape and trying not to die. This isn't an action-packed book, though there are some very exciting and tense set pieces that punctuate the story. What stuck with me, though, as a young reader, were the passages that are introspective and quiet, where Abel contemplates his place in the universe, for better or for worse. He also takes the time to create art, and this act gives his life purpose and meaning. I always want to hand this book to the child who's a loner at classroom parties, who's not overtly unhappy, but doesn't exactly fit in all the time. "Here," I want to say, "It's OK to be alone sometimes. There's nothing wrong with you; just read this and you'll see."

2) Wings of Desire: I freely admit this is a hit-or-miss type of gift. It doesn't play well with the art-film-, subtitle-hating crowd, and many times, people are bored with its glacial pacing. It's not a fast or showy movie, but it's a beautiful one, and for a long time, it was the one piece of pop culture that made avowed agnostic me believe in any sort of higher power. The cinematography is simply amazing, and the characters in the story, while they appear to be cyphers at first, reveal themselves to be complex, determined people. Angels tend to get a cutesy rep in pop culture, and I'm pleased to say that the angels in this film are not cute. They're... well, they're supernatural, in the best sense of the word. I'm sad to see that this movie gets relegated to "art house" status, because I think it has a lot to teach any viewer about empathy and free will, and those are important themes for just about anyone on the planet, not only foreign film enthusiasts.

3) Bone, by Jeff Smith: This isn't a flawless piece of work, but what an ambitious and engaging story it is, and how much fun it is to read! I wish there were some more explanation of certain plot points, but in the end, it doesn't matter. I love that this is a comic that is, for the most part, truly all ages-friendly (really little ones may find the villain quite scary) but that doesn't sacrifice intelligent, thoughtful storytelling, and combines that with dynamic, gorgeous artwork. I also love that Smith has a strong sense of humor that serves to break up the tension, but also advances the narrative in surprising ways. I cannot want to read this one with my son, and it's a work that I hope more people will look at and appreciate for many years to come.
retsuko: (sushi)
Ever since I left Japan in 2001* I've gotten hankerings, fairly often, for the good, everyday food that I used to eat in the izakaya** of Kochi. When I try to explain this to people, I usually get a confused look in return. "Can't you buy the food and make it yourself?" Some of it, yes, but it's not just the food; it's the combination of the food, the place, and the experience, and up until last night, I hadn't found a place where the combination was just right.*** But last night, tucked into an unassuming and thoroughly unprepossessing strip mall on Convoy St., [ profile] yebisu9 and I visited Okan, and it was the magic combination.

Okan has a tiny premises and the moment we stepped in, I was worried we'd trip one of the waitresses up by simply standing in the doorway. Fortunately, we snagged one of the last available tables and discovered they were having anniversary specials of $2 draft Sapporo**** and interesting menu items at discounted prices. Wasting no time, we started with the spicy kinpira (burdock salad), which turned out to be not as spicy as advertised, but still a lovely, fresh mixture of tastes and textures, and pretty much just as I'd remembered it being. From there, we had a fried tofu dish, with savory sauce, that served as a good counterpoint to the kinpira. (Again, not as spicy as advertised.)

For the main course, I had two onigiri (rice balls), rolled in sea salt, with special pickles and fried shrimp. The onigiri were simply delicious and the pickles that accompanied them divine. (I always wish I could ask for more, but really what I want is to go and chat with the cooks in the kitchen while eating the pickles.) Two kinds, one cucumber and very sour, and the other sweeter and crunchier. The fried shrimp came in a very generous portion and were fresh out of the pan; I nearly burned my fingers when I started to peel them.***** The breading on them was very subtle and amazingly delicious. Yebisu had soba with duck; he did not care for the dish as much as I did for mine, although I did taste the soup and thought it was lovely. The menu also lists good old standbys like kitsune udon and zaru soba, which means I need to go back there as soon as possible and try them.

For dessert, I had a lovely slice of green tea tiramisu, which was a light and airy taste compared to the salt and relative heft of the dinner foods. All in all, from a cuisine stand-point, it was an excellent outing. My tastebuds were thoroughly convinced that I'd returned to Kochi and began clamoring for other favored foods. (We had to visit Nijiya, the Japanese market, next door after dinner, where I found yet another beloved treat I hadn't had in 10 years.******) Next time, I would definitely have a reservation, since the place got really crowded after we arrived and there was a fairly long line outside when we left. I am very excited to go again, because one of Okan's selling points is that their menu changes seasonally, and I have high hopes for fall/winter foods.

I think I've found my new favorite place.

Okan Wa Dining
3860 Convoy St. St. #110
(Check out their website here.)

* OMG: That's 10 frakkin' years ago. Pardon me while I freak out quietly about being old, time passing, etc. etc.
** An izakaya is a restaurant/bar, usually a place where you can sit on traditional tatami, at tables, or around a bar.
*** With the possible but very expensive exception of Sushi Ohta, and getting a table there either takes considerable planning ahead or serendipitous arrival.
**** OK, not the world's best beer, but good enough!
***** I know that I'm meant to eat the shell along with the shrimp, but I can't bring myself to do it. When I want to eat shrimp, I want a particular taste and texture, and it does not include needlessly crunchy bits that get stuck between my teeth. Yeah, yeah, I'm a foodie philistine, so sue me.
****** Kyoto green tea mochi pockets with sweet bean paste. :D

May 2016

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