Wednesday, August 26, 2015


To quote the football chant we were singing last night as DC United crushed the opposition 3-0, "Na na na na... na na na na... hey, hey, hey, GOOD-BYE!"

That's right! GOOD BYE, ONE DIRECTION! Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out of town. Or better yet, let it hit you in the ass and be done with you.

I've been (slowly) working on another mini e-book that will be an introduction to Japanese idol pop and one of the things that annoys me the most about One Direction is their utter lack of respect for the "boy band" as an art form. As their video for the song, "Best Song Ever" makes clear, they think dancing is gay, bright costumes are gay, being pleasing to female audiences is gay... with gay as code for bad, obviously.

This attitude infuriates me. As a person who adores dancing, bright costumes, and entertainers who respect me as a female audience member... 1D have been tarnishing the "boy band" tag with their shit attitudes for far too long!

I'll never forget the time they appeared on the live Japanese music show ミュージックステーション (Music Station) and had the gall to mock one of the other groups that was on!!! Okay, so maybe Sexy Zone is a silly sounding name in English but the boys in Sexy Zone at the time were all very sweet faced, very earnest teenagers dressed in dapper white suits with wintery white feathered collars, performing a medley of all their singles so far (to include the uber peppy "Lady Diamond" and their charming theme song, the self-titled "Sexy Zone") to a horde of adoring fangirls. Basically, performing Sexy Zone were performing ALL THE KEY RESPONSIBILITIES OF A BOY BAND while 1D was dressed in schlubby outfits and spent zero time being charming and all their time mocking Sexy Zone, the host of the show, and making asshole faces to camera.


One of the many things I've found so appealing in the world of Japanese idol pop is this dedication to pleasing the audience. A level of trust is built between the boy (and girl) groups and their audiences. We know they are going to deliver us the goods and by-and-large they do. That trust is why the Japanese idol groups are able to take risks and lead us down weird artistic rabbit holes. We follow, even if wary, because that relationship is there, built up over years. Yes, years.

While 1D seems to think 5 years is a "long" time for a boy band to carry on, Japanese boy band SMAP has been working steadily since 1991. That's right, 1991. 1991. 1991. AND THEY ARE STILL AMAZINGLY POPULAR with one of the best rated shows on television and a steady stream of number one singles. You've probably already seen SMAP members in movies like 13 Assassins and Sukiyaki Western Django and just didn't realize they were super popular singing-dancing-silly costume wearing idols.

There is so much that I love about the boy band as a art form. I've written about it here, here, and here... I won't bore you anymore with it today.

But I will (hopefully) delight your ears with one boy band song that I've been obsessed with for a couple of weeks now: the aptly titled 「バリ ハピ」!!! Which means, literally, bari hapi! Say it out loud! VERY HAPPY!

「バリ ハピ」 is an insanely catchy ditty ripped directly from a Bavarian beer tent and performed with great gusto by the group Johnny's West. The lyrics are essentially saying, "I know we all have our troubles and woes but sing along with us anyways!" The super happy accompanying dance echoes the German line-dance feel, the guys all kicking their legs out in time with the blustery accordion riffs. You can't hear in the video but on the recording there is a fairly loud shouted chorus, too. Explicitly encouraging a sing along. It's a song meant to be sung at great volume, with all your friends, in a crowded karaoke booth. As are all of Johnny's West's songs, actually.

In short, it's a genre of pop song we here in the West, have almost completely forgotten* how to make here in the West. Pop music not meant for the clubs or the gym. Pop music meant to cheer on the listener. Pop music meant to be shared. Pop music meant to be sung together, at full volume.

And I love it. 今日も超ハッピー、みんなバリハピ! "Today we're super happy, everybody's very happy!"

* With the huge exception of Pharrell's "Happy" obviously. But that song is an outlier in a way that Johnny's West catalog is not.

BROTHERS review via podcast!

Asim and I recorded an episode about Akshay's Brothers! It is available on the upodcast website over here. Please check it out!

We go into the use of Catholic imagery a bit and I want to underscore that I found the use really effective. Anybody who has been to a traditional Catholic church knows the prominence with which the naked, tortured body of Christ is displayed. In the end, Akshay's character David has nothing but his own body and there was definitely a resonance between David's tortured body on display for our amusement and his tattoo of Jesus Christ, who put his tortured body on display for our salvation. The other bit of Catholic-ness that really got me was the forgiveness. Although we may not always follow it, Catholic teaching is big on forgiveness. And guilt. But forgiving and turning the other cheek, as well. Anyways, I found all of this really worked for me.

I will also say that I got so caught up in the world of the film that I left the theater in a bit of a daze. Perhaps because I know nothing about MMA fighting, I was on the edge of my seat for the entire second half of the film just waiting to see how the fights would play out. I suppose logically I "knew" who would end up being the final two but kudos to Karan Malhotra in that it still felt tense.

Definitely go check it out if you can!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Purampokku Engira Podhuvudamai: In the end, the little guy always gets screwed.

This past weekend I caught up with Purampokku Engira Podhuvudamai, a pointed social commentary of a masala film that took me to places I did not at all expect. The posters had led me to believe this was going to be a film about Arya being a badass revolutionary hero, which was true to an extent, but his badassery was shaded with some pretty heavy moral gray areas.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Shaandaar: Yes, please.

My favorite trailer before the screening of Brothers was for Shaandaar, starring Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt. I know I've gone on record as loathing the rom-com genre but that doesn't mean I don't like fluffy comedic romances when they're done well, as this one seems to likely to be. What I hate about the rom-com genre, in any industry, is the laziness and disdain so often on display. Laziness in execution, in casting, in vision, in storytelling... like, seriously, another self-serious dude-bro who doesn't know what love is? Another career woman who finds out that what she was really missing was a man to take care of? BORING!

But do you know who isn't lazy? SHAHID KAPOOR. And paired with the adorable Alia Bhatt. And with some extra charm from daddy Pankaj. From the team behind Queen. I think we'll be in for a treat.

Watching the trailer for Shaandaar, it made me think about something else that's been on my mind. I've been reading a good book about girls' culture in Japan and one of the points the author raises is that "girls culture" is something that Hollywood has basically ignored in recent decades... despite the fact that the success of movies like Twilight prove that girls and women are desperate for shared cultural products that reflect their fantasies. The author also raises the (VERY IMPORTANT) point that just because girls and women might enjoy a story like Twilight doesn't mean we're taking the relationships in it literally or even that we have to identify with the female lead character. We can enjoy stories without wanting the events in them to happen in real life, you know. Duh. We're not idiots.

So, why does Hollywood ignore women's fantasies in favor of YET MORE STUPID MALE FANTASY SUPERHERO FILMS despite the fact that we are 50% of the population and have money to spend?

Well, Rose McGowan was just on my favorite radio show NPR's On Point with the fabulous Tom Ashbrook and she has a lot to say on the topic of male dominated Hollywood. The biggest point she made was that besides the strangeness of alleged capitalists refusing to provide product to a female audience, the male-dominated Hollywood movies are just... boring. If all the movie writers are upper middle class white men who are told time and again to "write what you know" and what they know is in that closed world of upper middle class white men, well then... we get really boring movies. Which is one of the main reasons I tuned out of Hollywood years ago. They weren't making anything I was interested in.

What is nice about the trailer for Shaandaar is that it looks very much like Shahid and Alia are on equal ground. It may still be a fantasy that a woman and man can meet on equal footing, romantically, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy watching it.

Long story short. I am looking forward to this one!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Indru Netru Naalai: Time travel with all the timey-wimey bits left in.

Hi, friends. I'm sorry it's been so long between updates. Things have been busy. I attended two funerals last week, one for my auntie and one for a dear family friend. Both had been sick for some time but that doesn't make it easy to say good-bye. I will miss them both. So maybe I am feeling more sentimental than usual but there was something so sweet and human about this movie. I liked that there wasn't any boring explanation of the fake science going into the time machine and I liked that the adventure was on such a human scale. Maybe you will prefer something more epic but for me this movie hit the spot. Please enjoy my write-up!

Most time travel stories aren’t really about time travel, instead using the time travel conceit for variations on the classic fish out water scenario, sending somebody from our era backwards or forwards in time. Whether it’s Harman Baweja in Love Story 2050 or Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the drama in the story arises from the clash of cultures rather than from a real engagement with timey-wimey issues.

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