Sunday, September 30, 2007

Precious cover, blank book

This weekend's movie accompanying take-out-Chinese, turned out to be a teasingly unsatisfying meal. For all its hip-and-trendiness, Japanimations can be downright vacant. Lavish graphics, cartoon plot. The wonderfully detailed animated Japanese flick "Tekkonkinkreet" is a wonder to look at, even as its increasingly pretentious manga-inspired story line outstays its welcome.
It's set in a crumbling Bladerunner-esque metropolis called Treasure Town, where a childlike (I suppose because he is one) 11-year-old urchin named White and his slightly older friend Black fly through the air - and get caught up in a Yakuza boss' scheme to level the old city and replace it with an amusement park. Save for an avuncular prune, Gramps , the adults who pass through their lives, including a couple of kindly cops and some oddly dressed gang members (they look ready to rumble with droogs), generally pass through without much comment. They offer the children greetings though precious little else, which makes the loneliness that clings to Black and White — illustrated by the expressive use of negative space — all the more poignant and unacceptable.

Beautiful and a touch bewildering, “Tekkonkinkreet” kinks up a fairly familiar story of love and loyalty with a helping of underworld crime action, the usual juvenile agonies and fuzzy philosophy. And more exasperatingly, this well-worn record seems to be stuck on a never ending "replay". The first-time feature director Michael Arias, an American who lives and works in Japan, stuffs a lot of exposition and action into 100 baggy minutes. Amid all the sharp turns, the periodic slicing and dicing, the gangsters and the shifty deals, the old man in the bathhouse and the snake in its lair, it can be tough to pinpoint what precisely Black and White are up to, much less the filmmakers.
Even so, “Tekkonkinkreet” demands to be seen, if only for its beauty. The generally bright palette and overall soft look work a nice contrast to the dark theme, as if the world itself were on the children’s side. The character design of the boys is particularly lovely, almost loving, from the scar slashed across Black’s right eye like a warning to the hat shaped like a bear’s head that White wears, his mischievous, smiling face peeping through the animal’s open mouth. There’s a touch of Saint-Exupéry’s “Little Prince” in these two children, whose adventures and lessons seem plucked right from this book: “To forget a friend is sad. Not every one has had a friend. And if I forget him, I may become like the grown-ups. ...” And that, as everyone knows, would be disastrous.

Monday, September 24, 2007

total masti?

India won the first 2020 Cricket World Cup. I am sure this is big news in the subcontinent. Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Dhoni. Imran Nazir and Shahid Afridi. There is a solid defense of the Twenty20 format by Osman Samiuddin from the Pakistani [and Indian, as well] perspective:

About right, too, for the format is one the average Pakistani, fan and player, easily recognises and feels comfortable with. England may have been responsible for institutionalising and selling the concept, but its informal, Asian cousin, played out on streets with apartments as spectators and on grounds with cement pitches and dangerous outfields has long been Pakistan cricket’s lifeline.

This is, then, really the game that desi kids played and play. The tennis ball version [taped ball or not], usually 10 or 12 overs; the hard ball version, 20 or 25 overs; on a cement pitch; front-foot, across the line batting; block hole, yorker bowling; aggressive fielding, running; uptempo and hurried pace. Here is the rub, though. In this version, the goal is to get better, to learn to stay at the crease, to master the art of bowling according to a plan not as a reaction, to learn to keep control of the ball even after you have hit it. The goal, is to play a full game of cricket. There were/are tons of yuvrags, afridis … everyone had to have such players. They were called sloggers. I can't recall any particular pride associated with such a designation.
Admit it. The odds are stacked against the bowler in cricket. The batsman is padded, and has a very thick stick and can catch a break by moving to the non-stricker’s end. The beauty of cricket is to make those odds even out - by pitch, by bowl, by field, by pace. And then ask the bat to rise to the occasion. 2020 makes a mockery of that balance and stacks everything to credit the bat. Smaller boundaries, hampered field placement, and the urge to “measure the distance of the Sixes”.
Sure it is fun comparing Yuvrag’s 6 in six balls performance, to Gibb’s 6 in six balls during WC 2007 and, further back, to Sir Gary Sobers’ 6 in six balls in 1968. But do these batsmen qualify as genus Britannicus, to quote CLR James? Judging from the Test career of Sir Gary Sobers, of course. Will we get a similar chance to judge the young Yuvraj Singh? I have no idea. And I fear that we will not find out. I fear that the 2020 will splinter a team into a perfectly natural division of skill-sets, of specialist sloggers like Shahid Afridi never having to grow beyond what they played in their backyards. How will someone like Shane Warne or Abdul Qadir or Imran Khan emerge out of this format? Nathan Bracken? Pfft. That, in a nutshell, is the reason I remain unenthusiastic about this format.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

netflix encounters #1

Through a recommendation, I recently discovered a director.
Here is the first of the films I have seen of Emir Kusturica:

When Father was Away on Business (1985)
The title euphemism of ''When Father Was Away on Business'' refers to a trip taken by the young hero's parent - not a business trip, but a journey to a labor camp. It also indicates the boyish perspective from which the story is seen. This warmly appealing Yugoslav film makes charming use of 6-year-old Malik Malkoc and his outlook without sacrificing a larger and more knowing directorial overview.
While offering a humorous, richly detailed portrait of Malik and his family, Emir Kusturica also outlines the political climate in which the story unfolds. Set mostly in Sarajevo in the early 1950's, the film makes frequent references to the uneasy relationship between Marshal Tito's postwar Yugoslavia and the Stalinist Soviet Union. Stalinist loyalties are continually being put to the test, so that when Malik's father, Mesha makes a sarcastic remark about a political drawing in a newspaper, he risks dire consequences. The fact that Mesha's brother-in-law, a stern, bureaucratic Communist Party official, shares Mesha's interest in the same flirtatious young woman only seals Mesha's fate. He is sent to work in a mine as a result of his vague transgression, and the rest of the family is left to manage on its own.
Kusturica creates a wonderfully vivid sense of the various family members and their life together. Malik's long-suffering mother takes in work as a seamstress and looks after her father and three young sons, while also pining for her absent husband and conveniently forgetting the philandering that helped put him away. One of Malik's brothers is a bookish type who hoards every snippet of film stock he can lay his hands on. Malik himself has a habit of sleepwalking and a remarkable talent for interrupting adult sexual encounters. In one of the film's most affecting sequences, a funny scene that is also terribly sad, Malik goes to extraordinary lengths to keep his parents apart after his mother is finally able to arrange a visit to the mine at which her husband is imprisoned.
The film, which has a broad, expansive narrative style, follows the family through this crisis and back to some sort of equilibrium; in the meantime, it also captures some of Malik's formative experiences, including his first stirrings of love for an amazingly diffident little girl. Kusturica's measured direction is able to weave all these disparate elements together into a gentle, touching film alive with humanity and humor.

Monday, September 17, 2007

an alien in america: entry 3: shopping for world piece[s]

from l-r: saddam hussein, tony blair, kim jong-il, george bush, osama bin-laden

the flip side (osama to the left): war criminals. (these are special edition. especially the ghost saddam)

I am preparing my christmas wish-list to avoid crowds. This is wish list item #1.
Plastic God’s Axis of Evil is a limited edition boxed set of 5” rotocast collectibles, featuring everyone’s favorite cast of current political icons: Saddam Hussein, Tony Blair, Kim Jong-il, George “W” Bush and Osama bin Laden. The dolls have 7 points of articulation and come packed together in a flip open window door box