Archive for October, 2007

Tekkon Kinkreet’s Stunning Animated City

Tekkon Kinkreet has the most stunning realization of an imaginary city I’ve seen since Blade Runner. And that pisses me off. But let’s start from the beginning.

A film adaptation of the underground hit manga Black & White, Tekkon Kinkreet (a Japanese pun on steel reinforced concrete and deep relationships) will have your jaw on the floor from the first frame and pretty much never lets up. Treasure City is flat out gorgeous and just teems with architectural detail that at once feels whimsical yet quite real. When the camera moves through the world, you want to savor every second. As far as environmental design goes, the production just nails it.

And, honestly, the city really has to breathe for the movie to work since the entire story hinges on it. In typical anime mumbo-jumbo, the story goes like this:

Black and White, two street urchins, battle an array of old-word Yakuza and alien assassins vying to rule the decaying metropolis of Treasure Town – where the moon smiles and young boys can fly. (imdb)

Despite how it sounds, the narrative sticks surprisingly close to earth. Contrast that with Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, which also visited the US this year. Where Paprika’s fantastic environs led it off the deep end in the last quarter of the film, Tekkon’s do much the opposite — they ground it. Giving much more would ruin things, but let’s just say TK feels closer to Satoshi’s more intimate (and better) film Tokyo Godfathers.

So, what pissed me off? Well, I had the chance to see Tekkon in the theater. Heck, I have a photo to prove it. But I slacked off (well, I saw the even more elusive Colma instead) and I’m now left wondering how those massive vistas might play on the big screen. Considering the box office take, it seems like I’ll likely never know. Bugger.

Find more Tekkon Kinkreet at Sony Pictures and peek behind the scenes at PingMag.

images via fps and audrey

Ads Stop Making Sense

This week hit us with ads that either made no sense or were seriously suspect. Here’s a sampling:

Toyota Alien Apocalypse – who uses the violent end of the world to sell a truck? Here’s the answer. And ironic, too, considering the carbon footprint of those things. (via coloribus)

Farting Squrrel Saves World – end of the known world at hand? Nothing that farts (caused by the freaking product they’re trying to sell!) can’t cure. Clearly, we’re going to need these masks.

Ads Most Offensive – on a more serious note, NOW collects ads seriously offensive to women (and should be to the rest of us, too)

And a couple more for the road…

MoFrames – clever video collages show motion in a single image. The soccer bits are particularly spectacular. (via cplove)

Superhero Beatdown – lovely illustration of Superman and Batman getting what they had coming

Where Now Samus?: Metroid’s Next Revolution

You’d think I’d know how to feel about Metroid Prime by now. As one of the few first person shooter heroines that’s more brains than bustline, Samus Aran is certainly to be applauded. And the triumphant transition of the Metroid franchise from 2D to 3D is still unsurpassed. Couple that with Metroid Prime 3’s tight armchair FPS controls and a world that’s full of beautiful, tactile touches that use the Wiimote just right and it’s paradise, no?

Well, kinda. And that’s where I always get stuck. Because in Metroid, you’re playing detective — exploring burned out space hulks and abandoned planets — a kind of future archeologist trying to piece together what happened after the fact. When Metroid is at its best, you feel the elation of an outer space Indiana Jones dusting off the Lost Ark (like in steampunk Skytown). When it doesn’t, you just feel lost — in a maze of beautifully different but functionally identical rooms, tracking and back tracking ad nauseam (find the energy cells, Indy!).

That’s when the ugly questions come out: Just how many times can Samus lose all her powers before she gives up getting them back again? And it’s in those moments that you have to worry; worry about whether all the rust coming off Metroid Prime 3 means that the series really doesn’t have another go-round in it — at least not a very interesting one.

I suppose it’s most telling that, even though I finished Metroid Prime 3 only a few weeks back, I remember very little of it. I recall the elation of using the grapple to rip shields from enemies. I remember surprisingly entertaining buddy action with the ship, blowing up ground targets and assembling the Theronian bomb. I remember morph ball physics every bit as fun as they were the first time back on Tallon IV. And that’s…it?

But in some ways that defines Metroid Prime. It’s about twisty little passages all alike, it’s about shooting the weak spot, it’s about some seriously fine control mechanics, it’s about getting that one new power that will push you over the top and then wanting the next one. For all those reasons, I’ve loved Metroid Prime. But for many of the same reasons I wonder if Samus hasn’t become a prisoner of expectations. A perfect example is fan reaction to the biggest departure in MP3: the not-so-solitary G.F.S. Olympus segments. “That’s not Metroid!” they screamed, and they were right.

And that’s the challenge for the next Metroid title — to do precisely what Metroid did when it went jumped from 2D (Super) to 3D (Prime). It has to take all those expectations and treat them not as a burden but as a stepping stone to the next level. I can’t imagine how difficult that is, but I would trust nobody more than Nintendo to pull it off. After all, they look poised to do the same with Mario Galaxy.

It’s funny that after this Wii flagship title shipped with all the fanfare of the second coming, and doing so many things just right, that we suddenly find ourselves back where we started: expecting another Metroid revolution. But I suppose that’s the nature of trilogies, and the burden of renewing a franchise that has such a long and well loved history.

We last wrote about Metroid in Past Perfect and women in games in Black Women Got Game. Find more Metroid history at Wikipedia.

New Chinese Mythology

China Opening Day
Hairman Mao

When we think China, we often think of a place steeped in centuries old mythology. But new myths spring up now and again, too.

Communist Opening – the majestic visuals surrounding Communist Opening Day belies a political agenda that’s anything but

Hairman Mao – Zedong’s hidden history comes out of the closet in a Yuan retrofit for the ages. Bald to Bouffant in 60 seconds

New Mao / No Mao – speaking of Mao, Shanghai’s Guangci gives two sides of the man: one in mythmaker sterling silver and another melting grotesquely under the bright lights of historical scrutiny

And shedding light on myths around the globe:

Daily Deforestation – paper dispenser hack connects consumption with its environmental effects

Visualize World Health – lovely visualization highlights where doctors are needed most

War and Weddings – photographer forges credentials and sneaks into places officials would rather forget to shed light on world issues that desperately need solving. It’s people like Mark that make sure we remember

DePalma’s Redacted Gets Redacted

Brian DePalma got into quite the public yelling match at the New York Film Festival this week. You see, the producers of Brian’s new film Redacted edited it against his will. Specifically, they put black bars over the eyes of folks in some very central, very real photographs presented therein, claiming the victims’ relatives could sue. DePalma accused them of being tools of the man. And that opened up the whole can of worms regarding use of war photography, stretching back to My Lai and beyond.

On The Media has a fascinating back-and-forth on the subject with legal scholar James Boyle. Discussion of the suppression of the JFK autopsy images and the Challenger space shuttle audio lead to the following exchange:

OTM: These were huge news stories. Why were they protected?

Boyle: Well, I think the argument was that hearing the pain and confusion and fear of people who were about to die adds nothing to the political debate.

OTM: But isn’t that the point of these photographs in DePalma’s case? Misery, fear, mayhem, horror — the very things that have been censored about this war. How can you on the one hand prevent that stuff on that basis and then permit it on the very same basis?

Boyle: If the whole NPR thing doesn’t work out, Brooke, you have a career as a lawyer. I would say that the answer there is that we knew the astronauts on the space shuttle, we knew that they died and it was an awful set of moments. I think that the answer here is that the pain of the Iraqis has not been making it to our screens, has not been making it to our newspapers. I think the claim here is Mr. DePalma is saying this is a necessary political comment.

Of course the question then becomes: what is relevant to the debate and what is just morbid curiosity and, well, what is just there for its entertainment value. Does DePalma’s film have more in common with JFK’s elaborate mythmaking or United 93’s meticulous fact checking? It seems the early critics are coming in right down the middle. Either way, it looks like Hollywood is going to take more than one high-profile stab at the Wag the Dog nightmare in Iraq. Surely we can all hope there is some way to honor the memories of those lost even as popular culture uses their images to raise awareness but, if the Redacted mess makes anything clear, it’s that balance sure ain’t easy.

Hear the whole Boyle interview (and Brian DePalma, too) at On The Media and visit the Redacted website.

image via

Oddica: Clips from a Week Gone Strange

Rockwell Shocked

This week found us stumbling into all kinds of odd. But, then, we should have seen it coming after this first item out of India:

Flight to Nowhere – Indian entrepreneur sells virtual journeys on one-winged plane. Get all of the hassle of travel with none of the, well, travel.

Heavy Metal Collage – totally strange physical mashups of old school metal vinyl albums. Remix goes lo-fi. Playable, too. I bet it sounds like Jason Forrest.

Hazardous Future – three videos catalog bizarre future f*ckups. (First one is best, but give it a minute to get going.) And speaking of future strange, check these hysterical retro ads for modern products.

Cut Here – real streets turned into papercraft by a clever stencil

Innocence Industry – professor finds the dark side of Norman Rockwell and wonders why we feign shock over world events that shouldn’t be all that surprising

Night Refuge – unusually luminous wooden structure among the once supermodern, now decaying Shimodera Public Housing Complex in Osaka (click for enlargement)

Tings Dey Happen: Finding the Real Nigeria

What do you think of when you think of Nigeria? If you’re like most Americans, odds are you think of the never ending flood of email scams or countless tales of kidnappings or the ever-present state department advisories. It certainly sounds like a dangerous place. Dangerous and so distant it disappears into faceless headlines.

That’s where Dan Hoyle’s virtuosic one man play Tings Dey Happen steps in. What his play does so expertly is show us the complexities of Africa’s most populous country through its people: “Media-savvy warlords, pacifist militants, Africanized Texas oilmen, and prostitutes turned anti-Chevron activists.” Having spent a year in Nigeria working to understand oil politics (10% of our oil comes from the country), he’s in a position to know a few characters, and he inhabits them with such passion that he damn near becomes them. The transformation is riveting.

Thankfully, the play balances tough issues with a sense of humor that’s just right — a sense of humor that, in many ways, seems to be the humor of the people portrayed rather than something bolted on to soften matters artificially. A central character, for example, explains Nigeria this way: “You know, in East Africa, South Africa the white people so much love to go there, there are so many animals there, there are so many whites… no, in Nigeria, we kill all the animals and the white people, they just die themselves.” Laughter, but biting at the same time.

Dan never plays himself, though nearly all the characters are talking to him. You’re left with the feeling that you’ve met so many of the people he has. And, ultimately, that’s what makes Tings Dey Happen special: it’s an act of journalism — profoundly humanizing journalism. Hoyle makes Nigeria’s people matter, their circumstances matter; he makes their dreams matter. And, in doing so, he makes Nigeria something you can’t just turn off like so many headlines. That’s what makes the play difficult and, at the same time, not to be missed.

Find an entertaining interview with Dan Hoyle at Story52 and visit the show page at Tings Dey Happen was just extended through December.

Africa, India, Far East Photos Tell Stories

This week we were overwhelmed by inspiring photos and video from around the world, and each one tells a story that made us want to learn more.

Hell From Heaven – stunning colors in this photo amidst the chaos of the Nigerian pipeline disaster

Twilight Zone – night glows in these luminous photos of Tokyo taken from an emergency staircase. Also love these in-the-trenches night photos of the streets of Tokyo and Osaka by the same photographer

Max Density – culture and technology overlap in an amazing train meets market video out of Bangkok

Real Toy Story – heartfelt portraits from the heart of China’s toy central: Guangdong province. See also Mike Wolf’s shots of Chinese-made toys alongside their makers

Colorful Crumbling India – lovely multilayered shot of weathered posters on the back streets of Mumbai leaves us with more questions than answers

Vietnamese Rule Reality

Hung Huynh Chloe Dao

Vietnamese Americans are taking over, man! And last night was the latest salvo. Hung Huynh’s culinary prowess torpedoed all comers as he won Top Chef Miami, stunning some of the toughest taste buds in the industry with an impeccably produced, culturally infused four-courser.

And last year, Chloe Dao wowed us with her thoughtfully composed collection at the world famous Fashion Week in NYC and beat down two talented guys to win Project Runway season 2.

Seems like Bravo might as well hang it up and admit that .5% of the US population is going to be responsible for just about 100% of the wins on their talent-based reality shows, eh? I can tell you that’s a good thing. After all, my wife is Vietnamese… and “she approved this message.”

Find more on the good and bad of winning Bravo’s competitions at New York Magazine’s The Near-Fame Experience. And get more Hung and Chloe.

Clementine’s Eclipse Machine

When you walk into Reel to Reel at the Clemetine Gallery, you walk into a mystery. Clicking, whirring machines are everywhere and, at the center, a video screen that’s somehow pulls them all together. But how?

And the machines are designed to afford just that kind of investigation, leaving tiny cracks just wide enough for curious eyes to peek in and see miniature rooms and cameras. Or a whirling cylinder that produces a panoramic flyover or a moving sandbox that creates cloud cover or a room full of turntables that work in tandem to generate the soundtrack. Or the machine that makes eclipses (excerpt). Then the realization hits you: it’s a sort of video Rube Goldberg machine — an interleaved bunch of contraptions that works together to produce a cleverly enigmatic short film, each time a little different.

Model rooms, staircases, and landscapes inside boxes with tiny moving cameras:

A camera skims the surface of this cylinder to generate panoramic flyovers:

Turntables provide music on-cue:

It’s a fascinating show not as much for the final product film as for the component parts: the intricate, artfully constructed boxes, cameras, and wires, and the extra clever, impeccably timed transitions between their outputs. The show’s title, Reel to Reel, then, nicely captures the harmony and hand-off on display — once, that is, you’ve figured out the mystery.

Find more on Reel to Reel at Clementine Gallery and other work by Jeff Shore and Jon Fisher at Shofish.

Also hot in Chelsea: David Fred’s Far From Equilibrium sound-driven kinetic sculptures, Dan Rozin’s interactive wooden mirrors in Fabrication, the group show She & I looking at socio-political change in China (particularly love Bang!), and Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba’s lovely The Ground, The Root, and The Air, a short film shot in Laos that artfully captures the cultural significance of the Bodhi Tree.

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