Appreciating Japanese Manga

Monday, March 19, 2012

[This was one of my favorite trips last year. I am re-posting it on my new blog because I find it special, for some reason.]

The Japan Foundation, in cooperation with the Ayala Foundation, is presenting the exhibit, “Manga Realities: The Art of Japanese Comics Today” which runs from August 16 to October 2, 2011 at the Ayala Museum. I first heard about this from my Philosophy professor, who specializes in Zen Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy. The exhibit shows artworks from different manga artists, particularly Ninomiya Tomoko’s Nodame Cantabile, Harold Sakuishi’ BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad, Asano Inio’s Solanin, Anno Moyoco’s Sugar Sugar Rune, Igarashi Daisuke’s Children of the Sea; Kuramochi Fusako’s Five Minutes from the Station, Kyo Machiko’s Sennen Gaho, Matsumoto Taiyo’s No. 5, and Wakaki Tamiki’s The World God Only Knows.

The exhibit introduces manga as a “hybrid art form,” a combination of different forms of art and media throughout history, like the traditional Japanese painting style, maki-e, American films, and the Western format of the comic-strip. From what seemed to be a cheap form of entertainment for children, manga has developed into a cultural phenomenon. With the advancement of technology, it has become readily available to a larger audience, and it has become diverse in such a way that manga tackles genres that range from the typical romance, comedy, action, to a more serious issues like philosophy, religion, and social problems. In “Manga Realities,” one can see the wide range of Japanese manga, in terms of its nature, style, and charm, through the nine exhibits found.

All of the works stood out and really caught my attention; I enjoyed looking and appreciating them as art. In the ground floor of the museum, there is a display of raw sketches and colorful illustrations from the manga Nodame Cantabile and Beck. A piano, electric guitar, and drum set is on display, and if you ask permission from the management, you can actually play it (the piano, at least) yourself. Luckily, during the first time we visited, there were not a lot of people so Ivan played a couple of pieces for me -- it was a really sweet and special moment. ♥ Nodame Cantabile was serialized in a women's magazine, while Beck was for a boy's magazine, but they are similar in the way that they both have made a significant impact in the music industry in Japan. The mangakas Harold Sakuishi and Ninomiya Tomoko were both able to tell a story that expresses music, which is quite challenging because the medium is limited and they had to use visuals to express sounds. Sakuishi uses the “silent nature” of the manga to his benefit by encouraging the readers to imagine what the song would sound like, through “onomatopoeia” or the bold depiction of the performers. This way, the readers could somewhat relate to the characters in the manga because they could understand or 'hear' the music from the character's expressions and still actions. An article by Ibarra Mateo from GMA News describe the two works as a kind of “crossover”in media. The placing and way that these artworks were displayed is appropriate and engaging – Beck in a typical 'band' setting with the illustrations projected on a screen on the wall, while Nodame Cantabile sketches were displayed in a more classical way, framed and sealed in a glass box. 

Another segment that I particularly liked is the display of Kyo Machiko's Sennen Gaho (A Thousand Years Diary). The story revolves around random and ordinary moments in the life of a high school boy and girl. The illustrations show examples of “mitate,” where there are layers of meaning that can be derived from a single subject. An example would be a boy leaving his umbrella to hang on a wall, and the girl intentionally puts her umbrella beside the boy's, making the two ends touch. It can be interpreted as a seemingly innocent kiss. Machiko made use of scenes that are zoomed-in on the object, and wide-angled drawings to tell the story; the words she use are at minimum because the drawings are enough for the readers to understand. From this, one would is pushed to reflect upon the possible meanings or denotations from really, ordinary day-to-day instances, that there is more to life than what most people think. The world is not mechanical, and the small encounters can be meaningful if one is aware enough to appreciate it.

A Classroom Setting
In a contemporary Japanese room

Other interesting displays were: Kuromochi Fusako's Five Minutes from the Station, which talks about the encounters of people from different age groups and backgrounds (the focus is on their interactions and how these people have different ways of seeing things; this was displayed in a really huge illustration on the wall), Wakaki Tamiki’s The World God Only Knows (the display is in a cute and realistic classroom setting, with a small speaker on the desk as a teacher, and the wall on the left showing the different of characters in manga), and Asano Inio’s Solanin (this time, it was displayed in a typical contemporary Japanesee room, which was actually a scale model of the apartment of Meiko and Taneda in the manga).

All in all, all of the exhibitions were nice and interactive. Ivan and I had a lot of fun taking pictures and viewing the different galleries. We even visited the exhibit for the second time, a month later. I really liked how the curators and the organizers were able to show the diversity in Japanese manga, in a more live and three-dimensional way. The Sugar Sugar Rune display, for example, was colorful and the illustrations were kind of pop-up (like those from story books), and the Children of the Sea had a big net and real ocean sounds coming from speakers. This only shows how one can go beyond the medium, and that one is not limited to how the text/art manifests itself, but if you understand the context of the culture, the intentions of the author, and if you are unbiased, then you would really appreciate Japanese manga as it is, a creative/artistic depiction of life, culture, and reality (in fiction). ☺
It was a really happy museum visit with Ivan!

Bringing Beauty to Death

Monday, March 12, 2012

[This is another old entry that I wrote last November 22, 2010. I was browsing through a list of popular Japanese movies online and I found this title. I remembered I wrote a review about it before, so I'm reposting it here.]

While most people prefer to work in high-paying jobs, most would probably think otherwise when they find out that the job would be dirty work, like tasks that involve the dead. In the film Departures, director Yojiro Takita tugs the heartstrings of his audience as he shows how the Japanese face the issue of loss, death, and acceptance. These three controlling ideas of the movie become evident as the story revolves around a character with a profession that deals with dead people.

When the orchestra that the protagonist, Daigo Kobayashi (portrayed by Masahiro Motoki), works for dissolves, he leaves the city and goes back to his hometown with his wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue). To start off their new life, Daigo scans the newspaper for job ads, and he lands upon an ad that deals with “departures,” which he presumes would be a job related to a travel agency; it also mentions that the job pays high and there is no experience required. He gets accepted for the job immediately after a brief interview with the boss, Mr. Sasaki (Tsutomi Yamazaki). Later on, he finds out the job he has gotten himself into would involve the cleaning and preparing of corpses for burial. After several times he has watched and assisted in the washing and dressing of the bodies, Daigo realizes something significant in his life – the ceremony of sending off the dead might initially seem like a disgraceful or embarrassing profession for some, but it is actually an act performed with precision and gentleness to honor and bring beauty back to the ones who have passed away. Daigo faces the challenge of sticking with his job despite his own wife's disapproval. 

Since the movie shows the loss of a loved one, it had a number of touching scenes. The experiences of Daigo from when he was just a little boy with his dad, until the part where he feels accomplishment in his work, these all build up to the ending, which is a tearjerker for me. The acting was very realistic and the emotions portrayed seemed genuine, like the tears and pain of watching a loved one being cremated – these effectively played with the audience's emotions. The costumes of the actors also contribute to the drama and the realistic element of the film. For instance, the families of the dead would wear black for mourning, and the actors playing as corpses wore traditional Japanese kimonos. They would seem pale and unmoving, but not in a scary way. By watching the film, I, as a viewer, was able to understand and relate more to what the character has been through. I begin to appreciate the ceremony in burying the dead, and how important it is to take extra care when dealing with families that have experienced loss. In terms of music, the background sounds and music are appropriate for the theme of the film. The audience would be able to appreciate classical music more because the protagonist in the movie is a cello player himself. Also at times, there would be complete silence, which reflects the mood of the scene. 

The movie illustrates how death is natural for all of us, and though the subject of death can seem serious and sad, people could still feel like the life of one person is an achievement. The movie also teachers the viewers to realize the significance of honoring the dead and at the same time feel thankful for people in the encoffening profession. The people that do jobs that no one else would be willing to do are actually respectable people. Daigo and Mr. Sasaki are examples of these people who take their jobs seriously. 

All in all, I can say the the film is very moving, especially with the impressively realistic acting. The plot is simple, it evidently shows the theme of death and how the protagonist deals with the irony of life handling dead people. I can say that this film is deserves the Oscar award it has received in 2009 as Best Foreign Language Film of the Year because it goes beyond the cultural barriers of being “Japanese,” it touches even the hearts of other people who watch the film. If you want a film that would make you cry and feel happy at the same time, Departures is definitely a must watch.

Work Cited
Departures [Okuribito]. Screenplay by Kundo Koyama. Dir. Yojiro Takita. Perf. Masahiro Motoki, Ryoko Hirosue, and Tsutomu Yamazaki. Amuse Soft Entertainment, 2008. Film.

Inescapable Destiny

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

[This is an old entry. I originally wrote this last October 19, 2010 but I'm moving it to my new blog because my ideas on Oedipus Rex are still relevant, for me, at least.]

For our World Literature 1 Class, we were asked to read Sophocles' drama, "Oedipus the King." I was pretty excited about this reading task because we were talking about Catharsis, the purgation of pity and fear - the dominant feelings in the play, in our Literary Theory and Criticism class just the other day. I have always wanted to explore the world of Greek drama and widen my knowledge of the classics, and reading Oedipus Rex, being a well known work of Tragedy, is a good way to start.
In the beginning of Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King,” the audience or readers already have an idea of what had transpired in the story – that there was an oracle saying that Oedipus would kill his own father and marry his mother. This knowledge helped the readers understand and react to what happens as the drama unfolds, and it also adds to the inevitability of the oracle. 
The story starts off with Oedipus, king of Thebes, speaking to his people when they asked for his help to get rid of the plague. There is already irony here, because Oedipus was speaking to his own people, as the rightful king of Thebes. Oedipus then focuses on his search for the murderer of the late King Lauis, not knowing that he is actually pertaining to himself. After he had an argument with Tiresias, Oedipus begins to doubt himself and wonder about his own identity. Tiresias already knows the truth and at first, tries to tell the king that he is better of not knowing, as seen on the first part where he says, “I’d rather keep you and me from harm. Don’t press me uselessly. My lips are sealed.” (Sophocles, Oedipus the King 226). The conversation heats up to the point that Oedipus insults Tiresias and accuses Creon as the murderer because of his insecurity. The plot continues with a pattern following discovery (or disclosure of the truth), when Jocasta tries to cheer his husband up by telling him the oracle at Delphi and what she knew of his husband’s death, then recognition of the three highways - peripety, as Oedipus begins to doubt himself further, more disclosure, and the pattern continues until the very end, suffering, where Oedipus blinds himself. 
Aside from the progression of events in the story, one could also looks at the name of Oedipus himself. The Greek word “oida” translates as “I know” and the word “eido” means “I see.” This can be quite ironic because in the story, Oedipus fails to see, despite all the puzzle pieces being revealed in front of him. When he finally realizes the truth after much questioning, he deliberately takes away his ability to see (212). 
When Jocasta and Laius first found out about the oracle prior to the start of the drama, they tried to change fate by attempting to kill their son when he was a baby. This can be considered a tragic flaw because it was like a challenge to the gods. Jocasta saying: “So there! Apollo fails to make the son his father’s murderer, and the father (Laius sick with dread) murdered by his son. All foreseen by fate and seers, of course, and all to be forgotten. If he god insists on tracking down the truth, why, then, let the god himself get on the track.” (238) is the same as saying the gods are powerless and that they can change destiny and avoid what was foretold. Jocasta even mentions “There’s nothing certain, nothing preordained” (246). That statement, questioning the power of the gods, proves human’s ignorance and pride. Oedipus, thinking about the unfortunate oracle, also tries to escape his fate when he runs away from Corinth, not knowing that he is actually making the oracle happen by going to Thebes. Here, the concept of destiny is unchangeable and inevitable. Sophocles illustrates the power of the gods and goddesses; they already know what will happen because they know that the Oedipus, being himself, would eventually lead to downfall no matter what. Since he is ignorant and oblivious, he lives his life fulfilling his destiny according to the gods. 
Like what happened in the story, no matter how people try to change their lives, they end up where they are supposed to be. There may be free-will, but the gods’ power exceeds that. Coincidences happen and things are repeated because they have a reason.
Work Cited
Sophocles. Sophocles: The Complete Plays. Trans. Paul Roche. New York: Signet Classic, 2001.

Love Thy Nails

Saturday, March 03, 2012

"Nail polish is the new lipstick." -- This saying has been going around since last year, and I believe that whoever said that is absolutely right. I, for one, would rather splurge on cute nail accessories and enamels than lipstick because the shades and colors are easier to pull off. From color blocking to animal prints, one can sport the season's latest trend with their nails.

I have started painting my nails when I entered college - that was about three years ago, because colored nails were not allowed in my high school. Doing my own manicure became a habit and a way of relieving stress. My friends would sometimes ask where I got my nails done / where I bought my polish.

my nail polish collection
My mother and sisters love getting their nails done too, so we have a lot of colors at home. We tried out a lot of brands, both local and foreign, and my favorite would have to be the ones from The Face Shop, China Glaze, and OPI. ☺ They're not sticky and the consistency is just right. The brush glides through my nails easily, and it dries fast upon application. The polish in the bottle does not thicken too. ♥ I prefer wearing darker shades on my tips and toes because they make a good contrast on my light skin. Lighter polish shades look good on long nails.

Later on, I tried taking my manicuring hobby to a different level. There are lots of ways to design nails. There are even stores that offer digital nail art, using a printer to paint any design on your digits. I don't have the leisure time to go to the nail spa salon every so often, so I tried doing my own nail art. I experimented with glitters, stickers, and tiny rhinestones. I get inspiration from anything under the sun.  Sometimes my nail designs don't end up the way I want it because it takes a lot of time and practice. Watching tutorials on YouTube helps too. ☺

my nail art kit ♥
Nail art accessories, stamps, brushes, and pens can be bought in nail specialty stores. I've seen a lot of them in bazaars, and I think there's also one in Harrison Plaza. They usually sell imported products from Korea and Japan. I've been wanting to get my hands on a brush, but haven't had the time to really look for one. I get most of my stuff from The Face Shop. Aside from having a wide variety of shades and colors, they sell dotting pens and stickers too! They also have the tape for attaining the perfect french tips. ☺ They are cheap and relatively easy to find. I bought my nail art beads set from Fully Booked (Eastwood branch) for P63.00. I'm sure they are also available in other beauty and accessory stores, like Etude House or PinkBox.

If you're not sure about the whole nail art thing, it's always easy to invest on classic shades of nail polish because they're very affordable and chic. Or if you prefer to be simple but still well groomed, you can try colorless or nude shades - very elegant and timeless. Whatever your taste might be, there's always a design/color fit for your style.

some nail art designs I did, posted on my Instagram ☺
 - Christmas Lights - Newspaper Print - Halloween (Crackle Glaze) - Strawberry -

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A Glimpse of Singapore

Thursday, March 01, 2012

In my Southeast Asian Literature class, we discuss novels and poems that correspond to different nations of Southeast Asia. This week, we explore the literary world of Singapore. I particularly liked the poems of Alvin Pang. He visited our University once for a poetry recital, but I was unable to attend because it clashed with my other schedule. For our final creative project, my classmate and I did a poetry recital of Alvin Pang's poems so I became familiar with his poetry. There are other noted Singaporean writers but I have not been entirely exposed to their works.

The poems of Alvin Pang talk about different things, but generally, they describe the ways and lives of Singaporeans. I don't think I can type the poems here, it can be quite tedious, so I will describe them instead. The common theme found in his poems is modernity and self-identity, which can be linked to the identity of Singapore itself. I have never been to Singapore, but it's in my Top-5-Countries-I-Want-To-Go-To list. The poems all have a certain feel to it that makes it unique and personal, like the reader him/herself gets to experience the city. The lines are easy to understand and the imageries are well described, for example, in the poem “To Go To S'pore” in line 62: “...Weeds, attap, kampong / and five-foot way fell away as the towers rose...” The use of local terms and names adds to how one can see Singapore in Pang's poems.

“Arriving in the Modern City-State” starts by describing one's day – how an average person would go about living and working in Singapore. It makes use of particular brand names such as Dolby stereo, IKEA furniture, and Civic, pertaining to the car. The second stanza of the poem illustrates a busy and hectic lifestyle, asking the question “...Where did you stop along your life / and forget how to live? Was there a wrong turn?” (26). From an objective point of view, the details that show the persona's tight schedule makes the reader reflect upon himself personally, because at some point that particular question can be relevant to most people living in the city. Some people tend to become mechanical with the tedious tasks they were assigned to do. The last stanza of the poem talk about how one feels when he/she closes his/her eyes. In such a small yet lively and busy city-state, it can be difficult to catch one's breath. The little moments of rest become priceless, living itself can become questionable.

There is a sense of nostalgia in the poems. Lines 10-11 of “The Meaning of Wealth in The New Economy” for example, makes one reminisce of his/her past experiences: “Remember the electric twitch of a nerve / as skin kissed skin for the first time ever?” (90) The persona develops as the lines progress. In the last stanza it says: “You hoard a little every time you put aside, in sleep / your daily dying. The doubling, and doubling again of years / of weight, of sorrow, that longing...” (91). The poem evokes a feeling of wanting to rest, of living in the modern world without the stress. The last line “from the infinite riches of the world” can refer to the state of Singapore and its people; it is a fast developing country, wealthy and progressive, but because of the progress, it can become weary and some tend to forget how is is to live. It is easy to relate to the poems because they talk about human events that a lot of people experience, but the use of specific details make the readers get a glimpse of what Singapore really is.

Work Cited
Pang, Alvin. City of Rain. Singapore: Ethos Books, 2010. Print.