image of washizu and wife from Throne of Blood
movies

Quick Note on Throne of Blood

Here’s the late Donald Richie on Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood:

I was present during the location shooting for much of the film. Particularly fine were those rushes of the advancing hunting party, both the long silhouette shots and, later, the advance, taken with longdistance lenses which flattened the figures out and looked like a medieval tapestry. After they were taken Kurosawa said he was pleased. “I have about ten times more than I need.”

In the finished film this morning’s work takes ten seconds. Gone are the living tapestries (“they only held up the action”); the wonderful turning shots of the messenger (“I don’t know—they looked confused to me”); a splendid entrance of Mifune skidding to a stop (“you know, Washizu wasn’t that upset”); and a lovely framing shot of the procession seen through the gate (“too pretty”).

I still think of Kurosawa that morning, up on his platform, directing everything, always quiet, suggesting rather than commanding, looking through the view-finders, getting down to run through the mud to the other camera, making jokes, getting just what he wanted. And then—having the courage, the discipline to choose from that morning’s richness just those few frames which contained what would best benefit the film.

It is, indeed, a very good film. As Kurosawa’s fans point out, literary critic Harold Bloom has written that Throne of Blood is the “most successful film version of Macbeth.” (Perhaps more interesting to note the subordinate clause Bloom tacks to the end of his declaration: “though it departs very far from the specifics of Shakespeare’s play.”)

In any case, Richie’s description of what was cut leaves me wanting to see the deleted scenes.

The trailer:

image of washizu in command

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animated gif of calvin and hobbes looking at shooting stars
Design

Ryu-design

It’s a redesign for this place, a modified version of the new Ryu theme: a much-needed behind-the-scenes upgrade and a maybe-not-bad change in the look of things. E.g.:

Old version:
Screen Shot 2013-07-28 at 5.31.54 PM

New version:
screenshot of new design

For those of you into WordPress, I now have options like post formats, responsive parameters, featured images (such as the gif above), a click-down “sidebar” at the very top of the screen (that’s what those tabs are if you hadn’t tried them), etc.

Now I just have to think of stuff to publish here.

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After stumbling across a circle of white-rumped shama enthusiasts while writing an earlier piece, one of my favorite reads from their ranks is Alan Pang’s post explaining why he lost interest in traditional shama competitions. The standard Singaporean competition, he writes, last as much as two hours:

Personally, i only enjoy active, swift n nice display and long melodies song type of shama. I prefer them to go around the cage flicking and flashing their tails plus some wings display at the same time. Not the stand singing type. What i meant by stand singer is flick tail once or twice sing two three notes and stay in one position all the time. This is no fun to watch for many of us but don’t forget this are the the birds that is able to last for hours! Haha…! So for those birds that showed us wonderful display, swift cage play, stretching all muscle to give us the best posture and bursting at the top of their voice with beautiful songs would be drain out by then. Then how? How about the next one hour? Frankly, i do not think Shama is by nature create to show that kind of aggression in the wild for such prolonged hours. Did we extend the competition time for human satisfaction? Haha…

Sing it, brother.

And in the video above, you can see one of Mr Pang’s shamas “singing like crazy till sorethroat,” which has accumulated a whopping 276,133 views on YouTube.

animals

Pursuit of the White-Rumped Shama

Here’s a little recording I made in Kauai in April 2012:

I later learned it was a white-rumped shama. The shama is popular for its song—we heard this bird well before we saw it—and inspires a quite devoted following in some quarters.

Copsychus malabaricus is a type of thrush native to south and southeast Asia. It was first introduced to Kauai by Alexander Isenberg in 1931 (presumably this is the son of beloved sugar baron Paul Isenberg). The particular subspecies on the islands is C.m. indicus, found from east India and Nepal to northwest Burma.

In Asia, there are whole groups devoted to the bird. Singapore, especially, has an active set of shama enthusiasts raising them, sometimes catching them in the wild, and entering birdsong competitions with them.

To see what a shama looks like, the photo below (posted on Flickr by Chris Thomas), gives a better view of one of these birds than the less-than-stellar iPhone snap I filed with that audio clip.

bird on the trail

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Print called "Fine Wind, Clear Morning" or "Red Fuji" by Hokusai
Asia, disaster

Mount Fuji In Red, After Fukushima

Among the eight vignettes in Kurosawa’s 1990 film Dreams is “Mount Fuji in Red.” It’s the sixth story, and among the eight dreams, it’s one of the nightmares. It’s a stark, bleak view of a few people discussing——while trying to flee——a nuclear disaster.

Akira Kurosawa: DREAMS (1990) from cinema.antifono on Vimeo.

[Update July 2013: Ugh, someone took down that video. Sorry for the inconvenience. Until I find another version to embed, you can read the relevant script dialogue here.]

I saw this before Japan’s earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster, which began just about two years ago. But where the short film might come off as preachy and reflective of some reflexive late-80s anti-nuclear sentiment, it now evokes the anxieties and concerns about nuclear safety that we’ve come to know as Japan’s “safety myth.” That, as the Times summed it up, “Japan’s nuclear power plants were absolutely safe.”*

“They told us that nuclear plants were safe,” says the woman in the dream. “Human accident is the danger, not the nuclear plant itself. No accidents, no dangers. That’s what they told us. What liars!”

*Or, rather, as the Japan Times put it after the government’s report on the disaster, the myth required ignoring the possibility of rare but extreme events.

 

 

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art, China, development, environment

Phantom Landscapes: Wherein China’s built environment overtakes the natural one

A few years ago, the China Environmental Protection Foundation worked with advertising firm J Walter Thompson’s Shanghai office on an anti-pollution campaign featuring the work of Shanghai artist Yang Yongliang. Certainly the message here is as relevant today as it was in 2009.

(Click to enlarge)

A couple of the images appear to be from a series Yang calls Phantom Landscape II. While the work here takes off from the old shan shui style of landscape painting (shan means mountain, shui water), I believe these are digital creations. In any case, shan shui is one of the most evocative styles around, and Yang’s take on it is a lot of fun to look at. You can see more at his website.

Below: From a completely different series, A Bowl of Taipei 1
Image of mountains in a bowl by Yang Yongliang.

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Wow! (Or, as the driver initially says, according to a translation in the New Yorker, “What the fuck is that?”)

Surely one of the most interesting things to be seen on the planet these last twenty-four hours is this meteor streaking across the Russian sky, brightening up the Chelyabinsk dawn.

But not everyone is so taken with this astronomical display:

No way, Jose. I want to believe.

science

Touchdown on Mars

Here’s something you don’t see every day: The Rover’s eye view of landing on Mars.

Four photos per second snapped by the Mars Descent Imager.

Somebody took the photos, made them full-screen, and smoothed the video out:

And as for just where the rover touched down, as of today, it’s called Bradbury Landing:

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journalism, science

What It Takes To Write About Science: A Lehrer Lesson

The whole Jonah Lehrer thing just keeps unspooling, yielding a trove of new insights, or presumed insights, or see-how-these-details-fit-what-I’ve-said-all-along insights. Lots of insighting.

It’s sparked some soul-searching (ahem, navel-gazing) among the media about just what it means to be a noble, truth-seeking writer or reporter who focuses on science.

One obvious conclusion:

What we need are not journalists and popular writers who turn their hand to science, but scientists who turn their hand to journalism and popular writing.

That, from a scientist. And another obvious conclusion, from a journalist:

This is what happens when journalists major in neuroscience instead of #journalism.

So, that’s settled.

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