Sake Archives 2007

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View from a Hill: Scavenging at Stung Meanchey
As the bed of each truck is slowly tipped upward the frenzy begins. The collectors (primarily men and women, but also many children) poke and smack at the descending bags before they even reach the ground. A bulldozer then sweeps in, narrowly missing a few members of the scavenging mob, all knee-deep in garbage, to push the pile to the side, where the whirlwind chaos continues.

December 29, 2007

Aneha Still Shaking Japan
With a few strokes of his drafting pencil, architect Hidetsugu Aneha has sent the Japanese government's bean counters into overdrive. In 2005, Aneha was found to have falsified the earthquake-resistance data in the designs of multiple hotels and condominiums in an effort to reduce construction costs. As a result, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Tourism in June modified the approval process for the procurement of a building permit, a move which has stalled the world's second biggest economy.

December 28, 2007

Kyosho Jutaku: Living Large in Small Spaces
Architects like Tokyo-based Jun Ishikawa, however, are in the process of adding small bits of color to this picture - both literally and figuratively. Small slivers of land that in days past may have been used for an industrial or commerical purpose are now the location of unique housing structures. Ishikawa specializes in mokuzo (wood) structures. Wood affords him the opportunity to implement his signature style: narrow buildings with arched roofs that resemble a one-room schoolhouse or church.

December 25, 2007

The Wacky, Wired World of Thanko
He slips inside and moves to the rear of the store, whose entry is just across from the new 22-floor Akihabara UDX building, and picks up his company's USB Necktie Cooler (2,980 yen) a tongue-in-cheek item aimed at the "Cool Biz" campaign, a government push for office workers to dress lightly in summer. Outfitted with a USB connection (a near Thanko standard) and cable, the plastic neckwear includes a rotating fan inside its knot. "Thanko is an unusual company," admits Yamamitsu, a bespectacled 42-year-old who is continually moving his hands to mimic the motions required to operate the product he is describing.

November 26, 2007

Fest Nix Yak Pix
In days past, a film festival held within rough-and-tumble Kabukicho might be assumed to feature a sampling of the work from gangster-flick director Seijun Suzuki ("Tokyo Drifter," "Branded to Kill"), or perhaps "Yojimbo," the Akira Kurosawa classic where a samurai arrives in a village run by two groups of gambling mobsters. But with its smiley tag line, "Let's go to Kabukicho!" the Tokyo International CineCity Film Festival, which begins Nov. 23 at the Shinjuku Milano 1 theater, will be focusing on giving a more positive image of the district.

November 23, 2007

Kabukicho Comes Clean
Recent police raids on host establishments for everything from maintaining hours past 1 a.m. to ladies being gouged with extraordinarily high bills, often in the hundreds of thousands of yen, have made the industry downright jumpy, says the always jovial Aida. Though he repeatedly insists that his establishments are clean, times are tough. "This is attacking my business," says the bespectacled Aida, wearing an impeccable blue-striped suit and multiple rings studded with shimmering gems. "As a shop owner, I find the enforcement of the 1 a.m. law hard to believe."

November 23, 2007

Asia Shops Juggle U.S. Animation Jobs
For decades it has been a rewarding cycle for both sides of the Pacific: Hollywood studios have sent their animation pre-production work (the storyboards, designs and character and background layouts) to lower-wage nations in Asia for final finishing. But countries such as South Korea are not relying on lower costs as an advantage anymore, says Nikki Vanzo, prexy of Rough Draft Korea, an animation studio with 400 employees in Seoul that was founded in 1992 and has worked on such toons as "The Simpsons" and "Futurama."

October 27, 2007

Evolving Anime Films Follow New Inspirations
Toons like this year's sci-fi epic "Vexille," directed by Fumihiko Sori (producer of "Appleseed," the 2004 sci-fi based on a manga by Shirow Masamune), continue to gather press for their revolutionary 3-D CGI and dynamism. Meanwhile, "Appleseed" sequel "Appleseed: Ex Machina," which came from studio Micott & Basara for an Oct. 20 release in Japan, does not disappoint with its slick action sequences, amazingly detailed imagery and high-energy pacing.

October 25, 2007

CoFesta Unites Film, TV, Gadgets, and Games
Japanese pop culture exports -- from Gundam robots to "Godzilla" pics to Sony PlayStations -- have never been promoted as a single entity. Until now. Co-sponsored by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the Japan Intl. Contents Festival (CoFesta) has brought together a series of events from such industries as manga comics, animation, broadcast programming and videogames to promote the latest in Japanese coolness to the world.

October 24, 2007

A Tribute to Cinema Legends in Ome
To step onto the platform at JR Ome station is to begin a journey back through the history of cinema. A stoic John Wayne, cowboy hat set atop his head, stares at arriving and departing passengers from a billboard for the film "Stagecoach." Waiting inside the tunnel leading to the ticket gate is Audrey Hepburn, black sunglasses dangling from her lips in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Outside, and throughout the city's streets, the fronts of many shops and the sides of buildings feature yet more ominous imagery of film legends past, each brimming with action and vibrant colors: Charlie Chaplin peers from the edge of a brick wall in "Modern Times" and Toshiro Mifune raises his sword in Akira Kurosawa's samurai flick "Yojimbo."

September 29, 2007

Three Premieres, Sci-Fi Classics to Mark Tokyo Festival
"I have tried to make this festival truly enjoyable for real cinema lovers," said Tsuguhiko Kadokawa, who is in his final year as TIFF chairman, at a press conference earlier this week. "I have wanted to position TIFF as a significant event by giving birth to new talent and nurturing new cinema people." But, he added, now is the time for TIFF to become truly international, something he feels this year's schedule exemplifies.

September 20, 2007

Government Subsidy Stripped from Naked News Program
With content originating perhaps at bath-side, where a caster will undress as she runs through the day's events and simultaneously enter the tub, or along side of a weather map, where a forecaster's clothes will be pulled off seemingly by a raging snow storm, "Nude News Station" integrated the five-minute "Nude Sign Language News" program last year. It began with a fully clothed sign-language signer making motions in a corner of the screen to supplement the main anchor, in the buff, reading the news in the center.

August 29, 2007

Toho Upgrades Theaters
Though the studio arm of Toho has made its name by bringing powerful beasts and sword-wielding samurais to the screen over its 75 years, it wasn't until recently that its exhibition division became a true industry dominator. Toho Cinemas, formerly Virgin Cinemas, merged with Toho's exhibition department to become Japan's largest exhib. But in shaping its future the company will be looking beyond simply girth.

August 28, 2007

Right-Wingers in Kudanshita
Kamijo has taken a position directly opposite a Mizuho Bank branch not far from Kudanshita subway station - about half way between Nishi Kanda Park and Yasukuni. Given that he is about ready to engage in battle, he is surprisingly calm, even leisurely taking sips on a bottled tea. "We must stop them from advancing to the shrine," he implores. As he waits, convoys of trucks descend upon Kudanshita, their presence made obvious by the waving hinomaru flags, the painted chrysanthemum crests, and of course the unmistakable military jingles blaring from the sound systems.

August 20, 2007

The Right Thing: Yasukuni on the Anniversary
On Wednesday, August 15, the anniversary of the conclusion of World War II, great debate will once again fall upon Yasukuni Shrine as embattled Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decides whether to accommodate conservative pressures and follow the footsteps of his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, who during his administration repeatedly raised tensions with Japan's Asian neighbors by visiting the historic rallying point for militarism.

August 12, 2007

Meet an Intelligent Designer of the Transformers
If a robot is to save mankind, then it had better look the part. Optimus Prime, the lead robot battling evil in the film "Transformers," appeared too weak in its initial design, thought Keiji Yamaguchi, a creature developer at Industrial Light & Magic. "So I revised his face so that it looked stronger, more heroic," he says. Perhaps a minor point to the casual filmgoer, but such detail was routine in perfecting the transformation sequences in director Michael Bay's $150 million blockbuster.

August 9, 2007

Tokyo Right-Wing Spotter's Sheet
In Tokyo the trucks are hard to miss. With their sides adorned with hinomaru flags and slogans proclaiming the divinity of the emperor, these darkened fortresses on wheels might be parked in front of Shibuya's Hachiko or seen ripping down Yamate-dori through Nakameguro as anti-foreigner speeches and wartime anthems, fully brash and crackling, emanate from their mounted speakers.

August 7, 2007

Bullets over Phnom Penh
Samples of the available weapons, all well-oiled, can be seen hanging by wood pegs mounted onto a bamboo wall. A Luger pistol, an Uzi submachine gun, and an AK47 automatic rifle are but a few. Dangling strings of ammunition round out what is truly an intimidating scene. At the register young boys fill empty magazines with bullets from boxes.

August 3, 2007

Taste of Pyongyang
As far as restaurant themes go, conventional marketing might find Marxism to be an odd genre given the success of such standards as rock n' roll or 1950s doo-wop. But make no mistake - reservations are absolutely necessary at Restaurant Pyongyang in Phnom Penh. Inside this 25-table eatery of hermit kingdom blandness, slim and fair-skinned North Korean waitresses sing, dance in teams, and play violin in between serving a mix of Asian fare to customers who are afforded a zoo-like peek inside the illicit dining room of Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il.

August 1, 2007

FM 107 Comes to Port Vila
Inside the booth, where CDs are stacked in the corners and computer monitors are set next to the microphones, DJs play new tracks by the likes of pop-queen Gwen Stefani and oldies by dinosaurs Credence Clearwater Revival and Air Supply. Certainly such programming is standard in the industrialized world, but FM 107 hopes to bring vibrancy to Vanuatu, a small island nation in the Pacific.

July 25, 2007

Life during Wartime: Vanuatu in World War II
Though a young boy at the time, Wallace Andre clearly recollects that moment six decades ago when a U.S. dive bomber began to encounter trouble while paying a visit to his coastal village on the eastern edge of Vanuatu's capital island of Efate. "Something happened," Wallace remembers. "Maybe the pilot looked back at us and became distracted. Nobody was ever sure."

July 23, 2007

Bulbous Hair Gives "Brand King" a Head Start
People aligning themselves with a unique hairstyle is nothing new. But Tsutomu Morita is likely the first pitchman via pompadour. "Some people don't believe it is real," Morita says in a back room of his discount luxury-brands store, referring to the black bulbous bob that hangs over his eyes. "Others think I have something hidden inside."

July 16, 2007

Yuko Tojo: Grandfather Not a War Criminal
The granddaughter of former wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, who was hanged as a war criminal following the Tokyo tribunals, believes that modern Japan is a nation bereft of dignity, a condition she hopes to change by running in this month's House of Councillors election.

July 4, 2007

Naomi Kawase: Government Not Supporting Film Industry
"What I really desire, not only for myself but for the entire Japanese film industry," Kawase told a press luncheon last week, "is to have some kind of system in place where it is fairly easy to ensure that Japanese films are distributed abroad in a very systematic way." Though "The Mourning Forest" was aided as to production and subtitling costs by the government-run Agency for Cultural Affairs, whose annual film budget is 2.2 billion yen, Kawase would like to see more than simply money. Two weeks ago Kawase paid a visit to Akira Amari, the Minister of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to explain that an open dialogue between film-makers and bureaucrats should be established.

June 22, 2007

Hosts Set Hearts Beating in Kabukicho
Then, just as quickly as it came to life, the party freezes to allow for a cork from a Dom Perignon bottle (white) to be popped in silence. As the performers huddle around the four guests, a boisterous shout of "Kampai!" breaks the quiet. With the ladies, glasses in hand, absolutely beaming, an escalating vocal roar from the troupe signals the resumption of the pulsing music. "This is an original space," says host Ageha, 21, who is dressed in a velvet coat, curly black bow, and lip ring. "Providing a dreamlike environment, as with the champagne toast, is something special. That is the most important thing. You can't do this at an izakaya."

May 20, 2007

Classy Ads Lure Quirky Japan Audiences
"The girls in Shibuya are the ones making the scene in Japan," Rai says of the ultra-fashionable district of Tokyo in which her theater is located. "But they have a very peculiar sensibility. Rather than thinking in words, they react to music and art." Instead of using the standard promotional shot of a glum Bill Murray seated at the edge of his hotel bed, the theater splashed an alluring image of Scarlett Johansson's backside, clad in pink panties, across fliers and billboards. The approach worked. Though the film only earned $4.2 million in Japan, Cinema Rise accounted for a full one-fifth of that haul, making it the eighth-most-popular film in the theater's 21-year history.

May 18, 2007

The Canals of Edo
Japan's construction industry is renowned for its proclivity for paving over anything that does not stand still. But in terms of magnitude, today's concrete pourers were certainly rivaled by the work of their predecessors, who cut and filled what is now Ginza into a network of canals and bridges before transforming the area into the asphalt slab it is today.

April 23, 2007

Matsuzaka's Duel with Ichiro from Tokyo...
Wednesday's battle, six years later, pitted Ichiro against rookie Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was making his second start of the season for the Boston Red Sox. The game once again left Japan's capital speechless, but for a different reason: Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez completely dominated, stealing the show with a one-hit shutout.

April 14, 2007

Asakusa Jinta March back in Time
Unless in search of a cheap, dusty souvenir for a relative, Tokyo's historic Asakusa district isn't on the radar of too many folks under the age of 70. But Asakusa Jinta, a seven-piece band that mixes elements of ska, swing, punk and chindonya (traditional street performance), is hoping to bring the area's time-honored sensibilities to the international stage.

April 7, 2007

Tokyo Midtown to Transform Hedonistic "High Touch" Haven
As any good street tout will tell you, high foot-traffic is the key to success. Sure, he might toss out his chest, flash his best smile and smoothly sell you an explanation for the apparent contradiction between the shapely, high-class ladies he promises and the remarkably low entry price to his establishment, but even a true charmer will not be effective talking to a sidewalk of empty concrete.So it is conceivable that with the opening of Tokyo Midtown, Tokyo's newest mixed-use, high-rise complex, lucrative business opportunities will be abundant for the throng of hustlers roaming the pavement of Gaien-Higashi- dori just west of the intersection with Roppongi-dori. Or will they?

March 30, 2007

Tokyo Midtown Opens
Following its opening day on March 30th, Midtown will be poised to push aside its slightly older urban development brother, the nearby Roppongi Hills, to become Tokyo's latest monument to well-heeled excess in an area known more for being a haven of hedonism.

March 28, 2007

Trey Hillman Hopes Ham Ready for Repeat
The loss of key players during the off-season will be large stumbling blocks for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters as they attempt to repeat as champions of Nippon Pro Baseball. Number-three hitter Michihiro Ogasawara left for the Yomiuri Giants via free agency, popular and ostentatious centerfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo retired, and left-handed reliever Hideki Okajima took his miniscule 2.14 ERA to the Boston Red Sox. "We can't replace him so we won't try," Hillman said in his native Texas drawl of infielder Ogasawara, who last year led the Pacific League with 32 homers and 100 RBIs.

March 27, 2007

Honoka Takes Top Prize at Adult Broadcasting Awards
The Academy Awards finally gave Martin Scorsese his due for a job well done. Likewise, AV actress Honoka took the top prize (Best Actress) at last week's 2007 Adult Broadcasting Awards for jobs well given. Held in a theater within the love hotel area of Tokyo's Shibuya district, the annual event - titled "Eroide Onna Matsuri" (Erotic Ladies Festival) - was a mix of ceremonies and competitions for the hottest female talent from the roster of adult channels on satellite broadcasters SkyperfecTV and jSAT.

March 21, 2007

Riding the Wave of Boris
Boris is devastating on stage. The group pummels its audience with wave after wave of extreme loudness. "We try to create what we think to be an appropriate atmosphere for our sound with the audience," Atsuo says. "Cranking up the volume is a part of that. We feel that it is as important as such things as melody." To demonstrate his impression of their sound, Atsuo holds both of his hands in front of himself and flaps them in an undulating motion. The message: Come surf the wave of Boris.

March 13, 2007

The Improvised World of Shibusashirazu
At the center of the commotion is the band's shaggy-haired and hunched-over conductor, Daisuke Fuwa. Go-go dancers in sparkling cocktail dresses and fishnets enter from the sides to join the band's MC, Shinichi Watabe, as he attempts to provide a semblance of order to the carnival atmosphere by parading around in his colorful happi coat and hachimaki (headband). Off to the stage's edges, butoh performers then up the insanity to the nth degree, slinking their powder-white bodies atop isolated platforms from where they twist their almost naked frames and crinkle their faces. Certainly there is no other group like Shibusashirazu.

March 7, 2007

The Arrival Lounge on Fongafale
Tuvalu's remoteness creates the stereotypical tropical paradise: glassy wave after glassy wave splashes upon its beaches and seasoned tuna steaks are cooked to order in the restaurant inside Tuvalu's only hotel. It is this existence, however, that might prove to be its undoing - scientists claim that global warming will eventually send the Pacific pouring over this tiny Polynesian nation's narrow strips of terra firma comprised of few topographic features. But as a short time on Fongafale - the largest of the 24 islets that comprise the capital atoll of Funafuti - will attest, present complications that come with an island existence are more pressing.

February 28, 2007

Gyroball Ready for Spring Showcase...or Not
This week Boston Red Sox right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, Japan's latest export to M.L.B., will be attracting more than the usual amount of cameras when he makes his first throws from a mound at Red Sox camp in Fort Myers. Not because of the twenty-six-year-old's knee-buckling curve, his devastating change-up, nor even for the Red Sox hefty investment of $103.1 million dollars (which includes the $51.1 million dollar posting fee paid to his former club, the Seibu Lions), but due to his rumored "gyroball" - a pitch that is delivered toward the plate in a spiral similar to a football.

February 14, 2007

Stake House: Telcos Place Their Bets
The pot has been raised in Japan's telecommunications poker game. Very recently, Japan's largest mobile phone company, NTT DoCoMo, took a 3% stake in Nippon Television, a play that further strengthens a relationship that began early last year with the seven-year, $83 million limited liability venture D.N. Dream Partners (DNDP). The move, which follows DoCoMo's purchase of 2.6% of Fuji Television Network shares in January 2006, is the latest gamble linking a broadcaster and a telecom giant in a bid to boost services to customers, and represents another step toward a union within the two media sectors.

February 13, 2007

Coming Soon: A Digital Theater Near You
Warner Bros. Entertainment last month continued with the digital cinema experiment "4K Pure Cinema" by transmitting a digital version of Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" from Los Angeles to Japan via fiber-optic lines. D-cinema's sharp images and multichannel digital sound combine to give theatergoers a new experience.

February 12, 2007

Staying Afloat: Tuvalu's Dot TV
For Tuvalu, a low-lying Pacific nation of nine narrow coral atolls perched precariously at the edge of perhaps rising waters, its approach in recent years for staying afloat has been more about solvency than sea levels. Once an example of dot-com excess, .tv is getting a second chance as interest in broadcasting video over the Internet has reached frenzied proportions - an opportunity that Tuvalu hopes will provide support to its isolated lands of 11,800 people facing an uncertain future.

February 7, 2007

Jail Talk
As the interview proceeds, Hinoki, his greasy mop of dark hair slicked back and his eyes peering through round glasses, randomly slaps his face and pops breath mints to sooth sudden bursts of nervousness. A handkerchief is always at the ready for when he starts sneezing uncontrollably. "Yes, yes, it happens sometimes," Hinoki assures his client, "but I'm fine. So then...?" Thus begins "Sekken" (Jail Talk), a 70-minute monologue performed by Takayasu Komiya.

January 21, 2007

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