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Ninja in the Woods

While I certainly remember being so bored at High School that the imaginary was a sole relief, and really did once see a student running on the roof, convinced she was a cat and chased by teachers, students in Barnegat, New Jersey went completely off the page recently, confined to class after reporting a ninja running through the woods. With all public schools in the area locked down, and presumably guarded by clueless B-movie henchmen, the ninja was within half an hour revealed, mask torn climatically off, to be something else: a camp counselor dressed in karate uniform, carrying a plastic sword. Which is only marginally less disturbing than an actual ninja in the woods. By way of explanation, the counselor, apparently late to a costume day at a nearby middle school, entered fully into the spirit of a shinobi assassin and took a stealthy, speedy shortcut through the trees. It seems crying “crazy man dressed all in black!” really can get you off class. But don’t forget to mention that he ate your homework.

Ninja Dragon: The Final Fight Scene

With quite a lot to do with the previous story—ninjas, swords and being completely lost in the trees—Godfrey Ho’s seminally bad Ninja Dragon (1986) features a final fight scene somebody should have called the police on—twenty-three somersaults, two moustaches, a quite disturbing use of eyeliner and the following script:
Bruce Stallion (Paulo Tocha): You're so stupid—you killed Fox and my men Gordon the Ninja (Richard Harrison): And you, you started the war. Bruce: You were the winner, but I'm not going to give you that chance, this time. Gordon: You're on. You don't know an important Chinese principle. Bruce: My principle is to chop you down! Gordon: Hmm. You must use the Chinese against the Chinese. You're playing the game of death! Bruce: Nonsense! You're going to give me back every piece that you took. Gordon: Unless you die a ninja. Bruce: Ok...

Obama, Japan: town with a precedent

Population approximately 33,000, importance approximately not much—a sleepy seaside town on the other side of nowhere is now the centre of world attention, and all because of its namesake: President Elect Barack Obama. Meaning “little beach” and literally located on one, the Japanese Obama lies due north of Kyoto and five hours by train from Tokyo, and until the junior Senator from Illinois entered national politics, was better known for not much at all—fishing and lacquered chopsticks in between. But Obama the President has changed everything for Obama the town, and the change is—to appropriate the campaign slogan—“change you can believe.” Change began in February when resident and president of the Obama for Obama Support Group Seiji Fujihara asked a friend and occasional graphic designer to draw an image of the then Senator. Sketched in ten minutes and only a partial likeness, the presidential seal style logo was none the less immediately liked, and soon appeared city-wide on t-shirts, chop-sticks and even steamed cakes—Obama’s head grilled onto the back of sweet adzuki bean cakes. Thousands of citizens have signed up for membership. Caught in the spirit of the moment, and possibly something even stronger, Support Group members have recorded a theme song truly hard to believe: Obama is Beautiful World—a catchy sing along part Village People, part Casiotone preset melody; every part uniquely Japanese (music video at bottom):
Obama is Beautiful World The sea spreading far out and the bright sunshine reflect the future of your country, America... La-la-la-la-la Obama! Obama is beautiful world! Obama is No. 1!
What's next for the town that would be President and could be without precedent? With the Obama Girls hula troup still dancing in the streets, Obama Mayor Kouji Matsuzaki has announced a statue of the President Elect for City Hall—“a token of the great historical moment for the name Obama,” while November 4th will henceforth be an annual city holiday—presumably named “Obama Day.”

Obama Is Beautiful World

The Obama for Obama song, as performed by the Anyone Brothers Band. Yes, there actually is an album too...

Hold the sausages

Christchurch meat free sausage sizzleHere in New Zealand, where real men eat meat and real men are all you meet, vegetarianism remains the practise of people “with a sheep loose in the top paddock.” Or to lose the colloquial, in a game of marbles, the vegetarian would be missing a few. Wooly in the head myself for the last thirteen years, I have lost count of the times carnivores have looked at me blank, uncomprehending; the queries of “but do you eat chicken, or fish?” constant. About vegetarianism in New Zealand, the penny has yet to drop, and ends are yet to meet. So it was about as surprising as a sausage wrapped in bread that the Christchurch Vegetarian Centre found themselves under the grill in trying to fire up a fund-raising sausage sizzle with non-meat sausages this week.

New Zealand needs meat

The selfless sizzle was booked several months in advance outside a large hardware store, a much sought after location, and management were told the sausages would be soy, yet on arrival a staff member informed the meat-free merchants of an unforeseen emergency—the public of New Zealand “needed meat.” Meatless and proud, the group were only allowed to stay on the proviso they erected large signs warning of their vegetable contamination. Frying up a storm in front of a sign proclaiming “Vegetarian Sausages Only,” Christchurch Vegetarian Centre co-ordinator Yolanda Soryl expressed her meat-free beef at their treatment:
“I was really shocked they (the hardware store) were so ‘anti’ trying something new. They told us customers would be really irate if they didn't get their meat but we've had no complaints from customers and some people told us they came down especially to try some.”

Vegetarian Resources

Story Source

Vegetarian?

Has this Burger King restaurant gone to the vege-dogs? It seems the hamburger giant and restaurant brand that promises to “have it your way” suddenly went away, and not a meat-burger on site. Perhaps minimum waged, barely aged staff were whimpering behind counters and under chairs, too afraid to “meet?” Or were they just out of meat?

Poetic Realism: the film genre a director died to make

More a tendency than a genre in its own right, Poetic Realism was a highly influential yet short-lived movement in French cinema of the 1930s, a brief outbreak of lyricism sandwiched between the bludgeoning horrors of two world wars. Unlike Soviet montage or French impressionism, poetic realism was never a unified movement or ideology, rather a loosely conceived feeling and evocation: poetic, otherworldly at times, yet committed to showing reality “as it was”—a cinema of life and of heart.

Despite the fact that he only lived to make four films, director Jean Vigo is credited with founding poetic realism, first with Zéro de conduite (1933), an unusually realistic evocation of an unhappy childhood that was banned by censors, and his masterpiece, L’Atalante (1934).

Namesake of a Greek Goddess, L’Atalante was originally a simplistic story assigned to the director by distributors Gaumont, but Vigo transformed it completely, employing the dreamlike cinematography of Russian-born Boris Kaufman—who would later work in Hollywood—and a surreal, poetic style never before seen in cinema.

On the surface a straightforward romantic tale—two newly weds on a river barge cruise who fight, separate and then are reunited—L’Atalante is a masterpiece, for as New Wave director François Truffaut describes, in filming prosaic words and acts, Vigo effortlessly achieved poetry.

Separated from his wife, the distraught husband imagines her reflected in the water. Simultaneously, departed wife encounters horror after horror on the streets of Depression-era Paris; beggars and thieves are everywhere, men make unwanted approaches and her handbag is stolen—persons and actions all evocative of a broken and unhappy inner state. In deep regret she forlornly but fruitlessly searches for husband and barge—shots of her longing for him in silence. By chance a crew member discovers her and the couple are reunited.

Although highly poetic, L’Atalante is also grounded in reality, the director alternating the bitter-sweet narrative of separation and reconciliation with unflinching images of the grit and ugliness of everyday life, a practise never before seen in contemporary cinema—usually located in the artificial and fantastic—and rare even today. The film is evocative of the Japanese conception of beauty, mono no aware (a sensitivity to things), in which beauty is said to exist even in its opposite; that which is ugly as reminder of beauty absent.

Critic Hal Hinson goes so far as to suggest Vigo’s poetic realism is other-world inspired:

“There’s such innocence and invention in Vigo's style here that the film seems less a consciously constructed work of art than an emanation.”

He continues: “The mood Vigo creates here is a kind of enchanted melancholy, and we feel submerged in it... The effect is almost narcotic. The picture seems to drift, and though almost nothing appears to be happening, our senses are set at a heightened level, as if we were asleep and fully awake at the same time. Vigo moves the story forward by poetic association; there's a logic to the way in which it's ordered, but the links are imperceptible. They're organised by feeling, not intellect.”

Jean Vigo
Jean Vigo

While making L’Atalante Vigo was so ill that he constantly risked collapse, and even directed some scenes from a stretcher. Remarking on the director's state of mind during this period, Truffaut suggests that “It is easy to conclude that he was in a kind of fever while he worked,” and when a friend advised Vigo to guard his health, the director replied that “he lacked the time and had to give everything right away.”

Due to the high degree of realism employed in his films—often to unflattering effect—Jean Vigo was accused of being unpatriotic, his work heavily censored by the French Government. L’Atalante has never been fully restored from the butchering it received from distributors, who attempted to increase its popularity by reducing the running time and changing the title to Le Chaland Qui Passe (The Passing Barge)—the name of a popular song inserted like an axe into the film. L'Atalante was advertised as “a film inspired by the celebrated sung so admirably song by Lys Gauty.”

Jean Vigo died of complications from tuberculosis in 1934 aged just 29, only a few days after the first disappointing cinematic run of L’Atalante. His beloved wife Lydou, lying beside him as he died, got up from the bed and ran down a long corridor to a room at the end. Friends caught her as she was about to jump out a window.

Vigo has been described as the epitome of the radical, passionate film-maker who fights every step of the way against lesser imagination and sensibility, and he is perhaps lucky not to have lived to see his masterpiece so barbarically hacked to pieces. History has viewed Vigo’s work more favourably, with L’Atalante being ranked as the 10th greatest film of all time in a 1962 Sight & Sound poll, rising to 6th best in 1992.

L’Atalante, together with similar works of poetic realism by contemporaries Jean Renoir and Marcel Carné, significantly changed the course of French and world cinema, leading directly to the Italian Neorealist movement of the late 1940s, and the French New Wave (la Nouvelle Vague) of the 1950s and 60s, which in turn inspired an increasing sense of realism in Hollywood cinema. Many of the Neorealist and Nouvelle Vague directors worked upon the sets of poetic realist films before beginning their own careers, and allusions to Jean Vigo and L'Atalante can be found in many of their works.

The Restoration of L'Atalante by Jean Vigo

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What Matter Age?

What goes around, comes aroundThere’s a funny saying about things that go around coming around. Usually it’s karma, an eye for an eye and a sow for a reap—the great spiritual law of the universe that dictates bad things for things done badly, good for that done gladly. But inspiration goes around as well, and more like a fire than the predictable arc of an arrow—leaping, dancing, taking light as it spreads; a force that creates and multiplies rather than destroys. A blog comment by a reader inspired me to write an entire post in return, a list of childhood memories which beget and became My First Meme, a charming, illumining anecdote on age, meditation and self-transcendence at Sumangali.org:
Age does not matter. Until his passing at age 76, Sri Chinmoy proved that to me. Through his life of meditation and self-transcendence he showed me that perhaps I am not as limited as I think. I hope to continue forgetting how old I really am. I hope to feel amused, rather than bound, if I do happen to remember, and grateful to Sri Chinmoy, especially if others find it funny too.
The torch is passed, the wheel turned. And so it goes...

What Matter Age?

I can relate to the sentiments above in so many ways. At age thirteen, and in my first year in High School, I would at times be mistaken for sixteen or older, not because of my size, but my attitude and demeanour. I was overly serious and “adult,” something of an grown up trapped in a child’s body, and for the most part related to my elders better than my peers. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless it is making you miserable. It was and then some. Now twenty years on and thirty-three, I find age to be a bit of a joke. I have reached a kind of dim, twilight zone, like a purgatory between youth and senility, where I have to stop and think to remember my age. I still can not believe I am in my thirties, and for that matter during my twenties I could not believe I was not a teen. This is only because of meditation. With the regular practise of meditation—in which I am certainly no expert, but hopefully an advertisement for: a poster-child for meditation’s slow-dawning felicitation to experience life in the ever present, ever lasting now—I again feel as I did before those forgettable, teen-aged years. Like a child. Like myself once more. Musing upon the inevitable forward march of age, I am reminded of learning to drive recently—several years ago in fact—in which getting over the insistent feeling that I was an impostor acting as a grown-up—driving seeming like such a grown-up thing to be doing—was far harder than getting a handle on the rules, firm grip of the wheel. John Gillespie, postmanLikewise my career. After years striding the streets as a postman—a card-carrying job for loners, introverts and others who wish to drop out of the ‘nine to five,’ or in my case, approximate a wandering, meditating monk, composing poetry while roaming up to thirteen kilometres a day, I exchanged hair shirt for one starched, press-ganged into a pre-press job with a design company, and rejoined my last seen at university, career-making peers on the cusp of their thirties, threshold or over of marriage, mortgages and children. What a joke it all was. Feeling like a child trapped in a far too big body I had to get head around idea of being an “adult,” or at least its outer appearance; joining serious colleagues in serious decisions about heavy responsibilities and pressing problems—not to mention getting in line for performance appraisals and promotion, a necessary evil when regular, expensive overseas trips to supply my meditation habit—or self-enlightenment sanity excursions as I subtitle them—were a necessity. Throughout my extended tour of the five-days-a-week world of adult duty, I was always keenly conscious of the illusory nature of it all, of its secondary status to the pursuit of my ageless, real identity. Funnily enough, and this is a very real letter of recommendation for meditation, I find that people value a person who can bring a child’s touch to a serious situation, a person able to laugh and to joke, remain good-natured and even-tempered when others do not. I was genuinely moved by the extent my colleagues showed their appreciation when it was time to move on from that job—their sincere, heart-felt sentiment running to pages on hand-made leaving card. Not to mention all of the hugs I had to dodge. In feeling like a child still, I in truth should be grateful to my mother, whose raising of me was anything but conventional—I am “old” enough, or at least wise enough to appreciate this now. Now sixty-five and looking barely fifty, she is a guileless, child-like woman, and as far away from adult politics and game-playing as is possible; it is I her child who has to point out the alternative interpretation of occasional, unintentional faux pas. Her youth-like, light of heart qualities I once mistakenly sought to uproot in myself, leave behind in a wrong-headed, head-strong rush to “grow up”—early, regrettable attempts at self-transformation with a labourer’s pitchfork, rather than the meditation’s gentle pruning. Sri Chinmoy by Pavitrata TaylorBut most of all, I can relate to Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy of self-transcendence—transcendence of mind, belief, achievement and of age. In this respect alone I have so much to be grateful to my meditation teacher for. Initially self-taught in meditation—I am something of an autodidact in most things; a good quality when one remembers to be humble, or the much that one does not know—I have come to learn that meditation is so much more than a moment of peace, or a silent mind only in a silent room. Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy of the child-like heart, of living as a child rather than living childishly, has re-invented my life in the most remarkable ways, transformed me in a fashion I once could not imagine. Compared to my former self, you could say I am re-born. Photo Credits
  1. Teh Google
  2. Mail model John Gillespie, Post News, Dec 2003
  3. Pavitrata Taylor