How I Came to Love Watching Movies

When I was a child, I knew only a handful of movies. Cartoons like Studio Ghibli and Disney films. Musicals like The Sound of Music and The King and I. Stuff I caught on TV because my parents were watching it, like Alien and Poltergeist. (Yeah, I know—what was my 5-year-old self thinking? I have a great story about me damn near killing myself while watching a scary movie that involves a donkey, but that's for another time.) Needless to say, my taste in movies as a child was limited and fairly narrow.


5 Tips for New College Students

In the second half of June I got to run some of the New Student Orientations for our department. The students started their day early in the morning, and then in the afternoon they met with faculty members from their major departments (e.g., me) to learn about how to choose classes for their degree, in order to prepare themselves for the registration session later in the day.

Each time a group of students and I met, we talked about points to keep in mind to get oriented to being in college. Unlike Transfer Student Orientations, NSOs include a component for understanding degree requirements, reading the course catalog, completing prerequisites, and wading through semesterly course schedules—things that are easy but that take a bit of getting used to.

There were other points, though, that I wanted incoming students to remember, as they worked their way through their degree programs. Before I forget them (and so that I can file away my papers for NSO), I thought I would log them here.


A Long Road to Publishing a Peer-Reviewed Journal Article

On 5 June 2017, I delivered my first peer-reviewed journal article into this world. (I'm not counting my 2006 article about English acquisition, sorry.) Though much less painful than a childbirth, the process took a hell of a lot longer than bringing a human baby into this world.

If you're one of those people who can publish articles while in a Ph.D. program; can balance writing and teaching skillfully; mostly get "publish with minor revisions" as a submission response; or can publish more than one article a year, what I write below may come as a shock to you. Or appalling. I don't care. I'm extremely thankful for this publication, and I know I couldn't have done it without help from the people around me every step of the way.

This post is for anyone out there who has ever felt like it's damn near impossible to get a publication out. I am here to tell you: It can be done; it just might take a really, really long time.


CV and Makeup

I submitted grades last Wednesday so for a couple of days after that I binge-watched makeup tutorials on YouTube. As per usual.

And then I also used my newfound freedom to give comments on a CV that's in development. Man, I love going through CVs.

Then as I was rolling around on the floor trying to finish reading two books before the library due date, I realize that the process of putting on makeup was very similar to the process of revising a CV.

Yeah, I know. The kinds of things I think of when summer vacation is knocking on my door.


Yes I Watched the New Shinkai Movie and No I Will Not Recommend It to You

I am in the midst of grading 90 papers, so of course I take a break by posting for the month of April.

This past Monday I had the chance to watch the anime film Your Name (2016) by SHINKAI Makoto. Some of my students had seen it at its world premiere at Anime Expo 2016, so needless to say, I was quite late to the naming party.

I had, to be honest, not been terribly enthusiastic about watching this film. I've watched a good number of Shinkai's other works (that is to say, all of his feature films), and I am very public about the fact that I am not a huge fan of them. I had a suspicion that I was not going to feel much different about this new one either.

But of course, as a professional, I knew I couldn't hold my head up high in class if I didn't at least give it a chance. And give it a chance, I did. Twice, in fact. And after my two viewings, I think I feel much more comfortable saying to the world, "I told you so."

Let me start with the positives. The artwork in Your Name is beautiful. And by "artwork," I'm mostly talking about the backdrops and sceneries. But Shinkai has always been good at that—his 5 Centimeters Per Second (2007) and The Garden of Words (2013) are so lovely that you feel like you can just step into the screen. The improvement is more with the characters: whereas the characters from his debut feature film Voices of a Distant Star (2002) and the more recent Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011) look like they are positively lopsided or from a '90s (or even '80s) anime (or both), the characters in Your Name actually look like contemporary anime characters. The problem with that, though, is that they look like they stepped out of a HOSODA Mamoru film and into this new Shinkai film. Hey man, if you can't maintain integrity in the way your characters look (like the way MIYAZAKI Hayao can), then stick with the lopsided peeps. (In fact, I would argue that the characters in The Garden of Words look both refreshing and fitting for the mood of the story—I'm not sure why he couldn't employ that style again here.)

The other positive is the four songs by RADWIMPS included in the soundtrack. While it took me a while to get into them, after a few listens, I think I really like all of them. I can't say the same for the English versions (I don't care how fluent the lead singer is, I'm not backing down about this or the Utada English album), but the Japanese songs are quite lovely.

The negatives, however, far outweigh the positives for me. Even the soundtrack—beyond the four songs—seems ordinary and not particularly evocative of the mood that, I assume, I'm supposed to get from the story, given the kinds of reviews (er, headlines) I've been reading of the film. The score by NODA Yōjirō of RADWIMPS doesn't hold a candle to music by folks like TAKAGI Masakatsu (who's done music for Hosoda's Wolf Children and the documentary Kingdom of Dreams and Madness about Studio Ghibli), and it just about disintegrates when listened to after HISAISHI Joe's still-classic works for some of Miyazaki's films. I mean, stuff by Takagi makes you want to fucking DANCE. That stuff is genius.

And the story. Oh, the story. I'm not unsatisfied just by the fact that the story, like most of Shinkai's works, revolves around a vacuous romance. I'm not unsatisfied just by the fact that there's absolutely no good reason why the two protagonists should be in love with each other. I'm more upset by the fact that the story of Your Name is basically the story of every other Shinkai film that's ever been released. If you listen to the voiceover narration from The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004), you'll think you were listening to the beginning/middle/end of Your Name. And just as I tell my students, you can't submit the same work twice and get credit for it both times.

I've read many, many manga works about body swaps that are so much more compelling than this one. If you want to watch an anime film about time travel that will make you weep until you think you've turned into a raisin (and where the emotions of the protagonist make so much sense that it pains you), go rent Hosoda's The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. If you want to hear really good songs that you can sing along to while bawling at the same time, you can probably try the OKU Hanako songs from the same film. It's all been done before, and better. Sometimes by Shinkai himself (though in that case, they weren't necessarily better, they were probably about the same quality). Anime viewers, please, please explain to me why people are giving Your Name such positive reviews. I just... I just...

I've read magazine articles that pick up on the feelings of Mitsuha, who feels trapped in her non-urban hometown and feels strongly the desire to move to Tokyo for university and work. That, I can understand, might be a poignant element within the story. But that seems not to be a throughline at all, replaced by the age-old, fairy tale quest to find "the boy". I wished I could have seen more in terms of Mitsuha's longing for a maternal figure, or even just for a cool female senpai that she could learn from, given the loss of her own mother and her developing relationship with Okudera Senpai when she is living life as Taki in Tokyo. But those elements of absent parents (which also feature in 5 Centimeters, Garden, etc.) are so underemphasized, even when they seem to form such a large part of the characters' psychological states. Distance, loneliness, desire, longing, love—those are all beautiful and crucial elements of Shinkai's stories. But can you really produce story after story based on just that? Can you not give us something more?? Do you take us for fools, who only think about finding (or being apart from) our heteronormative partners in a melodramatic scene in outerspace, surrounded by comets and meteors?!?!

Please, Shinkai. I am quite gleeful about the fact that the Japanese Academy Film Prize for Best Animation of the Year went to KATABUCHI Sunao's In This Corner of the World for 2016. I also do not care how many box office records your film has broken. Every time I meet people who rave about how good Your Name is, I will understand that we have our differences, and that it is not my place to tell them how limited their worldview is. Nope, I shall not do that. But as someone who's lucky enough to watch anime for six hours every weekday, I can confidently say: I AM ON TO YOU. I know your tricks, and as long as I am living, I will not let others fall for your sneaky, self-serving ways. There is so much more to life and cultural texts than simply the boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl shtick you keep playing. And one day, the world will agree with me.

[Photo courtesy of Nan-Cheng Tsai on Flickr. Thank you!]


OK, Look; or, My Ramblings on the BBC Interview Interruption

I'm writing this post on a Friday night because I have a deadline looming ahead this coming Tuesday, and I know that this weekend is going to be unpleasant. And because I only posted once in February and I'm thinking that it's going to be a similar situation in March, I'm just going to take this moment to bust out something for the month and also procrastinate at the same time. I never did dislike killing two birds with one stone.

So, this morning my alarm goes off at 6:50 AM, like it does every day (which, may I remind you, is still 10 minutes earlier than in the song "Skid Row"). I'm snoozing it and tossing and turning because my neck and shoulders have continued to hurt since the night before. Before the alarm goes off a second time, I receive a link to a BBC story about how a BBC interview with a Korea specialist was interrupted because the interviewee's kids walked into the interview room.

I've clearly got nothing better than do (except, perhaps, to actually get myself out of bed), so I click on the link and watch the video in bed. And, I don't know about you, but it horrified me in a very strange way.

Today I had meetings back-to-back and then was hounded by my impending doom/deadline, so I haven't had a chance to read/see what others have said about the video clip. But, to me there are just so many things wrong that happen in the clip.

So, you're an academic and have spent years writing and teaching about a certain topic. Then the country that happens to be your research site has a political scandal, and you're tapped by the BBC for an interview on the topic. (I'm not sure if this is the case for our BBC interviewee, but I speculate.) Hey, if that happened to me, I'd just figured I'd made it and drop the mike right then and there.

But gosh darn it, your kids have to walk into the room and screw it all up.

But, but. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't try to push the kid out of sight, skillfully looking only at my computer screen, which captures both my BBC interviewer's image and my own (and my room that also now includes my child/children). I'm also pretty sure I wouldn't be sitting in a room that had books laid out in strategic locations, because my books like to live very crampedly in my actual bookshelves, where I believe books belong.

I'm pretty sure that if my kid walked into the room, I would give myself an immediate face palm, laugh bitterly, apologize to the BBC interviewer, and, seething, ask my five-year-old to go back to the kitchen and continue to color her freakin' coloring book, as I had instructed her to do about seven times that morning at breakfast.

I'm pretty sure that if my partner frantically burst into the room, crawling on all fours to collect our little tykes, I'd at least thank her (albeit ironically) for handling the situation for me. As in, I would at least acknowledge her existence.

I think. I'm pretty sure.

And you know what? If I were being interviewed by the BBC and my kid walked into the room and I shoved the kid to get her out of my built-in FaceTime's sight, I would probably get called a bad mother. A horrible mother. An inhuman(e) mother. And I'd also probably get called a bad academic, because I'm not professional enough and I can't get my shit (i.e., my family/kids) together.

I wonder what others have said about the clip so far. I imagine there are others who feel similarly. I imagine I'm not the only one who doesn't find humor in that clip. It's just too bad I don't have time this weekend to be reading up on this here trending topic.


This Politicized Life

While I was at my parents' for the break my niece showed me her new Beanie Baby, which reminded me that, hey, I have a Beanie Baby too! Of course I'd taken the tag off (like I always do—I can't stand wrappings and boxes between me and the material object), which means it has no resale value... though I suppose I wasn't going to resell my little Seaweed guy anyway.

I'd been meaning to write about said otter because this Beanie Baby question—the tags, the BB craze a few decades ago, my niece's yearning for a real dog, rediscovering objects from my childhood, etc.—managed to stay in the back of my mind since the holidays (and one of my New Year's resolutions has been to make time for low-stakes writing on the blog). But then with the combination of the start of the semester and the political happenings in the country, I was kind of like: screw it, I don't have time to be writing about no freakin' otter.

Sorry, Seaweed. I love you, even if I haven't politicized you...