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Idiot Savant Japan: “What The Hell Are You Watching?”

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Idiot Savant Japan: “What The Hell Are You Watching?”

I got suckered into anime. I was roughly seven years old when I woke up early one morning while my family was gathered together in D.C. for some holiday. Turning on the TV, I found a rather curious sight: here was a big, nasty-looking dragon creature fighting a smaller guy in a suit of armor. It was the last five minutes and involved me hearing Jimmie Walker, as a leather, mutant Muppet from hell, say “Dy-no-mite!” This was how I got introduced to The Guyver.

I needed to see the whole thing. I rushed to Blockbuster—remember those?—and couldn’t find the film anywhere. I asked the shift guy whether they had The Guyver.

“Uh, I don’t know if we have MacGyver on tape.”

But I was looking for The Guyver.

“Oh, wait. We actually do have that. Huh.”

I happily ran back to my mother, waving the tape. At the checkout counter, the cashier informed us that the film we were renting was incredibly graphic. I vouched that it wasn’t—it was just like Power Rangers, I told my mother.

Then I got back to my Aunt’s house. Making my way to the TV, I sat down with my Grandfather and popped in episodes one and two of The Guyver: Bio-Booster Armor, not the live-action movie starring Mark Hamill as a giant centipede.

A minute forty-seven later, my Grandfather said, “What the hell are you watching?”

Sixteen years later, it turns out I’m watching the same thing as everyone else. We were once a community crowding together at conventions for second and third generation VHS tapes running $35; now we can populate /a/, Something Awful’s ADTRW, and chain super-stores that are more than happy to sell copies of Bleach, Hellsing and Naruto. Heck, if you live in New York—as I occasionally do—there are three main places worth looking at for your fix.

But don’t bother with Forbidden Planet. The only thing they’re helpful with is proving Adam Duritz is still alive.

But to go back to Pop-Pop’s question: we’re watching an art form that has transcended Osamu Tezuka’s “manga animation,” with its intentional limited movement in order to win over an audience more accustomed to flipping pages. While the “big eyes, giant robots” trend still exists with Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and self-parody Dai-Guard, anime has reached the point with U.S. (and most likely worldwide) audiences that it can finally look back on itself.

Welcome to the NHK began airing in June 2004 in Japan and relates the story of Tatsuhiro Sato, a 22-year old recluse who lives in fear of the outside world and falls under the NEET/Hikikomori—essentially, one who has no job, no training and refuses to leave their home (a classification that many self-proclaimed Otaku wear as a badge of honor). It dawns on Sato that he is a part of a conspiracy of the NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai), whose real name is the Nihon Hikikomori Kyokai (or “The Japanese Hikikomori Association”). Their goal? To broadcast anime and keep people shut-ins. Sato resolves to stop the NHK once and for all, but also to prove he’s neither an Otaku nor a freak.

His main foil is Misaki Nakahara, who involves Sato in her project to “cure” his hikikomori—despite not having any idea about the actual problem.

NHK’s focus on the concept of “Otaku” as a semi-serious problem, not to mention showcasing Sato as having deliberate social anxiety, provides a welcome look into the stereotypical fan’s life. What does happen when the world suddenly sucks, there’s no economy to speak of, and the only real joy you get out of life is collecting knick-knacks and watching some cartoons? Stay inside.

Sato struggles with his own problems, trying to convince himself he’s normal, but seeing naked purple aliens dancing around your room as you talk to the TV, fridge and computer say otherwise. To be completely pretentious for a moment—and inviting others to horribly rip me to shreds—NHK represents the rise in the new anime fan, a Neo-Otaku. Someone who is painfully self-aware of what they are watching, yet refuse to admit it is anime.

I fall under the spell of calling it “Japanese animation,” but that’s after having my head kicked around by Thomas Looser for three years. Looser argues that there are worlds of difference between the titles of animation, “Japanimation” and “Anime.” Mainly due to this art form becoming global over the course of two decades.

But that was a side tangent, something we’ll get into another time. For now, the Neo-Otaku, aside from being an awesome buzz word, is gaining popularity (though a friend of mine claims the term is ten years too late, since Neon Genesis Evangelion is the true birth for it). You don’t have to own the model kits, the PVC figures or cellphone attachments anymore. In fact, it’s taboo to do so with this group. Anime has gone the route of any sub-culture: underground, moderate fanbase, which is followed by partial mainstream acceptance. In fact, they would never even refer to themselves as Otaku—nor should they, the term is loaded enough as it is and extremely negative.

NHK exists as a way to tell you it is OK to be watching anime. Everyone else does it too!

And so, because I’m awful at ending, let’s close on the credits from NHK featuring the show’s purple mascot:

(Author’s Note: Welcome to the NHK has recently been acquired for U.S. distribution by ADV Films. However, episodes still exist online in some form. While I do not encourage distribution and downloading of material…let’s face it. It’s out there, folks.)

John Lichman is a freelance writer who contributes to The Reeler, Primetime A&E [print only] and anyone with cash. He works odd jobs to afford his vices, sleeps on couches and can drink Vadim Rizov under a table.

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

After walking back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing here.

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BlacKkKlansman
Photo: Focus Features

Eric and I have done a good job this year of only selectively stealing each other’s behind-the-scenes jokes. We have, though, not been polite about stepping on each other’s toes in other ways. Okay, maybe just Eric, who in his impeccable take on the original screenplay free-for-all detailed how the guilds this year have almost willfully gone out of their way to “not tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film.” Case in point: Can You Ever Forgive Me? winning the WGA’s adapted screenplay trophy over presumed Oscar frontrunner BlacKkKlansman. A glitch in the matrix? We think so. Eric and I are still in agreement that the race for best picture this year is pretty wide open, though maybe a little less so in the wake of what seemed like an easy win for the Spike Lee joint. Nevertheless, we all know that there’s no Oscar narrative more powerful than “it’s about goddamn time,” and it was so powerful this year that even the diversity-challenged BAFTAs got the memo, giving their adapted screenplay prize to Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott. To bamboozle Lee at this point would, admittedly, be so very 2019, but given that it’s walked back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing.

Will Win: BlacKkKlansman

Could Win: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Should Win: BlacKkKlansman

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay

This season, Hollywood is invested in celebrating the films they love while dodging the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.

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Green Book
Photo: Universal Pictures

You know, if it weren’t for the show’s producers effectively and repeatedly saying everything about the Academy Awards is terrible and needs to be changed, and the year’s top-tier contenders inadvertently confirming their claims, this would’ve been a comparatively fun and suspenseful Oscar season. None of us who follow the Academy Awards expect great films to win; we just hope the marathon of precursors don’t turn into a Groundhog Day-style rinse and repeat for the same film, ad nauseam.

On that score, mission accomplished. The guilds have been handing their awards out this season as though they met beforehand and assigned each voting body a different title from Oscar’s best picture list so as not to tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film. SAG? Black Panther. PGA? Green Book. DGA? Roma. ASC? Cold War. ACE? Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Even awards-season kryptonite A Star Is Born got an award for contemporary makeup from the MUAHS. (That’s the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, not the sound Lady Gaga fans have been making ever since A Star Is Born’s teaser trailer dropped last year.)

Not to be outdone, the Writers Guild of America announced their winners last weekend, and not only did presumed adapted screenplay frontrunner BlacKkKlansman wind up stymied by Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but the original screenplay prize went to Eighth Grade, which wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Bo Burnham twisted the knife into AMPAS during his acceptance speech: “To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars, losers!” In both his sarcasm and his surprise, it’s safe to say he speaks on behalf of us all.

As is always the case, WGA’s narrow eligibility rules kept a presumed favorite, The Favourite, out of this crucial trial heat. But as the balloting period comes to a close, the question remains just how much enthusiasm or affection voters have for either of the two films with the most nominations (Roma being the other). As a recent “can’t we all just get along” appeal by Time’s Stephanie Zacharek illustrates, the thing Hollywood is most invested in this season involves bending over backward, Matrix-style, to celebrate the films they love and still dodge the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.

Maybe it’s just tunnel vision from the cultural vacuum Oscar voters all-too-understandably would prefer to live in this year, but doesn’t it seem like The Favourite’s tastefully ribald peppering of posh-accented C-words would be no match for the steady litany of neo-Archie Bunkerisms spewing from Viggo Mortensen’s crooked mouth? Especially with First Reformed’s Paul Schrader siphoning votes from among the academy’s presumably more vanguard new recruits? We’ll fold our words in half and eat them whole if we’re wrong, but Oscar’s old guard, unlike John Wayne, is still alive and, well, pissed.

Will Win: Green Book

Could Win: The Favourite

Should Win: First Reformed

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Watch: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton, Gets First Trailer

Joanna Hogg has been flying under the radar for some time, but that’s poised to change in a big way.

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A24
Photo: A24

British film director and screenwriter Joanna Hogg, whose impeccably crafted 2013 film Exhibition we praised on these pages for its “disarming mixture of the remarkable and the banal,” has been flying under the radar for the better part of her career. But that’s poised to change in a big way with the release of her latest film, The Souvenir, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Prior to the film’s world premiere at the festival, A24 and Curzon Artificial Eye acquired its U.S. and U.K. distribution rights, respectively. Below is the official description of the film:

A shy but ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.

And below is the film’s first trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9Al2nC0vzY

A24 will release The Souvenir on May 17.

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