October 26, 2011

Fat, Sick, and nearly Dead

I watched "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead" on Amazon Instant Video tonight. Another great documentary! I'm excited because a few days ago I ordered a Vitamix (1363 Spy [or possibly it was CIA] model) blender which can make great juices. Since I'm currently training for my first marathon, and my father has really enjoyed his vitamix blender, I started to want one at home. With little Alan on the way, I think we can also make fresh baby food when he gets around to eating that kind of thing.

I also checked out a few other things on Amazon Instant Video, and suspect that I'll be watching a bit of Doctor Who before sleeping. They have a whole bunch of the old series and the new series on there. Amazing.

October 25, 2011

Amazon Instant Video

I'm currently in America for work. I bought some stuff from Amazon, and they offered me a free Amazon Prime trial, which I can cancel within the first month for no charge. I've been curious about Amazon Prime Instant Video for a while, so decided to check it out.

They have some great videos up there! I checked out "Bigger, Faster, Stronger*" yesterday, and "Between the Folds" today. They are both great documentaries. Bigger, Faster, Stronger* is about steroid use (in sports and elsewhere) while Between the Folds is about origami. I particularly recommend the origami documentary for anyone interested in science, art, and the strange intersection between them.

I'm pretty impressed with the selection (there are a lot more interesting things that I would like to watch) and the process has just worked without a hitch for me. I won't keep the Prime membership in America because I live in Japan, and can't take advantage of the streaming there (as far as I know) but if I lived in the US I would definitely pony up for prime and make great use of this feature.

Since I work at Amazon, this might come off as blatant advertising, but really I don't think you can blame me too much. ;-)

March 20, 2011

Dinner and a Movie in Tokyo after the Earthquake

For the past week, R. and I have been at home. I have been working from home (it is great that I work at a company where this is possible) while R. has been off of work because Tokyo Disneyland is currently closed. I have not been getting out and about the city much, I really have only been visiting the local supermarket and a few stores around where we live. We have generally been eating stuff that we have on hand - I've made a bunch of omelets since we were able to find eggs. We cooked up a batch of Curry on Monday, and have had that for dinner and lunch quite a few days. Curry is great because you can make a lot of it at once, it keeps for a long time, and you just need rice to go with it.

On Saturday, I wanted to take R. out to do something, and coincidentally the movie Tangled just opened in Japan on Saturday. She wants to see Tangled, I'm interested in getting out, and so we had a plan. A normal sort of thing that people do everywhere: a movie and then dinner.

Note that actually this isn't something we do a lot here in Tokyo. I used to see two to four movies a month (hi Carl!) but since moving to Japan I have not seen many movies at all. Tickets here cost about $30 (given the current crazy exchange rate) and just are not as common of an activity as they are in the US. Still, it is still a pretty normal thing to do. So R. reserved us some tickets for a 3:30pm showing over in Roppongi Hills.

That got me to thinking about dinner. One thing I want to do is to support the Japanese economy and get things back to normal. Sitting around at home eating curry for a week (while it is economical on our end) is just not going to do that. I've been hearing good things about Union Square Tokyo for the past few years since it opened in 2007, so I wondered if they would have an opening for us. This place is a nice restaurant, not say Michelin three star or anything, but it is a nice place where a main dish will run from $40-$60 or so. Normally I would try to get a reservation a week or so in advance just to be sure, but I called them up Saturday afternoon and they took our reservation for that evening.

So, here are my main reasons for trying to get out and go do dinner:

  • A week after the earthquake, I think it is time to get back to normal life (not that we are always going out to high class restaurants) and stop sitting around at home.
  • I wanted to see how well mass transit could serve us. Roppongi Hills is usually about 30-45 minute trip from our place on a train and a bus.
  • I thought after a week of sitting around, Risa and I deserved a bit of a treat after surviving the largest Earthquake in Japanese history. If anything deserves a bit of a celebration, that is it.
  • I love curry. But I love me a good steak a bit more, if I can get an excuse to put out the money they cost in Tokyo.

Click the "read more" link to see how well we fared.

read more (3240 words)

May 4, 2010

Musical Robots, Chocolate, and Alice in Wonderland

The other day, R. and I had a rare day off together, so we headed to the Mori Museum of Art for the Roppongi Art Crossing 2010 "Can there be art?" exhibit.

Before that though, we made a stop at Le Chocolat de H, a chocolatier in Roppongi Hills. I had their chocolate and coffee combination. The three types of Chocolate were cinnamon (a bit spicy), regular (very nice), and goma (normal, but a nice crunchy texture.) I think I liked the cinnamon the best. They are all chocolate though, so you can't really go wrong. R. got a nice cake with a tea. I really enjoyed the relaxing cafe break, and love chocolate, so I might be stopping there again in the future.

We then went on to visit the museum, and there were lots of cool things there. I really like the upside down Japanese flag (but you could only tell because of the placement of the mounting rope) but my favorite by far were the three musical robots. They are cool. They make strange noises from electric guitar pickups and recycled home stuff (blenders, vacuum cleaners, car stuff, etc.) Really cool.

They also had a nice skate pipe setup that was painted. They have periodic live painting shows with skaters too, and we'll try to go back for that sometime in May.

After the museum, we went to the theater and saw Alice in Wonderland. It was in 3D, which I'm not a big fan of. I just don't really see 3d. So that left the story, which also wasn't all that great. I was really hoping for a new re-interpretation of the source material that would be more nuanced and sophisticated. It was anything but. Caricatures and exaggeration. The computer graphics were nice though. It certainly wasn't worth the $60 or so it cost (2 $24 tickets, drinks and popcorn.) I'm going to try to avoid 3D in the future; it gives me a headache and seems to be a mask for movies with weak stories.

January 11, 2010

Movie Reviews: Up and Avatar

Grandpa Carl's flying (in the sky) house

A bit before the new year, R. and I went to see the latest Pixar movie, カールじいさんの空飛ぶ家. Simply "Up" in America, and "Grandpa Carl's flying house" in Japanese. I've noticed this trend before in Japanese movie titles, where the title is more expositive than the American title. Like, for example, 2012 might be "The day the world ends: 2012" or something like that. It is a little strange, but certainly makes the general idea of the movie a bit easier to grasp.

I don't see many movies in Japan: it is expensive here. There also just isn't the same culture we have in the US of heading out to the movie theater and showing up ten or fifiteen minutes before the movie starts. Every movie I've seen we have either bought our tickets online, or shown up one to three hours early to get the tickets. It is also expensive. R. and I have been seeing a few more movies recently because with her job at Tokyo Disneyland she gets an employee discount at the Disney-owned Ikspiari themed shopping mall that brings the ticket prices down to about $12 each. So we probably will be seeing more movies there.

I'll try to write a little bit about them here. If you want to keep reading, be aware that there are probably spoilers for Up and Avatar. Click the read more link to keep reading.

read more (1935 words)

September 6, 2009

Naoko Ogigami's "Glasses"

So, R. and I watched two movies (three, but I am not counting "A Nightmare Before Christmas", which we watched while I was working yesterday) this weekend. The first was Kamome Shokudo, directed and written by Naoko Ogigami. I enjoyed it. The second was "Glasses", also by Naoko Ogigami. I have seen two of her movies now, and am pretty sure that she has a distinctive, slow, good-hearted feeling movies.

This movie was also a good movie. I am seriously reminded of Jim Jarmusch movies, so I'm excited to get a few of those and see what R. thinks. Mystery Train is pretty high on the list, that is one of my favorite movies (I didn't even know it was Jim Jarmusch until many years later.)

Anyway, I don't really know what to say about this movie except that it is very atmospheric, slow-paced, and relaxing. I came away from it feeling happy and satisfied, and also somewhat confused about the application of Chekov's Gun to the movie (I was derailed by the Biology teacher information) and now wonder about the validity of story fabula theory applied to modern independent cinema.

I guess that is one thing that keeps us on our toes; when we go and see a hollywood film, the twists and turns of the plot are expected so much that we can hardly be surprised (or are surprised by the lack of a turn) - so when you enter into the realm of less constructed (more constructed?) stories that all just breaks down.

Anyway, good film. Has a nice Japanese expression in it, which managed to cause a minor fight between my wife and I (only in the sense that my Japanese sucks, and her randomly generated picture is a totally hilarious bean.) So, recommended!

Although honestly, it isn't like I'm going to spend ten or fifteen minutes writing about something sucks on my blohg. Am i?

Kagome Shokudo

In English: Kamome Shokudo

Last night, R. and I sat down to a nice evening movie. We rented a few things at the start of the weekend, and I was actually pretty excited to watch a Japanese-only movie with her, one of her choosing. She chose Kamome Shokudo, a Japanese comedy set in Helsinki.

The big surprise for me was that it had English subtitles. While I really wanted to listen only in Japanese, when the subtitles are there it is just too easy to read. I was glad for them too; some portions of the dialogue are in Finnish.

The movie is really nice; a slow-paced, dialogue-based ambiance-drama. It explores questions about living in a foreign land, which is of course very interesting to me, as a foreigner in a foreign land. A critical claim of the movie is that Japanese people prefer Japanese food (and possibly that Japanese food is the best kind of food.) That actually comes up a lot here, and I am sure that R. would back it up. Since I like Japanese food, this isn't really a problem, but it is always a little surprising to me when the idea of having say, Italian food for lunch and then also dinner is shot down. I don't actually consider pizza Italian food, or spaghetti for that matter, but that's ok. I'm pretty used to eating Japanese food twice in a day by now, so I guess I've become used to things here. I do sometimes want to have American food once or twice a day. Guess I have to start cooking more.

There is also a character in there that is the typical Japan-obsessed kid who studies the language a bit and tries to speak Japanese whenever possible. It is interesting seeing that character portrayed from the Japanese point of view.

An interesting parallel they draw is between the Japanese and Finnish cultures, portraying Japan as busy and stressful while Finland is laid-back and easy-going. The discussion around that concept, and why the characters thought they would be better off in Finland is interesting.

It was a fun movie; I recommend it.

December 27, 2008

Review of Wall-E in Japan

A few weeks ago, R. and I went to a movie. I used to love going to see movies in New York - and I still do love to see movies, but since coming to Japan I haven't had the time or the money. Movies here are super expensive. A ticket for a movie costs usually about $18. If you get food though, it is a lot cheaper than in the US, so that is a benefit. Also they sell beer, which is nice. I have really enjoyed Pixar's movies so when I heard that Wall-E was coming out in Japan I knew I wanted to take R. to see it. I love robots! And Pixar movies are cute! We can't go wrong!

So I'm sure many people have reviewed this movie before, but I'll put in my two cents. It is a really great movie. Cute and fun. A bit of a scathing comment on commercialization, consumerism, and apathy. It is also just a really cute movie. After the movie we bought matching Wall-E and Eve phone straps, which worked out well because my old phone strap, a little Kubrick Bear Star Wars trooper, had lost both his legs in the line of duty. So now we've got cute matching phone straps.

It was also surprising to me that I could (if I was the unscrupulous type) download a Blu-Ray rip of Wall-E before the movie came out in theaters in Japan if I had wanted. That is crazy! Release these things more quickly in Japan people!

So, a short review that amounts to: good movie!

September 16, 2008

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist: Some of my faves are on the soundtrack!

Just saw a commercial for Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and was super excited to hear a Bishop Allen song in the commercial.

I did a search, and the soundtrack looks awesome: my favorites, Bishop Allen, also my favorites, We Are Scientists, Vampire Weekend (great set a Summer Sonic 2008!), Band of Horses, Modest Mouse, NY locals that I like (but haven't seen because I moved to Tokyo before they played any shows that I knew about) Project Jenny, Project Jan, and The Raveonettes.

I need to see this movie for the soundtrack alone.

December 31, 2007


Over the holiday break, I watched the movie Primer. This is a 2004 sci-fi film that I hadn't heard of, but found ranked pretty high up on Rotten Tomatoes' List of top 100 Sci-fi movies so I decided to check it out. While my career is in computer science, I did also pick up a Bachelor's of Science in Electrical Engineering, and the opening of this movie was just great. This movie sounds like physics and engineering, and dumbs down nothing. It is a complex, intelligent story. It is pretty hard to follow actually, and I think I could do with a second watch-through to try to figure things out. If you are into smart sci-fi, this is definitely high up on the list.

July 17, 2007

Who needs the Kwik-E-Mart?

As part of the promotion for the Simpsons Movie, about 12 7-11 stores have been converted into Kwik-E-Marts, the mythical convenience store from the show. Since there is one in New York City, and I happen to be there right now for my friend's wedding, I made a point to go out to the Port Authority Bus Terminal to check out the Kwik-E-Mart.

They have a lot of merchandising going on, and many limited-edition items for sale. The most interesting are the Squishy-labeled Slurpees and the Buzz Cola and crazy pink sprinkle doughnuts. Those doughnuts are huge: a box of six comes in a box that would be a dozen doughnuts anywhere else. I had one and could not believe how huge the things were. The Buzz Cola is a regular type of Cola in the Coca-Cola mode, but I don't know who actually manufactures it. I'm sure they are making a killing though: the place was packed with people taking pictures and buying up the Simpsons-related stuff.

I particularly liked the Jasper poster on the Ice Bag freezer (note the "Jasper Extra" sign), and there are also interesting Giant Pez Dispensers, but I couldn't bring myself to buy one. Not only can I not cart something like that back to Tokyo, where would I put it??

There is also a Kwik-E-Mart in Dallas, TX, so I'll try to get some pictures of that when I head over there tomorrow before getting on the plane back to Tokyo.

Also, please note an appropriate usage of donuts here, unlike what I often see in Japan, where donuts are made out of strange and unusual things. (Well, not that strange, but still, frosting or at least sugar should be required!)

July 1, 2007

Catching up on movies

Over the past week or so, I've watched a few movies. I thought I would comment on them here, since that is what I said I would do when I started the "Movies" section. First up is Children of Men. I didn't know anything about this movie other than that it is in the Science Fiction genre, and it is supposed to be good. I was really impressed. I didn't realize until I checked afterwards that it was directed by Alfonso Cuarón. It reminded me in a lot of ways of 28 days later, and I really liked how they commented on modern (American) society by drawing out some parallels. I also didn't notice any special effects, but when reading about it later learned that they had some sophisticated CG in there. Overall I was really impressed. I highly recommend this movie. Next up is Reno 911!: Miami. I don't have much to say about it other than if you like they show, you should like the movie. It was amusing to have on in the background while working on other stuff. This is not a movie that you want to devote two hours of your attention to, unlike Children of Men, which I did watch with my full attention. Man of the Year. A reasonable movie, but I didn't think it was funny. Almost all of the jokes that Robin Williams told were old, tired, and waiting to be put out of their misery. I did like the critique of modern politics, but I'm glad that I was working on the laptop while the movie was running.

June 23, 2007

Chungking Express

On Saturday (a week ago), I invited from friends over to watch a movie. My absolute favorite movie of all time, Chungking Express. I don't really have anything insightful to say other than Chungking Express is a great movie. I was happy that the local Tsutaya had the movie in stock. They don't seem to have my number two and three movies though (Terry Gilliam's Brazil and the Coen brother's Hudsucker Proxy.)

This is a film that I've seen many times, which I was thankful for because it is a Chinese language film with subtitles in Japanese. Surprisingly, between my knowledge of the plot I was able to keep up with the subtitles without much trouble. I was really surprised, since it has been a few years since I've seen the film, that I was still really impressed by the film. I really think it gets across the quality of humanity, and feeling. The movie comes highly recommended.

May 14, 2007

Spider-Man 3

The last day of Golden Week, I went to see Spider-Man 3 with my friend. I see very few movies in Japan, in fact, this was only my second in a year. I've always been a fan of the Spider-Man series, and really liked the first and second movies. The first is better than the second, in my opinion, and was looking forward to the third.

Sadly, I did not really like Spider-Man 3. What bothered me most about it is that the move lacked any subtlety at all. One of the main themes, Peter Parker struggling with his dark side as brought out by the Venom suit, was so heavy-handed and yet poorly done: all his "evil" moves were over the top, with a comical song-and-dance routine, and to me as a spectator, I didn't see any real conflict there at all. It all seemed forced and out of character. I really think that all could have been done much better.

That same criticism could be applied to the two main villains in the film as well.

Still, I really shouldn't complain: can one really expect subtlety from Hollywood films? I don't think so. But I expected more of Sam Raimi, especially because I think Spider-Man 1 did such a nice job. Perhaps it just comes down to money: when the studios put more and more money into a project, you should expect more and more a lowest-common-denominator result.

April 7, 2007

The Prestige

I just saw The Prestige and was very impressed. I really liked this movie a lot. I haven't read the book, but I am very impressed with the movie. It isn't subtle, and in fact was pretty hard for me to watch because it is violent and scary in ways that I do not handle well, but it did address a subject that I think Star Trek has never treated well: the transporter. Highly recommended.

March 10, 2007

A Scanner Darkly

I watched A Scanner Darkly this weekend. I really liked the rotoscoped-style look of the movie. I'm a big fan of Philip K. Dick, but I haven't read all of his stuff. I've never read A Scanner Darkly, so I was quite confused up until near the end of the movie, and then predictably, as with much Philip K. Dick work, I was still unsure about what had really happened.

Anyway, I do think it was a very interesting movie, but I don't think it is as strong at making a cogent point as it could be. The subject matter is very interesting: consciousness, reality as interpretation, government roles in surveillance, the police state, the police state manufactured from the threat of fear, etc. But the movie doesn't take these things on clearly, and focuses more on an individuals' journey, and seemed a bit dialogue heavy to me. It isn't something I'll watch multiple times, but it was quite interesting.

February 10, 2007

Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles

I've been quite busy lately, but yesterday I threw on "Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles" while I did some work at home.

I was a big fan of Robotech as a kid, I watched all three series, and of course didn't realize that it was a mish-mash of three different anime brought over from Japan. I was quite surprised to see that there was a new movie made, so I was interested in seeing what it was about. I didn't pay too much attention while it was on (I was doing work, after all) but I was really confused. I haven't seen any Robotech since I was a kid, and this thing just jumped right in and continued the story from the last show of the US cartoon. I didn't know who any of the characters were, but had some vague memories of the characters.

If you are a Robotech fan, I recommend it. If you aren't, I'm afraid you will just be confused. If you watched the show as a kid, you will probably enjoy it like I did, but be confused.

And boy, that scientist was annoying.

November 12, 2006

Lucky Number Sleven

I also watched Lucky Number Sleven over the weekend. It was pretty good! In the style of "The Usual Suspects", an interesting movie with a high-powered cast.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire / Jarvis Cocker!?

So this is a strange one. On the weekend I do a lot of work from home, programming, some stuff for fun (some programming on side-projects, translating manga so I don't forget how to like, read Japanese) and so on. I like to play bad movies when I'm doing this. So, I finally got around to checking out Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire this weekend.

Now, in all honesty, I do not like Harry Potter. I haven't read any of the books, but I did watch the first movie. I didn't like it. The main problem I had with it was that it didn't seem like Harry Potter himself did anything at all to merit being thought of as such a wonderful, great magician. As far as I could tell, Harry got by entirely because of gifts from his family and friends. He didn't seem to have any amazing courage or great ideas in the face of danger, and just seemed to go along with things as they developed.

The third movie seemed to be more of the same. I can't think of a single instance where he did anything of his own merit. He got into this 3-wizards competition because someone put his name in there. He won the dragon challenge because he was told to use his skill of flying, and in the end just kind of bobbled around and got through by luck. He didn't seem to have a plan at all. He found out how to open that egg because someone told him, and found out how to turn into a mer-man because of someone else as well. The only good points he showed is that he was willing to put his friends ahead of himself, but since he's just a shy guy anyway, that isn't really too surprising.

Even worse, it doesn't look like there are good role models in this movie either. I'm really surprised at how stereotyped and traditional the women are portrayed as in the movie. Also, how come it seems like none of these students know what is happening? If this school has been around for so long, and has a winter dance ever year, and that wizard competition thing, shouldn't they have known about it?

Anyway, I didn't really pay much attention to the movie until the dance. Because then I could swear that I heard Pulp, famous for Common People, a most excellent song, singing. Well, not really Pulp, but Jarvis Cocker for sure. After looking around, I found out that indeed, it was him! He got together with a pretty high-powered group, called The Weird Sisters, to sing three songs for the soundtrack. I've got to try to hunt those down.

So, basically, I still don't like Harry Potter, but I was really surprised to see Jarvis Cocker in the soundtrack. Pretty funny!

October 10, 2006

Mirror Mask

This was a movie that I actually watched, over dinner after a long day coding. I was interested in this one because it is from Neil Gaiman, who I once saw open a Magnetic Fields concert with a reading, and the Jim Henson Creature Shop, which has done excellent work on all sorts of things, including geek favorite Farscape.

The visuals for this movie are excellent. The soundtrack and music is very well woven into things as well. The film is an adaptation of a children's story, but I have really been into media targeted at young adults lately. Garth Nix's Shade's Children, for example, is just an excellent book in that category. I still have fond memories of John Christopher's Tripods Trilogy from my youth.

The main character, a 14 or 15 year old girl named Helena, is going through a typical sort of thing in these movies: her mother is in the hospital and she dreams herself into a fantasy land to avoid the pain and guilt from their last argument. Or so I thought, but this one does turn out to be a bit different. Anyway, it was really a nice movie, not insulting in talking down to the audience, and really excellent imagination and visuals. I give it two fins up!

I'm not really sure how many fins fugu have, but it is probably somewhere between one and three.

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