Archive

China

It’s all coming together.

Last year I wrote a piece explaining why I thought Disney had chosen Big Hero 6 as their first Marvel property to turn into an animated film and highlighting some of the issues in adapting the comic in a racially and culturally sensitive way.

I’m pleased to see from this trailer that a lot of what I talked about has come to pass. However, Disney have opened up a whole new can of worms with some of their decisions.

Let’s start with the good. I love the tone this trailer gets across. The low key slapstick, the mixture of humour with a genuinely threatening villain and the easy going heart to it. I wish more Super-Hero stories in any medium had this tone and it certainly gives me Incredibles vibes.*

They’ve also chosen to focus on ” a boy and his robot” as their main story telling angle which I think is a good choice. Big Hero 6 is not a thematically dense concept, it basically amounts to “Hey Japan is different, lolz” so grabbing onto something in the property that shows more promise for exploration is a good idea. A boy and his (insert noun here) stories work well for animation and children’s cinema and some of the greatest animated films of the past 20 years (The Iron Giant, How to Train your Dragon) have used it as a basis.

The animation is good, as to be expected of Disney, although you can now add me to the chorus of people who are getting a little sick of how samey Disney’s character designs are getting.

Also is that Lord Deathstrike?

Lord Deathstrike Big Hero 6

I mean, I know that the odds that a character named Lord Deathstrike will appear in a Disney movie are about as likely as me voicing him but he sure does look like him doesn’t he?

big hero 6 lord_deathstrikeWhere this goes wrong is San Fransokyo. Oh my, San Fransokyo.

When it was announced that this film would be set in an amalgam city of Tokyo and San Francisco I thought it could go one of two ways. Either it could be clever and cute, a good way to point out cultural differences and make some gentle jokes about them, or it could be horribly, horribly offensive combining every stereotypical Japanese thing the creators could think of.

What I did not expect is that they would get the wrong country. Because San Fransokyo looks great, it it’s meant to be San Beijing.

Seriously, those “Japanese” touches like the lanterns and the roofs that flare up at the corners. Those are Chinese. You will find them in Japan, in fact they’re not uncommon but that’s because China has had an incredible cultural impact on Japan. But in the style and colours used in this trailer they feel way more Chinese to me than Japanese. And even then they’re a touch that goes back to the pre-Meiji era and are only seen nowadays in temples and other historical buildings. There are so many icons of modern Japan you could include and other than some Katakana and Kanji Disney simply hasn’t!

What San Fransokyo really looks like is the China Town in San Francisco expanded out to encompass the whole city. And while I know a lot of Japanese people live in the San Francisco China Town, guys the clue is in the name as to which country it more closely resembles.

Here’s hoping the trailer just gives off a wrong impression and the film gets it better.

The stripping out of Japanese culture though continues onto the characters. Big Hero 6 is a team composed of 1 robot and 5 Japanese people or Japanese-Americans. Big Hero 6 in the movie? 2, maximum. That’s a big cut Disney. The premier Japanese super-hero team now has Japanese members as the minority. I know why you’ve done it, the setting demands a mix of Asian and Caucasian people to reflect the mixed up Asian and Western architecture and you don’t think an all Asian cast will fly for American audiences. In fact you’ve actually increased the team’s diversity in one way by adding a black man to the mix, which I applaud, but, I still feel like it has missed the point a little bit.

In fact let’s dig into the characters a bit more. Starting with our hero, Hiro, and his pet robot Baymax.

big-hero-6-character-rollout-baymax

big-hero-6-character-rollout-hiro

Here’s what I wrote about Hiro and Baymax in my original piece.

Big Hero 6 2

Hiro and Baymax are clearly affectionate homages to a number of Japanese characters. Hiro is a super-genius kid who builds a robot protector for himself. That’s an idea that mixes bits of Getter Robo, Tetsujin 28 and even the Kenny’s from Godzilla.

And here is some info from screencrush.com

Ryan Potter portrays Hiro, a robotics prodigy who has “the mind of a genius—and the heart of a 14-year-old. His state-of-the-art battle-bots dominate the underground bot fights held in the dark corners of San Fransokyo. Fortunately, big brother Tadashi redirects Hiro’s brilliance, inspiring him to put his brain to the test in a quest to gain admission to the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. When a tragic event changes everything, Hiro turns to a robot named Baymax, and they form an unbreakable bond—and two-sixths of a band of high-tech heroes on a very important mission.

It sounds to me like Hiro is largely unchanged from his comic incarnation of “boy genius.” I suspect that Hiro is the character that Disney saw the most potential in, making him the hero and basing the film on him. To that end he is basically the same character. Baymax however has been tweaked considerably.

Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit) cares. That’s what he was designed to do. The plus-sized inflatable robot’s job title is technically Healthcare Companion: With a simple scan, Baymax can detect vital stats, and, given a patient’s level of pain, can treat nearly any ailment. Conceived and built by Tadashi Hamada, Baymax just might revolutionize the healthcare industry. But to the inventor’s kid brother Hiro, the nurturing, guileless bot turns out to be more than what he was built for—he’s a hero, and quite possibly Hiro’s closest friend. And after some deft reprogramming that includes a rocket fist, super strength and rocket thrusters that allow him to fly, Baymax becomes one of the Big Hero 6.

Baymax in the comics was designed and built entirely by Hiro. However, when Hiro’s Father died he used some of his Father’s brain engrams to program Baymax. That makes Baymax a combination of Hiro’s friend, his bodyguard his father and his nanny. Disney however have switched the tragic death from Father to Brother and also made Baymax a construction of Hiro’s Brother. This simplifies the relationship considerably emphasising that Baymax and Hiro are in effect brothers. It’s a bit more conventional than the comic’s version but riffs on many of the same emotions and probably works better in the limited running time of a film.

Next up is our only other remaining Asian, Go, Go Tomago, played by Jamie Chung.

big-hero-6-character-rollout-go_go_tomago

 

She’s tough, athletic and loyal to the bone, but not much of a conversationalist. Popping bubble gum and delivering well-placed sarcasm are totally her speed. The daredevil adrenaline junkie is at her best on wheels, and when Go Go joins forces with Big Hero 6, she rolls like never before, using maglev discs as wheels, shields and throwing weapons.

Big Hero 6 Go Go Tamago

Wild rebellious Go Go was the Wolverine of the group, the bad ass outsider who don’t take no bull. She’s been de-aged and her criminal past is gone but her personality and team function are largely the same. Also her name is still misspelt. She should be Go, Go, Tamago i.e. the Japanese word for egg. Although considering they changed her powers the egg joke doesn’t work any more anyway. I dig the new costume too, it’s both more sentai than her original sentai inspired outfit and more modern.

big-hero-6-character-rollout-fred

Fred, voiced by T.J. Miller, has been de-aged, gone from Asian to White and gone from having a Godzilla shaped ki aura to just turning into a Monster.

Big Hero 6 Fred

Other than that he’s mostly the same, a stoner in a hat with badass monster related powers. He’s the comic relief of the group and it looks like he’ll continue to be playing that role. Also, I like his new Monster design. It does feel quite Asian without specifically referencing a particular monster design I can think of. I will miss his Devil Dinosaur t-shirt though.

big-hero-6-character-rollout-honey_lemon

So that is what Honey Lemon, who will be voiced by Genesis Rodriguez which is a Super-Villain name if I ever heard one, looks like in the film. Here is what she looked like in the comics.

Big Hero 6 Honey Lemon

…..

…….

That’s, um, that’s quite the change.

Honey Lemon was a play on Cutie Honey, a popular anime character who is mainly famous for being full on naked during her magical girl transformations. Honey Lemon the comic character is consequently, sexy, confident and playful with some stuff from other anime characters (most notably Doraemon) thrown in.

From the character design alone it’s clear that Honey Lemon in the film is not going to be the same character. Other than a power-set and a name they have nothing in common. Problem being that now Honey Lemons’s power-set and name don’t make sense. She’s called Honey Lemon as a play on Cutie Honey, a character she now no longer resembles. And her power-set is grabbing things from her purse, not exactly the most subtle of satirical jabs.

That said I am not surprised they changed her. Whilst Honey Lemon was hugely inappropriate for a kid’s film the bigger problem is that she’s a parody character, not a character intended to work on her own merits and she needed something done to her to appear in this film.

Finally we get to Wasabi, formerly Wasabi no Ginger.

Here is what Wasabi no Ginger looked like in the comics.

Big Hero 6 Wasabi No Ginger

And here is what I wrote about him.

Finally there’s Wasabi-no-Ginger which is a name that is simply unacceptable. Honey Lemon is stretching it but Wasabi-no-Ginger isn’t a clever pun so much as it is the equivalent of a Japanese comic introducing a morbidly obese character in a cowboy hat called Burger McRanchdressing. Try and count the stereotypes in this short character description guys. He’s a sushi chef (1) but also a samurai (2) who fights by using katana (3) and sushi knives (4) that he makes from his body whilst wearing wooden sandals (5) and a Hawaiian shirt (6?). Whilst the other characters are a spin on existing Japanese characters Wasabi-no-Ginger is the result of throwing everything Chris Claremont knows about Japan (sushi, samurais…Hawaiian shirts?) into a blender and calling the result a character. You know in the Super Friends how the Native American guy who grew got called Apache Chief rather than something that described his powers like Giant Man, or Gigantor. That is the level of patronising we’re dealing with here in Wasabi-no-Ginger.

I hate, Wasabi no Ginger.

Now, here is what he looks like in the film.

big-hero-6-character-rollout-wasabi

Wasabi (voiced by Damon Wayans Jr.) is committed to precision. He’s super smart and just a touch neurotic, but the big and burly neatnik can’t help but join the cause when Hiro needs him most. As part of “Big Hero 6,” Wasabi amplifies his martial arts skills with jaw-dropping plasma blade weaponry. Sharp doesn’t even begin to describe this guy.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

He’s not a sushi chef. He’s not a Japanese stereotype, he can’t be because he’s not Japanese. He doesn’t wear geta, he doesn’t fight using katana and he has a personality beyond “everything Chris Claremont knows about Japan.” Even his name makes more sense since both wasabi and plasma are hot. Plus, he adds further diversity to the team and avoids being a black stereotype too! It’s such a low bar to hurdle but thank you, thank you so much Disney for doing it.

So based on all this info I’m still looking forward to Big Hero 6 and cautiously optimistic that this will be another Incredibles. I’m nervous about San Fransokyo but Disney’s last 2 films have really clicked for me and I’m hoping they continue on with their mini renaissance.

 

*The Incredibles is in my top 5 favourite Super-Hero films and until Marvel got their shit together was basically number 1. It still remains the best Fantastic Four film ever made too.

 

Advertisements

Frankly this is getting silly now.

Image

No sooner do I finish putting up my last Kit-Kat related post than my girlfriend Fran gets whisked away to Japan for family related business.

And she, of course, brought me back some Kit-Kats.

I don’t think I will ever escape Nestle’s evil clutches.

In fact looking at two of the entries this week I think Nestle has finally cottoned onto the existence of this blog and is making Kit-Kats just for me.

But lets start with the really weird stuff.

Anin Dofu

Image

Anin Dofu is something you’ve probably eaten if you’ve ever had dessert at a Dim Sum restaurant. But if you’re anything like me you had no idea what it was or what it was called. I’m talking about the white chunk of tofu like jelly, garnished with red berries and floating in sweet syrup. Turns out it is made from apricot kernels in a similar process to how actual tofu is made.

I don’t have strong feelings about anin dofu one way or the other. It’s the kind of thing I would eat if presented with but would never ever order for myself, I associate it with enkais i.e. work parties which were inevitably held in a posh Chinese restaurant and contained many dishes I had never seen in any Chinese restaurant in the U.K.

Image

The packet is one of the big souvenir boxes like the chilli, shinshu ringo, wasabi and strawberry cheesecake that usually ties it to a specific location in Japan. Since I wasn’t there to buy it I unfortunately have no idea what part of Japan its from. Maybe its from China?

It’s also the first Kit-Kat packet in Japan I can remember seeing that has the “have a break, have a kit-kat” slogan written on it. In English no less. Maybe its from Hong Kong?

The packet design is pretty good actually, we’ve got some nice individual elements all unified together and refreshingly uncluttered. The colouring ( red and gold) and the gold leaf pattern all tie this into China. The picture of the Anin Dofu is placed in the centre and tied into the rest of the design by the circular gold leaf pattern. This is a well balanced aesthetically pleasing design.

Image

The individual Kats, however, are kind of cluttered. We’ve got all the same elements, 2 colours, a picture of the dessert, gold leaf, Kit-Kat logo, calorie information and blurbs but on a much smaller surface area and laid out all in a line rather than in a balanced circle. Its not the worst mini Kit-Kat I’ve seen but it is a jumbled mess.

One thing the packet does do up front is warn me that its going to be coloured chocolate and thus not very nice. I appreciate that kind of honesty. What I don’t want in my Kit-Kat is an emotional roller coaster, the anticipatory high of wondering what it will be like followed by the crushing low of realising it will inevitably be awful and the slowing down dreary confirmation that it is. Mostly I just want a biscuit.

The Kit-Kat smells very almondy. I approve of this, I don’t really like almonds but I love the smell of almonds. Its how I got into glue sniffing in the first place.

It tastes, as expected, soapy milkshake-esque and just not very nice. It is pretty creamy, in fact much creamier than the coloured chocolate usually is. The almond notes are there but they’re subtle and the peachy/apricot notes are also subtly in the mix. The overall taste is just, creamy. Not even a strong milky cream but a bland one. Like the “cream” you get in a processed snack food such as a twinkie.

In fact it’s so bland it doesn’t really have an aftertaste. It kind of cleanses the palate for you. This would be perfect to eat with a curry, less so with a cup of tea.

Adult Sweetness Chocolate and Macha

Image

For years on this blog I have been moaning that Kit-Kats are far too sweet and the sugar they add kills off some of the flavour they’re supposedly advertising. Also that eating all this sugar is really sickly after a while and likely to make me ill but I don’t think other people routinely eat 6 or 7 different flavours in one sitting to review them. That might be a problem I have to re-examine my life to solve rather than get Nestle to fix it for me.

Anyway either I’m not the only person that finds Kit-Kats to be too sweet or Nestle are actually reading this blog and making Kit-Kats just for me because they have now produced adult sweetness flavour Kit-Kats, Kit-Kats that are less sweet to suit an adult palate. They also replace the wafer with proper crunchy biscuit so what we’ve got here is some kind of premium Kit-Kat. Frankly I’m excited,

But first, as ever, the packaging.

Image

The first thing to note about the packaging is that the two designs are very similar and share a lot of elements so we can largely deal with them as one design. The second is that this is actually a new way of packaging Kit-Kats entirely. Usually this size box contains 4 Kit-Kats, 2 packs of 2 fingers laid horizontally in the box. Instead we have 6 mini Kit-Kat fingers, 3 packs of 2 laid vertically. The design on the packet even stresses this as there is a cutaway at the top showing exactly how many fingers you get. It’s not the nicest design touch but it is good for the consumer since if one encountered this packet in the wild sans illustration one would presume you’d be getting 4 regular Kit-Kats and that could only lead to crushing disappointment. The suicide rate in Japan is high enough without Nestle toying with people’s emotions like that.

I feel that this is also another aspect of targeting it at adults as you can more easily regulate your Kit-Kat intake. Is 2 regular fingers too much for you? Well try just two mini ones instead. Are minis too small? Well have all 6 and its like eating an old school 4 finger pack. Adults like choice and are comfortable making these kinds of decisions whereas kids with their tiny underdeveloped minds would surely struggle.

The packet also opens at the top as well instead of, as is more usual, the side. And it doesn’t open with a straight line but a curvy line highlighted in gold. Pointless but kind of cool, it’s another adult and sophisticated touch.

A lot of design elements are shared by both flavours, we get the standard Kit-Kat logo although its smaller than usual. I approve of this as it looks gaudy and out of place on such an adult bit of packaging. We get the name of the flavour written in Japanese rather than English which just seems classier. A little description of the biscuit written vertically and then a swirl showing off the biscuit pieces and, as is standard a picture of the kat itself, although broken in half in a daring and provocative way. There’s no ability to post them but there is room on the back to write a message, presumably an in depth critique of the artistic statement the tea leaf makes perched, coquettishly against the kat as if to say, “I want you…come and get me.”

Image

Of the two the chocolate works better. For some reason the biscuit swirl is moved up on the macha flavour creating a split between it, the title and the logo and the picture underneath. On the chocolate the swirl creates a kind of linking effect, framing the edge of the picture and drawing the eye down from the logo and across to the picture. Its just smarter design. The colour is more striking too, a deep matte black, not shiny, not patterned but just black. Its very striking and actually stands out on the shelves since it isn’t the overly busy, overly colouful design most other confectionery is. The deep dark green used on the macha is quite handsome but not as striking.

Finally the chocolate packet uses gold lettering and we all know gold equals classy. The macha could have done this too as gold and dark green complement each other very effectively but oddly chose not to.

Image

I’m not going to discuss the designs on the individual kat wrappers since they’re basically just a copy of the box except that again the chocolate is better. Chocolate just has the name, Kit-Kat logo and a black background, macha adds the drawing and biscuit swirl again. Thus the macha has a more busy and cluttered design whereas, again, the chocolate is more simple, more elegant and more striking.

Well that’s enough waffling on about designs, how do they taste?

The chocolate smells lovely, like rich, dark “real” chocolate and its a lovely dark colour too. But it tastes, like a less sweet version of a regular Kit-Kat complete with the same terrible Nestle chocolate we’ve come to know and tolerate. Only weirdly gritty for some reason. It tricks you with the classy design, nice smell and lovely colour into thinking you’re eating real chocolate but it is all illusion, in reality its still the same old crap wrapped up in a new bow.

Although it is nicer than a regular chocolate Kit-Kat just by dint of being eveeeer so sliiiightly richer and a lot less sweet. I’d much rather eat this than a regular one any day of the week.

The wafer is not proper biscuit, it’s still wafer. However, bizarrely, it tastes like biscuit. Specifically like a digestive biscuit. It in no way has the texture of a digestive but the flavour is much closer to a proper biscuit than the bland tasteless wafers you usually get. I’m not usually a fan of digestives but this is nice actually. You start off with a chocolatey hit and then as you chew the digestive flavours really come through mixing with the chocolate for a nice mellow flavour. The after taste is all biscuit too and so you don’t get the sweet after taste kit-kats usually have.

Macha, for those who don’t know, is a kind of green tea. Specifically it’s in powder form, is very, very bitter and is always accompanied by a very sweet cake to offset the bitterness. I’ve never understood macha kit-kats since you need something sweet to counteract the bitter macha so naturally you have a kit-kat, but then making it macha flavoured means it doesn’t work for that purpose. Do you just eat them by themselves?

Of course we have coloured chocolate and so we know what that means. That’s right, soapy blandness! And what does the macha kit-kat provide? Soapy blandness! Yay! Only again, weirdly gritty as well so we can add “horribly textured” to our soapy blandness.

As you eat it a tiny, wee, infinitesimal green tea flavour is detectable but no sooner do you think you can taste it then BOOM digestive flavour kicks in and overpowers everything else. This does not taste of macha at all. You may as well put soap on a digestive biscuit and re-create the experience at home. Green soap if you want authenticity.

In its defence it isn’t sweet and it’s also weirdly refreshing. Whereas the chocolate left a strong digestive after taste that I had to wash down with tea the macha kind of cleansed the palate all by itself so 30 seconds after eating it was like I hadn’t at all.

Overall then the chocolate is slightly better than an original Kit-Kat but fairly dull and the macha is a complete non-entity.


Kobe is known throughout Japan for being an international city, translation, people here don’t freak out when they see a white person.

Actually that’s a bit unfair on Kobe. The city has excellent facilities for promoting internationalization. From the perspective of foreigners it provides facilities such as free Japanese lessons, the translation of all important civic information into English, Spanish, Chinese and Korean, free counseling facilities for culture shock, a variety of religious centres, etc, etc. On the reverse side Kobe has a vast amount of foreign restaurants for a Japanese city and one of the best examples of the JET programme. It also has a decently sized and prominent China Town. A place I never actually go to, and seeing as it was Chinese New Year last weekend I thought I would head down and check out the festivities.

By the way, I must apologise for these photos. I left my memory card at home and so had to take these photos on my cameraphone. Sorry.

China Town in Motomachi, Kobe is pretty much like any other China Town anywhere else. Which I guess makes sense since, theoretically at least, they’re all meant to be a recreation of China. For New Years somebody had hung Chinese lanterns across the street and dozens of flags in bright red and gold. Two colours which dominated the view everywhere one looked. It was all very bright and festive and, unfortunately, rammed full of people wandering aimlessly through too thin streets.

Chinese and Japanese culture nowadays are very different but originally almost everything Japan considers to be high culture was taken from China. Even now the two cultures share a lot of touchstones. Chinese New Year is generally dissimilar to the Japanese shogatsu but there are a few similarities. A focus on families eating meals together and the eating of foods with auspicious names.

But, not being Chinese, I wasn’t partaking of the family meal but rather te distinctly un-shogatsu-like public party that precedes it. However, whilst this part is not much like anything that happens around shogatsu it is pretty much exactly like a standard Japanese matsuri. And that means eating and then watching someone perform something.

The eating part was more than covered. Sannomiya is dense with restaurants but it has nothing on China Town. It is hard to comprehend more places to eat possibly being crammed in there. It seemed like no matter where you looked the eye was greeted by some kind of tasty Chinese dish. In fact bugger seemed, this was literally true. Without looking straight up into the sky it was impossible not to be lookign at some kind of food.

And the smell! The clashing smells of sweets, meats, breads, sauces and people was intoxicating. It was like walking though some kind of sweetly fragranced river drowning in food smells.

Needless to say we ate a lot of food. All you can eat dim sum (yum), nikumanju (pork buns) and a black nikumanju flavoured with squid ink, prawn balls, roast duck, etc, etc.

The black nikuman was particularly good. The filling was the best I have ever had in a pork bun, not too salty, really fresh with really fresh cabbage and even some little prawns enlivening the mixture. I bought it from a stall that a friend of mine works at and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone visiting Kobe China Town.

Fran had an unusual concoction called a “moffle”. A mochi-waffle. Mochi is a kind of Japanese rice cake and in the “moffle” a filling was placed between two sheets of rice cake and then cooked in a waffle iron. It was ooey, goeey, sticky, sweet, crunchy and basically everything a dessert should be.

In-between stuffing ourselves Fran and I took in the stage displays in open jawed amazement.

First up was a lion dance done by students from the Hyogo Commercial High School. A friend of mine works there and had always raved about how amazing her kids were. She was right. The drummer was ferocious, really primal, almost frightening even. The dance was well co-ordinated and with exceptional acrobatics from such young kids. I’m not usually one for dances (I tire of them quickly and start thinking about other things, like where the music is coming from, what I’m having for tea or who actually does enjoy watching dances) but I was spellbound by this one.

They followed it up with a dragon dance. Basically a paper dragon on poles was manipulated by the dancers in time to music on taiko, gong, tambourine and other percussion instruments. This too was spellbinding and some of the tricks the kids managed to pull off with the dragon puppet were brilliant. The dragon flowed and danced and came alive for a short moment.

The students finished up and were treated to a pair of drummers doing comedy skits and playing elaborate and complex rhythms. Their drumming was impressive but it lacked the primal power of the taiko. It was kind of fiddly. Still it was incredible to listen to and played excellently.

The performances started to veer into the repetitive shortly after this, with another lion dance (nowhere near as impressive as the first but admittedly with better acrobatics) and then a repeat performance from the drummers. About this time the cold and boredom began to settle in and Fran and I made our own fun by wandering around and laughing at the hilarious things we found in souvenir shops.

We came back to watch the lion bless our friend’s stall. This consisted of yet another dance and by now my enthusiasm for watching two men in a costume jump up and down had long since deserted me and every second I had to spend with the sodding lion was beginning to get on my nerves, just a touch. Still, the look on my friend’s face when the lion seemed to attack him was priceless and well worth waiting for.

All in all Chinese New Year was alright for a cheap Sunday out but nothing particularly special.

Now that nikuman though, that was special.

%d bloggers like this: