Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Heartwarming Moment

The weather has started to get colder and that always spells a little winter depression for me.  October has been way too busy and I've honestly been feeling a bit overwhelmed.  But today I had a very heartwarming moment that helped to remind me of why I came here in the first place.

Last week, while I was waiting for my boat to take me back to my island after school three adorable elementary school girls came over to hang out with me.  They ran little races with funny walks for me.  They joined me in yelling "See you" to all the junior high students who passed by.  They asked me what all sorts of words were in English, and, to my great joy and surprise, even remembered some of them later.   They even insisted on carrying all of my stuff down to the boat for me, despite my bag being incredibly heavy.  When I got on the boat they stood on the pier and waved and danced and called out "See you!"  They stood there waving as the boat pulled back and stayed there until I couldn't see them anymore.  It was a great end to the day, and needless to say I couldn't stop smiling.

Today I was waiting again and two of the giggling girls ran over.  They had big mischievous grins on their faces and told me to wait for a moment.  I'm not sure where they thought I was going to go, but I assured them that I would wait and they ran off again.  They came strolling back with a third girl, all (badly) hiding something behind their backs.  They made a cute little line in front of me and argued about who was going to go first for a moment.  They decided to all reveal their surprises at once.

These three lovely masterpieces are pictures of me.  And they are probably three of the best presents I have ever received.  These girls are first graders.  I have only taught their class once, and that was way back before summer vacation.  I'm at their school once a week and I attend things like Sports Day and I've stuck my head into their classroom just for fun a few times, but all in all we haven't had that much interaction.  But I'm still important enough in their lives that they took the time to make these for me.  Despite our limited time together I've clearly made a connection with these young girls. 

The whole reason I came to Japan was to make these kinds of connections.  At the end of the day I may not be the best English teacher but there is no denying that I have made a difference here, however small.  I owe these girls a lot of thanks for reminding me of that.  And on days when I feel like I'm doing everything wrong their gifts will remind me again. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Gegege no Kitaro live action movies

Another brief movie review due to my fascination with Japanese demons and ghosts. Gegege no Kitaro (which just means Kitaro from the Gegege Forest) is a very popular manga series here in Japan. It is credited with reviving interest in Yokai (demons) across Japan. It has been turned into an animated series no less than 5 times. I knew about it, but for some odd reason I never really looked into it. It looks like it could easily become one of my favorite series (so don’t be surprised if you hear more about it in the future). Unfortunately, because it does rely pretty heavily on Japanese culture, it has never been brought over to the states. Kodansha apparently translated the first three volumes of the manga as part of their Bilingual Manga Project, but now they are out of print and really hard to find. So I suppose it’s not really that surprising that I didn’t know too much about this series.

Kitaro is a demon who tries to prevent other demons from causing too much trouble in the human world. He’s one of the good demons, who simply wants us all to coexist peacefully. Kitaro has a number of friends who join him on his various adventues, including his father (whose body has decayed to just an eyeball), a cat girl, a rat man, a wall, and a flying white cloth.  They go up against various demons and have a bunch of interesting weapons at their disposal.  It's a lot of fun.

While we were looking for the last movie I talked about, we saw that there were a couple Gegege movies and decided to check them out. The first movie, simply called Gegege no Kitaro (released in 2007), had English subtitles, which we unfortunately didn’t realize until about three-fourths of the way through the film. The story revolves around the search and fight for a magical stone of great power which was removed from its protected shrine and ends up in the hands of humans. Kitaro gets involved trying to protect a high school girl and her little brother while trying to find what their father did with the stone. It was a really fun movie and I really enjoyed all of the demons that showed up throughout the film. The film wasn’t perfect by any means. Some of the special effects are really lame (especially Neko Masume’s transformation, ick). The little kid actor isn’t very good and thankfully in many scenes he is just required to sit around and look sad. But it does a good job of introducing the characters and the world of the demons. And it has kitsune, so that’s an automatic winner in my book. If you like demons and monsters and realize that you are watching a movie made for a younger audience that didn’t have an enormous budget you will probably enjoy it. Also there is an awesome demon dance party at the end, and who doesn’t love that?

The second movie (released in 2008) is called Gegege no Kitaro and the Thousand Year Curse Song. A young girl is cursed and Kitaro and friends try to help break her curse and deal with the greater evil behind it all. Sadly, no English subtitles this time. Unlike the first movie, this one doesn’t really try to set up the world and the characters for the audience. It really jumps right in, so if you are unfamiliar with the series this might not be the best place to go for your first taste. I would imagine they had a bigger budget this time around as many things are greatly improved. Neko Masume’s entire costume looks better and she doesn’t get any awkward transformation scenes like last time. Kitaro only has one eye, and the empty socket of the other one is almost always covered by his hair. In the first movie they completely ignored this and you could frequently see his other eye when the wind blew his hair or even when he turned his head quickly. This time the wig was much thicker and I don’t think I ever saw his other eye. They even threw in a bit with him looking at a bunch of glass eyes to kind of ret con the eye you could see in the last movie and bring it closer to cannon in that regard. This movie had less demons than the first one, but the ones that it did feature were pretty well done (I could have done without the poop slinging deer demon thing, though). We still had a small dance party, although this one was just tanuki and Neko Masume. The music was really good in this movie too, very dynamic and exciting. The action scenes were also much better choreographed.

For all their faults I really enjoyed both movies. Unfortunately, neither movie was released in America. You can probably find places to buy them online, but you’ll need a region two or region free DVD player to watch them and they probably won’t be cheap. If you do decide you want to check them out, I recommend heading to the Gegege no Kitaro Wikipedia page first and checking out the character bios. Unfortunately, there isn’t a plot synopsis for the movies on the page (the second movie isn’t even listed), so you’ll have to muddle through the plot of the second (subtitle-less) one on your own.

*Small Spoiler Alert*

Eric was upset that in both movies Kitaro doesn’t actually beat either of the final monsters. He gets help in both movies from much stronger demons who seem to come in as a sort of deus ex machina. I actually liked that as it showed that Kitaro is NOT the strongest in the demon world. He is fighting a really hard battle against really steep odds and fights anyway. Others recognize his efforts and join him and his cause. It gave a sense of depth to the demon world for me, showing how vast and potentially powerful the demons are.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Epic Stories

This is the 50th post I have made to this blog! Yay! First of all, thank you to everyone who has been reading this blog up till now, and a super big thank you to everyone who has commented. It really means a lot to me that people take the time to see what I’m up to over here (and helps me to not feel completely detached and forgotten). I’m happy that I can share my experiences with my friends and family, as well as people I have never met! I have a lot of posts written up and will try to be a bit more regular about posting them in the future. But enough about me. You’re all really here because I promised something epic for this post, and I aim to deliver.

During my first year on the JET program I had some amazing junior high third grade (9th grade) students. My time with them was far too short, but they certainly made an impression on me. And after this post I’m sure you will see why. For Bunkasai, or Culture Festival which will likely get its own lengthy post later, one of the elective classes did small projects in English. Most students translated Japanese songs or poems into English. But one group of three boys (who all lived in the neighborhood of Arakuchi) decided to write some stories of their own in English.

They wrote and illustrated two stories and I will share them with you now. I know that I’ve been able to share the first story with a lot of you (although it’s worth reading again) but I managed to get some screen shots of the video I took and now I can share the second story with you as well! I’ve typed out the text so it’s easier to read, but I’ve tried to copy it exactly as they wrote it for you to enjoy. Click on any of the pictures to get a bigger view (apologies for the poor quality of the second set).  Enjoy!

By Kento, Kazushi, and Tomohisa

In Goshoura, there were Tomo, Ken and Kazu. They liked sea and often went swimming.

When they were swimming as usual, a tornado appeared near them and they were blown off.

They came to themselves and here was a deserted island. “Where is here?” The looked around well and they found some well known sceneries. But there were many trees around them.

“Boom! Booooom!” They went to the place where the sound came. Then, there were many dinosaurs. “What are they?”

A T-Rex was surprised by the voice and it ran after them. They dashed hard. But they were caught up by the T-Rex and they were almost eaten. At the very time, “Wait!! Wait!!” “Gaaaaaa! Who are you!!”

“Red of passion, Arakuchi Red! Loving the sea, Arakuchi Blue! Shining star, Arakuchi Yellow! Forest guardian, Arakuchi Green! Together, Arakuchi Rangers!!”

“Get this.” “Red pepper!”

“Blue chainsaw!”

“Yellow volt!”

“Green bazooka!”

“Boooooooooon!!!!!” The T-Rex was blown off. “Thank you, Arakuchi rangers.” “You were in dangers. OK. Let’s go back to the present time together.” “What? The present time?” Yes, here was in Goshoura hundred million years ago.

By Kento, Kazushi, and Tomohisa

When they got up they were in Kento’s house.

“Goooooooooooo” Then Kento was changing his appearance. He became an Alien. He had big eyes, his mouth was torn, with big ears, long nails, and a Tail. He was 3 meters tall.
“Go to hell.” “Super miracle hyper beautiful game.”

Yes, it really says that.

While he was saying that Tomohisa and Kazushi ran away. But Kento’s house was a maze. Tomohisa and Kazushi was found soon. Kazushi said “What were you doing, Kento?”. Tomohisa said “You were not such a man”. Kento said “I am the Alien from Tonkatsu Planet. I came here to conquest the Earth.” “You are an Alien Tonkatsu.” I’ve ever heard.” “They eat Tonkatsu as a main dish and they live in a peaceful planet.”

“Why do you want to conquest the Earth?” “My planet Tonkatsu was lost. So I come to this planet to find new Tonkatsu.” “Now I know the reason.” “Then grill and eat us.” “Oh thank you. I’ll eat you.”

“Wait wait.” “Who are you?”
“Red of passion, Arakuchi Red! Loving the sea, Arakuchi Blue! Shining star, Arakuchi Yellow! Forest guardian, Arakuchi Green! Together, Arakuchi Rangers!!” “Get this.”

“Red fire.” “Blue water.” “Yellow lemon.” “Green leaf.” “Boooooooooooooom.” Kento flew in to the sky and disappeared.

“Thank you Arakuchi Range…” Gaba!! They were sleeping in Kento’s house. To tell the truth everything was a dream.

The Goshoura Rangers also made an appearance in the third graders’ skit that year as they showed up to rescue two students from wild boars (one of whom was played by the homeroom teacher) by singing at them. It was by far the best part of the day, so of course my camera ran out of batteries while I was taping it and didn’t save. But I still have the memories and I'm glad I can share them with you.

Hopefully by the 100th post I will have something equally awesome to share with you all!