Sunday, May 22, 2016

Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!!

Bottom line: I really don’t understand Japanese culture but Gaki No Tsukai is fun.
In Japan, for the past ten years on New Years Eve, a program called Gaki No Tsukai Batsu Game has been broadcasted. According to Wikipedia, the full title is Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! which translates to “Downtown’s This Is No Task for Kids!” Five comedians take part in a 24-hour challenge where they cannot laugh. If they do, they are punished (usually it’s a spanking at the hands of rod wielding masked men). They are comedians so they have a tendency to make each other laugh, but to ensure punishments the producers introduce humorous situations, gags, and cameos. The program has become so popular that it is around five hours long.
As a slight aside, there is a group called Team Gaki who write English translation-subtitles for the show. They not only translate the dialog, the signs, the text, but they include helpful culture cues. At one point, for example, one of the comedians is forced to dress up in a costume. When he walks into the room, all of the other comedians burst into laughter. It isn’t just a silly costume; it’s a character from a manga published in the early ‘70’s. Team Gaki puts a special explanatory note on the screen. It’s wicked awesome. Even better, they offer download links to the previous Batsu games (in high definition too).
Even with the translator notes, Gaki No Tsukai is a potpourri of culture that is lost on me. Occasionally, a junior member of the crew speaks casually to a senior member. The insolence of using a casual tone becomes a humorous point of contention. One, there is a language difference. In English, as you probably know, we don’t have a clear distinction between casual and formal speaking. Two, it’s interesting that even in these absurd situations, those cultural tenets hold strong.

I’d love to know more about the role of violence or physical comedy in Japanese culture and television. There’s a scene where two forty-year-old men dress in Sumo wrestler garb (so they’re nearly naked). The one tickles the other and if the other makes a noise, he loses. This tickle fight is performed in front of the five comedians who, again, will be spanked by masked men if they laugh. I don’t think you could get more homoerotic which, of course, is fine. I just don’t understand it, culturally.
Would I recommend Gaki No Tsukai? Well, it’s bizarre and funny at times. If you are down for watching something different and you’re into slapstick or physical humor, then definitely check it out. Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 20, 2016


Directed by Sam Mendes. Written by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth, and Ian Fleming (characters). Starring Daniel Craig (James Bond), Christoph Waltz (Blofeld), and Léa Seydoux (Madeliene).

Bottom line: Spectre is one of the most generic and bland Bond films I’ve seen; there’s really no reason to see it.
1/4 Daniel Craig returns to his role as the International Man of Mystery super spy James Bond in Spectre. Spectre is the name of a super secret evil organization. I believe the organization first appeared in Thunderball (1965) but it never became more than an occasional reference. In this iteration of the franchise, however, Bond has to take the villainous conglomerate head on and, let me tell you, he does so with an unbridled lackadaisy. Quite honestly, there isn’t anything noteworthy about Spectre. It’s almost like the filmmakers said, “Alright, well, we don’t have any ideas for James Bond right now so let’s just have him go after that big villain organization. What was the name of it? Octopus? Ghost? Oh yeah, Spectre!” It comes across as a poor attempt to increase the stakes. It seems silly though; after all, a poker game could be made exciting. It’s all about how you do it. But, in any case, artificially making the stakes bigger (or attempting to) happens throughout the movie: Bond gets a fancy new Aston Martin DB10 (made especially for this movie), he uncovers secrets about his upbringing, and in the introduction, he blows up an entire city block. All this and it still falls flat. It seems like everyone involved phoned in for this film. I’m not just talking about the performances. Consider the one of the main subplots for this film. The 00 program is being phased out by a new department of the government that focuses on having a complete digital surveillance network *cough* NSA *cough*. “Is the 00 Program too old fashioned?” Now, wait a sec. The plot for Skyfall (a previous Daniel Craig-Bond movie) focused heavily on the government questioning the relevancy of the 00 program too. One of Spectre’s colorful villains is the assassin Hinx played by Dave Bautista. He’s a giant guy with metal thumbnails. Have the villains always been this silly? Odd Job - a nigh unintelligible bodyguard who throws a metal bowler. Jaws - a giant tough guy who has metal teeth. Pussy Galore - a woman actually named Pussy Galore. Alright, alright. Maybe this villain wasn’t that silly… So, in the interest of our discussion, let me get to some spoilers so we can really talk about this move. In sum, don’t see Spectre. If you’re a Bond fan, I’m sure you’ve already seen this but if you haven’t, don’t worry about it; there are plenty of other, better Bond movies. Maybe it was a shift in tone. Up to this point, Daniel Craig as James Bond was the super serious Bond, but from the cheesy lines, to the weak dialog, Spectre feels like a poorly executed throwback. Now, let’s get to some nitty gritty details (mind yourself of spoilers). Let’s consider Christoph Waltz’s character and his catchphrase. The scene is set for a sinister villain meeting; villainous figures sit in a big room discussing recent successful assassinations. A big door opens and, shrouded in darkness, the ringleader enters. Yadda yadda yadda the villain welcomes the hitherto hidden James Bond (to the shock of no one but James). The villain sits forward into the light, looks menacingly up at James and says “Cuckoo.” Clearly, that’s supposed to be a villainous catch phrase but it isn’t very successful. Now, in much the same way that I looked at other Bond henchmen, the catch phrases from James Bond characters aren’t the best; lot’s of innuendo or little singers. The first example that comes to mind is a fight scene where a thug falls into a bathtub. Acting quickly, Bond throws a lamp into the water and electrocutes the baddy. Bond looks and says, “Shocking.” It’s quick, cheesy, but it does its job. I think one of the more successful lines is from Goldfinger. It’s the famous scene where Bond is tied down to a steel table and he’s about to be sliced by a cutting laser slowly. Goldfinger says, “You’d better choose your next quip wisely, Mr. Bond.” “Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.” Again, it’s basic and quick and it’s successful because it’s unexpected. I don’t know what I would’ve expected him to say, but I didn’t think he would be so frank. Granted, by this point, this line is a cliché but it’s certainly better than “cuckoo.” To understand what ‘cuckoo’ means, we have to wait the entire movie until the villain gives an extended monologue (according to IMDB): Blofeld: You know what happens when a cuckoo hatches inside another bird's nest? Madeleine Swann: Yes. It forces the other eggs out. Blofeld: Yes. Well, this cuckoo made me realize my father's life had to end. In a way he's responsible for the path I took... [to Bond] Blofeld: So thank you, cuckoo! “Cuckoo”? More like “contrived.” But seriously, it feels like a plot device that the writers thought would be totally cool because it bookends the interactions between the characters. Only the movie goes on for another half hour. Moreover, it’s meaningless without the explanation and, once provided, doesn’t feel satisfying. As guilty as it makes me feel, I’ve gotta say, at the end of the movie, when Bond decides not to kill the Waltz, I was hoping Bond would say ‘cuckoo.’ Gosh that would’ve been cheesy (and maybe that’s why they didn’t do it) but it could’ve been fun. I mean, how can we be all serious when you have a villain with metal thumbnails? One last point that I’d like to bring up is the intro sequence. The Bond franchise is famous (or infamous) for it’s introductions. They are always stylized in a way that fits into the movie. Consider the theme for Casino Royale. The main plot device in the film is a poker game so the intro features bullets in the shapes of spades piercing figures that fall apart into little hearts, etc. They can be enjoyable because sometimes they foreshadow the movie. In line with the rest of the film, Spectre’s intro is lame. I was going to try and find a more sophisticated word but lame works. Instead of being stylized in a neat way, it’s just clear images of Bond, women and nigh literal scenes of the preceding film, with the modification of octopi. Instead of a bikini – an octopus is wrapped around a woman’s body. Instead of a pillar – a tentacle. Instead of shadow cast by a hand - it’s an octopus. I mean, I get it guys, the mascot of the secrete organization is an octopus but sheesh, let’s tone it down a little. So, what do you think? Did you see Spectre? Follow up question if you have, are you a fan of Bond movies? Let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading!