JLPT in 2012

It is currently December of 2011 and I have been studying Japanese in one form or another for the past five and half years. Thinking about it in those terms make it feel so much longer ago than I can imagine, but time seems to move quite quick.

Today the 2011 JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) or the Nihongo noryoku shiken (日本語能力試験) was held at sites all over the world. While the website can provide more details (http://www.jlpt.jp/e/) this test represents the bar for most foriengers studying Japanese to gauge their level of comprehension. Passing the highest level, currently N1, provides bragging rights and a nice line on your resume for any respective company of your language level. Like many my goal is to one take and pass this exam. Even with a minimum pass of around 60% it still proves exceedingly challenging for a variety of test-taker.

I have registered once for the test, but did not take it. This was part out of scheduling, but mostly out of fear. I have always fared extremely poorly on standardized tests (hello STA and GRE guh). However, my early New Years resolution is to make a dedicated effort over the course of the coming year to prepare for, register and take the JLPT exam in 2012. The test is now offered bi-annually in July and December. Realistically the December test date will provide a greater amount of time to prepare, but potentially the July test date will leave me less encumbered by fall term course work.

Regardless I feel it is time to set a goal for myself and language study again. While a good portion of what I study for will be relatively inconsequential to most of my language use, the attempt will undoubtedly provide benefits I cannot see now.

It is a large goal, but seeing that the only way to accomplish these activities to plan early and often I will be giving it the old PhD try.

Until next time, cheers!

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Winter plans

In less than a month my first term as a PhD will be over and I will be back in Oregon. This term has been eye-opening for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is figuring out my goals and aspirations for the future. It is a bit broad, but in the humanities I’m paid to dream big.

Really entering into film studies has opened me up to the amount of films I would like to see in the future. There are countless classics and many films from Europe I need to see, but that will take a lifetime. In the coming months I also want to frequent the theater more. With finals and the last week of classes I will feel guilty pulling myself away, but in the coming weeks I want to park myself in a dark theater auditorium as frequent as possible.

Some of the big films on that list include (in not particular order)

The Descendants

Hugo

Warhorse

The Muppets

Tinker, Sailor, Soldier, Spy

The Artist

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Tin Tin

Carnage

Rampart

Shame

Tyrannosaur

My Week With Marilyn

(Oh and I have a real interest in finishing my Woody Allen filmography)

While it will be hard to see each film, the pursuit is half the fun. It is nice to know there is always something more out there. Something to strive for, something to keep the senses tingling and the interest up.

Until next time, cheers!

Categories: Life

Film, Media, Life

2011/09/19 1 comment

Well the past few months since my last post have been a real shakeup

I moved back from Japan, jumped into Oregon, wrote my Master’s thesis and graduated from the University of Oregon.

Since then I taught my first course as an adjunct instructor, packed up all my stuff, drove to the middle of the US and began work as a PhD student in the Film and Media Studies Department of the University of Kansas (KU).

I never saw or envisioned a time when I would live in the midwest, but when I think about what the coming years have in store (readings/writing/pulling out my hair) this is the best place to do it I feel.

I have been in Lawrence for just over a month now and am slowly getting adjusted to the pace of life, being back in course work and developing relationships with the people in my department..

It will be a transition for a period of time, I still feel like I am unpacking and I still have so much to do. Also, by switching departments from Asian studies and specifically Japan to Film and Media there is so much ground work to cover. I do not feel so behind from the other first years in the department, but I do know that more and better work is needed from me to feel like I am doing my best.

Over the past month I have started watching an abundant amount of films and just by being in the department I will at minimum be watching two or three films each week. Added to that any theater going experiences or nights with Netflix or the abundant amount of material on my hard drive. Since writing is very quickly becoming a more comprehensive component of my life I hope this blog can return to its original function of allowing me to write the cliche, hyperbole, and pure rough edges writing that wants to leap out of me with every first draft of a paper (Yes, since the beginning of time people have been watching films). That said I do hope to share my experiences as a PhD in the humanities which continues to have a ‘sky is falling’ proclamation of doom levied at it daily. At least in my little world the sky seems pretty blue for now, which I will try to ride out as long as possible.

Until next time, cheers!

Categories: Uncategorized

The Thesis

Well it is the start of week seven and two weeks until I turn my thesis draft into the advisors. I am a signficant way through the project, but I have quite a bit of writing left to go. The struggle has been the middle section, which is a giant literature review of available materials. While I had the larger framework for that section written down, it has taken time to piece it all together and provide an analysis for each piece. In turn each of those pieces has to relate to my overall argument.

This paper is not really a paradigm shift in the field as much as the next step in the chain of academic study going on about my topic, centering around Japanese New Wave Cinema. If it were nearly ten years earlier I might have a more groundbreaking topic, but as is often the case after discovering my topic and doing a significant amount of research, forming questions and a framework for the paper; I found a professor who has made his career looking at nearly the same time period and people. As he has been doing this for much longer, is much more established and has been a part of the circle who meets the right people and displays extraordinary skill in the field his book will be published. When that book is published in a year or so it will be foolish to attempt an entire dissertation which merely provides a different take on the same people and concepts.

This isn’t a very significant problem at the moment. As a formulate my question for the dissertation work, however, I must be mindful of the developments of the field and paper presented at conferences which indicate new research being done. This seems like a rather duh comment, but with the importance of staking your own claim in the academic sphere it will be important to explore material that is not as charted as others.

Anyway, two more weeks to go and I am going to have to push. I look forward to working through the rest of this material and having it ready to present to my advisors.

Until next time, Cheers!

Categories: Film Studies, Life

Kabei (2008)

This past week finally gave into my Netflix suggestion and watched the film Kabei (2008) directed by, Yamada Yoji. Yamada is very well-known for the extremely long running and warmly regarded Tora-san or Otoko wa tsurai yo series which debuted in the 1960’s and ended in the mid 1990’s after 48 entries upon the death of main actor, Atsumi Kiyoshi.

This film chronicles the life of one family throughout Japan’s war with China and the United States. Through the eyes (and narration) of the family’s youngest daughter the events of her father’s incarceration for thought crimes and mother’s hard work to keep the family together are laid out in a slow and deliberate manner. Even with a standard running time of two hours each scene paints a detailed portrait of the family’s struggle.

While the story, narrative structure, costuming, and cinematography all strengthen the film, the actors who fill the space and give life to the story fall a bit short. The film required a delicate balance of sadness and repressed emotions. The script seemed to call for characters to reach the brink of sanity before pulling back and keeping their emotions tucked away. This is a challenging task, but not impossible. The interactions between Kabei, her children and Toru (Asano Tadanobu) are generally engaging and it is easy to be swept up by the narrative beats of the film.

Unfortunately, because Yamada covers so much ground through the narrative of the film specific moments, such as characters death, are given short shrift. In these scenes the actors seem to fail at imparting the proper emotion or thrust of the scene. In addition, the editing of these crucial scenes comes off almost comical through the speed of a cut or the length of time a shot remains focused on an object or person. This is a matter of personal taste, but it quickly threw this viewer out of a film depicting a relatively unique wartime experience.

I am a fan of a lot of Yamada’s work, but in key areas this film fell short and it is a shame. However, with the recent announcement that his next feature, Tokyo Kazoku, will play off similar themes to Ozu’s, Tokyo Monogatari and even incorporate the recent events of the Tohoku earthquake into the narrative, I will be very interested to see what lays ahead.

Until next time, Cheers!

As petty as ever

It has been just under two weeks since I returned from Japan and narrowly avoided the earthquake and tsunami which struck nearly 48 hrs later. In that time I have attended an academic conference in New Orleans, unpacked my things, met with friends, re-packed my things and moved back to my home university for a final term of thesis writing, teaching and graduating.

Even with all the struggles my friends in Japan have been facing and the interesting experiences that have come since returning home I find I am as petty as ever. While I do my best to be a compassionate friend and kind individual the slightest hiccup has the potential to send me reeling into a temper tantrum worthy of the best preschooler out there.

The latest came as a result of a package sent through amazon to an address other than my permanent one. The issue being that while the address to my friend was correct I should never have put my name on it. Big mistake! The reason being that this address uses a central office to receive any package larger than the mail slot for the apartment (basically letter sized). In addition this offices uses a wonderful system of notifying residents only when name and address match up perfectly. I do understand the logic of this system except that even in the case of a primary resident who receives a package with a name other than that listed at the apartment office (like a nick-name, shortened version of their name, or any other discrepancy) the package is immediately returned to sender with no notification or double-check with the current resident. When I think that a simple phone call or email would have alleviated this entire problem it just sent me into a tailspin. At the end of the day all of my materials will be recovered and re-shipped. It just means a delay of about a month to handle it all.

While I would like to blame others (as I have done for the past hour) the frustration is mostly with myself. I am frustrated I did not foresee the problems with mailing a package to an address in which I am not the listed primary resident. I am frustrated by my reaction to the situation. Most of all I am frustrated that this is a problem which actually bothers me enough to fester about and need to blog on to receive some measure of perspective or closure. Plenty of other issues out there, need to just move on down the road. I do feel better now, just wish it did not have to be this much of a process. Here’s to less pettiness in 2011!

Until next time, Cheers!

UPDATE:

Strange things afoot less than twenty-four hours of posting this blog. Through some bizarre chain of events in the postal system, after the package was returned to sender it was apparently re-routed through the post office back to be delivered. Imagine the shock and aw as the package sat inside the apartment box. The only problem now is to properly return one of the items I purchased yesterday as a result of all this mix-up business. Either way, strangest postal experienced ever.

The Social Network (2010)

2011/02/21 1 comment

The Social Network is a remarkable film. Directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin the film is worth all the hyperbolic phrases that can be thrown at it. It is the first film of my adult life which has an importance now, but over time will become an even more critical work of American cinema. My initial reaction was that the film could be read as a hybrid of The Paper Chase and Network. Both are strong films which have only gotten better over time. Whatever weaknesses the film may have, after a second viewing I am even more certain that this film will obtain a special place in cinema history.

Focusing on three character’s, Mark Zuckerburg, Eduardo Saverin, and Sean Parker, during the creation of facebook the film provides a tangential connection to the millions who use the site and see the film. Personally, I was an undergraduate during the inception of facebook and clearly remember setting up a profile in my tiny University Commons apartment. While I did not attend Harvard or any of the Ivy league schools, I was privy to the site in the days when a user had to have a registered university email account to access the site. Even for people who were not a part of facebook’s initial stages or care little for social networking can connect with this story.

Aaron Sorkin has repeatedly described that the film is less about the experience of facebook and more about greed, power, friendship, lust, love and betrayal. However, with this ‘good-ol’ storytelling style it simplistically and problematically places women into the category of groupie slut or angelic voice of reason. Essentially, The Madonna or The Whore. Even with this issue the strength of the actors, storytelling, and editing remain so focused it is a challenge not to heap praise on the film.

In addition to these elements, I feel a significant amount of credit must be given to the film’s score, composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Similar to the compelling score of Sneakers the music of the film enhances each scene and makes programing lines of code a real adrenaline rush. In particular the tracks, In Motion and A Familiar Taste which play during the brainstorming, creation, and launch of Zukerburg’s initial attempt of facemash create a frenzy of image and sound. The melodic themes combing electronic and traditional compositions propel the scene while never overtaking the characters. I would argue the opposite is true of the similarly composed TRON:Legacy soundtrack by Daft Punk which essentially turns the film into a two-hour music video.

Shot on, The Red One digital camera, the cinematography is gorgeous and filled with the lush dark reds and golds that run through any Fincher film. Even though the frame is dark the colors feel deep and probing. Viewers are guided to specific spots on the frame, but the darkness around the edges hints at something more tempting if you choose to explore the space. Absolutely wonderful.

In one of the most dynamic scenes Fincher and crew cut between Zuckerburg’s dorm room, the Phoenix Final Club party and various locations around campus to balance tension with humor as facemash spreads throughout the campus community. The use of slow motion effectively raises the drama while the score hints at the sinister nature of the game all the while punctured by humor as each student makes their selection. Each of these elements is well balanced and helps a scene which would fall flat in lesser hands.

If there is any weakness to the film it would have to be the ending, which is the tragic element for so many Hollywood pictures. The conversation with Rashida Jones character echoing the themes set up in the opening scene feel forced. I compare this scene to the moment on a carnival ride or roller coaster when the action stops and the passengers coast back to the starting gate. You are still in the ride and you know it is coming to an end, but these last few moments feel like boring compared to the controlled insanity just experienced. During each viewing when the final scene arrived, I felt cheated by the machine operator and wanted just one more time around the bend. That is the best compliment for any movie, when after two hours you still want more, you still want to be with these characters and you just want the ride to continue. The Social Network is one of those rare films that makes going to the cinema some kind of wonderful.

Until next time, Cheers!

PS

I do enjoy watching the Academy Awards every year and even mark a ballot. However, I rarely voice an opinion about which film should ‘win’ as it seems rather meaningless. I do hope this film wins the lot though, if only for placing it on a list that will guarantee future generations access. On that same coin, some of my favorite films are those that have lost (There Will be Blood) or were never even nominated (El Dorado). So you know, whatever.

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