Off to Glasgow today, ready for tomorrow’s big onstage interview with Mamoru Hosoda at the Glasgow Film Theatre. This will actually be the fourth time I interview Hosoda about his film, Belle. We’ve joked about the second time being a “disappointing sequel” after his revelations about Paw Patrol, but he decided to surprise me by talking about an anime called Gunbuster, which as some of you may be aware, I am a bit of a fan of, which made the second one even better, and then he started talking about the Rolling Stones, and the third one trumped the others. But if a series of interviews were the Star Wars films, this fourth outing will be our Phantom Menace, which would make me Jar-Jar Binks.
“England the bumptious gaijin transforms into a living culture clash, not only chronicling an excruciating catalogue of faux pas, but also the oddities of Japanese PR through foreign eyes – he is, for example, comically aghast at what passes for a “special event” in Japan, where fans are expected to shell out £100 for a ‘sneak preview’ and a jigsaw. In a world where Japanese production executives are notoriously thin-skinned about absolutely everything, I almost spat out my coffee imagining how one of them might react to the revelation that the bento boxes supplied by Toho apparently all ‘suck ass,’ even if England does put such a review in the mouth of an unidentifiable crewmember.”
Over at All the Anime, I review Norman England’s new memoir of life in the rubber-monster movie business.
Filmed back in 2020 mid-lockdown, my talking head appearance in 1,000 Years of History: China is apparently finally visible on My5. Trailer here.
“Evangelion had effectively broken the mold for prime-time TV, and there was a scramble to make some kind of follow-up that did something different,” Clements explains. “Cowboy Bebop went for a sci-fi future without giant robots” — again, defying the conventions of science fiction anime at the time.
Over at Entertainment Weekly, I am one of the talking heads in Tyler Aquilina’s introduction to the Cowboy Bebop anime and its long history with the American mainstream.
Up now on Noiser podcasts (for free!), A Short History of the Samurai, featuring that Paul McGann as the narrator, and that Jonathan Clements as the talking head. For those who want to know more, of course, there’s always my Brief History of the Samurai (which is £3.99 on the Kindle, so still a bargain).
I actually broke down for a bit while retelling the story of Dannoura, as I usually do, but they very discreetly snipped out me sobbing.
The area around the drum tower is thick with people. Tourists from all over the province, Kam youths and twentysomethings on vacation from their urban jobs – hipster girls from Canton pretending that this is all jolly larks, and their boyfriends in basketball shirts and baseball caps, like inflatable gangsters that have yet to be attached to a pump nozzle. All are clustered around the carp pond in the village centre, munching on melons and chanting the Chinese equivalent of Why Are We Waiting, while old men chuff on cheroots and the grannies wonder if anyone is coming in for lunch.
If you wish to hold a Kam fishing competition, you will first require a rancid area of water the size of a tennis court. Be sure to throw all your trash in it through the year, and for extra fun, try slaughtering half a dozen cattle the day before and hosing their terrified bowel evacuations into the water.
You will then need to get drunk. I mean, really drunk. I mean, try to make sure you can barely stand, and that the only thing which can hold you upright is the possibility that one of your mates is leaning in the opposite direction and you can cancel out each other’s collapse.
Smear mud on each other’s faces, then dress up. Leaders might like to wear a nice blue ballgown, others might prefer an Indian feather headdress, a policeman’s uniform, or perhaps a comical construction worker’s outfit. Because this is rural, tribal China, absolutely nobody will draw the obvious conclusion that you have just turned yourselves into a blackface parody of the Village People, accompanied for some reason by Jason from Friday 13th and a bunch of men banging gongs and letting off firecrackers.
Then jump in the pond, and RELEASE THE CARP!
The village men completely ignore the carp, and instead turn on each other in a free-for-all, splashing each other and the crowd, dumping mud on each other’s heads, and occasionally paying a vague homage to the idea that they are supposed to be feeling in the water for fish, in the manner that Pan taught me up in the rice paddies the other day.
Some of the observers, not dressed as the blackface Village People, but certainly locals, also jump in. Then, two of the locals grab one of their friends and push him in. I look around me to see if we are filming, and see instead Pan, our local fixer, sprinting straight for me. I turn with him and we jump together into the pond, whereupon everybody starts splashing us and whooping.
This is, it turns out, what happens. All new arrivals are thoroughly drenched by everybody else for a while, until people get bored and return to the job at hand, which is supposedly looking for the carp. At the time, however, I don’t know this, and presume simply that the entire nation of the Kam has turned on me and flung gritty, muddy water into my eyes. Somebody dumps mud on my head, and I chase around after Pan like a big muddy bear.
I am sure it all looks quite spontaneous to the crowd, although I have been preparing for this for weeks. I have arrived at the pond wearing my aqua shoes, not my boots, and although I look no different to an outside observer, I am actually wearing old clothes from last year’s shoot – one of the advantages of having five identical outfits. I am not wearing my watch and my pockets are empty, and I know I have a complete set of fresh clothes waiting down at the hostel.
Pan, however, hasn’t thought this through quite so hard, and sloshes over to the edge of the pond to dump a muddy confection in the director’s hand, which turns out to be his wallet, phone and keys.
The Village People Construction Worker has caught a fish. He brandishes a golden carp to the cheering crowd, and then flings it at them, eliciting squeals of delighted anguish from the Cantonese hipsters. Behind me, I hear girlish shrieks, and see that a trio of mud wrestlers have leapt out of the water and grabbed our Camera Assistant, who is protesting in terror as they threaten to throw him and the priceless lens bag into the water. Luckily his pleadings fob them off just before the filming would have been prematurely ended by the ruining of half our equipment.
The fight continues, with further findings of carp. I, however, come out with little more than a pencil, two empty bottles and a soggy cigarette packet. When the director adjudges that I look sufficiently ridiculous, I slosh out of the water and stand in front of the camera to do a piece to camera about tribal traditions. I then slosh off through the crowd down to the hotel.
Mr Wu is deep in his cups with his drinking buddies, who have also discovered the joys of the director’s French menthol cigarettes. They are off their faces by the time I reach the hostel, and he looks up to see me standing outside the terrace like a mud-spattered spaniel. I salute him.
“Ah,” he says in the best English he can manage, “gooder.”
Jonathan Clements is the author of The Emperor’s Feast: A History of Chinese Food in Twelve Meals. These events features in Route Awakening S03E01 (2017).
Me getting pelted with mud in Tang-an village. All part of the service on Route Awakening. (trailer here).
“I don’t think I want you to go in the mud fight,” says the director. “Or rather, I think contractually I can’t make you do it. The pond looks disgusting. I wouldn’t get in there. And production-wise, if you get tetanus or ringworm or something, or a rash, it will compromise the rest of the shoot.”
Yes, I say, but if National Geographic send me to the Kam mud fight and I stand at the back reading a newspaper, you might as well not have sent me at all. Isn’t this what a presenter is for? Looking like an idiot?
“We’ll talk about this later,” she says. “In the meantime, I’ve found you this nice apron with puppies on it.”
Mr Wu has fired up the stove, and thrown extra wood into the oven. The oil is crackling in the wok, and I am wearing a fetching gingham apron that has the words MY PLAYMATES written on it in large, friendly letters, above a picture of three puppies whose names are apparently Bobby, Oscar and Keith. I’m just saying: somebody had a meeting about that.
Today we shall require some roughly chopped red and green chilies, some ginger, some leek leaves, and some cubes of beef, as well as our magic ingredient: the intestinal juices of a recently slaughtered cow, wrung out from the grass of its last meal, itself ripped from the intestines in the middle of a tribal free-for-all. If you can’t find a recently slaughtered cow, feel free to use the intestinal juices of any creature in your vicinity, particularly one that eats grass, as it’s a good way to get that lovely green colouring. And I thought they only smelt bad on the outside.
Mr Wu boils up the niubie in his wok, then sets it to one side while he fries up the beef in the chilis. Then he pours the niubie over the top and dumps it all in a bowl. He offers me a spoon and I gingerly take a sip… It tastes like a soup made with chili and pepper and… oh, wait, there’s that burning aftertaste at the back of your throat like you just threw up a little bit in your mouth.
The director glares at me and I think of something else to say, vaguely suggesting that there is a Joycean uric tang.
It is only then that Mr Wu realises that he can’t find his blood.
“Where’s my blood?” he bellows?
“What blood?” squeaks Mrs Wu, who is trying to wok up a lunch for a group of eight tourists in the restaurant.
“The big bowl of blood with all the spices in it. We only scooped it out of the cow yesterday. I was going to cook xiehong for the foreigners.”
“Oh that,” says Mrs Wu, the dim dawn of realisation starting to glimmer on her face. “I thought that was waste, so I threw it out.” Mr Wu goes ballistic, since now he has to go and find some blood from somewhere else, like a five-foot vampire on a charity mission.
Jonathan Clements is the author of The Emperor’s Feast: A History of China in Twelve Meals. These events were filmed as part of Route Awakening S03E01 (2017).
“Two years ago, in my review of Galbraith’s Otaku and the Struggle for Imagination in Japan, I noted that the book finished with a series of slingshot ideas, as if Galbraith had more to say, but had to bow out for now as he approached the edge of his wordcount. His new work from Stockholm University Press seems to be the first of the ‘contingent articulations’” that he promised, continuing his adventures as anime and manga’s self-appointed Danger Man, perpetually poking at the hornets’ nest in search of anthropological understanding.”
Over at All the Anime, I review Patrick W. Galbraith’s newly published anthropology of bishojo games and gamers.
“But worst of all, worse even than the fact that her Dad is now apparently a green-haired man called Gunther, is the fact that she has found herself in a world without books.
“I know that horror. I was once a guest in someone’s home where the sole piece of visible literature, left out on the coffee table to impress visitors, was a Dan Brown novel. So, imagine finding yourself in a world where not even a Dan Brown novel is available, where despite having Swedish-Finnish names, the locals have never heard of a sauna or soap… and did I mention there were no books?”
Over at All the Anime, I write up Miya Kazuki’s novel Ascendance of a Bookworm.