Eurovision Shouty I-Spy 2010

Back by popular demand, the Eurovision Shouty I-Spy Game. Now something of an international fixture, and ruining the neighbours’ evenings, not only in the UK, but in Sweden, Finland and Ireland. Hello to all our new players around the world.

Step One: you will probably need to be quite drunk. Step Two: The following sights will be seen during this Saturday’s Eurovision Song Contest. Can you see them first? Remember to shout it out. Party hosts will need to keep score of who gets what first, or otherwise dish out the forfeits to those that aren’t quick enough. As ever, there is more than one key change, more than one “surprise” costume change, and plenty of orbital cleavage. Keep your eyes (or ears) open for any of the following. And when you notice it, SHOUT IT OUT!

With great disappointment, we had to wave bye-bye to Lithuania, the lovely crotch-grabbing, tartan-trousered, costume-changing-to-sparkly-hotpants Lithuania, gone in the semi-final, along with the Dutch and their bonkers barrel organ, and the jug-eared Swiss. But there’s still a great line-up for Saturday’s contest. With aching predictability, your correspondent has a soft spot for Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Greece is sure to get everybody shouting… a lot. For the record, Mrs Clements thinks Belgium will win. Belgium, man. Belgium…

But in no particular order, in the finals you should look out for:

Timmy Mallett on Sax
Winking
KEY CHANGE! (every time you hear one)
Bimbling*
Pink Helmet
Dancing Silver Stig Cylon
Unnecessary Violin! (several)
ORBITAL CLEAVAGE**
Bit Too Much Blue Eye Shadow, Love
The Fat Lady Sings
It’s Snowing Indoors!
Man Singing to a Picture
OPA! (every time you hear it)
Self-Harming with a Belt Sander
Pink Socks
MULLET DRESS (short at the front, long at the back)
Costume Change
FLAME ON! (every time there’s pyrotechnics)
A dress that lights up.
Accordion!
“Surprise” Tree
Double-ended Piano
Ballet Beckham in a Red Tie

(*swaying one’s head from side to side in a snakey fashion).
(**ostentatious cleavage sufficient to see from a satellite in orbit, which, according to Eurovision bra consultant Tom Clancy, requires a minimum of C-cup).

Apologies to American readers, who will have to just imagine what the world’s biggest, gayest song contest is like. Just imagine, for one day every year, Europe gets to behave the way that Japan does all the time!

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Timeshift

Fascinated by the ending of Lost, not for the story (on which I gave up years ago, somewhere around episode two) but for the decision to broadcast the finale to the UK at the same time it airs in the US. Part event television, part anti-piracy measure, the simulcast won’t stop bit-torrenting, but it will presumably please advertisers, sure that at least some consumers will watch in real-time, and have to sit through the commercial breaks like mere mortals.

For modern youths, who find it so achingly difficult to wait a few days to see a TV show, this might be a welcome measure, but if I may make a modest proposal, why not broadcast *all* American television as it happens, direct to the UK? Primetime will come for Britain in the small hours of the morning, but why should that bother those of us who want to live on US time?

If 20% of the British population starts living their lives on US time, we can lose 20% of our morning rush-hour to one in the afternoon. Companies will get better use of their plant and machinery, running 24 hours a day like Japanese dubbing studios. Meanwhile, students who pour themselves out of bed “late” can be reassigned to a schedule that means their leisurely shamble into class can put them in the lecture hall bang on 9am.

The idea of a citizenry divided between night and day isn’t new. Chuck Palahniuk posited a near future scenario in Rant (2007) wherein Daytimers and Nighttimers take the strain off contemporary urban infrastructures by staggering their schedules. Don’t we do this already? If someone wants to go to bed at 6am and wake up in the early afternoon, wouldn’t this make them an ideal recruit for all those new night-shift jobs this idea will generate?

Meanwhile, everyone gets their TV as soon as it happens in the US, cutting out the middle men of bit torrenting in favour of old fashioned timeshifting and home-taping. And because nobody will know who will be awake when, we can make mobile phones illegal and force all communication to be by email.

People of Great Britain, why not write to your new coalition MP, eager for something to make his or her name, and suggest it? If you do, please suggest that we hold the London Olympics at midnight, officially “for the sake of foreign broadcasters”, but actually so I don’t have to watch any of it.

Togo to Go

Haus Publishing have put the first thirty pages of my biography of Admiral Togo online for free. Check it out!

Togo Heihachiro (1848-1934) was born into a feudal society that had lived in seclusion for 250 years. As a teenage samurai, he witnessed the destruction wrought upon his native land by British warships. As the legendary ‘Silent Admiral’, he was at the forefront of innovations in warfare, pioneering the Japanese use of modern gunnery and wireless communication. He is best known as ‘the Nelson of the East’ for his resounding victory over the Tsar’s navy in the Russo-Japanese War, but he also lived a remarkable life – studying at a British maritime college, witnessing the Sino-French War, the Hawaiian Revolution, and the Boxer Uprising. After his retirement, he was appointed to oversee the education of the Emperor, Hirohito. This new biography spans Japan’s sudden, violent leap out of its self-imposed isolation and into the 20th century. Delving beyond Togo’s finest hour at the Battle of Tsushima, it portrays the life of a diffident Japanese sailor in Victorian Britain, his reluctant celebrity in America (where he was laid low by Boston cooking and welcomed by his biggest fan, Theodore Roosevelt) forgotten wars over the short-lived republics of Ezo and Formosa, and the accumulation of peacetime experience that forged a wartime hero.

About the Author

Jonathan Clements is the author of A Brief History of the Samurai, and biographies of many prominent figures in Asian history, including Coxinga, Prince Saionji and the First Emperor of China.

If Shakespeare Wrote Japanese TV

As an exercise, imagine a familiar storyline, after 15 minutes with a Japanese TV script editor:

Romeo Tanaka is a young business executive at Montague, a prominent Tokyo trading house. He sneaks into the latest product-launch by rival company Capulet Inc, only to fall in love with Juliet Nakamoto, a pretty marketing executive. After an initial set of misunderstandings, the two begin a clandestine affair, aided by Romeo’s comedy sidekick Mercutio, who is secretly in love with Juliet’s personnel manager Nurse. Meanwhile, sneaky Capulet manager Tybalt has taken an undercover job at Montague. Things appear to settle down, until Romeo’s ex-girlfriend Rosalind reappears and tries to lure him back.

Juliet wrongly believes that Romeo loves Rosalind, and gives in to her father, the chairman of Capulet, who wants her to go on a date with Hong Kong business associate Paris Wong. Meanwhile, scheming Capulet manager Tybalt plots to get Romeo thrown out of the company.

Discredited at head office, Romeo is offered a foreign business placement, but turns it down, not realising that Juliet has taken a similar post in order to be with him. Romeo’s friend Mercutio finds Tybalt doctoring company documents, and is injured in a fall when he tries to stop him. Reunited at Mercutio’s bedside at Apothecary Hospital, the cast realise that Romeo is innocent. Romeo is exonerated of all accusations, but Juliet slips away, to prepare to fly abroad for her posting in Taiwan. Romeo rushes to the airport, where he stops her just before she gets on her plane.

In a surprise twist, Rosalind meets Mercutio as he is discharged from hospital, and confesses that she has fallen in love with him. At the double-wedding that follows, Juliet and Rosalind both throw their bouquets, which are caught by Nurse and Doctor Apothecary, who smile shyly at each other.

(Originally printed in the Dorama Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese TV Drama Since 1953, by Jonathan Clements and Motoko Tamamuro, 2003).

We Will Mock You

Perched above London’s Tottenham Court Road like a misplaced effigy of Saddam Hussein is the 20-foot fake-bronze statue of Freddie Mercury, late moustachioed lead singer of Queen. His image adorns the front of the Dominion Theater, where the sci-fi musical We Will Rock You plays to a packed house every night. The second act begins with a rendition of the group’s 1980s hit “One Vision,” used here as an ironic attack on homogenized, dull, global media culture. In the midst of the fast food, inane branding and Newspeak on the multiple screens, We Will Rock You permits its audience a glimpse of the kind of garbage that will infect the world’s television broadcasts in the 24th century. It has bright colors, spiky hair, and big eyes. It is all anime.

Britain’s Sci-Fi channel must have missed that particular memo. If you want to see anime on the nation’s bastion of future-TV, you have to look very hard indeed. Stay up until five in the morning and insomniac viewers may be rewarded with episodes of Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040. An audience of highly baffled nightwatchmen will also be spitting out their cornflakes in surprise at Excel Saga. Of all the things to hit your brain that early in the day…! The Sci Fi channel has ‘de-prioritised’ anime for now, a decision that should amuse all long-term industry watchers, because we’ve heard it all before, at least twice. Give it another few months, the staff will change once more, and some bright spark will opine that these here Japanese cartoons are the Next Big Thing. Again.

We Will Rock You lampoons the crass commercalisation of entertainment on a nightly basis. My ticket cost me $70. A packet of mints in the foyer was five bucks.

(This article first appeared in Newtype USA magazine, April 2004).

Mad in Taiwan

In the last week I have been interviewed by Chinese TV, press-passed my way behind the fences and up into the rafters at the boat launch, and chased down the street after two rival Goddess of the Sea processions with a stills camera. I’ve walked along a beach interviewing an eminent professor, and poked around an illegal temple to Coxinga, literally built on the shifting sands of the Taiwan Strait. I’ve also notched up many hours of talking headness, wittering to camera about Coxinga’s rebellious life and explosive conclusion.

The crew from Marc Pingry Productions was based in the super-swish Tayih Landis, a film-makers’ dream of a hotel with wireless internet throughout, a producer-proof business centre, bellhops eager to cart around a truck full of camera equipment and the best breakfasts I have ever had. And a gym, and a pool. And insulated beverages in the tea house that allow us to periodically say: “Let’s go and drink from the furry cup.” It also had a convenient six-floor shopping centre next door, for all those handy last minute runs to grab a hacksaw, three rolls of gaffer tape, a CD of devotional music dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea, and a crate of beer.

With 5am calls and midnight finishes, I am lucky I saw any of the city at all. But for a workaholic like me, it was the best possible way to see Tainan. Get up, drive to location A, shoot two set-ups, drive to Location B, repeat, back to the hotel for breakfast. Then out again for the next shoot… rinse, repeat, from location scout to shooting, to equipment hire, to scriptwriting.

Our fixer Johnson Hu was on hand to drive the van, argue with the natives, run for iced tea and twirl a boom mike. Thanks to him, I had the most wonderful Coxinga fanboy experience. I got to see the beach where Coxinga’s troops came ashore, to poke around the halls at the place where he died, and to clamber over the ruins of the castle he took from the Dutch. I was also pushed in front of a crowd at an academic forum on Chinese marine history, where I spoke about Coxinga’s Japanese relatives, some of whom witnessed key moments in 19th century history, and one of whom opened the first coffee shop in Japan in 1889.

We’re still in an ongoing debate about what this documentary should be called. A Hero’s Legacy? Sailing into History? The Master of the Seas? Defiance Deified? Ship Floats? Since the reconstruction of the 17th century boat is the centrepiece, I have suggested Whatcha Gonna Do With All That Junk? But I don’t think anyone is going with that.

The people in Tainan have built a replica of the Taiwan Boat, the junk that made the long trip from Taiwan to Hirado in Japan. There is a lively and incredibly entertaining debate underway about what a replica should be, how faithful it should be in order to satisfy historians; how practical it should be to satisfy health and safety; how durable it should be to satisfy the money-men. The camera crew are back in June to film the re-enactments of Coxinga’s life, and I’ve had so much fun I’m ready to volunteer to carry sandbags if it’ll get me back there.

But no rest for the wicked. Off to Sweden today to discuss the career of Major General Peng Liyuan, the Chinese soprano who looks ever so good in uniform. And back in London next week for meetings about my next book: I’m not done with maritime China yet…