Dates and films have now been announced for the 2015 Japanese Film Festival in Ireland. I shall be in Dublin over the weekend of the 17th April, introducing Time of Eve, Only Yesterday and A Letter to Momo, but do check out the other films on offer, including the certifiably mentalist Tokyo Tribe (also based on a manga), and the I’m-a-lumberjack movie Wood Job.
“Helen McCarthy, in a hat, outrunning a giant boulder made of porn.” I finally unlock the achievement of being interviewed on an Anime News Network podcast, about the world of the Anime Encyclopedia, the misery of Dog & Scissors, and other excitements, in a feature-length rant with my co-author about the state of the industry and the unkindnesses of readers.
“Samuel L. Jackson flies through a Lapland forest, in a fridge, while Titus Pullo dangles from a helicopter shooting at him with a sub-machine gun…” (trailer)
Lame-duck American president Samuel L. Mummofaffing Jackson (“Call me Bill”) is travelling to a conference in Helsinki when Air Force One is shot down over Lapland by jodhpur-wearing Arab Bastard (he is Arabic, and a Bastard) Mehmet Kurtulus, a “grade-A psychopath” who plans to mount and stuff him. Back at the Pentagon, a bunch of aides wring their hands and send the SEALs all over the place, while the President goes on the run with a 13-year-old Finnish boy Oskari (Onni Tommila), interrupted partway through his traditional manhood ritual, which involves running into the forest with a bow and arrow and bagging the biggest possible game. He was hoping for a bear or a reindeer, but instead finds himself playing impromptu bodyguard to POTUS.
Meanwhile, the President’s real bodyguard, Ray Stevenson, is secretly working with the Arab Bastard, in a troubled and contentious partnership that usually involves shooting a henchman every time they disagree. Tracking the fleeing President and his teenage guardian, they briefly apprehend them, leading to a bonkers escape sequence in which Samuel L. Jackson flies through a Lapland forest, in a fridge, while Titus Pullo dangles from a helicopter shooting at him with a sub-machine gun. They go to ground in an explosive shoot-out in and around the wreckage of Air Force One, which eventually seems to result in the blowing up of half of the Finnish countryside.
As with writer/director Jalmari Helander’s previous film, Rare Exports, Finland itself is playfully stereotyped and archetyped to a wilfully silly degree. If the Americans are shouty morons with lots of guns and expensive tech that proves to be useless, the Finns are a bunch of earnest, grubby hunters with Bowie knives and trousers held up with string. They are enacting a portentous coming-of-age ceremony that involves running out into the woods and killing something. If Helander were not actually a Finn himself, we’d think he was a clueless hack, but since he plainly knows that Lapland isn’t actually a mere 45 minutes north of Helsinki, we can file his more absurd action-movie fudges as a deliberate invocation of a Finland of the mind – a sweetly childish playground of forest adventures and easily-outwitted bad guys, with time out to grill a sausage over a fire. He takes this to extremes with his landscapes, which replace the drab fells of the real Lapland with the breath-taking peaks of the Bavarian Alps, thereby hoovering up German film-fund money for a movie whose Hollywood action style is really a thin veneer over a multi-national Europudding.
With its 13-year-old protagonist and an 80-minute running time, Big Game is carefully targeted at the juvenile audience, despite its Die Hard trappings and the inevitable appearance of Samuel L. Mummofaffing Jackson’s favourite word, in a Yippie-kay-aye Moviegoer quotable that is long in coming but worth the wait. Helander’s script ultimately paints America as both an aspirational paradise and a corrupt rogue state, while its president is by turns baffled and charmed by Finland’s grim sisu resolve, and ultimately regains his self-confidence and poll rating through the acquisition of firearms and snark.
Jonathan Clements is the author of An Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland. Big Game is released in UK cinemas on 8th May.
Helen McCarthy and I did a Reddit AMA on Saturday 21st March 2015.
You can read the results here.
**Background/description of AMA subject**: Anime super-fans Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy, authors of the 1200-page, 1.1 million words of The Anime Encyclopedia: Revised 3rd Edition: A Century of Japanese Animation, will be answering questions about Japanese animation, comics, and fandom. Why does the world need an encyclopedia of anime? Is print dead? Why have they got such big eyes? What’s so wrong about Tenchi Muyo? What’s the worst anime ever? The best? the craziest? How much is too much? Is there a tentacle limit? Is there hope for the future? What is the flight velocity of an unladen swallow? All these questions, and more, can be answered or at least sarcastically dodged by the authors of the biggest book on anime to be found in any language, including Japanese.
Edward Dutton’s much-appreciated review of my Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland appears in the Scandinavian Journal of History 40:1, and decrees it to be “lively and humorous… a good introduction to Finland…[that] successfully negotiates the various problems that bedevil producing a history book aimed at undergraduates.” He pays it an immense compliment by assuming it should be let anywhere near an academic syllabus in the first place, but perhaps is already looking forward to arguing with his students about the terrible things I say about Russian tourists and fundamentalist Lutherans.
Over at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, I finally get around to writing the necessarily massive entry required on Kaoru Kurimoto, possibly the most influential female author in Japanese science fiction for much of the 1980s and 1990s. I’m pretty proud that it takes five paragraphs to get to Guin Saga, which is liable to be the only thing of hers that most non-Japanese people have heard of, if at all.
Over in the Swiss newspaper Le Temps, Jonas Pulver inadvertently coins the superhero identities Helen McCarthy and I would use if we were fighting crime. I’m Concis, she’s Tentaculaire.
“…l’encyclopédie est aussi une excellente porte d’entrée sur l’environnement médiatique du Japon, à l’image du fonctionnement complexe du sponsoring et de la publicité, de l’intertextualité des œuvres, ou de l’influence des groupes de fans. Concis et tentaculaire, The Anime Encyclopedia se lit par sauts de puce, en se laissant porter d’un article à l’autre au gré des affinités thématiques. Le plaisir de la redécouverte y flirte avec l’inédit.”
It can’t have been the best of days for the 73-year-old Katsuhisa Ezaki, president of Ezaki Glico Foods, when he opened his mail to discover an apparent blast from the past. A correspondent signing himself Monster #28 was demanding 50 million yen, lest he make good on a threat to poison the company’s food products on supermarket shelves.
This was not the first time this had happened. Back when Ezaki was in his 40s, he was kidnapped by masked men and held hostage in a warehouse while the criminals tried to extort money for his release. The following month, a man calling himself “The Fiend with 21 Faces” threatened to poison Glico’s food products, which include Japanese staples like Pocky and Pretz. Nobody was ever brought to justice, although there was a flurry of media activity around a suspicious “Fox-Eyed Man”.
For something that is supposed to be a light-hearted news source on Japanese media, this column seems to spend an inordinate amount of time reporting on murders, scandals, thefts and other criminal activities. But they often seem to dovetail with the anime world, not least in this case – the original 1980s scandal was the inspiration for the Laughing Man storyline in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex…
…and it seems, the Laughing Man storyline itself was the inspiration for this 2014 reboot. This time, the police were smarter, staked out the money-drop, and arrested a man on 1st December 2014 who turned out to be a film producer fallen on hard times. His name was initially made public, but has since been scrubbed from the Internet, seemingly in tardy recognition of a presumption of innocence until proven guilty – although, you know, being caught red-handed with the money is going to be a tough break.
So let me phrase this as a lawyer will no doubt have to: if you’d been associated closely with the Japanese cartoon world, if your company was on the skids and your forays into other media had failed, would you consider rifling through your anime collection in search of ideas for money-making schemes? And if so, what anime would you rip off? Budding criminals, write in to NEO and let us (and the police) know your plans…
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History, and the co-author of The Anime Encyclopedia: A Century of Japanese Animation. This article first appeared in NEO 133, 2014.