Kang Youwei (1858-1927)

“He remains an immensely influential but highly problematic thinker, with some ideas, such as the abolition of private property, that helped inform some of the strategies of the Communist Party, but others, such as a deep interest in Eugenics, that impart a shadow of sinister Social Darwinism to his starry-eyed pronouncements of global unity: a paradise that requires the destruction of all diversity.”

“Among the glimpses Kang offered of his future world, he foresaw liquidized food, flying houses, high-speed trains, dirigibles and self-driving cars, air conditioning and central heating. Kang’s utopia comes with daily medical check-ups, in a world in which doctors are more highly respected than soldiers. At the culmination of the ‘Great Concord,’ Kang hoped for a further uplift, in which a sufficiently enlightened humanity, lifespans already extended into centuries by medical care and diet, might seek immortality and travel through astral projection.”

Over at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, I write up that glorious nutter Kang Youwei.

Millennium Actress and Film

“‘I am not really familiar with Japanese films,’ [Satoshi Kon] commented in an interview at the time of the film’s release. ‘I think I get more from the combination of memorable films that I saw in my childhood, rather than particular scenes from particular films.’ In other words… Kon’s movie references are a set of impressions of certain movie types – a fantasy of what the films might have been, rather than what they actually were.”

Over at All the Anime, I write about just some of the dozens of movie-history easter eggs in Millennium Actress. Another extract from my long essay in the new Blu-ray release.

Best Book 2020

“If I had to pick a single general martial arts history book in English, I would recommend A Brief History of the Martial Arts by Dr. Jonathan Clements.” Over at the Martial History Team blog, my book gets a nod in their “Best General Martial Arts Histories in English” category.

“This is the book I recommend if you want a single volume on martial arts history based on sound evidence and sourced research,” wrote Richard Bejtlich in his review of the book last month. “I highlighted so many sentences in my Kindle edition that I ran over Amazon’s limit! …it’s an absolute steal and would make a great gift for any martial artist.”

Millennium Actress and History

“The 1990s saw the retirement of the generation that had created post-war entertainment. In the anime world, multiple studios were merging, folding or changing ownership as the surviving founders and primary shareholders cashed in their chips and went off to play golf. A new generation of bright young things, including Kon himself, was taking over – either with a sense of sympathy and respect for the old guard (like the character Genya) or with a blithe dismissal of them (like his cameraman Kyoji Ida).”

Over at All the Anime, I write about Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress as a point in time within movie history. This is an excerpt from a much longer piece I wrote as part of the Blu-ray booklet.

Rich Girl (1939)

Based on a 1921 novel by Kersti Bergroth, Rich Girl premiered in September 1939, just before the Soviet Union would bring peace tumbling down. It is suffused with flapper-era jazz, born both from its 1920s origins and a certain, desperate attempt to feel good in the face of impending conflict.

Anni Hall, no really, is the titular rich girl played by Sirkka Sari, revealed in a prolonged montage of wakings, dressings, washings and nights out, as she busies herself with the apparently exhausting job of doing nothing in Helsinki.

“All this riding and dancing is starting to feel retarded,” she says – the English subtitles presumably also belonging to a less enlightened age. But her friend Lea (Lea Joutseno) suggests that they go off somewhere exciting and strange. For a moment, there is a tantalising prospect that his film will take Finns off to Morocco or Iceland, but no, things take a different turn when Anni’s horse is spooked by a car in the road, and the upheaval causes her and her friend Lea to meet the handsome Mr Vinter (Olavi Reimas).

Love is in the air for the rich girls, but only once they have vaguely come to appreciate the message that money isn’t everything (although as the film inadvertently implies, IT REALLY HELPS). Particular fun is had at the expense of Edla (Eija Londén) a loan-shark’s daughter who cluelessly bounds over the class fences when she attracts the marriage proposal of the well-to-do Lasse (Uolevi Räsänen). At least there is something interesting about Edla – as the film relentlessly drives home, the main cast have nothing in their lives but sailing and riding, leaving them even boring themselves.

“What are your hobbies?” Anni asks Allan (Turo Kartto).

“Same as yours,” he shrugs, in a conversation liable to be repeated on Tinder all over contemporary Finland.

Anni attempts to take poor-girl Irja (Irma Seikkula) under her wing, but only frustrates her by offering solutions to her love life and career that require a privileged easy access to wealth. She pleads the potions and lotions she offers her are gifts, but is scolded for not understanding that Irja will not be able to afford to replace them once they are gone.

The film is infamous in Finnish cinema history for the tragedy that hung over it. After her star turns in The Women of Niskavuori and The Man from Sysma, this was Sirkka Sari’s third and last film, and premiered two months after its lead actress had died in a freak accident towards the end of filming. Finishing early one day due to bad weather, the cast retired to Hotel Aulanko in Hämeenlinna, where, Sari went to the roof to see the view with a man she had met. He took the elevator, she took the stairs. He arrived on the roof but found no sign of her.

Her body was recovered soon after from the hotel furnace, into which she had tumbled down a chimney from the roof. It has always been presumed that she mistook the chimney for an observation platform, discovering a moment too late that it had no floor. The film was completed without her, and she was buried in the church where she had planned to get married in 1940. Sari’s scenes were completed with a body double.

The grisly scandal did the film no harm at the box office, but is pretty much all it is remembered for. That’s something of a disservice to the young singer Olavi Virta (“Finland’s Bing Crosby”), who turns up briefly here crooning in a night club, and would go on to become one of the greatest Finnish stars on or off-screen.

Five decades later in 1993, Tapani Maskula in the Turun Sanomat argued that Rich Girl was a deeply under-rated film, far ahead of its time, praising its nuanced ability to see both sides of the class divide. I think that’s rather forgiving for a movie that ends with Mr Vinter revealing to Anni’s parents that he was only pretending to be a workman all along, and that their daughter has cleverly fallen in love with a Rich Boy.

The DVD includes a repeat of What is Suomi-Filmi?, as well as the short Pelle-Petteri and The Height of Fashion, an advertorial of some of the best in European fashions, just before the women of Europe would spend the next five years making their clothes out of old potato sacks.

Jonathan Clements is the author of An Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland

Summer Days with Coo

“Flickering at the edges of Hara’s script treatment is a melancholy consideration of how much has been lost of the Japanese past. Recalling similar musings in Isao Takahata’s Pom Poko (1994), Coo the kappa is a part of priceless Japanese heritage, hounded out of his natural habitat, orphaned by monstrous humans, and hunted through the streets with a price on his head.”

Over at All the Anime, I write up Keiichi Hara’s overlooked Summer Days with Coo.

Cyber City Oedo 808

“From the opening shot, in which the camera pulls back from the view in Sengoku’s orbital prison cell, the production is marked out unmistakeably as a work by director Yoshiaki Kawajiri, much beloved by foreign audiences in the 1990s for his moodily lit, flashily shot works of urban gothic, and who would go on to make the fan-favourite Ninja Scroll.”

Over at All the Anime, I write up Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s fan-favourite Cyber City Oedo 808. Pretty sure this is the largest and most comprehensive article anyone’s ever written on this, and this is but the prelude to the 50-page book that Anime Limited are including in their forthcoming Blu-ray collection. For more details, check out Andy Hanley’s wonderful one-hour documentary here.

Catfight

“As with the anti-heroes of Chuck Palahniuk‘s Fight Club… to which Catfight might be regarded as a feminist response, the aggression of the belligerent leads derives from the crushing weight of the System, which turns each into an unhappy collaborator when times are good, and a resentful rebel when times are not.

“Over at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, I write a little entry on Sandra Oh and Anne Heche and their near-future parable Catfight, currently airing on Netflix.