Get Your Fight On

Daredevil photographer Timothy Allen snapped this candid picture of the chaotic, cramped elevator down to the studio in Manchester for the semi-final of Christmas University Challenge, containing the Leeds team (Tim, TV’s Henry Gee, who has decided to tell a joke in binary during his introduction, the Reverend Richard Coles, and Art of War translator Jonathan Clements), anointed by Twitter as “the Forces of Good”, as well as three visible members of the team from University College London (Arctic explorer Pen Hadow, former China correspondent Poppy Sebag-Montefiore, and BBC news reporter Maryam Moshiri).

And below is a Tim’s-eye view of our panel at the semi-final, which goes out on BBC2 on 2nd January. We’ve been swotting up on who died this year in the hope of getting some of the usual commemorative questions. As an Essex boy, I am hoping for a music round on the tunes of the Prodigy, in memory of Keith Flint. [Time Travel Footnote: I don’t get one.] #leedsleedsleeds

The Art of War

The top FAQ about my new translation of the Art of War, is why the world needs another one. Apparently, Sun Tzu’s Art of War is the second most-translated Chinese book in history, after the Dao De Jing.

Well, there’s translations and there’s translations. Let me give you a passage of Chinese. Here is chapter one, verse two:

故經之以五事校之以計而索其情

一曰道二曰天三曰地四曰將五曰法

And here is the same piece of text, by several different translators:

Lionel Giles (1910)

The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one’s deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field. These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline

Samuel Griffith (1963)

Therefore appraise it in terms of the five fundamental factors and make comparison of the seven elements later named. So you may assess its essentials. The first of these factors is moral influence; the second, weather; the third terrain; the fourth, command; and the fifth, doctrine.

Thomas Cleary (1988)

Therefore measure in terms of five things, use these assessments to make comparisons, and thus find out what the conditions are. The five things are the way, the weather, the terrain, leadership and discipline.

And finally, this is my version:

Jonathan Clements (2012)

War is governed by five crucial factors, which you must consider and implement:

· Politics

· Weather

· Terrain

· Leadership

· Training

And that is why I think the world can wear a new translation of the Art of War. In bookshops now, and also on Kindle.

For the Money (1938)

The title of this comedy from Suomi-Filmi is a pun – “For the Marks”, i.e. something along the lines of “One for the Money”, but also “For (Mr) Markka”, the stuffy old bachelor (Uuno Lakso) whose mansion is just about to be invaded by a cast of rude mechanicals. Released in October 1938, and clearly filmed at the height of the Finnish summer, it makes much of the sunshine and sporting opportunities of the Finnish riviera – the opening sequence bathes in the heady life of the Hanko peninsula, all beach balls, water slides, and games of leapfrog. In strangely timeless encounters that would not look out of place 80 years later, the menfolk conspire over how to chat up girls, not that the impossibly handsome Kullervo Kalske, last seen here in The Jaeger’s Bride (1938) needs to do anything more than snap his fingers. While there are several male leads, however, the film belongs almost entirely to the two ladies who variously pursue them or are pursued by them.

Gym teacher Ritva (Irma Seikkula) is looking for her sister Irmeli (Birgit Kronström) in Hanko, because she needs her for a fashion show… no, I don’t know why, either. But Ritva can’t find anywhere to stay, until she is offered a crash-space by Tilda (Aino Lohikoski), the maid at a rich man’s house. In an echo of the confusions of All Kinds of Guests (1936), she is ordered not to let anyone but the owner in, only to find the house besieged by a bunch of unexpected visitors, including the two lounge lizards that her sister Irmeli has met out on the town. If the plot device of random visitors descending on a house seems tired already, I would argue that it is emblematic of the limitations not of Finnish film, but of the Finnish theatre repertoire from which so many Finnish films then derived.

Although Markan Tähden was based on a play script, Hilja Valtonen’s Day of the Heiress (Päivä perijättärenä, 1932), it seems that the play version was never staged. Instead, it forms the latter acts of a movie that begins with vivacious outdoor location scenes, luxuriating in the opportunities presented for comedy business and Finns in swimsuits. It is, in fact, something of a let-down when the film grudgingly gets around to its actual story, tramping off to the real-world location of a Kulosaari mansion (supposedly just off the beach, but actually a hundred miles away in Helsinki, in what is now the embassy district), in order for a bunch of would-be couples to get bogged down in a series of misunderstandings, accidents with soda canisters, mistaken identities and pratfalls.

Comedy, such as it is, is expected to derive from wide-boys trying to scam a posh restaurant, and social climbers attempting to marry into money. Irmeli inveigles a stranger into pretending to be her Dad in order to throw off an unwelcome suitor, only to find that she has inadvertently charmed a man with loads of money. Seikkula, most memorable for her turn as the titular Juurakon Hulda (1937), wanders through each scene in a slight daze, as if the whole thing is beneath her, while Kronström, a multi-talented Swedish-Finn blessed with comic timing and musical skills, shines here in what would become the first of several flapper roles that would make her a wartime star. She certainly lights up every scene she’s in, and that’s before she sits down at the piano and starts belting out songs live.

The Finnish press criticised the film for some “somewhat unnecessary scenes”, although one wonders what that was supposed to mean. Frankly, the entire plot is unnecessary, and regardless of the critical reception at the time, the film’s value in 2020 comes from the wonderful glimpses it offers of Finland in the summer of 1938, before giving way to another dreary farce. As the two wayward sisters, Kronström and Seikkula are also hypnotically watchable when in individual scenes (including Seikkula in a bare-backed bubble-bath moment that was surely testing the bounds of 1930s respectability), but clunkily lacking in rapport when they are together. As the Finnish papers noted at the time, it created an odd situation whereby they were only believable as siblings went they weren’t in the same room.

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

Your Starter for Ten

Your starter for ten: where are you likely to find the biographer of Confucius, the senior editor of Nature magazine, the vicar of Finedon, and an award-winning photographer?

Yes, that’s me on the Leeds team in this year’s Christmas University Challenge, alongside TV’s Henry Gee, former Communard Richard Coles, and Mongol-herding filmmaker Timothy Allen. I just hope there’s a question about Eurovision, or I’m in trouble. [Time Travel Footnote: There wasn’t]. 23rd December, 19:30, BBC2.

uc 05

Shunted to Saturday

As noted by the Asahi Shinbun, anime passed a grim milestone in September when its last two representative serials faded from primetime. Doraemon and Crayon Shin-chan, once heavy-hitters of the early evening schedule, are now pulling audience shares that struggle to hit 7%, which has caused them to be shunted aside this October. They will now air on Saturdays, leaving the primetime weekday slot for, I don’t know, inane panel shows and something about a cat that drives trains.

The news sits at the nexus of a whole bunch of metadata and statistics, tied up in part with technological shifts and the changing demographics of Japan. Time was, when the average Japanese nuclear family had two school-age kids who needed to be distracted on the single television in the lounge. Now, they are more likely to have just one child, halving the number of hours a TV is liable to be turned to children’s entertainment. And that notional Japanese child, certainly by his or her teenage years, is liable to have a TV and/or a computer screen, and a video-compatible phone.

And while this is probably a tad academic and nerdy, even for NEO, I feel obliged to point out that primetime is still keeping animation companies busy – there are logos and idents, eye-catches and adverts, a vast number of which not only require animation, but pay substantially better second-per-second than a 22-minute cartoon. We should also remember that the anime that you enjoy – your Death Note and your Ghost in the Shell and the like, have never been part of primetime. Most of the shows that score high with a foreign audience tend to air in Japan late at night, in the graveyard slot, when nobody is watching. The otaku audience has not been served by primetime since the last century.

So don’t cry for the “loss” of anime from primetime. This is an accountant’s decision, to do with who is liable to be watching at those hours, and what advertising space is most lucratively sold for them. I was sitting in the departure lounge at Narita airport last month, and the primetime adverts that assailed me were for writing a will, retirement homes, and a commercial for Tokyo Gas. Then again, the latter featured pop star Kyoko Fukada, dressed as devil-girl Lum and singing a pastiche of the Urusei Yatsura theme song. Anime isn’t gone just yet.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #194, 2019.

Turning Japanese?

“… it’s all totally worth it as long as the end result is Kirsten Dunst, dressed as a schoolgirl witch, singing ‘Turning Japanese’ (a song about wanking), while dancing down a Tokyo street. ‘No sex,’ as she points out, ‘no drugs, no wine, no women, no fun, no sin, no you, no wonder it’s dark.'”

Over at All the Anime, I review the new book by Patrick W. Galbraith.

100% Perfect Sunshine Girl

Up on the All the Anime blog, my take on Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering with You.

“Shinkai was plainly unequipped for the fame that Your Name brought to him. He has spoken in interviews of being recognised in the street by enthusiastic fans, but also of overhearing people bad-mouthing his film in public. The reaction of some celebrity critics was particularly tough. Hirokazu Kore-eda, director of the Oscar-winning Shoplifters, diplomatically commented that the film was packed with elements of a hit, ‘…perhaps too packed.’ Yoshiyuki Tomino, the notoriously prickly creator of Gundam, declared that he doubted anyone would be watching Your Name in five years’ time.”

“I asked myself,” a wounded Shinkai told Matt Schley of the Japan Times, “should I make a film my critics will like, or should I make one they’ll hate even more?”