Wolf Children Review (Part II)

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Welcome back for a more (hopefully) coherent part of the review!

A rash of spoilers from this point on, folks!

NARRATIVE CHOICES

The narrator of the story is Yuki, daughter of Human and Shapeshifting Wolf. I can see why the filmmakers chose her to be the narrator since her father dies not long after she’s born and her brother choses to become a wolf permanently near the end of the film, but part of me wonders why they didn’t choose Hana. After all, the story begins with Hana in college at the age of nineteen, before she’s even had kids. Yuki tells the story as if it’s information her mother’s told her over the years, but there’s a problem with that logic: the movie takes us through Hana’s whole courtship with Shapeshifting Wolf Guy, their night of bestial passion, and a whole bunch of bureaucratic, farming, and social services stuff that I doubt Hana ever explained to her eleven-year-old daughter. I mean, you could call creative license on this – Titanic is told by Old Rose, but there are scenes in that movie she was absolutely 100% not present for – but I just wonder why, when Hana was there for all the stuff in the movie except the scenes with the kids at school, Hana wasn’t made the narrator. Or why there is one at all.

So I thought about it. Why have a narrator in a movie?

In the case of A Christmas Story, the narrator is an adult looking back on his childhood, so we get an extra layer of hindsight we wouldn’t have gotten had the film just carried on as is with the child actors. Also on a purely because-we-can’t-piss-off-the-censors point, in the scene where Ralphie says “fudge” in slow motion, we wouldn’t know he actually said “fuck” without the narrator to tell us he did. I mean, you could guess, but the still-horrified voice of Adult Ralphie explaining the unthinkable thing he’d done kind of Makes that scene for me, personally. Also! I think having Adult Ralphie narrate A Christmas Story allows for more realistic-acting kids, because Young Ralphie has a lot of scenes where he’s, y’know, just being a kid. Sulking and glaring and crying, and Adult Ralphie talking over him and explaining his thought processes at the time is a big help in keeping the audience’s attention while Young Ralphie communicates in pouts and scowls and sniffles.

So, how about Wolf Children? I’d say that only some of Yuki’s narration is necessary. For example, there’s a dialogue-less scene where pregnant Hana walks into a hospital, hesitates, and then backs away and leaves, and you can guess from context that she’s thinking, “I’m pregnant with the baby of a wolf shapeshifter. This…will go badly.” However, barely a minute later, Narrator Yuki chimes in to tell us that Hana gave birth in their tiny apartment without anyone’s help because she was worried about what the baby would look like. …And then the movie then cuts to obviously-post-childbirth-doing Hana red-faced and exhausted with newborn Yuki and Shapeshifer Wolf Guy beside her.

However, that’s a very small nitpick, and now I’m going to balance it out with some well-deserved praise: with a few very, very small exceptions like the narration factor (and that’s really just personal preference), Wolf Children balances beautifully on the wire between straightforward and subtle.

Japanese movies, I’ve noticed, can be very, very good at not treating their audience like morons. Not all movies are, of course, because bad movies are forever, but the good ones are very good at this. For example! Try this fun experiment: watch a Ghibli movie in the original Japanese with English subtitles, then watch the English dub. Yes, I’m one of Those People who doesn’t like watching dubbed Japanese things. But don’t get me wrong, some dubs are extremely well-done considering the limitations. The problem is, there’s a vast gap between a movie whose dialogue was written specifically for it and a movie whose dialogue is written according to the laws of Timing and Loosely Translating a Whole Other Language in a Way That Isn’t Very Weird-Sounding and Matches the Character’s mouth’s talking shapes. So my issue isn’t with the dubbed voice acting or scriptwriting – that shit’s hard.

Nah. Instead, I take issue with dubbed movies that treat audiences like idiots who need handholding through the plots of very simple movies.

Here’s what you might notice from that Ghibli experiment. Halfway into the movie「千と千尋の神隠し」 (Spirited Away), Chihiro notices a dragon sailing like a silver ribbon through the sky. In the original, Chihiro watches the dragon silently, pensive, and the scene ends. It’s not until later, when the dragon is fatally wounded after an attack from witch Yubaba, that Chihiro realizes the dragon is in fact her friend Haku who’s been helping her find her way through this world. The reveal is – for those deeply-attached-to-fictional-situations folks like me – heart-wrenching because Chihiro’s already kind to the injured dragon and then desperate to save him when she realizes who he really is. Byyy comparison, the English dubbed version. In this version, as the dragon is flying away, Chihiro says, “Haku?” for no reason. She has zero reasons to make that connection, unless you want to make the argument that her heart recognized him or something, but even if that’s so, then that lessens the impact of the moment that happens later when she remembers him as the river spirit who saved her from drowning when she was much younger and –

…Why am I going into Ghibli? Oh, right, wolves!

Welcome back for a more (hopefully) coherent part of the review! she said. Hopefully indeed, past self.

So! Good narrative things!

The way Wolf Children handles its thirteen-year time span is incredible. It’s tightly-woven and I’d even say edited pretty close to perfection. Much of Hana’s courtship with Shapeshifting Wolf Guy (he’s a human for most of it) is silent, literally shown instead of told. And much like the opening love story in Up, Hana’s relationship with her Wolf Guy is made all the stronger through the lack of dialogue.

In the first thirty minutes, the excellence of the film’s editing is on full display. In those first thirty minutes the following happens: Hana meets Mysterious Broody Man at her university, falls in love, has two wolf babies, loses her love, struggles with raising her two children alone in the city, decides to move to the mountains where it’s more secluded and free of prying eyes.

BAM. In thirty minutes, about five years have passed and it all feels like it’s smoothly carried out.

It makes the tiny editor in my heart weep rainbow rivers of rapture.

What follows is my favorite part of the entire two-hour movie: Hana fixing up a dilapidated house in the mountains, planting a garden, and befriending a cranky old man who becomes her reluctant mentor. The part of me obsessed with Harvest Moon could play this on loop for hours and remain completely blissed out.

I love Hana’s gradual acceptance into the local population, and how she refuses to give up or stop smiling for the sake of her kids and herself. I love the unbridled joy in so many scenes, and I love that even though the movie dips into dark areas, it never skulks around in them for very long. There’s a strong note of hope throughout the movie that makes it that much stronger when it finishes.

Aaand I’ll go into the story part of the review tomorrow night! G’night!

 

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Wolf Children Review (Part I)

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A few days ago, I was casually scrolling through a dear friend’s Facebook page looking for photos of cats because I can’t find those anywhere else on the internet, and I found a thread wherein she recommended this movie to someone else. The title,「おおかみこどもの雨と雪」or “Wolf Children: Ame and Yuki,” immediately rang some bells and I remembered a poster I saw nearly everywhere months ago:

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The first time I saw the poster, I dismissed the movie because of two gut impulse things: the kids have ears and tails, and I couldn’t see a plot depicted anywhere, just grass and a run-of-the-mill pretty lady holding two kids with ears and tails.

Had I actually looked closer and read the bottom of the poster that clearly stated that the director of this movie directed “Summer Wars,” I would have seen it in theaters four times and maybe a fifth just for a basking-in-the-glow-of-genius bonus. “Summer Wars” was released in 2009 and remains one of my all-time favorite movies and succeeds to this day in making me bawl and claw at the walls every time I watch it.

“Wolf Children” is no less powerful. In fact, I think it reaches an even deeper resonance purely because it follows longer character arcs and presents sharper realities. Aaand I almost missed out on it because I judged a movie by its poster.

Slaps on both wrists.

Let’s start with the fun stuff. Also, from this point on, I’m going into spoiler-rich territory, so thou hast been warned.

PREMISE

Shapeshifting wolf falls in love with a human, human gives birth to wolf babies, shapeshifting wolf dad dies because angst, and human mother must raise wolf babies alone.

CHARACTER

Hana is our story’s human. She starts us off in college, where she sees Mysterious Brooding Man and, naturally, falls in love with him. To the movie’s credit, though, their love story is at least believable and at best beautiful. At one point, as Shapeshifting Wolfman (he’s never given a name) and Hana are walking together, Hana tells him why she was named Hana (“Flower”).

She explains that just after she was born, the first thing her father saw was a patch of flowers. He named her Hana in the hope that she would always bring joy and color to the world as they do. When he died, Hana smiled through his funeral because she thought that’s what he would have wanted. Her relatives, doubtlessly expecting the daughter of the deceased to have more decorum and mourning-type behavior, thought she’d acted poorly. As Hana tells the story to Shapeshifting Wolfman, she says sheepishly, “Maybe I was wrong after all,” and he simply says, “No, you weren’t,” and she beams up at him.

At first, I thought of Hana as a relentless optimist, but as I’ve thought about the movie more, I’ve changed my mind. She isn’t smiling because she believes the future will be brighter, she’s smiling in order to make the future brighter. That’s a very different character, I think. The first is more like Spongebob (who is also awesome).

What astounded me about Hana in this movie is that she rarely lost her temper, and she was in a lot of situations where which she could have easily and understandably lost her temper. She gives birth to two kids who can shapeshift into wolves and loses her husband not long afterward, pushing her into a life of single parenthood and then isolation to protect her children’s secret. She deals with the suspicion of child protection services who have no records of the kids’ immunizations (because where to take wolf kids? Doctor or vet?), suspicious passersby, irate neighbors woken up in the middle of the night by her son’s constant crying and both children’s playful wolf howling – all with herculean patience and, at times, an apologetic smile.

In my mind, she’s the reigning champion of Fake It Til You Make It.

Next, we have Yuki. Yuki was my favorite character from pretty much her infancy to the age of about ten. For the first seven years of her life or so, she’s spunky and loud and tomboyish. She wrestles snakes and intimidates boars and hunts mercilessly in her wolf form. Then, after a few years of elementary school (as a human, fiercely guarding her Secret Identity), her wild and excitable personality dims into a polite, quiet shadow of who she was.

And then there’s Ame. I love Ame fiercely, and he became my favorite character immediately after Yuki’s personality sat down and lowered its voice.

As kids, Yuki and Ame are polar opposites. When they arrive in the countryside with Hana to live a quiet life detached from the judgment and oppression of city life, Yuki bursts out of these newly-purchased dilapidated house and runs around laughing manically and loves every single thing she sees. Ame, on the other hand, meekly peers out of the house and yelps when he sees a lizard, running headlong into his sister’s arms for a comforting hug.

So, just as Yuki makes herself calmer and more feminine to better fit in as a human, Ame finds his strength in his wolf heritage. He becomes the student of an old fox who rules over the mountains, and the scene where he and his teacher sprint through the woods, carried by a brilliantly uplifting musical score – I thought only Ghibli movies could make me feel that much love for nature.

 

And that’s where I’ll end things tonight! I’m enjoying talking about this movie, so I’ll continue tomorrow with the plot and stuff of that nature.

Good night, and remember: お土産三つ、タコ三つ!

a wildly recommended movie

Yayyy, I’m home! I have my camera’s cord! And I’m still not going to post a photo today! Because lazy!

[PHOTO OF THE MOST AMAZING THING YOU’VE EVER SEEN NO EVEN BETTER THAN THE THING YOU’RE ENVISIONING YES THAT’S THE ONE THAT THING WOW ISN’T THAT AWESOME YOU HAVE A PHOTO OF IT NOW RIGHT HERE IN THIS SPACE WHOO!]

^ This is also kind of fun for me. ^

Today, I watched a movie called “Wolf Children Ame and Yuki” or in Japanese: おおかみこどもの雨と雪, aaand I cried.

Good tears! Bad tears! Confused tears!

Tomorrow I’ll write up an actual review, but for now I wanted to talk about slice-of-life stories.

I love them. When I was a kid, I’d play video games like Harvest Moon and Zelda, and I’d always most enjoy the parts of Zelda where I could walk around villages talking to people. Harvest Moon is a no-brainer; the whole game is farming and going to festivals.

Totoro is one of my favorite Ghibli movies.

I’ve seen a significantly larger number of slice-of-life stories in Japan than I have back home, and I’ve also noticed that the literary structure in Japan differs from ours, too. Whereas in the states we have that whole [ conflict–>rising action–>climax ] bit, Japanese stories don’t always stick to this formula. Traditional literature especially doesn’t.

I think what I loved most about おおかみこどもの雨と雪 is that it took the life of a teenager and built her character arc well into her late twenties (I’m guessing on age, though – she’s attending university at the beginning). She doesn’t change enormously throughout the story, but she does become enormously resilient and more steadfast in herself, and I love when stories do that.

Tomorrow shall be the review!

Good night~!

tokyo rainbow day

Once again, no photo because the camera cord wanted to stay home, so:

[COLORFUL PHOTOGRAPH OF A BEAUTIFUL QUEEN IN HEELS WEARING BODY GLITTER AND A SHIMMERING GOLDEN SHIELD-LIKE DISC ON HER BACK]

So! I spent most of today at Tokyo’s Rainbow Pride event. Despite having lived in New York City, I’ve never actually attended a pride event before, so I was very, very curious to see how Tokyo would organize theirs. Japan has a very solid reputation in my mind for adorable merchandise and excellent punctuality and scrupulous attention to detail, so I knew it would be easy to navigate and I’d probably walk away with some adorable souvenirs.

And indeed I did!

[PHOTOGRAPH OF RAINBOW FLAG AND PRIDE T-SHIRT AND RAINBOW BRACELET]

The event began at 11am, and I showed up just after 12:30. Yoyogi has an event spot behind the National Gymnasium Stadium where the Rainbow Pride event had put up at least three dozen booths and a gateway with TOKYO RAINBOW PRIDE on it.

The parade was, of course, the highlight of the day. I had considered actually marching in the parade, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to have the freedom to see multiple perspectives of the event as well as skip around to various parts of the parade. So I tucked my rainbow flag into my bag and walked or jogged alongside the marchers.

What most interested me was the reaction of the passersby. More people than I expected had warm reactions. Many young girls and middle-aged women smiled and waved at the participants, and many more took photos. Most young men either ignored it altogether or cast mildly annoyed, uncomfortable looks at it. Older men did the same.

To be fair, there is no such thing as a thing that appeals to everyone. I’m sure some of the men who looked pokerfaced or uneasy just don’t like parades. Or were having a bad day. Or just got a coffee stain on their brand new first edition Jane Austen book. Who knows with people – sometimes there are deep, complex stories behind people’s bad moods. And besides, Japan is a pretty restrained country when all is said and done. A lot of people probably didn’t mind at all and just didn’t feel the need to react to the parade. Certainly, some of the passersby were LGBT themselves.

Anyway, the up side is that the majority of people the parade passed were supportive and enthusiastic. When they figured out by the rainbows and the parade leader calling, “Happy Pride!” from the lead car what the parade was for, many people waved back. I saw a few fathers with toddlers on their shoulders encouraging their kids to wave back at the parade’s queen, and there were a lot of girls who called, “Happy Pride!” back.

Having seen how Japan does pride, I’m very interested in seeing other places. Particularly my own country. It kept going through my head that I reeeally want to see how San Francisco does things. Or Brazil where, according to its ambassador who spoke to us today, the pride celebration attracts millions.

When the parade looped back into Yoyogi Park, I spent more time exploring the booths. I took a quiz on LGBT issues and nearly passed with flying colors. The only question I struggled with was how many states in the US had legalized same-sex marriage. So many have passed it recently I couldn’t call up a reliable number in my head. And that’s when the booth guy grinned and sidled up and asked, “Need help?” in English.

“It’s a good problem,” I told him. “Because I think it’s twenty but I also think I’m wrong. Optimism?”

Turns out it’s 17 states and 1 area (DC). He let me pass anyway (though with no flying colors) and I got a rainbow pin as a reward. I also got to write my wish or hope for same-sex marriage in Japan on a prayer card that they hung in rainbow lines on the front of the booth like a modern-day shrine.

I ended up feeling too shy to ask anyone about their personal lives and struggles, even though that would have been the perfect venue for that kind of conversation. I guess, though, I was more swept up in experiencing everything and feeling a little overwhelmed by such an outpouring of genuine affection and earnestness. The Japanese can play their emotions very close to the chest at times, and so seeing such deep expressiveness everywhere warmed my heart.

Around four o’clock the ambassadors of various countries came to the stage to speak. I only watched four, but I was most impressed by the English ambassador who spoke Japanese well enough that no translator was required. I drifted in and out while the procession of ambassadors spoke but I remember a few of them got to a point where they were openly throwing down the gauntlet to other countries.

“Come to ___! We love gay people!”

“We have the best pride event in our country!”

“We did same-sex marriage first!”

I have to admit, I like that. Countries competing over who likes LGBT people best should be a TV show.

Afterward, I walked through Harajuku, one of my soulmate places, until I was sleepy and needed to sprawl on something and headed back to my hotel at a zombie’s pace.

Finally, I met up with some friends to say a temporary goodbye to one of them, and then I enjoyed a long, cool-breeze-laden stroll through the magical land of Ginza.

Tokyo’s a sublime city, and over the last two or three years I’ve been growing a deeper and deeper appreciation for it. This is par for the course, really. I fell for Osaka the same way when I studied abroad, to the point where Osaka remains one of my favorite cities. Same with New York, many years ago. I fall in love with cities like a slow burn and once I’ve had love for something, it never really goes away. Books I read years ago, bands I followed when I was thirteen – I still love the Backstreet Boys to this day.

Walking around the pride festival today made me remember all the little aspects of life that I love. The things that’ve been quietly there all along, like the forgotten hobbies you pick up after a long time doing other things and the friends you haven’t spoken to recently and then you write to them and they say they’ve missed you too. It’s a beautiful reminder to get every now and then.

Next time I go to a pride event, I’ll bring people who’ll make me feel guilty if I try to leave before the whole thing is over. … Although I did like having the autonomy to wander around and indulge my overactive need to see everything twice.

A lovely day indeed. Thank you to the organizers and participants for a most excellent first experience at a pride event.

Much love,
LGBTのBです〜
The “B” in LGBT

the land of tokyo

I~ do not have my camera cord with me, so today’s photos shall be imaginary.

[PHOTO OF AMAZING THING]

So yes! Today! Today, I helped a friend and her boyfriend move some of their stuff to their new apartment. I hadn’t seen my friend in two or three years, so there was a lot to catch up on, and her boyfriend turned out to be incredibly sweet. They’re a really nice couple.

I know that sounds…non-descriptive. “Nice” doesn’t mean what it used to. Nice has become something polite to say when other adjectives don’t fit. But in this case, I mean it the way the word is defined. My friend is kindhearted and her boyfriend is a gentle, sweet guy. Together, they’re a really nice couple. I liked being around them for part of the day.

We packed up some boxes to a beautifully eclectic mix of music, cleaned a little, and packed the rental van about halfway. We drove to their new place as it was getting dark, and carried each thing up three flights of stairs to their new and thoroughly charming apartment. It has tatami floors, so it’s a bit on the older side, but the layout was thoughtful and looked like it’ll be warm and inviting when they finish setting it up.

After that, we went to an Egyptian restaurant near their new place. They said they’d been wondering about the owner for a while – she’s Japanese, and they said they’ve only ever seen her manning the counter. The restaurant is pretty small, only four or five tables, and she seems to do all the work herself.

As we were getting ready to leave, we let our curiosity show and the owner explained that her husband, an Egyptian, couldn’t cook, but she loves cuisine from that corner of the world and so she opened a restaurant. At first, she said, people only wanted take-out and didn’t seem to trust a type of cuisine so unknown in Japan, but as people realized the skill level of the cook (and believe me, that woman puts culinary magic over her kitchen), more and more people stopped by to eat in the restaurant itself.

Definitely going back. ♡ She seemed like a really sweet lady.

Before I met up with my friends, however, I spent the afternoon meandering through my favorite parts of Tokyo. I started in Roppongi at one of my new favorite restaurants and then wandered the beautiful grounds outside. I saw a number of fathers with their toddler and adolescent sons, playing at the edge of the pond or in the small field nearby.

I saw one toddler with his grandma. He was wearing a nametag that said “Trouble.”

From there I traveled to Omote-sando and walked through Yoyogi Park on my way to Shibuya. As I walked, I listened to two of Lewis Black’s standup albums for maybe the fifty-third time. Even then, on the possibly fifty-third time listening to his albums, I kept bursting into manic giggles on the sidewalk and in the park. I probably looked more than slightly crazy, but I’ve embraced this feature of my life in Japan.

And now! I sleep. For tomorrow is a day of rainbows.

Good night!

Fantasmagical Friday~! Short Story #1

That thing I said about writing short stories and posting them every other Friday? TOTALLY HAPPENING STARTING RIGHT

NOW:

Jenny hands the tea cup to Sophie and tells her, “Don’t drink all of it.”

The cup, a malicious heat-soaking lump of ceramic without a handle, burns Sophie’s fingers immediately and only the horrific thought of ruining the carpet Jenny inherited from her grandmother prevents Sophie from chucking the cup onto the floor. While Sophie searches gingerly for a cooler place to put her fingertips, Jenny fishes out her notebook and opens it to the game she made herself about steampunk fashion design.

The tea, in no apparent hurry to cool off at all, spits plumes of steam from its surface and stops just short of bubbling like some kind of toxic potion in a tiny cauldron. Sophie watches Jenny stick white suspenders onto a crimson dress where they will serve no apparent purpose beside decoration.

“Try a sip now,” Jenny says.

Scrunching her nose, Sophie brings the cup to her lips and tips the bottom until she can feel heat brush her lip. The nerve endings in her skin report a full-scale attack of pain if the liquid advances much farther, but Sophie takes a sip anyway.

Fuck!”

She pulls both her lips into her mouth and stamps her feet on the carpet she felt such reverence for a moment ago.

“Well, blow on it first,” Jenny says, smiling down at her notebook.

Sophie resists the potent urge to dump the remains of her molten torture brew right down Jenny’s shirt, but only barely.

Sullen and burned and eighty percent more determined to finish this hellfire tea than follow the evolution of Jenny’s imaginary career in steampunk fashion, Sophie huffs and puffs until the steam cleared away. She gulps the remainder down in two vengefully large mouthfuls of the sweetened stuff.

Halfway into the second, Jenny flings her notebook onto the sofa and waves both hands urgently at her. “Not all of it!” She makes a grab for the cup and negotiates it smoothly from Sophie’s fingers. Clucking her tongue, she peers quickly inside. “Oh. Well. This’ll do.”

Sophie wipes dribbles of tea off her chin with the sleeve of her sweatshirt. “I don’t have to drink another one, do I? Sorry, I wasn’t thinking about the water—”

“Nah,” Jenny says, “this is fine.”

“Will it work, though? Maybe if I use a towel or something to hold it this time, I can—”

“Shush, I’m doing the thing.”

Sophie manages thirteen seconds silently watching Jenny stare into the cup before the curiosity imp, a very real and very frustrating creature who has set up camp right over the common sense part of her brain, coaxes her into asking more questions.

“How does this work, anyway? Why do I need to drink it for it to work? If I poured the tea down the sink, would it still work?” She warms to the subject even as she senses Jenny’s breath shallowing out with impatience. “What if I poured it in the toilet? Would it still work?”

“Oh my God, if you don’t shut up I’ll pour you in the toilet.”

Sophie locks her lips and tucks the key into the breast pocket of Jenny’s blouse. When Jenny’s expression melts into mere exasperation, Sophie makes an eloquent “go on” gesture and Jenny returns to her tea gunk-gazing. For a minute or so, Jenny turns the cup this way and that, studying the collection of dregs that just look to Sophie like the shape of the sound splat! While Jenny does that, Sophie pets her wounded upper lip and complains quietly about blisters and demon tea.

“I’d never have guessed some of these things about you,” Jenny says, interrupting Sophie’s leaning-into-crazy mumbling.

Sophie lifts her eyebrows and drops her hand into her lap, attention successfully pulled back to the contents of the cup. “Like what?”

“You’ve had, like, sixteen past lives.”

Sophie’s eyes widen. “Really?”

“You made masks in one of them. I can’t tell what country. Somewhere in Europe. You were also a dude.”

Sophie nods along. “I wonder if I still could? Like…is my brain still wired to past lives? Is it just buried under a rock in my brain somewhere? If I meditated or something, maybe—”

“You also,” Jenny says, over-enunciating, “were a chef once. Gourmet stuff.”

Sophie bounces on the sofa, pointing at Jenny vehemently. “Did you know I went to culinary school for a semester?”

Jenny finally looks up from the cup and smiles. “I actually didn’t know that, no.”

Sophie nods. When the silence stretches on and Jenny makes it clear she’s waiting for more, Sophie says, “That’s the end of the thought.”

Jenny swats her shoulder gently, then tips the cup toward herself thoughtfully. “You’re much more thoughtful than you let on,” she says.

Sophie nods as solemnly as she can, trying to evoke a sense of poise and wisdom.

Jenny’s snort tells her that her aim is a little off. “Do you have any questions? There’s a lot of stuff but it’s all happening at me at the same time, if that makes sense. I probably should have asked you a question to start this off so it would focus things.”

“See anything about the future?” Sophie asks, heart tightening.

Jenny thins her lips. “No. But, well.” She makes a sweeping gesture at the silence around them.

“Well, yeah,” Sophie says, her voice curling in on itself and turning soft. “I just meant…after this.”

The wind picks up outside, carrying on it the smell of smoke and a feeling of loose ends tying themselves. Every day, someone new realizes where to go and leaves, all alone. Mothers leave without their children, lovers leave without the person who makes them whole, brothers leave each other behind. Many people swear it won’t happen to them, but it happens to all of them.

Life has continued in an odd facsimile of life. No one works anymore, not for money. People prepare food for others in return for a lesson or two on plumbing, or fuel for the lamps. There are only about three hundred people left in New York City, and there’s no way of knowing how many people are left anywhere else.

Sophie visits Jenny every day, and her visits feel like stage performances of what she was like before the world started to diminish. Today she brought her toothbrush and asked Jenny if she could stay the night. She isn’t planning on leaving. While they sat on the sofa with their backs to the eerily aqua blue sky, Jenny said suddenly, “I never told you this, and now I might not have the opportunity if I wait anymore. Have you ever been to a psychic?”

Sophie had, but she couldn’t tell if there was judgment or not in Jenny’s tone, so she said no. Halfway into Jenny’s explanation of why she’d asked, Sophie interrupted and requested a reading.

Hearing about so much life behind her makes her wish she could retrace it all instead of moving an inch forward.

“It doesn’t end here,” Jenny says.

“It doesn’t?”

Jenny shakes her head. “I don’t know what’s next, but the world isn’t ending. It’s just…moving on without us. It’s only happening to humans, remember?”

Sophie nods. Raw fear had simmered down to a constant unpleasant case of nerves about a month ago.

“People are going toward something,” Jenny continues. She’s holding the cup so tightly her fingers under her nail beds are white.

“What if,” Sophie hesitates and runs the theory through her mind once more before she commits it to an audible statement. “What if this is limbo? Life on Earth. What if life is just…proving yourself worthy of something.”

Jenny shrugs. Her shoulders lift, wired tight by stressed muscles, and stands up with the cup still in hand. “I’m going to see if Sudira has anything for dinner. I wonder if I have anything to trade with her. She said she’d throw in junk food if I can miraculously fix her fan.”

Sophie watches her carry the cup into her minuscule kitchen, stung by the dismissal. She unfolds her legs out from under her and gives her body a quick stretch and yawn. Maybe it’s stupid to theorize. She stands up and feels warmth spread through her. Sighing, she takes a step backward toward the window, hungry for more sunlight to soak into her, but when she looks down at the floor, the sunlight is at least half a meter away. She thinks that’s odd until the warmth curls through her veins and even her perpetually cold fingertips and toes.

She knows where to go. Moreover, she knows how to get there.

Jenny is standing in the kitchen doorway, her expression raw and tired, one hand slack on the frame beside her.

“If you get in good with someone on the other side,” she says softly, “ask them to call for me soon.”

Sophie thinks she nods, but maybe she didn’t. She’s halfway down the hallway, in the street, crossing a bridge, retracing her steps.

Between one blink and the next, the world changes.

 

My brain wants that to be more complete than that, but my brain also wants to sleep, so…it’s done! Huzzah!

Good night, folks!

madame

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I’m shivering from the cold in April.

This is awesome, by the way. Think if we keep quiet enough, summer will give it a miss and we’ll just go straight into autumn?

So! Today I met with my very sweet, very classy next door neighbor for our weekly English conversation practice. When we started meeting, we agreed on an hour for a pretty low fee because she lives across the street and my commute to her house takes anywhere between ten to twenty seconds depending on the time I take to pause and meow at the idiot dog next door who both 1) barks mindlessly at everything except her owner and 2) looks like the ugly end of a toilet brush.

Our very first lesson, however, ended up lasting two hours, and ever since then it’s fluctuated between two hours to three. We’ve developed a bit of a routine, though. When meeting time arrives, I skip out of my place, meow at the dog, skip across the street, ring my neighbor’s doorbell, and she opens her window and waves cheerfully at me. In the beginning she would tell me to wait and walk down to unlatch the gate, but now I just let myself in. This is either a show of the trust I’ve earned from her over time or a justifiable lack of desire on her part to open her front door and put on shoes and walk down the stairs and unlatch the gate when I have proven many times that I can lift the tiny metal latch by myself. It’s probably both.

Recently she started taking traditional Japanese dance lessons, and so she likes to continue the atmosphere of class by wearing kimono in her daily life. That said, yesterday when I was walking down the steep mountain drive to the train station, she spotted me in her fancy German car and paused to say hi. It’d been so long since I’d seen her in Western clothes I didn’t recognize her for a second – I had the split-second thought of, This fashionable older lady in sunglasses is awesome but why is she stopping? My landlady calls her Madame, and when I told her this, she seemed delighted, so that’s what I’ll call her here, too.

Speaking of madame – a few weeks ago she let me borrow this book of hers. It looked like a coffee table book, hardcover and huge, and inside were photos taken in New York City of all these women over the age of sixty. They were all glamorous and classy women with a vast variety of haircuts and colors, fashion tastes, and who spanned many ethnicities. Madame sighed, “I want to be like them,” and I assured her she would be in that book if she’d been in New York at the time.

I showed her photos of my trip to Tokyo’s National Museum and one of my favorite corners: the lacquer boxes. She told me she’d recently met with a living legend in Japan named Kitamura Shousai and he made a box for her. She smiled at me with familiar exuberance. “Do you want to see it?”

I nodded and possibly bounced in my seat while I waited.

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My reactions to this were essentially, “WHOA,” and then five hundred photographs taken at every possible angle.

Madame loves dragonflies, and so he added those just for her. The box had these luminous shells seamlessly fused with the surface and when she encouraged me to run my fingers along the sides of the box, I couldn’t find a single break or bump to indicate where something added began or ended. Gorgeous craftsmanship.

Usually, we pause the English conversation around the hour mark and we go to her kitchen where she’s prepared tea and a snack of some kind for us to eat. Sometimes it’s mochi, sometimes some other kind of Japanese sweet or pastry. This time, instead of letting me help her, she said, “Please wait here,” and gave me a secretive smile as she hurried out of the room.

She returned with a small tray bearing a beautifully wrapped bouquet of flowers from her garden alongside a cream cake stuffed with strawberries, kiwi, raspberries, and a giant wedge of pineapple. In the center was a white chocolate disk with “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” written in the center in dark chocolate. She sang happy birthday in English while she carried the tray to the table, and I valiantly did not squirm because of how incredibly kind and thoughtful she was to do that for me. She lit two candles and clasped her hands to add her power to whatever wish I made. I extinguished both candles with one mighty, legendary puff of air and then she applauded and beamed.

We ate, talked some more, drank some of the tea I brought her from Sweden, and about three hours after I’d arrived, I left to go be literarily productive at home.

The toilet brush didn’t even bark at me this time. ♡

 

So! Starting tomorrow, I’m going to give my blog…a gimmick! And by gimmick I just mean I’m going to write a short story every other Friday and post it here, starting tomorrow maybe if I finish the thing I’m writing on time.

I’ve proven to myself that I can do the talking-about-various-things-every-day thing, so now I want to raise the challenge level by having to write fiction by a self-imposed deadline.

Which means I should take back that cop-out thing I wrote above that included the word “maybe.”

Hmmm.

sometimes the voices in your head say useful things, said the voice in my head

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Art by Pascal Campion

“It’s impossible,” said pride.

“It’s risky,” said experience.

“It’s pointless,” said reason.

“Give it a try,” whispered the heart.

(author unknown)

I read this article about a guy who quit his nine-to-five job to work for himself at the age of thirty-two. Very quickly, he realized that while working for himself was enormously rewarding, he was completely unprepared for this new kind of lifestyle. All of his time suddenly felt like work time, because he didn’t have paid vacations anymore or someone telling him what project to work on next or when he could eat lunch. All that was on him now.

At first he felt bewildered until he began to realize that he’d never truly been encouraged to manage his own life before. He, like many of us, started life in a school system where he knew what to do because he was given a curriculum, a yearly calendar, and choices for the future. Do this homework, go to this classroom, listen to these teachers, obey these (sometimes arbitrary) rules. Then he graduated from school and entered the working world, where again he knew what to do because authority figures told him. Go to this interview, say these things, do this report, go to this meeting.

What I find personally fascinating about most jobs is the whole nine-to-five concept. Considering how much evidence there is that only a small percentage of those eight hours (or more, as the case may be) contains actual work and the rest is biding time until the clock sets everyone free, you’d think companies would figure out a better way to utilize that time, or just let people do their work and go home when they’re finished. I know I always finished my work in school a lot faster when my teacher said I could go when I finished. Sadly, in most cases, you don’t decide how long you work. I figure this is because it’s much easier for employers to figure out how much to pay their workers by assigning them a certain number of hours to exist at work. Easier than it would be to consider each person’s workload and measure the monetary value of their effort and time devoted to any given task. Mom and Pop shops typically have the luxury to do that, since they’re smaller, but a corporation with thousands of employees? A nightmare of numbers.

The more I read about the writer’s experience transitioning from company life to working for himself, the more I realized that we all do a lot of things in our lives because we’re told. It’s not just the linear pattern in which we live our lives. We marry at a socially acceptable age, we don’t wear white at certain times of the year, we drink certain brands of beverages because their commercials are funnier, we laugh and scorn shoes that are functional and did no harm to anyone (on record at least) – all because we’ve been informed through one means or another that we’re supposed to.

Here’s a fun side story about breasts to illustrate that point: An anthropologist once went to Africa and, while hanging out with the topless women of a tribe, she took off her shirt and much amusement was had poking her round, perky boobies. A lifetime of bra-wearing had shaped the anthropologist’s breasts in a way that the other women’s weren’t. The anthropologist explained to the women that part of the reason she wore a bra was because breasts are seen as sexual in her country, and men desire the boobies, so she had to cover up as a form of modesty. The women, who’d spent their lives in a hot climate immersed in a culture where breasts are no more than floppy milk tanks, laughed incredulously, “Your men are like babies?!”

It begs the question: since women’s breasts are no more sexual than men’s nipples, why are we told they are? In fact, for many women, breasts just downright suck because they’re big ole heavy bags of fat we have to cart around on our chests. Without some very strong fabric pinning our floppy friends to our chests, running can even hurt. Kudos to cavewomen – running from sabertooth tigers already wasn’t fun. (I’ll be fair, though, breasts can also be fun if you draw little alligator faces on them while you’re in the bath and then have them attack bubble monsters. DISCLAIMER: I have not done this. Yet.)

A lot of people familiar with Japan are quick to point out Japan’s follow-the-leader tendency (yours truly included), but the whole Western world is guilty of doing the same. We’re not educated to design our lives the way we want to live them, no matter how many times the American media and education system enjoy singing about individuality. We’re educated to follow rules, and play the following game: grammar school, high school, college, (graduate school debatably optional), job/marriage (you have some generous flexibility on which comes first), wobbly amount of indeterminate existing time, death, afterlife with Bill and Ted. (That last part applies mainly if you’re an American kid with awesome adults around to show you Bill and Ted movies.)

Recently, I heard someone say: “Work isn’t fun. Work is work,” but damn. Considering work is an activity to which most people dedicate approximately eight hours out of their approximately sixteen conscious hours five days a week, that’s a massive chunk of time taken from one’s life. I’m not saying everyone can or should have a job making alligator costumes for boobies (though seriously, if Halloween is so obsessed with lady boobs, I highly support any company that provides them with their own costumes), but finding a job you love to do isn’t unthinkable. Sometimes it’s ridiculously difficult to find, or depends on timing, or you spend three years in a job you hate to get to that dream job, but I believe with all my annoyingly optimistic heart that perseverance can wear down the worst of times right through to the best of times.

I could go deeper into this, and I think I’ll come back to it someday with slightly more structure, but I see the situation like this: not everyone must be happy at work. Some people aren’t wildly passionate and spend hours daydreaming about what they could be getting paid to do and are content to do their job sufficiently and leave. Some people don’t want to work at all.

But there are success stories everywhere.

I have a friend who worked at a publishing company a few years as an unpaid intern and finally, when facing the very real prospect of having to move back in with her family, the company added her to the payroll.

Another friend is gaining a huge amount of traction in his career as a writer, actor, director, and overall creative force.

My older sister worked in the finance industry for eight years, paused to have kids, went to grad school in her early thirties, changed career tracks completely, and was hired by the White House in her late thirties. (She’s my hero – never ask me about her unless you have an hour to kill listening to me tell stories about how awesome she and my nephews are.)

More than luck or karma, I believe in perseverance. Some writers receive hundreds of rejection letters before they get just one of acceptance. …If you get a letter of acceptance on the first try, that’s still not luck, that’s a legitimate reason for other writers to pelt you with paintball thingies.

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You’re next, Quinn.

I love hearing about people’s dreams. If I’ve known a person for longer than eight minutes, odds are good I’ve wondered aloud or in my head what that person’s dream is. I love hearing about people’s passions. Even if I don’t share that passion, watching people talk about something they love is a lot of fun for me.

More than that, I love hearing people talk about loving their jobs. I love hearing someone say they’re excited to go to work every day. Since I was a kid, I dreamed of becoming a writer and making stories for a living, and so sometimes when I hear someone tell their story of how they ended up with the ideal job for them personally, I feel a burst of pride for them because fuck yeah, you! When dreamers succeed, a dead fairy is resurrected.

Remember that, dreamers.

In your hands, you hold the ability to raise zombie fairies from the undead.

…I now want to write this story.

Good night!

through a lens foodly

Yup, that’s the subject line I’m going with.

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WHOA, A SWORD.

So! I spent a long time in Europe, and now I’m back in Japan.

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This is a fried chicken bento. It is glorious in my eyes and also in my memory.

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This is okonomiyaki, otherwise known (to me) as ambrosia…yaki. My landlady made it a few days ago.

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That is the hand of the adorable daughter of said landlady. Behind her my friend is making a face that will be lost to memory forever because her masterpiece of an expression was blocked by The Claw.

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A friend and I made this and twelve others today. I ate that one. I got to take home four. Someday, I will bake more. And eat more.

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These are cookies. They look like rocks covered in moss to me. I find this super awesome.

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I had to miss a bunch of private lessons while I was away, and tonight was my first night back with a pair of men I talk with every week. One of them brought in a map so I could outline my whole trip for them.

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In honor of O and the sandwiches I was eating on a near constant basis in Spain, I went out tonight and bought sliced meat, cheese, bread, and didn’t have the time or energy to make crushed tomato sauce from tomatoes the way I wanted to so I just used pesto.

It was an experience beyond belief.

In conclusion: FOOD.

Good night, hungry folks!

the surprise shrine

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I live in a pretty fun neighborhood. Through sheer luck (and a very kind realtor), I happened upon an extremely reasonable apartment located in one of the wealthiest areas in the region. There are gated residences everywhere, complete with towering hedges to prevent me from perching on their fences with a container of popcorn and staring amiably inside their homes. My neighbors are all very friendly, and when we run into each other we usually trade some “good morning” greetings and sometimes the Japanese equivalent of “have a nice day” (いってらっしゃい). My landlords are, I’ve mentioned, some of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, and their daughter has become like a little sister I never had.

I moved in almost two years ago, and in those two years I’ve done a surprising lack of exploring the neighborhood. I walk to and from the station frequently, and since it’s a twenty minute shuffle down the mountain path and a twenty-five minute hike back up, that’s not an insubstantial amount of neighborhood I’ve seen. I change the route I walk every other day or so because I like new scenery and I loathe little more than routine (onions – I loathe those desperately more), but I haven’t taken much time to just walk around and see what stuff I’ve got to look at around here.

So last year around this time I decided to take one of my days off and dedicate it to exploring. And I found a shrine. A pretty significantly-sized shrine tucked into a mountain crevasse with a freaking waterfall. And I’d just…not seen this for a whole year. To be fair, it was about a three-minute walk down a path I wasn’t sure I was allowed to walk down, but when I got to the shrine it was well-manicured and clearly visited regularly even though no one was there when I arrived.

I sat on a stone rail and had one of those moments where the enormity of living in Japan really soaks in. Most of the time, I see Japan as a modern, first world country with modern, first world conveniences and on the surface, the architecture of concrete and glass and steel everywhere doesn’t feel too different from what I’m used to. But then I’ll find somewhere old, someplace that hasn’t been paved over, someplace that still has the powerful aura of age and reverence, and I’ll realize all over again just where I am.

And that’s a tremendously fun part about living here: you can spend ten years living here enveloped in the city and never even notice some of these things, but if you stray off the beaten path for just an instant, you can stumble on gems. (Like, there’s this waterfall behind Shin-Kobe Station and you can totally go skinny-dipping there.)

I feel a little irresponsible promoting wandering off beaten paths so I’ll add this disclaimer in the unlikely event anyone’s trusting my word on things and following my suggestions: beaten paths are great for one’s personal safety. Yay, beaten paths!

That’s good, right?