Walking Down Up-Town – Span/Maruzen

In Haruki Murakami’s novel South of the Border, West of the Sun, we find the protagonist caught in a space of liminal reality, entertaining notions of an alternative present – or future – dictated by idealized memories of the past.  A random sighting of a possible childhood friend on the streets of Ginza triggers a maelstrom of introspection, a contemplation of the fabric of reality.

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Though on most days, Ginza seems only a juxtaposition of princes and paupers, at certain glances the abundance of modern excess framed with stylized antique trappings would seem to mark the portal to a different world.  Whether it be a simulacrum of capitalist spectacle, or somewhere else betwixt and between, all depends on your perspective (and your wallet).

There are of course, excellent doll shops in Ginza, excellent sweet shops in Ginza, and occasional excellent art exhibits in Ginza. On those rare occasions, batsu carefully maps out where to step as to avoid losing her way, to navigate through the void and into that other world.  As of late, however, there have been many great gallery showings in Ginza, and perhaps it is these more than anything have me feel both lost and found in a new reality…  Or, perhaps just vertigo from the autumnal equinox.

Span Art Gallery – Declaration of the New Japanese Aesthetic

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The concept of this gallery showcasing finds itself buried in a 2-page hand-written declaration/manifesto of the same name, penciled on grid-like Japanese school paper, framed right beside the art in modest Plexiglas, mounted to the wall. Outlined briefly, the essay seems to rant about the loss of Japanese cultural identity and the burden of the artist to recreate a semblance of unifying aesthetic sense to redefine a Japanese world pillaged by globalization and the subsequent invasion of other cultural influence – something like that.  As most modern institutions of “traditional Japanese culture” are rather exclusive and prohibitively expensive (kimono, ikebana, tea ceremony, etc.) and incidentally abundant in Ginza, it’s difficult to bow in sympathy to this “plight.”  However, I still liked about half of the art on display, whether it seemed to coherently adhere to the agenda or otherwise.

Span Art Gallery is a relatively small, well-lit space with white walls and glass front, giving the impression that it is actually the patrons that are on display – particularly after dusk.  The first exhibit was from Oct. 5-17, and the latter from Oct. 18-31.  However, even if you are far from Tokyo’s clutches, you can still view the art from both showings at the exhibit page, randomly clicking on links to the right (artists’ names) even if you can’t read Japanese.

I particularly liked the pieces by Keita Tatsuguchi (龍口経太), Trevor Brown (トレヴァー・ブラウン), Yuji Moriguchi (森口裕二), and Takato Yamamoto (山本タカト).  There were many others, and indeed many beautiful works.

It’s difficult to choose an absolute favorite, though I will say that Mr. Brown’s first painting seemed to garner the most attention from other patrons.  Quite large and visually striking, with a stark palette of predominant reds and whites, it incorporates a beautiful arrangement of the difinitive “Japan-esque,” making it patriotic in an almost parodic way – perhaps even a caustic embodiment of the exhibit’s mission statement.

Maruzen – 4th Annual Hitogata Doll Exhibit

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Maruzen is about one station away from Ginza, so instead of paying to ride the train during rush-hour, I decided to hoof the 15 minute walk.  It’s a fancy-pants bookshop in the fancy-pants Oazo building in Marunouchi, near the Imperial Palace; the exhibit space is on the 4th floor.

I like it, as it’s connected to Tokyo Station via underground tunnel in the event of incliment weather, and literally across the street from the north exit, just in case you decide not to brave the underground labyrinth.  Aside from that, it’s in a bookshop, with decent magazine, manga, and even English book selections, complete with reading tables in case you want to sit around and kill some time.  There are also a variety of interesting toys and knickknacks lying about if the exhibit turns out to be a dud.

Though the photography for most doll events at Maruzen is often dissuading, I’m just as often thankful I made the trip – in this sense, Hitogata was no different.  It featured a diverse representation, showcasing a few international submissions, though Japanese artists were the most prominent.

My favorites were Ryo Arai (荒井良), Seihachi Nakajima (中嶋清八), Rika Imma (因間りか), Akemi Kai (伽井丹彌), and 西織銀.  I don’t know how to read the last name, but the dolls were absolutely beautiful, tiny perfection.

Photos can be seen from the Maruzen blog.

are you a good witch, or a bad witch?

Lady apples (アルプス乙女) are very fortuantely an adorable dolls’ size, and batsu was also very fortunate to purchase some at the market the other day.  This was Miyu and I’s first time making caramel, as well as caramel apples, so all things considered they turned out quite well.  Pfinn was visiting for the day, but decided she was too sophisticated for such plebian passtimes as… eating.

The recipe for these little treats can be found here:

http://dessertfirst.typepad.com/dessert_first/2006/10/petit_fours.html

Yamato Dolls, Dolls, Dolls

About a year ago, batsu wrote this article/review for Otaku2.com. The subject of the review was a doll made by Yamato; specifically, a limited edition Obitsu 50cm body Minmei character doll. I don’t think it’s one of my better pieces, but the photos turned out alright. I got to dress her up in a few different outfits, and we took a walk to Kanda Myojin Shrine in Akihabara.  And apparently it was published in some Hungarian magazine, too?  The details on that are fuzzy, but I hear it’s true.

Apparently, someone in the product development department was kind to take notice. Kanda Myojin is actually right down the street from their offices.  And, surprisingly, that same someone still remembered those photos a year later! So in short, today I was invited to their showroom for a peek at new dolls, figures, and accessories.

The new bodies look sharp, and it seems like they’re going to steer away from licensed characters and go more towards original dolls, making them both more affordable and more customizable. The B-type body is admittedly a bit voluptuous and muscular for my taste, but is nonetheless perfect for the Ikitousen character it was created for. Not only ripped, but well shaded to show muscle tone. They’re going to start offering it, along with a bit less beefy (but still quite busty) D-type body in both raw kits and as well as concept characters.  The dolls were deco’ed out today in jeweled nail stickers by the company president, who also took the liberty of adding some up-skirt bling for the precarious passerby.

That said, speaking for myself the best part about Yamato is their costumes and accessories. Factory produced, yet still meticulously detailed. Ms. Yasuge is assuringly – refreshingly – fastidious in regard to particulars, and was quite generous to expound upon the making of various parts, such as wigs, gloves, clothes and shoes.  Just taking one look at those shoes more or less speaks for itself.  Sourced out to a “regular” shoe factory and made of the same materials as “people” shoes, they have a presence all their own – of which the same can be said for their pleather outfits.  The new glasses are also top notch, made with a special thin plastic as to not distort the overall look and shape of the eye, and delicately hinged just like “real” glasses.

There were figures and other dolls as well, but I only snapped picutres of Mercedes from Odin Sphere and the intimidating Macross collection, now with street-legal bike helmet.

You can go see it all for yourself tomorrow, when it’s open to the public:

Doll Holic

10/24/2009 11am-4pm

Tokyo-to, Chiyoda-ku Sotokanda 2-4-4

Dai-Ichi Denpa Building 8F

In addition to the showroom, there will also be a photospace if you care to bring your dolls.

Becoming a Real Little Girl

For Miyu-chan’s birthday (10/31), I decided to give her a bit of surgery.

Miyu was made before UV coating was standard, so even though she lives a rather sheltered life, her skin had become a bit “tanned.” It had to be ex-foliated (ie sanded down) before showing its former radiance.  And since we were at the shop anyways, why not smooth down her seams as well?  I got all of the tools, and then had to wait for a sunny day, which finally arrived late last week.

After covering the operating table with a protective cloth, and arranging all of the tools, I looked at Miyu.  We were both terrified.  There were so many things that could go wrong.  Why was I doing this?

“Why?  Why are you doing this?”

“I’m not sure…  I don’t know exactly, but I think the procedure will help you become more of real little girl.”

“A real little girl?”

“Well, of course we know that you’re already real; but perhaps you can become even more real.”

“A real little girl…”  She paused in contemplation for quite some time.  “OK.  OK;  I want to do it.”

I began slowly and worked as carefully as possible.  She was asleep for nearly 36 hours.  There were some harrowing moments, but in the end everything fell into place.  Her face is still a bit pale; which is to say I haven’t done her make-up yet.  For the moment, she’s still getting used to her new body.  I’m quite pleased with how it’s turned out – Miyu is indeed becoming even more real.

Going to the Kenji Murata exhibit in Ginza yesterday, I found a very cute little pumpkin for her near the station.

Keep Jumping

Weekly Shonen Jump, a predominantly manga-filled weekly magazine targeting young male readers, celebrated it’s 40 year anniversary last year.  Though the Weekly Shonen is now just tip of the iceberg when it comes to serialized weekly and monthly manga anthologies, it’s generally credited with starting the burgeoning trend of serialized hodge-podge comic publications. A little bit of sports, a little bit of cars, some bikini girls (or character art), period stories, mecha, romantic comedy, supernatural, horror, and most any incongruent pairing you can imagine all sleeping under the same cover.  The target audience is quite literally all boys.

Though they often feature comics I enjoy reading, the incredibly small snippet of story that you can glean from any given publication is quite often not worth the effort – call me a lackluster fan.  In most cases, it pays to wait for a bound edition of the manga to reach publication, foregoing weekly cliffhangers (monthly and bi-monthly for the true masochists), not to mention Bible-esque bulk full of other comics.  However, if they are gifts, found abandoned on trains or whatnot, there’s little harm in succumbing to the temptation of reading one.  Just looking at all the pretty colors, cool character art, and occasional extras detailed in commuter train ads has nearly broken this perseverance more than once.

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So basically, that brings me to the Sept. 18 edition of Young Magazine Weekly.  I was interested in the new Rozen Maiden story arc, and it was a very thoughtful gift from Maru.  I hadn’t read or purchased a serialized manga publication in over a year, and thus quickly became informed of my ignorance in regard to some interesting technological advances that have occurred in the time elapsed.

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As I mentioned, the bikini girls are something of a staple, but why on earth do they have a cell-phone frame?  The title reads “For the first time in history! Gravia and movies together via cell phone! Pitacchi.”

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A comic-style illustration to the side explains the optimal way to view photos, scanning QR-codes to download supplementary photo and video data, and then using your cellphone display as a window into the 3D world.  Silly naughtiness such as looking through their nurse uniforms, changing the angle of their provocative stare, listening to dialog… nothing serious.  Some videos are to be played as you pan across the photo, creating something of modern “x-ray glasses” effect, as long as you follow the script, attempting to play into voyeur fantasy.

The photos themselves are perhaps more salacious when left to the imagination, foregoing the models’ occasional annoying demeanor and bad acting. But on the other hand, the additional content was included in the cover price, and expresses a unique merger of digital and analogue worlds.  For the uninitiated, let these images serve as a brief introduction to the world of gravia and “idol factory” culture.

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Tokyo Game Show 2009 – Less Meat, More Substance

The first time Batsu went to TGS in 2005, her senses were completely overwhelmed.  So many people, so many games, so much swag…  the drowning sea of flash that swallowed every booth babe.  Whoa – booth babes!?  Real cosplayers.  The taste of money in the air.  Sony unveiled the PS3 (though it wasn’t available for another year), Microsoft was about to release the Xbox 360, and Nintendo hinted at the Revolution (now Wii).  There were so many game demos that smaller titles had virtually no line.  Batsu had reached gamers’ nirvana.

Maybe.

The subsequent two years saw more and more development of the same titles unveiled in 2005.  Re-releases of older titles for new platforms, and so on.  The dead space was filled with girls.  And then more girls.  Stage shows of the girls – such as this cabaret-style performance to promote Ninja Gaiden (immortalized by shaky hand camera).  A swimsuit show for DOAX2 (at least they couldn’t replicate the scary gelatinous-animal breasts as seen in-game).  Girls held like show ponies on display to cater to the overly ambitious amateur photographer (the shot is bad, but there are around 10 girls lined up).  Just, ah… girls, girls, girls.  (Excuse the sub-par camera work – what a breathtaking lack of enthusiasm.)  The games were all but forgotten.

I mean, hey, I certainly advocate girls, but the G in TGS allegedly stands for Games.  My in-event pastime (d)evolved into photographing the guys that swarmed the booth babes, lenses flaring, which had more or less become the focus of this spectacle event.  Come 2008, well there were no intentions of attending.  Being chosen for the Little Big Planet test demo, coincidentally at the same time, was just icing on the cake.

And now in 2009, it seems as if the crashing global economy has strangely made all my wishes come true.  Though these gentlemen do quite a fine expose, it would have been even finer two, three, or four years ago.

A non-gamer acquaintance complained that all of the “booth babes” this year (admitting reluctance to call them babes, as they failed to meet the standard model-esque physique) were wearing basic clothes you could pick-up at Uniclo.  Thus, having nothing to photograph.  So I guess he could have played some of the demos on the relatively wide-open press day.  Or, then again, perhaps I forgot to mention he was a non-gamer at TGS.  On a press day.

All due respect to the girls who are paid so you can photograph their boobs.  Indeed, I like them, too…  Up until I have photographers physically pushing me out of the way, and preventing me from entering booths.

This brought similar complaints (from similar long attending acquaintances) that TGS is turning into E3, due largely in part to this the lack of flesh.  Interestingly, no on-line reviews are noting this vast difference.  Not to mention that E3 is an industry only event. (?)  Suffice to say, 2009 was one of the better in TGS history… of events I’ve been to… in the last 5 years.

In addition to the exciting line-up of new games, with tangible release dates, an elaborate Warring States period display, tied into the event’s “History of Gaming” theme, featured armor and other artifacts of more prominent warlords.  Awesome!  Significantly fewer companies showed their faces, which provided a decent amount of elbow room, and not too many titles I could really care less about, leaving everything to the big guns (and knives).

In pictures: