Andarushia, James Bond and The Vascongadas


Japan has been successful imitating and even improving West technology, architecture, fashion, etc., but when it comes to commercial cinema, she needs to reconsider and start from the beginning again.

In アンダルシア、女神の報復 Andalucia, the Goddess’ Revenge, the last blockbuster for the national market, we have the obligatory car and motorcycle chase, breathtaking sceneries, fights hand to hand, shootings and a conspiracy with embassy secret agents, double secret agents and a beautiful female spy. But, in the end, in spite of an impeccable technical filming and production, it doesn’t convince. I think that the problem is in the script, every good story’s foundation. If there is not an original script with intelligent and sharp dialogues and a logical story line, the movie, as in this case, fails. Here we must attend long, slow and boring speeches explaining everything as if it were a foreign language grammar class. The scriptwriters -if there are any- should not underestimate the audience and leave some ambiguity shortening the dialogues; in the end, giving too many details creates more confusion and what is worse, tediousness. Besides, same as in literature: “Don’t tell it, show it”. They could learn a few lessons from Ocean’s eleven or even Memento.

In Andalucia it seems that someone wanted to film Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia and a few dramatic aerial images of Malaga’s Ronda, and adjusted the plot for the stills to fit in the movie; the G20 summit and the skiing resort are just concessions to become a 007-like film.

As for the acting, applause to the beautiful and expressive Meisa Kuroki, a Japanese young woman from Okinawa who happens to be one fourth Brazilian. Juji Oda, the main actor, is not too bad, although it’s not justified either to have him pose in front of the camera for such long shots as if he were Marlon Brando. His character is the epitome of self-control, paternalism, self-denial and unimpeachable morality, like a cliché of a modern day bushido-practitioner; and the opposite of his Western counterpart, my worshipped James Bond: a sarcastic, playful and dipsomaniac womanizer and gambler but still faithful to his principles. I got acquainted to the immortal British character through my father’s addiction to his adventures. In my teens, the living room at home looked like a James Bond’s museum with all Ian Fleming’s novels and 007 movies in any possible format. If one day my progenitor had brought a real-size wax doll of his hero and set it next to the TV, nobody would have been surprised. Now, I doubt anybody would be willing to set a replica of Kosaku Kuroda on his tatami room.

As for the Spaniards’ depiction, what can I say? Apart from the careless Interpol officer who makes sexual advances on the protected witness in front of a Japanese top diplomat, there is not even one Spanish character whose personality be even minimally shown. They are just wandering beings, full of impulses like the aggressive taxi driver, drinking and eating tapas in bars, dancing flamenco or training as bullfighters. If the director wanted to really show the “miserable irresponsibility” of our police forces, he could at least have created a mean and corrupt character in the line of Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant, and not a caricature of a neighborhood policeman with an English even crapper than that of the Japanese.

To top the lack of verisimilitude, a young Japanese man with a teenage-idol hairstyle becomes the Interpol agent in charge of the operation in Spain, without speaking a word of Spanish! At least, they didn’t make the female character do ぶりっ子 burikko (pretending to be stupid and/or childish), like in Princess Toyotomi.

To finish, a hilarious note: as Abel, my colleague and extra in the movie tells me, the map of Spain that they are using on their web page represents the Spanish regions with names from before democracy, i.e., the 70’s. Las Vascongadas, Castilla la Vieja and Castilla la Nueva! How tactless!

Hankyu Densha: an universe of struggling women on a Kansai railway



Hankyu Densha, based on the homonymous novel by Hiro Arikawa, is a story about solitude, about deceived characters themselves who can’t find a way out of their problems but struggle to get rid of them. Paradoxically, an old and crowded Japanese train marching from Takarazuka to Nishinomiya Kitaguchi station is the setting for the intertwining solitary lives of a thirty-something bride-to-be, just abandoned by her boyfriend; of a school girl who suffers from isolation and incessant bullying by her classmates; of an obaachan (granma) who lives on remembrances from immemorial times; of a college student, victim of her boyfriend’s choleric fits of rage and jealousy; of a pusillanimous housewife trapped in a world of hypocrisy and sense of obligation; of two “otaku” Kwansei Gakuin students completely out of the fashionable and intolerant trend of the Japanese youth’s clothes and sheepish behavior; and of a high-school girl who sees her longed-for dream vanishing and feels guilty.

They all have things in common: they feel lonely, deluded and betrayed. Maybe the most stunning character is the one played by the once-awarded and many times nominated to best actress by the Japanese Academy Miki Nakatani, whose boyfriend justifies his leaving her for another woman –her 後輩! (her more junior colleague)- because she is strong enough to take care of herself but the new (and pregnant) one really needs him; although revenge is best served cold and she forgives them on the condition that she is invited to the wedding.

But this is also a story of solidarity, about people who see themselves in another person’s sufferings. It’s what we call empathy, that concept so well explained by modern neuroscientists through the construct of “mirror neurons”.
Those who are not capable of experiencing empathy are either stupid, or autistic or pathologically selfish and egomaniac.

The characters, one after the other, advice and interfere positively in one another’s lives. And through this process, each of them becomes aware of their own issues.

The message is clear at the end of the movie: as Shoko claims, “世界でいい部分もある”, in the world there are also good things. Let’s go and take them, no worries about impossible dreams and social conventions.

Japanese Halloween, Spanish Conferences and Student Theatre Festivals



Life in Japan might sometimes look a little bit dull but there are moments when there are so many options where to choose from that it’s exactly the opposite, and you feel that your schedule becomes an elastic cord that is going to break sooner or later.

For the Japanese, as well as for the Spanish –I just learnt about the Celtic and Christian origins of the celebration-, Halloween is nothing else than a date in the calendar when they can put on a costume and go out crazy, like in Carnival. In Kyoto, a foreign and local mixed crowd of youngsters and not so young ones go to the Kamo River, to one of the three Irish pubs downtown or to more or less private parties. There are also the big clubs’ parties –World and Metro- and the healthy ones like the salsa-dancing Rumbita, where birthday parties are celebrated with a non-stop-dancing-in-costume ritual for the honoured person.

Last weekend too, the Halloween-celebrating one, the yearly Hispania Gakkai’s Spanish Language, Literature and Culture Conferences was held in Osaka, and there I went, to the University of Kansai, to listen to 20-minute presentations about Don Quijote, Pedro Páramo, Carmen Martín Gaite, Cortázar, surrealism, etc. and to enjoy a banquet with colleagues whom I only meet once or twice a year.

And Sunday was also the starting point for the three-day Student Festival at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, with super entertaining theatre plays. At 10:30, the German club presented Die Bremer Stadtmusukanten, with an almost professional staging and very clear dialogues; and at 13:30, the Spanish club performed El país de las maravillas, a funny and creative mixture of Alice in Wonderland, Red Riding Little Hood, Romeo and Juliet and Don Quixote, with some of my former students in the cast and the advice of Isabel la Católica from Palencia. Most of those students have spent the last 3 months meeting and rehearsing daily for the play and a few of them, like Rie and Eriko, cannot avoid crying of emotion and sadness now that everything is over.




Hoy hemos tenido en Kyoto Gaidai al tremendo escritor, profesor de filosofía de instituto de barrio y comunicador nato Eliacer Cansino, que además acaba de ganar el Premio Nacional de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil con su última novela “Una habitación en Babel”. Afable, siempre con la sonrisa en los labios y mostrando un interés casi juvenil por todas las cosas suyas y ajenas, en un español clarito y despacito para que se enteraran los estudiantes japoneses, nos ha contado acerca de sus creaciones literarias y su manera de ver el mundo.
Para Eliacer Cansino, la infancia es un momento especial porque en él se puede vivir el presente de forma más plena sin preocupaciones sobre el pasado o el futuro. Además, es cuando se percibe de forma más pura el mensaje de los primeros libros, sin la mirada crítica del lector adulto, que tiende a proyectar su propia vida, imagen y experiencias en ellos. La filosofía y su trabajo de profesor de adolescentes en un instituto de un barrio obrero de Sevilla le han proporcionado material o al menos la inspiración para el libro que le ha valido el prestigioso premio la semana pasada, y que trata sobre la relación entre un profesor y un joven estudiante inmigrante africano en España. Y ese es su actual método de trabajo –responde Eliacer a la pregunta de mi estudiante Satoru-: a partir de un ejemplo concreto o de una anécdota, le sale un libro, con el que intenta transmitir su propuesta moral que supone el valor de la dignidad humana y una cierta esperanza para el futuro; porque los jóvenes deben tener esperanza. Con ello, este filósofo escritor parece huir de los relativismos excesivos y del nihilismo de la sociedad actual.
Pero donde el escritor se ha extendido más ha sido al hablar sobre su obra “El misterio Velázquez”, por el que ya obtuviera el Premio Lazarillo en 1997: ahí se mezclan el trabajo de investigación sobre la época más la libertad del autor para completar los rincones oscuros que los historiadores no han logrado iluminar. Y Cansino le da protagonismo a un personaje ignorado en su tiempo, y lo rescata del olvido mediante la literatura, ya que para él, ésa es una de sus funciones (y con esto el escritor responde a Kumiko).
Su traductora al japonés, Kazumi Uno, traductora también de “Soldados de Salamina” de Javier Cercas, me comenta al final de la conferencia los retos que se ha encontrado para traducir sus libros, especialmente cuestiones de tipo cultural, ya que el público objetivo japonés que leerá esas traducciones necesitará aclaraciones acerca de nuestra sociedad e historia, aclaraciones que Uno prefiere incluir de forma natural en el texto, ya que las notas distraerían al joven lector y no le permitirían sumergirse de lleno en la historia del libro.
Un verdadero placer tener eventos como este en la universidad y poder conocer a personas tan interesantes que te hacen reflexionar sobre las cosas con la mirada de aquel niño que eras hace 25 ó 30 años.

Ihara Saikaku, Ohoku and nowadays’ youngsters



Ihara Saikaku wrote in 1682 what would later become the epitome of the first modern Japanese donjuan, The Life of an Amorous Man (好色一代男 Kōshoku Ichidai Otoko).
At that time, the beginning of the relatively peaceful Tokugawa period, merchants started being more and more influential in the society and Saikaku depicts a flourishing one. But what makes this Japanese literary donjuan called Yonosuke different compared to his Spanish counterparts is precisely his lack of “manliness”, willing to accomplish his sexual desires through male and female prostitutes and the payment of money, and not risking his life for that; in one occasion he even shares a woman one night with another man –a menage a trois!- just to avoid fighting. Can you imagine a Western donjuan acting like that? The openly tolerated bisexuality of the time is depicted perfectly in the book when the narrator gives quantitative data about Yonosuke’s sexual conquests: until the age of 54, he had had respectively 3.742 and 725 female and male lovers.

Ohoku, the movie now showing in main movie theaters in Japan is a history-science-fiction story in a similar historical time (the beginning of the XVIII century) with a promising although not a really verisimilar plot: there is an epidemic in Japan that affects only men, and women end up becoming the ones in control of the military, etc. The female shogun keeps a harem from which she must chose the most beautiful and powerful man to become the father of her heiress. Well, the movie is basically about this sword and manners training harem and the homosexual relations among the beautiful samurais themselves, who look more like frivolous ladyboys than samurais, fighting with each other to be the cutest one, like in a hosto san TV drama. Of course, in the end the chosen one is the baby-face Mizuno –the actor’s name is Kazunari Ninomiya, alias Nino chan, who happens to be a celebrity in Japan in spite of his incompetence as for acting-, the only one who rejects the homosexual advances, not without a little bit of ambiguity. I think that this movie will disgust young Japanese female groupies at the same degree as it will also inspire still-in-the-closet Japanese males. But for sure, it will become a cult movie for the Gay world.

Apart from science-history-fiction movies, the bisexuality of samurais in that time is a historical fact not really known or accepted by the present and openly homophobic Japanese society. In the movie theater, a young crowd started emitting strange sounds of disappointment at the most explicit scenes, although since It’s Japan and not Brazil –I love Brazil, by the way-, nobody whistled. I wonder what will they answer when they be asked about the movie –I’ll try in class tomorrow.

Although movies are movies, and real life is a different thing, when I enter a restroom and find a queue of university male students standing in front of the mirror setting up their hair in public for more that 5 minutes before going back to class, I cannot avoid thinking that the world of frivolity depicted in the movie is not as far as many of those students might think.

Slumdog Millionaire at Ritsumeikan University



A man with a fast and precise talk, the diplomat and eventually writer Vikas Swarup came to Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan, on Monday at the request of the tireless and persevering English teacher Andrew Dowling. In spite of the unusual of the occasion, very few Japanese professors and/or administrators attended Mr. Swarup’s lecture about his book –turned into a Hollywood-awarded movie- and India (maybe they were at one of those long meetings they like to celebrate in the evenings). But, anyway, around one hundred and fifty students were able to listen to and meet the celebrity. I’m not sure how much of the diplomat’s polished English did they even understand, but for sure it must have been a good experience for them.
He talked about the process of writing –supported by an “absent wife”- when in London in an astonishing short two-month period; about the publishing; and about the adaptation into a successful movie (even before the book had been for sale).
The questions about his own life –not belonging to the slums but depicting them in his novel- as a middle class educated Indian man, and about the use of English to show characters who speak in different Indian languages and dialects were answered by him with frankness and humility: his objective is not to explain complex Indian society but just to tell a story and entertain the readers.
The part of the lecture when he addressed India’s economy, culture and growing political weight in the world sounded more of a boring diplomat’s politically-correct speech than an intellectual’s opinion, but even though, when he talked about the novel, its characters and the movie themselves, it was well worth it. Thanks, Andrew, and happy birthday.

CANELA fina en Tokio, pero no la de Luis María Ansón



Hace unos días se celebró en el Instituto Cervantes de Tokio el XXII Congreso de CANELA. La Confederación Académica Nipona, Española y Latinoamericana la formamos un grupo de profesores, investigadores y/o estudiosos del idioma español en un sentido amplio, es decir, que tienen cabida la lengua, la literatura, la historia, el arte y el pensamiento del mundo hispánico –en muchas ocasiones en relación con nuestro entorno japonés-. Actualmente con más de 100 miembros de todos los colores y nacionalidades –incluyendo profesores japoneses- la mayoría somos profesores de universidad en algún punto de la geografía nipona.
Cada año celebramos un Congreso alternando sobre todo entre las áreas de Kanto –Tokio- y Kansai –Osaka, Kyoto- y cada una de las tres secciones de CANELA –Metodología de enseñanza del español, Literatura y Pensamiento- se reúne en sesiones en las que algunos profesores hacen presentaciones sobre sus investigaciones actuales, que suelen publicarse como artículos de investigación en la revista Cuadernos Canela.
Yo estoy en la sección de Literatura, aunque de vez en cuando me cuelo en las otras si el tema me interesa. Este año mi preferida fue la de Álvaro, un profesor venezolano que nos habló de teratologías. ¿Que qué es eso? Eso mismo me preguntaba yo. Se trata del estudio de los monstruos. Este profesor nos hizo un repaso al imaginario literario de los monstruos en Occidente y en Oriente –Japón- uniendo ambos en la figura del escritor mexicano Mario Bellatín, un “monstruo” él mismo.
Pero como no sólo de erudición vive el hombre, también tuvimos un banquete con comida española en el restaurante del Cervantes y un concierto de música barroca con la cantante más atractiva y con mejor voz que he visto en mucho tiempo.

La otra gran asociación en Japón del mundo del español es la Asociación Japonesa de Hispanistas, formada fundamentalmente por profesores japoneses, pero a la que también pertenecemos algunos profesores nativos (del español). También editan una revista académica con artículos de investigación, Hispánica, que ya comienza a tener formato digitalizado y hay un congreso anual, el cuál se celebrará este año en Kansai Daigaku.

El Periódico de Yukio Mishima



Hoy, primer día del nuevo año, entre resacas de marisco, familia y alegría, rescato de mi biblioteca madrileña un corto relato de Yukio Mishima traducido al español, El periódico, que me deja taciturno y pensativo. Toshiko vive una existencia tan acomodada como aburrida junto a su marido –famoso actor con una manifiesta doble vida fuera de casa-, y un hijo pequeño. La niñera recién contratada y con una prominente barriga acaba dando a luz clandestinamente en la casa con la familia como testigos; el tardío médico envuelve al recién nacido bastardo todavía manchado de sangre en papeles de periódicos y la visión de esa inhumana imagen hace que Toshiko reflexione sobre las injusticias de la vida y se atormente sobre el futuro de ese niño. Mishima nos muestra en unas pocas páginas una visión determinista pero mágica del mundo y una denuncia de las desigualdades sociales que acaban marcando las vidas de todas las personas. Pero como si de una montaña rusa del karma se tratara, la retribución por nuestros actos pasados o los de nuestros allegados no se hace esperar. El autor juega con los demonios del personaje principal y le infunde temor y pensamiento supersticioso, al tiempo que a través de omisiones descriptivas y ambiente un tanto gótico, eleva la tensión hasta presentarnos de golpe el esperado-inesperado final.


El fin de semana pasado se celebró en la Universidad Provincial de Shizuoka el Congreso de Hispanistas de este año y allí nos reunimos profesores de universidades de todo Japón. Hubo ponencias sobre lingüística, enseñanza del español, literatura, cultura y pensamiento. Me gustaron especialmente la ponencia sobre Emilia Pardo Bazán del siempre lleno de energía y ameno profesor Ogusu, y el análisis del surrealismo en el poeta mexicano Xavier Villaurrutia, a cargo de la doctoranda de la Universidad de Tokio Eiko Minami. Pero la estrella del Congreso fue una obra de teatro a la que todos asistimos en el Teatro Artístico de Shizuoka y tras la que hubo una interesantísima charla con el director de la misma, el colombiano Omar Porras . Se trata de una versión libre del mito de Don Juan , que recoge elementos de diversos donjuanes más la cadencia de voces del teatro japonés del kabuki. Los movimientos y gestos españolizados de los impecables actores y el juego con los tonos japoneses de sus voces, especialmente en los momentos de seducción de Don Juan –私はあなたに約束を守ります- creaban un contraste atractivo que encajaba con las máscaras, el teatro grotesco de marionetas y el intento de pérdida de ilusión teatral buscado por el autor. Muchos símbolos estaban visibles en la obra -después lo explicaría el director-, como por ejemplo el vestido de bailarina de doña Ana, y surgieron de una improvisación en los ensayos por parte de los actores, a los cuáles Omar supo sacar la creatividad que todo artista lleva dentro. Tras la obra y el coloquio, actores, actrices y director se unieron a nuestro banquete y pudimos conocer en persona al Don Juan japonés sin máscara y tomarnos una copa de vino con él.

Tired of Facebook’s frivolous stories of weekend hangovers? Bored of TV dramas, whether American, Venezuelan or Korean? Ready for a little bit of intellectual pleasure? Check this website, where you can see what your friends have read or are reading and their opinions about different books, the same way you can post yours. Then you can go back to Facebook and check those funny pictures…

A quiet life

Kenzaburo Oe’s literary universe is so close to his real life that the limits between both of them are not clearly recognizable. In “A quiet Life” the depiction of his family and especially his family matters is made through his “fictional” daughter, a very sensitive narrator and too mature a personality for a 20-year-old girl. Although the narrator is supposed to be Ma-chan, since most of the stories consist of discussions and opinions about the father, an implicit author Oe, as a reader you can never abandon yourself to the idea of a non-Oe Kenzaburo narrator. When I first read the summary of Oe’s works –family and a mentally-disable son- I was surprised that such limited theme could warrant someone a Nobel Prize. But after reading only one of his books, you get to find out that the family and the disable son are only the starting point of something more transcendental, i.e. philosophy, psychoanalysis, literary theory, politics, etc.

I like the structure of this book. It consists of different chapters, each one a unity in itself but related to each other chronologically and thematically. All of them start with a reference to Eeyore, the son, and a problem or difficulty; for a while that character stops being the centre or “buffer of the family” –as it’s called by Kenzaburo-, and other characters, like Ma-chan herself, the youngest brother O-chan or the Shigeto’s get focused more clearly; but all chapters end up with a reference to Eeyore, as if trying to close the circle. The same way -thanks Massa for helping me realize this- on a higher level, the whole book also get its own closing when the end culminates Ma-chan’s initial statement that she would like to marry a man who can afford a two-bedroom apartment.

This book is post-modern because: 1) there is a premeditate confusion between reality and fiction, 2) there are not absolute truths or simple explanations for the characters’ behaviour, and many opinions by that many characters, show the complexity of itself –the father’s “pinch” and its possible reasons is the best example and, I think, the heart of the book-, 3) it’s a pastiche of different documents and narratives: letters, diaries, literary and cinema criticism, political opinions…

Something surprising for me is Oe’s depiction of his daughter’s attitude toward sex, especially regarding her brother’s. At the beginning it’s not completely verisimilar her apparent naiveness, although it could just be a credible negation of the facts by an inexperience young woman. Her behaviour at the end is connected with a Japanese tradition of teaching women submission and abnegation, plus her already commented wish at the beginning of the book.

Punishment is another interesting topic to be considered in the book, with its different characteristic both in the Japanese and Western societies.

Personally, I think Kenzaburo Oe is a great scholar, very well-read, connoisseur of the Western culture, and able of creating an artificial but elegant language when writing; although maybe he lacks the contact with the not-elitist world, the down-to-earth, Japanese salary-man OL society, which makes his works a little bit dull and his family attractively claustrophobic. Anyway, something of a not so high-brow culture in his books would also be appreciated.

If you are into easy-reading best-sellers, don’t even open this book; but if you like scholarly written essays, psychoanalysis, philosophy and can appreciate the complexity of the structure in a post-modern book, go ahead: you will have fun.

Oe Kenzaburo

Kenzaburo Oe es bien conocido por haber ganado el premio Nóbel de Literatura en 1992, siendo el segundo japonés en conseguir el galardón del gobierno sueco. Los pocos japoneses que lo han leído explican que el estilo de este autor es hermético, difícil. Tal vez se trate de lo que él bien llama “buena literatura” o 純文学, y una de las constantes de los tópicos en sus discursos en universidades americanas: Kenzaburo se queja de que el nivel literario de los libros publicados y vendidos en los últimos años ha decaído considerablemente, y en el pack de autores comerciales incluye sin piedad a Murakami y Banana Yoshimoto, que hacen excesivas concesiones a un lector poco exigente. Kenzaburo contrasta esta situación actual con la de posguerra, y conecta la realidad literaria del país con su realidad económica, social y política. La conclusión más atrevida del incendiario literato es que la sociedad, en su afán por imitar a Occidente y su comodidad económica, ha llegado a una decadencia moral y cultural, a una destrucción de cualquier tipo de valores que puedan sobrepasar lo material. En este caso lo moral no se trata de un juicio pacato sobre el comportamiento sexual de los japoneses sino la denuncia de una exclusiva atención a un consumismo occidental de marca, vacío de contenido; y al plagio de modas culturales que en Japón tienen poca aplicación, sólo en aras de una supuesta modernidad de apariencia. La actitud superficial de los escritores, para Kenzaburo, tiene guarda relación con el fenómeno de la tendencia actual de la sociedad japonesa hacia posturas conservadoras y nacionalistas, cerrándose en sí misma frente a una realidad asiática que le debería ser más cercana y a la que debería respetar en lugar de expoliar económicamente. Aunque las conferencias transcritas en este libro son de los años 90, me gustaría ver la cara del Nóbel si pudiera presenciar las controversias actuales sobre las visitas de Koizumi y compañía a Yasukuni, la polémica sobre la enseñanza de actitudes patrióticas en las escuelas públicas e incluso la nueva legislación sobre el control de la inmigración. Es como si el Nóbel hubiera leído en una bola de cristal lo que iba a suceder diez años más tarde.

Uno de mis estudiantes un día me contaba que la cuestión de las Fuerzas de Autodefensa no era más que un eufemismo y que Japón debería tener un Ministerio de Guerra -Defensa- como todos los demás países, y los japoneses tenían derecho a estar orgullosos de serlo. En parte le di la razón, pero argumentos como los de Kenzaburo, unidos a la tendencia de la sociedad japonesa de cerrarse en sí misma para evitar las disensiones dentro de ella, más peligrosas consignas nacionalistas en un país-isla como Japón, pueden llevar a peligrosas posiciones racistas –latentes y no latentes en la actualidad-, e innecesarias tensiones con vecinos históricamente agraviados.

En cuanto a la literatura, creo que es un fenómeno universal: la introducción de lo audiovisual, Internet y los teléfonos móviles en la vida diaria del ciudadano del primer mundo han afectado también a la literatura, haciéndola más ligera, más visual, menos comprometida filosófica y políticamente, más pobre según Kenzaburo. Es la vieja discusión sobre si el pop art es tan arte como el high-brow art.

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