Mohammad’s summer

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For many people, Iran might mean the Evil Axis, a nuclear danger and Islamic fundamentalism. However, a big multiethnic society of 80 million inhabitants is much more than that. Film director Majid Majidi, in his 1999 prize-awarded The color of paradise, shows a traditional countryside community far from the geostrategic fight for natural resources and regional power. Mohammad is a blind boy of around 10 years old who, during school vacation, must leave his special-education school in Teheran to spend time with his family. The father, a hard-working widower desperate to start a new family, is confronted with the circumstance of having to choose between his son and a prospective new wife, and be ready for redemption. The universal theme of a parent abandoning a child to start a new family, so common in the Japanese cinema (Nobody knows, Kikujiro’s summer) also arrives at the Iranian film scene. Northern Iranian green mountains and customs are depicted poetically by Majidi, who creates the character of an imaginative and sensitive child with the ability of perceiving reality with his ears and his fingertips at deeper layers than “normal” people, a door to the sacred.  At the end of the showing, Madrid’s Centro Persépolis’s manager repeats for us the film director’s words: “To see things clearly, we need to close our eyes”. Maybe that’s what we have to do to get a proper perspective of politics, love, friendship, work and family.

ORANUS, the new Russia

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Does advertisement work the same way in all countries? Do publicity messages reach people regardless of nationality and culture? Are we just puppets in the hands of publicists? Victor Pelevin’s hilarious novel Homo Zapiens (Generation п) deals with the matter in a creative way: a post-Communist Russia is entering the Western world of consumism through TV commercials that must be adjusted to the Russian zeitgeist, as a way of approaching Uncle Sam to Lenin. Babylen Tatarsky, the protagonist, coming from the Institute of Literature and with the help of hallucinogenic fly-agaric mushrooms and a Ouija board, becomes an advertising creative and discovers a world where “Identification of the self is only possible through the compilation of a list of goods consumed, and transformation is only possible by means of a change in the list”, ORANUS, and where nothing or nobody is what/who looks like, especially on TV.

There is also a recent film adaptation and here is the trailer.

A little bit of American ideology

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This week I’ve seen myself taken to a couple of Hollywood’s productions and I must admit that they were entertaining and, above all, neuron-relaxing.

 

For a child or even a young teenager, love is a binary matter, either you love or you don’t, with all its eternal consequences, as simple as that. However, in the adult/erous world, things are not so clear but full of grayish nuances. MUD and his overexposed naked chest, a mélange of Pocholo, Bisbal, and MacGyver, helps 14-year old Ellis to keep on believing in Manichaean existences, in an idyllic and laid-back American South: Tom Sawyer revisited.

 

It’s always inspiring to realize how thousands of no-face digitalized extras are killed in Hollywood’s catastrophe films, while the protagonist –in this case, a mature but still babyface Brad Pitt in the role of a model father and an obedient husband-, and his whole family end up unharmed (Deus ex machina, as usual), as if their lives were more valuable than the other ones. At least, this The Walking Dead’s longer chapter, WORLD WAR Z of zombie, gives you a good amount of overseas fighting, PG-13 rated flesh and blood, and doesn’t hide its bold political correctness.

Contradictions in China

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China is, no doubt, a country of contrasts, one more mark of most developing countries in the world. You have the relatively rich coast and the poor countryside. But even in wealthy Shanghai and Beijing, you find poverty on the streets. They passed from a tightly controlled economy to an open market and frantic business after Deng XiaoPing. And now, everyone wants to be rich, everyone wants to live Western style. But they are too many, and the competition is hard. After Mao and the Cultural Revolution, intellectuals and good manners were equal to bourgeois vices, and everyone rushed for survival without paying attention to that. Nowadays, that the standard of living is gradually going up, their ways have not paired the economic development yet, and then you find people spiting on the floor in front of you, not respecting lines or pushing around, hotel clerks and taxi drivers quite rude and so on. But at the same time, a new generation of young Chinese not so limited by censorship –although it still exists, especially on the Internet, they might not be able to read these lines-and indoctrination, get little by little to adapt themselves to a more global and friendly world. I met so many families and young students willing to exchange pieces of language and culture with a foreign traveler…The hatred-love relation with the West and the complex of inferiority should be replace by one of a more mutual respect and help. And maybe they should look back to their ancient culture’s precepts of ethical standards and social norms advocated by Confucius.
As for politics and democracy, as long as people see how their standard of living goes up, they don’t care too much about it. But if the economy happens to get stuck one day, the Government will be in real trouble. Traveling around China and feeling the hugeness of the country in terms of population and territory, I understand the desire of the Communist Party of having everything tied up. If they didn’t, China would probably fall into chaos and/or regional civil wars. Now it’s a non-free but at least somehow harmonious society, and with low delinquency. But they will have to open the system; it’s a matter of time.
I think China has a real problem with pollution and should take strong measures to control it. Cities are not only sky-scrapers, factories and cars, but also people on the streets who have the right to breathe fresh air. The EXPO 2010’s theme is precisely the green cities. It’s a good and brave start, being aware of their own problems, but now they have to really face them, maybe at the cost of their own high-speed economic development. At least most scooters are electric. They should do the same with cars, if their objective is that everyone own one; and control their factories’ Co2 emissions.
As for China’s cities, the more livable and “civilized” is Beijing, followed by frantic Shanghai with its many contradictions –Pudong and the Bund vs. the slums downtown-. Mid-size cities like Nanjing can be nice in some areas, hostile in others; same as for Qingdao –good city to meet Chinese national tourists from all around China-, with a relatively well-taken care of beach front but a more abandoned downtown.
After this 2-week-trip to China, I don’t think I’ll go back in the short or medium term, but when I do, I hope I will find a better place to live.
Here you are a few videos. Enjoy:
Qingdao beach
Nanjing Kung Fu Noodles
Chinese exotic food
EXPO 2010 China’s pavilion
Traditional music at Shanghai’s Yuu Gardens
Shanghai’s storytelling
Miguelín, the Spanish gigantic baby at EXPO Shanghai 2010
Spain’s pavilion at EXPO Shanghai 2010

THE COVE, FLIPPER AND BULLFIGHTING

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The other day took place, at last, the première of 2009’s American documentary “The cove” in Japan. A small movie theatre in Kyoto had about 30 spectators on a Saturday evening, which shows how little impact has had on the Japanese population, although a few newspapers and magazines included articles about the topic. It was an exciting film, in the line of James Bond’s moves from the 70’s with submarine cameras, spies, etc. But let’s go to the content: Ric O’Barry, former trainer of the deceased Flipper, becomes paranoid about how humanlike and intelligent dolphins are and starts illegally releasing them in the U.S. After a few years, he decides to go abroad and do the same in Japan, or at least, make a big hit with a movie depicting the killing of these marine mammals because of their meat or for commercial reasons in Taiji, Japan. Independently of their illegal actions, as of entering a restricted area and taking images without permission, their reasons to stop the hunting and killing of dolphins for food accounts basically for dolphins’ high intelligence and friendliness to humans. Well, there are no scientific research that prove their even remotely closeness to human cognitive reason. Besides, if they were so intelligent, they wouldn’t allow themselves to be hunted in such an easy way always in the same area. And many other animals are submissive and friendly to us and we still use them for meat: think of rabbits –many times used as pets, chicken, cows, etc.-. There is not an extinction danger, as in the case of whales, so I don’t see why the Japanese should stop eating dolphins if they please. As for the way they are hunted and sacrificed, it might look cruel in front of the cameras but it’s always bloody when killing an animal; what happens is that we are not shown those images at all in the case of the regular and packed meat we buy at the supermarket. They should also record images of chicken factories and beef processing industries when the animals are killed and start campaigning against killing cruelly those animals.

The argument of poisonous mercury inside the dolphins’ meat is exaggerated in the movie, but anyway used as another argument. In the case of the killing of dolphins as ペストコントロール (pest control) and not only for food, I could also understand and approve the killing: if dolphins consume big amounts of fish and procreate without limits but without being consumed or controlled by humans, the growing human population of the world won’t have enough fish to survive; or we will have to depend exclusively on meat in the future. It makes sense, but they disregard it as an excuse.

But what really bothered me about the movie was the manipulation of images in their favour: the Japanese fishermen are depicted without a face, as if denying their humanness, their angry arguments and words in Japanese are presented as animal sounds out of context. Even they show Japanese politicians and officials as expressionless, lack-of-feeling persons and, above all, liars and cruel even to their own people; while the dolphins are a noble race of “animals” who deserve tears and a decent life in the ocean.
Well, in first place, they should first try to understand the country and the culture to where they have travelled –who is kind enough as to not putting them in jail after their illegal actions-; and second, they should try not to be so ethnocentric and think that they are in possession of the truth –as for which animals should be eaten and which ones shouldn’t- and that they have the holy mission of making all the humanity have their own absolute values.

And today, in the news, the prohibition of bullfighting in Cataluña, Spain. I respect the democratically taken decision but I don’t share it at all: the torture they claim to receive the “toros de lidia” is not that, but just a 20 minute fight against the bullfighter after 5 years of a great life of freedom in the fields before its final sacrifice. Apart from political reasons -some people consider the decision as a way of marking more differences between Cataluña and Spain in search of a future independence (curiously the announce of the prohibition coincides in time with the rejection of a few crucial articles in the Catalan Estatut)-, many of the promoters of this law may have many things in common with Flipper’s trainer, even without having heard about him.

Slumdog Millionaire at Ritsumeikan University

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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.

Futenma, familias numerosas y un pícaro coreano

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(English, español, 日本語)

Recently, politics in Japan have become a little bit frantic with the Futenma relocation of the Okinawan American military base. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, from the Democratic Party of Japan, is facing his biggest challenge as a politician since he assumed office in September 2009 –apart from last December’s scandal of his rich mother’s “donation” for his campaign-. When a politic party makes too many promises in a campaign, in the eventuality of winning, either you fulfil them up to certain point or you will lose your reputation with your voters. His statement at campaign speeches that he would send Americans away of Okinawa won him many advocates, but once in office, doing it is practically impossible without damaging the political and military ties with the U.S.
Indeed, Hatoyama’s DPJ’s foreign policy has been more of approaching Asia, at the expense of Japan’s relation with America. Actually, that’s not completely unwise from an economic point of view: Asia represents for Japan the 48% of her total exports and the 60% of imports, including natural resources. The U.S.’s weigh in the Japanese economy is only 18% and 10%, respectively. But when it comes to the military and national security, it’s quite comfortable being under American military umbrella, in case North Korea and/or eventually China become belligerent.
Now, Okinawans want their island for themselves, without the dollar-spending but trouble-maker U.S. marines. Hatoyama has changed relocation plans and sites many times but at the end of this month will have to make a decision to please either the Americans or his voters; national security or citizens’ will; difficult decision, Hatoyama San.

A otro nivel más doméstico, y sin repercusiones políticas internacionales, al señor Hatoyama también le están “creciendo los enanos”. Para este año 2010 y los siguientes se ha aprobado una controvertida ayuda a las familias de trabajadores residentes en Japón –japoneses o extranjeros-, que ofrecerá 13.000 yenes mensuales por hijo –el año que viene serán 26.000-. A pesar del crónico déficit presupuestario japonés, a primera vista parece una medida acertada para el largo plazo debido a los problemas de estancamiento demográfico en el país. La controversia viene porque Hatoyama, -en un alarde de filantropía sólo comparable a la del últimamente denostado e idealista presidente español Zapatero- ha extendido la ayuda incluyendo en el cómputo los hijos que residen fuera de Japón. No han tardado en aparecer algunos pícaros asiáticos, como este coreano que afirma tener 554 hijos adoptados en Tailandia y exige al gobierno japonés 86 millones de yenes al año. Como los japoneses son un poco inocentes pero no tontos, enseguida ha dictado una norma añadida al decreto ley que dice que en el caso de hijos en el extranjero la ayuda está supeditada a la aprobación individual por cada municipio, etc.

普天間の問題は鳩山さんの政府と民主党に対してかなり否定的だ。選挙でアメリカの軍隊を沖縄から撤退することを約束した。今、この約束を守ろうとしているが、アメリカとの外交関係に対する結果に気が付いてきた。アメリカとの議論だろう。以前から、アメリカよりアジアと仲良したいという鳩山さんは経済的な理由もあり、一方ではアメリカの軍用の保護は日本の国家の安全に必要であるとも認識している。沖縄の住民とマスメディアは圧力をかけている。5月末までの決定が求められている。
554人の子供がいる男性が存在するかどうか誰か信じるだろう? 実際はともかくそんな人がいる。尼崎に住む韓国人だ。最近、鳩山の政府が作った育児手当法律を見逃さないように、ヤツは尼崎の市役所に行き一年に8千6百万円を要求した!

RIO DE JANEIRO 2016


I’d be lying if I said that I am disappointed because of the once-again failure of Madrid at becoming host to the Olympics. Yes, it’s the city where I was born and where I lived most of my life, but there is a saying which claims that “you belong to where your heart is”. And my heart belongs to Brazil since the first time I went there in 1998. I’ve been to Rio many times since then and it was always great experiences. It’s true that only out of your country you can be yourself, but I’ve lived out of my country many times and it was there in Brazil where I felt more myself.
Let’s analyze the other candidates: Tokyo -already had them in 1964-, a very modern city, but it lacks personality not to mention “Olympic” passion. I think it’s a too mechanized city and short of humanity, with robot-like salary man flooding the subway and trains. However, if Tokyo had won, it would have made real the exotic dreams (manga, kawaii girls, zen temples, etc) of half the world waiting for an excuse to visit the Rising Sun Empire –or what remains of it-.
Chicago, the windy city, is kind of cosmopolitan and cultural but without enough charisma; too developed, too first world, too Western World. And the presence of the president of the U.S. in Copenhagen only made things worse.
Madrid needed an injection of tourism and investment to recover from the brick-bubble crash, and it has the charm of an old but face-washed city and the comfort of a major touristy city. I understand her reaching the final.
But Rio de Janeiro has everything: an amazing physical background with the beautiful beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, the most charismatic people in the world with a healthy and integrating nationalism, samba and bossanova culture, a still young population, culture everywhere in terms of literature, cinema, music, art, theatre, passion for sports and for life; like many in the country it’s a city that needs to lessen the gap between the middle classes and the poor, and an investment like this would help a lot; and it’s also a decision that recognizes the importance of Brazil and South America in the new configuration of the World (the South now weighs more).

日本残念ですね、take it easy Chicago, otra vez será Madrid, PARABENS RIO DE JANEIRO

Dr. Manhattan

Irredeemable fan of The Matrix, its characters, its many references to the SF film industry and Morfeo’s deep philosophical thoughts and biblical lines, when I saw the prospective Watchmen available in the movies, I felt somehow attracted to the idea of  many different characters –superheroes with a defined personality each of them- incrusted on a parallel possible history of the US after the Vietnam War.

Here is what I think of them:

Dan –my namesake- is an example of morality and emotional naiveté, the political correctness: your girlfriend’s father, any father. Adrian –who reminds me of  David Bowie in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence- represents ambition, beauty and intelligence: 怖いよ-. Laurie is a sexy young woman not especially bright and blind of love and emotion –feminists must feel anger because of this comic-made-movie’s character-. Rorschach’s lunacy is the result of a difficult growing in a tormented sensitive soul. The Comedian is a carpe-diem player, sarcastic and brutal, but lucid. And last but not least, my favourite: Dr. Manhattan, who represents common sense in a planetary way of thinking. He is not human anymore but retains some links to humanity; he reasons leaving emotions aside –especially when he is in Mars- but still practices sex to Laurie; he sees the future and the past, can multiply himself –who never dreamed of that sometime?- and accepts human life and death as a minuscule part of the Universe; つまり、he helps us to put things in perspective.

An interesting two-and-a-half-hour movie, with a lot of action but also a good deal of thinking.

機会があったら go and see it.

 

Now, me, back to my lesson plans.

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