Monthly Archives: March 2007

BOUND FOR MU-MU LAND

Right: I passed the interview to teach English in Japan with a major eikaiwa corporation on February 17. Since then, I’d been waiting for word as to where I would be working, and when I would start. Until yesterday.

As expected, they had been waiting for a notarized copy of my degree, which arrived there on Tuesday. A day later, I received an email with those two pieces of information I’d been waiting for.

1. I will attend a training session, and eventually work at schools, in the Kanto region (関東地方). That’s Tokyo and surrounding areas.

2. The training session will begin on June 4, 2007, but I should arrive in Japan a few days beforehand.

My reaction? Well, I had kind of been expecting to be placed in the Kinki region (Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, Nara etc.), and much of my thoughts about my future in Japan had assumed that would be my base, so a re-ordering of those thoughts is required. I’ll come right out and say that Tokyo freaks me out: the biggest city I’ve ever been in was Sydney, and Tokyo has 3 times as many people in a similarly sized area. I mean, everyone says it’s really exciting, but I wonder how quickly I’ll be able to adjust to the pace of life there. I know I’ll be all right – I have confidence in my adaptability – but when you’ve lived in New Zealand all your life, moving to somewhere as insane as Tokyo is bound to bring about some apprehension. (So is any move, really, but… this one in particular.)

Of course, I might not even be based in Tokyo. It could be Chiba, or Saitama, or Ibaraki, etc.; who knows, it’s a big company. Regardless, the adjustment will be massive, and that’s exactly what I want. It’s the reason I’m going. I need to challenged on a grand scale to wake myself up, get my creativity working again, and feel like I’m doing something with myself.

As for the date, that’s about when I was expecting. But a few days is no time at all in which to acclimatize, so I imagine the two-week training period will be as much about getting to grips with life in Japan as learning how to do my job. As for the training itself, I have no idea how I will fare, having never taught kids or adults before; again, I have confidence in myself to get through it okay, but I expect not to feel comfortable until after a good month or two of classes.

Jesus, man. I’m going to Japan.

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Tracks I never tire of: ‘High Roller’

High Roller’ by The Crystal Method, from the album Vegas (1997)

I was tempted to select ‘Vapor Trail’ from Vegas, The Crystal Method’s debut album, as the first track to write about in this continuing series. Both are excellent examples of meticulously orchestrated electronic music, but ‘High Roller’ gets the nod because it’s a little bit more innovative.

If you know the album but not the track names, this is the one which has “This transmission’s coming to you / We’ve got it” running all the way through. The track opens with straightforward pumping synth which slowly becomes more complex as the samples are laid over the top. After about a minute, the thumping bigbeat comes in, and more synth elements are gradually added.

Kirkland and Jordan understand, however, that simply adding elements can make a track work okay, but to make it really interesting, you’ve got to strip some of those elements away in turn. So, the track ends up as about four minutes of all these different keyboard, drum and other percussion elements, along with the distinctive samples, being cut in and out at various intervals in a way that flows beautifully and demands attention.

I was reading just now and this track came on, and I had to stop and listen (and write about it). I seem to read a lot of unimpressed reviews of electronic music which complain that ‘you couldn’t dance to it’. In this case, and most of the others, it isn’t supposed to be about dancing. Best appreciated through headphones, this is a challenging, professional bit of work. And the beat sure kicks arse.

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Notes on a Scandal (2006) (W)

IMDb / Cale / French
Written by Patrick Marber
Based on the novel by Zoe Heller
Directed by Richard Eyre

Notes on a Scandal is an oddity, a bizarre mix of melodrama, twisted comedy and thriller. Instead of writing ‘mix of’ like I did in the last sentence, I would often have written ‘caught between’, implying that it doesn’t know which kind of film it wants to be, and that it is muddled as a result. Fortunately, that isn’t true; Marber, Eyre, Dench and everyone else involved knew exactly what they were doing as they spun giddily through tonal shifts, inducing head-shaking one minute and laughter the next. It’s a strange feeling to walk out of a movie that, on the surface, seemed like such a mess, but feel satisfied because you know that’s what they meant to do. Just how well did it work, though?

I saw the trailer for this about four times before actually going to see it. Once was enough to put me off completely. It was a typical ‘give away the whole plot, and most of the best bits’ trailer – afterwards, I always think ‘Okay, I don’t need to see that now’. However, thanks to Cale’s positive review I sought it out, and was glad I did. The story is pure middle-class pulp: (underage) sex, bored married life, hints of lesbianism, ulterior motives… tick all the boxes, it’s all there. I imagine the book is an entertaining but completely forgettable romp, and it seems like the filmmakers were aware of that and, in an effort to make it a more interesting movie, decided to do a few things that couldn’t be done on the page.

One such thing is to employ Judi Dench in the main role as Barbara Covett, a history-teaching spinster who, with her stone-faced demeanour and acerbic wit, acts as a deliciously enjoyable (and completely untrustworthy) narrator. From the film’s opening, with her schoolyard deconstruction and casually bitter remarks, I was hooked. Her performance remains a treat throughout. Every line is delivered with appropriate timing, and every beat rests exactly as long as it should. For the most part, her face remains weathered yet defiant, the corners of her mouth pointed permanently at the ground; however, as revealed in her diary scribblings, this outward indifference conceals a storm of confused emotions, and as the film goes on they spill out more and more. I don’t want this review to turn into a love letter, but Dench’s command of the character is of the highest order: we know she’s a barking lunatic, and the character developments are expected, yet we rejoice in her presence. Perhaps it’s precisely because Barbara is the kind of person we would studiously avoid in real life that we’re enthralled by her. And somehow, Dench makes us feel sorry for her, and never resorts to car-crash ‘can’t look away’ cheap tactics to get our attention.

Needless to say, the film suffers when she isn’t on screen. Blanchett is good as always, but her “bourgeois bohemia” art teacher just isn’t as fascinating a character. Still, her third act meltdown is a jarring and highly amusing sight from this always refined performer. Then there’s her twenty-years-older husband, a well-written supporting character that, in scenes of high drama, Nighy brazenly overplays until drool flies from his mouth. Everyone in the audience laughed as he screamed at his wife, and I’m convinced that’s exactly what he was going for. Same goes for the stroppy daughter whose previously detached language turns Shakespearean after she learns of her mother’s infidelities; the obese colleague who is the butt of several cruel jokes (in one of the film’s best moments, watch Dench’s and Blanchett’s reactions to her announcement of her pregnancy); and the headmaster who delivers his accusations with considerable relish. Everyone’s in on the joke, and we laugh along with them.

What’s really odd is that this film contains moments of genuine insight, mostly surrounding the meaning of Barbara’s less-than-charmed life. Another writer-director team might have made more of that, seeking to make a film that would leave a lasting impression rather than something uniquely enjoyable but ultimately incomplete. I’m not complaining – I lapped up every minute – but I can’t throw all my weight behind Notes on a Scandal because it is only the sum of its parts. Dench is remarkable, and everyone else does their job competently, but that’s it. There’s not really anything to pore over afterwards; it was all up there on the screen. Plus the film’s origins seem to have held it back. Still, see it for Dench and Dench alone – she’s pretty much as good as we’ll get.

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COLLABORATE AND LISTEN

There’s been a bit of a lull here while I wait for a new hard drive for the Brutalizer. As you can see over to the right, I’ve been watching and reading all sorts of rubbish (perhaps I should have my computer de-commissioned more often), so when it finally arrives I’ll put up some new reviews. Seriously, why does ‘2 working days’ always turn into ‘2 increasingly interminable weeks’?

I suppose now is as good a time as any to announce that I have been offered a job teaching English in Japan for a large eikaiwa corp. Not that anyone who reads this site didn’t know that already, but I’m gonna go for the OE-curious dollar and try to attract a new readership. This is the first (brief) post in an ongoing series about my adventures involving Japan, both getting there and being there.

The interview (or ‘hiring session’, as they called it) was a month ago, and after a multi-choice test of grammar and rather straightforward teaching demo, they offered the job on the spot. Since then, I have obtained a notarized copy of my degree (which itself I only obtained at the beginning of the month), and that cost $45; sending it by registered mail to Osaka cost $10. Everything good costs a little bit of money.

Now I wait for confirmation that they’ve received it, after which they will find a placement for me. Then the charade of obtaining a visa will begin, which could take up to 6 weeks. Still very much early days, then, but I could be over there in less than three months. I’m really excited, of course – this is the challenge I’ve been craving for years now – but I’m shitting myself. I’ve never lived outside of NZ before (excepting my first 10 months or so in Cambridgeshire), and in actual fact, my only trip outside this country in 21 years was to Sydney for ten days in 2001. Moving to Japan will test my adaptative abilities like they’ve never been tested before.

Anyway, that’ll do for now. One other thing: I’d like to reinforce a point that Ed often makes, which is that libraries are wonderful, amazing places. You can read all these books! For free! Surely they’ll take it away any minute? Get in now and take advantage before it’s too late.

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