Our new site – Do Ninjas Wear Make Up?

Although I’ll periodically be updating benbrady.co.uk as a personal resume site, Diana and I have set up a brand new website so we can collectively document all of the things we find while travelling and share a male/female perspective on everything we both love about Japan. From time to time we’ll also add more content that I originally intended for this site.

So please go and take a look at http://www.doninjas.com , and let us know what you think in the comments :)

Stay tuned to japan.benbrady.co.uk as I’ll still be updating this in the future, just not as frequently.

Anime Day at Leeds International Film Festival 27 (2013)

Leeds International Film Festival has grown and grown over the years to become something quite remarkable. They’ve shown plenty of Japanese films before, but this year they had something special in store for anime lovers.

Teaming up with Thought Bubble festival, this year anime become one of their highly regarded ‘Fanomenon’ days with a total of 6 films being shown. You could buy a ticket for individual screenings, or for the more than reasonable price of £25 (£20 for concessions).

If you’ve seen any of the films mentioned here I’d love to hear what you thought of them in the comments :)

First up was a double bill of shorts. Garden of Words / HAL

Garden of Words at first glance is a slow burning love story, but is actually a short tale about learning to overcome hardships when you have a shoulder to lean on. It doesn’t need to be someone you know, or even someone the same age, just somebody you can share something with. Regardless of the story, the animation was first rate, much of it being set on rainy days and the water effects looking photorealistic at points. What really made it however was the score; much of the music is a solo piano with occasional violin sonata accompaniment and when these elements were mixed with the gentle moving narrative, it made a fantastic short.

Hal didn’t grab my attention quite so much. A humanoid is sent to look after the girlfriend of a guy that died in a plane crash. She doesn’t accept him and he starts to complete her wishes to try and bring her around. It’s quirky, charming and well presented, but not something I’d consider a must see.

The second showing of the day was Sakasama no Patema (Patema Inverted). The first big release due from new distributor Anime Ltd. and being shown only a couple of weeks after it’s official release in Japan.

Patema Inverted is a simple concept. A girl living underground falls down a hole and ends up on the surface, but hanging on for her life as she is falling into the sky. On the surface, a strange Big Brother society exists where it’s taught that in the past, sinners ‘fell’ into the sky and a strict dictatorship makes sure nobody wants to pay too much attention to the sky. I won’t give too much away but she makes friends with a boy, they get found out, other people form underground come looking, twists and adventure ensue and it’s an enjoyable story with enough going on to keep your attention the whole way through. What makes Patema special is the attention to detail in how the inverted worlds interact. Seeing items fall up to the ceiling, while everyone else is still the right way up and the way gravity affects the characters as they hold onto each other never gets old.

Third on the bill was Steins; Gate (movie). I’ll keep this short, I haven’t seen the series and although the movie made some sense as a standalone follow up, it was pretty dull not knowing the characters or what had gone before.

Trailer:

The last of the days new movies was one I had been waiting a long time for. Rebuild of Evangelion 3.0

I don’t really know where to start with this. If you’ve seen any of Evangelion before you think you know the story, but the ‘rebuild’ series was set to be theatrical releases bringing new events and characters into a new story arc. If you don’t already know, 3.0 takes place 14 years after the events of the second film, and completely turns what you already know of the series on it’s head. NERV is decimated, with Misato, Asuka et al taking up arms in a bizarre ship that turns into a fighter jet in an long battle scene that basically looks like Hideaki Anno let someone loose on a college 3D Studio MAX project.

Personally, my first thoughts were that I was extremely disappointed. There was a massive plot hole, new character Mari (from 2.0) had little extra explanation as to where she came from and brings nothing to the series other than another character to put on promo goods, but she’s obviously been welcomed on board, and there was a lot of ‘this happened because it did’. I won’t go into too much detail but my opinions pretty much reflect this Kotaku review which is full of spoilers, but absolutely hits the nail on the head – if characters had just explained to Shinji what was going on instead of acting like arseholes after going out of their way to ‘rescue’ him, it could have been a totally different and more pleasurable film. Lots of contradiction, lots of blatant holes and some very strange animation choices.

As the film progressed however, the focus on Shinji’s and Kaworu’s relationship provided an interesting arc, and I remembered that there is still a fourth movie on the way. When originally proposed, 3 and 4 were intended to be released as a double bill, so hopefully we’ll get a few more answers. Also, it would be pretty dull if the storyline was exactly the same, so it’s interesting to see an alternative story arc even if it means having to get over the fact that some of my favourite plot points from the series no longer exist, after all, I can always watch it through again.

 

Finally, the evening finished with a classic that needs no introduction (but just in case, it’s Akira :P).

Celebrating it’s 25th anniversary, this was the first time I’d gotten to see Akira on the big screen. Granted, the manga is much better from a storyline POV, the movie captures your attention within the first couple of minutes, as Kaneda and co. take on the clowns in what is still one of the most gripping movie sequences to come out of Japan. The HD remaster  of sound and vision is well worth the price of an admission ticket, and with the credits came time to go home.

It’s rare that we get to see much Japanese cinema at all on UK big screens, so being able to spend a full day watching anime was worth the dry eyes that followed, and hopefully with distributers like Anime ltd. making it their mission to extend distribution of their licenses to  cinemas (digital projection making this much easier than it used to be) we’ll see a lot more of it in the future.

jpop – The perfect music for preparing our trip

It wouldn’t be a blog about Japan without talking about Japanese music. I thought I’d share some of the bands we’ve been listening to while we get ready for our trip, some you might know, others I’m 99% sure you won’t have (unless you’re already into this kind of stuff of course).

If you’re here as a jpop / jrock fan, this isn’t in any order and it’s not intended to be a “top ten greatest bands ever” or anything like that, so feel free to comment if you want to recommend something but please avoid things like “OMG I can’t believe you picked Laruku over AKB LOL KTHXBAI” – there are forums for that ;)

If you love any of the bands so much you feel the urge to buy a CD, clicking the link below will take you to a great website, and help keep this blog going :)

1_General CDJapan

First Up, Base Ball Bear (AKA BeBoBe)

 

One of the things I love about a lot of Japanese bands like this is the talent and technicality invested in every member. Base Ball Bear are a recent discovery we made via NHK World’s J-Melo and they have an extensive back catalogue on Spotify; they have catchy bass riffs, complimentary backing vocals, interesting guitar melodies and tight drum patterns, but all gelled together in a digestible summer pop sound, with the occasional disco vibe thrown in for good measure. Their songs are the perfect accompaniment to the DIY we’ve been finishing around the house.

Number 2, Momoiro Clover Z (AKA MoMoClo)

To me, Momoclo are the epitome of J-Pop. They’re not particularly great singers, but what they lack in vocals they make up for with energy. The music is fun, the videos are imaginative and they have ex Megadeath guitarist Marty Friedman backing them up. They have a backstory, they’re Power Rangers style super heros on the weekend, they’re super-cheesy and they don’t care who knows it.

But then recently they flipped a switch. Single ‘Neo Stargate’ is fantastic; not in a ‘I love this it’s fun and cheesy’ way but in a ‘I want to put this on a commuting playlist and give it my full attention’ way. They’re fun, they’re catchy, that’s about it.

Moving on with CrossFaith

Recently these guys have been moving around the UK touring and playing festivals, so they’re probably the most well known on the list so far. When I first heard them I thought they were OK but dismissed them as another synth-metal band to put on the pile for later. Catching them live at this year’s Leeds festival was an instant 180. This live video gives an idea of why.

 

Finally for this post is one of Diana’s favourites. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu burst onto the Harajuku scene last year (or was it the year before…?) with the oh so typical ‘look at this kooky Japanese music video’ for Pon Pon Pon. She quickly became popular and released an album with one or two catchy tunes and a tonne of filler. Fast Forward a year and her 2nd release ‘Nanda Collection’ is completely different. The lyrics still make no sense, and the videos are still crazy. She makes me think of The Mighty Boosh with all of the strange characters that appear in the video, in particular getting drunk with…I’m not sure what it is… or in one of the more normal scenes gunning down the onion king while wearing a pink flower dress.

There are plenty more great bands in the playlist and I’ll be talking more about them in the future, but for now, just have a listen to some of the music and let me know what you think in the comments.

 

My Playlist:

 

Some recommendations from other people

Letting our house – it’s happening!

Things have moved a bit slower than anticipated with our big move to Japan. Nothing major has got in the way, but a culmination of smaller things has led to us taking a bit longer to get the plan moving.

Following a bit of decorating and fixing of DIY mistakes that we’ve put up with for the past five years, the house is now ready to start offering out to rent. So far, the process has been pretty simple; we invited three independent letting agents to give us an estimate, and have decided that, as we’ll be half way across the world, we would also opt for a managed service.

This basically means that for 10% (as an average, landlords may vary) of the monthly rent the landlord will act on our behalf to keep an eye on the place and fix any minor problems. If there are bigger problems, they’ll sort out a contractor. We opted for a company called Lets Go Professional because they only deal with rentals (rather than lettings and selling) and also after meeting the landlord that would represent us, we felt they offered the right amount of communication and involvement.

They did a great job of taking pictures and describing the house and you can see the listing here

To be honest it’s all a bit surreal at the moment, and although we’ve been trying to cut down on clutter for years, this move has been the final push. So far we’ve gotten through 5 boxes to the charity shop and about the same amount of junk to the tip.


The empty bedroom. Until last week those shelves were full of collectibles.

It’s also been quite mentally exhausting. I take after my parents as a bit of a hoarder and this has made clearing out hard for two reasons. One is the financial value of things; I’ve never been able to part with games knowing that I’m only getting a fraction of the value I originally paid out, but this exercise has been a great way to get my head around the idea that I’ve had my monies worth of entertainment out of them. The other, and more substantial mental block is the ‘that might come in handy later’ complex. For example, over the years I’ve been a collector of gaming goods, but seeing a stack of almost 100 GamesTM magazines in the middle of the living room floor that I knew full well we’re unlikely to be read again. It was time to let them go, but as ridiculous as it sounds every time I went to move them I’d flick through one and think about the retro articles, and what if I want to read them when I come back…

The next step to renting the house was cleaning it up. As you might expect, we have a fair amount of fun stuff dotted around. Our house is like one big otaku teenager’s bedroom, full of Hello Kitty, Totoro toys and Gundam model kits; hell we even have a projector set up in the bedroom for when we’re feeling particularly lazy, but we need to show the house for the home it could be, not what we’ve made it.

IMG_20130929_161407

 

So the rooms are empty, save for equipment we use every day like cameras and computers, the TV etc. and hopefully the next post will be in a few weeks to say we’re leaving!

Street Legal Go-Karts… Only in akiba

On last week’s Tokyo Eye (NHK World, every Wednesday 9:30pm GMT) they featured some excellent alternative transport for getting around Tokyo, and in Akihabara you can rent street legal go karts to make your way around town. At the time of watching it was 2000¥ for an hour which they said was about enough time to drive to Ueno and back.

More details on their blog if you read Japanese http://ameblo.jp/akibacart/
Alternatively Kotaku have a post up here http://kotaku.com/rent-go-karts-in-tokyos-geekiest-neighborhood-476415858

Unfortunately NHK World doesn’t have catch up, but you can watch some shows online. If you’re interested in anything at all Japanese it’s worth taking a look at their schedule (and a lot of the shows are interesting even if you’re not specifically into The Japanese aspect)

Schedule here http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/tv/genre/index.html

Applying for a video producer job

Summary – I’ve applied for a video production job with Culture Japan, and in this post I’ll be talking about how I found the role, why I applied (ie. because it matches my skill set) and then going through the editing process explaining the thought process behind each trailer.

N.B. At this time I do not work for Danny Choo and I am not associated with Culture Japan in a professional capacity.

This is quite a long post, so here a some short cuts:

Thought Process and pre-planning
The 1 minute trailer
The 5 minute preview
How they were made

Hajime!!

Although it’s still a little while before we’ll leave on our trip I have seen a couple of jobs advertised that, even without the working holiday, I would definitely have applied for. I’m a big fan of Danny Choo’s ‘blog’ Culture Japan, so when I saw that he was expanding the Culture Japan brand my ears pricked up (wait, saw…ears…that doesn’t make sense but I’m sure you get what I mean).video-producer

Anyway, cut to the chase and one of the positions is Video Producer \ ^ o ^ / but there was a pre-requisite of Level N2 JLPT. If you know what this is, great, if you don’t it’s basically a Japanese Language Proficiency Test. I don’t have it. “But…” I thought “I’m going to apply anyway”. I have all of the other skills and it says in the post that if you don’t have the language skills but have the rest, this shouldn’t stand in your way (although I guess editing interviews might be a little tricky if you don’t know what they’re saying).

Normally I wouldn’t be so cavalier when it comes to applying for jobs, especially one that takes pretty much a whole weekend to prepare for, but sometimes if you want something you’ve just got to reach for it. Culture Japan work with some amazing clients all within the fields of why I became interested in Japan in the first place. They’re innovative with some fantastic projects on the horizon (like the Mirai Suenaga Smart Doll) That, and because I want to continue working in video I thought if I do a good enough job it gets me seen and there’s always a chance of some freelance work. After all, a lot of video agencies are based in the big cities, but I’m planning on going everywhere with my own gear.

You can read the full spec on Danny Choo’s website here. The bit I’ll be concentrating

on in this post is the video trailers :

Part of the application was to download series 2 of Culture Japan from YouTube, and

  • “Make a 1 minute and 5 minute trailer choosing the bits which you feel are most interesting from the whole season using the video footage available. When you have finished, upload the rendered files to a location of your choice and share the link with me at jobs at mirai dot fm.”

The Thought Process – Pre Planning

As you can see, there is no audience or style in the brief, and I could have just whacked together five minutes of clips that I liked, but that wouldn’t get me noticed, and in a professional capacity I knew that so much more could be done with a considered project. The idea of a trailer is to act as a promotional tool for a show or movie, so while an action movie will have suspense, a few explosions and a car chase, for something as varied as Culture Japan, getting across the sheer range of topics covered in 60 seconds was going to be quite difficult.

After giving it a bit of thought I decided the best way to showcase the series was for shorter trailer to be aimed at people who maybe didn’t know anything about Japan, and to break it down into topics covered by the show. This would get across that it wasn’t just about otaku and sub-culture, whereas the five minute trailer allowed just enough time to show each episode’s focus in more detail and give a view of the whole series

I deliberately left out Episode 13, as this was a “making of” and while I personally found it quite investing it didn’t quite fit with the rest of the series and when trying to cut every 30 minutes down to (less than) 30 seconds that’s quite a chunk of time.

A bit of quick maths was needed in order to start, and I worked out how much time each episode should be allocated with allowance for a transition. In my head the transition would show the full series each time so people could skip through and see the bits they were particularly interested in. It also served as a reminder that this was a full series covering a massive range of topics. The timings were only rough but it gave me a target for knowing which episodes I should cut more out of.

For the one minute trailer I used a similar method, but instead of fixed timings while watching through the episodes I looked at the various elements covered and tried to allocate an amount of time that suited that topic as a percentage of the overall series, so when talking about history there are clips from several episodes, covering Edo Wonderland, Asakusa and festivals.

 The 1 minute trailer

 The 5 minute trailer

 How they were made

The first task was getting the videos from YouTube. I knew it was possible, but had never needed to download anything before, and unlike Vimeo a publisher can’t make the videos publicly available. A quick Google search later and there were a few recommendations for Fire Fox browser add ons that would let you rip things from the site. Naturally this comes with the caveat of respecting copyright, don’t pinch other people’s videos etc.download-button

The add on was good, but not perfect. After several attempts at downloading everything in one go to get started my efforts were marred by computer crashes, corrupted files, limited resolutions, lack of sound. I would need to download one at a time, check it and then import each episode individually in to Premier Pro (I use 5.5 on a PC at the moment).

When working on a large project with a number of files it’s important to have a tidy workflow process and this is made easy with sequencing and folders.

A sequence is basically a file within a project that allows you to create a separate ‘mini-edit’. Sequences can then be placed on a separate timeline as one new video clip without having to copy every individual clip. This makes things neater while allowing you to tweak various elements of a section without affecting the rest of a project if you find you need to balance sound, graphics etc. It also means a transition or motion can be applied to the sequence as one clip rather than having to work out a whole row of cuts.

folders

So I placed each episode in it’s own sequence and skimmed through to various time codes I’d noted. As each episode had already been fully edited and subtitled this meant it was easy to find some nice sound-bites despite not being fluent in Japanese, just match the subtitle with the start and end of a defined sentence. On the other hand it meant that some clips I wanted to use without audio looked a little odd but I just took it that this was something I’d have to live with and did my best to edit clean shots. While scrubbing through each episode (running it at high speed to spot interesting shots) I also took anything that looks like it might be engaging and moved this into the one minute trailer which I would edit down after the five minute project.

Once I had each episode’s sequence down to roughly 30 seconds, each one was imported into the main feature. There would be some tweaking to do later, but now came the fun part. How to create a feeling that this was a whole series preview, rather than just a bunch of random clips.

Personally I’ve always been a fan of video walls as long as they’re not overused

video-wall-screen-grab

(otherwise you just get a headache!). I thought having each episode ‘pop out’ of the wall similar to a news style wall might work well and started thinking about how to achieve this without it looking plain bad. I opted for a simple motion control to zoom in and out and left a little time (1 second) between each motion so the watcher had time to take in the whole series at a glance, but without leaving it on so long as to distract from the main purpose of showing each individual episode.

One second – I ran out of Jellybeans……Back

After working out there were twelve episodes in the trailer this left me with two ‘spaces’.

As this was a job application to make more of the series I thought it would be most appropriate to have a logo, and then a ‘coming soon’ box. To make the coming soon a little more prominent I quickly create a sequence and made the frame full of static, which seemed to work nicely.

The next part of the video wall was to get everything showing at once.

sequences

To do this I stacked up all of the sequences on a timeline and use motion settings to shrink each individual video and place it, then it was just a simple case of copying the group of sequences and pasting so I had one for each transition. The ‘real’ video for each full sequence was then placed on the top track to ensure the right episode always popped forward when it should. I also wanted to make sure that each time it went back to the video wall it wasn’t exactly the same clip showing, so before trimming the video wall clips down I shuffled them backwards and forwards to random time points.

I also created a folder for each episode, and the a separate one for both the five minute and one minute trailers to hold extra elements like titles. This meant that if and when I had to find various elements to make final tweaks and changes everything was much easier to find, speeding up the workflow.

Finally, after each trailer was sequenced and set to the right time, I’d shuffled about all of the time codes, trimmed some episodes to allow others an extra second here and there, I need to make the titles. Again, just making a random title wouldn’t make this look like a real trailer, Culture Japan’s branding is very defined using a range of oranges and a none standard font. using a cropped screen shot and a handy site called What The Font I figured out Culture Japan uses the Ronda family in it’s titles. Again, taking to the search engines I managed to find a website where I could download the font for free, and then it was just a case of using Premier’s title editor to select the right colours (using colour picker to make sure they were spot on) and adding the outer lines.

Adding the titles was a bit of a pain because again, the subtitles and other titles that were already on the videos meant that there was often an overlap, but in the end I opted for the top left corner to display as this seemed to be the least intrusive.

Now that the video was complete, I uploaded it to YouTube and I chose YT as the hosting platform for two main reasons. The first being that it allowed me to use custom thumbnails easily. I got a couple of my own photo’s I’d taken and designed a title screen that I thought would help sell the mood of the program, and also allow the title to stand out against the image.

The second reason was to take advantage of YouTube’s annotation feature. The world of video has moved on from just staring at a screen. The internet has opened up a world of saturated content where anyone can have their say, and this has made modern marketing very exciting indeed. No longer can you guarantee someone will watch your trailer as part of an ad break, if they don’t like it they’ll click back and find something else, simple as; ‘content dissemination” and fast access are key to winning your audience’s precious time.

youtube-annotations

One of the ideas I had when planning the five minute trailer was that it shouldn’t just act as an advert, if I’d made it right people would go “Wow I want to watch that right now!” and the easiest way to capture their viewing figures was to take them straight to the episode they wanted to watch. For this I used the highlight annotate to make every video in the first wall clickable as a link to that episode on YouTube. You just watched the trailer for ‘Otaroad’, bang, go back to the video wall, click the video and you’re whisked straight off.

If you’ve read this far, thanks. I hope you like the trailers and watch the show. If you want to know more specifically about how any part was created and the process involved leave a question in the comments.
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Japanese Food – Taiyaki

Taiyaki is commonly sold by street vendors making them fresh, a bit like doughnuts at the British seaside.

Taiyaki is commonly sold by street vendors making them fresh, a bit like doughnuts at the British seaside.

Taiyaki (鯛焼き) are one of the most famous Japanese sweets, and a basic description would be filled pancakes. They’re usually filled with azuki paste (made from sweet red bean, and shaped like fish (apparently the name translates as grilled sea bream…) although fillings have become more and more adventurous over the years, ranging from custard to sausage.

 

taiyaki

Tengu shaped Taiyaki, a speciality of Mt. Takao