崖の上のポニョ Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea

Author: mirai  //  Category: All Posts, Life in general

I’ve been a die hard Hayao Miyazaki fan since I first saw Lupin III – Caligostro’s Castle (ルパン三世-カリオストロの城) about 25 years ago.   It was by far the best animation I had ever seen at the time, and I was completely amazed at the amount of detail in each frame.  I even remember puting the VCR on pause and watching the film frame by frame just to admire the artwork.  Each frame is literally a frameable masterpiece.

Over the last 25 years, I’ve watch pretty much all of Hayao’s animated films, and I loved every single one of them.  Each one has it’s own individual personality, which is one of the things I love so much about them.   I particulary like the way he draws his characters.  It’s not the run of the mill Japanese style characters that you often see in Japanese animes, where female characters are often Lolitaistic, and have very big multi-colored eyes that cover two-thirds of their face, and a very squeaky high pitched voice.  In contrast, the women in his films are often strong chaaracters.   They’re also more pure and he is able  display a lot of emotion without distorting their faces, hence adding an element of realism without taking away the element of imagination.

Recently, I watched his newest release, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (崖の上のポニョ) which got a lot of hype in Japan, mostly from its soundtrack and the 10 year old girl who sings the title song.   Also, Miyazaki came out of retirement for the third time to direct this film after vowing that this last film, Howle’s Moving Castle (ハウルの動く城) and the one before that, Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し) would be his last.  Personally, I wish Miyazaki would stay out of retirement because I would totally love to see another one of his films.

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, like the other Miyzaki films has alot of eye candy and is overall a fun film to watch.  And again, his characters are very well made, as well as the background art.  However, unlike his other films, it lacked a bit of orginality when it came to the story line, as it resembled The Little Mermaid.

Without giving too much away, the plot centers around a baby mermaid named Brynhildr , who is later renamed Ponyo by a Sonsuke, a little five year old boy who finds her in the ocean shoved head first into a little glass jar.  All the while, Ponyo’s father Fujimoto (which I thought was way too common of a name for this very odd character -which of course may be Miyzaki’s way of adding a bit of irony to the character) frantically searches for her and tries to get her back.   Sonsuke cuts his finger while breaking the jar when freeing Ponyo from her glass prison.  Ponyo, having some magical powers heals Sonsuke’s wounded finger by licking it, and at the same time obtains Sonsuke’s DNA patern which she later uses to transform herself into a human girl. 

Later, Fujimoto finds Ponyo and was able to return her back to the bottom of the sea with her infant sisters.   Fujimoto scolds her for escaping and interacting with the people on the surface.  Ponyo then rebels by telling Fujimoto that she wants to be a human like Sonsuke, and uses her magic and the DNA she recieved from Sonsuke’s human blood to grow hands and feet and take on a more human-like appearance, although she looked more like a bird or a reptile.  Fujimoto, disgusted by her rebellion and her appearance, counters her magic and reverts her back to her previous form,  a hand and feetless sea creature, and puts her to sleep.

With the help of her sisters, Ponyo is re-awaken and returns to the outside world by escaping again.  She takes on an appearance of a little girl (a lot better this time) and later reuntites with Sonsuke and his mother Risa.

The story definitely takes elements from The Little Mermaid, but there are a quite a few original elements in the plot itself.  For example, Ponyo’s father is not a sea god like that in The Little Mermaid, but was once a human himself, which is probably why he has such an ordinary name.  Another original element is that Sonsuke is not some prince nor is he even an adult but rather a small 5 year old child of a fisherman, who seems to be away at sea quite often (going by the spell of lonliness and frustration expressed by Risa in some scenes.)

One thing I thought was quite odd and could do with a bit more explanation was how Fujimoto ended up at the bottom of the sea and how he met Ponyo’s mother, a very beautiful sea godess that Ponyo describes as scary, but very dear to her.  Another odd element that I found in the film was that Sonsuke referred to his mother by her first name, which in Japanese culture is thought of as being quite disrespectful.  It also lead me to initially believe that Risa was not Sonsuke’s real mother or perhaps his sister instead, however Sonsuke revealed that Risa use to breast feed him as a baby, which debutes that hypothesis.

But like the other Miyazaki films, there is always an element of mystery that he leaves the viewers to decide, which I also like.  Sometimes after several years in production, Miyazaki will reveal the intended meaning behind the mysterious elements of the film, but other times he won’t.

Overall, I wouldn’t consider this to be Miyzaki’s masterpiece.  I think that honor belongs to Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し), which is a much more richer film full of hidden meaning and very interesting characters.  But for what it is, I think its a wonderful film worth watching serveral times over.

Last Week

Author: mirai  //  Category: All Posts, Cars and Racing, Comic relief, Life in general, Rants and Raves

Last week was a pretty intense week for me.  A lot events took place; some expected while others took me by completely surprise.

GO!Mini 2009 Four Hour Endurance Race at Tsukuba Circuit

Our team participated in our very first race (as a team) in our team owned race car, a 1992 Rover Mini Cooper.  The race was basically an all out test of driver and machine endurance.  The  cars were divided into three classes:

  • G1 class – non tuned cars (in other word Mini’s with mostly factory parts and very little modification) or Mini’s with engines that are 1000cc or smaller. 
  • G2 class – lightly tuned cars (or cars with minor mechanical modifications such as third party exhausts, suspensions, carburators)
  • G3 class – heavily modified cars (turbos or superchargers, over-bored pistons and or stroker kits, dog box transmissions or sequential gear boxes, etc)

Our car was in the G2 class because of the third party exhaust, suspension, and carburator. We’ve also lighten the car significantly by completely gutting out the interior and leaving just the essencials, which amounts to be just the  steering wheel, gauges, driver’s seat, and of course the safety equipment.

Since this was our very first race ever in the Mini, we set the hurdle pretty low as to what our expectations were.  Basically all we really wanted to do is:

  1. Finish the race without mishaps, crashes, or major mechanical issues.
  2. Be able to drive the Mini home (as opposed to having to get it towed back home due to #1)
  3. Most importantly, to have fun which is what our team is all about.

Fortunately, not only were we able to meet these goals but we also managed to get the second fastest lap time in our class, and it was only 1 second short of the fastest lap for our class, and just 5 seconds short of the fastest lap for all classes.  Furthermore, we placed 6th out of eight cars in our class, and 19th out of 24 cars in the entire race.   Had it not been for the fact that we lost the clutch during the beginning stages of the race and had only third gear to work with for the majority of the race,  and the fact we were a bit disorganized with the pit operations (refueling and tire changes), I honestly believe we could have been in the top 10 if not the top 5.  We definately have a very competitive car that is faster than the majority of the field that raced last Sunday, so we are all pretty motivated raise the hurdle a bit, and to do better in the next race.

As far as the clutch go, it mysterously started working again AFTER the race.   With my little knowledge of the Rover A series engine, I suspect that there may be some air in the clutch lines, and the master or slave cylinders got hotter, it caused the air to expand causing the clutch to fail.  As the components cooled, the air bubble went away hence the clutch started working again (sigh)…type to bleed the system I guess.

Hit and Run!

On Tuesday evening, on my way home from work, I took the usual course that I always take to go home.  The course takes me down a dark and narrow road with only one very darkly lit  street lamp, that allowed very limited vision.  On top of that, since it was raining a bit the field of view was even more darker than usual.

The dark and narrow road is usually only used by nearby residents, and serves as somewhat of a short cut for local commuters who live in the area.  Other than that, the road is rarely used by non-locals because of its narrowness.  As I was walking home, I walked towards the left side of the road.  In the distance, I heard a motor bike approaching quickly from behind me.  I didn’t bother to look back because local people on motorbikes and scooters use this road quite often, and often drive faster that should be legally allowed.  As the noise from the 2 stroke engine grew closer, I started to move more to my left expecting the bike to pass me on my right.  Just at that moment, BOOM! the bike hits me dead on from behind at about 40km/hr, sending me down to the ground shoulder first to the wet pavement below.

The next thing I knew I was on the ground face down.  I didn’t feel too much pain, but I was in disbelief that this guy could not avoid hitting me.  I heard some scaping sounds as if someone was scaping a metal stick onto asphalt about a meter ahead of me.  I laid there for about 10 seconds or so, expecting the  rider to ask me if I was okay, but all I heard were more scraping sounds.  I finally looked up to notice that the rider had his  scooter on its wheels again, as he was inspecting for damages from the hit to the asphalt.   I felt a surge of anger and rage go through my body at the fact that he was more concerned over the damages to his scooter than about the person he just struck.

Suddenly a mad surge of adrenaline kicked in, propelling me to my feet as if Ihad loaded springs underneath me.  With very little disregard to who this punk was that ran into me, I grabbed him by his coat and lunged a pretty good punch to his face (just as a greeting to let him know of my existence, which he seemed to have forgotten.)  As he turned towards me holding his cheek from from the pain of the punch, I was able to get my very first look at the perpetrator’s face.  And to my surprise, it was a young boy, maybe in his late teens or early 20’s at the most.  But at this point, his age really didn’t concern me.  This guy hit the wrong person, and I was going to let him know of that fact.  My first initial reaction was to beat this guy to a pulp, not for just hitting me, but for showing absolutely no concern that he just hit a human being with a motor vehicle and could have seriously injured me.  In my neighborhood, I am a relatively young guy as most of the neighbors are either at or beyond retirement age.  Had it been them and not me, they could have sustain even more serious injuries or even worse.  

I seriously wanted to hurt this guy, but I had to stand back and think for a moment, especially about my family and my career. The wrong move could end it all for me, and it just wasn’t worth throwing it all away for this snot-nosed brat.  I regained my composure and said, “You had better have a driver’s license”, to which he had no response.   I walked up to him and I repeated, “take out your driver’s license NOW!”.  Still silence.   By this point he was very squeemish and looked as if he wanted to cry.  He adjusted himself on his scooter.  I then realized that he probably didn’t have a license and he was pretty close to being a flight case.  I quickly scanned his attributes and his bike, in case he decided to take off.

I then said “I get it, you don’t have one do you?”, he flinched big time as if I had read his deepest darkest secret from his the darkest corner of his mind. His hand extended towards the keys in the ignition. “You better not run!  You run, and what is now just a traffic accident, will become a felony.”   He finally spoke, “I’m not going to run.” 

By now, I just wanted to get his details so that I knew where to send the cleaning bill for my suit. So I demanded that he give me his phone number and address.  He continued to stare at me like a deer in headlights, obviously very frightened, and made no effort to exchange details. “Look, if you don’t give me your details, I will call the police.  What do you want to do?” I demanded.  He looked troubled, as if he were caught in the middle of an argument over morality between the symbolic devil and angel that sat on his shoulders.   He may have not come to a decision, but I already knew that he was a flight case at this point, and continued to make mental notes about everything I could about him, with the very little time I had left. 

He was about my height, maybe slightly taller and was somewhat heavy set.  He was young, perhaps a student, and had a very weak demeanor and personality.  His face was relatively roundish and had narrow eyes.  He was wearing a black bikers helmet that resembled a batter’s helmet without the ear protection which are commonly used by scooter riders in Japan.

His bike was a white 50cc motor scooter with black trim and a silverish emblem on the front.  On the step (where his feet were) was a clear plastic shopping back.  I couldn’t fully identify the contents other than what looked to be a small tangerine inside, which told me that he went to the local supermaket (as opposed to a convenience store such as 7-11 where they don’t sell tangerines) which should be a good clue as to where he goes shopping.  There are only three supermakets in the immediate area and not all three use clear shopping bags.  I also got his license plate number which I won’t publish here, but the bike is registered in our district so, he probably lives nearby.  All of this info was reported to the Kanagawa police department.  It seems that the police love hit and run accidents because as I was giving my account of the event, three different offiicers vigorously and eagerly took notes using three different laptops, making sure that not a single drop of detail was missed.  The police report wound  up being about 3 pages long and written in the most eloquent Japanese I have ever read. 

After the adrenaline wore off the pain did start to set in abit.  As a requirement for the police report, I had to go to the hospital and get examined.  The bill came to about $400 because it was so late at night and I had to be admitted to the emergency room.  Another hefty bill that will be handed to the perpetrator when they find him.  I also found that he tore my suit pants, so I will need to get a new suit as well.  This suit was relatively cheap, but still cost about $500.

I checked online on what the penalty for hit and run in Japan is.  Normally first time offenders will get released on probation unless they have a history of other similar crimes.   However, hit and run coupled with driving  without a license, carries a 2 year jail sentence plus a fine, and of course any damages.  I feel bad for the kid now, he might have just ruined his life over a really bad decision.

Full Circle In My Career

My very first IT job was with Citibank Tokyo now known as Citigroup.  That was nearly 12 years ago.  I was with Citi for nearly four years before I left for greener pastures.  The job wasn’t too bad and the people were really cool.   I had a few reasons for leaving but I think the primary reason was that their sandbox-like infrastructure made it very difficult for junior level IT engineers like I was at the time ,to expand their knowledge and further their careers.  Hence, I moved on.

Unless you’ve been livng on Mars for the last 5 months or so, you’d know that the world economy is not exactly peachy keen at the moment, and one of the hardest struck companies is Citi.  They have laid off tens of thousands of employees globally in the last few months.  It’s one thing to see the numbers on the news, but to actually go onsight and see with my own eyes, was a sobering experience, as the floor that I am on normally can seat about 200 to 300 people, only has about 20-30 people left.

As an IT consultant, we often get called in during times like this.  When large corporations like Citi lay off their employees, the work doesn’t magically disappear along with them.  It usually gets outsourced or they call in guys like me to do the work until my contract runs out or until they can afford to hire full time people again.  So starting this week, I am back at the roots of my IT career.  Ironically, I am working for the people who once use to work for  me way back when.  It’s all good though, because these people I regard as my friends.  They are going to even throw a welcome back party in my honor next week. (laughs)