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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happyfunsmile Afro Halloween Party

NEW YORK, October 30 – On the eve of Halloween, Happyfunsmile rocked the tight confines of the Forbidden City Bar and Lounge with an eclectic mix of Rock, Pop, Jazz, and traditional Okinawan music. The patrons were packed from wall to wall in the tiny bar, and they rocked out to joyous songs like the “Omatsuri Mambo”.

The band and quite a few patrons were cosplaying for Halloween. There were a lot of neko kitty ears and colorful hair pieces.

In the second set, the singers donned huge afro wigs of varying colors. Akiko Hiroshima had a bright electric pink afro wig that looked like a huge ball of cotton candy. It looked almost good enough to eat. Brian Nishii and Josh Rutner sported more traditional black afros. As they danced, the large fluffy wigs bounced around like a cheerleader’s pom poms. It was very festive.

Kossan rocking hard

The band also played a surprise cover of Yoko Kanno’s “Tank!” (Theme song to Cowboy Bebop) which really got the bar rocking.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dumpling Madness

NEW YORK, October 24 – The rain didn't discouraged hungry New Yorkers from getting their dumpling fix at the 2009 New York City Dumpling Festival. At Sara Delano Roosevelt Park, massive crowds waited in line for dumplings from many different cultures including Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Malayasian, Italian, Indian, and Polish. The lines were extremely long, but people were determined to get their fill.

Left: Filipino Palitaw. Right:Polish Pierogi.

The entire event was sponsored by One Chef and featured a special sanctioned dumplings eating competition. The proceeds of the event supported Food Bank For New York City, a nonprofit organization.

Dumpling Eating Competition

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Queer Manga at NYU

Panel: (Left to Right) June Kim, Mari Morimoto, Hiroki Otsuka, and Ivan Velez

NEW YORK, October 21 – Erica Friedman, the President of Yuricon and ALC Publishing, moderated an interesting panel on Queer Manga. The event was being hosted by the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transsexual (LGBT) Office at New York University (NYU) as a part of their LGBT Pride Month. The panelists consisted of Ivan Velez Jr. (American Comic Book Artist), Hiroki Otsuka (Japanese Managaka), Mari Morimoto (Manga Translator), and June Kim (Korean Comic Book Artist).

Friedman began the panel with a quick summary of LGBT manga, which was extraordinarily helpful to a majority of the college students in the audience. She quickly defined of terms like Yuri, Yaoi, Boys Love, Girls Love, Bian, and Bara. Then she went into a brief history of LGBT manga from 1923 to the present. It was impossible for Friedman to cover everything due to time constraints, but she managed to do a brilliant job giving the abbreviated Cliff Notes version. She covered a variety of topics like Riyoko Ikeda’s (池田 理代子) Claudine...! (クローディーヌ...!), Yuri Shimai (百合姉妹) Magazine, and Eriko Tadeno's Works.

Erica Friedman (Moderator)

Following Friedman’s introduction, the panelists discussed their personal experiences with creating and publishing LGBT manga and comics.

Ivan Velez demonstrated the varying degrees of gay manga. Velez began his portion of the panel with a home video of his trip to Akihabara. The video mainly focused on his exploration of gay manga stores. He showed the different types of stores and sections selling both the lighter gay manga titles and the more graphic gay material. After the video, he did a quick introductory slideshow of works from famous Bara mangaka such as Jiraiya. Velez argued that the genre was very masculine and sweet at the same time.

On a different note, June Kim talked about her experiences while working on the 12 Days manga. She said it was based on a real life story of tragedy and loss. Surprisingly TokyoPop, her publisher, did not have any problems with the openly lesbian and gay themes in the book. According to Kim, she never received any restrictive guidance or prohibitive directives from her publisher. This freedom allowed her to create an amazing manga with stunning artwork and a touching storyline. 12 Days was well received, and many of Kim’s readers tell her that the story literally moved them to tears.

12 Days by June Kim

Hiroki Otsuka discussed his transition from straight sex manga for young women to his open gay titles for gay men. He related his experience to the greater LGBT movement in Japan. He stated that Japanese society is still very conservative, and many gay mangaka don’t publicly declare themselves as gay or lesbian. There is still a heavy stigma attached to being openly gay. Kim interjected that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is a very common phenomenon in most Asian cultures. Otsuka also discussed the slow growth of the gay community in the Second Street section of Akihabara. This burgeoning community of openly gay Japanese has led to the creation of two different groups: one group of Japanese leading openly gay lifestyles and another group of gay Japanese leading outwardly straight lifestyles. This stratification has created two divergent lifestyle philosophies concerning sexual identity in Japan.

In her portion of the panel, Mari Morimoto talked about the difficulties in publishing LGBT manga. She said that, “the publishing industry is very conservative.” The manga industry is not an exception. There are obstacles ranging from printing to distribution in regards to LGBT titles. In her efforts to promote and support LGBT works, Morimoto discussed her involvement with Prism Comics and LGBT manga panels at various anime conventions.

On the whole, Friedman successfully created an open atmosphere that allowed the panelists to share very personal experiences regarding LGBT manga. The audience seemed to appreciate the candor and honesty of the panelists and their discussion.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Night with Shonen Knife Fanatics

NEW YORK, October 16 –Shonen Knife, a veteran Japanese punk band, launched their US tour at the Santos Party House (96 Lafayette Street). They drew a sizable fanatical audience in the small venue and proceeded to deliver their special brand of punk rock music. It was great.

The band is a stripped down three member punk ensemble. There is nothing complicated. It’s just loud garage punk music with sensible pop hooks. I describe their sound as 70s New York punk with a sweet pop candy coating.

Shonen Knife started with a couple of hard punk anthems which immediately got the audience hopping around like bunnies rabbits on speed. The crowd was electrified and frenetic. They were also familiar with the band’s music and started screaming out song titles. This led Naoko Yamano, the lead singer, to remark that the New York crowd really knew their stuff.

The highlights of the performance were “Super Group”, “Riding on the Rocket”, and “Banana Chips”. At one point, the band performed “Ramones Forever” as a dedication to the Ramones. It was totally cool.

Shonen Knife meeting with fans

After their performance, Shonen Knife met with their fans. They spent nearly an hour signing merchandise, taking pictures, and talking to fans. It's no mystery that their fan friendly interactions have led to a very devoted and loyal fan base.

For more information on tour dates, you can check their MySpace page.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

John Woo's Battle of Red Cliff

John Woo at the Asia Society's Screening of Red Cliff

NEW YORK, October 12 – John Woo is one of the most influential directors in Asian cinema. Most audiences will recognize his highly stylized gun fights in Hong Kong films like A Better Tomorrow (英雄本色), Hard Boiled (辣手神探), and The Killer (喋血双雄). After several years in Hollywood, Woo returned to China to direct an epic film appropriately named Red Cliff (赤壁). Red Cliff is based on the historical Battle of Red Cliff set in the early part of the Three Kingdoms period in Chinese history.

James Leung: In your career, there have been phases. You started with Kung-fu films. Then you went into gangster action films and comedy. Red Cliff is an epic. Is this a start to a new era of epics?

John Woo: Yes, I think so… From now on, I want to make more epics, more interesting movies, and historical films.

JL: After seeing the full Asian cut of Red Cliff, I noticed that the film has a wide scope. Did you draw any inspiration from other films of the same scale and grandeur?

JW: Seven Samurai (七人の侍) and Lawrence of Arabia.

JL: Red Cliff is your first Asian film since Hard Boiled as a director. It’s been over fifteen years. How has it changed working in Asia as a film director?

JW: I think that things have changed a lot. I must say that I had a great time working in China. It’s so easy today. We have huge support from the government. They all want a very good movie…. You know. I don’t need to take any advice from anyone. I just do my own work.

The movies are much bigger now. We could have a much bigger crew to do much bigger things. And the other thing is we have a long history of our culture. We have so many stories to do… so many stories to tell.

Another thing is that the market is much bigger now. Drawing bigger audiences that like to watch all kinds of movies, which means the government will be more open and really support me. There are also so many talented people in China. Their [artistic] vision is getting better and better.

Making movies in Hong Kong, there is not much in terms of location. Not many topics to do. All you could do is action. In China, you can try many more things.

Special thanks to the Asia Society for their assistance on this interview.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Big Green Korean Machine

JERSEY CITY, October 7 – Over the summer, there was a lot of buzz over a local Korean barbecue food truck. I looked into it and found the Krave Truck. It is a bright lime green truck that serves Korean inspired food in the downtown area.

The Krave Truck even has a website with up to the minute updates. You might ask: “Why does a food truck need updates?” Due to local laws, truck vendors cannot be idle for more than forty minutes. Therefore, the updates help customers to find the truck. Lately, they have been setting up shop near the Grove Street train station.

I ventured into downtown Jersey City to find the green Korean monster. It wasn’t difficult to spot. I strolled up to the truck and checked the menu to find only three items:

1. Taco with your choice of meat
2. Kimchidilla (Lots of Kimchi in a quesadilla)
3. Rice Platter with your choice of meat

It was a simple menu, and everything is served with Kimchi. Umm… The food is simply tasty Korean barbecue served in corn tortilla or soft taco wrap.

Kimchidilla with Kimchi and Sesame Chicken

The Krave Truck’s barbecue creations have garnered a devoted following, and many downtown denizens buy dinner from the truck on a regular basis. If you’re ever looking for a quick tasty Korean meal, look for the lime green truck in downtown Jersey City.

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