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Turning Japanese

By Matt Kamen     July 26, 2007

Jake Kimber as Sephiroth, Sunday's overall Cosplay winner.
© M. Kamen
Last weekend's Japan EX – it had so much potential. Building on the successes of the London Expo shows, Japan EX was to have taken the popular anime and manga aspects and expanded upon their appeal to offer a weekend full of other Japanese delights.
Unfortunately, the show ended up as 75% anime, manga, and its related paraphernalia, with the remaining quarter being shared between kendo, taiko drumming, Go, origami and a tiny sample of Japanese cooking. Where was the bonsai, the Kimono demonstrations, the calligraphy, the martial arts other than kendo? Why not set up a quiet area for Japanese language taster lessons? Why was there no art or history exhibitions, no samurai armour (although one stall had an impressive selection of classic Japanese swords) or ninja gear aside from Naruto cosplayers? There was so much that could have been done by way of cultural presentations but instead the show was little more than an anime convention. And anime conventions are fine if that's what you're expecting but the build up was for something a touch more extravagant.
For what it ended up being, it was an entertaining day out but given the smaller scale, it should perhaps have only run for one day rather than the entire weekend. While Saturday was on par with previous London Expos in terms of footfall, it would be generous to refer to Sunday as having been sparsely populated. The lack of variety at the show possibly gave people little reason to return the second day as the 'formula' for both days was much the same – start with taiko drumming on the stage, then a kendo display, repeat a couple of times, then close out with a cosplay masquerade. In all fairness, the floods that have been affecting transport across parts of the UK would understandably have deterred some people from journeying far from their homes, and I know of at least two exhibitors who were unable to attend the show because of the waters.
On the positive side, the cosplay masquerade was much better organised than others I've seen, though I am opening myself to accusations of bias there, having been roped in as a judge at last minute. The hall was much better organised than May's Expo as well – there were no bottlenecks around aisles and people could flow freely around without being crushed by queues.
While this all sounds terribly negative overall, Japan EX was a show I feel has a lot of potential for next year, providing there is notable expansion in the non-anime areas. In short, more culture, less pop-culture.
Choosing Sides
Tartan Video announced on Wednesday their direction in the next-gen format war with the announcement of three choice movies on Blu-Ray. The UK releases of Korean vengeance fable 'Oldboy', directed by Park Chan-Wook, Paul Verhoeven's World War 2 thriller 'Black Book' and Ingmar Bergman's classic 'The Seventh Seal' will be the first time any of them have been available in high definition, anywhere in the world. Tartan are taking the future-proof route of retailing all three as two disc sets with the Blu-Ray and standard DVD release packaged together, allowing people without an HD set-up (which, let's face it, is still most people) an early foot in the door.
'Black Book' will be released in the UK on 27 August, with 'Oldboy' and 'The Seventh Seal' following on 24 September. American fans fear not though, as 'Oldboy' will be released by Tartan US a month later, 23 October. There is no American date at time of writing for the other two films.
New UK DVD Picks for 30/07/2007
Jekyll: Series One
I was late to the game on this one and I've been cursing my tardiness ever since. The 19th century's worst case of split personalities gets a 21st century reincarnation and James Nesbitt absolutely nails both roles. More of a sequel than a revamp, Steven Moffat (he writes the really good episodes of Doctor Who) includes clever uses of modern technology as the personalities feud with each other and a secret society watching them both. This is sheer genius TV and highly deserving of a place on your DVD shelf.
Hong Kong Phooey: Vol. 1
Can a cartoon be an example of blaxploitation? Hong Kong Phooey comes close, replete with 70s hallmarks lifted straight from the kung fu and blaxploitation movies of the time. The eponymous pooch will be fighting crime with his unique brand of martial arts in the first half of the series from Hanna-Barbera.
Honestly? I'd never even heard of this before researching this week's DVD releases. It seems to be a 1997 live action kids TV show that doubled as one of the early entries into CGI animation for the small screen, switching from live action to CGI as the heroes fight off vampiric vehicles out for oil – think 'California Dreams' meets 'Reboot' meets 'I Bought A Vampire Motorcycle!'. It looks terrible. It must be owned.
That’s it for this week. Thoughts? Comments? Hatemail? Contact me at mattkamen@gmail.com


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