Category Archives: Culture

Film Review : The Wind Rises

Jiro Horikoshi is a young boy in provincial 1910s Japan when he realizes that his mission in life is to design airplanes. Becoming a top class engineer just in time to join Japan’s struggle to become a first-world nation, Jiro’s designs will be needed for certain national ambitions.

A frame from The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises (風立ちぬ) is the latest film from Studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki, and it fits right in with the best of Miyazaki’s work. Although serious in tone and completely non-fantastical (except for a few dream sequences), it has the same gentle almost fairy-tale quality as earlier films such as Spirited Away. The the story moves gracefully along and artwork is top-notch, every frame could hang in a gallery. I particularly liked the way that the motion of air was portrayed, almost every scene has waves of grass in motion or smoke lazily drifting, very befitting for a film concerning an aviation engineer.

Viewers expecting a hard hitting film about the build up to WWII will be disappointed, the film doesn’t exactly skirt around the issue as it is just not interested with telling that story. The coming war is alluded to, and the changing nature of Japan’s ties with Germany comes into play at certain points, but the focus is firmly on the struggle to create in the face of great obstacles. That fact that the creation is a war machine is only lightly touched on.

This is not really a criticism, The Wind Rises is about mostly about creating rather than the thing created and it succeeds in its goal. However there does seem to be a large WWII shaped-hole leaving a slightly disjointed tale. But that disjointedness does play into the dreamlike feel that the film seems to be going for.

Moving and beautiful, The Wind Rises is worth watching. Highly recommended.

Boston

Guess what? I moved to Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Actually, technically Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA although even that is nominal. What NZers would call the city of Boston is actually made up of a bunch of smaller cities, like Auckland used to be but on a much larger scale. Each city has its own school system, police force and ideas about utilities and roading. It gets a little confusing.

I moved as an internal transfer within the company that employs me. It was a bit of a wrench uprooting myself from my comfortable existence in Auckland, but it is exciting living in a new country. In Auckland I had a house and garden, but I decided that if you are going to make a change you might as well change everything, so I am now in a very nice (and brand new) apartment.
Map of Boston and Auckland superimposed
This is a map of Boston overlaid with Auckland at the same scale, so you can compare the distances involved. My commute is from Cambridge to Waltham, but the motorways are very convenient and it only takes me 15 to 20 minutes.

The downside of immigrating is you encounter a lifetime’s bureaucracy in a few weeks as you race around setting up bank accounts and suchlike. The U.S. is a strange mixture of hyper-efficiency and weirdly old fashioned paperwork. A lot of things in the US rely on you having a Social Security number, which takes weeks to get and cannot be applied for in advance. Mine should turn up in the next few days which will make certain things like getting a driver’s license possible.

Speaking of driving, I am not finding driving on the other side of the road difficult. What is strange is the crazy road layouts. Boston is a very old city by US standards, and I imagine that most of the roads follow routes that are hundreds of years old. But that doesn’t explain why intersections seldom meet at right angles, the intersections half-way up on-ramps, or the terrifyingly short allowances for merging on the motorways. Nor does it explain while my brand-new apartment building was allowed to build it’s only right-of-way connected straight onto a busy motorway.

Having said that, the standard of driving is very high. Speed-limits are pretty much ignored but drivers are very courteous and safety conscious.
Rental Car covered in Snow
I was very apprehensive about the weather. Although I missed the famous polar vortex (which mainly missed Massachusetts anyway), there have been some fairly big dumps of snow, big enough that I chickened out of driving to work twice. The locals tell me that this is an unusually cold and stormy winter but the city seems to cope pretty well, with a small army of plough drivers clearing the roads around the clock. Apart from the snow, I haven’t found the cold to be unbearable at all. The hard part is seeing the sun set at 5pm, but that will change soon enough.

I can’t get excited about the Sochi Olympics

I don’t usually get excited by the Winter Olympics. Most of the sports look like fun to participate in but not that entertaining for spectators, New Zealand never does very well, and the grapes are probably sour. But the Sochi Olympics are shaping up to be a particularly dire event.

It is traditional for the run up to the olympics to be filled with hand wringing press bemoaning the lack of preparation and political maneuvering of the host country, but Russia’s effort seems unusually corrupt even by olympic standards. Not to mention the weird anti-gay issue. If you didn’t want a bunch of homosexuals visiting your city, you picked the wrong event to host.

I don’t usually quote other blogs here, but this post by John Scalzi sums up my feelings:

The Olympic Games are what they are: a floating, rotating boondoggle-shaped shitcake of graft, venality and cronyism, with a spotty icing of athleticism spread thinly on the top to mask the taste of the shit as it goes down the gullet. Barring some sort of active revolution, that’s not going to change. Sochi’s problem is that this time, they heaped extra shit into the cake and skimped on the icing, and what icing it has is also made of shit.

Book Review: The Swerve : How the World Became Modern

The Swerve : How the World Became Modern
By Stephen Greenblatt
ISBN: 9780393064476

Cover picture from The SwerveThe dark ages took a pretty brutal toll on Europe and it is no surprise that scholars of that era looked back to the writings of the Roman Empire with a reverence that they probably didn’t deserve. But the rediscovery of one particular document, On The Nature of Things by the free thinking Lucretuis, inspired several generations of scholars and kickstarted the scientific revolution.

Or so Greenblatt’s impressively researched book argues. Actually, most of the page count is concerned with a monk named Poggio Bracciolini who led a fascinating life against a backdrop of distant monasteries and vicious vatican politics, before becoming something of a professional manuscript hunter with On The Nature of Things his greatest find.

On The Nature of Things certainly sounds like a wonderful piece of work. It asserts that the Gods (if they exist) take no interest in humanity and that natural laws (not to mention random chance) hold complete sway over events. It even claims that all matter is made of tiny particles, which is a remarkable guess. I imagine it was pretty heady stuff for stuffy 15th century society.

The Swerve is at its best when it is describing Bracciolini’s life and the state of 15th century Italy. But it makes an unconvincing argument that On The Nature of Things‘ rediscovery deflected caused the course of human thinking to swerve (to use the book’s tortured analogy) away from dogma towards science. There were lots of things going on, and the new found popularity of an ancient poem was only part of the story.

Despite that quibble, The Swerve is well written and informative if perhaps a little dense for summertime reading.

Proof of Time Travel

I recently saw an article about researchers looking for proof of time travel using the Internet to search out references to events that hadn’t happened yet. Apparently they drew a blank but they obviously weren’t looking very hard.


(youtube)

History records that this is Grand Cortège de Bacchus from the ballet Syliva by Léo Delibes, written in 1876. But it is quite clearly the theme to Knight Rider, circa 1981. I think it is clear that someone, possibly genius composer Stu Phillips himself, traveled back to 19th centry Paris to influence the past.

How much more proof do you need?