This week, we continue the story of ‘A Horse’s Legs’, picking up where we left off last week. Henry chose to translate a fun short story from Japanese to English. The story can be found here, but for those who need a translation…

A Horse’s Legs

Ryunosuke Akutagawa

 

Light shone gently through the office curtains, which fluttered slightly in the breeze, though nothing could be seen through the window. Behind a large desk in the centre of the room, there sat two Chinese men wearing traditional robes of a brilliant white, with a pair of ledgers set in front of them. One of the men looked to be twenty or so; the other yellowing slightly with age, and with a long white moustache. The younger of the two, who was writing at speed in the ledger, spoke without looking up.

“Nǐ shì Henry Barrett xiānshēng ba?” Hanzaburo was caught off guard. However, he replied as calmly as he could, and in his best Mandarin: “I am Mr. Hanzaburo Oshino of the Mitsubishi Corporation of Japan.”

“What? You’re Japanese?” the young Chinese man cried in surprise, finally looking up. His older colleague also stopped writing in his ledger and stared dumbfounded at Hanzaburo. “What ought we to do? We got the wrong person.”

“This is bad. This is very bad. This has not happened since the first Revolution.” The older man said, a furious look upon his face, his trembling hand making his pen shake viciously. “We must rectify this as soon as is possible.”

“You were, erm… Mr. Oshino, wasn’t it? Please wait one moment.” The twenty-something opened another thick ledger, and began to read at great speed. However, he soon closed the ledger as his older colleague, looking even more surprised than before, began to speak. “It’s no use, I’m afraid. Mr. Hanzaburo Oshino died three days ago.”

“Three days ago?” “And moreover, his legs have rotted. Both legs completely decomposed from the thighs down.” Again, Hanzaburo was caught off guard. From what these two men were saying: first, he was dead; second, three days had passed since he died; third, his legs had rotted. Surely, such absurd things were not happening. Really, his legs were just… He quickly tried to take a step, and gave an involuntary yell. This was to be expected, as the legs of his white trousers were fluttering in the breeze from the window! When he saw this spectacle, he could hardly believe his eyes. But when he tried to grab his legs, it was as though everything from the thighs down were thin air.

Hanzaburo collapsed backwards onto his rear. His legs – or, more accurately, his trousers – fluttered helplessly to the floor like a pair of deflated balloons. “It’s fine, it’s fine,” said the older of the two Chinese men, “We’ll sort this out somehow.” He turned to his young subordinate, his anger apparently not yet abated: “This is your responsibility, wouldn’t you agree? Yours! I want a written incident report as soon as possible. Now then, where do you suppose Mr. Henry Barrett is at present?”

“I’ve just looked it up, and it seems he seems to have left for Hankou in a hurry.” “Then send a telegram to Hankou asking for Barrett’s legs!”

“Sorry, Sir, we can’t do that. By the time the legs arrive from Hankou, Mr. Oshino will be rotten up to the torso.”

“This is bad. This is very bad,” the older man sighed. Somehow, even his moustache seemed to be drooping languidly. “This is your responsibility. I want a written incident report as soon as possible. Is there no other possibility?”

“I’m afraid so, what with the delay. Although, we do have a horse.” “From where?” “A horse market just outside the Desheng gate – It’s only just died.”

“Well then, those legs will do. Horse legs are better than nothing. Bring them here!”
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The Walking Dead poster

In just a few hours of gameplay, it’s already far more interesting than the show…

Sitting in the back of a Police car is always a good way to start. Lee Everett, on his way to being incarcerated for killing a state senator who was having an affair with his wife, is deep in conversation with the officer driving, or not saying a word; it’s entirely up to you. Trying to lighten the mood the driver turns to talk to you, not noticing ‘something’ walking in the road. He hits the ‘walker’ head on and comes straight off the highway.

Recovering from the wreckage and the handcuffs that once bound him, Lee notices the officer twitch, only to then spring to life and attack Lee. Panicked and confused, you take over scrambling or any means of warding of the attack. After dealing with the problem you escape toward the nearest form of civilisation. Meeting a small brave girl who is hiding in a treehouse, you and new found Clementine embark further into the mystery of the walkers and the sudden outburst. You suddenly meet a friendly face, who assures you that his farm is a safe haven compared the hell that dawned around you in the blink of an eye. Shawn takes you to his farm to help survive the blight with his family and other survivors.

Lee, given the ability to start fresh, leaving his murder behind, him decides to do whatever he can to protect Clementine and all those around him. You, as the player, make decisions, that may be split-second or you may get time to think things over. Either way, whatever you think, say and do will affect the rest of the game. With no option to turn back, ‘The Walking Dead’ keeps you moving forward totally at whatever pace it wants you to go. Crave the quiet moments you get; they may be your last.
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This week, something totally different! Henry chose to translate a fun short story from Japanese to English. The story can be found here, but for those who need a translation…

A Horse’s Legs

Ryunosuke Akutagawa

 

The main character of this story is a man by the name of Hanzaburo Oshino. I am sorry to say that he was not a man who really amounted to much. He was a man of about thirty, working in the Beijing office of the Mitsubishi Corporation. Hanzaburo came to Beijing in the second month after he had graduated from university with honours in Commerce. He did not have a fantastic reputation amongst his co-workers or his superiors, but neither did he have a bad reputation. Hanzaburo was first and foremost a wholly unremarkable man for his appearance, just as for his home life.

Hanzaburo married a young woman by the name of Tsuneko two years ago. I am also sorry to say that they did not marry out of love. An elderly relative of one of them had arranged their marriage for them. Tsuneko was not a beauty, but neither was she hideous. There was always a sweet smile across her plump cheeks, barring the point on the journey to Beijing from Liaoning where she was bitten by bedbugs in a sleeper car. Even so, she now no longer worries about being bitten again, for she keeps the living room of their company-owned house on XX Street well decorated with two vases of chrysanthemums.

I said earlier that Hanzaburo’s home life was wholly unremarkable. In truth, this is not quite correct. He would eat meals together with Tsuneko, listen to the gramophone with her, take her to see the moving pictures – his life was not unlike that of any other salaried minion in Beijing. However, their lives could not escape the control that fate has. And as fate would have it, one early afternoon, the monotony of that wholly unremarkable family life was shattered in a single stroke. That day, Hanzaburo Oshino of the Mitsubishi Corporation died suddenly of cerebral apoplexy.

Even that afternoon, Hanzaburo had been diligently checking documents at his desk at the office on Dongdan Avenue. His colleague, who had been sitting across from him, hadn’t even noticed anything especially wrong with him. As calmly as ever, Hanzaburo had, with cigarette in mouth, struck a match and in that moment keeled over and died. Indeed, one might say he died too quickly, but the world does not criticise those who die happily. No, we only criticise the manner of their lives, and Hanzaburo got by without inviting such criticism. Indeed, there wasn’t much to criticise. His colleagues and superiors all expressed their deepest sympathies to his widow, Tsuneko.

Dr. Yamai, the kindly head of the local hospital, made his diagnosis and concluded that the cause of death was cerebral apoplexy. Sadly, Hanzaburo himself did not realise he was cerebrally apoplectic. He did not even realise that he was dead. He was simply surprised to find himself standing in an office he had never seen before.

 

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Game of Thrones poster

Does this count as a spoiler?

Without a doubt, this was the episode that made you feel sorry for the kings. Quite a lot has happened so far this season (and we’re only four episodes in) but the story has been primarily focussed on reminding us who that character are, and why we should care – especially as the story is changing so drastically now. The previous seasons have followed a rather linear path regarding the War of the Five kings, but with that over in Season Three, Season Four became a wrap-up of the story; now, Westeros and Essos are becoming more prominent and being forced to react to the changes that have happened so far.

Oh, and boat travel – there has been a lot of that this season, but that kind of fits in with the new direction of the story.

To that end, ‘Sons of the Harpy’ introduces some new characters in the form of the Sand Snakes –  the bastard daughters of Oberyn Martell. These badass characters from the books are diluted slightly, in part because their first introduction has to be very heavily steeped in exposition. We are introduced to them through Ellaria Sand, Oberyn’s paramour from Season Four, who was seen in an early episode presenting her ideas for war to Prince Doran. Now, she has assembled the Sand Snakes in the desert to explain her plans to start a war behind his back.

In the books, this plan is put together over the course of several chapters, through the point of view of another daughter of Oberyn who is in line to Dornish throne, but still wants to get revenge for the death of her father. While cutting her (as they appear to have done) works for streamlining again, you’re likely to be less invested in their plan, and forcing the Sand Snakes to launch into long speeches about who they are and why they care comes across as very disjointed and strange.

On the other hand, Cersei – while not doing a lot especially – has had enough screen-time this season for her own plots to come across as interesting and intriguing. She has already done her best to sweet-talk the High Sparrow, but now she makes the play to rearm the ancient Faith Militant in the hopes of having an additional army under her command. We get a sweet scene of them then embarking on a crusade across King’s Landing doing their best to bring an end to any sinning in the city. The scene itself is scarily reminiscent of the first episode of Season Two, in which all of King Robert’s bastards were hunted down and killed in one way or another. It appears as a Pandora’s Box of sorts, and it makes you feel more than sympathetic for poor king Tommen, who’s supposed to be in charge and now forced to pick up the pieces.

On the other side of the world, we have King Stannis. Without wanting to talk about his main scene for too long (for spoilers sake), it is by far his most human he has ever appeared, and his tear-jerking scene ranks up amongst some of the best in the series history.

Jon, however, has one of the most awkward. He has done a lot so far, and in one brief scene he is “tempted” by Melisandre. Of course, she’s as subtle usual, so it just becomes a test of Jon Snow’s vows, and his love for the deceased Ygritte.

Sansa and Littlefinger have some more time together, although this episode was more Littlefinger’s than Sansa’s. The two of them talk in the Catacombs of Winterfell, and spend time discussing her aunt, Lyanna. Littlfinger discusses the story of the Tournament of Harrenhal for the first time in the series, and with the inclusion of a single comment Stannis about Ned Stark’s honour, we might be taking drastic steps towards a much loved fan theory (R+L=J). Littlefinger spends his time conspiring with Roose and Sansa, in turn, although it still isn’t clear what he’s up to.

Jaime and Bronn have some great scenes together, as they make their way into Dorne. Bronn appears very doubtful of their success, while Jaime appears hopeful but also lost in the events of the previous season. It appears that he has taken the death of his father very badly, and totally blames Tyrion. The two have great chemistry still, and the blunt comments of Bronn bounce off Jaime’s “honourable” stance on things.

On the subject of Tyrion, he continues to do his best to get one up on Jorah Mormont, his captor from the previous episode. Their scenes are tense and interesting, especially given the change from the books that Tyrion was actively seeking out Dany in the first place. Now he can do his best to openly mock Jorah for the utter stupidity of his plan, as he believes Jorah will still be executed for returning to her.

Which isn’t hard to believe, as Dany did her absolute best to throw away any remaining good will in the city. As previously mentioned, I have given up on Dany and as far as I’m concerned her cause is lost. That was before this episode, when she again takes advise from Sir Barriston about loving the people and supporting their traditions, and goes ahead and refuses to do either of those things in the very next scene.

Also, she may have gotten a great character killed, simply by brutally forcing an entire city of people to give up on their own age-old traditions, simply because she doesn’t agree with them.

In summary, this was a very mixed episode. While I’m not fuming entirely for the stupidity of Dany this time (mainly because I shut down whenever she turns to avoid getting angry), it also wasn’t utterly lighting me on fire with excitement. There was a lot to like, as there were some nice character moments which tease at more interesting things to come, but there are lengthy stages where the action is high, but the content is low.

 
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Gears of War poster

2006 – when men were just manly husks of meat…

Deep inside a maximum security prison, Marcus Fenix, is freed from his cell by his close friend Dominic Santiago. Knowing better than anyone else, Dom asks Marcus for his help against the Locust Hordes, creatures that have been burrowed underneath the planet’s crust for who knows how long. As you take over the role of Marcus, you discover that the Colonel has pardoned everyone in the prison to allow them to help fight. Everyone except Fenix. You are taken through the prison into a courtyard, battling your way through waves of enemies and entering the courtyard. Upon escaping on the last helicopter out of there, you’re well met by your new Lieutenant and a new recruit and are then informed that you are on your way to meeting Hoffman, the Colonel that wanted to keep you behind bars.

After a brief and rather cold reception with Hoffman, you are ambushed by a group of Locust. Seeking shelter, Hoffman tells the Lieutenant about a plan that will end the war, but it requires something called the Resonator, which was last seen with another squad. It will map out the tunnels of the locust and give the best data to drop a Light Mass Bomb to cave in all the tunnels and end the war.

With the target in hand you embark to find the Resonator, delving deeper into locust territory, surrounded by the unknown that becomes more and more deadly. Marcus, forgets his troubled past and leads the team further into oblivion. Dom, the best right hand man you could ask for, travels alongside Marcus in search of his missing wife. Every other soldier you meet along the way works as a well-oiled machine to conquer the Locust faction in order to salvage what is left of the war-torn planet that humanity once ruled.
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Kappa Sign

The Kappa – Likes long walks on the beach, candlelit dinners, and drowning disrespectful children.

All civilisations throughout history have had folkloric creatures – demons, monsters, what-have-you – whose main purpose has been to encourage a specific value in kids who then become terrified of not obeying the value in question. I think this is the reason the kappa exists in Japan – encourage children to be polite, give appropriate gifts and not play near water.

The kappa, according to the stories, is a scaly green humanoid creature about the size of a child, usually with a beak and webbed feet. It is said to have a bit of a mean streak, leading it to pranks ranging from farting loudly where you can hear and smell it, to drowning children in the shallows – as scholars agree, it’s the next logical step. All in all, understood to be pretty foul creatures, and it’s little wonder that warning signs exist near lakes, ponds and rivers in smaller Japanese communities warning children to beware of the kappa.

Of course, no mythical creature is invincible – there are ways of avoiding falling victim to a kappa other than simply avoiding water. One big physiological feature of the kappa is the indentation in the top of the head, which is filled with water which keeps the kappa standing. Reports vary on whether emptying this indentation will kill the kappa or simply incapacitate it, but emptying the bowl gets rid of the kappa. And how do you empty the bowl quickly and effectively? You bow. Nice, deep and polite. Despite its mean streak, the kappa is a very respectful creature, and will bow back with equal respect when it is bowed to. Of course, gravity being what it is, this will tip the water out of the dish on its head.

The other method of avoiding a kappa is to give it a gift of food inscribed with your name. The cucumber is the favourite food of the kappa (which is why rolled sushi containing only cucumber is called kappa-maki) and is possibly the only thing you can give to a kappa that will lead it to see you as a friend and thus grant you immunity from future pranks. Some places in Japan will tell you that eating cucumber before you swim will also help prevent an attack, but other places claim that this is a sure-fire way to guarantee that you get yourself murdered by a scaly water-demon.

Of course, if you are attacked by a kappa, make sure you are well versed in either shogi (a board game similar to chess) or sumo. That same sense of duty that leads a kappa to kill itself just to return a bow also prevents it from backing down from a test of skill – and, you might encourage it to tip the water out of its head-bowl mid-bout whilst you’re at it.

If and when you get the kappa to empty its head, some stories say that you can get a lifelong servant out of the deal. Just refill its head with water from the body it lives in, and it will serve you until one of you dies.

So, that’s the kappa. But in all probability, it’s just a story.
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The Jazz Singer (1927) poster

Poster now with 50% less racism!

‘The Jazz Singer’! We’ve done it – we’ve breached the ‘talkies’. Sort of. If there are two things that ‘The Jazz Singer’ is known for, it is the tremendous step forward of recorded sound, and the use of blackface. Thanks Hollywood: is every major breakthrough going to be accompanied by racism? Well, ‘The Jazz Singer’ is actually not what you’d expect at all. It’s not got sound throughout, and the blackface is in a few short scenes for (arguably) an understandable reason, but we’ll get onto all that in a bit.

The film follows the story of a young Jewish boy who is the son of a prominent Cantor. While his father wants him to spend his life singing prayers, but the boy’s true passion is Jazz. After a confrontation, the boy is banished, and runs away to pursue a career in show business. Fast forward ten years, and young Jakie Rabinowitz has changed his name to Jack Robin, and is preparing to perform in his Broadway debut, but trouble on the home front draws him into a confrontation with both his father, and his own racial identity.

That’s where the blackface comes into the picture. ‘The Birth of a Nation’ this is not, and while a modern audience would be well within their right to call the film out on the gratuitous use of blackface, it, understandably, wasn’t criticised at the time. The blackface is used to show Jack forsaking his own Jewish heritage and becoming part of the larger American culture, as well as becoming unrecognisable to his own family and friends. Sure, this wouldn’t fly today, and it isn’t the sort of thing to be encouraged, but the film uses it to not pass judgement or criticise any race in particular, but as a noticeable message communicating a theme to its audience.

On a less controversial note, let’s get onto that recorded sound. As I mentioned, it doesn’t run throughout the entire song, and there are still long moments of silent cinema with title-cards galore, but each of the nine songs in the film show the actors singing and have well synced sound running in time with them. On a few small occasions, the actors finish a song and continue to speak with sound, which does feel revolutionary and fresh, especially after watching so many purely silent films recently. On the whole, the sound – even just the ambient sound of applause or someone banging on a table – is exciting and makes you appreciate how far film has come over the last century.

The acting is all phenomenal, with Al Jolson making a truly strong and commendable performance, along with May McAvoy, appearing both powerfully confident and innocently young. Directed by Alan Crosland, the film is an adaptation of the 1922 stage play ‘The Day of Atonement’ by American short-story writer, playwright, and later screenwriter, Samson Raphaelson. All comes together to make a truly powerful piece of cinema which captures you imagination in startling ways, and tells a terrific story.

At the end of the day, ‘The Jazz Singer’ holds up for the most part. While the blackface will (and rightly should) turn off many modern day viewers, the story is powerful and moving, as it struggles to honestly tell the tale of a man finding his place in the world, casting aside his family and his heritage, and discovering a new life in a new time. And for the film to take the first tentative steps away from silent cinema, it tells a parallel story of film itself growing and changing, and adapting to the changing times.

4/5 – Love It
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Game of Thrones poster

Does this count as a spoiler?

With all that happens over the course of a season of ‘Game of Thrones’, we’ve all become used to the less involved episodes every now and again. While season five, episode three (‘High Sparrow’), has a fair amount going on, it still comes across as a smaller, filler episode. That said, it was still thoroughly entertaining.

We only get a few points of view this episode, and thankfully Dany wasn’t one of them. While she’ll no doubt be refusing to own up to her continued mistakes next episode, it was still nice to have a little reprieve.

There is hope for her, though, after Brienne and Podrick regained their greatness once again in a small, character-building scene. They have a chance to do what they’re good at – a funny back and forth with Dan and Dave bringing back some great dialogue for them. It proves that the last episode was a slight misstep, and they aren’t turning into a walking cliché with terrible writing. Once more, I’m invested in their quest, and Brienne’s exposition heavy speech – in which she discusses her childhood and explains how she came to support Renly Baratheon in the first place, is heart-warming and moving.

Arya has perhaps the least to do this episode, as she continues to train under Jaqen H’ghar, with the hopes of becoming a Faceless Man. Her scenes are primarily based around the colossal strangeness of the House of Black and White, and highlighting just what it is that they do there. It’s interesting enough, but the stand-out moment comes when she’s forced to throw away all of her possessions, and change out of the outfit she’s been wearing since the second season, which, if you think about it, is great from a hygienic perspective.

Cersei’s story is a great step in the general plot of instigating her own downfall, as she steadily becomes more and more dissatisfied with her inner circle, and choses to arrest the High Septon after he is found in a brothel by Lancel and the devout Sparrows. When he is accused of sinning and publicly shamed by the Sparrows, he runs to Cersei and demands justice. Enter Johnathon Pryce as The High Sparrow. In keeping with ‘Game of Thrones’ tradition, he serves as the one character that is goodness through-and-through, so you can expect him to die or fall from grace or hide a terrible secret in the coming story – that’s not a spoiler, it’s just a trope.

On the flip side, Qyburn continues to be cartoonish brilliant as ever. The final episode of season four gave him a comically oversized syringe and asked him to do his best Dr. Frankenstein impression, last episode had him casually asking to keep a severed head, and this episode has him talking to Sir Gregor’s corpse as it writhes around under a sheet. Don’t ever change, Qyburn.

And on the subject of comically evil, this episode serves as a triumphant return of my boy, RB! Ramsey is always an utter joy to watch, even when he is doing something utterly deplorable. Whether he’s skinning someone alive, hunting people in the forest, or simply asking Reek to shave him as a power play, Iwan Rheon has such fun with the role that you almost forget how utterly despicable he is. Ramsey has always had more appeal for me in the series over someone like Joffrey, as he had a continuous monstrous presence about him, and came across as someone who wanted to be liked and loved by the people who despised him. Ramsey doesn’t. Instead, he has taken the villain role to heart, and properly run with it.

Roose gets to be the grand negotiator once again, as he is still the Warden of The North, and despite his son being legitimised, the Northerners rightly hate him. Roose’s plan to have people look past their illegitimacy is largely intact with the story from the book, however there is one major change: while in the books, Littlefinger has arranged to send Jeyne Poole to Winterfell and pretend it is Arya (to legitimise the Bolton’s claim to the North), this time he sends the real Sansa.

Yes, it is finally revealed where Sansa and Littlefinger have been traveling all this time, and it is back home. Winterfell is being rebuilt, and while there wasn’t as much time devoted to reminding us how we haven’t really seen it since season two, it was beautiful to be back – despite all the flayed bodies. It’ll be fun to see how the new Sansa storyline plays out, especially as she’s a far more important character than Poole, and she has a motivation for going there. Revenge.

Now, she has the man who stabbed her brother in the heart and the man who burnt down her home in the same castle as her. I’m beginning to feel that she isn’t trapped in there with them, but they’re trapped in there with her…

Jon’s storyline is relatively brief, and serves as him both solidifying his position as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and gaining the respect of Stannis. Davos gets a chance to deliver a fairly compelling speech in their time together, which was nice, as we haven’t really seen enough of him recently. And while Jon’s defining moment in the episode was still a fist-pump occasion, it seemed a little too much like a fan’s interpretation of the books, as the majority of the cold, hard badassery was taken away, in favour of reducing a much hated character into a sobbing mess.

Tyrion has a very short section, based around the fact he is tired of sitting in his wheelhouse, and wants to get out and visit a brothel. From there, we see the greatest triumph of this season so far – showing off the diversity of Westeros and, mainly, Essos. Like with Braavos, Volantis appears as an entirely new place with a different culture and a totally different feel. It’s utterly refreshing and reminds you that Dany has been specifically seeking out the worst and most dysfunctional cities to visit. Until a familiar face arrives to throw a spanner in the works…

‘High Sparrow’ truly works as a great episode, delivering just enough story to keep up  the pace, while focussing on the interactions of the characters and making them all more human once again.
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Age of Ultron poster

Some of the best moments in Cinematic History look just like this poster…

And so we begin possibly the most exciting year in movies for decades. ‘Jurassic World’ is set to remind us how terrifying dinosaurs are, ‘Spectre’ is set to bring back Bond’s most powerful nemesis, and ‘The Force Awakens’… well, do I even need to explain? First and foremost, perhaps, is ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron’, which takes us back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe once more, to put a close on Act Two, and take the third highest grossing movie and most important cinematic moment of the last few years to new heights.

But does ‘Ultron’ surpass the first ‘Avengers’ film? In a word: Yes. The first ‘Captain America’ movie had a fairly simple plot, which had its sights set on the end goal for the entire runtime. In ‘The Winter Soldier’, there are twists and turns throughout, which blur the lines of what the final confrontation will be, and make the whole experience more fresh and engaging. So too, with ‘Age of Ultron’. Whereas ‘Avengers Assemble’ had a very simple plot of “get the crew together, get them to fight together, get them to fight the bad guy”, ‘Age of Ultron’ begins in medias res, with the entire crew of the Avengers battling their way to one of the final Hyrda bases to take back Loki’s stolen staff.

From there, the film blends together the weird mix of genres from each film, making something that is, once again, totally unique. From the fantastic party scene early on, showing off all the character and secondary characters (Falcon and War Machine, included), The Avengers themselves are at this point believable and interesting characters, with their inner rivalries becoming all the more interesting because you can be on two characters side at the same time.

Enter Ultron.

Ultron himself is a tremendous villain, balancing the wacky dialogue of Joss Whedon with the menacing presence of James Spader, but the greatest success of his character is his creation. The whole story throws a brilliant twist on the Frankenstein story, with Tony Stark being a commendable figure with a noble goal, but his creation begin just as evil and all powerful as most accidental monsters are. Similarly, Captain America’s opposition to the creation of Ultron in the first place is both justifiable and completely in line with his overall character.

Being a sequel to several different films, you already know all the characters, and can almost predict their reaction by this point, but it also makes it more difficult to see any of theses characters as villains. You know that Stark is not a bad guy, despite his meddling in the wrong place, because we’ve seen four films of him doing that and getting good results. Similarly, Captain America doesn’t come across as a kill-joy, because we’ve seen him be the voice of reason and fairness in three previous films.

To that end, the film does a fantastic job of taking the spotlight off Thor, Cap, and Iron Man, and shifting it to Hulk, Black Widow and (surprisingly) Hawkeye. They understandably took a back seat in the first film, yet here they have important sub-plots which actually make you care about the forgotten Avengers. If you had told me last week that Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye would be the emotional heart of the film, I would have laughed in your face, but he really pulls it off. Mainly by being the least powerful character, but also the one with the most to lose.

Going back to the subject of sequels, however, highlights another way the film shines. While there is plenty of ground laid for the upcoming two-part third Avengers film, this does not feel like it is bridging the gap. It’s not a sequel to anything really – its another films that happens to continue the story of the larger Marvel Universe, and it could work as a stand-alone film very well. While references and in-jokes may be lost, and the characterisation wouldn’t come across in the same way, ‘Age of Ultron’ simply works as a damn good movie.

On the technical side, there are a huge number of tracking shots, and I’m always a sucker fro tracking shots. The Projects sequence from ‘True Detective’ and the New Year’s Eve scene from ‘Boogie Nights’ stand up as some of my favourite screen moments, but ‘Age of Ultron’ could top them all. For a start, the film begins with a huge tracking shot of the entire Avengers crew diving in and out of one-another and watching each others backs as they push through a huge battle with Hydra, and without wishing to spoil anything, one of the final climactic moments turns out to be a slow motions continuous take of the Avengers playing king-of-the-hill against and endless onslaught of robots. While the introductory sequence seemed a little bit too CGI, it wasn’t anywhere near as noticeable as ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’, because you’re watching super heroes move in ridiculous, inhuman ways, and not a close up of a ‘Total War’ game. Oh, and the sequence concludes with all the Avengers on screen at once, leaping forward in slow motion.

‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron’ seriously kicks arse. While it a noticeably long film, you will struggle to get bored; in part due to the tremendous performances from everyone involved. While the Big Three are of course, a joy to watch, the stand out performances were Johansson, Ruffalo and Renner, who each reinvigorated their characters with emotion and depth they hadn’t had until now. Honorary mentions go to Andy Serkis (always a pleasure to see him with a mouthful of scenery) and both Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen as the Maximoff twins, proving that they are not only great actors, but that they’re chemistry truly was the best thing about them in ‘Godzilla’.

And finally, it stands to reason to commend Joss Whedon for knocking it out of the park again. As long as he continues to make exciting and interesting films this good, I’ll forgive him for not making another ‘Firefly’ film.
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The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife

“I’ve seen enough hentai to know where… oh, it’s already there…”

One thing Japan is very well-known for is its interest in sexuality – especially the very eclectic stuff. All it takes is one mention of tentacles, and some smart-arse has definitely “seen enough hentai to know where this is going”.

Surprisingly that particular shit is not a recent phenomenon – an 1814 woodblock print by Hokusai (yes, the same Hokusai behind The Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji) depicts a young shell diver getting rather frisky with a pair of octopus. The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife was published in Kinoe no Komatsu (a sort of collection of artistic works) of the late Edo period, and was a work of a type of erotic Ukiyo-e art called shunga. Whilst shunga have gone out of fashion somewhat, erotic depictions of tentacled beings remain scarily popular – the going theory for the reason behind this is the law that genitalia must be censored in all Japanese pornographic material, and the fact that tentacles aren’t genitalia.

But, that’s enough about the contents of porn.

As I mentioned last time, bookshops are happy to let you browse the books under normal circumstances, but there’s always one section tucked away at the back which you are not allowed to open books in, in any shop – and this porn section may be a single shelf or an entire back room.

Outside of this, the Japanese seem quite lax as far as access to porn goes – rather than being on the top shelf, lewd magazines are sold quite brazenly on the shelf furthest away from the door in most standard convenience stores.

Of course, animated and cartoon porn is brazenly popular. It is very easy to buy merchandise with scantily-clad anime girls – I base this knowledge on a course-mate who had folders for some of his subjects decorated with less scantily-clad but still kind of scanty anime girls, and a teacher (yes) who pulled a towel out of seemingly nowhere to offer as a prize in an in-class game of kanji bingo.

Obviously, we in the west seem VERY conservative when it comes to our porn – we just have the occasional woman baring her chest for advertising purposes. But, suffice it to say, there are reasons that “oh, Japan” is such a common phrase.

And a couple of these are probably the porn.
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