2015 Martial Arts Movies

NOTE: I’ve revised this post with up-to-date information. Please see that post here.

My third annual preview of martial arts movies will be presented in two installments. Many of the movies in the latter half of the year do not yet have release dates or trailers by January. Ergo, I’m posting the first part now, and will do a revision in mid-summer.

“Martial arts movie” is a bit ambiguous. Almost every action movie features martial arts. The leaked teaser for Ant-Man was pretty much a sequence of Scott Lang (Ant-Man) fighting his way through a corridor to access an elevator. So, does such a movie get included? I’ve opted against putting every action film with a kick in it into this post. Yet, I don’t want to stick to films that feature martial arts cliches (e.g. they killed my master, an evil billionaire is hosting a death match tournament, they killed me and left me for dead, etc.)  I, therefore, use the admittedly subjective litmus test of whether there would be a movie if one took away the martial arts and replaced it with brawling–not just whether it would be a less slick movie with a diminished “woo” factor.

I’ve tried to go as international as possible this year, including Bollywood (using the term colloquially if not precisely) and SE Asian releases in addition to the usual Hong Kong & Hollywood fare.

 

Underdog Kids (January 16): Described on IMDb as: “Inner city kids from a poor neighborhood go up against the undefeated Beverly Hills Junior National Karate Team.” I’ve seen no trailer for this, just a poster:
underdogs_2

Wild Card (January 30): This may be a cheat given what I said above. However, it’s a Jason Statham film, and like the “Transporter” films it probably doesn’t amount to much without the ass-kickery. Let’s face it, you’re not going to see Jason Statham for his extensive acting range.

Dragon Blade (February 19): Featuring Jackie Chan, John Cusack, and Adrien Brody. This is a period piece, and–as you can tell from the casting–is big budget as martial arts flicks go.

Wolf Warrior (March 1) [China]: This looks like more of a shoot-em-up action film than a martial arts film, but some have listed it as a martial arts film and the close quarters action is definitely reminiscent of a martial arts film.

Skin Trade (April): This film stars Tony Jaa and Dolph Lundgren as the good guys and Ron Perlman as the villain. As the title suggests, it’s set around a theme of human trafficking.

Bollywood Dragon  (May 15) [India]: The blurb for this one is: “An English martial arts instructor travels to Mumbai to identify her twin sister’s body, discovering she lived a mysterious life among the criminal underworld and decides to investigate by being her.”
There is no trailer up for this movie as of yet.

The Kickboxer: City of Blood: (May 15): This is a different project than the Bautista / Van Damme / Carano film that was originally titled “Kickboxer” and is now going by “Kickboxer: Vengence,” but there’s no graphic publicity out on it yet. It may not come out as scheduled.

The Transporter Legacy (June 19): Another “Transporter” film, but Ed Skrein plays the role of Frank Martin in this one. As with “Wild Card” it may be a cheat to include it as a martial arts film, but car chases don’t get these movies all the way to watchability.
I haven’t seen a trailer, but there are still photos.
TransporterLegacy

The Boy and the Beast (July 11) [Japan]: This also may be a cheat because it’s an animated film, but martial arts does seem to be a prominent feature of the work. (I believe I included one of the Kung fu Panda movies in one of my past posts, so I think this is fair game.)

Brothers (July 31) [India, in Hindi]: An Indian remake of the American film Warriors. In the American movie, two estranged brothers must fight each other in an MMA bout. (Hence the name of the Indian version, Brothers.) There’s not a proper trailer out, but there is this:

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend (August 28): Interestingly, this sequel to an immensely popular film will be released on Netflix and IMAX simultaneously. If this were some risky, low-budget film, going straight to Netflix wouldn’t be at all surprising, but this is the sequel to a movie that was (maybe still is) the highest grossing foreign language film playing in America. If this bold move pays off, it could be the beginning of a new paradigm of movie releases. [Also with The Interview going with an unconventional release owing to North Korean threats and intervention, there maybe a great deal learned about alternatives to a traditional film release.]
CTHD2

The Bodyguard (undesignated Summer release) [China]: Featuring and directed by Sammo Hung.
sammo-hung-740x400

Movies with unspecified release dates:

SPL (Sha Po Lang) II / A Time for Consequences / SPL2: Rise of Wong Po [China]: This Hong Kong film will feature Thai superstar Tony Jaa. (Is he in everything? Have they cloned him, or does he not need to sleep, eat, and poop like the rest of us.)
SPL_II_Teaser_Poster,_Apr_2014

The Chemist: A grain of salt on the 2015 release, please. This is an “assasin-who-can’t-bear-to-kill-his-victim-and-ends-up-protecting-her-instead” film.

Pound of Flesh: Jean-Claude Van Damme. The blurb says: “A man’s heroic attempt to help a woman in distress ends up with him waking up the next day without a kidney and plotting his revenge.”
PoundofFleshMovie

Kickboxer: Vengence: Featuring Dave Bautista, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Gina Carano.

The Martial Arts Kid: As the unimaginative title (generic knock-off of the alliterative “Karate Kid”?) suggests, this is low budget. It features past martial arts competitors like Don Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.
MartialArtsKid

Ultimate Justice [Germany]: The blurb on IMDb reads: “A team of former elite soldiers are drawn back into action when the family of one of their own is attacked.”
I haven’t seen any publicity for this movie yet.

The Monk (Summer) [China]:This movie is based on a popular Chinese novel entitled Dao Shi Xia Shan (A Monk Comes Down the Mountain.)
I’ve seen no graphic publicity on this one, and the novel has apparently not been translated to English, so I don’t have much to tell you.

Unlikely 2015 Releases:

Stan Lee’s Annihilator: IMDb has it listed for an unspecified 2015 release. If so, those involved are better at keeping secrets than anyone else in Hollywood.

Showdown in Manila: Featuring Mark Dacascos. It’s supposed to begin filming early in February, so a release this year is unlikely. It’s said to be like “The Expendables.” I assume that means that it’s a big cast of past super-stars, but it might just mean that it sucks badly.

BOOK REVIEW: Tears in Rain by Rosa Montero

Tears in RainTears in Rain by Rosa Montero

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon page

The title of this book, Tears in Rain will be instantly recognizable to sci-fi fans as a reference to the Roy Batty (played by Rutger Hauer) monologue at the end of the movie Blade Runner. For those who aren’t familiar, Roy Batty is an android who is about to die as the result of a preset lifespan established in his programming, and he’s reflecting on all those unique experiences that he’s had that will be forever lost with his demise—as tears in rain.

When I picked up this book, I thought it would exist in the Blade Runner universe. It does not. However, it exists in a universe that shares several common features with the world of Blade Runner, and—in fact—it gives a nod to the film as a prescient historic work of fiction. What Montero’s novel has in common with the Ridley Scott film is a world in which there are both humans and androids that have surpassed the uncanny valley—i.e. they are generally indistinguishable from humans (if they want to be.) Furthermore, these androids (also called replicants) have a short and predictable lifespan–though it’s presented as a mysterious flaw rather than intentional programming. Further, there is a degree of tension between humans and replicants (reps.) The book also shares the movie’s film noir feel. The book’s lead character, Bruna Husky is a private dick–if you will—and a replicatant, and she is investigating a series of murders by replicants gone haywire.

The focal point of the book is something not extensively addressed in Blade Runner or that film’s point of origin, the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and that is the need to build memories into these androids so that they can function like humans. Reps discover at some point that all their childhood memories—good and bad—are fake, and this is a point of consternation for Husky. It is the corruption of the memories that leads the replicants to kill. That fact is established almost from the novel’s beginning. What isn’t clear is who is doing it and why, and book follows Husky through her investigation of these questions.

For the most part, I found the book to be readable. It’s a translation from the original, which was written in Spanish. It didn’t have that rare page-turning aura that made me have to find out what would happen next, but it was a good, solid science fiction work. The characters are—as one might expect from my “film noir” comment—overwhelmingly gruff and terse and / or broken people. Not that the unlikable nature of the characters is responsible for the lack of intensity of interest in what will happen to them. I recently read an article about unlikable characters, and it pointed out (correctly in my view) that Nick and Amy Dunne of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl are among the most detestable characters of recent literature, and yet that is a book one can’t put down. It’s difficult but not impossible to build intense interest with such characters.

Interspersed throughout the book are a few multi-page information dumps in the form of reports to an archivist who is a secondary character in the book–and who probably only exists to justify these info dumps. While the dumps aren’t excessive, neither do I think they are necessary. I don’t think there was much information in them that was necessary to the storyline, and what was could have been communicated more smoothly.

Part of Montero’s problem is that by tying her work’s title and important background details to Blade Runner, it becomes almost impossible to not compare her novel to either Blade Runner or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. I might have given this work another star if I wasn’t thinking about how it was less visceral than the movie and less clever than Dick’s book. (Without the info dumps or the comparison it would have been a 4-star for me.)

This is a worthwhile read for sci-fi fans.

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BOOK REVIEW: Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison

Make Room! Make Room!Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

Knowing that this book was the basis of the movie Soylent Green, I expected a very different book. While I haven’t seen the movie Soylent Green, I–like everybody not living under a rock–knew that the movie’s big twist was that “Soylent green is people!” Meaning, society has unwittingly been led into cannibalism.

I wouldn’t so much categorize Make Room! Make Room! as dystopian science fiction as I would a detective story that happens to take place in a Malthusian dystopia. (For those unfamiliar with the work of Thomas Malthus, he predicted a massive crash resulting from the fact that human population in his day [18-19th century] was growing much faster than food production and resource discovery. Some dismiss Malthus as a doom-and-gloomer who was unable to foresee that great technological breakthroughs would make it possible for humanity to support its growing numbers. Others, like Harry Harrison, have maintained that it’s merely a matter of time before humanity outstrips its resources and Malthus’s prediction is vindicated.)

While the story is about a detective investigating the death of a wealthy businessman/criminal and said officer’s love affair with the deceased man’s girl, Malthus’s idea sets the tone of this novel. Written in 1966, Make Room! Make Room! describes the world of 1999 as one in which food and drinking water are in scarce supply. Harrison predicted the population would then be 7 billion. He was off a bit. The population in 1999 was closer to 6 billion. While we have presently reached 7+billion, we aren’t surviving off SOYbeans and LENTils (SOY-LENT, get it) for protein.

It’s probably good that the story is about crime and romance, because when it becomes too focused on the Malthusian dystopia—rather than letting it play in the background and give the story a visceral edge—the book can be a bit preachy. This is best exemplified by the brief diatribes of Sol, the protagonist’s roommate and the character that occasionally drags us out of this fictional story and into a lecture on the dangers of unchecked population growth. Such brief lectures might have been well worthwhile if the author (and Malthus) had been correct, but they read a bit alarmist in the wake of both men’s overreaction (or incorrect timelines?) Readers with strong feelings on the subject of birth control may find that issue positively or negatively impacts one’s perception of the book depending upon one’s stance on the issue, but most will find it to be just an another issue that dates the work.

If this had just been about the 1999 Malthusian dystopia, it might be so dated as to be unreadable today. However, the story is more timeless than that—if with an inescapable retro feel.

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BOOK REVIEW: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

This book is about the perils of adopting a false face when dating. At first Nick and Amy seem like the perfect couple, but that’s because Amy is donning the guise of “Cool Girl” and Nick is playing the part of the romantic. When the facades crack apart, so does their marriage. Then Amy goes missing under mysterious circumstances.

This isn’t the type of book that would normally call to me, but I read it because I kept seeing references to it and had to see what the hullaballoo was about. I must say, however, the book did not disappoint. I found Gone Girl hard to put down. Flynn does an outstanding job of carefully revealing information—and sometimes planting false flags—so that one is kept thinking throughout the book. To the characters in the book—besides Nick–it increasingly looks like Nick killed his wife, but to the reader it’s more of a roller coaster ride. At first we can’t believe he’s responsible, then we discover he’s not who he appears, then we learn who Amy really is, and so on.

The organization is alternating chapters from the point of view of the two leads, Amy and Nick. This is why we can’t believe Nick is a murderer at first, because we are seeing his point of view, but then we realize that it’s a limited point of view, and Nick isn’t particularly forthcoming about his peccadilloes and vices. In fact, Nick’s penchant for lying is a major factor in his deepening crisis. Nick’s problem is that he can’t stand to not be liked, particularly by women. Amy’s problem stems from having parents who wrote a book series called Amazing Amy that portrays a character that is a thinly veiled version of her—except perfect in every way. This leads to a condition in which Amy needs to appear perfect, even if she realizes that perfection is illusory.

If the reader has a point of dissatisfaction with this book, I believe it will be with the ending. I, myself, have mixed feelings on the subject. On one hand, the ending seems unbelievable and maybe a little flat. On the other hand, it’s an unexpected ending, and I think any ending that wasn’t completely unexpected would come across as a letdown after all the twists, turns, and reveals of the book.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who likes a good story. As I said, it’s highly engaging and readable.

FYI – there is a movie version coming out on October 3, 2014.

Here’s the trailer:

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2014 Science Fiction Movies

Here’s the 2014 slate of sci-fi films. I didn’t include superhero films (because I did a post on them yesterday) nor did I include those that might be best classified in other speculative fiction genres (e.g. horror, supernatural, or fantasy.)

WELCOME TO YESTERDAY; February 21st

If you don’t think teenagers are safe to drive cars, imagine the chaos they’d create in a time machine.

DIVERGENT; March 21st

This is based on one of the popular dystopian Young Adult (YA) novels of late. I’m not saying that it’s just like the Hunger Games trilogy or Maze Runner–both of which also have movies coming out in 2014–but it’s clearly the subgenre du jour. In this YA dystopia, people are divided into five classes by testing, but some are divergent–defying classification.

UNDER THE SKIN; April 4th (US, previously released elsewhere)

An alien seductress lures hitchhikers into her van with nefarious purpose (and maybe lollipops.) Moral: if Scarlett Johansson tries to pick you up in a serial killeresque van, think twice; and then get in because it’s Scarlett-freakin’ Johansson.

EARTH TO ECHO; April 25th

Kids discover an alien. It sounds a lot like ET.

THE SCRIBBLER; May 1st
Katie-cassidy-picture-1219918070
Supposedly based upon the graphic novel of the same name, which would make this about a girl with multiple personality disorder who partakes in an experimental treatment called the “Siamese Burn.”

GODZILLA; May 16th

The latest attempt to revive Godzilla–using CGI to make him bigger and uglier than previously imaginable.

EDGE OF TOMORROW; June 6th

Like Groundhog Day but with guns and explosions.

THE PURGE 2; June 20th

Sequel to the movie about a dystopian future in which all laws are set aside for a short period once a year.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES; July 11th

This one takes place after the escape shown in the last PotA movie (w/ James Franco) and a pandemic and war that followed, but before humanity is completely enslaved by the damn, dirty apes.

JUPITER ASCENDING; July 25th

A nobody Earthling, played by Mila Kunis, turns out to be the most important woman in the Universe. Naturally, lots of people want her dead.

THE GIVER; August 15th
200px-The_Giver_Cover
Based on the popular YA novel. One person’s utopia is another person’s hell.

RESIDENT EVIL 6; September 12th
Resident_Evil_6_box_artwork
Wow! They’ve made six of these? Way to milk it. Just kidding. I’m sure it will be novel and interesting.

MAZE RUNNER; September 19th
mazerunner
Another YA dystopian adventure. Lord of the Flies meets Hunger Games?

INTERSTELLAR; November 7th

A huge Christopher Nolan film about interstellar travel.

MOCKINGJAY, Pt. I; November 21st
Mockingjay
The first part of the third book in this trilogy, because why make three movies based on three, thin YA novels when you can make four movies based on three, thin YA novels.

HOME; November 26th
200px-The_True_Meaning_of_Smekday_cover
This film is supposedly based on the above book. It’s about an 11 year old who must survive on her own after her mother is abducted by aliens.

Other potential sci-fi releases of unknown date and quality:



THE ZERO THEOREM; no US release date set; the UK release is supposed to be in March

It’s about a man trying to solve a theorem, but with all sorts of craziness in the mix.



MAX STEEL; based on a line of toys (promising.)
SPACE STATION 76; that 70’s sci-fi movie.
GLIMMER; more teen time travel [shudders]

2014 Superhero Movies

Here’s an overview of the upcoming year’s superhero movies.

 



I, FRANKENSTEIN; January 24th

Frankenstein’s monster may not the usual superhero, but it’s based on a graphic novel and the demon-battling premise seems heroic enough.



ROBOCOP; February 12th

This is also one you might not think of this as a superhero movie, I include it because there was a Marvel comic based on the movie and if Iron Man is a superhero…



CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER; April 4th

The second Captain America installment and the third of the five Marvel Phase II films. After taking on some high level conspiracies, Captain America finds himself battling his old sidekick’s villainous alter ego, i.e. The Winter Soldier.



AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2; May 2nd

The sequel finds Spiderman facing Electro and–to a lesser degree–Rhino.



X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST; May 23rd

As the confusing title implies, this is a time travel story in which events in the past must be changed to avert a grim future. Wolverine is sent back to affect this change.



TRANSFORMERS 4: AGE OF EXTINCTION; June 27th
220px-Transformers4_Teaser_Poster
OK, this is more a toy movie than a superhero movie, but cars that turn into robots seem super in my book. That’s not to say there isn’t a better than average chance the movie will stink.



GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY; August 1st
220px-Guardians_of_the_Galaxy_logo
It’s still early. There’s no trailer out as of this posting.



TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES; August 8th
No trailer or images out, and little is known except this is about as ridiculous a premise for a movie as is imaginable.



BIG HERO 6; November 7th
Big_Hero_6_logo
This is an animated Marvel project. A robotics prodigy and his creation team up with amateur crime-fighters to put an end to a nefarious plot.

2014 Martial Arts Movies

[My 2015 Martial Arts Movies post can be visited here.]

Here are some of the known or suspected martial arts movies for the new year.

 

RAZE; January 10, 2014

A film to appeal to guys who make the RAARRW noise when they see two girls get in a fight, but to the extreme.

I, FRANKENSTEIN; January 24, 2014

OK, this is better labeled sci-fi as it’s based on the premise that Shelley’s monster lived into the future. However, I heard that Aaron Eckhart spent six months learning Kali for the film, so I’ll throw it in the pot. (Also, all martial arts films are cross-genre anyway.)

ENEMIES CLOSER; January 24, 2014 (US release)

A Jean-Claude Van Damme film in which two enemies must come together to avoid being killed by a common enemy.

SPECIAL ID; The Chinese release was in 2013, but there may be a US release in March 2014

This is a 2013 Donnie Yen action film that was not released in the US, but may be soon.

JOURNEY TO THE WEST; March 7, 2014

For those who liked Kungfu Hustle (and who didn’t) this one should appeal. It’s a period piece, but with the same kind of humor and visual affects as Kungfu Hustle.

THE RAID 2; March 28, 2014

This is a sequel to the 2011 Indonesian film produced by Gareth Evans.

ICEMAN; April 3, 2014

The latest Donnie Yen film. It’s about an ancient Chinese warrior who is unfrozen and kicks ass in the modern age.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES; August 8, 2014

Another attempt to capitalize on the inexplicable popularity of this cartoon. But I’ll give it a chance.

THE MONKEY KING; September 14, 2014

A new play on the popular Chinese folk tale.

The Most Intense Blockbuster You’ll Never See

REV_Kirkpatrick-designAmong the Kindle Daily Deals yesterday was a book entitled Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad by Melanie Kirkpatrick. It was well-timed to a news story about a Korean War Veteran, Merrill Newman, whose video statement as a prisoner of the DPRK was released the same day. Anyway, I bought the book and I’m hooked. The stories it contains are a mix of chilling and thrilling.

As I began reading, I wondered why no one had made a major Hollywood blockbuster based on an escape from North Korea. It’s a journey fraught with peril. There’s so much to go wrong from being shot in the back crossing the Tumen River to being repatriated to being double-crossed by smugglers to falling into the hands of traffickers or other predators. Adding to the challenge is the fact that most North Koreans are severely undernourished, and each is on his or her own for the first part of the trip–getting across the border. Furthermore, it’s not uncommon for North Koreans to stick out physically because they’re unusually small and, as pointed out by one of Kirkpatrick’s sources, prone to bad hair and split ends.

I know these are words that writers despise but the screenplay practically writes itself.

Then I remembered, oh yeah, this will never be a movie because China’s government would be one of the villains, and Hollywood isn’t in the business of making films that PO the Chinese any more. Why is China the villain? Well, it’s not the main villain. That distinction, of course, goes to the Kim dynasty, presently personified by Kim Jong Un–who has been the biggest bastard yet when it comes to escapees. China’s policy is one of repatriation. It would be kinder for China to just execute the North Koreans themselves. One of the stories early in the book is about an entire family that was to be sent back who–having eaten their first decent meal in a long time–decided to die full and committed suicide while in Chinese custody. Lest one think that this is a Communist thing, Kirkpatrick points to Vietnam as one of the countries that quietly helps North Korean escapees get to safety. Like the democracies that do so, Vietnam keeps this on the down-low to avoid cheesing off the Chinese, but at least they do it.

Why would such a movie be good? Because everybody needs to know what’s going on, and movies are the surest injection point into the public consciousness. There have been books and documentaries about this for years, but I don’t think most people realize how bad it is.

I should point out that there have been films on the subject. The Crossing, made in South Korea, is probably the most well-known feature film on the subject. It’s about a father who crosses the border to get medication for a wife, but ends up stuck on the other side of the border during which time his wife dies and his boy becomes–for all intents and purposes–an orphan. This film is apparently based on a true story.

And there have been a number of documentaries on the subject. The Defector: Escape from North Korea is one of the best.

This is the book trailer for the Kirkpatrick book.

BOOK REVIEW: Rashōmon and Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

Rashomon and Other Stories (Tuttle Classics)Rashomon and Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

Six stories make up this brief collection. All six are intriguing, well-written, and shine a light onto the dark side of mankind. The works of Akutagawa collected herein are all morality tales, but aren’t written in a moralistic tone. In fact, it’s not clear that the author wishes to convey lessons on virtue and vice as he’s intrigued with the instant at which an ordinary person turns bad. That instant, and the inflamed passions that often inspire it, is a prevailing theme throughout most of this small anthology. Akutagawa beats AMC by the better part of a century in showing us how bad breaks.

The first story is entitled In a Grove. This is a murder mystery in which we are given conflicting accounts of a man’s murder through the process of the investigation of the act. The final account that we are offered is that of the victim himself–as presented by a psychic medium. [Only two of these stories contain supernatural elements–this one and the last. Most of the collection involves realist premises. One must remember that Akutagawa was writing in the early part of the 20th century, and scientific rationality hadn’t yet gotten as strong a hold as it does today.] In this case, the use of a psychic is really just a plot device to give the reader insight into a truth which couldn’t otherwise be revealed. Having heard the perspectives of the murder and the dead man’s wife, one is left with questions owing to the self-serving nature of those statements. Of course, the final section reveals a twist–that I won’t spoil.

The second story is the title story, Rashōmon. The title is the name of a gate in Kyōto, the largest gate of Kyōto, in fact. However, Kyōto has fallen on hard times, and our protagonist is a newly masterless samurai who has sought the gate’s shelter from the rain. There, he contemplates whether he should take up a life of crime, which seems to be his only means of survival in the current economy given his skill set. The gate has become a repository for the corpses that are amassing as victims of the hard times accumulate. Within the gate, he finds an old hag who loots bodies for a living. His interaction with the old woman helps him to decide his own destiny.

The third story is called Yam Gruel. While “yam gruel” (or anything with the word gruel in it) might not sound appealing given today’s usage, a fact one must know is that during the time of the story it was a highly-prized and rare dish. The story follows a milquetoast administrator who leads a rather pathetic life in which he has but one ambition, to eat his fill of yam gruel. As a member of the samurai class, he’s invited to an Imperial banquet each year. However, because of his low status and the high-value of yam gruel, he never gets more than a taste. One year he openly bemoans the fact that he never gets his fill. A powerful samurai overhears this complaint, and it puts a seed of mischief in his mind. While this tale isn’t about breaking bad, it is about inflamed passions.

The fourth story sticks out as different from the others. While the bulk of the stories center on that moment at which a more-or-less good person goes bad, The Martyr tells us about a protagonist that never goes bad, despite having every right to. This might seem like a sea change in theme, but in reality it’s just another way of shining a light on the dark seed that resides in people. Only this time it does it by way of contrast. All of the other characters are deeply flawed, and we see that most vividly when contrasted against the one who always behaves virtuously. In this case, that virtuous character is Lorenzo, a novice monk who is accused of a severe breach of good conduct. Lorenzo becomes an outcast and a vagrant due to these allegations. Yet, despite all this, he acts heroically–even to assist those who’ve betrayed him.

In the fifth story we revisit the theme of breaking bad. In Kesa and Morito we are presented with two regret-filled accounts of the instant at which an adulterous couple decides to kill the husband of the woman involved in the affair. Each member of the cheating couple thinks that the other desperately wants the killing to go forward. In reality, both consider it a foolish decision driven by a brief moment of passion. This is another tale about letting one’s passions get out of control.

The final work is a retelling of the story of a monk named Hanazō who decides to prank his fellow monks because they chide him about his huge nose. Hanazō sets up a sign that says a dragon will appear from the local lake at a certain time and day to fly up into the heavens. The joke doesn’t turn out at all as the monk intended. I won’t go into the moral of the story to avoid giving too much away, but suffice it to say there is a moral.

I highly recommend this collection. As I’ve suggested, the collection isn’t just a disparate collection of tales, but has an integrating theme. Akutagawa was truly one of the masters of the short story. He wrote 150 stories before dying at the age of 35 in a suicidal drug overdose.

For those who like to see how literature is portrayed in, below one can watch the film version of Rashōmon.

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DAILY PHOTO: Reservoir Goat

Taken November 2, 2013 at Hampi.

Taken November 2, 2013 at Hampi.

This goat was strutting along in slow motion like he was in the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs.

Have no idea what I’m talking about? See below.