Monday, March 28, 2005

Cherry Blossom Festival

Hanami, or Flower Viewing, takes place in late March and early April. During this time the cherry trees in Japan go into full bloom, and the air is thick with pink petals as gentle spring breezes rustle the trees. Traditionally hanami was practiced by court elites and samurai, who would gather beneath the blossoming branches to drink sake, eat special foods, and write poetry praising the delicate flowers. Samurai warriors were especially taken by the flowers as symbols of life’s fleeting beauty. Today the tradition of flower viewing parties continues in modern Japan, with crowds of people congregating in parks to hold banquets under the beautiful flowering trees. Here in Southern California, hanami will be celebrated at the 4th Annual Pasadena Cherry Blossom Festival. The event offers dance, music, art exhibits, fashion shows, martial arts and sumo demonstrations, food, a parade, traditional crafts, and fun for the whole family. It all takes place at Pasadena’s famous Rose Bowl on April 2nd & 3rd. For more information, visit

Memoirs of a Geisha: Controversies

Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado, 1939
The summer that I spent in Japan, five years ago, was an invaluable experience, no detail of which I will ever forget. However, despite my wonderful host parents, teachers, and students, there were those moments when I was, briefly, put on the spot as an American…. when talking about Hiroshima, taking showers in the morning, and of course, Hollywood. I cannot count how many times I was asked, not in a hostile way, but in a curious and serious way, “Why do Americans think we all look alike?” “Why don’t you know the names of any Japanese actors?” “Don’t you know that the woman who plays Miss Saigon is Filipina?” etc, etc.

And so, it is with these voices in my mind that I have to approach the upcoming Memoirs of a Geisha film, slated for a December release. In a recent LA Times article, the director of the film, Rob Marshall, defended his casting of Chinese and other non-Japanese actors in critical roles, a position which has caused a flurry of letters to the editor, and online debates. With the film in post production and its release a long ways off, expect many more posts and articles on the subject on the Black Moon as the months go by. For now, however, I’ll weigh in on the casting controversy, to which even producer Steven Spielberg felt it necessary to respond.

After 150 years, it would really be nice if Americans finally got a realistic portrayal of Japan. Not a dubbed and edited cartoon, not a racist rip-off of a game show, not a legacy of war and imperialism, not yet another story about Japan told through Western eyes. Hollywood does indeed have a horrible legacy when it comes to relations with Japan, from wartime propaganda films, to generations of white actors with taped eyes, and more recently, modern “Japanexploitation” films where violence, sex, and more violence is the name of the game. We’re talking about a Hollywood that just a few years ago, made a piece of jingoistic bilge like Pearl Harbor, and then turned around and marketed an edited version back to the Japanese as a love story.

So yes, I would love to see an accurate, authentic film about 1930s Japan, maybe even one about geisha. I’d like to see it in Japanese with English subtitles, and I’d like to see it accurately reflect Japanese culture, aesthetics, history, values, and then some. I know it can be done, if people will it to be so…. see how anime in the West, in just a few years, has gone from cult-following to Academy Award-winning status. Even recent Japanese horror movie remakes, like The Grudge and The Ring 2, used the original Japanese directors. But can we expect such an ideal film as I described, from writers like Arthur Golden, and filmmakers Rob Marshall and Steven Spielberg? When we already know that Spielberg rejected the advice of Akira Kurosawa, to produce the film in Japanese with subtitles? Alas, dear readers, I suspect Hollywood has taken the wrong path, yet again. (posted by J.)

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Steamboy Anime in US Theaters

If you haven’t been living under a rock, then you’ve most likely heard of Akira, the mind-bending science fiction classic from manga artist turned anime director, Katsuhiro Otomo. First released in 1988, the Akira film immediately set new standards for animation with its amazingly detailed backgrounds and fierce action sequences of futuristic motorcycle gangs at war with themselves and the rest of society. Now Otomo is back with a vengeance with his latest release… Steamboy. The story is set in an alternative timeline, where Victorian England benefits from all sorts of newfangled technologies. Lead character, Ra Stim (Ray Steam), obtains a strange device brimming with enough energy to power an entire country. The central concern of the plot has to do with the mishandling and exploitation of science, but audiences will immediately be stunned by the opalescent and brilliant animation… a mix of traditional cel and computer generated imagery. It took ten years and $22 million dollars to make Steamboy, making it the most largest-scale Japanese animated film to date. You can see trailers and film clips of the movie at MovieWeb, including an interview with Katsuhiro Otomo on the animation process and an interview with Patrick Stewart on “the human element in Japanese animation.” (Stewart is the voice actor for a character in the dubbed western version). The anime is now playing in movie houses across the US, and in Los Angeles, people can see it at the Nuart Theater in Santa Monica. (posted by M.)

Sumo Tournament in Osaka

Asashoryu throws his opponant, Kaio, to the ground, winning the bout.
The spring Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka Japan, has concluded with Asashoryu winning the coveted Emperor’s Cup, becoming Yokozuna or Grand Champion. On Saturday the Mongolian born Asashoryu conquered his opponent, Champion Kaio, in a teeth-clenching bout that was clinched when Asashoryu tossed his adversary from the ring using a classic arm throw. The match at the Osaka Municipal Gymnasium was attended by a crowd of thousands, which included visiting French President Jacques Chirac (a big fan of sumo). Sumo is an age old form of wrestling that originated as a ritual performance to Shinto gods. While it has become the national sport of Japan, it still carries with it many of the ceremonies associated with its past.

The rules of sumo are amazingly simple. During a basho, (a sumo tournament), wrestlers or rikishi (literally “strong men”), attempt to push, fling, or slap an opponent outside of the dohyo (the small ring within which the bout takes place). The rikishi who first leaves the ring or in any way touches the floor of the dohyo with anything but the soles of his feet… loses. The fights usually last only a few seconds but the pageant and tradition of it all is gripping. Once a wrestler reaches the rank of yokozuna, he cannot lose the title, however, as soon as his performance starts to weaken he is expected to retire. The most lasting image of sumo in the west is the physical appearance of rikishi, enormous men who train extensively and eat tremendous amounts of special foods in order to increase their body weight to unbelievable proportions. Sumo is gaining increasing international popularity, with sumo federations engaging in tournaments all around the world. Here in Los Angeles we have the California Sumo Association (CSA), which just completed its 5th Annual US Sumo Open at the Los Angeles Convention Center. CSA not only offers training and education to sumo athletes, but also promotes the sport through demonstrations and events while also supporting international efforts to make sumo an Olympic sport (posted by M.)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Artists for Tsunami Relief

Since the Black Moon is based in Los Angeles, its staff is warmly familiar with the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC) and its George J. Doizaki Gallery. The JACCC was founded in 1971 as an organization dedicated to presenting, building, and preserving Japanese and Japanese American arts and culture, and since its opening in 1980 the Doizaki Gallery has hosted important exhibits too numerous to list. We've written about these esteemed institutions before, and no doubt we'll be writing about them in the future. The complex has been at the heart and soul of the downtown Los Angeles Japanese American community for decades now. On April 2nd, 2005, the Doizaki Gallery will host, Waves of Grace: Artists for Tsunami Relief Art Auction. The one day exhibit features original artworks by over 50 artists, whose works will be sold in a silent auction, the proceeds of which will go to humanitarian relief for the victims of the recent tsunami. A wide array of art will be on view and available for purchase, from Japanese calligraphy and woodblock prints to modern abstract paintings. Join with other art lovers for a worthy cause. The silent auction begins at 6:30 pm, and the live auction at 8:00 pm. This free event takes place at the Doizaki Gallery, 244 S. San Pedro Street, Downtown Los Angeles, in Little Tokyo (click here for directions). Saturday, April 2nd, 2005, 6:30 to 9 pm. For more info, call (310) 748-1953.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Los Angeles - Vintage Kimono Sale

A few years ago, we discovered an outfit called Texuba which holds semi-annual kimono sales, in several major US cities. In order to do this, they spend most of the year prowling all over Japan, from coast to coast, finding thousands of amazing kimono, obi, yukata, and textiles. Their sales are lavish and frenzied affairs, where designers, artists, and textile fans of all stripes can find beautiful works of wearable art, sometimes as low as $15, or exquisite embroidered wedding kimono starting at $300. Imagine dozens of shoppers with carts full of kimono, trying on multiple garments at a time, in textile heaven!

The next Texuba spectacular will be held for one day only, on Sunday April 3, from 10 to 5 pm at the Holiday Inn, Gateway Ballroom, 19800 S. Vermont Ave, Torrance, CA 90502. Serious shoppers are advised to come early, and be ready to be amazed at the beautiful assortment of handmade, authentic Japanese textiles for sale. Newcomers will also be surprised, that the kimono can be found in a wide variety of sizes, for children, women, and men. Although sadly, Texuba only has these galas in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, they are a must for serious kimono collectors, interior designers, anime cosplay fans… or anyone looking to add some authentic Japanese flare to their home décor. For those who enjoy sewing and home decorating, the variety of beautiful kimono remnants can be used to make clothing, pillows, wall hangings, or countless other lovely items for the home. For more information, please visit their website at (posted by J.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Sushi and Anime

Here in Los Angeles, there’s a local English language newspaper which caters to the Japanese-American community, which runs as its subhead, “Because there’s more to Japanese culture than sushi and anime.” Well dear readers, we here at the Black Moon are here to take a different stance. While we are the first to admit that yes, there is more to Japanese culture than these two facets… these two are important facets, and furthermore, they are the two facets that Westerners are the most familiar with. I can guarantee you, that in the past 10 years, that more young folks around the world have become interested in Japan because of the big-eyed characters of anime, than because of the classic woodblock prints of Hiroshige (and if you don’t believe me, I have a Polish anime magazine I can show you, which has several articles on Japanese food, culture, and language.)

On the Black Moon, therefore, you can expect a little bit of everything. We understand that there is tremendous interaction between Japan and the west, interaction that has been going on for hundreds of years, so we won’t be afraid to ponder, pontificate, question, support or malign, all the many issues that have and will come up from this continual exchange. As our blog sits on the Western side of the Pacific rim, we will also focus on issues in American popular culture, what’s going on in the Asian-American community…. But always with an eye for history, art, culture, and mutual understanding. So while I work on my grand opus, to prove how Sailor Moon was inspired by the psychedelic British film Wonderwall…. enjoy our occasional musings, attend some great events, and always, be ready to learn something new. (posted by J.)

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Black Moon Blog

The Black Moon Neko Welcomes You!
The Black Moon web log originates from the city of Los Angeles, California and promotes the understanding and appreciation of traditional Japanese culture, art, and animation. The Black Moon is based on a core philosophy, that actively seeking cultural exchange is the best way to tear down the walls of ignorance. We launched the Black Moon website as an anime fan-site back in 1997, and since that time have expanded it into the vast resource it is today. Our web log launched on March 5th, 2005. Our desire is to continually explore the many issues that the international English speaking audience might find enlightening, and to showcase Japanese-American culture both here in Los Angeles and across the United States... and most importantly... do it all with a flair for beauty and love of art.