Archive for June, 2008

The Ruckus Dies Down…..sort of

Now that everyone’s weighed in on the TokyoPop Manga Pilot program, I thought I’d express some feelings that I have about it.

Bottom line: It really ain’t that bad.

If you think about who TokyoPop caters to, who their largest demographic is, it’s teens.  It’s kids.  So guess who the contract is for?

Obviously any professional is going to balk at the language that TP’s Manga Pilot contract is written in, at signing away moral rights, etc.  But this isn’t for professionals, this is geared for someone starting out, who has few or no credentials  – or kids, for that matter – but for whom dreams are the stuff of life.  Not paying off a mortgage, struggling to find affordable childcare, and cursing the HMO’s.

I haven’t seen any of the other contracts (i.e. Platinum) but I will say that while TP’s contract isn’t all that great, for the audience it’s targeting (15-20 year olds) there are a few redeeming factors.

First of all, there’s an expiration date.  No one is signing away their rights in perpetuity.  This is a one year contract once everything is greenlighted.  And if it’s not, it’s written into the agreement that TP will get back to the creator within 30 days.  After which, the creator has the right to sic his/her lawyer on TP.  Puts the power back into the creators hands.  After one year, the rights revert to the creator – up to him/her to decide if she wants to continue with TP.  Puts the power back into the creators hands.

Additionally, the pilot program implies that editorial will work on the proposed project, honing it, shaping it, until it’s suitable for release.  This type of massaging is pretty sweet for someone starting out.  It’s guidance and even if it’s not the type of guidance or direction that a creator wants to take, it’s an education in the entertainment business that creators can get a lot out of.

I have seen much much worse than this.

Bottom line: Most contracts are shitty.

The true indication of whether to work with a company is not necessarily what’s written into the contract, but what the company and their legal department are willing to change in the contract.  Most contracts are pisser to read.  But anyone who’s negotiated contracts before should know that contracts are for getting the shitty stuff out of the way – for some companies, they’re for making the most unreasonable requests.  But also, for companies, the contract is laying out on the table, what their dream is: make money hand over fist on a property that they have all rights to.  Minimal effort netting maximum return.  (Think of it as a selfish lover.)

Every creator should know that making their dreams come true is their business and their business alone, and that the companies business is staying in business, preferably with some sort of profit.  The relationship will not always be beneficial to both parties, more commonly, it won’t be fair at all.  But everyone has to decide what they want to sacrifice for their dream.  (Dream, not survival.)

Bottom line: A contract is the beginning of a relationship.

Don’t judge a book by a cover, and don’t judge a company by their contract.  Judge them by how they treat you, whether they’re willing to work with you on an agreement that will make both parties happy, how they react when your lawyer tells them that they’re contract is bullshit.

Lastly, before anything is signed, a contract is in negotiation until someone walks away.  Creators always have that right.  So use it.

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72 hours

In addition to the kickoff of one of the best film festivals New York has to offer, this past weekend was the 72-hour Shoot-Out short movie competition. Similar to the “write a novel in a month” competition, the 72-hour Shoot Out challenges anyone to make a 5 minute movie over the course of three consecutive days.

The theme of this year’s competition was “first goodbyes” and one of the competitors was my son’s father who naturally shaped the short around – our son.

I’m not sure how the final cut looks, but I saw some raw footage, and I was surprised at how good my kiddo looked – even though I dressed him. Hopefully it will fare well against the other submissions.

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Dororo and The Assembly

Dororo is screening downtown at the IFC, as is The Assembly – and Strawberry Shortcakes, all part of the NYAFF.

I’ve seen clips of Dororo on YouTube, and it looks faaaan-tastic.  I’ll wait to give a definite thumbs-up or down until I’ve seen the movie in its entirety.  CGI doesn’t always do well in the hands of Japanese and Chinese directors (read: too much of a good thing) but Shinobi: Heart Under Blade based on the Basilisk manga was phenomenal and that movie relied heavily on CGI effects.

Hopefully we’ll see the same in Dororo.  Dororo is another of Tezuka’s works.  Vertical just came out with it earlier this year and will finish up the release with the third and final volume in August.  It’s cool that they decided to serialize this one and I do like Mendelsohn’s cover designs, but the greedy kid in me wants it all at once ala Ode to Kirihito, MW and Apollo Song.  Actually, Apollo Song was pretty heavy and I could have used that in serial installments.

But Dororo is fun.  It feels a little all over the place in the whole sidekick thing.  The manga is about a young man who is recovering the 48 parts of his body that were stolen from him by demons.  But it’s titled after the bratty street urchin who becomes his sidekick.

Sometimes, when I read Dororo, I feel confused.  But it’s very readable and because of that, it’s enjoyable.  Tezuka really was a craftsman – and I don’t mean that as an insult.  I think being an artisan is at the heart of being an artist.  Not many truly understand how to use the tools of the trade, but Tezuka – this guy can make manga in his sleep.

The other movie I’m going to see is The Assembly which is a Chinese movie, but done in collaboration with a Korean cinematographer – the one who did Korea’s Tae Guk Gi back in 200_I can’t remember, but sometime earlier this decade.  The Assembly is a WWII movie and I’ve never seen a Chinese WWII movie.  Outside of propaganda, I don’t know that they’re a staple in Chinese movies, so I’m excited to see this one.  The enduring suck-it-up Chinese sentiment paired with the visceral eye for suffering.  It’s like human drama on human drama – a human drama sundae.  Hopefully I’ll feel less raped and haunted after watching The Assembly, than I did while watching Dog Bite Dog (a HK+Korea movie).

I don’t know that I’ll really be able to sit through the entire thing.  I tend to cry a lot in the movies, and rather loudly, which can be a real pain for other viewers.  But I’ll try to grieve more quietly today, and bring extra tissues.

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Strawberry Shortcakes

The New York Asian Film festival kicks off this weekend and with a new addition!

Grady Hendrix and his gang were able to include Strawberry Shortcakes in this year’s fest. And even though it’s a 2006 movie, they all agreed that it was an important one that all of us in this fair city deserve to see.

Strawberry Shortcakes is based on Kiriko Nananan’s josei manga by the same name – although the title was changed to Sweet Cream and Red Berries for licensing in the U.S. Apparently that saccharine smelling pink-haired doll in the bonnet and apron has a copyright on the name Strawberry Shortcake. Yawn. (But not really because I’ve always loved Strawberry Shortcake and her stinky gang of smelly gal pals.)

It’s a very simple premise and one that will most likely sound familiar – the lives of four women in the city – Tokyo. But what emerges is completely different. I read the manga long ago, before I started watching Sex and the City reruns, and it wasn’t until Grady mentioned it that I even made the comparison.

It’s not Sex in the City. Or if it is, it’s a slow, somber Sex in the City, without the self-conscious panic and frenetic laughs of the New York version. Strawberry Shortcakes – the movie and manga both – focus more intently on the lives of the women with the theme of “alone” (not loneliness) the thread that pulls the film along. The four women aren’t friends, and in fact, hardly know each other, but their lives do occasionally intersect.

Chihiro is an office lady, fresh faced and ready for marriage. Her roommate, Toko (played by Nananan herself) is a successful commercial artist who illustrates book covers. Akiyo is a prostitute for a call-girl service, Heaven’s Gate, and Suzuki is the daytime receptionist there.

The direction and cinematography of the movie reflect Nananan’s story well. The camera acts as a quiet observer, not voyeur, allowing viewer to watch with curiousity, not expectation. Following the women as they work, drive home on a moped, search for god, a boyfriend, their lives unravel gently, one piece of cloth at a time.

Toko moved in with Chihiro after breaking up with her boyfriend – and deals with the pain of the break-up and the pressures of work by binging and purging. Chihiro, who knows nothing of Toko’s bulimia, is flighty and shallow, a popular girl with many boyfriends who simultaneously admires and resents Toko’s fame and success as an illustrator.

Akiyo works as a prostitute, while pining for a college buddy who seems clueless about her interest in him. On her day off, she leaves her business-suit-over-lingerie work uniform at home and wears a t-shirt and jeans to meet up with him.

Suzuki, meanwhile, looks for love, praying to an iridescent rock that she’s found to help her find a boyfriend. “I don’t mean just anyone.” She tells the rock after her manager smacks her on the ass and asks her out to dinner. “I meant someone special.”

The movie doesn’t follow Nananan’s script exactly but makes changes that strengthen the moving picture version. Suzuki, who in the manga is a weak character, wandering through life and living a quiet day-to-day existence, is much more fleshed out in the movie, and is developed as one of the anchors.

Akiyo, whose character is developed along a more bifurcated existence of call-girl/everyday girl, wears her perversions more outwardly in the movie, sleeping in a coffin, walking through the cemetery on her way home from work. But the approach to the overall narrative is direct so that everything is treated with an even hand. There is no sensationalism or dramatics in Akiyo’s nihilistic approach to life – “Buy a condo, on the 5th floor, then throw myself out the window before I go senile” – just as her job is not sexy, it’s just sex.

Likewise, Suzuki’s after-work life of returning home for a couple of beers by herself is a quiet celebration of living alone, without a boyfriend, despite her strong desire for one, and her past habit of settling for less instead of settling for a life on her own.

The only flaw in the movie is the relationship between Toko and Chihiro whose antagonism towards each other is played down in the movie and will easily be missed with the exception of key moments – when Chihiro rips up one of Toko’s sketches, when Toko buries Chihiro’s hamster and says aloud “Chihiro should clean up her own mess.”

In the manga, Chihiro’s jealousy of Toko and her small manipulations are more prominent. Chihiro returns home from work to tell Toko that her ex-boyfriend has already started dating someone new, or that he’s gotten his new girlfriend pregnant and will be marrying her – all with the intent to see her suffer. “All my entire world amounted to was water cooler gossip.” Chihiro thinks to herself. “When I think about how much I hate my own little world, I hate Toko’s great big world even more.”

This aspect of their relationship, of intense jealousy, of frustration with career and boyfriends, is lacking in the movie, and throws the ending off balance. One of the strongest and most brilliant moments in the movie is how Toko and Chihiro resolve their hatred towards each other, and how their hatred is treated as a relationship that would equal love.  “I really hated you, Chihiro.”  Toko says as they hold hands in a departing train.  “Me, too.” Chihiro smiles, neither of them ready to let go.

On the flipside, Akiyo’s morbid outlook on life is balanced by the end, her question in the opening of the film “Do you think there’s a god?” is thrown on its head, when Akiyo, who’s plans for death are more articulated than her plans for life, finds a reason to live. “I don’t need god.” She says at the end, as she throws Suzuki’s god/rock into the ocean.

I’m not sure how resonant Strawberry Shortcakes will be with American audiences. There’s no glitz, no glamour. It doesn’t act as a two-hour infomercial or advertisement for a lifestyle of shopping and shoes, or even of “having it all.” The charm of Strawberry Shortcakes is it’s simple desires and lack of ambition. Instead of an overbearing “I want” the movie takes a tone of measured steps and small victories. Toko’s ambition isn’t to become a famous illustrator, but for people to value her work the way she does. Her day-to-day is a mix of subduing her inner demons and giving in to them.

Chihiro’s dream is to get married and be a wife, but more immediately, what she wants is for her boyfriend to tell her that they’re breaking up. “You won’t answer my calls, you won’t see me.” She says once she’s cornered him. “I get it…But I want to hear you say it.”

The movie ends on a high note and overall acts as a brilliant accompaniment to the comic. And any fan of Nananan will have the chance of watching her sketch and paint.

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Editors, oh, editors…

Brigid at Mangablog links to Canned Dogs for an interesting collection of complaints from manga creators in Japan about the abusive treatment they get from their editors.

One creator, Raiku Makoto, is even suing his publisher, Shogakukan – for roughly US$ 33k – for losing his artwork.  Apparently, misplacing artwork is common habit for editors (according to the list of complaints) as is feeding creators energy/sports drinks and parsing out their sleep.

I had been asking Ed at MangaCast about the relationship between publishers and creators – whether creator owned content made for a healthier industry – but it looks like it’s all just the business of tears, blood and Pocari sweat.

Only Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma 1/2) gets to do whatever she wants – as long as it’s Inuyasha.

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