Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Bronchial issues aside, I had a terrific weekend. On Saturday we dropped Go off with Mako's parents (with their blessing!) so the two of us could just spend the day together. Mako was nervous that something would go wrong and that they would never agree to watch him again but I can't imagine why. If anything, Mako's mom is better at getting the baby to fall asleep than either of us!
The first errand of the day turned out to be buying my birthday present. I have been without a wristwatch for the better part of three years now, perhaps longer. I guess when my last watch disappeared/died/whatever, I figured there was no rush to replace it because I already carry around a device that keeps time: it's called a mobile phone. Why bother strapping a completely redundant device to my wrist for a singular purpose?
What I've come to realize during that time is that using a phone as your primary timepiece is a major pain in the ass. First of all, it's always going to be in a pocket somewhere, which means to check the time I have to pull it out. This can not be done in a subtle fashion and we all know there are a variety of social situations where noticeably looking at a clock is a faux pas. Standing in front of a room full of children is certainly one of those situations, and while they are not offended per se it is impossible to look without creating a major distraction.
So after a few months of contemplating a watch, my wife listened to my murmurings and decided it would make a good birthday present. She also wisely realized that picking a watch without my input would be foolish, so we chose one together in Yodobashi Camera. It's probably the most expensive watch I've ever owned, but that's not saying much because I have always favored low-end digital watches. In my mind, wristwatches are like sunglasses: they are entirely too fragile to bother spending a lot of money on. But not this watch! It's a G-Shock with a stainless steel band, black with bronze "highlights" if you will. It feels heavy and looks good.
After buying the watch we went upstairs to Yodobashi The Dining (I love that name for a floor of restaurants) and had a terrific Chinese buffet lunch. It cost too much money, I suppose, but it tasted great and it was a special occasion of sorts. Here's a brief glimpse of our food and my watch as seen on Twitpic:
The main event of the day, by far, was our trip to the movies to see Inglorious Basterds which only just opened in Japan. Given Tarantino's fame here and their absolute adoration for all things Brad Pitt, I'm really surprised it took so long to show up in theaters. Then again, compared to most of the movies I wanted to watch in 2009, it arrived relatively quickly. A three month wait to see Inglorious Basterds is nothing compared to, well, FOREVER for the various indie movies I've been reading about all year. If I'm lucky, District 9 might show up on DVD sometime next winter...and that's a big if.
This sounds like griping but there is a point: in a movie-starved year for me, Inglorious Basterds was the best movie I've seen in a long time. I was a little uneasy about the premise, if only because I feel like I've seen enough World War II movies to last me until World War III, but Quentin Tarantino somehow made a war movie without much of a war in it. Even though nearly all the characters are soldiers, there are no scenes of combat and only a few minutes of gunfire ("few" being relative to the film's substantial length). Nearly all of that action takes place in the finale which is all the more powerful given the scarcity of violence leading up to it.
This is not to say the movie isn't tense; I would argue it's his most riveting film to date. The opening scene felt like it was an hour long but I say that because I was going out of my mind waiting for the hammer to drop. It's ostensibly a conversation between a high-ranking German and a French dairy farmer, full of conversational pleasantries (i.e. "Would you mind if I smoked my pipe?") yet I was on the edge of my seat. I don't know how he does it, but QT's dialogue continues to impress me with each and every picture he makes.
There's also the little things, small moments and quick shots that have no apparent meaning to me but I delighted in each one: Brad Pitt's character has a giant scar on his neck that is never explained. Julie Dreyfus' ridiculously gaudy wardrobe, particularly that leopard-like hat. Landa forgetting about the cream for the strudel, then insisting on waiting for it to arrive, followed by close-ups of it being served. Zoller's increasingly ostentatious uniform. The SS officer drinking beer out of a glass boot. The dwarf painting Hitler's portrait. Hitler's fucking CAPE.
The only thing that really confused me about the movie was its title. Not the misspelling of "bastards" but the decision to name the film after such minor characters. The team is introduced early in the film but few of them have any lines and none of them are on screen for very long. I suppose a few of them are integral to the finale but without giving anything away, there's a larger story at work which they are completely independent of. They are largely forgettable as characters with the exception of Donny and perhaps Hugo.
The real star of the film, both from a character and acting point of view, is Colonel Landa (Christoph Waltz). He's mesmerizing and I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've ever used that word (I had no idea how to spell it). From his conversation with the dairy farmer to his strudel moment to his extended laughter in the theater lobby to his last moment on screen, I could not take my eyes off of him. Here's a guy who has never been in a Hollywood movie before, playing a goddamn Nazi, and yet he's so charming he's almost sympathetic. He owns every scene that he's in, easily outshining Brad Pitt for sure. I hope when the time comes he is lauded like no other actor has been lauded before.
So yeah, I love the movie. Loved it. I spent the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday just thinking about how much I loved it. I didn't have much else to do at the time, which helped.
On Monday I made a hell of a long trek down to southern Osaka (yes, past KIX) for a gaming party thrown by fellow JET Graham. With the baby around and my relative isolation from other JETs, I suppose it was also the closest thing I'd have to a birthday party this year, so I was pretty excited about it. I was among the first people to arrive although my unfashionable earliness was intentional. Since it was so far away I knew I'd be leaving pretty early, so I wanted to get in as much gaming/socializing as I could before making the trek back home.
Graham's setup was really impressive. There was a big screen TV with a PS3 and all variants of plastic instruments hooked up in the main room of the party, which obviously spent most of the afternoon engaging in one kind of music game or another. However there was also a Wii and an Xbox in additional rooms, plus a computer with all sorts of emulators and two gamepads. Truly, there was something for everyone.
The first game I played was one I was kind of excited about, New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Graham and I played through the entire first world together, taking advantage of the game's simultaneous co-op mode. It's funny how easy it was to accept a two-player Mario game even though it's a completely new experience in the twenty-five year history of the franchise. Sure, we got in each other's way a few times and maybe he grabbed a mushroom that totally should have been mine, but for the most part we were working together in delightful ways. Your characters have a lot of interactivity potential, from bouncing on one another to outright picking up another player and throwing him.
My biggest complaint was, sadly, my predominant one with Wii games: controls. The Wiimote does not feel comfortable when held sideways. It might resemble a classic controller in that position but it certainly doesn't feel like one. Also, the inclusion of motion controls (shaking, twisting, etc) is downright obnoxious. I understand the fun of pretending to swing a baseball bat or a golf club, Nintendo, but don't force me to jerk my hands around just to spin jump. Considering how often the simplicity of Wii controls is touted, this strikes me as a grievous miscalculation. Still, if I can convince Mako to try it I will absolutely buy this game for our home.
Next up was an "oldie" (from five months ago) that I had been very curious about, Prototype. You might remember it hit shelves around the same time as inFAMOUS did with a very similar premise: ordinary dude gets extraordinary powers in an open-world city environment. While inFAMOUS had a demo (which I absolutely detested) Prototype did not and I didn't really hear enough glowing praise to make me take a chance on it. I was also in the middle of BioShock at the time and, let's face it, that's a hard game to put down.
I'm happy to report that Prototype is a lot of fun. It opens in medias res with your character Alex rampaging in Times Square. There are soldiers, tanks, helicopters and mutant things all around you and none of them are friendly. There are also hundreds of civilians, taxi cabs and other elements that are neutral towards you but you are free to dispatch them if you feel like it. Indeed, a well-aimed automobile is the easiest way to take down a gunship.
The carnage abruptly ends and you return to the start of the story with Alex waking up in a morgue. While many of the outrageous powers you just used are no longer available, Alex is still perfectly capable of leaping tall obstacles and running up the sides of buildings. The game gives you a few quick objectives (elude the military, find Alex's sister) but it quickly opens up and lets you do whatever the hell you want. I spent a good half-hour or so running around (and up) Manhattan fooling around with Alex's super powers. There is a Grand Theft Auto-esque warning system where you can attract the authorities' attention by acting suspiciously, but it's refreshingly lax. It wasn't until I started smashing police cars together that anyone seemed to take notice and even then a few minutes of not acting like a monster was enough to make everyone calm down. Compare that to GTA IV where I swear a single bump of a patrol car can force you into a high-speed chase.
I suppose the big moment of the day was when I caved to peer pressure and picked up a fake guitar to play Beatles Rock Band. I am absolutely terrible at rhythm games and would have been much more comfortable grabbing a microphone instead, but my throat was pretty raw from coughing all day so I was in no condition to sing. At the very least, I can handle the bass on the Easy setting as there's only three buttons to worry about. I had fun despite my gross incompetence, especially as the game allows for up to six players (three on instruments, three on vocals) and we had more than enough willing participants for that.
The overall party experience was most pleasant. I am, as always, a poor mingler but I had a few nice conversations about games while indulging in junk food and many glasses of Coca-Cola. I honestly came home feeling like a kid because that about summarizes most of the parties I attended in my youth. The only thing missing was the pizza and the chance of a sleepover.
So to sum it all up, I ate delicious Chinese food and saw the best movie of 2009 on Saturday, lounged around the apartment on Sunday, then gorged myself on games and snacks on Monday. Pretty great weekend if I say so myself. And hey, I just realized that I'm flying home in a month!
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