HESO Magazine

Photography, Music, Film, Hitchhiking, Craft Beer – Cultural Pugilist

Author: Manny Santiago (Page 22 of 22)

Ed Rodriguez of Deerhoof plays guitar live at The Liquid Room in Tokyo

Deerhoof Tokyo Interview

On paper they read like a relatively run-of-the-mill, up and coming alternative rock band: two guitars, bass, drums, female vocalist all playing their hearts out for an eclectic independent label from backwoods, USA. Yet Deerhoof is not your typical San Francisco band. Nor is KRS (Kill Rock Stars) your typical label. Though somehow the two are a perfect fit, Deerhoof ranking as the all-woman-run, Olympia-based label’s oldest and best-selling act. Originating as a drums and guitar duo in the mid-90s, it has taken over ten years, ten albums and ten (or so) musicians rotating in and out to solidify the current four-member lineup (Drummer Greg Saunier, Satomi Matsuzaki (Vocals/Bass), John Dieterich (guitar) and Ed Rodriguez (guitar)) into the band that Radiohead, for one, likes listening to.

The classically trained Greg Saunier, fresh out of Conservatory, got into the Bay Area music scene with Nitre Pit, a short-lived quartet, where he met bassist Rob Fisk, the other founding member of what would eventually become Deerhoof. Nitre Pit broke up and, suddenly a rhythm-heavy duet, they nonetheless fulfilled their remaining dates, one of which had a young Slim Moon, the founder of Kill Rock Stars, in the audience.

In typical Rock and Roll Dream fashion, they were signed after the show to produce the first of Deerhoof’s numerous recordings. When HESO sat down with the band on their recent mini-Japan tour, Greg had this to say about how many lives has the band been through.”A zillion (laughs). If we count the time some guy came dressed as Milkman (Milkman, Kill Rock Stars 2004) to a show and jumped on stage, that’s its own lineup for one night. Every time we do a record or make up a song it actually does feel like we get a new life, radically changing the way we work.”

It wasn’t until 1996 or so when the band set into place the distinctive skeleton of the modern Deerhoof by adding the diminutive Satomi Mastuzaki, just off the Tokyo boat to San Francisco and looking for adventure. Besides Matsuzaki’s high-pitched voice adding a pleasingly disjunctive aspect to the duet’s oft-improvised artrock, she tempered their tonal testosterone with a demure yet powerful cuteness, not to mention a rhythmic bass once Fisk left in 1999. Thus beginning the band’s love affair with Japan.

Satomi Mastuzaki of Deerhoof plays Live at The Liquid Room in Tokyo

Satomi Mastuzaki of Deerhoof plays Live at The Liquid Room in Tokyo

Deerhoof Tokyo Interview/h2>

HESO: How many times have you toured in Japan? And what are your overall thoughts about touring here?

DH: “6 or 7. Usually more than once per album. Including Fujirock (2007) this is our third tour on this album (Friend Opportunity, Kill Rock Stars 2007). Japan’s music world takes care of a band in quite a different way. There’re more stagehands than people in the band and the room is what would pass for a smallish venue back home, but the PA system and lights, just incredible care. We have a very skewed perspective on it. We get invited and everything’s taken care of. We are the honored guests.”

Deerhoof are notorious for not giving straightforward answers to interviewers, though when HESO met them on a strangely cool June day in Shibuya, they were all ears and mouths, talking incessantly about their new album, Offend Maggie (Kill Rock Stars 2008) and whether creating new material, songs, albums, is a process of touring or more this revolving lineup or both.

“It’s not necessarily to do with touring, since music comes from someplace that’s unpredictable‚ it’s a matter of allowing your music to follow where your imagination is telling you to go and having an idea of what that’ll be tomorrow.” said Greg.

John Dieterich, who entered the band in 1999 and whose savant-esque guitar gave rise to the creation of their next album, Reveille, which caused many seminal bands the likes of Sonic Youth and the aforementioned Radiohead, to take note of, added, “It’s also affected by who you see every night. You have to react. If you feel something, you’re constantly reevaluating how you approach it‚ we’re touring with the Tenniscoats and XIU XIU right now and they’re such different bands. But the most valuable experience as a musician, for me is touring and seeing new and different bands all the time. You get to see different kinds of depth. You’re experiencing it as it happens and it’s penetrating all other aspects of your life, not just playing or recording, but it’s life. It’s human.”

HESO: How do you guys come to an album? Is it a collaboration or does, for example, Satomi always come with lyrics?

Greg: It’s magic if we come up with anything at all. If we finally think it’s good, well, why is that? I don’t know how we stumble upon it. Trying a different process every song‚ I’m always amazed that the well doesn’t run dry. I always think, well, that’s it. That’s probably my last song. I wouldn’t know how to find it if I had to, there are no rules, no system, no precedent to follow. Just guessing and making it up as you go along.

John: It’s an intuitive process. In any given city in the US, there’s no system set up other than family. Theoretically there’re schools indoctrinating everyone, but that’s completely different for everyone.

Greg: In my school 2 + 2 is 4.

HESO: Well, being left-handed we had to write that backwards. I didn’t like that.

Greg: Tom Cruise said that Scientology cured his Dyslexia. (Laughs)

Deerhoof in Tokyo (Manny Santiago)

Deerhoof in Tokyo

HESO: He probably meant that Dyslexia cured his Scientology. Moving on. Ed, what was the process of you entering the band?

Ed: John and I have known each other for about 15 years, been playing music for about that long and we were in a band
together in Minneapolis. The first time I heard Deerhoof was when he sent recordings. I was so happy John was playing, it was so perfect. That was 1999.

HESO: Do you walk into the studio with a time limit, say two weeks, to get it all done?

John: Instead of going for a long stretch of time, we went in one day in March, and our original idea was to record the whole album and we were sure it would be so easy. We ended up getting four (tracks), one of which we canned. We ended up going back in a month later and recorded and went through the rest of everything.

Ed: The thinking is that we should really do everything ourselves. Greg & John have such a developed sense of mastering sound and working with recordings that as a band we try not going outside of it as much as possible. It seems incredibly foreign, the idea of putting that much care into writing material and recording and then hand it to someone else, wait a while and get it back. If you can dedicate yourself to all aspects then.

John: It’s pretty amazing the things you can do.

Deerhoof’s latest album, Offend Maggie, comes out in October and they already have January dates in Japan to support it. Why not support them?

Check out the Interview with Deerhoof and a review of their latest album La Isla Bonita.

Deerhoof Live In Tokyo

Deerhoof Live In Tokyo – Photos of the Indie band Deerhoof live at The Liquid Room in Ebisu, Tokyo

This Is Cornelius – Interview with Oyamada Keigo


Cornelius is not a man. Nor, for that matter, is he an ape (though the name comes from Planet of the Apes). Cornelius is a musical group founded by Oyamada Keigo (小山田圭吾) in the early 90s after his Shibuya-kei duo with Ozawa Kenji, Flipper’s Guitar, split up. Suddenly a solo act, Oyamada spent the next five or so years crafting his persona and honing his production skills, a sabbatical ultimately culminating in what made it all worth the wait—the music.

1997 saw Cornelius break into various European and American indie scenes with the infectious Fantasma (Matador Records, 1997), a melodic blending of traditional and esoteric poprock elements alongside sounds of nature wrapped candylike around backdrops of digital wash. I remember driving down Venice Boulevard toward the beach when my friend first put it in the CD player, mentioning something about “addictive…” In the strange part of my mind which catalogues beauty, I’m still on Venice Blvd, heading toward the beach, listening to “Chapter 8: Seashore and Horizon.” I’ve never turned back.

Recently HESO Magazine sat down with Oyamada at his Nakameguro studio. Between sips of Oolong tea, cigarettes and stealing glances at his massive cd collection, we chatted about his defunct label Trattoria, his plans after Sensuous, and the supporting Sensuous Synchronized Tour (the final Japan performance of which HESO attended at the Grand Cube Concert Hall in Osaka), back in Japan after finishing up some dates in Europe. When asked about his success abroad, he laughed and demurred, talking about other bands. But in the end, he added, “on this past tour, quite a few people came out to see me in the US and I even played at Disney Concert Hall. I’ve been doing this now for ten years, and finally I get to play live in a hall—I thought that was pretty good.”

What he sensuously synchronized in front of that audience was an audio-visual extravaganza. A veritable smörgåsbord for the senses. Imagine two hours of expertly crafted electro-rock music synched to an ever-changing reel of nebulous videos featuring miniature landscapes a la Hieronymus Bosch, walking fingers, children and animals, and a million other things you will have to buy the DVD to catch.


Cornelius Live at Grand Cube in Osaka

Cornelius Live at Grand Cube in Osaka

This Is Cornelius – Interview with Oyamada Keigo

HESO: I’m guessing you’ve probably been on tours all over, but which has been the most interesting place so far?

Keigo Oyamada: Anyplace I’ve never been before is interesting.

HESO: I think most bands tour in the US and Europe, but Björk for example goes to places like China and Indonesia. Have you ever been to any places like that?

O: Haven’t been to China yet. I’m going to Korea for the first time next week. That’s about it in Asia.

HESO: What about South America?

O: Never been to South America, either, though I’d like to go. I’ve been invited to Brazil, but it’s half a world away. Taking all my equipment there would incur enormous expenses, so it’s near impossible to do.

HESO: The last date of your Sensuous Synchronized Show was in Osaka I think…

O: Actually, we have a few more dates in Korea, but yeah, the last in Japan.

HESO: What are you thinking about doing after the tour? Collaborating with some other artists or making a new album?

O: I haven’t made any decisions yet. Well, maybe a few small things. I’m making a jingle for Tokyo FM.

HESO: Do you have any plans to exhibit your videos at any galleries or art institutions?

O: I made a DVD with images from my live performances using 5.1-channel sound. It’s already out in Japan, and will probably be out in the US in the summer. It’s coming out from Everloving, my label. That, and a tour DVD called Point from about five years ago. I’ll be showing those two at places like museums.

Flippers Guitar - On Pleasure Bent

Flippers Guitar – On Pleasure Bent

HESO: Are you doing all that by yourself? Or are you collaborating with anyone?

O: I have a film director for the video, Tsujikawa Koichiro. We’ve been working together for a long time. He made nearly seven or eight tracks. There’s also a film director in Kyoto—Groovisions. And then the Kyoto artist Takagi Masakatsu, who made one track.

HESO: Speaking of collaborations, you recently put out an EP titled Gum.

O: That was only in the U.S.

HESO: That’s right. And wasn’t Sakamoto Ryuichi on that third track?

O: Sakamoto did the chorus for me on that one. Hosono Haruomi is another of the members of YMO. It’s something Sakamoto and I did for a tribute album for the leader of YMO.

HESO: You were on tour with Hosono, weren’t you?

O: Yeah, as a guitarist.

HESO: If you could work with any artist you like, who would it be?

O: A band? Someone recent?… (He thinks for a while) He’s not very recent, but Takemitsu Toru—you hear a lot of him on film soundtracks. He’s from the 1950s or 60s. I listen to a lot of people who do contemporary Japanese music or film music.

HESO: Really? Recently, I’ve found the There Will Be Blood soundtrack by Johnny Greenwood to be pretty good.

O: Oh, I listen to a lot of Radiohead myself—In Rainbows for one.

HESO: If you could have dinner with any three people, alive or dead, who would it be?

O: Hmmm… dinner? Alive or dead?… People I would want to eat with?… My own family (laughter).

HESO: What first got you interested in music?

tenorionO: When I was about 7 or 8, we did taiko (Japanese drums) at school. In class, we would all dance, but the sound of those drums probably made me want to make my own music.

HESO: When did you first start thinking about becoming a musician?

O: Becoming a musician… I did music because I liked it, but I never really thought I could be a professional so I never really thought about becoming one. But then someone from a record company heard our band and asked us to put out a record. It was completely by accident.

HESO: It seems like your music draws influence from all over. You can hear natural sounds and Zen-like sounds like wind chimes. There’s a lot of East and West. With each album, do you think about which direction you are going to take it? Or do you simply listen to all kinds of sounds and go from there?

O: I love all kinds of music and am influenced by all kinds of music as well. I think most of those sounds just naturally come out. It’s not as if I like rock or only listen to classical—I have a great love for all kinds of music. My father is a musician, and I used to look through his record collection. It’s all because my father’s got some great records.

HESO: You mix sound and visuals and even produce it yourself—the DJ mixing, too.

O: It’s multi-media, isn’t it? I don’t do the DJ mixing, but I do kind of act like a VJ for the live shows.

HESO: I recently heard one of your old Breeze Block mixes on BBC’s Radio One…

O: Ah… I do radio programs. NHK, too. Now that you mention it, I was a DJ on NHK. I don’t DJ at clubs.

HESO: A friend asked me recently to sum your music up in a word and I couldn’t. What kind of music would you say do? How do you define your music?

O: Mmmmm, that’s a tough one. I don’t really know what to say, but basically it’s just Rock.

HESO: On stage, you play guitar, have keyboards and a Theremin, use a Tenorion with a projection behind you. How is it different from your process of making an album in the studio?

O: In the studio, I am playing most of the instruments myself. Live, I’m playing together with other musicians. I guess I’m basically interpreting the album.

HESO: It’s pretty common in the US, for example, to feature someone on your album, but do you ever play with anyone in the studio?

O: I work alone, but on Sensuous, I worked with the Kings of Convenience. They sang a track for me. Their acoustic guitar duet is kind of like Simon and Garfunkel. Other than that, I don’t really work with anyone else on albums. I do, however, work on quite a bit of collaborations and mixes with overseas artists.

HESO: How did you wind up with Kings of Convenience?

Oyamada Takes Photos of the crowd post show Osaka

Oyamada Takes Photos of the crowd post show Osaka

O: They just came to Japan for a tour and we happened to know each other—I had met them in England before. Hell, they were in Japan so I figured we should just do something.

HESO: It’s pretty damn good. I thought the synchronization between the sound and visuals was particularly strong. How did you start out with that?

O: I’ve been synching sound and visuals for about ten years now, since about the time I put out the album Fantasma. I gradually developed from there, and with the current title Sensuous Synchronized Show, I had the concept of synching everything—the visuals, the sound, the lights—and I’ve been doing it this way for about two years now.

HESO: Who made the videos in your show?

O: My friend Tsujikawa, whom I mentioned earlier, made about ten of them. After that, there are several other directors I’ve made some videos with since long ago. I guess I work with several people, but Tsujikawa is the main guy, and he makes most of them.

HESO: Where most other Japanese artists haven’t had similar success outside of Japan, why do you suppose you’ve had such international success? Some of the few Japanese artists with any popularity in America are Pizzicato Five and Cibo Matto.

O: What about The Boredoms?

HESO: Yeah, I guess them, too. And Ozawa Seiji.

O: (laughter) Before I was Cornelius, I was in a band called Flipper’s Guitar. It was in Japan, when I was about 20. There were only two members, but one of those members was Ozawa’s nephew!

HESO: Was it one of the so-called Shibuya-kei bands?

O: It was before Shibuya-kei. It was a little before that word “Shibuya-kei” came out. After we broke up we were labeled Shibuya-kei.

HESO: To finish up, what do you like to eat?

O: (laughter) What do I like to eat? I like rice.

Cornelius – Live in Osaka

Pizza oscura

Pizza Crazy – Hand Tossed Homemade Pizza Pies

I rarely make pizza these days, what with all the beautiful fish in my life, and one needs the proper atmosphere. A well-lit kitchen full of people and wine and loose flour floating through the air to give the scene the quality of a movie flashback. It needs to be kneaded, watched, risen, kneaded again, prepped, refrigerated, taken out, and prepped again. All of which makes the pie taste better, with someone handing you a glass off wine or a good Belgian Tripel, rather than you standing alone eating the pie over your sad ghetto oven until it’s gone. With the proper atmosphere, the pies are never gone.

The reason the pizza I make is so time-consuming (but not a chore) is due to the fact that it’s all handmade. Well, ok, within reason. I don’t harvest and mill the grains with which I make my own dough, nor do I grow the tomatoes I make the sauce with (but I do grow the basil and other herbs) neither, alas, do I culture my own Buffalo Mozzarella, but damn, we all gotta set boundaries somewhere. I mean I got time since breaking up with my girlfriend, lots of it, but we’re talking, “How ’bout I roast the Jalapeños!” kinda time and not, “Betta’ git to threshin’ the wheat ‘afore the Snows done set in, Pa!” kinda time. Ok, I’ll admit to charging up my extra virgin olive oil with roasted garlic, rosemary and chilis, but dammit! ain’t be like I sit around waiting for my corn to age so I can pestle and mortar it into fine yellow meal so my dough doesn’t stick to the foil I use to keep it separated from the fish-juice magma that makes up the juicy black bubbly bottom of my crappy oven (May the Lord God Bless its Little Oven Heart!). Yep.

Pizza Crazy – Hand Tossed Homemade Pizza Pies

So there I was, Friday night, nothing to do, no one to play with, all by my lonesome self. I decided it was high time to get back into white wine, specifically a beautifully demi-sec Rioja from Valencia, chilled to an icy perfection and decanted one glass at a time, into my nice, big hand-sized ceramic mug (I completely prefer ceramic to glass when it comes to vino). Plus, knocking a few back while cooking is what cooking’s all about, that and good speakers pumping something nice and funky to get your hips moving in time with that swishing knife flying through veggies, the wooden spoon stirring your bubbling sauce and, lest we forget, whatever already finished bottle of red you have to substitute for a rolling pin, because, well, they just work better than your hands on that badass dough you just hand made. I said Ye-ah!!

Homemade Pizza - The Before Picture

Homemade Pizza – The Before Picture

Living in Japan is occasionally inconvenient, often a pain in the ass, and most of the time just incomprehensible – where things like cooking in ovens is concerned. The Japanese don’t really consider dishwashers, dryers, insulation and whatnot to be household fixtures, so why should an oven be any different? The fact that “Obun” usually refers to a Microwave which happens to have an “oven” function (I don’t trust it) and “sutobu” (stove) refers to a kerosene floor heater may paint you a general picture of the frustration I would likely face when wanting to bake anything, let alone the magnificence that is my homemade pizza. Luckily I am ghetto. Growing up poor allowed me inroads into substituting my creativity where technology was missing. In short, it made me come up with inventive ways of engineering broken down old gadgets, knicknacs and junk into something useful, and more than that – something I needed at the time.

Enter me into Japan: 1st World Country on the outside (in Tokyo), 3rd World Country on the inside (everywhere else). Excuse my ethnocentrism here, but I grew up relatively poor, but we’re talking American poor here which by African standards just doesn’t even equate. I mean I had a floor and water and no diseases, so here’s me thanking the arbitrary luck of being born in Southern California. Regardless, enter me into the world of small town Japan, my 60-year-old concrete teachers’ apartment building, my showerless/hot waterless bathroom, and (not even close to) finally, my cooking apparatus-less (except for a toaster) kitchen. Ya-ay! Welcome our Country Beauty of Nippon important Ambassador Foreign of the Teaching of English! Here is traditional wheat chaff pillow for comfort head, don’t mind!

Yeah, after 2 years of trying to get under the skin of the Japanese lifestyle in the solitude of Nagano, I’ve learned a few tricks: 1) Every 6 months (in most prefectures) there is a “big trash” day where the government will pick up anything. Of course, in keeping with the Post WWII mentality of “We are rich, so forgive and accept us world!” the Japanese apparently have little or no trouble throwing away objects of considerable valuable. It is not unusual to find year-old snowboards and skis, last year’s TVs, DVDs and VCRs, newish furniture, pornographic paraphernalia, and much to my culinary pleasure a veritable cornucopia of appliances, all tossed uselessly away as soon as this year’s model comes out. A complete turn around from the efficiently frugal image Japan once truly portrayed to the world, though interesting -and profitable – to live in the midst of.

As honor and shame are strongly rooted in the fabric of Japan, one could easily see how dishonorable and embarrassing it would be to get caught skulking about at night with the neighbor’s grocery cart, let alone even consider the idea in and of itself. I know. Because it was during the first night of one of these sorai-gomi (which really is the best time to cash in on the choicest items) that I “found” an oven and various other useful contraptions (a microscope, a french press, a kerosene heater, some porn…). While dragging these things home I got “caught” by a neighbor who shaded her young child’s eyes from watching the pale skinned barbarian “stealing” the trash. Truthfully the figure I cut must have scared the crap out of her: 6 foot plus paleface clad all in black laughing ominously to no one in particular whilst hauling a pretty beat up old oven back to mine. I’m pretty sure I pranced or possibly even skipped at one point.

Homemade Pizza - The After Picture

Homemade Pizza – The After Picture

Ok, back to the point. I got an oven! While not some Amana 2010 version of Hal the wonder-baking machine (“Open the Oven Door, Hal.” “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Manny…you did get me off the street, you do realize that, don’t you Manny.”), the 40CM Hitachi TO-A12E “Famiry Oven”, despite its pull-out tray floor covered in flash heated fish bits congealed with god knows what kind of sauces, gets the job done. Thankfully, since taking a chisel and the torch I generally reserve for flambe-ing sushi to it, I’ve gotten the oyster stink out and all my pies and cakes emerge smelling as they should.

Alright, all this is just the wine talking, so let’s get to the recipe, already. First the dough:

Dissolve 1 Packet of Yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp) with

1 tbsp Sugar in

1 1/4 cup (250ml) Water (110°F/43°C) until bubbly (10 minutes or so)

While the yeast is frothing, put 4 cups flour (2/3 bread or all-purpose to 1/3 wheat) in a mixing bowl and add

1 tsp salt plus whatever herbs you dig

Rosemary, dill, basil, coriander are all great

Mix wet with dry, kneading into a roundish shape for 5 minutes, then let rise for 5-10 minutes while you contemplate which bottle of wine to open next. Punch down dough, knead for another 5 minutes, and finally place in an oiled bowl covered by a dishcloth and let rise in a warm place for at least an hour (1-2 is optimal).

While the dough is doing its thing, get your sauce ready. There are a million different sauces one can make, so I won’t deign to suggest what is best for you, but suffice it to say, I dig tomatoes and you should too. Fresh ripe tomatoes will make anything better, even breakups, especially breast-shaped tomatoes with nice, firm points…mmmm. I digress. I score my tomatoes before immersing them in boiling water for 20 seconds, then slip them into a nice cold ice bath to get their skins to peel right off. After which I dice them up and throw them into a saute pan with a bit of already sizzling olive oil (you’ve had onions and garlic browning for 5 minutes or so on a low-medium flame, of course), salt and pepper. After reducing for 10-15 minutes add the juice of half a lemon, a spoonful of the homemade pesto you’ve just thawed out and some of your garden’s better medium heat chilis, finely diced. Let simmer for 5-10 more over a low flame.

For toppings, I generally endorse and and all vegetables, especially artichoke hearts, jalapeños, red onions, tomatoes and or tomatillos, zucchini, eggplant, roasted garlic, ad infinitum. As for cheeses I dig chevre, feta or anything from a sheep/goat, fresh mozzarella, parmigiano-reggiano, asiago, gouda, or as a general rule, anything from Europe, even a funky finger-stinky picante gorgonzola would yield a great pie. The key, for me at least, is not piling it on (especially if you are planning on using a strong French or Italian cheese) so much so that it overpowers the other toppings, the sauce and the herbs.

The dough ball could be cut into 2-3 pizzas depending on your girth, so do what feels natural. Spread the crust thin, and remember that perfectly round is not always pretty, so get Mickey Mouse if you want to and have another glass of that good Malaga red. Throw on plenty of sauce and layer your toppings accordingly. Throw into your ghetto oven at 350°F (I go to 250°C due to my element disfunction) for 10-20 minutes. Don’t forget to leave some for the morning. There’s nothing like cold pizza for breakfast.

Japan - Country of Beauty

Japan – Country of Beauty

Japan - Country of Beauty
The title of this article is stolen from a concurrently running Exhibition of ancient Japanese masterpieces depicting the Land of the Rising Sun in an infallible way and, what’s more, via these centuries old scrolls, kimono and woodblocks, implies that Japan is still this same country of beauty. Long having rested on their laurels stemming from remnants of a once-great culture, the time is ripe for a true exposition of what works of art this country truly offers. Don’t get me wrong: I like Japan. Mostly. Sumo is good. Hanabi is good. Mt. Fuji is good. What I don’t like is the trash that comes as a result of vast numbers of people partaking in these events. Gomi. ゴミ。Trash. The by-product of human consumption. The leftovers of human creation. And more often than not the subconscious impetus behind creation as well. Oft times we unconsciously endeavor to create merely to have something remaining, something leftover, though for what? In the name of commerce? These leftovers which fill a niche we will never fully consume nor comprehend, yet which were dredged from the giving earth regardless, are caught up in our own egotistical march-to-death-obsession: bake, process and bury, repeat.

This useless, shiny dross which will only see the likes of the trashheap, possibly processed into a landfill mass only serving to bankrupt the next megatroplis more (like the Osaka International Airport, Kobe’s Rokko and Tokyo’s Odaiba islands have so efficiently done), merely perpetuates the cycle of waste.

Yes, Tokyo, Osaka, and Kobe, as well as 45 of the 47 prefectures in Japan, are bankrupt, relying upon never-ending federal subsidies to continue feeding the monster: pre-existing construction plans for bigger, better, and yes, trashier community centers, national landmarks and, of course, more pachinko parlors – all in the middle of nowhere – have to be carried out. Japan is a 土建国家 (doken kokka), that is to say a “construction state”, which since the plentiful 60’s, has dedicated itself and its loyal citizens to the addiction of consumerism and all its side-effects. Here’s to national goals attained. Now what’s next?

The aftermath of the economic “glory days” are what the following generations have to deal with, for good or ill. The slag from a frighteningly powerful postwar economy, largely built on faith and approaching carrying capacity (which on an island of 12% total arability is not much) is mounting. The damage done during the renaissance 60’s, the free and easy 70’s and the gluttonous 80’s is hardly reversible, but who could know that at the time, right? We’re not mind-readers, I mean, who would know that roughly 50% of the population is allergic to Japanese cedar 杉 (sugi) causing one of the worst hay fever seasons worldwide? Or that the pine/maple/bamboo clear-cutting, cedar-planting industry has been in the red since its implementation in the 60’s? All for what, わりばし (chopsticks)? Hindsight being 20/20, one might think 3 decades of denial would be sufficient to stem the tide of an obviously bad idea, but admissions of error come hard here, so we prattle along, hoping, praying really, it all doesn’t collapse beneath us.

Japan – Country of Beauty

Collapse from beneath may not be the biggest worry. Take the Wajiro tidal-flat in Hakata Bay, a wetland of internationally recognized importance. Located at a fork in major bird thoroughfare the shallows are considered an essential nursery for fish, shell beds and are critical to the process of natural purification of the Bay’s waters. The construction of an artificial island (and implementation of Tetrapods along 60% of Fukuoka’s coastline) in 1995 increased pollution in the bay and proliferated sea laver, which unnaturally covered the Wajiro tidal-flat. The numbers of waterfowl and benthos immediately decreased and dead shellfish rose dramatically, due to red tides and asphyxiation from decomposed laver and dredging from the construction site. All this is obvious to anyone with a basic knowledge of science, or common sense and yet the monitoring committee claims the construction site has had no impact whatsoever on the environment. There is currently no system of reviewing public works here, so construction companies (The numbers in 2000 were roughly 12% of the nation being employed in construction: 15 million people in a country roughly the size of Britain) getting fat upon heavy government subsidies don’t fear any sort of reprisal, and in fact, are guaranteed continued subsidies due to the deeply corrupt system of bid-rigging employed by the Ministry of Construction.

The keyword is corruption: The un-elected Zaibatsu, 15-20 of the richest corporate men behind the LDP in Japan, not-so-gently coerce decisions in the Diet “the way they should be”, by shelling money out for projects which will generally show no return, save to keep the wheels greased. The way ex-police officers receive large commissions as relatively useless figureheads in the Pachinko Industry after retirement, thus guaranteeing the Yakuza safety and enabling the monopoly of the illegal gambling industry to thrive. The extortion racket here is the largest in the world, with yakuza practicing そかいや (sokaiya), the method of legally purchasing corporate shares, attending meetings and making an ass out of yourself until the shareholders agree to pay you an outrageous sum of money. The connections are endless:

Zaibatsu, the Diet, Ministry of Construction, Yakuza, Pachinko, Uyoku, Burakumin, organ-legging, human-trafficking, soaplands, Kogyaru, snack bars, yatai, Salarymen, shareholders, you and me.

In other, less overtly legal-loophole, ways, governmental policies strengthen the economy by encouraging consumption. Japanese manufacturers of TV sets do not store parts of older models, forcing consumers to buy newer ones instead of having the old set repaired. Packaging habits are worse, but spread the wealth around more. Cookies are packed individually in cellophane, then put in a plastic box, put into a cardboard decorated box, wrapped once or twice, and then put in a carrier bag. More packaging = more trash = more industry = more spending. Containers and packages account for 60% of garbage volume. The lack of trashcans in public areas implies citizens are supposed to carry home any refuse they may generate in the city though this, of course, does not happen. So, in order to facilitate “proper” disposal and recycling of waste, Tokyo’s garbage laws require the segregation of garbage into eight categories, each into its own color-coordinated flammable bag (often from Indonesia-providing a huge profit to the importers). Rigid restrictions for a government with such liberal leanings regarding industrial waste.

Heavily dependent on industry, economic growth has always been of greater concern than environmental preservation. The number of pollution-related problems caused by industries have been increasing dangerously since the 50’s. Widespread air pollution was caused by the overuse of coal, while the furious output of the textile, paper and pulp industries contributed to horrendous water pollution. In the period of rapid growth directly following WWII the following isolated cases coalesced into a national crisis, making Japan one of the most polluted countries in the world. These instances are literally too numerous to list, but here are a few: Tokyo alone generates 10% of the 50 million tons of garbage produced in Japan (excluding the 367 million tons of industrial waste produced in 1996). Tokyo’s biggest trash dump (a floating island created in 1972) is full up.

  • The mercury-dumping Chisso Corporation of Kumamoto’s Minamata Bay infamy spawning its own disease.
  • Nippon Steel’s dredging of 350,000 cubic meters of contaminated silt in Dokai Bay (Kitakyushu) where propellers of ships using the bay didn’t rust away, they melted.
  • The leaking of rainwater into nuclear waste storage pits in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture which the Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp. (PNC) knew about. All the fish were contaminated with organic tin, BHC and DDT.
  • High levels of cancer-causing dioxin in the blood of Ibaraki Prefecture residents living near a garbage incineration plant.
  • In Suginami, a Tokyo suburb housing a plastic-waste compacting plant, officials discovered more than 90 toxic substances around the site, including dioxin.
  • Hinodecho, a suburban Tokyo village turned dump had garbage trucks bringing 1.2 million tons of garbage and industrial waste every day. The cancer rate jumped 400%.


While there are no future plans to stop most waste stations due to cost management, there are plans to support some Asian nations financially in order to build incinerators allowing Japan to export more garbage to places like Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. One such incinerator built by NKK is capable of dealing with 140 tons/day, though according to the Thai government, the incinerator generates about 70 tons of its own refuse a day.

Beyond 1,000,000 chopsticks and 80,000,000 newspapers a day, dioxin in the groundwater, BSE in Hokkaido, landfill islands, tetrapods, 2500 Dams and counting, concreted riverbeds, above-ground telephone lines, gas at $4.18 a gallon and the other multifarious bureaucratic disasters facing this country, what of the probably bigger problem, that of the ever-burgeoning societal refuse? The impalpable flotsam and jetsam of the biggest per-capita consumer society, the same one which once gave the world the four tenets of Shinto: Tradition and the family, Love of nature, Physical cleanliness and Matsuri, わびさび (wabisabi), the Zen aesthetic of earthy imperfection and 武士道 (bushido), the samurai code of chivalry, and now gives us the likes of ブッカケ (bukkake), the ubiquitous chikan, and what Ryu Murakami (Coin Locker Babies, Almost Transparent Blue) calls in a recent essay, the ひききのもり (hikikinomori). These “socially withdrawn people find it extremely painful to communicate with the outside world, and thus they turn to the tools that bring virtual reality into their closed rooms. Japan, on the other hand, must face reality itself. The country has to accept that World War II ended long ago-and so did the glory days of national restoration and economic growth.”

The current power base of Japan seems oblivious to the obvious state of things, that or the odd individual, always unpopular here, remains unwilling to take a very lonely stand. What it comes down to is a question of an economic mentality. The post WWII Japanese had it, because they had nothing, forced to scratch out livings on handfuls of maggoty rice, chaff and their wits, while the わがもの (wagamono) don’t have it. The majority of Japan’s youth, long engendered on a slothful consumerism, have renounced hard work for fashion, or rather the fad of now, the future be damned, choosing part-time jobs over fulltime obeisance. The education system, high schools especially, is finding it hard to keep apace with the frothing tide of apathetic teens, still employing 19th century Russian methods of uniformity while implementing codes echoing US zero-tolerance policy in vain hopes of stemming the coming tsunami of “socially withdrawn” individuals, among which number the yakuza-in-training ぼそ族 (bosozoku), the superfluous ヤンキイ (yanki) as well as other minor チンピラ (chinpira), who proliferate modern-day youth culture.

Again, don’t get me wrong, something, some kind of wa, makes me dig this country, despite its problems, be it the reverence of a still, though waning, extant Bushido culture, the easy-going affability of modern day monks or damn it, just the hot girls, but what remains is the ineffable something which makes me want to point out, Japan’s shortcomings rather than her strong points, to fight for the future, which may seem ominous, though the one thing which this nation has going for it is an abnormally strong sense of perseverance. This atypical island culture’s ability to continue on in the diffusing light of complete destruction continues to amaze and flabbergast many across the globe. While sickening in its own way, there is a strange attraction to the slick neon sex glow with its rivers of rice wine and tenuously twitching raw fish floating toward the asbestos-rich sunset. No matter the rubbish piles heaping on the periphery, nor the stench of the once freely flowing river, at the crossroads of slothful self-destruction there will always be a stool at the local ramen stand, a clearing amidst the clearly mounting rubble, where you can sit, slurp your pig bone broth down, toss your disposables and head off to the soapland for a little R&R. See you there.

Interview With Don Hertzfeldt

Interview With Don Hertzfeldt

As the following will show, and after repeated attempts at contacting Mr. Hertzfeldt himself, I had to “make up” the following interview, though, that notwithstanding, that doesn’t mean Don didn’t say these things. Hey, me no plagiarizer. Thanks to Rob, for pointing me in the right way. I’ve included the intro questions, which, though now scrapped, still make me chuckle. The “actual” interview, such that it is, follows that.

Don, Let’s pretend like we’re sitting across from one another at a nice dark dive bar in the Valley, sipping, chatting, chuckling like men with beards and pipes and corduroy coats with patches. Let’s pretend that these words won’t be seen by millions of fans hungry for gossip and innuendo about The World’s Most Famous Unknown Interviewer and his next Everest to topple: you, Don Hertzfeldt, ok?

Interview With Don Hertzfeldt

Me: So, I hate interview-related questions, but I have to ask, How is the Animation Show’s 2nd season looking so far? And can you give a bit of background about how T.A.S. came about?


Me: Alright, alright, don’t throw your apple martini at me yet, we have a ways to go. Garçon, 2 double Doer’s, Heineken backs. OK, how about this: being as busy as you are touring with the Animation Show around most of North America, how do you find time to animate & shoot your stuff? You do it all by hand, right? I mean, there’s no all-most-naked-teen-girls Bitter Films staff in Indonesia cranking out Rejected Again as we speak, right?


Me: I see, so massages are like animation after all. Hmmm…I have met quite a Bitter Films fanbase here in Japan, people who ask questions like, “If Don could have anyone cook him anything, anywhere, what would it be, with whom and where?”


Me: 3’s a Crowd, Mister. What about, what animal represents you and why? Or better yet, what animal would you be if you could, mythical or otherwise?


Me: Favorite Comic? Favorite Comic gone Big Screen?


Me: Sexiest female cartoon character? Do you get aroused by saucer-eyed buxom manga ladies?


Me: Word on the street is that you are into plants. Does that include cacti or are succulents too “dry” for Santa Barbara’s “wet” climate? Also, best plant story.


Me: Ever wrote a song, entered a slam poetry contest, played beach volleyball, urinated in public, held an odd animal in an odd way?


Me: Any cd,movie, book, comic, cuisine, country recommendations?


Me: Any words to live by, famous last words, hidden mantras, the secret of Tom Cruise’s success?


Me: For the record, who wins a fight between ninjas and samurai?


Me: Well, thanks Mister. I hope the tour goes well and I can’t wait for The Animation Show Vol. II to come out on DVD so we can see it over here in the biggest Animation market in the world. Good luck with your plants.

The Meaning of Life © Don Hertzfeldt

The Meaning of Life © Don Hertzfeldt


Academy Award © nominated director Don Hertzfeldt’s animated short films have collected over one hundred awards and an international cult following. His films have been featured at the Cannes Film Festival, Sundance, MTV, IFC, Bravo, Comedy Central, and in over a thousand theatrical venues around the world.
-From bitterfilms.com

Don’s my friend. No really. We’re such good friends, he doesn’t even feel the need to take my calls or emails. He’s just busy. Right? So, in the name of friendship, I, Manny Santiago, undertake the task of speaking on behalf of the busiest animator this side of the pacific. (Sorry Mr. Miyazaki, Howl was great but, you’re old news).

Heso: Don, You’re currently busy as all heck with getting Vol. II of The Animation Show out on DVD by late summer, I know. So what, if anything, are you working on, after 4 years of intense work on The Meaning of Life?

Don: I did a bad comic strip a few years ago called Temporary Anesthetics, one good thing came out of it though and that was a character named Bill…and the new film is Bill’s film. He has quickly become my favorite character to write for, meanwhile…we will very very soon begin work on Bitter Films: Vol. 1: the dvd.

H: Rock on. I remember various conversations we’ve had and somehow they’ve always managed to meander back to music, specifically, REM. Does music of any kind figure in the mental process of starting a new project?

D: Central concept comes first… and lately music sometimes has been coming first. Then scribbles and storyboards and the outlines of a structure but, when you work largely solo there is very little info that you have to share with others, as in having to write a traditional script… ..so most of it is in my head or scattered around the floor on post-it-notes

H: Like the women in my life. So, you’ve been quoted as saying, “This may be the best short I ever make.” Where did the idea come from? Also, you using any computers these days to animate any of the especially painstaking scenes in MOL?

D: I’m not sure where the film came from..but, a central scene was something I’ve wanted to animate for maybe 10 years and never had a place for it (also I didn’t think it would be possible to do without computers), though eventually discovered I could do it without computers, albeit it would take 4 years…and quite a few brain cells. It was a very rough time…but I don’t think any of the new film’s space shots would look nearly as good as if they were done in a computer, granted it took me 10x as long to create them on film traditionally (with pinhole lights and diffusion and stuff), but there’s something about real light hitting a real camera lens that I’ve never seen a computer able to simulate. I think we’ll have a disclaimer at the end of the film, “no computers were used in the photography or animation of this motion picture.”

H: OK, what about Mike? Is he still involved creatively? Financially? Or is Rob (the extremely able-bodied plethora of voices in many of Don’s films) funding everything with armies of Chinese Triads & Yakuza extortionists?

D: Of course Mike is still involved! It’s his money we are spending… and he programmed everything with me again: the entire show – and I’m not exaggerating – is all thanks to Mike’s enduring faith and support. He stopped in to say hello in LA and Seattle and Vancouver… but lately he has been very busy with his new feature film, coming out in August.

H: So before we go, what distracts you the most working in “the industry”?

D: I am frequently distracted by invisible bats and miniature toads.

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