To quote the flier, Hyper Japan was billed as “the UK’s biggest J-Culture event… showcasing everything that’s creative, cute and crazy about Japan today”.
I have been studying karate for some years now which has certainly fuelled my interest into Japan’s fascinating and diverse culture. Events like this give a little flavour of what it’s like to visit Japan and in this case the themes on display were a contrast to Japan’s more traditional offerings.
People arriving at the Hyper Japan 2011 exhibition who hadn’t pre-booked, were being turned away because its popularity went far beyond expectations. Fortunately though, one of our club members without a ticket was able to employ their emerging Jedi mind powers to still get in!
Inside the exhibition, there were lots of shop stalls selling toys, plush character goods, books, DVDs and fashion including the famously frilly Baby, The Stars Shine Bright clothing brand (as featured in cult film Kamikaze Girls, released in Japan as Shimotsuma Monogatari). In fact, there was so much on offer that it was difficult not to get carried away, like I did with the Nano Block stand.
As well as the fun stuff, there was also consideration for the earthquake and tsunami stricken Tohoku region of Japan. There was fundraising, a photo exhibition, written accounts from those who have been directly affected by the disaster and a large white sheet for attendees to draw and write messages of encouragement.
The food court was very popular with its reasonably priced bento, hot noodles, tempura and traditional sweets and cakes – yum! Alongside this was the Eat Japan Sushi Awards 2011 final with tasting session and voting. Yakult were nearby too with lots of free samples (thanks Yakult!).
So what else…? Well, there was a J-Pop dance troupe, an interesting aikido demonstration (interrupted a few times by shenanigans inside the Maid Café), a technology showcase featuring a fully articulated robotic hand, a duet of Tsugaru shamisen and electric violin where the two instruments worked surprisingly well together, drawing a large crowd. The console games area featured Nintendo, Bandai-Namco and Konami offering hands-on demonstrations and product launches.
The last place we visited was the Maid Café. It’s difficult to explain in context outside of Otaku (nerd) culture in Japan (and many people would find it just plain weird). But essentially, on visiting a Maid Café you are welcomed and treated (light-heartedly) as if you were a lord or lady in your own home! Simple food is served quickly and comes with handwritten messages or cute drawings in caramel sauce. For a few extra pounds, your maid or butler will even play a few silly games with you and if you win, you get to have your photo taken with the maid or butler as a prize!
If all this looks interesting, you don’t have to wait until Hyper Japan 2012 because our next outing is coming up very soon.
Authentic karate films are so few and far between that we couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the World Premier of Karate Girl, starring Rina Takeda, showcased as part of the 2011 Terracotta Film Festival. Although this film was released in Japan back in February, the UK audience had to wait for Terracotta to bring it to London. What’s more, Rina was scheduled to be there in person to introduce the screening and for a Q&A session afterwards!
Rina arrived wearing her karate gi and greeted us all with a big “OSS!”. She quickly endeared herself to the audience with a short speech in English where she talked about her dream to try fish and chips and by revealing a royal wedding souvenir t-shirt beneath her dogi! After the film, Miss Takeda took the stage again, having changed into one of her other outfits from the film. “This is typical Japanese High School Uniform!” she announced – before proceeding with a karate demonstration for us. She kicked a pad held high by a tall, nervous-looking member of the Terracotta entourage, followed up by some nunchaku action.
At the Q&A, Sasha managed to grab the mike and pose a couple of questions (one of them being typically off the wall); Q1: How did she find working with Naka, and did she find him as charming off-screen as his character in the movie? Rina’s answer was a bit indirect, but she outlined a memory of Naka sensei having been rather amused at the injuries that the supposed action heroes had picked up during filming! Q2: Among our club students, are two sisters. If they want to be as successful in karate as the two sisters in the film are, what should they do? Rina answered that the most important thing is to keep training! Good advice. When Rina herself had started karate, there were ten others who joined at the same time but she was the only one to have kept it up.
Karate Girl: The Film
The plot revolves around a 200 year old black belt which once belonged to renowned karate master Sujiro Kurenai. Kurenai karate has been passed down through successive generations of their family and the belt stands as shomen at the front of the dojo.
The opening scene is set with Tatsuya Kurenai (Tatsuya Naka) teaching the last of the bloodline: his two young daughters, Ayaka and Natsuki. Enter sinister Tagawa Shu (Horibe Keisuke) and his gang who storm the dojo, steal the coveted black belt and kidnap Natsuki, the youngest daughter, leaving Ayaka and her father for dead.
Forward ten years to the present day: Ayaka (Rina Takeda) survived and has been living with an adoptive family, keeping her true identity and karate secret.
Meanwhile, Tagawa had been using the Kurenai belt as a symbol of strength to empower members of his gang and increase their profile as elite assassins for hire, but he has known for some time that the black belt in his posession is a fake and not the original Kurenai belt. The most feared of the hitman is the imposing Keith (Richard Heselton) who calmly does away with any gang member who fails a mission. Tagawa has also raised Natsuki (Hina Tobimatsu) as an ‘assasin in training’ within the confines of this brutal regime.
Ayaka unwittingly attracts the attention of Tagawa after using her skills to apprehend two thieves at a cinema where she has a part time job. When he finds out that she is still alive, he suspects that she must also have the real Kurenai belt.
Now that he knows where to find her, he will stop at nothing to finally get his hands on the belt and so dispatches Natsuki to finish things off…
About Rina Takeda
Rina Takeda 2nd Dan Shorin Ryu, first came to our attention in the 2009 film High Kick Girl, where she played the part of Kei Tsuchiya, a keen but impetuous student of Yoshiaki Matsumura (Naka Tsuyama). Disliking kata and seeing little point in practising it, she sets out to prove her skills (and gain the attention of her instructor) by challenging the best male students of various karate schools. In Karate Girl, Takeda’s character is more grounded by her father’s tuition, stressing from the outset how karate should be used only for defence of oneself or the protection of others.
Takeda is joined again in Karate Girl by Naka Tatsuya 7th dan JKA who plays her father. He brings with him more of his convincing, realistically choreographed JKA-style action sequences which should satisfy Shotokan fans.
Richard Heselton 4th dan, who also appeared (briefly) in High Kick Girl is another JKA practitioner. Heselton is a big chap who is more than capable of handling the big, burly types. Yet the storyline has him fighting young women who are a fraction of his size. Perhaps on account of this mismatch, Heselton seems to hold back and there are a few occasions where he is motionless for a second too long – and it’s a bit too obvious that he is waiting to be hit. The girls should have enjoyed this opportunity to lay into him a little bit harder. Look out for his ‘surprised’ expression at a key point late in the film – it’s a classic. Furthermore, if you know what’s going on with Horibe Keisuke’s gloved hand, please drop me a line.
Many people will see this film as a follow-up vessel for Takeda and Naka after High Kick Girl, while also introducing new girl Tobimatsu. Both girls bring a great deal of energy to this film, but Rina clearly has the personality edge over the mono-expressive Hina – but that might well be intentional. Her character probably would be a little emotionally maladjusted after having such a disfunctional upbringing.
This really is a cracking, karate action film with slick, realistic fighting. Highly entertaining. More is to come too, with Rina’s next film ‘Kunoichi’ due to be released soon. Rina says that Kunoichi means “Japanese Ninja Action Film!” – a quick bit of googling suggests that specifically, Kunoichi is the term for a female ninja.
After the film we headed off to eat some cheap noodles, tea (etc) and ice cream with a few club members, before heading back to the cinema for a quick photo with Miss Takeda!
Oh, if anybody was wondering whether Rina favours fighting or forms, she was quite clear: “I prefer kumite”.
Those who have seen the original Karate Kid film starring Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso and Noriyuki ‘Pat’ Morita as Mr Miyagi may well have been surprised to find out that it has seemingly been re-written specifically for Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith.
Interesting that the film was produced by Dad Will Smith and Mum Jada Pinkett Smith but let’s not jump to too many conclusions – Jackie Chan is a living martial arts acting legend and Jaden Smith has been credited with convincing acting talent.
The plot seems to be loosly the same: boy moves to different area with his mum, reads karate books, meets a girl from the new neighbourhood, local boys don’t like this and the bullying starts. Enter Mr Miyagi… sorry, Mr Han (Chan), who at first appears to be just a humble janitor but in actual fact is a talented martial artist who takes the boy under his wing and teaches him kung fu (not karate).
With the original film, Miyagi was a physically unassuming old man who liked to keep himself to himself. In the acting world too, Noriyuki was relatively unknown. When I first saw this film some years ago aged (nearly) 15* and Mr Miyagi jumped into the scene to save Daniel from yet another, more serious beating, I was blown away. Who would have thought that the nice old man could fly? Of course, he did have help from his stunt double: Fumio Demura, an authoritative Okinawan Shito Ryu instructor.
So why not call it The Kung Fu Kid?
They’re the same, aren’t they?! Well, yes and no. While karate was developed in Japan, it can trace its early roots back to China. More recently, in the 1930s/40s, Nakayama Masatoshi (Head of the JKA for 30 years until 1987) spent time studying and training there. But those who practise either Karate or Kung Fu will know that there are also fundamental differences.
Financially, it could well make sense to use Chan because he is already an international star and people would go to see the film just because he is in it. Also, with the new film’s production budget purportedly in the region of $40m, this will no doubt dwarf that of the original, low budget film. But have the film backers overlooked the charm of the original? There were lots of important messages in the original and the unknown cast allowed their characters to be built without any preconceptions. In contrast, we all know that Chan is a superb martial artist, while young Smith certainly doesn’t appear to be shy around cameras!
Whatever the verdict, this film will surely help to raise the profile of both Karate and Kung fu, attracting too, those who might not enjoy mainstream physical activities and this can only be a good thing.
The new film is on general release now. The Sony trailer is below, along with a link to the official website:
For fans of the original films, you can find some more information here: