Review: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore Hoshino and the Cats

It’s been over five years that I’ve last read Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. I remember then tagging it as coming-of-age – about teenagers who’re lost, confused, angry and irrational.  Most of the time, these characters rely on their guts. They always believe the world is out to get them. More often than not, they meet characters who’ll help them shape who they’re going to be at the end of the story. Whether it will be for their better or worse, it’s up to them and the readers to decide.

Kafka on the Shore: The Second Time is the Charm

Kafka on the Shore -- The Boy Named Crow

This story is exciting, kind of like an adventure to the unknown. Both are true in varying degrees for Kafka and Nakata – the lead characters.

It’s a journey that starts from being lost, to finding a safe place and losing it again. The important thing is to keep going until your role is fulfilled.

Rereading the story reminded me of details that I’ve forgotten, meanings I’ve missed and lessons that are very nice to reflect on once again. I used to favor Kafka a lot before, but I’m torn between Oshima and Hoshino right now. These are two peripheral characters who’s influence and help are vital to the lead characters. I also like the contrast between Oshima’s self-acquired knowledge and Hoshino’s willful ignorance.  

I didn’t change my mind about this being a coming-of-age story though. But I deeply appreciate Nakata’s role on how the story unfolds. His charm and mystery made the diluted world in the story bearable.

Much importantly, the story’s underlying themes of emptiness, separation, and memories give a good kind of hurt that will make you want to revisit it time and again.

Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami is one of most brilliant contemporary writers that we have. Or I don’t know, some identify his works as post-modern. I love his fantastic style, but more importantly, I admire him for how he weaves his themes – powerful, seamless and the uncanny ability to catch you off guard. Like details on a cloth that you’ll only see upon closer inspection or when light hits it at a different angle.

Murakami’s imagined worlds are wonderful to visit sometimes, but a place where you don’t want to stay for long, because more often than not, they’re depressing and confusing.

What makes his stories unique is their knack in blending fantasy and pragmatism, the way he balances the make-believe and real-life worlds. The way he creates a character that speaks to cats but also cooks like any other person puts a vivid contrast in the imagination. I wouldn’t say he’s as great as Tolkien in terms of world-building skills, but I’ll take Murakami’s colors and nuances anytime.

I definitely agree with the author when he says that this story can have different meanings as there are different types of readers out there. Kafka on the Shore is not like some statement novel that opens your eyes to a radical idea, not something that will rally a group of people because they agree on the one, same thing even without further consultation. It has an inward take, a subjective take, a defining characteristic of Japanese literature like In a Grove, where truth or meaning is relevant.

I highly recommend that you read this wonderful story. It’s like an introduction to Murakami’s works. Check out Kafka on the Shore in Amazon.

Just Released

Or if you’ve been a long time fan, Murakami just released another book, Killing Commendatore. Quite sensational from what I’ve heard because of indecency. Oh well, I don’t know how indecent it is. Murakami seems to live for the details. It’s the same relish that he shows when writing about food or sex – basic, primal, and at times, mechanical.

As always, thanks for dropping by!


Featured Photo by Hannah Troupe

Inset by Saúl Venegas

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Ukiyo-e and Woodblock Printing: Japanese Magnificent Works of Art

Woodblock printing is one of the oldest publishing techniques. It came to Japan in the 8th century, used primarily in producing existing Buddhist texts and books of Chinese origins. But it’s not until the Late Edo period (17th to 19th century) that woodblock printing achieved the height of its potential as an art technique through the original works of Japanese artists called ukiyo-e.

UKIYO-E PRODUCTION

It used to be that ukiyo-e is produced through a complex collaboration between the publisher, artist, engraver and printer. So it’s the norm for artists to work in a studio during those days. But as time progressed, there are those who chose to create their work from start to finish. This video is an interview with Takuji Hamanaka, showing the traditional technique for woodblock printing:

 

UKIYO-E: THEMES AND CHARACTERISTICS

Ukiyo-e literally means ‘pictures of the floating world’. Originally, ukiyo was a Buddhist term to express the impermanence of human life. However during the Edo period, it became synonymous to hedonistic pleasures of people who embraced them all the more for their ever changing nature. Also, people at this time enjoyed peace. People were able to read and enjoy leisure time. Ukiyo-e became the most sought-after art form among the commoners and became the most affordable, fastest medium of spreading fashion trends and information.

Ukiyo-e focused on the ordinary things in life. Images usually depict colored narratives and include animals, birds, landscapes and people from lower classes, like courtesans, sumo wrestlers or Kabuki actors. Generally, the artists use exaggerated foreshortening, asymmetry of design, imaginative cropping of figures and areas of flat (unshaded) color. 

What follows are some works found at Ukiyo-e.org .It’s a database of over 200,000 prints, grouped according to artists and the time period they were made. It compiled works from the Early Mid-1700’s to the present time.

UKIYO-E ARTISTS

KITAGAWA UTAMARO (1753- 1806)

He is best known for his idealized portrayal of women in his works. It’s said that no one before him has ever captured a woman’s beauty as deeply as he did. According to Dieter Wanczura, he had experimented with some new techniques to display the flesh tones of his woman portraits in a different and softer manner.

Woodblock Printing and Ukiyo-e themindcatalog.com
Hitomoto of the Monji-ro, 1799
Vertical ôban; 38.4 x 25.1 cm (15 1/8 x 9 7/8 in.)
Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper
Source: Museum of Fine Arts Boston

 

Woodblock Printing and Ukiyo-e themindcatalog.com
Travellers on the Road at Miho no Matsubara, 1787-88
Vertical ôban diptych; 38 x 51 cm (14 15/16 x 20 1/16 in.)
Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper
Source: Museum of Fine Arts Boston

 

Woodblock Printing and Ukiyo-e themindcatalog.com
The Full Moon at the Time of the Imo Harvest, 8th month of 1789
9 1/4 x 14 3/4 in. (23.5 x 37.5 cm)
Polychrome woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

KITAO MASAYOSHI (1764 – 1824)

Ukiyo-e and Woodblock Pringing themindcatalog.com
The Sixth Month (Rokugatsu), from the series Women’s Customs: Flower Viewing Parties, 1790
Vertical chûban; 25.7 x 19 cm (10 1/8 x 7 1/2 in.)
Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper
Source: Museum of Fine Arts Boston

 

No.4, Pulling Rice Seedlings from the Seedling Bed from the Series Women Farming
Vertical chûban; 22.4 x 16 cm (8 13/16 x 6 5/16 in.)
Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper
Source: Museum of Fine Arts Boston

UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797 – 1858)

He’s dubbed as “the artist of rain, snow and mist”. His most popular series is the Fifty Three Stations of the Tokaido, which catapulted him to contemporary success.

Birds and Irises in Rain
Originally in Edo period. This one was recarved edition made in c.1930s.
Source: Ukiyo-e.org and Artelino Japanese Prints

 

Nihonbashi: Daimyo Procession Setting Out, Fifty Three Stations of the Tokaido Road, also known as the First Tokaido or Great Tokaido, 1833 – 34
Horizontal ôban; 22.9 x 35.3 cm (9 x 13 7/8 in.)
Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper
Source: Museum of Fine Arts Boston

 

Boshu Yasuda no Kaigan/ Fuji Sanjurokkei, 1858
Rural landscape. Fuji from Yasuda Beach in Awa province
Woodblock print; Nishiki-e on paper
Source: British Museum

 

Hakone; Kosui ca 1833 -34
Source: Ukiyo-e.org and Japanese website
KEISAI EISEN (1790 – 1848)

He’s notable for his works that feature bijin (beautiful women).

Woman Opening an Umbrella, Edo Period
Vertical ôban, upright diptych; 71.4 x 23.8 cm (28 1/8 x 9 3/8 in.)
Woodblock print (nishiki-e)
Ink and color on paper
Source: Museum of Fine Arts Boston

 

Autumn Moon At Mount Atago, from the series of Eight Views of Edo, 1843 – 47
Horizontal ôban; 24 x 35.9 cm (9 7/16 x 14 1/8 in.)
Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper
Source: Museum of Fine Arts Boston

 

Toda River Crossing, 1835 – 1838
Horizontal ôban; 23.6 x 36.3 cm (9 5/16 x 14 5/16 in.)
Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper
Source: Museum of Fine Arts Boston

KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI (1760 – 1849)

He’s the greatest master of Japanese landscape woodblock prints. His best work is the series, 36 Views of Mount Fuji.

Self Portrait as a Fisherman, 1835
21.3 x 18.43 cm
Color woodblock print with metallic pigments
Source: Art Institute of Chicago

Among his works, this my favorite. There is that serene contentment on the face of the subject though we know there is much to be desired from being a lowly fisherman. And this mood seemed to be reinforced by the gentle flow of the water in the background.

Fuji from Kanaya on the Tokaido, 1830 – 1832
25 x 37.1 cm (image); 26.3 x 38 cm (sheet)
Color Woodcut Reproduction
Source: Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco

 

Umezawa Manor in Sagami Province 1830 – 31
Horizontal ôban; 25.2 x 37.7 cm (9 15/16 x 14 13/16 in.)
Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper
Source: Museum of Fine Arts Boston

 

Kajikazawa in Kai Province (Kôshû Kajikazawa), 1830 – 31
Horizontal ôban; 26 x 38.5 cm (10 1/4 x 15 3/16 in.)
Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper
Source: Museum of Fine Arts Boston

And of course, his work that made him immortal:

Under the Wave Off Kanagawa, 1830 – 32
Color woodblock print; oban
25.4 x 37.6 cm (10 x 14 3/4 in.)
Source: Art Institute of Chicago

WORKS OF CONTEMPORARY UKIYO-E ARTISTS

Here we can see how the technology has progressed and how Western artistic styles influenced the modern woodblock prints.

Yoshimoto Masao
Fuji From Lake Ashi, c 1952
Woodblock
Source: Japanese Artist Open Database
Morozumi Osamu b. 1948
Rice Field in Hakuba Village – Japan, 1995
Source: Ukiyo-e.org and Artelino

 

Paul Binnie
A Great Mirror of the Actors of the Heisei Period: Bando Tamasaburo as the Heron Maiden
oban tate-e 16 7/8 by 12 1/4 in., 43 by 31 cm
Source: Scholten

 

Two Cats
Inagaki Tomoo (1902 – 1980)
6” x 4”, Woodblock
Source: Japan Art Online Database

 

Crouching Woman, 20th Century
44.5 x 35.7 cm, Color Woodcut
Source: Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco

I hope you find this collection interesting. Complement this article with Japanese byobu art we featured previously. May this deepen your appreciation of Asian art.

As always, thanks so much for dropping by!


Please see credits for featured image on the body of the article.

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All the Bright Places: Thoughts and Reviews

All the Bright Places

It’s been awhile since I picked up a young adult work of fiction. I was expecting Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places to move along the same cheesy story lines. The ones that follows the plot of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, but boy still wins girl at the end.

But no.

It seems nobody wins at the end of this story. And sadly, it may be happening to someone you know right now.

I never expected the book to be about suicide – a topic that has become so prevalent this past years.

Growing up, I know the issue is real. As real as bullying or domestic violence or cancer. I think every one of us has some level of experience with the topics I mentioned. It may only be the names, places or situations that may be different.

The book is a bit too cruel. Imagine having to deal with deaths that took place within roughly a year of each other? How can you even begin to find the sense in learning to lean onto someone and then having that someone taken away forever?

But as painful as the story is, it also teaches you to hope, to reach out and to move on.

All the Bright Places to Hope For

Going someplace new and different doesn’t just change what’s outside. More importantly, it moves something within us. It allows our minds to open up to new perspectives, to increase our appreciation of what we have and long for the possibilities in the future. It develops our depth as a person and the relationship we have with the person whom we experience them with.

Just like how Violet’s and Finch’s project of wandering over Indiana allowed them to explore themselves, too.

All the Bright Places to Reach Out To

As with Dr. Seuss’ poems, we can’t always expect to win every time. There would be moments when we’ll fall and fail. When this happens, it’s so easy to fall in the trap of negative thinking, to feel like you’re lost and worthless. What the book never failed to show is that there are always, always people and groups who are ready to help you out. It may not be something you will immediately like. But know and remember that you’re not alone.

Sometimes, it can be disappointing that the people you expect help from are the same people turning you away. They may be in denial (like Finch’s family) or they may just be ignorant (like Roamer and his friends). But knowing this doesn’t make the pain any less or the confusion any clearer. I think the key is to never stop trying to reach out to anyone who you think may help you. There would always be other friends, other responsible adults, experts and organizations who’d be willing to hear you out.

There are several organizations that Niven listed in her book. Locally, here are some useful links and hotlines you may check out: Manila Lifeline Center  and  HOPELINE.

All the Bright Places to Move On To

Niven’s characters are about to graduate high school. Most of them have already submitted applications to different Universities in and out of Indiana. I like how Violet decided to finish the project she started with Finch. She may just be hoping for closure but I knew she was able to find more than that – peace and strength to move on. After all, she still has her own mountain to climb.

What I most like about the book is how Violet’s family is always ready to listen and at the end, all the tragedies have made them better and stronger.

Dealing with Death

Of course you never just get over with a loved one’s death. You just get used to it. And in between life and remembrance, we may find solace on the thoughts and memories they have shared with us. All those times we may never take back but may just give us the push to move on-wards with life.

You can get your own copy of Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places at National Bookstore or through Amazon.com.

Add to that Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

As always, thanks for dropping by!


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BATANGAS: YOUR GO-TO PLACE FOR QUICK GETAWAYS

WHY BATANGAS?

Batangas is our family’s go-to place for a quick weekend getaway ever since I can remember. My childhood memories are filled with blue skies and wide horizons, fresh, gusty wind and country rides. Batangas would always be a special place to me because of this and more.

There are a number of attractions on this place, most are family friendly but some can be exciting enough for a weekend getaway with friends or co-workers.

I like Batangas because it’s just two hours away from Manila. You can either take  Star Tollway or the Tagaytay route, either of which will give you a pleasant country ride. And there are so many types of public transportation and routes you can choose from so you’ll definitely find one that suits you best.

Also, Batangas is not so rural anymore so everything else is fairly convenient. Lodging and accommodations are decent enough. Not to mention the restaurants you can stop over along the way. They make the best lomi in this part of the country, by the way.

Here are the places that we’ve visited the past years. Hope you can also drop by these amazing places with your family:

LA VIRGINIA RESORT

La Virginia is an 8-ha property full of  pools and various structured attractions, all overlooking Taal Volcano. It’s a little bit difficult to get to, considering how many transfers you need to take when you’re commuting. Renting a vehicle would be a very good idea when going to this place. Its popular among the locals so asking for directions should be no problem.

The resort has several sections, each with a unique theme. The one where we stayed in is called Casas de las Flores which features flowers. We stayed at the Orchid, which can house up to 15 to 20 pax. It is also airconditioned and got at least 3 comfort rooms. There are TV, ref and griller. There’s also the Karaoke machine which you can use for an additional fee of P1,000.00.

La Virginia, Bronze Buddha Statue
The serenity of this giant bronze Buddha statue is further emphasize by the lush, green scenery from behind.
La Virginia, Pools and Cottages
The pool over at Casas delas Flores. This place must be so magical for children.
La Virginia, Concrete Hanging Bridge
Though most structures are made of concrete, the resort more than makes it up for the details and paints they put on each of the installation, like this hanging bridge right here.

One other section features a huge Buddha statue, with the green, lush woods as its background.  Then there’s a castle and Marvel superheroes. If you’re for something homegrown, there are accommodations designed after Ifugao houses.

La Virginia also has a hotel, an infinity pool and this concrete hanging bridge (if it’s your thing).

It’s a nice place to explore with the family, but be prepared with the steep slopes. They might really get your joints aching after a while.

But with a view this breathtaking, your trip would definitely be worth it.

View from La Virginia Resort, Batangas
Heart-stopping view of Taal. Isn’t it so perfect?

TALI BEACH

How about a staycation on one of ‘em huge townhouses? If you’re prepared to go the miles and hike up those steep slopes and trek down the beach front, then maybe a trip to Tali Beach may be good for you.

The townhouse we rented costs around P40,000.00 but we’re like 50pax. It comes with everything – rooms, kitchen, spacious lawn, and a pool. So you can host a mini party with the family and arrange an island hopping tour the next morning.

 

Tali Beach Subdivision Townhouse
Well, we got to own the place for a day. That’s my sister at the steps. I can’t remember whose house this is, though. But thanks for the experience.
Tali Beach Subdivision
The place is really well-kept and strolling along this type of street can really be a joy.
Tali beachfront.
Tali beachfront.
Tali Beach Resort
Most men from the family tried to jump from this place. But the waters full of tagulabay.

MUNTING BUHANGIN

So we we’re on the lookout for a white sand beach nearby and this is the place we found. And since it’s also in that part of Batangas where roads just have to be so steep and winding, it would really take a skilled driver to get to and from the place. But of course, it’s Batangas – it can never disappoint. Just make sure that you’re up for a bit of a hike.

Accommodation is really good at this place and there are lots of activities you can engage in. The beach looks so nice and peaceful, too. Great place for little children to wade in.

 

Munting Buhangin Beach Camp, Island Hopping
My sisters having their “One Piece” moment at one of the islands we went to during our visit at Munting Buhangin.
Batangas waters, Munting Buhangin Beach Camp
This is what I love about Batangas waters in fair weather – smooth, calm and crystal.
Island Tour, Munting Buhangin Beach Camp
It’s a family day!

MATABUNGKAY

This place is where everything started. It’s like our very own family pilgrimage – driving back to Matabungkay every two years, spending time, sharing moments and reminiscing with the homies. I can’t remember any other place the whole, as in the whole, family go to whenever we want to hold an impromptu reunion.

My childhood vacations were spent on a balsa in the middle of the sea, eating salted eggs with tomatoes, playing with cousins or just staring out at the blue clear waters. I’m lucky if a little crab would pass by.

Matabungkay Beach
Matabungkay Beach
Sunset, Matabungkay Beach
Sunset, Matabungkay Beach

We just used to go for a day tour but when the family got bigger, everyone just wanted to stay a little longer, as if more time spent on this place would bring back some of those moments from long ago.  

I like the coast here and the mornings especially. You can see something like an atoll when the tide is low. My cousins and I would go the farthest point we can. Sometimes we come home with loads of pebbles and shells. Most little ones would bring with them fish and other slimy things they found on the shore.

So not only the places but the memories that were created on those places made Batangas one fine place for me. It would always be my go-to place for a quick weekend getaway!

As always, thanks for dropping by!


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The Magic and Nostalgia that Are the Vinyl Records

I’ve never listened to a vinyl before. It’s only in old movies or retro-themed films that I get to listen to one. And even then, the audio would sound so smooth and flawless. I never knew how different the music sounds like coming from these records.

I discovered vinyl records aren’t perfect. Often there’d be that static noise in the background. You can even hear them crackle sometimes. They’re the audio equivalent of those silver screen movies – filled with vertical lines at one time or bursting with bright lights the next. They can be distracting but I guess, it’s part of their appeal.

It’s a totally new experience, something that definitely increased my appreciation for this particular medium. It’s not just the kind of music that’s on record, but the quality on which they were produced. Of course, they’re nothing like the audio we have now.

But at some point, the records made me long for a time I never knew. It’s poignant and mysterious and “old”. Old in a very, very good way – just like how memories of summer afternoons in childhood bring nostalgia or how Sunday morning rain can sometimes bring comfort and melancholy.

The Great 78 Project

A simple search on YouTube can give you a taste of vinyl experience. But the effort of Internet Archive with their Great 78 Project would surely cater to your curiosity. They’ve uploaded over 25,000 78s of wide genre. Most date back to 1939. It’s the aim of the project to preserve the cultural value of these records. They were digitized mainly for preservation, research and discovery.

I specially liked the following from the collections:

Somewhere Over the Rainbow:

La Vie En Rose:

Spellbound:

As always, thanks for dropping by!


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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Review

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a short story written by James Thurber. And though the film  adaptation has taken liberties with the plot and the details, Walter Mitty’s charm didn’t fade. In fact, the movie has enhanced Walter’s vivid imagination and amplified all the reasons we can all relate to this man.

MEET WALTER MITTY

Walter is given to fantastic daydreaming. And he’s never picky as to where or when he’s going to zone out. He can be at a train station, in a company meeting, in a conversation with the person he fancies or in between the time he contemplates riding a helicopter with a drunk pilot.

He’s been with Life Magazine for 16 years, serving the same department. But it’s now time for the organization to transition to being a full-blown digital publication. He’s got a great working relationship with  Sean O’Connell, a world-famous photographer. The two of them have never met in person, though.

Now, Walter has to submit photo 25, the “quintessence” of O’Connell’s work, especially dedicated to Life’s last issue. But number 25 is lost. In his quest to recover this super important photo, Walter is lead to a series of adventure, encounters and discoveries that he never thought he’d ever have.  

WHY IT’S WORTHY

The film encourages the audience to dream and pursue those dreams with passion. Whatever handicaps we may have in life, we shouldn’t put off the adventures that our hearts truly desire. We may think that we’re busy with life or fear is so strong but we’re only going to find our release the moment we just up and do it.

Of course, there’d be moments when we’re going to fail. And it will hurt us. But still, we come out as the winner. It’s because we realize that whatever we gained is always better than what we initially strive for.

If you’ve got the time and you want to spend it on something truly worthwhile and beautiful, put this movie on. You’ll never regret a moment of it.

Check out the full cast and crew right here.

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Chef – A Comedy-Drama Film on Family, Life and Passion

Chef has got to be one of the most realistic, ordinary and yet captivating films about a family that I’ve ever seen in a long, long while. It’s not pretending to be deep or profound. It doesn’t have those significantly long silent frames but is consists of authentic life scenarios that makes you realize that you may have come across each type of character in the film. The movie did away with overly dramatic acts, but it made sure that touching scenes will get to you every time, as in every time.

Me saying that it’s about family shouldn’t make you expect something like it’s a Little Miss Sunshine kind of film. It’s focus is Carl Casper – a father to a little boy of 10, a divorcee, a chef at a locally reputable LA restaurant and currently preparing to please a local food blogger in the name of Ramsey Mitchell.

CHEF: WHY IT’S WORTHY

PASSION

It’s about a man wanting to live out his passion. His main goal is to touch people’s lives with the food he makes. But I guess entropy is not unique to the corporate world. It happens whenever somebody hires you and instead of letting you do your own thing, they insist that you keep with what’s working and stop there. No exploration, no risks, no growth. And that’s like a life sentence or slow death sentence for any passionate man. Chef Casper has been in a creative rut in the last 10 years.

FOOD

It’s also about food and how it’s tied with the people and place where it comes from. I guess, eating is one of the most intimate things that you can do publicly and socially. The more people you share it with, the better it tastes. The moment that you take in local food, you also take in a culture. It’s like an initiation to a foreign society or a community. It’s taking in a little of everything else in that place. And aside from gaining nutrition, you gain a new perspective, too.

LIFE, FAMILY

 Chef encourages you to inspire others about what moves you and to be open and willing to take in opportunities when they present themselves. It’s also about taking a step back, clearing your head and focusing on what really matters. It’s a film of second chances, reinventing yourself and keeping true to who you really are. Starting over may seem daunting, but it’s the only way to redeem yourself.

And, family is most important, kin or not.

CHEF: POWERHOUSE CAST AND AMAZING SOUND TRACK

Chef has a powerhouse of actors. Before this film, I didn’t know Jon Favreau, but I developed a deep respect for his art. I was pleasantly surprised with the actors in supporting and cameo roles, too. Check the full cast right here.

And to top it off, it has an amazing soundtrack. It features the lively beat of rumba, as well as soul and blues tracks from Marvin Gaye and Gary Clark Jr. The music lends an excellent layer of emotion and color to the film.

I recommend for families to watch it. It doesn’t matter the season. It would be quality time anytime you choose to watch Chef.

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I, Daniel Blake – A Social Movie with a Kafkaesque Take on State Welfare System

With his fist raised in the air, Daniel Blake stood before the graffiti he made on the walls of State Welfare. This protest will be his first offense after being a citizen of good standing for 50 years. And some weeks later, he dies.

A sympathizer raises Daniel Blake's hand as he protest in front of State Welfare.
A sympathizer raises Daniel Blake’s hand as he protests in front of State Welfare. Photo downloaded from I, Daniel Blake official Facebook page. No Copyright infringement intended.

OF STATE WELFARE AND SOCIAL CONTRACTS

In a democratic form of government, there exist the theory of social contract, with which comes reciprocated duties. This means that the sovereign is committed to the good of the individuals who constitute it, and each individual is likewise committed to the good of the whole[1]. Having said these, the individuals gather as one to decide which laws to enact, laws which will then give each person equal rights and privileges. In turn, individuals must perform their duty to the sovereign – obeying laws, paying taxes, etc. This seems to be a very noble ideal. And though Rousseau’s idea can optimally work in a particularly small community, the tenets, if coordinated well, may be applied to an entire state or country.

However, it seems that the system, claimed to have been collectively created and agreed upon, squeezes the breath out of the body it desperately wants to keep alive. The processes imposed are often unnecessary, winding and neglect the urgency of need. This becomes especially frustrating in State/Social Welfare.    

Daniel Blake’s story is one that you hear any day of the year. Why, people always get into welfare for some reason or another. But the tedious process of finally benefiting from your right and privilege can sometimes be ridiculous and often, delayed. You can’t help but think that maybe the processes they put in place in Welfare came straight out of a Franz Kafka’s book.

But unlike W.H. Auden’s Unknown Citizen, who chose to just go down and live the life of a conformist, Ken Loach and Paul Laverty’s Daniel Blake refused to surrender his self-respect.

MEET DANIEL BLAKE

Daniel tried to bear with the system but was always told that what he’s done isn’t enough. He was even threatened with sanctions. We’re made to believe that the people at State Welfare work for the poor. But it’s looks like they’re just slaves of the system. Funny when we tell politicians what they’re doing isn’t enough, all we ever receive is a shrug. They even have the nerve to plunder. Those representatives know the steps very well, but they cannot identify with the people they’re supposed to serve. Yes, there are people who lie about their conditions, but not everyone should be punished just because few people are crooked. Also they imposed requirements that not everyone is capable of doing so. Or they include steps that require assistance that they actually failed to put in place.

WHY IT’S WORTHY:

The plot of the film is simple, even predictable to some. But the glaring truth in all those scenes is just so hard to ignore. You can see people in need driven further to destitution because the state which promised to take care of them has now become reluctant, even doubtful. How can people live with dignity in a society that tolerates such system? And yet, we see them in every part of the world. Do we just exist to put each other in miseries?

I’ll go as far to say that I, Daniel Blake, is a powerful film on a pressing social issue that most people just shrug off every day. It shows that we must clamor for improvement so that nobody has to sacrifice unnecessarily. So that we know it’s only right to demand for the sovereign’s part of reciprocated duties. And finally, so that we all can live and die with dignity.

Check the full cast and crew of the film here.

BONUS:

Here’s a video from Ted-Ed on what it really means to be Kafkaesque:

As always, thanks for dropping by!

Reference:

[1]Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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America First and the Global Race to be in Second

AMERICA FIRST, WHO WANTS TO BE SECOND?

The race to come in second after America is turning into a most interesting battle of wits and satire. After Holland’s Introductory Video became viral, several other TV shows from different countries followed suit. The competition has since become very steep.

Each video highlights the uniqueness of each country – nature, technology, culture and people. Each shows what they can offer, how they’re very compatible with America and how some of their leaders (past and present) are so similar to Donald Trump.

I especially love the segments where they highlight “alternative facts” and even alienated some of their own customs and history.

While some grovelled to be in second place, a few just wished to be at least in the top 10.

While some just want to be ahead of others:

Israel just has a cheeky reminder though:

FOR YOUR AMUSEMENT

Through these videos, you’ll learn about the quirks and weird traditions that each country has. The ironic turns of their history  which are sometimes funny and sometimes painful. And of course, how countries are very similar to people when it comes to biases and beliefs.

Of course, none of these are official political videos. They’re just meant to be amusing. And if you can see anything more than that, well, you’re so entitled to it. It’s your opinion anyway.  

Watch more introductory videos on EverySecondCounts.Org.

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Silence – Of Persecuted Christians and their Silent God

Silence - Padre Rodrigues and Mokichi

Silence is about the dangers and sufferings of early Christians in Japan. It also shows how the local government reacted to this Western religion and the lengths they’d gone in order to break Christian priests. At length, it narrates how these Christian priests have fallen for and from their faith, either through death or great torture. It features their moments of doubt both in themselves and in their God. 

The film have stunning landscapes and great photography. Every detail is made to be pleasing to the eyes. Even character deaths are made poignant to a fault. I won’t go on about how visually appealing the film was. Let the technical critics deal with that. I want to talk about how Silence presented Japan and Christianity.

JAPAN AND CHRISTIANITY

Though not mentioned in the film, there could be so many reasons that the Japanese government had to be vigilant of this religion.

The 1600’s is the height of the Age of Exploration. European countries are going out to the New World, to discover new frontiers and of course, establish their claim to these lands. More often disguised as missionary voyages, these trips are actually economic exercises, designed to increase the wealth of their country of origin. At this time, Japan has one of the most advanced societies in the East. They may have seen through the movements of European countries and recognized Christianity as a ploy to invade their land.

Also, Christianity may cause structural strain because of the doctrines it preaches. For the Japanese peasants during the 1600s, Christianity is a most agreeable prospect. In the strict caste system of their society, they’re people who were born to do hard labor. It’s their duty to pay taxes and endure worst living conditions. They were serfs, subject of daimyos who claim to give them protection. Apparently, they didn’t feel secure at all, as they seek solace in the idea of a God who’ll reward them a place in Paradise after they die. While the daimyo’s demands are too high, God only requires faith. While they were raised to believe that not all men were created equal, here’s an idea that all men were created in the likeness of God. It’s a clear choice for this people.

In a worst case scenario, this might even lead to rebellion. Christianity worships Jesus, son of God, whose reign is prophesied to be supreme among all peoples of all nations.

WHAT SILENCE TELLS ME:

Silence shows what these early missionaries lack – a deep understanding of the current culture and customs of the people they wished to convert to Christianity. They failed to understand the workings of Japanese society. They failed to anticipate the interpretation of these doctrines in the Japanese point of view. It seems that the promise of Paradise have become more important than any other Christian teachings.

Japan and Christianity is like oil and water. In fact, even today, only 1% of Japan’s population are Christians. This is a strong proof that even after centuries of crusading for this faith, oriental beliefs and religions still dominate this eastern country. I’m afraid it is what as the film says, Japan is like a swamp. Nothing can grow there (in terms of propagating Christian beliefs). At least, that 1% now enjoys the freedom of religion. This film was made to commemorate and honor the brave men and women of faith who faced persecution.

MOST MEMORABLE PART:

“Before it’s all right to be a Christian. It’s so unfair that I only get to live now [when Christians are being persecuted].”

This is Kijichiro’s lament. I’m not sure how to interpret his presence in Padre Rodrigues’s life. Sometimes, I look at him as temptation personified, and sometimes, I see him as the personification of Hosea’s* wife. He commits sins again and again. Then he repents again and again. And the Lord (thru Padre Rodrigues) pardons his sins again and again. He’s an authentic human being – always prone to committing mistakes, contradicting himself, feeling guilty and wanting to repent.

*If you’re familiar with the Christian Bible, Hosea is a prophet with an unfaithful wife. She commits adultery again and again. But Hosea takes her back every time. Their relationship symbolizes the love that God has with His chosen people (Israel). No matter how many times they’ve sinned, God’s always willing to take them back.

MOST HEARTBREAKING PART:

“It took four days for Mokichi to die.”

In a manner that’s very reminiscent of Jesus’ last moments, Mokichi’s persecution included being tied to a cross until he dies. This cross stood on a rocky coast, facing the ocean.  It left him, and two others, exposed to the strong waves and the hot sun. And when his fellow believers died, he begged God to welcome their souls and to get a place ready for them in Paraiso.

Check out the complete cast and characters here.

Credit goes to Teaser-Trailer.com for the featured image on this post.

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