Tron: Legacy. A spolier-free review

The original Walt Disney movie, Tron, was without a doubt one of the most influential films of my childhood and I watched it with great appreciation several times. Tron: Legacy was a long-time coming and is probably the perfect modernisation of this 1982 classic. As a sequel, Tron: Legacy comes full-circle from its origins presenting the audience with a complete picture of today's technological age and the modern human condition. Back in the early 80s, Tron was ahead of its time, and technologically like no other film that had ever been seen before. In 2010 it's pretty much impossible to pull off a feat such as this, so the trend of the present day is decidedly "retro," and one of technological revivalism. The creators of Tron: Legacy obviously recognised this fact and created a new film filled with symbolism and imagery that captures this modern theme.

Much like the original, Tron: Legacy begins in the "organic" world. The story starts by establishing the history of where we started, summarising the events that unfolded since that time, and then setting the stage for where we are now. Present throughout the start of the film is an amusing "good versus evil" presentation of the conflict between open source and closed source, proprietary software. My linux / unix open source friends out there will enjoy seeing a middle-finger subtly and quietly raised in Microsoft's direction. (^_^) From there, we are led on a short trip down memory lane, and then onward into the latter-day Tron: Legacy.

For many viewers, Tron: Legacy might, at face-value, appear to be little more than a 21st century re-make of the 1982 classic. Indeed the imagery, events and characters in the film do appear to be just that: Tron (the original) with a face-lift. The truth is, however, that if the creators had decided upon vast, significant changes, they would have robbed us of a wonderful chance to feel nostalgic and re-connect with a film that many of us hold very dear. This film pays homage to the original by re-capturing its most highly-prized elements, while providing the opportunity to enjoy them in a way that leverages the recent technological advancements in film-making.

While Tron: Legacy is really so much more than a mere remake, it is certainly not without its faults. Much like the original 1982 film, the pace of Tron: Legacy is, at times, very slow. This is an aspect of the film that can easily distract the audience away from the main theme of the story. The movie also utilises time-tested elements of the "good rebels" versus an "evil dictatorship" that will strike viewers as cliché. Furthermore, IMHO, the use of 3D did little to truly enhance the overall impact of the film and would have been equally enjoyable in 2D. Finally, the film also incorporates a fair amount of unnecessary and unavailing motifs borrowed from Japanese culture. I decided, however, to simply chalk this up to a condition of the film-makers' desire to be trendy, and didn't let it bother me. These somewhat-disappointing aspects of the film are actually very easy to overlook due to the fact that the main point of the story was subtly but effectively delivered to the audience in a way that brings simple understanding to an elusive concept. I'm talking about the concept of Wabi Sabi. (Yes. That's right. No, this is not a typo.)

Wabi Sabi is a Japanese concept that encourages us to appreciate the perfection that comes from, or is contained in imperfection. It is only now that I can return to the point I was making at the start of my post: technological revivalism. In these terms, Wabi Sabi is the embracing of analogue over digital, organic over inorganic, "user error" over algorithmic perfection. Among the many different details that grab our attention while watching Tron: Legacy, including well-made and realistic CG animation, wonderful nostalgia-invoking images, interpersonal human conflict, and even a dash of romance, this theme of Wabi Sabi is mischievously evasive. It is clearly there, however, for the attentive viewer to see. The message that's hidden in this Hollywood production is a subtle warning that in our relentless pursuit of perfection through technology, we risk losing something very precious indeed, namely our humanity.

Before finishing this post, I'd like to say a bit about the soundtrack, which of course was created and performed by Daft Punk. The music in this film is a bit of a departure from the bass-thumping dance-floor techno that we've come to expect from these artists. Tron: Legacy is accompanied by a sound that's decidedly more ambient-techno, and works very well as what it was intended to be-- a soundtrack! My thought, while watching the movie, was that Daft Punk did a great job capturing the feeling of Tron and created music that definitely enhanced the overall experience without trying to take center-stage.

I predict that Tron: Legacy will likely be met with its fair share of criticism, and is almost certainly not going to be up for any Academy Awards. I couldn't care less about that though. This movie is for us-- the fans of Tron who fell in love with the film back in the 1980s. For some of us, it's a chance to share the classic story with a new generation, in a way that's relevant for them. My advice is: don't enter the theatre with any unreasonable expectations or preconceptions about what you're about to see; just go and enjoy yourself. I really had a nice time tonight and I'm glad I went. Being able to share the experience with my lovely wife, who had never seen the original, was an added plus. Walt Disney-- I know you and I haven't exactly seen eye-to-eye over the past couple of decades, but you did a good job with this one. Thank you.


お客様は神様です "The Customer is God"

I came across an article in the Japan Times today entitled, "In Japan, the customer is not king." I usually try to stay out of discussions like these since they have a tendency to turn into flame wars, but after reading the article and the responses to it, I was compelled to offer my response, which I included below. Here is a link to the original article; my response follows.

I hope folks won't mind if I play devil's advocate here. My comments are not directed at any of the responses, nor are they meant to imply that anyone is wrong or insensitive. I merely want to offer a different point of view.
I haven't yet had the experience of being a resident in Japan, but I have spent quite a bit of time there. Furthermore, as someone who works for an international company that does business with big companies in Japan (both the modern and the antiquated ones), I think it might be a mistake, categorically, to draw inferences about Japan's ability to compete in international business based on the experiences of customers in Japanese shops and restaurants. Since this article is primarily focused on the experiences of the latter, I'd like to focus on that.
I know people are fond of the 客様は神様 "Customer is God" proverb、but it's important to remember that there are other factors at work in everyday Japanese consciousness that work in the opposite direction, as well.
I'm reminded of a passage in a novel by 向田邦子 (Mukōda Kuniko) in which the author observed a group of western ladies ordering breakfast at a hotel. She was very surprised that the ladies were so incredibly particular about the way they wanted their meals prepared. She reflected on the example her mother had set for her as a child, and on the idea of having compassion for the wait staff and the chef and cooks who will prepare the meals. She concluded that it's better to stick to the menu and keep it simple when it's tolerable to do so. Here, it might be suggested that the concept of "Customer is God" may include the supreme compassion of a god (lowercase 'g'), and not just the omnipotence of one. Now, Mukōda-san was a Showa era writer, of course, and we might conclude that things are or should be different in modern Japan. With this thought in mind, however, it may be more than just a coincidence (and more than just mere complacency) that "The common (Japanese) man or woman on the street generally accepts the way things are delivered in their vanilla form," no?
The examples given in the article appear quite extreme, so if I may, I'd like to relay an equally extreme experience I had not that long ago. My wife and I were waiting for our waitress at a restaurant in our neighbourhood in Chicago. The waitress was busy with a customer at the next table who was asking to have one of her ordered items substituted for something else. She then started asking about what kind of bread they have and if she could have a bagel instead of the choices she was provided. When the answer was affirmative, she went on to request that the bagel be split in half, lightly toasted and that the center be pulled out. I couldn't help but think, "What the hell?" Maybe this is supposed to be OK, I'm not sure. It seemed really extreme to me and bordered on rude considering the tone she used when speaking to the waitress. Regarding the experiences such as the beer with no foam, couldn't it be that the measurement of portion size in Japan is all about the volume/quantity and not the size of the container as it seems to be in the West?
Anyway, no conclusions here-- like I said, I just wanted to offer a different perspective. I would like to end by wondering something, however. If we are to expect of Japanese customer service the same standards we've become used to in the West, are we perhaps trying to inject a sense of western individualism into a society that basically operates just fine without it?


Ukon No Chikara - Japan's incredible hangover cure

ウコンの力 (Ukon No Chikara / "The Power of Ukon") is a great power indeed and I have great faith in it. I was vacationing and working in Japan throughout June and the beginning of July this year. The night before returning to the U.S., I was out all night eating and drinking too much with some business associates. When I awoke the next morning in my Tokyo business hotel, I had to leave for the airport immediately after breakfast feeling absolutely *awful* and quite sick. Carrying my luggage around made it even worse. Before catching a cab to Ueno Station, I stopped at 7-11, bought 1 bottle of ウコンの力, and drank it down (the taste is neither good nor bad...kinda sweet). I was SHOCKED! By the time I arrived at Ueno Station 15-20 minutes later, I was already feeling 90% better! The only remaining symptom that lingered when I reached Narita Airport was a very mild headache which I knocked out with a couple of EVE A (150 mg ibuprofen pills). 15 minutes after that I felt like I never even had the hangover at all!

This is some amazing stuff! It *REALLY* works. I wish it was available in the U.S., although without the threat of a hangover I would probably be willing to get drunk more often. Perhaps the lack of availability is not such a bad thing.


日本語能力試験 4級 ・ JLPT Level 4

Today I received my official certificate in the mail declaring that I passed the 日本語能力試験 4級 (Japanese Language Proficiency Test Level 4)! I know it's only Level 4, the beginning level, but I still have a strong sense of accomplishment and it feels great. Not to mention, this really motivates me to study even harder for this year's exam! I couldn't have done it without the support of my wonderful wife who has to put up with my awful Japanese. She's always helping me to improve and provides me with the opportunity to practice with a native speaker on a daily basis. I owe her my thanks. Additionally, I want thank my awesome Japanese Language tutor, Hata-sensei, who has been helping me to focus and speed up my progress. 今後も、よろしくお願いします。頑張ります。


Utada “In The Flesh” Tour 2010

On Tuesday, 02-Feb-10 I went to see UTADA in concert at the House of Blues Chicago! Before writing anything else I feel I should admit that I can't really consider myself to be one of her biggest fans, and in fact it's been several years since I listened to any of her music. If a friend hadn't told me about the concert and offered to order advance tickets for us and our other friends interested in attending, I probably wouldn't have gone.

After actually going to the concert, I realised that missing it would have been a big mistake because I can hardly believe how much fun I had! The show was completely sold out and the fans were *really* into it! Utada rewarded us by singing all of her very best songs (IMHO), choosing ones that represented her entire singing career from the beginning to the present day, including favourites "Automatic" and "Sakura Drops." Utada, herself, seemed to really enjoy the show and although it's something to which she's unaccustomed, she told us, the intimacy of the venue really appealed to her. The fans were close enough to the stage that she was even able to hear one guy yell out, 「結婚してくれ!!」 (Kekkonshite kure!! / Marry Me!!).

Luckily, there was some kind of incident during the show that required the attention of the security guards near me. Because of that, I was able to take a few photos-- I'm sorry that they're so blurry.

Here's the video for what is now my favourite song by Utada. (Sorry Hikaru-san, I know you were just a teenager when you first released this one, but it's great!)

Utada Hikaru - Automatic