Jul 21, 2014

This is the Direction Science Fiction Should Take: My Impression of the Film “Her”

Somewhat belatedly, I managed to catch Spike Jonze’s great contemporary science fiction film“Her".



Before seeing it, I had believed that science fiction as a genre was dead.

Although the great novels and films in the history of science fiction have always depicted a new vision of the future, nowadays science fiction novels and films seem to be nothing more than imitations of what has gone before.

For example, in the film “Transcendence,” the consciousness of a scientific genius is transplanted into cyberspace. I read this idea in William Gibson’s novel “Neuromancer” which was first published back in 1984.

In "Transcendence", the transplanted consciousness attacks human beings. Again, I first came across this idea (computers attacking human beings) in the 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”



In contrast, the film, “Her”, envisions a future L.A., which is both similar to, and slightly different from, today's actual L.A. Spike Jonze's attention to every detail is what makes the film's vision so convincing.

The main character and an AI fall in love with each other. They constantly communicate with each other via PC and smartphone. While I find it hard to believe that computers would attack human beings in the near future, to me the idea that a human being and an AI could fall in love sounds entirely plausible.

I believe this film indicates a new direction for science fiction.

Every actor did a really good job. Scarlett Johansson, who voiced the role of the AI, was especially good. Watching "Her", I was once again struck by her talent.





Jun 10, 2014

Simple Is the Best: My Impression of Kindle 4th Generation

It took such a long time for Amazon.co.jp (the Japanese branch of Amazon) to begin to sell Kindle, so I couldn’t wait it and bought “Kindle 4th generation” from Amazon.com.

Finally, Amazon.co.jp started selling “Kindle Paperwhite” and “Kindle Fire”, but they don’t sell “Kindle,” which does not support Japanese digital books. Now, I read English digital books with Kindle 4th Generation and Japanese ones with Kindle app on Nexus 7.

Kindle 4th generation has many restrictions. It is obviously inconvenient for me, as a native Japanese speaker, not to be able to read Japanese books. Its display is just black and white, and too low resolution for us to watch photos and read mangas. Unlike Kindle Paperwhite, it doesn’t even have a touchscreen and a light.

But it is really comfortable, when you just read a string of character on a book.

Firstly, it is very light in weight. It is quite important. Nexus 7 isn’t heavy as compared with other tablets, but I feel it is much heavier than Kindle 4th generation when I read digital books for a long time.

Secondly, it is just suitable for carrying out. I don’t have to be careful for running out of battery, because it isn’t necessary to recharge its battery almost for a week. It is just a right size to put in a jacket’s breast pocket.

When I flip a page with Kindle 4th generation, I have to push a button on its side. Pushing a button isn’t fashionable, but actually it is much more convenient for me just to push a button than to swipe a display.

Kindle 4th generation has nothing but functions just only to read digital books.

Simple is best.

May 14, 2014

Your English’s Getting Very Good: Munenori Kawasaki and His English

A few years ago, I heard that Munenori Kawasaki, who was a member of the Japanese national baseball team in 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics, would try out for MLB.

Honestly, I thought that it would be really hard for him to become successful. Although there are many Japanese pitchers showed good performances in MLB, most Japanese infielders failed because of lack of power. Kawasaki, as a shortstop player, is agile enough, but it was obvious that he didn’t have enough power to be in the starting lineup in MLB.

Since I hadn’t heard anything about him for a while, I'd almost forgotten about him.

I'd heard that he'd become popular on the Internet, and so I watched a video about him on YouTube.



In a post game interview, his teammate, Mark DeRosa, called him over, and he just shouted, "Thank you very much. My name is Kawasaki. I'm from Japan. I'm Japanese!"

He was pretty funny. When I saw it the first time, I laughed out loud.

The following video is an interview with him from a program on the MLB network.



In this one, both Kawasaki and DeRosa reappear. Kawasaki read out some phrases from his small notebook.

I laughed out loud again, but at the same time I was really impressed that he had really made an effort to survive in MLB.

English may not be great, but his character shines through. I can’t help loving him.

Recently, I've heard that his English has gotten much better.



The interviewer said, "Your English's getting very good." I agree with him. He has made great progress. What he was talking about might not have been all that important, but he was able to have a conversation with the interviewer, whereas in the earlier videos it was like he was just making pronouncements.

It’s wonderful that he doesn't seem to be the least bit timid or shy.

In the interview he said, "I have teacher. Everyday talking."  I guess that he talks a lot with his teammates. That might be quite important for his MLB life.

I was wrong.

He has an enough ability to play in MLB.

May 8, 2014

The Cultural Trade Deficit: Japanese Intellectuals, Let’s Speak Out in English

It’s often said that the Japanese cultural trade deficit is very large.

Japanese intellectuals who can speak foreign languages have been earning money by bringing foreign knowledge and information into Japan. Most of them haven’t been interested in expressing their thoughts to the world, because it is much easier for them to import foreign knowledge and sell it in Japan.

It’s might not be bad that there are rich collections of Japanese translations of foreign books, but there are much fewer translations of Japanese books. Haruki Murakami is a complete exception.

Through the experience of keeping a blog in English I have realized that Japanese intellectuals should speak out in English to the world much more.

Firstly, remarks by Japanese intellectuals in English have value because of their scarcity at this time. When I write in English on my blog, I found that my opinion was unique because of my Japanese origin, even if I don’t try intentionally insisting on a Japanese point of views. We, as Japanese intellectuals, have a duty to provide our unique point of views to the world.

Now, many non-Western countries fail to build democratic governments. Japan, as a non-Western country, has the experiences of importing the concept of democracy from the West and developing our own democratic government; Japanese intellectuals could point out factors which make non-Western countries fail in building democratic governments that Western intellectuals can't see.

Secondly, we could make our opinions more sophisticated by expressing them in English. When we speak in English to the world, we have to explain things that are obvious for Japanese people. This forces us to think about our fundamental assumptions.

In my blog, I wrote the entry "Is Japan Really a Democratic Country?" Certainly I could think much more deeply about Japanese government by that than writing it in Japanese.

Japanese intellectuals, let’s speak out in English!

Mar 11, 2014

A Freezing Winter in Temporary Housing

This is the third of March 11th since the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Although many programs about the earthquake are broadcasted on TV, I can’t stand watching them well, because I am too upset. I could watch them before, but recently I can’t.

The disasters which hit victims of the earthquake were so overwhelming and tragic that I couldn't understand what really happened well. I used to watch TV programs about them, as if they were somebody else’s problems and a kind of myth.

I have seen the scene how the great tsunami went over a seaside town again and again, but I can’t still understand my feelings toward this scene.

In my entry “The J. G. Ballard's World” in March 12th, 2011, I wrote, “I can understand what happens in my head, but I can't accept that it is real in my heart. I'm living in the surreal world now.”

It is very cold this winter.

There are many victims who are still living in temporary housing. I really imagine how hard a freezing cold winter in such temporary housing is. It is not a huge tragedy, but a real hardship.

I deeply wish that they would move to their own houses before the next winter.