Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day part 2

Subject: Cinema
"Letters From Iwo Jima" is Clint Eastwood's second part to his work on the WWII battle for that awful piece of rock in the Pacific. But this time, from the point of view of the Japanese soldiers sent there to die defending it.

The point of view is very likely skewed by an American filter. Okay, it probably definitely is. The martial fascist structure is a bit too personally hateful, and the typical drafted familyman soldier is a bit too everyman and innocent. But it's more indicative of the human condition than not, for certain. There are heroes and villians, for certain. And that spread isn't dependent on what side of the war they were on. The brief focus on the bad things that American soldiers likely did were evident, of course. And some of the nasty, desperate things that were done in the name of the Japanese Empire were omitted. But frankly, both were just aspects of what war is and what war does to us as humans. We suck in that situation. And it's important that we remember that whenever we're considering going there.

It's a lesson that seems abjectly absent in the decisionmaking behind current events, and it's pretty obvious that Eastwood is trying to say that here.

The movie itself was another series of character studies, and the dialogue was almost entirely in Japanese. There was a taste of Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress" that lightly tread the line of dark comedy throughout, in that the everyman soldiers were in impossible and nearly absurd situations due to the rigid hierarchy and beauracratic structure imposed on them. Obviously it's meant to be compared to the sort of shark-like capitalistic propogandizing in the American side of the story, but this side was scarier and more threatening. But, it was made just a touch more accessable to allow for the possible connections to be made to the sort of nationalistic jingoism that was readily found in modern times here in the US of late.

The point was likely lost on those that needed to hear it, of course, because irony and allusion isn't particularly their strong suit. So I'm sure Eastwood was hoping that a glimpse at the lives of an "enemy", and the rhetoric around "enemy", in historical terms, in light of where this has all evolved after so many years now that we're staunch allies -- I'm sure he hopes that the message sinks in a little. The "enemy" is human too, even if we don't fully understand them or their tactics or their culture.

That point is likely lost on them too. In fact, I haven't heard much of anything from the particular loudmouths of that population about Clint Eastwood being a "traitor" or whatever. Maybe the films were just to vaugue for them. I suppose that's possible. They weren't entirely illuminating or profound beyond the basic messages. And like I said before, they were even a bit hamfisted in what they were trying to say.

But in the end, the real message is that war can only happen by using people to wage it, and those people are just like you and me. And no matter what you try to tie to the reasoning, there's always another side, and on that other side are more people. What you're told about them, what you assume about them, probably isn't particularly true or accurate.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Memorial Day Weekend Double Feature, pt 1

Subject: Cinema
Clint Eastwood recently directed a pair of films about the WWII battle for the island of Iwo Jima. "Flags of Our Fathers" was the first, from the point of view of the US veterans of that conflict. "Letters of Iwo Jima" is the more recent 2nd, from the point of view of the Japanese. I'll watch that one tomorrow, but tonight was all about the US side.

The title, and the surrounding narrative, is from the point of view of the generation before me. My father's generation. Their fathers were the ones who actually fought in WWII. "The Greatest Generation" they're now called in popular culture. My dad was a part of those that went to Vietnam, but his father's unit died on a bridge in France during the attempt to take back Europe from the Nazis. My grandfather wasn't on that bridge, however; he died in a hospital in the States just months beforehand. He never actually got to ship out to fight, but the irony was that he died a veteran anyhow. No shame there, but I can only imagine how he felt. My dad made sure that we understood the circumstances, so I can only feel the appropriate reverence in his name.

My mother's uncle, who was my de-facto grandfather (on the account that her father died at an early age as well), is the closest WWII veteran to me. He's a wonderfully interesting man, mayor of the city I was born in througout the '70s, and a best friend to my father. When my father died, he was devestated. My father was a confidant of his, and he was the one one of the few that my uncle was able to tell stories of his days in the war. They were very unpleasant stories, and I haven't been told more than just a few myself via my father. As Eastwood's "Flags" says, the ones who survived just didn't talk about it. They just wanted to forget. And I don't blame them.

My great-uncle's worst experiences were in the European theater during the final stages of that aspect of the war. That I only know a few dramatic tales that my father felt should be passed on. My uncle himself has told a few simple stories about the occupation of Japan, though, where he was shipped off to after everything was over. Nothing particularly out-of-the-ordinary; just a normal soldier doing his duty and wanting to come home.

Eastwood concentrates on the key battle of Iwo Jima. Or, more specifically, the situation "back home" at the time. The way he portrays it, the US is out of war funding, and is trying desperately to raise funds via war bonds, and is more than willing to use whatever half-truths of glory it can from the war in order to facilitate that.

There's a lot of obvious parallel to the current rhetoric around our awful excursion into Irag, and that's unavoidable, but I'd wager you could match it to Vietnam and Korea as well. Essentially, the goverment, and the military itself, will willingly sacrafice the truth in exchange for the opportunity of propaganda that furthers it's interest.

In this case, the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, which a photograph became such an iconic event, illustrates just how much lives and truth are sacrificed, because the power of a photograph, no matter how accidental, or how staged, or how compensetory, has on the psychie of the population. Individual heroes who should be remembered are shunted aside in exchange for easier (and perhaps wealthier) pickings. Even in what most Americans would feel is the most justified of wars, our government has done this sort of propagandizing to us.

Never in any way does Eastwood intimate that anyone involved didn't deserve the special treatment they got. He only pokes at the fact that there were others who probably deserved the truth a bit more; or at least their surviving families did. And it wasn't an easy decision. A propaganda effort usually happen due to a greater need. And our history can only judge if the effort was truly worth the price that we paid. Eastwood actually portrays that conflict fairly, though we're left very sympathetic to the truth that contradicts it.

That can't help but be seen in the light of the current administration's effort at propogandizing the Iraq war, and it really calls into contrast the reasoning behind the purpose behind the WWII efforts, and what we're up to now. In fact, it makes the current events look like such a paltry, small thing that it reinforces why we should be embarrassed by it.

In the movie, the effects-shots of the harbor during the invasion showed just how fucking vast, how fucking huge the effort was to take that god-awful sulfuric rock. The losses on both sides during just that one conflict are staggering to contemplate. It's horrific, and it's also real and part of us all and it shouldn't be thought of lightly. I can't even begin to imagine just how terrible it would be to be thrust in the same situation, as much as I'd like to think that I'd do my duty and do what it take in defense of my country. But that implies a trust in leadership and the mission, which I don't think has been justified since those days.

A bit of Eastwood's treatment is ham-handed, sure. A bit overwrought and cliche. There's quite a bit of post-modern warfilm brutality preceding it and it doesn't break any new ground that "Saving Private Ryan" or "Band of Brothers" didn't already cover. But the WWII genre is sacrosant, and there can only be serious consequences for invoking it. Rightly so.

Tomorrow, I'll watch "Letters from Iwo Jima" and hopefully learn something more. It's hard to imagine the Japanese as our enemies anymore, because they most definitely are not. We have so much in common and so much to find admirable. So it's important to realize the lessons of those days where we were so much more driven to be hateful and driven towards seperation because of war, yet find that we're more the same than different. And hopefully, that can help us in our descions regarding those that we all to willingly percieve of as threats, in hopes of having a little empathy and self-identfication, which can only help in the attempt to get through the crisises of this world, instead of letting them boil over into drasticly awful warfare and retribution.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Almodóvar's "Volver"

Subject: Cinema
I really should treat myself to Pedro Almodóvar's films more often. In fact, it's been years since I've seen one. In fact, I may have only seen two others, and one of those was the big hit "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown", way back when I was in film school. I wish I could remember what the other one was. (I searched but couldn't come up with what it was. My memory fails me. *sigh*)

At any rate, "Volver" is a tight and simple little story. It opens in a graveyard, where a small army of widows are, by the tradition as explained in the film, cleaning their husbands (and thus, their own) crypts. Cut to a small cadre of far younger, and waaaay more attractive young ladies (as lead by Penelope Cruz) cleaning the crypt of their parents, doing their duty. And duty and superstition are the backdrop of the show, so it's a good setup. The rules of the on-screen world are clearly defined by the on-screen actions.

This is a bit of a dark comedy (go figure), with a healthy dose of (what the meta-joke early on reveals) "women's troubles". I really can't say much more without spoiling it, but that little meta reference was laugh-out-loud hilarious, for what it's worth). It really is, though, a show about women, their mothers, their relationships (or lack thereof), an all that. Which is pretty much what I remember of most any Almodóvar film. Why a guy is such an authority on the subject is probably a bit suspect, and lord knows I'm really not a qualified judge either, but it seems to work really well.

You see, there's one aspect of what he's done, in this film specifically, that I don't normally associate with the other films I watch; at least, not so obviously. That one thing:


I swear, the empathy I felt for each of the lead women characters in the situation they were in was palpable and comforting, despite how absurd the overall scenario actually played out. That duality expressed a level of intuition that is rare in most dramatic portrayal. Admittedly, it was simple enough that even I could grasp it, but I think that was a great feature of it, because that means it Kept It Simple.

At any rate, the story was entertaining, the character performances were great, and the overall experience was worth the time. Fun and insightful, though not entirely profound. Which is fine.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Blogbirthday... Again?

Subject: Musings
Go figure. May 21st, 2004, I started up this vain little experiment/outlet. It's been an odd three years, that's for sure.

My frequency of posts peaked in 2005; in total, however, I don't think I've broken the 700 mark. And I've been slacking off a lot lately (especially without the inspiration I was hoping for from "El Cazador"... *sigh*)

Also, my writing quality has taken an extreme nosedive, I've noticed. While some of my best posts were aided by a little bit of a buzz, I've gone overboard more often of late. Sometimes to the point of writing something totally incomprehensible that I quickly delete. (Yes, there *are* more incomprehensible posts than the ones on here!)

Perhaps these years of cartoon brain-candy have taken their toll on my attention span and concentration. Perhaps I never really resolved the underlying issues that were starting to percolate when I first started writing here, and I'm just getting weary of treading the same ground over and over.

Or maybe I've started drinking too much coffee and my thought process is totally fractured -- I had gone cold-turkey slightly before I started blogging, and was mostly caffeine-free for over a year.


But, I'm still here and I still want to write and I still want to work on improving how I write and what I write about. But I also want to keep my "stream-of-conciousness" avenue open as well, because it's really quite a lot of fun.

Here's to another three years, then!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Best. Bond. Evar.

Subject: Cinema
(NOTE: This was actually written Saturday night. Totally PWI and it fell apart at the end, so I've been debating what to do with it. I've decided to clean up some of the phrasing and spelling and let it go...)

So this was really awesome as far as a James Bond franchise goes.

I mean, of course, the recent release of "Casino Royale". Which, compared to over 30 years of the original James Bond/Ian Fleming stories, is a gritty, suspenseful and hardcore telling of the old-skool tale that we're all familiar with.

Sean Connery was the ultimate macho-Bond. Then there was the underrated George Lazenby, with what was my favorite Bond story ever. Then Roger Moore took the franchise over with some of the most gratuitous Bond-insanity ever (Duran Duran notwithstanding). And there were still attempts at making the Bond mythos relevant with Dalton and Brosnan and the like. Dalton tried to evoke the Lazenby mythos, but beyond that, the silliness continues.

This version was almost entirely devoid of silliness, witch was totally awesome.

The whole notion of a hardcore everyday Bond, with his charms in the service of country over class plays more toward the original Fleming novels than the outcome of the stories that spawned from that era.

But then the whole Texas-holdem game (instead of the classier Baccarat) made the whole point of the series rather lame. I mean, was this whole thing just World Series O' Poker when it came down to it?

At any rate, it's kind of unfortunate that such an entertaining show fell into the trap of a lot of disparate elements. But still fun nonetheless.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The underrated gem of the season!

Subject: Noir
I've been following BluWacky's summaries of the Spring 2007 anime season, and was intrigued enough by this review of "Denno Coil" from a few days ago to download the raw. There's no fansub just yet, but I watched it untranslated anyhow.

And wow!

It's a for-children story, but it's got a very refreshing natural style to it. And the animation is tremendously lively and sparkling. The production quality is leaps above most typical anime. And to top it off, the characters are all interesting, the storytelling was clearly delivered visually without the need to understand the dialouge (though I'm sure the details it will provide will add another layer of enjoyment), and for a kid's show, it shows far more sophistication than, sad to say, "El Cazador".

And it looks like I'm only discovering the tip of the iceberg here. I was largely unfamiliar with the name Mitsuo Iso, and the notion of a "sakuga" anime, and I seem to have a lot to learn. And apparently the AniPages blog is the place to start. I've scanned through a few pages, and it looks like there's an awful lot that I don't know jack squat about with regards to anime. What a surprise! I figure I'll be lost wandering around in there for quite a while, yet.

This one makes my day. Really! While I'm still entertained by "El Cazador", it's mostly of ordinary and cliché and that has been rather dissappointing to me, and it hasn't done anything to satisfy my need for something "smart" to watch. I think this one just might fill that gap. And I have the added bonus of having a whole new niche to learn about! Hooray!

Here's the promo on YouTube:

Sunday, May 13, 2007

So much for my Sunday morning

Subject: Musings
Well, late last night just as I was about to go to bed, my pager from work started going off repeatedly. I decided to ignore it, which was just as well, because there wouldn't have been anything I could do about the total meltdown that occured. But this morning, well, it's been non-stop conference calls and email messages and poking around servers to see if there's any recourse. Not much hope for resolution anytime soon. *Sigh*

And I just wanted to have a nice cup of coffee, a warm tasty breakfast, and watch some clever little anime programs. Oh well. At least I had time to call my mom and wish her a happy Mother's Day. Got to keep my priorities straight!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Double-feature mindfuck

Subject: Cinema
When I added these films to my Netflix queue, I made a point of seperating them by adding a couple of recent or otherwise non-serious discs in between. It must have been the case that everyone else was watching those discs though, because I got these dumped on me at the same time, far sooner than I figured I'd be ready for them.

First up was the 2001 cult-classic-ish "Donnie Darko". That is to say, it's a cult classic for a lot of youngsters who came of age around then, because it's pretty much geared toward the angsty too-smart-for-thou high-school set. And it's a bit twisted and unusual and untypical and all that. When I started it, I was a bit off-kilter and not really in the mood, so I was easily distracted and irritated by the "oh-aren't-I-ironic" attitude it was copping. And, of course, just as I was starting to get into it, it takes a sudden turn into the WTF, and then ends just as abruptly.

I guess it took me a while to get into it then, because it wasn't exactly a short movie.

I'm sure there were a lot of good and interesting things happening here, and if I were a little more receptive to it, I probably would have happily gone along for the ride, but as it stood, I was a bit too annoyed with the yet-another-teenage-anthem quality in a way that the late-80's in-jokes didn't manage to overcome. Besides, my high-school years were the first half of the 80's, so I was definitely too old for it even in that perspective. Oh well. But it still was a bit of a brain-bender, albeit a bit nonsensical and ultimately unfulfilling.

Next up was a film I've kind of been afraid of ever since I heard of it. My favorite "I've forgotten he's a favorite" director is Terry Gilliam, and he recently released a very personal, and very, very disturbing film called "Tideland".

And ultimately, it wasn't that bad, though. Though it started building more and more towards "Why the fuck are you going there" as it went on. And it starts out with the young girl lead helping her father shoot up with smack. So you can just imagine how far down the road it goes to elicit an even stronger reaction.

Gilliam does a bit of an intro where he warns the audience "some of you will not like this film". He tries to warn us that we should just discard the notions that we have as adults, and try to see it all through the eyes of the little girl, and the innocence therin. Like he's totally challenging us to ignore just how fucking nuts and borderline psychotic this is going to make you think he is after watching this. He says "remember to laugh". Ummm...

Okay, there were a number of places where it was very much the absurdist Gilliamesque grotesquery to the point where it was amusing. Grimly, ghastly amusing, for certain. And there's no escaping the fact that he's drilled deeply into the subconcious and extracted a very strange place indeed. Again, he disclaims "I have found my inner child, and it's a little girl". While in a creepy key light, looking like he hasn't shaved in a while.

And it could be that he's right. That kids are very resiliant and imaginative and you can throw the worst imaginable shit at them and they'd still be imaginitive kids and cope with it on their own terms. And he redeems the poor, amazing little thing at the end (the young actress doing such an amazing, convincing performance that it's all the more insidious). And again, the absurdity of it, contrasted with the amazing beauty and starkness of the cinemetography and setting and detail, truly help offset the literal interpretation of narrative events. As horrifying as the thought of a lot of what's going on if it were described to you in writing (which I really can't bring myself to do), it seems to be all about the context, and you find that you can accept it that way.

Well, maybe you can. A lot of you probably won't, and that's fine. It's really fucked up, and a deep-dive into the subconcious. But it's oddly accessable as such mindfucks go. And maybe in some ways that's a little dissappointing, that maybe he didn't go far enough. But then again, if you stick with the literal events of the story, you probably miss the point. Not that the point is entirely self-evident, but it's something to think deeply about, while the fucked-up-but-beautiful imagery infects your subconcious for a while.

All the same, I'd rather he'd been able to spend his time finishing "Don Quixoute" instead...

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Science of Slap-me-upside-the-head

Subject: Cinema
I've somehow wound up with a heavy slate of Netflix rentals this weekend. More about the other two when I watch them on Saturday, but this evening I watched last year's indie-buzzed "The Science of Sleep".

Turns out it's a French film that's mostly in English, because the leading man is supposed to be only half-French, half-Mexican, and natively speaks Spanish, and when he moves back to Paris, the only common language between him and everyone else is English. A somewhat inaccurate English, but otherwise it's the central mode of communication.

Anyway, I wasn't entirely sure about this one from it's "indie romantic comedy" reputation (a bit of buzz before it's release, and then it dissappeared), but I wanted to give it a try. And from the moment I started watching it, it wanted to stick knives into me.

Well, not really in a bad way or anything; in fact, it resonated a bit too well in a lot of ways. Thus the knives. The stinging "ouch" moments.

Right from the top, when we're introduced to the mechanism of dreaming -- and this is pretty much a surrealist dream-oriented sort of film through and through, which was quite cool -- it immediately describes the first dream as a moment where he meets his father "alive, just as if he were never sick at all". Ouch. But also dead-on accurate in the ensuing surrealistic depiction of how the dream plays out -- no visuals besides abstract shapes, just the narrative. Kind of with an observational fascination, then with an event of illogical absurdity, culminating in an objective description of an emotional reaction. It was fascinating that once I realized what he was talking about, I totally froze for a moment. But then found myself nodding in agreement, contemplative. Still, ouch.

Then the movie progresses into it's "romantic comedy" situation, but because it's about blurring the lines between the surrealist absurdity of dreams, and the mundane absurdity of the real world, it's very much not the typical sort of thing from your usual American film, indie or mainstream or otherwise. It's rather clever, and, then, with another stab of a knife blade, a bit too coincidentally familiar. The nerdy-hot creative girl, and the somewhat pathetic, thoroughly-rebuffed advances by the lead, and the ensuing dream-driven obsession, where reality isn't quite real anymore.

No, it's not remotely a point-for-point parallel (Parallel Synchronized Randomness? *cough*), but there's enough familiar material in there to continue with the "ouch" moments. But the soft absurdity of it all is amusing and lets me chuckle at it anyhow.

The best parts are the surreal bits of animation, of course. They're simple and effective sequences, and they tie in with the overall narrative quite well. And the ending animation sequence ends on a fine, satisfying moment; right where it should have.

So I really did enjoy this a lot more than I expected to, but I'm still a bit disturbed at just how close it cut.

Washout of a season

Subject: Noir
Actually, I don't mean the weather; unlike a lot of the country, it's been rather dry and cool-to-temperate around here. Though I have been under the weather, as it were. A nasty headcold/sinus infection went around the office and knocked me out for a good chunk of this past week.

Add that with nothing particularly inspirational to write about, and, well, there you go.

Here's a round-up of the anime I've sampled, and whether I'm continuing or dropping them:

"Bokurano" -- So far, with only one episode, though it seems like a serious dramatic story with the potential for interesting writing, it also seems like it will be a depressing drag, with too many unlikable characters (not to mention a lack of likeable ones) and no real breakthrough in technique or cinematics to keep me interested. Dropping for now.

"Claymore" -- I guess I'm kind of desperate for a serious action series, but I'm not this desperate. A bunch of souless-eyed characters and stiff, lifeless animation only serve to render the gratuitious gore and wooden presence all the more lame. Dropped after about 10 minutes.

"Return to Terra" -- I was hoping that some of the old-skool look I saw in some misc screenshots would mean this would be a good homage of, well, old-skool, but the eyes on the characters are truly awful with their lifeless "moe-esque" sparkle and the performances and animation quality were rather sub par. Dropped after about 10 minutes.

"Agent AIKa R-16" OVA -- This is a prequel to the borderline-hentai predecessor to "Najica Blitz Tactics", "Agent Aika". Both the original, a part of "Najica", and this OVA were all written by Kenichi Kanemaki. Who is writing (and, perhaps, ruining?) "El Cazador". "Najica" was a hoot and a lot of fun, "Aika" was kind of wierd-but-amusingly-trashy. This OVA is just plain trash, though. Dumb. Being clichéd is one thing, but not doing anything fun with it is worthless. Dropped.

"Sisters of Wellber" -- I dunno. It seemed like the characters have a little potential, and it looks like it will be an "on-the-run" action show, and there doesn't seem to be any particular "rules" to that universe (the genres are all thrown together in a box, shaken up, and dumped into the script, it would seem). But then there's this stupid little boisterous 3D CGI "talking tank" (no, really) that shows up, and the "dumb" of it just overwhelmed everything. And there wasn't a lot to make up for it in the animation and design otherwise. I dunno. I might give it another episode or two later, but I think I'm on hold for now.

"Darker Than Black" -- the previews for this made me think it was going to be a serious, grownup action-drama-mystery show, but it's kind of missing the mark. I can't remember if I've complained about it endlessly talking about plotpoints instead of letting the universe coalesce more organically. And the few bright spots of animation that I saw in the trailer turn out to be few and far between. I've gotten through episode 3, but I think I'm going to leave it on hold for a while.

"Murder Princess" OVA -- This is Yet Another Bee Train series, this time in OVA form. Mashimo is pretty much just a producer on this one, with a new director and very little creative-team crossover from the usual Bee Train staff. One point of interest is that a writer for "Master Keaton" and "Monster" is doing the screenplay. Still, I don't know if that's quite enough. The higher framerate and higher attention to animation details also aren't quite enough. While it's better quality than the shows above, it falls kind of flat for me in the "hold my interest" department. The characters don't escape from "that's kind of cool, in theory" into the "I care about what's happening" realm. I'll probably keep watching them (there's not many episodes) just because it's Bee Train. But that's about it.

...Yikes! No wonder I've been in such a lousy mood... Well, here's a couple of the "bright spots":

"Romeo x Juliet" -- Okay, I'm just a big, dumb softie. Everything about this show should be making me roll my eyes in mock annoyance, but it just goes to show that a little effort in animating a little life into the lead characters goes a long way. Or maybe I'm just kind of desperate for something remotely interesting. Or maybe my expectations were kind of low and it was easy to meet and exceed them. Whatever. It's still entertaining.

I've already mentioned that it's now going to be my regular Sunday morning show along with the second season of "Emma", which I'm also keeping in my queue for the season. But there hasn't been any new fansub releases recently, so I'll just watch them on whatever Sundays I happen to get a new one.

Finally, not really a new series, but in fact a really old one -- Koichi Mashimo's "Eat Man" series from the '90s has made it's way to a new fansub release. This one has been MIA over here in the US for years, only garnering a VHS release back in the day. I don't know the particulars on how it came to be subbed, but I'm thrilled that it is!

And, oh man, is it strange. Still, having watched a lot of the earlier Mashimo work like the "Dirty Pair" OVA, "Captain Tylor", and "Sorcerer Hunters", all the classic Mashimo techniques are there. Only this time it has a slightly surreal edge. I'm only up to episode 2, but watching it puts a grin on my face at just how nuts the technique is. Absolutely classic. The series was re-done as "Eat-Man '98" by an entirely different team because of the alleged dissatisfaction of the fans of the manga that it was based on. In that, Mashimo more or less discarded the manga and did the whole thing his way. Or so the legend goes. Bravo for that!

That's about it. Yes, I'm also on top of "El Cazador" as well, but I'll save that for another post.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Leo M., 1944-2006

Dad and me, 1970Today would have been my father's 63rd birthday. Approximately 20 years ago he learned that he had a rare genetic liver condition called Polycystic Liver Disorder, which causes cysts of fluid to build up within the liver. Big, awful cysts. When he died, he had been carrying around well over 100 pounds of liver and fluid. Every part of him was emaciated, but he had to carry around a giant and ever-expanding burden within his abdomen that, despite an attempt at resection surgery, would continue to get worse until it finally crushed his kidneys and he could no longer survive.

One year ago, I called him at the hospital to wish him a happy birthday, but that call wound up scaring me, panicking me. He was in great pain, and we had nothing we could say to each other. Nothing at all; an awkward silence. It haunts me more than just a bit. Two days later, I got the call from my mother -- the call you never really want to hear, but it happens and you have to accept it and take action and do your duty.

And that's what he would have wanted; to make sure I did my duty and did right by my mom and make sure everything went okay. Which I couldn't have done without the help of my brothers, my aunt (my father's sister), and the support of the rest of the extended family. My younger brother took care of the awful medical post-mortem details (he was a trained paramedic), and I took care of the convoluted corporate and government survivor benefits and financial details. And I will always be impressed by just how much she was able to learn, as quickly as she did, and take control of her future. At least as much as she can at this point. I was also surprised to learn that I really don't know my own mother as well as I thought I did.

At his funeral, my youngest brother delivered the eulogy in the form of a poem that my father kept handy. I don't even remember what it was. All I remember is being consumed with the disappointment in myself for not being able to stand up there and deliver the eulogy myself. I honestly didn't know what to say. It was like my last phone call on his birthday. No words. Nothing. So I played the role of the stoic oldest son supporting his mother, only cracking a bit when they sang "Ave Maria", which he fondly remembered singing when he was a boy in that very same church.

My father was a bit of an unusual man. He wasn't very social, but he was very strong-willed and a bit of a type-A personality. He was a senior-level manager in a large corporation who was more or less the "fixer"; he'd take on a serious problem and turn it around to make it right, usually by intimidating everyone in his path. He had a patented "look", a withering stare that could strike fear in the hearts of mere mortals. It's a trick that I've only barely been able to emulate. He was also a very gregarious and thoughtful person who attracted intense loyalty of his peers. To watch his deterioration over the last year of his life (because of the medication and the increasing hopelessness of his condition) was disheartening and scary, and I was in denial about it, even after the shock of that last phone call one year ago.

Dad and my little brother at my university graduation ceremonyThere are two stories he told me that I remember well. The second story he told me after I started college and he had come up to visit ostensibly on a business trip. He had just finished basic training for the US Air Force in the early 60's, just before the Cuban Missile Crisis, and he and his buds had rented a hotel room off-base to have a party. It turned out to be a very, very rowdy party, with furniture being thrown out windows and the cops showing up to arrest the lot of 'em. It was the only time my dad was arrested. He told me that the squad car had to pull over every five minutes because he was so drunk that he had the dry heaves. While the charges were dropped pretty quickly, he carried around his arrest report ever since then as a reminder.

The first story was something he told me much earlier. When he was in the Air Force, he was assigned to the NSA (National Security Agency) as a codebreaker, with a lot of classified stories in him that he still conditioned not to tell years after his clearance expired. When he told me this one story the first time, he said that when he was stationed in Crete, they would fly missions along the nearest Soviet border in an old DC-3, gathering radio transmissions. There were many instances where similar patrols would be shot down, but that was very, very secret. Families would be told that their sons died in a car accident in Athens. It was deep into the cold war at that point.

So my dad was the decrypter who took the code that the radio guy intercepted, and passed the results to the translator. He had gotten a medal for figuring out a new variation of a code (that was coincidently solved back in D.C. at the same time, so he didn't get that much credit for it). But in this one particular mission, there's a burst of radio activity, and he passes the results to the translator, who suddenly goes white. The DC-3 they were flying strayed into Soviet airspace, apparently, and translator said "they're scrambling MIGs, they're coming after us".

Even in the mid-'60s, a DC-3 was an old clunker of an aircraft, so you can just imagine how everybody felt as that POS was straining at maximum speed to get back across the border before a squadron of modern jet fighters pounced on it. It was tense and worrisome, but ultimately nothing came of it, and my mom, who he was engaged to at the time, thankfully never needed to be notified of an unfortunate "traffic accident".

Just a few years ago, in a retelling of the story, he admitted that it actually happened when he was secretly stationed in Vietnam before that war escalated. The fact that he was even there was something he couldn't even admit to my mother up until recently, because it was so secret at the time. The missions he described, and the failures too, out of Crete were quite real and happened a lot, but the mission from his story was actually from the activity that was happening in Vietnam before the "real" war even started. It was shocking to learn that after all those years.

What other secrets he died with, unable to tell, I'll never know now. The fact that your parents have secrets they keep from you shouldn't be surprising, but they are. How can they not be?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The return of the languid Sunday mornings

Subject: Noir
I had a nice little ritual worked out where I'd watch a relaxing anime episode or two on Sunday mornings while having breakfast. "Tsubasa Chronicle", "Mushishi" -- those fit the bill pretty well.

Another one of those was "Victorian Romance - Emma", which just started it's second season. It's a nice, sedate, detail-oriented show with a focus on 1800's England with it's strict social order and conventions and expectations of behavior. The show jumps right in shortly after where it left off, showing the two now-separate lives of William and Emma. And, of course, my favorite character Hakim, the Indian prince, is back along with his deadpan-expression harem that cracks me up so much.

I'm not expecting the story to break much ground, but I figure it will be interesting to watch nonetheless.

Though the subtitle releases aren't very predictable yet, I'm finding Sunday morning is also a good time for "Romeo X Juliet". It's not a particularly sedate series in any way, but there's a nice spark to the lead characters that gives them life and interest, and there's a solid attention to detail that keeps it grounded despite the sense that it would go spin off into "epic" if given the chance.

Anyway, it's odd that I'd be going back-to-back with two romantically-oriented shows, especially considering my overall frustration with frustrated romantics, but absent a 3rd season of "Tsubasa", these two will probably do the trick.

I've got a couple of other shows for the season on my "sample" list, but it'll be a little while yet before I give them any serious attention.