Taking Part In Battles Without Honor and Humanity

September 13th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

My friend Sloane Leong is putting on an art show at Floating World Comics in Portland. It’s yakuza movie-themed, which has been something near and dear to my heart probably ever since I saw Takeshi Kitano’s Brother for the first time. I was young, it was cheap, and I don’t think I’d ever heard of Beat Takeshi before I found that DVD in a BX. Here’s the trailer, if you’re curious:

It’s easy to see why I got into this stuff.

Sloane’s art show sounds pretty awesome. Here’s the official descrip of Battles Without Honor and Humanity:

This exhibition will be based loosely around yakuza/crime noir films by directors such as Akira Kurosawa, Takeshi “Beat” Kitano, Takeshi Miike, Kinji Fukasaku, Seijun Suzuki, Yukio Mishima, Sogo Ishii and Shinya Tsukamoto. As a genre, yakuza films are divided into two subsets: ninkyo-eiga or “chivarly films” featuring honorable outlaws caught between duty and compassion. Then there is jisturoku-eiga, the modern yakuza films which feature the stifling brutality of a life of crime. The artists and writers in this show will explore and pay homage to this powerful and unique genre.

Sounds pretty ill, right? Here’s some of the art from the show that I pulled off tumblr:

Yowza. Lotta good stuff, especially Sophia Foster-Dimino’s homage to Akira Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel. (New People, a local theater, put on a Kurosawa film fest and I got to see that and a bunch of others on the big screen. It was awesome.) From left to right, that’s Sophia Foster-Dimino, Ryan Andrews, Roxie Vizcarra, Ron Wimberly, Jeremy Sorese, Ian Macewan, Hwei Lim, Hunter Heckroth, and Emma Rios. The big image at the top of the post is by Logan Faerber. There’s more art, of course, and you can buy a limited edition zine called Yakuza Papers at the show or online. It’s got 23 illustrations, twenty-eight pages, and it’s eight bucks, plus shipping. You should go for it. (You should also buy The Yakuza Papers, Vol. 1, because Bunta Sugawara is on that Mitchum/Mifune/Nakadai level of cooldude.)

Here’s some vital details:

WHO: Artwork and zines by Ralph Niese, Maritsa Patrinos, Joanna Kroatka, Alexis Ziritt, Andrew Maclean, Logan Faerber, Andrew Maclean, Robert Wilson IV, Sophia Foster-Dimino, Rebecca Mock, Roxie Vizcarra, D-Pi, Ian MacEwan, Zack Soto, Morgan Jeske, Hunter Heckroth, Emma Rios, Vlad Jean, Aluisio Santos, Frank Teran, Jeremy Sorese, Ryan Andrews, Hwei Lim, Amei Zhao, Kris Mukai, David Brothers, Stanley Lieber and M. Dominic
WHAT: Yakuza film inspired art exhibit
WHEN: Saturday, September 15th, 6-8pm; artwork on display until Sept. 30
WHERE: Floating World Comics, 400 NW Couch St.

and there will be a special movie, too!

WHAT: Screening of Seijun Suzuki’s masterpiece, Branded To Kill
WHEN: Saturday, September 15th, 9:30pm
WHERE: Hollywood Theater, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd.

So the show opens on Saturday, with a movie screening right after. Wish I could be there. It sounds like a good ti–wait a minute, David who is in the art show? David Brothers? Well dang.

Sloane likes to solicit text-only zines for her shows, and she was kind enough to let me grab a spot. So: I made my first zine and now I’m going to talk about it some because I’ve never done this before.

I didn’t go into it with any type of plan, really. I figured I’d write a story, print it, and ship it. It’s that easy, right? So I wrote a story that came in around 4500 words, maybe a little more, and fiddled with it until I mostly liked how it turned out. Then I turned it over to a few friends, asked what they thought, and fiddled with it some more. (I think they call that “editing.”)

After that, I had to figure out how to make a zine. I don’t know word one about zines, beyond the fact that they exist and had words in them and involved a lot of tedious folding and stapling. I emailed Liz Barker, who creates Strawberry Fields Whatever with Laura Jane Faulds and Jen May. (Liz and LJ made a set of Beatles-inspired zines that I picked up and greatly enjoyed last year.) Liz gave me some good advice and warned me about some pitfalls, and that was enough to get me prepared enough to go at it. I poked around online for tips, too, and I found a Word template that would help me with laying out the zine properly. I also hung out and talked with Katie Longua about folding and stapling things, since she self-publishes her comics (and other art). She let me borrow her long stapler, too, which was a life-saver. (I also asked a coworker a few dumb design questions, and she put me on game, too.)

I spent some time fiddling around with fonts and font sizes, trying to get the best-looking text to fit into the most amount of space. I ended picking Georgia, size 11, from a pool of Arial, Times New Roman, and Georgia. That left every page mostly full, and was easy on the eyes besides. I meant to indent each paragraph, and even worked up a mockup with indents, but botched that when I went to print. I did a single test print of the three typefaces and took a sheet of the cardstock cover color I wanted home with me to see how it looked. I printed the story on natural-colored paper, I think it was called. The Kinko’s lady asked if I was doing a resume, so maybe it was resume paper. Either way, it’s nice.

With all of that under my belt and in the back of my head, I was ready to go. I wanted a fancy cover originally, and reached out to a friend to see about designing one. Then I realized, wait. I’m broke and it would actually be kind of cool if every zine I printed was entirely my own. So why not do a cover myself? What could possibly go wrong?

I soon realized that I didn’t have a title, not a proper one, anyway. I like one-word titles, and the file name for the text was just “daisuke.txt.” “Daisuke.” would be cool, but I decided to go with something different: I’d just write the first sentence of the story on the cover and let it serve as a semi-title. I wanted the text to fit mostly evenly on the cover, semi-justified basically, and that meant I needed to know how to adjust my handwriting. I did a few tests with a leaky pen (the only pen I own!), none of which I particularly liked, but the bottom-right was moving in the right direction:

I moved on to Sharpie, and also began working out other front and back cover elements. The Sharpie is closer to how I write in real life than the pen, strangely. I also factored in that I would mess up, and wrote a few patch words so I could adjust the whole shebang in Photoshop:

Oh… covers shouldn’t have crooked text on them, huh? I grabbed a piece of paper and a mechanical pencil and ruled a page up right quick and rewrote everything. It ended up much better, I think. It’s not perfect, my handwriting will never be perfect, but it works.

The next step was getting it onto a computer so I could edit it and adjust a few things on the fly. Scanning is tedious. I wish I had an intern to do it every time I have to do it. Turns out the only thing more tedious than scanning is scanning paper and then having to chop out text. For some reason, I couldn’t just go to Levels or Curves or whatever and make the text dark black and the paper bright white, to ease the cutting. So I did it by hand, with the eraser, magic wand, and a 400% zoom. I eventually ended up with this, which has a transparent background:

After that, I was ready to print. I decided to go with plain type for the back cover. In part because that previous step was the tedious-est, but also because it felt like a better idea. Here’s how the front and back covers worked out after I printed:

One pitfall I didn’t expect were my own terrible math skills. I wanted to print 25 copies, in addition to my one proof I printed earlier. The story worked out to twelve folded pages. That means six unfolded, plus one for the cover. However, when planning, I for some reason counted folded pages when deciding to do 25 copies, and estimated that I’d be bringing home 300 pieces of paper to fold and staple. Ha ha ha, it was only 150. Anyway, here’s a rejected back cover copy attempt I scrawled with a ballpoint pen I found at work. You can tell when I decided it was a bad idea. I’m surprised I finished the word “and.”

At this point, I’ve got the cover, I’ve got the guts, I’ve got a stapler, and I’ve got no idea how long it’s going to take to put this thing together. Luckily, I’d been slacking on watching TV, so I just caught up on Louie, Black Dynamite, and Children’s Hospital while I folded. 25 doesn’t sound like a lot, but boy does it feel like a lot of work when you’re in the middle of it and half done.

Physically, it was an easygoing process, though I was definitely tired of it and bored by the time I hit the end. But it was nice to be distracted by tv while I worked. I usually write with music for that exact reason. It gives me something to ignore, or lets me ignore and get some distance from what I’m working on. I can work in quiet, but it’s easier with a little bit of familiar noise.

I managed to fold almost every one of them perfectly straight, too. Here’s a peek:

I had half an idea about using old polybags as a container, but the size was all wrong for that. So I figured I was about wrapped up, but there was one problem: they didn’t lay flat. For some reason, despite having an apartment full of books, I didn’t go for the easiest solution. Instead, I stacked them up under my laptop and Katsuya Terada’s Rakugaking (and Felipe Smith’s Peepo Choo apparently) overnight:

And then, the next day at work, I found out that they all would fit in a Priority Mail package and that was that.

For a long time, I wanted to get published, to have somebody cosign my talents and put my work out there for me. Then I grew up, made my own site, and lost interest in getting signed. Why do I need somebody else to tell me what I can do? And for that matter, why do I need to print something for it to feel legitimate? I don’t. So I didn’t.

I liked doing this, though. It’s not something I’d do too often, and it is super cool to be even a small part of a show with a bunch of awesome artists. I’ve discovered people whose style I like a lot, and people whose art I already dug are present and accounted for, too.

Hit the art show on Saturday, if you can, or swing by Floating World after to check out the art. I sent Sloane twenty zines, so… keep an eye out for them? Maybe?

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“you know you’re dealing with the yakuza, right?” [takeshi kitano’s outrage]

December 13th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

I saw Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage at the Shattuck in Berkeley this past weekend. It’s my… probably third time seeing it. I bootlegged it back in 2010 when it dropped, and then I bought an official Hong Kong Blu-ray of it. It’s a thoroughly unromantic movie on pretty much every possible level. It’s not the sexy kind of crime movie, not even close. And that got me thinking.

I’m listening to this album right now, Greneberg, that’s actually pretty prime crime rap. Roc Marciano, the emcee on the album, is one of my favorite of this new wave of thugged out rappers. (It’s him, Pill, and Freddie Gibbs, really. That’s another post, maybe.) Part of the thrill of listening to their music is the actual music, of course–Alchemist and Oh No are great on average, fantastic regularly–but Roc Marcy’s rhymes are compelling. He paints a picture of crime that feels pleasingly authentic, brutal, and exciting. The authenticity is what’s crucial here. You listen or read or watch fiction in order to be convinced. You want to believe that this picture the artist is painting is real. In the case of Roc Marciano, its his low voice, ruthless nature, and matter of fact approach. For Scarface, it’s his desperation, storytelling, and bursts of vicious anger.

Part of the appeal of crime fiction is watching someone live out a fantasy that you wouldn’t mind being a part of. It isn’t aspirational exactly, but it’s in the same neighborhood. It gives you a chance to see someone live life according to his own rules, no matter who stands in his way. Sometimes that means Rae and Ghost playing at being coke kingpins. Other times, it’s about DMX raping and murdering everything in sight. It’s transgressive, but in an attractive way. It lets you step outside yourself and into someone else’s shoes.

Why do good girls go for bad guys? Because bad guys lead interesting lives.

I think this is particularly true of crime fiction featuring the yakuza. There’s an exoticness there that’s definitely attractive. The semi-legitimate and public nature of the yakuza, when combined with the organizational structure, fashion, history, and tattoos, is something entirely different from the mafia or street gangs. It’s cooler to read about and more interesting to study. That distance between what we know (mafia) and what we don’t know (yakuza) makes for a tale with built-in appeal.

Outrage feels like a response to the sexiness of the yakuza. I say that it’s unromantic because there is nothing aspirational, or even escapist, about the yakuza in the film. There aren’t any young, attractive dudes following an honorable code of their own. Tattoos are only shown before acts of violence and aren’t idolized in the least. The yakuza themselves, from the boss on down, are disloyal and dishonest, more than willing to lie to their boss’s face or deal drugs if it’ll make them money.

The dishonesty is what’s most interesting, I think. The movie gets going when a boss suggests that a sub-boss re-examine his ties with a man from a rival crew. The underling’s solution is to have Otomo, played by Takeshi Kitano, use his gang to start a minor argument. Otomo, ever-loyal, does just that, and what follows are a series of betrayals on every possible level. Boss betrays sub-boss, sub-boss betrays friend, and everything rolls downhill.

Thinking about it, Outrage is about a lack of integrity. The members of Otomo’s gang range from loyal to disloyal, but the traitors never cross Otomo in an open way. They skim off the top and look for ways to make their lives better. They do their dirt in secret, just like everyone else. The bosses speak out against dealing drugs, but just do it on the side anyway.

I can only think of one character with a speaking role who isn’t compromised. He’s a cop whose anger at a smoking yakuza is far out of proportion. His anger suggests frustration and impotence more than anything else. He isn’t telling the yakuza not to litter because he really believes in keeping the environment clean. He’s telling him that because that’s the only level of control he can exert over them. (There’s a couple of others who speak, generally waiters or greeters, but they say nothing of substance beyond “irasshaimase” and maybe “arigato gozaimasu.”)

That’s because a high-ranking and upwardly mobile officer is in bed with the yakuza. He lets them know about surveillance, drops tips in their lap, and takes part in sham interrogations. But he’s nothing more than a crony. He sold his soul for cash, and once he’s no longer useful, he’s no longer going to be paid.

One of the more interesting characters is a civilian who uses his place to throw parties with drugs and gambling. That lack of integrity makes him vulnerable to being taken advantage of, and when he sees a way to get out of his predicament, he trades freedom for money. He follows his baser instincts.

Outrage explores corruption and the fact that it isn’t something you can easily contain. It seeps and spreads and infests and eventually ends you. There are a few characters that aren’t loathsome (Otomo, Ozawa, and Mizuno), but you don’t want to be any of them. You don’t even want to step into their shoes to get just a taste of the life. This movie isn’t about the triumph of a criminal so much as the downfall of one. They’re all mired in corruption and compromise, and it damns them.

Not to say there aren’t several cool characters, of course. I liked Ishihara, who was played by Ryō Kase. Mizuno (Kippei Shiina) was great. Ozawa was played by Tetta Sugimoto, who is the exact kind of older dude who can really anchor a movie. I’d like to see more with that guy, in fact. But I like these characters in spite of their actions, not because of them. They played their roles to the hilt, but I never wanted to slip into their lives for a moment.

Outrage is good stuff. I liked it a lot, in part because it was so unsentimental and raw. There’s no fantasy here, nothing you’ll daydream about doing. Scarface is an intensely aspirational and escapist movie, and even though Tony dies at the end, it doesn’t play out like Outrage does. Tony led a glamorous and amazing life before Sosa takes him down. In Outrage, you get the barest glimpse of the benefits of life in the yakuza, and that’s always tainted.

You can rent it on Amazon for seven bucks, catch it in theaters, or get the blu-ray in January.

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