Sundance 2017 Favorites: Tokyo Idols

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Via sundance.org

This is my second year as a festival staffer for Sundance Film Festival. Due to the amount of time I will be spending working and attending films vs. writing, I am only going to be posting updates about my absolute favorite films.

At 21 years old, Rio Hiiragi feels that her career is near its expiration date.

Rio is an idol singer, who has spent the last several years playing concerts in Japan, filming daily live streams, posting updates on social media, and attending frequent meet and greets. Her ravenous fans put as much time, energy, and money in all things Rio as someone would in pursuing a hobby or skill. While this type of obsessive behavior might often be associated with teenage music fans, nearly all Rio fans–and fans of other young women in the idol industry–are unmarried middle aged men.

Director Kyoko Miyake has noted that she is the same age as many of the “brothers”, Rio’s super fans who idolize her. With how intimate the idol scene is in Tokyo, interacting frequently with Rio can feel like a substitute for having a girlfriend or a wife for these single men. Rio’s fans admire her and other idol singers because of their carefully constructed public image of being youthful, innocent and pure. The frequent meet and greets after her performances give fans a one minute time slot where they break the physical barrier by shaking hands, where they get to talk to Rio about whatever they want (the more childlike the discussion and interaction the better, one interviewee noted), and where they get to take an instant photo with her to have signed and take home as a keepsake. Watching footage of the meet and greets almost felt more like somebody meeting Cinderella at Disneyland than seeing a fan talk to a favorite musician.

And while Rio is half the age of a vast majority of her fans, there are new, younger idols who are starting to pick up momentum. Some upcoming idols are as young as 10 years old. A musician and performer since a young age, Rio is hoping for crossover success that will allow her to secure a more long term career in the music industry and to adopt a more matured and accessible image.  However, she feels that her time is running out.

The film is at its best during its most intimate moments with Rio. While we do see many scenes of the carefully constructed Rio persona onstage and with the brothers, we see just as many of Rio one-on-one with the director or in her childhood home with her family. The private Rio is a quick-witted, savvy, talented and intelligent young woman, and I enjoy seeing her creative process and her strategic choices in furthering her artistic vision. Miyake does not vilify Rio’s choice to enter this industry, while it is clear that she is supportive of her finding an exit.

I deeply feel that a big part of Rio’s musical career and personal identity being treated with respect has to do with the fact that a Japanese woman helmed this project. It would be extremely easy for a western filmmaker to take a xenophobic spin to this tale. I could see this subculture of men projecting their romantic aspirations onto these musicians being skewed as a reflection of Japanese culture as a whole, or would shame Rio for the emotional labor she performs at these meet and greets with fans, potentially comparing her career choice to sex work. Through Hiiragi’s more initiated lens comes a level of understanding of the culture and industry, we are able to understand why Rio was drawn into and stays in this line of work, and why children are reported through annual surveys to be more interested in becoming an idol singer when they grow up than any other career.

The in-depth look at the fans also helps to show that this fixation and fetishization of youth is universal. I, along with many other young women in the digital world, have received unwanted solicitation from similar men. This happens frequently on my Tumblr, where these men assume that my love of pastel colors, baby animals and animated films means that I am interested in being infantilized by someone whose profile picture is a headless mirror selfie of them in a suit and tie. I choose to not even acknowledge these men at all, but the rationale for trying to forge these connections and contact these young women seem to be similar. They know that nothing will come of it romantically, but the validation and attention from whatever their feminine ideal might be seems to outweigh any potential negatives or criticism in their eyes. For many, these men’s actions cause discomfort, but calling them out often goes ignored. Hiiragi confessed to the audience in her Q&A that any previous attempts to criticize this side of idol culture has been excused by her being “jealous” of the attention. She hopes that this film’s release in Japan will allow viewers to see the idol phenomenon with a more critical eye. I am hoping other viewers will see this film and do the same.

 

Fair Trade Product Review: Alaffia Everyday Coconut Cleansing Face Wash

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I generally don’t believe in making new year’s resolutions, since they are often so easily broken and hinder making actual change. However, this year I decided that I had some long term lifestyle changes that I wanted to make regarding both our environment and how laborers are treated. After stumbling across a book called The Virtuous Consumer at the library last fall, I have been working to fix bad consumer habits I have picked up.

So far, they have been small changes. I bring reusable cups and bottles to work with me whenever I can, I take reusable bags to the grocery store, and I try to figure out bus routes instead of calling Lyft when I need to get somewhere that I can’t walk to. I have also made efforts to stop supporting fast fashion clothing stores, thrifting as much of my clothing as I possibly can. The next step I want to take is supporting companies working to provide livable wages to their employees. This can be very difficult to do when buying produce or buying most consumer goods made overseas, but I want to push against the patterns of global companies exploiting third world labor as much as I possibly can as a first world citizen.

One of the first steps I have made towards becoming an informed consumer is switching face washes. For several years I used a Neutrogena brand face wash with microbeads. After learning that microbeads can tear your skin to make holes for bacteria and can pollute the water once scrubbed off, I decided to explore other options. I hopped onto the Fair Trade USA site, which features a guide to help find all sorts of Fair Trade certified products.

I ended up coming across Alaffia’s Everyday Coconut Cleansing Face Wash. Using fair trade coconut and manufactured in Olympia, WA (Courtney Love’s old stomping grounds, just FYI), the ingredients are very simple. There are no worries about applying anything toxic over your pores as their might be from most drugstore face wash brands. The product is paraben free, cruelty free, and contains no synthetic fragrances

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via MakeupAlley

Coconut oil seems to be one of the most active ingredients in the product. In addition to cleansing and softening my face, it also removes makeup easily without being abrasive. I have seen lots of people recommend this product to remove heavy eye makeup, but I don’t agree 100%. Because of its gentle ingredients, this product is mostly safe to have near your eyes, but it definitely still stings when you get some of that lather in your eye. I recommend removing as much eye makeup as possible with extra virgin coconut oil on its own before bringing out the face wash, and using that to work around any excess makeup instead of applying a large amount directly over the eye.

My skin is already soft and even, but Everyday Coconut has enhanced those features. Sometimes I can’t stop touching my face, because it feels like it’s never been so soft before. I cannot speak for the effect it will have on oily skin, but I have seen good reviews from people with dry skin who have used this product for years. The lavender essential oils also gives the face wash a nice scent, which has made washing my face a de-stressing self care act that I look forward to performing most evenings.

This product is also extremely affordable considering both its quality and its commitment to being Fair Trade. A 12 ounce bottle goes for $6.49 at Natural Grocers. If you do not have a Natural Grocers in your area, Target offers a free ship to store option, and it is also eligible for Amazon Prime. Whole Foods also carries several Everyday Coconut products, but along with the Target and Amazon options it could be a bit higher on the price scale.

Revisiting the Disney Princess Canon: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

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via PosterTeam

Although I have a general disdain both for many mainstream multiplex offerings and for corporate consumer cultures, I have an enormous soft spot for all things Disney, especially their animated feature roster. Disney revolutionized and set a high standard for the way that we enjoy animation, and despite some still-looming problematic tendencies is a major force for a sense of wonder and enchantment in both young and young at heart. Aside from Sailor Moon, The Simpsons, and most recently Archie Comics, Disney is one of the only geeky fandoms I choose to associate with and engage in. There is so much creativity within the Disney fan community, from Disneybounding to creating artwork interpreting beloved characters in a new context. There are so many characters to identify with and relate to, as evidenced by the number of “which Disney princess are you?” quizzes online alongside Harry Potter sorting hat quizzes. In terms of content, Disney is also one of the only fandoms where there is consistently quality new releases as well as constant discoveries of more archival materials. I generally only visit traditional movie theaters the 2-3 times per year that Disney or Pixar exhibit their latest animated offerings, and my personal Tumblr is loaded with vintage photographs of Disneyland throughout the 60s and 70s.

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via waltsdarlings on Tumblr

I stumbled across this Tumblr post admiring the beautiful animation in Snow White the other morning, and immediately decided to rewatch the film in its entirety before heading to work that evening. Once I put the DVD in, I realized that it had been a long time since I had seen most of the animated Disney canon. Despite being such an active Disney fan, there are many that I haven’t seen since I was a child. I have decided to dive back in headfirst and challenge myself to rewatch all the Disney Princess films in chronological order.

With nearly 80 years’ worth of film history to go through, I have decided to set a few ground rules for this challenge:

  1. Only feature-length, theatrical releases will be counted. This means no straight-to-video sequels, or princesses from TV series such as Sofia the First or Elena of Avalor.
  2. Disney films must either be fully animated or partially animated. For instance, I’ll be watching Enchanted but not The Princess Diaries.
  3. Obscure princesses will be featured. Princess Eilonwy, Kida, and Maid Marian being a few that come to mind.
  4. I have to watch Frozen even though I hate it with every fiber of my being.
  5. The one chronological exception to this will be attending Moana as soon as it is released, since I have no idea how I want to pace the rest of the films in this challenge quite yet. If you start running a marathon at top speed, you will burn out before the finish line, so this could be a relatively long term project.
  6. I must include my viewing format in each post. Some Disney films are ones I own nice copies of. Some are ones I only have on VHS. Some will be borrowed from the library. Moana will definitely be a big screen venture.

 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Release year: 1937

Viewing format: My personal DVD copy

Thoughts while watching:

  • One detail I love from early Disney films that I don’t see very often after the 1970s is the storybook opening. While having to physically read the opening of the film is clearly inaccessible to young children watching the film (later storybook openings have narrators), the books and their settings are so intricately designed, and I am amazed by how the book opening on its own was achieved through practical effects.

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via David Bordwell

  • Two to three minutes in and I already can’t believe that this is the first feature length animated film ever released. The wicked queen’s movements are so fluid as she talks to the magic mirror, and their lips match the dialogue so perfectly. Obviously not every scene is perfectly animated, like how when the prince sings One Song someone literally just pans a camera around the castle background details instead of trying to animate him singing. But even then, the attention to detail in every aspect of the film’s design is amazing, and the technical skill throughout the film is so overwhelmingly abundant. This movie is to animation what Jurassic Park is to digital special effects. Despite being one of the first, it is still so far ahead of almost every major productions decades upon decades later.
  • I think that Snow White arguably has the most interesting character design out of anyone else in the line-up. Although Disney has worked tirelessly within the Disney Princess branding over the past few years to make their leading ladies look nearly indistinguishable, Snow is still clearly a product of the 1930s. With her bobbed hair, round face, large brown eyes, and nearly curveless figure, she is a spitting image for many of the starlets from the silent era and the early talkies. She reminds me a bit of the blind girl from City Lights,  but there is obviously some Marion Davies, Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo and Louise Brooks in there as well.

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via girlschannel

  • Additionally, I feel that Snow White is the Jane Bennet of Disney characters. She’s kind, caring, beautiful, and generous. She is so good and pure that she has no real flaws, and on paper isn’t a very fleshed out character. But once you see her on screen, her loveliness radiates through you and you can’t help but admire her. I’ve noticed in the past that Cinderella and Aurora don’t get very much screen time in either of their own films, but Snow White has the charm to carry a 90-minute feature.
  • Disney films have a bad rep for watering down their source material, especially the dark tones of the Brothers Grimm. Disney is more and more guilty of this later in their history, but Snow White remains a solid text-to-film adaptation with a vast majority of plot details remaining intact. The most striking inclusion has to be when the wicked queen sends the huntsman to kill Snow White and bring back her heart in a small box. I was surprised to see this detail retained in this version, although I wasn’t surprised to see the queen’s intentions with the heart removed—she eats the heart. She just fucking eats it. Why.
  • Disney also gets a bad rep for a saccharine quality to their films, but there is some pretty freaky stuff in this film. Like the scene where the trees in the haunted forest try to claw at Snow as she runs to escape from her death. In fact, after the film’s run at Radio City Music Hall ended, all their seats had to be reupholstered because so many children wet their pants in sheer terror during this specific scene.
  • I am near tears any time that the woodland creatures appear onscreen. I’m especially enamored by the mama and baby deer who are featured frequently throughout. When they first stumble upon the dwarfs’ cottage, Snow makes a comment about how there might be orphans living there. The baby deer, concerned, cuddles up to its mother, who gives her child a big lick on the forehead. They’re also seen cuddling together as they sleep on one of the dwarf’s beds. No, YOU’RE getting emotional about two background characters in a children’s movie!

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via fantasia1940 on Tumblr

  • There is a term in film called “Mickey Mousing” (not to be confused with one of Titus Andromedon’s kinks in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), used to describe when the score is perfectly sync with any action happening onscreen. The scene where Snow and her forest friends are cleaning the dwarfs’ home is probably one of the best examples of this technique being utilized in film.

Next on the list is Cinderella, which was my favorite movie as a child, but one I haven’t seen in nearly 10 years. See you next time!

Comfort and Safety Tips for Nasty Women

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via yourmajestyyy on tumblr

This afternoon I had an afternoon with my therapist. We took a break from our usual topics and methods to talk about the fear I have been experiencing after the election results came in. My fears as a woman, my fears for my friends who have survived sexual assault and think that nobody will believe their stories, and my fears for LGBTQ and POC friends who are already witnessing and experiencing heinous acts of hatred. My therapist then proceeded to tell me that every single patient she has seen since the results were announced have talked to her about how worried this election makes them.

Just now, I heard a group of anti-Trump demonstrators marching down my street. As I am not feeling particularly well today, I sat this demonstration out, but there are several happening in my area this next week. Since I cannot participate tonight, I decided that I would give tips for things that have beneficial for myself or for friends of mine that could come in handy if you are participating in any anti-Trump demonstrations or protests this weekend.

Staying Comfortable

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Wear extremely sturdy shoes. Many of the marches I have been involved in have spanned several miles. The first ever march I participated in was two years ago, with an anti-police brutality group that had congregated on my college campus. I wasn’t aware of the protest until they crossed my path, but I jumped in the moment I saw them being harassed by another student. I was so glad to have participated with them, but my feet were killing me after the march ended. Why? Because I went the entire march, across the uneven hilly terrain of my campus, wearing archless Spice Girl-style platform sneakers from H&M that were a half-size too big for me. Broken-in Doc Martens with a longer and thicker pair of socks have been my go-to choice anytime I have decided march, walk or stand for a long period of time. Athletic tennis shoes and hiking boots are comfortable options as well.

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Now that we have set our clocks back an hour, it has been getting dark earlier and earlier. Although it is unseasonably warm this time of year all across the country, remember that it is actually pretty cold once the sun sets. You do not need to bring out your heaviest winter coat just yet, but definitely bring something warm to wear as the sunsets. Bring layerable items that will keep you warm once the temperature drops, but nothing so thick that you cannot tie it around your waist. An oversized flannel shirt to layer over a t-shirt is sufficiently cozy if it is especially warm in your area. Denim jackets are always sturdy and warm for these occasions. I am a big fan of the army jacket that I purchased at a second hand store a few years back, as well as my leather jacket. You can wear a basic hoodie under any of these items for added coziness, which would be ideal in areas with more traditional fall weather.

Make sure that you are hydrated if you are going to be moving around a lot. I would recommend bringing a water bottle, but only if you bring a bag large enough to fit it while you are marching so that you can carry a sign or possibly link arms with your companions.

Staying Safe

I always recommend going to protests with at least one other person if it is happening late. I would say that all of the protests I have attended have been safe, and there shouldn’t be too much to worry about. However, you have no idea what counter protesters are thinking or doing, and there is always a chance that things could get out of hand anywhere you go. I went in a group of four to the last protest I attended, but having at least one friend with you is recommended. A group of three is harder to account for if someone gets separated or pulls a muscle (which happened to a friend in my foursome last time), but any size of group beyond that works perfectly.

A classmate of mine recommends downloading SafeTrek or something similar. If you are ever walking alone somewhere, you hold down the button onscreen. Once you let go, you have 10 seconds to enter your individualized pin number to read that you are safe. If you do not enter your pin number, the police will be sent over to the location where you let go. This is ideal if you absolutely must attend a protest on your own and are headed home afterwards, but this is also a nice tool to have anytime you are walking by yourself and feel unsafe (which might be very often after today, sadly). SafeTrek costs $2.99 a month or $29.99 a year, but there are similar services available in your app store that are more affordable or free.

After the sheer terror I experienced on Tuesday night that our country would willingly elect someone like Donald Trump, it makes me feel so much better that my fellow civilians are using their right to protest to show that they will resist any hatred that his administration will try to spread. Thank you for standing up for your fellow citizens’ civil rights and safety. Please stay safe!

Playlist: Rainy Days & Mondays

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photo via @tvpeople on brunch

Sometimes when I’m making playlists, I have a little game I like to play. I pick a song with a title that I like, and I make a playlist reflecting the atmosphere and mood the title evokes without using that initial track.

Possibly some time after watching Todd Haynes’ Karen Carpenter biopic, Superstar, Rainy Days & Mondays came about. The title has the potential to either be melancholy or contemplative, which I tried to channel in my playlist. I tried to capture the feeling of sitting in a coffee shop on a rainy day, as well as the summer days I would be working on my own inside the Tower Theatre when a summer rainstorm would clear everyone out, and I would sit behind the counter drawing and watching either Her or Lost In Translation.

This playlist primarily incorporates 60s folk, lo-fi tracks, and dark wave, with some other good stuff thrown in there as well. The version presented on here is a more heavily curated version of the playlist, which I made with the intention of the tracks being played in order. For the extended, shuffle-friendly version, click here.

 

Guitars and Sharps and Flats: Josie and the Pussycats Mini Mood Boards

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via Biblioteca dos Cartoons

A while back I shared a few mini mood boards featuring some of my favorite ladies from Archie Comics. This week, I’m back with more Riverdale women, specifically the three rockin’ ladies from Josie and the Pussycats.

The Pussycats started appearing in comics in 1963, although they are probably best known for their Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon released in 1970. Because the animated series eclipsed the comics’ popularity, it isn’t very well known that bassist Valerie was occasionally a third option love interest in some Archie story lines. There was also a live-action movie loosely based on the characters released in 2001, which was one of the first PG-13 movies that my parents ever let me watch.

These boards were a little more difficult to draw inspiration for than the other three. Aside from a few general traits (Josie is the leader, Valerie is smart, Melody is spacy but considered exceptionally attractive), the characterizations and background stories for each character wildly vary. Even the Pussycats’ last names will be completely different depending on who is writing about them. While it was frustrating not being able to pin down specific signature items, hobbies, or personality traits as I had for Betty, Veronica, and Sabrina, I also enjoyed creating new personalities and aesthetics for these classic characters. I hope you enjoy these boards as much as I enjoyed making them!

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My main source of inspiration while constructing Josie’s board was her signature red bobbed hairdo. I reimagined her as someone with a penchant for vintage clothing in bright primary colors and for lo-fi, girl group-inspired surf rock. Her main musical inspirations are Best Coast, Shannon and the Clams, and Peach Kelli Pop.

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When the animated Pussycats series debuted in 1970, Valerie was the first African American cartoon character to be a regular on a TV series. I would like to think that today she would still be working on creating groundbreaking media, possibly as a riot grrrl creating politically driven, socially conscious music and zines as part of her local punk scene.

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Melody’s last name in the 2001 film, as well as certain Pussycats comics, is Valentine, which is fitting considering her early characterization. In early comics, her defining trait was that she was irresistible to all men, but absolutely oblivious to it. A pale Valentines’ Day pink was a key element to creating this board, and I kept the v-day love going with nods to her love of animals and vegetarianism referenced in the movie.

The next batch of Archie ladies is going to hopefully include more obscure characters, including Katy Keene and Cheryl Blossom. Stay tuned for more!

Halloween Inspo: What’s Your Favorite Scary Movie?

While Halloween is only one calendar day out of the year, I start celebrating in late September with my favorite Halloween movies, ranging from spooky and silly to downright disturbing. While my overall favorite Halloween movie is a toss-up between Beetlejuice and Rocky Horror, my favorite horror film to revisit this time of year is Wes Craven’s Scream. Year after year, Ghostface has been a wildly popular costume, but for this blog post, I’m channeling a character with a little less screentime.

Drew Barrymore was initially offered the leading role of Sidney Prescott, but she turned it down because of scheduling conflicts and instead opted for the role of Casey Becker, Ghostface’s first victim. At the time it was unconventional for major stars to be cast in horror films, let alone in a relatively minor role. With many audiences expecting Drew to be the film’s star, her death in the film’s opening scene helped established the film as a subversive game-changer in the horror genre.

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Casey’s costume can easily be duplicated through finds at your local thrift store. Be aware that now that it is fall, sweaters might be harder to come by now that they are in season and in demand. The J. Crew Factory site has white ribbed sweater similar to Casey’s for a reasonable price, assuming that you don’t already have one of your own.

Casey’s jeans are solid white in this scene, which is a difficult look to pull off, as well as something that could get dirty very easily while at a Halloween party or while out and about on a fall evening. A pair of light blue high-waisted jeans, like these ones from Topshop, have a 90s vibe while still being stylish and wearable.

Look in the electronics section of your local thrift store for either a black landline with a white cord, or a large white cordless phone. If you are carrying a bag, this landline bag from Betsey Johnson is a clever twist on the costume. If you opt for the white cordless phone, be sure to have a prop kitchen knife to complete the look, much like this one.

Casey’s makeup is very minimal, but a nude lipstick is a must. Burt’s Bees makes some reasonably priced lipsticks that are available at most drugstores and full of naturally moisturizing ingredients. Nile Nude is a softer and lighter color, while Suede Splash is darker and more pronounced. Finish a look with some comfortable fall boots to run in vain from two sociopathic teenage boys in, like these black ankle boots from River Island.