Yesterday I covered a mockumentary that featured a cameo by Nobuhiko Obayashi, so today’s review is for an actual documentary in which the man best known for Hausu… though his legacy comprises more than just one single work, as legitimately legendary as it may be… is the focal point. One of two, to be precise; as the saying goes, behind every great man is a great woman, but behind great director is a great producer as well. And Seijo Story: 60 Years of Making Films is about the husband & wife team of Nobuhiko & Kyoko.

We meet our subjects right after the cameras finished rolling on what would be Nobuhiko’s final film, the aforementioned Labyrinth of Cinema (the review of which will close my coverage of JAPAN CUTS 2020). The clock is then turned back a bit, before production began on the previous movie, Hanagatami; Nobuhiko revealed that he has cancer, with a diagnosis of only six to twelve months. Obviously, he was able to live long enough to make that film and one more; during Labyrinth of Cinema was when cancer treatment took place. The difference between Nobuhiko before and after is night and day, as is my memory of him, when I had the privilege of meeting him, when he visited NYC back in 2012. Yet Seijo Story goes back in time even further, all the way back to Nobuhiko’s childhood; as anyone familiar with his vast body of work knows already, World War II profoundly shaped his worldview (the price of admission is worth it alone to see the comics he drew as a 3rd grader, which blows away some of the stuff that professional comickers make today). Despite the assumption that young Nobuhiko would follow the family tradition of practicing medicine, his dad encouraged his son to follow his dream of making movies, which led him to Tokyo’s Seijo University, where he’d meet his partner and collaborator for life.

In many ways, the real star of the show is Kyoko Obayashi; she too had an interest in making movies, so the boyfriend & girlfriend/husband & wife not long after duo would end up producing artsy-fartsy stuff that ultimately led them to becoming the zeitgeist of the Japanese branch of the French New Wave film movement. Seijo Story traces Nobuhiko’s rise as a darling of the art scene, to successful director of TV CMs (cuz the Japanese movie industry had bottomed out, so making commercials was where the real money was at), and eventually his first major theatrical production (aka Hausu; here’s my review all the back in 2009 for anyone interested). Nobuhiko would make many more movies, but for each and every one, since day one, Kyoko was there as producer. She actually refused to be credited for the first five or so films (“I didn’t want to see Obayashi twice in the credits”) and it wasn’t until a colleague managed to change her mind for Are You, You Am Me (it still kills me how such an awesome flick is so inaccessible). Yet the title of producer nevertheless doesn’t do all her contributions justice; sure she did producer-like stuff, such as fundraising to cover the cost of production, but she also did everything from set design to feeding the crew (“The best part about Obayashi Production is catering” states cinematographer Yoshitaka Sakamoto).

It goes without saying that each and every fan of Nobuhiko Obayashi must absolutely see this amazing behind the curtain look; despite his body succumbing to age and illness, it is crystal clear via his editing directives given to at the helm of Final Cut Pro for Labyrinth of Cinema that his mind is just as razor sharp as it was when making 8/16mm shorts. But the intimate moments between Nobuhiko & Kyoko Obayashi that we are privy to is the true value of this document; by my fave part is when Nobuhiko becomes ill during an editing session, and Kyoko (knowing it’s what her husband wants) insists that the documentary cameras keep rolling.

You can view Seijo Story: 60 Years of Making Films, via online rental, from July 17 to 30, by clicking this link.

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Review: Extro (Japan Cuts 2020)

by Matthew Edward Hawkins

Okay, so that plan of mine to give this blog “the love that it sorely lacks” from back in January kinda didn’t happen, or at the very least, hit the most unexpected of unexpected detours: COVID-19. But I swear to God, coverage of JAPAN!!!!! Volume 2 will be commencing pretty soon… but first… JAPAN CUTS 2020!

Yup, thanks to you know what, this year’s JAPAN CUTS is entirely virtual, which is actually a very good thing. Why? Because 2020′s selection is, without question, one of its strongest ever, and being online means that more folks will be able to partake in its offerings! And I’m willing to bet cold hard cash that this will be your only opportunity to see certain films.

Anyhow, for the next few days I’ll be highlighting my must sees, as I do (or try to) every year. Starting with…

It only makes sense to kick things off with a film that opens (and also closes) with an interview with the late great Nobuhiko Obayashi, who’s final work, Labyrinth of Cinema, is this year’s centerpiece presentation. In my mind, at least; technically it’s Fukushima 50, which I really wouldn’t bother with. Anyhow, Obayashi explains how vitally important that nameless (or sometimes faceless) person you see standing behind the star of the show truly is in any motion picture; “extra make it real”. The point is further driven home by star of the big screen, and small, as well the stage, Koji Yamamoto; he states, “we’re being allowed to act in a place that belongs to them.” Which is what Extro, a documentary… or to be more precise, a mockumentary… is all about; it centers on several personalities enlisted by a talent agency that supplies extras to Warp Station Edo, a shooting location for historical shows, movies, commercials, you name it.

There are two focuses; first is Kozo, a retired dental technician who idolizes Steve McQueen (he absolutely loved him in The Towering Inferno, which he has two copies of on DVD for some reason) and who takes his role of farmer in some period piece very seriously… despite the fact that he’s both stubborn and clueless, so therefore a pain in the ass on the set. Now, during this half of the movie, things are played largely straight, so I’m legit curious if anyone not familiar with Japanese films, primarily Japanese comedy, may actually mistake Extro as a real documentary? In my mind, it’s less This Is Spinal Tap and more Waiting For Guffman… but it’s easy for me to make such a distinction, being a Westerner and all. As noted, Kozo is somewhat of a troublemaker, but we also see him enduring the same difficulties that actual extras much deal with, like performing a very repetitive action in the background of a scene that has retake after retake after retake. Though things are taken up a notch when we meet the other focus of the film, two other extras, Shota and Satoshi.

Actually, they’re undercover cops assigned to infiltrate the talent agency, when it’s discovered that one of the extras employed is a drug dealer that’s been wanted for ages. So, whereas the problems Kozo caused were due to him wanting to be a movie star, Shota and Satoshi seriously know nothing about showbiz, much to the chagrin of the leading actor of the production they’re part of, who is far less patient than the other one (with the cameo here is the legendary puroresu, aka professional wrestling in Japan, superstar Tatsumi Fujinami). It’s at this point, the wackiness starts to amp up quite a bit… yet when the undercover cops decide to take acting lessons, I can also see an American actor who has gone through something similar, reacting with, “yeah, I’ve certainly been there alright.” Hence why Extro excels at being a mockumentary; zero background knowledge is required to enjoy the movie, yet the more you know about what’s going on, the easier it’ll be for you to recognize how kinda brilliant the comedy is (though the ending does come out of nowhere, and it is pure genius).

You can view Extro, via online rental, from July 17 to 30, by clicking this link,

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So one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2020 is to finally dust off this blog and give it the love that it sorely lacks. A sentiment that has been expressed several times, over the years, I know. But this time I mean it! That’s because fort90 dot com put me on the map in many respects, back when I was forging a career as a game journalist, and I believe it will become an integral part in the next chapter of my life, as a game… wait, I haven’t really discussed that around here, have I?

Oh yeah, so I’m going to grad school! Something that’s been mentioned on social media already, yet not around here, cuz like everyone else, who uses blogs anymore? Hell, even updates to Attract Mode on Tumblr have slowed to a crawl, ever since I pivoted towards Twitter; that’s where and for whom I’ve been writing about games mostly, for the past, well, decade. Which used to be all over, but then my career as a full-time journalist has more or less ground to a halt… but again, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Once again, today’s the date in which I pause and reflect every year, cuz it’s my anniversary as a New Yorker; I arrived in the Big Apple on January 6th, in the year 1996, to attend SVA and obtain a Bachelors in Illustration and Cartooning. Though this particular look back will be particularly quick & dirty, given that there’s ten years to cover, and MAN OH MAN did a lot happen, enough to fill an entire book. Actually, there is one significant portion I intend on detailing in such a form, that being… drum roll please… gamergate. Which I will not discuss here, so don’t bother asking (seriously), but am just throwing it out there to A. gauge interest from any potential publishers & B. to see if anyone has read this far. Anyhow, onto the recap:

- The 2010s started off strong as I found myself a full-time writer, and a busy one at that. After my run at Nickelodeon Magazine, along with brief appearances in places such as Electronic Gaming Monthly and even Tiny Cartridge, I would find myself writing about video games for a wide variety of audiences.

At one point I began my mornings filing reports for NBC News, my afternoons doing posts for Guyism, and my nights as the late shift editor for GameSetWatch. Hey, remember that cell phone blog I did circa 2007-08? Well I’d also end up writing about them for with TechRadar, which in turn finally got me to CES, which I was always fascinated by as a kid, cuz that’s where video games were showcased before E3. And cuz of my duties as the east coast editor of Siliconera, I also finally made it to E3 proper. Hell, I even had a regular slot at Kotaku for a while.

Yet it all came to an abrupt end in the fall of 2013 when MTV News, where I had just become an editor earlier that summer, and where I had been received rather warmly if I don’t say so myself, was abruptly shut down. Then all of a sudden, countless others outlets had ceased operations as well. The funny thing is, around this point, my primary focus… that being video game culture… had actually gained enough recognition to be treated seriously by editors. Yet my viewpoint and approach was entirely different from theirs.

Though the primary issue was how the world of video game journalism has always been a cult of personality, and one that was not very fond of me, with the sentiment being mutual. So naturally, when the number of available jobs began to shrink, I found myself being forced into early retirement. Even at this point I feel both a combination of resentment and satisfaction that a significant portion of the figureheads today all hate my guts. But hey, at least I had Attract Mode as my own platform for my own particular take, plus I also had other stuff going on anyway.

- The 2010s was also when I found myself revisiting my cartooning roots to a certain extent and becoming involved in the world of fine art, even fashion. Starting with a zine launch party at the local DIY music venue Silent Barn, I would quickly become part of the video game component of the collective, Babycastles, and help to produce a series of art shows in Manhattan.

My Babycastles exhibitions, such as Heavenly Symphony, paved way towards another series in Toronto, as part of TCAF, which kicked off the Comics Vs Games initiative, and which I was involved with for the first three years. And the TCAF exhibitions in turn inspired the folks at Fangamer, who had just become Attract Mode’s fulfillment partners at the time, to produce a similar event at PAX Prime in Seattle, with two more to follow as well. Oh, and back home I’d also be enlisted by NYU Game Center to commission artwork to celebrate No Quarter, as well as put together a book launch party for a graphic novel based on the history of Tetris (when the associated Attract Mode blog gets archived on this end, I’ll add the link).

But much like with the world of video game writing, the world of video game art shows blew up even faster; I would eventually find my own approach falling out of fashion even quicker, as more mainstream tastes became the dominant approach. At a certain point I spearheaded a secondary Attract Mode shop, one that featured especially stylish threads, and I worked quite hard to line up some killer talents from Japan to provide designs! But after selling a ridiculously low amount of shirts, my primary focus has been back to covering game culture, not so much trying to contribute towards it.

- I was also involved in various other things throughout the city that were not video game art shows. My good pal Joe Simko made a documentary re: the Garbage Pail Kids, which I was an associate producer of, plus I produced the opening and handled social media early on as well. Speaking of, and regarding my love for New York City cable access, I became pals with Ron Rocheleau, creator of arguably the greatest New York City cable access show of all time. In addition to spearheading social media for Concrete TV as well, in an attempt to introduce the show to a younger/different audience (and those plans were completely derailed when the platform of choice was put out to pasture), I produced the screening of the show’s final episodes, at my fave DIY movie theater, aka the Spectacle. I also came up with an idea of doing a documentary myself, on New York City cable access, and while I do have some footage already, the final product… is a ways off.

BTW, it was also at the Spectacle where I produced a screening of Splatter University, with a live performance from original composter Chris Burke, who was making music for low budget horror flicks before becoming one of the local godfathers of chiptune. And speaking of the music scene and video games once again, I also became involved with Death By Audio Arcade, the video game component of the DIY venue Death By Audio that had managed to live on after its unfortunate demise by the assholes who run Vice (as much as I have a beef with the world of video game journalism, I basically can’t stand the modern face of journalism as a whole, which I place the blame for what a dumpster fire this country has become, but that’s another rant for another time). DBAArcade would ultimately create a new home for itself, an indie bar/arcade where I again showcase my love for movies the last Monday of each month (alongside my monthly fort90 film club email list; if you want to be a part of, just drop me a line).

- So yeah, I kept myself super busy throughout the previous decade! Yet here’s the thing with a lot of the stuff I just described: not a whole not generated much income. To varying degrees, it was all to either help put me on the map or keep me in the conversation, but after my aforementioned writing career fizzled out, I found it increasingly difficult to pay the bills. Though truth be told, even when I had plenty of work coming in, I wasn’t exactly rolling in the dough either. And I took it all in stride, since after all, writers have historically been dirt poor, right? But financial issues was one of the major contributing factors between the split between myself and my longtime girlfriend at the start of the decade, the one whom everyone assumed would become my wife, even myself.

I too fell out of love, with New York City; while I’m ultimately appreciative of all the opportunities it has allowed me, I still can’t stand this stupid city to be completely honest. Hence why early on, I was desperate for a means to GTFO. And right after my MTV News gig became unplugged, it appeared that a magical two in one solution had materialized, with the chance to become involved in a video game co-working space in Toronto; I would once again be involved in the creation of games, and also find myself in a new home, in a new city that’s in an entirely different country.

And… things were looking good at first, until it came time to actually immigrate. My bosses attempt at saving a few bucks when it came to necessary fees led to an incident at the border that required me to turn back around, but not before signing something that I really should have had a lawyer present for. As a result, I was put on some permanent blacklist, which I understand will be the case forever. As such I ended up mostly working for my Canadian bosses while in America, which is just as well, cuz they also eventually ran out of money, so it’s perhaps for the best that I never moved up to the Great White North after all? Though I also had a kinda/sorta Canadian girlfriend at the time, so I was particularly annoyed by it all.

- After my time with the Canadians… with the last hurrah being me producing a disastrous game launch at PAX, where I got to eat nearly $100 worth of gourmet Japanese hot dogs, so there’s that at least… I struggled to find work elsewhere. It was at this point in which I finally began to experience the stings of ageism, especially as it pertains to an epically disastrous job interview with Tumblr, one that I still share with friends over drinks to this very day. As well as suffer the consequences of not being able to bullshit or follow the script that yet another dimwitted hiring manager from SF had read from some LinkedIn post that same morning.

I was able to make ends meet by providing consultation and research for a game related legal case, as well as doing some script doctoring for a pair of yet to be released books… and naturally I can’t discuss any of that at this time. Instead, I’ll mention how I was a festival coordinator for Games For Change, where I was unceremoniously fired after several clashes with the festival producer; one of the biggest was when it came time to organizing student volunteers and I flat out refused to have only “pretty girls in dresses” per my boss’s demands. Though the final straw was when I also refused to fire one kid who was on the spectrum, cuz he made her feel uncomfortable or whatever.

Another terrible gig was when I was doing promotions for a local toy maker’s anti-Trump toy, who sure as hell acted like the target of his ire. Both this and the aforementioned Games for Change role were located at two different WeWorks in the city; the later had me cooking up about 60 hot dogs in the communal kitchen, for yet another disastrous launch party, which is when I had a real “Jesus fucking Christ, what am I doing with my life?!?!” moment. Not too long after, I did a blog post, exactly four years ago, to mark my 20th anniversary as a New Yorker. It was about how I had spent that morning unclogging a toilet, cuz at that point I was working at a Starbucks; I felt pretty hopeless and depressed and the time (which said journal entry reflect, perhaps too much so, hence why I never published it).

- And things got even worse: the lack of steady income meant that I couldn’t keep up with the rent, which in turn led to me being taken to housing court. I had never been as depressed and stressed in my entire life… and I hope to God to never be ever again… yet in the end, I managed to save my home. As much as I complain about the Big Apple, I am thankful that there is assistance in place for those who need it. Though it also helped that my landlords were so inept that the judge felt obligated to throw the book at them.

Yet despite it all, in my darkest of hours, I somehow managed to find true love? Still can’t believe it either, but around that time was when Ashley and I both swiped right on each other. And after just one date…. with the highlight being how I managed to skillfully stave off a drunken alt-righter at a bar, which I suppose would impress any potential mate… we both knew the other was the one. And just a year and a half later, we tied the knot! I feel almost guilty saying this, because the times seem absolutely terrible right now… and that’s because it is… yet I myself have never been happier, never felt more fulfilled. Believe the hype: the married life is the best life.

Oh, so I eventually landed another jobby job, a corporate gig, and this one kept me afloat… but that’s all I’ll say about it, cuz the less said the better. But during that time I kept the Attract Mode machine going, and my wife noted how all the effort I put towards pinpointing, researching, and preserving game culture is was what librarians do. And, as a librarian, I’d make a decent sum of money? Well, as someone with library skills; my true calling, as it was pointed out, was digital archiving. I mean, she would know, given how Ashley is herself a librarian. But anyhow, it was her suggestion that I pursue a new career path, one that finally seemed like a total fit for me, which means I’m going to be a real deal game preservationist! Yes, you actually have to go to school to learn actual skills for that; hoarding games from eBay or just having a massing ROMs collection doesn’t really, sorry kids.

- So that’s where I am right now; just wrapped up my first semester at LIU towards my Masters in Library and Information Sciences, which was not easy; thought I could do both the aforementioned gig during the day and take classes as night, which I did, but barely. So I officially became a full-time student once again, when I quit my jobby job a few weeks before Ashley and I’s honeymoon in JAPAN!!!!!, where we spent both Xmas and New Year’s. Goes without saying that there’s a LOT to discuss on that end, but since I’ve gone on for so long… I didn’t even get to talk about how I began practicing kung fu along the way, or worked on an iOS game based upon The Room (yes, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room) at a certain point… plus there’s 8,000+ photos from the trip that I need to go through first.

Till then, you can find me bitching about the subways and maybe talking about games on @FortNinety and definitely talking about games on @AttractMode, though here’s just one pic of myself and Ashley, at the local temple, as one does in Japan on January 1…