To be honest... January 2022
I write tragedies not sins
I swear this wasn’t intentional. I just so happened to read, listen, and watch only tragic content this month. At least I have saved you the pain of seeing if some things are worth your time. Keep on reading on which media are better for cathartic release or are better to avoid.
Lastly, check out my latest post on my blog at the end of this newsletter!
PS. I am very grateful to everyone that subscribed to and read the newsletter. If you have any friends who you think would be interested in monthly content recommendations and rejections, please share or forward them this newsletter! Or if you have any feedback, go comment or reply to the newsletter for me to read.
BOOK: Tokyo Ueno Station by Miri Yu - ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I have to admit, I got this book because the cover looked nice. But in between the colorful cover is 180 pages of poignantly written pain and commentary on Japanese modern society. The novella is about 70-year-old Kazu, whose ghost haunts the park near Tokyo’s Ueno Station - the place where he spent his final days living in the homeless makeshift villages. It is a familiar tragedy of a man who seems destined for suffering. But it was new to me to read about one of Tokyo’s lesser-known and most vulnerable communities.
Miri Yu fluidly shifts between Kazu’s memories of grinding labor for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to his observations of his fellow homeless and the willfully unaware city folk that visit the park. Japan is a reputable country in terms of progress and technological advancement - but what is often left unmentioned are the workers that toiled for all of this. There is great irony in such a tragic character like Kazu whose life was molded to the needs of the country, from shaping the land where the Olympics took place or hiding himself from the evictions by park management.
The author also captures grief and fatigue by balancing Kazu’s curt thoughts with his descriptive memories. Especially tying in images of nature, Miri Yu is precise in making the reader empathize with the range of emotions from this elderly ghost.
I’m not sure how much cultural context I wasn’t able to pick up, whether from my lack of knowledge of Japanese history or from the meanings lost in translation. But the novel is short enough that I would give it a second read to pick up on the things I missed and to savor the prose more.
MUSIC: búhay/buháy by Munimuni -⭐⭐⭐
Every time I listen to Munimuni it feels like I’m transported to a liminal space where time doesn’t exist. Their music is wistfully enchanting and was the perfect soundtrack for my walks during the early part of the pandemic. They somehow enhance my perception of nature while their thoughtful singing and lyrics kept me grounded in reality. Their newest EP slightly veers away from their established sound with more optimistic musicality. búhay/buháy is like an anthology of bittersweet stories masked behind lively songs.
The best example of that would be “Mali”, the EP’s opening track. It sounds like a beginning of an adventure out into the woods with its bright tones and upbeat rhythm. But at the very end, the song tricks the listener by revealing that the lyrics are actually about finding closure in losing a loved one to another person.
Along with “Mali”, “Maligaya” contains painful lines that accurately describe the complex feeling of nostalgia for a past lover. The song is dragging in a good way, with a simple and gradual introduction and somber vocals. The percussion and flute are subtle too - up until the end where all that buildup becomes worth the wait.
But “Bukas Makalawa” has to be my favorite song on the EP and the most complex track too. It isn’t a Munimuni song without intense flute riffs. The flute solo right before the bridge is a journey of its own that ushers in a powerful bridge and ethereal ending. Not to mention the lyrics on discontentment with the grind of life are very relatable, especially during a pandemic.
búhay/buháy might not be Munimuni’s best work, but it’s a good addition to their discography as the band continues to experiment with different tones. I can’t wait to see the band expand on their established somber folk indie sound to something else.
MOVIE: The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) - ⭐⭐
Maybe I shouldn’t completely trust what I see on Twitter when it comes to movies. As with most A24 movies, the film side of Twitter was raving about the latest adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I watched the trailer and I was intrigued with how similar the visuals were to The Lighthouse - black and white and in 4:3 aspect ratio. The Tragedy of Macbeth not only had some visual resemblance to The Lighthouse, but it also shared its air of confusion.
It would probably have been helpful if I had read Macbeth or watched one of the other 50+ film adaptations. Like many A24 films, something must have happened to their mics since I couldn’t hear anything the characters said. Even worse, the script was the original Shakespearean script delivered in Frances McDormand and Denzel Washington’s American accents.
At least leading actors’ performances were strong enough that I was able to infer what they meant in their dialogues. Frances McDormand is the perfect choice for a plotting wife who only wants the best for her husband. Meanwhile, Denzel Washington slowly turns from a poised nobleman to a power-hungry and tortured king. But, the strongest performance goes to Kathryn Hunter as all three witches - body contortions and all.
I do have mixed feelings about the set design, which is the most distinguishing aspect of the adaptation. Director Joel Coen takes inspiration from German expressionism by using flat geometric structures and meticulously controlling light and shadow. Although this makes the viewer focus more on the plot and actors, I’m not sure if having more details would take away anything from the story either. Not to mention there was minimal scoring possibly deliberately for that reason. I felt like I was seeing the storyboard and not the actual film.
NEW POST: God of War, An Odyssey of Fatherhood and Masculinity
One of the cool things about being majoring in media is you get to analyze and write about video games for a grade. I’m still thinking about the first installment of the God of War reboot, even as the new game will be released this year. Check out one of the essays I wrote on how God of War has escaped its own violent self-fulfilling prophecy built from its earlier games.