Hayao Miyazaki’s Magical Animated Music Video for the Japanese Pop Song, “On Your Mark”

On this site, we’ve featured music videos by such acclaimed filmmakers as David Lynch, David Fincher, Jim Jarmusch and even Andy Warhol. Now add to this list the legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.

Back in 1994, Miyazaki was stuck on the script for his next feature Princess Mononoke. So he decided to do a video for the song “On Your Mark” by Japanese pop duo Chage & Aska. The resulting piece is a gorgeous, dense, enigmatic work that not only recalls Miyazaki’s earliest works like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, but also the edgier visions of the future seen in films like Akira or Ghost in the Shell. In fact, the short is such a magical, memorable piece of filmmaking that it overwhelms the song.

The video unfolds in a non-linear fashion, jumping forward and back, forking into multiple versions of the same scene. Miyazaki isn’t concerned about you not getting the story. As he said in a 1995 interview, you can “interpret [the film] anyway you want.”

The piece opens with a giant structure that looms over an otherwise beautiful, bucolic landscape. Miyazaki, who is never especially forthcoming when talking about his work, describes the world of “On Your Mark” like this: “There is so much radiation on the Earth's surface, humans can no longer live there. But, there is flora, just like there is one around Chernobyl. It became a sanctuary for nature, with the humans living in the underground city.”

The video then shifts abruptly to a scene straight out of Akira. Down in that underground city, the police attack the highrise headquarters of a spooky religious cult and rescue a young girl with broad, feathered wings. An angel? Who knows. A lot of viewers have noted the cult echoes that of Aum Shinrikyo, the doomsday cult that released Sarin gas into the subways of Tokyo in March 1995. Of course, the video was made before the attack. Mamoru Oshii’s 1993 animated feature Patlabor 2 also had eerie similarities to Aum, so much so that it was featured in the 1995 Yamagata Documentary Film Festival. Both filmmakers, it seems, tapped into that ugly undercurrent in the zeitgeist of Japanese culture at that time.

As Miyazaki’s short progresses, it shows two cops who decide to do the right thing and break the girl out of the laboratory where she is being held. The first time they try, the cops (and presumably the angel) plunge to their deaths. The second time they try – and it’s not really clear how they get this do-over – they manage to escape. The cops drive to the irradiated surface of the earth and watch in awe as the angel flies way.

In Miyazaki’s mind, the winged girl represents hope:

If you don't completely give up on the situation and you keep your hope, not letting anyone touch it, and then you have to let it go, you let it go where no one can touch it. It's just that. Maybe there was a bit of exchange in the moment of letting her
go. That's fine, that's enough. ...Probably they'll go back to being the policemen. I don't know if they could go back, though. [laughs]

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Albert Einstein Tells His Son The Key to Learning & Happiness is Losing Yourself in Creativity (or “Finding Flow”)

einstein creativity

As one particularly astute observer of human emotions might put it, it is a truth universally acknowledged that we can’t all be Albert Einstein. In fact, none of us can. That unique experience was denied even Einstein’s son Hans Albert, though he did go on to his own distinguished career as an engineer and professor of hydraulics. Einstein father and son had a strained relationship, yet the great physicist had a hand in his son’s success, inspiring him to pursue his scientific passion. But Einstein’s paternal encouragement extended further, beyond scientific pursuits and to a general theory of learning and enjoyment that suggests we can be happiest and most productive when being most ourselves.

While living in Berlin in 1915, Einstein wrote a poignant letter to his son, just two days after finishing his theory of general relativity. His tone swings from buoyant to pained—lamenting his family’s “awkward” separation and proposing to spend more time with Albert, as he calls him. His son can “learn many good and beautiful things from me,” writes Einstein, “These days I have completed one of the most beautiful works of my life.”

Einstein also writes, “I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits.” An amateur musician himself, Einstein understood the value of developing an informal avocation. “Mainly play the things on the piano which please you,” he tells his son, “even if the teacher does not assign those.” Doing what you love, the way you like to do it, he goes on, “is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.”

This great theme of total immersion in a creative endeavor surfaced several decades later in another scientist’s work, that of Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, described by Martin Seligman—former President of the American Psychological Association—as “the world’s leading researcher” in the field of positive psychology. Presented in his popular TED talk above, and at more length in his books on the subject, Csikszentmihalyi’s insights into human flourishing mirror Einstein’s: he calls such creative immersion “flow,” or the state of “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake.”

The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.

Contrary to our usual conceptions of using one’s “skills to the utmost,” Csikszentmihalyi tells us that the reward for entering such a state is not the material benefits it generates, but the positive emotions. These, as Einstein theorized, not only motivate us to become better, but they also provide a source of meaning no amount of financial gain above a minimum level can offer. “The lack of basic material resources contributes to unhappiness,” Csikszentmihalyi’s data demonstrates, “but the increase in material resources does not increase happiness.” While none of us can be Einstein, Csikszentmihalyi tells us we can all benefit from Einstein’s advice, by doing whatever we do to the best of our abilities and without any motive other than sheer pleasure.

via Farnam Street/Brain Pickings

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Italian Astronaut Reads The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on the International Space Station

On Friday, to help celebrate Dante's 750th birthday, Colin Marshall presented for you Samantha Cristoforetti, Italy’s first female astronaut, reading lines from The Divine Comedy aboard the International Space Station. Little did we know that, just a few days later, we could serve up a new video of Cristoforetti reading lines (this time in English) from a much more modern text -- Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979). The video was filmed as part of Towel Day, a celebration held every May 25th, where fans across the universe carry a towel in Adams' honour. Above you can see Cristoforetti, floating upside down, doing just that, and reading the section of the book that touches on towels, the "most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have."


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Robert De Niro Tells Graduating NYU Arts Grads, “You Made It… And You’re F*cked”

I’ve attended my share of graduations and hence my share of graduation speeches—from politicians more interested in stumping than inspiring their audience; to local TV personalities assuring graduates they too could become local TV personalities; to the real Patch Adams, who wasn’t nearly as funny as Robin Williams in his less-than-funny turn as Patch Adams. My experience has taught me that graduation speeches generally suck.

But not for the most recent batch of graduates of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, who got both bracing honesty and career validation from a speaker most likely to give it to you straight. With his trademark foul-mouth gruffness, De Niro told the graduating class what every aspiring artist needs to know: “You made it,” he said, “and you’re f*cked.” The world, De Niro told his audience, is not opening its arms to embrace art school grads. For all our pop cultural celebration of creativity, the so-called “creative class”—as we’re told again and again—is mostly in decline.

Of course it’s never been an easy road for artists. De Niro knows this full well not only through his own early experiences before superstardom but from his upbringing: both his mother and father were bohemian painters with turbulent, fascinating lives. And so he also knows of what he speaks when he tells the NYU grads that they “didn’t have a choice.” Where pragmatic accounting grads may be “passionate about accounting,” De Niro says, “it's more likely that they used reason and logic and common sense to reach for a career that could give them the expectation of success and stability.”

Not the arts grads, the famous actor says: “You discovered a talent, developed an ambition and recognized your passion." Their path, he suggests, is one of self-actualization:

When it comes to the arts, passion should always trump common sense. You aren't just following dreams, you're reaching for your destiny. You're a dancer, a singer, a choreographer, a musician, a filmmaker, a writer, a photographer, a director, a producer, an actor, an artist. Yeah, you're f***ed. The good news is that that's not a bad place to start.

Maybe not. And maybe, for those driven to sing, dance, paint, write, etc., it’s the only place to start. Granted, NYU students are already a pretty select and privileged bunch, who certainly have a leg up compared to a great many other struggling artists. Nevertheless, given current economic realities and the U.S.’s depressing aversion to arts education and funding, these grads have a particularly difficult road ahead, De Niro says. And who better to deliver that hard truth with such conviction and good humor?

h/t @sheerly

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch a New, “Original” Episode of Seinfeld Performed Live on Stage

The last episode of Seinfeld aired in 1998. So maybe you're ready for a brand new episode of the show featuring "uncanny portrayals of the central characters, 90s commercial parodies, and original Seinfeld standup"?

You won't get it from Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David.

You will get it from the comedy team Bellevue, which has created a "sketch show about nothing."

Bellevue wrote and performed their own 30-minute episode of Seinfeld called "The Leaning Susan." Presented at the Upright Citizens Brigade in NYC, the "show" features Cathryn Mudon as Elaine, Noah Forman as Jerry, Dru Johnston as George, Michael Antonucci as Kramer, and Joanna Bradley as Susan. (Remember Susan?) And, as one Youtuber put it, "if you squint..., you could swear you're watching an episode of Seinfeld. The actors here are phenomenal."


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Mœbius Illustrates Paulo Coelho’s Inspirational Novel The Alchemist (1998)

moebius alchemist 1

When Paulo Coelho's novel The Alchemist came out in English, the level of popularity it eventually attained seriously impressed me. Then I went to Latin America, where the Spanish version seemed to have won a vaster readership still. I haven't yet gone to Brazil to gauge the book's popularity on the streets of Coelho's homeland since its first publication to relatively little interest, but it surely hasn't gone unknown there. As many fans as The Alchemist has, though, the inspiration-and-destiny-inflected appeal of the text entirely escapes some readers, in whichever language they read it. Perhaps they'd prefer an edition illustrated by Mœbius?

moebius alchemist 2

Born Jean Giraud, Mœbius' career guarantees him a permanent place as one of the most influential comic artists ever to live. Even apart from the achievements in the medium in which he became famous — his founding work on Heavy Metal, his creation of nontraditional western outlaw Blueberry — he did a good deal of work that brought his singularly imaginative aesthetic into other creative realms, such as concept art from Alejandro Jodorowky's Dune and illustrations for Dante's Paradiso. In some sense, it might have seemed natural for him to lend his hand to Coelho's fantasy tale of an Andalusian shepherd boy on a treasure-hunting journey to Egypt.

moebius alchemist 3

The Illustrated Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream came out in 1998, and it included 35 Mœbius illustrations, four of which you see here. The artist's signature style, which he usually used in the service of dark, complex fusions of past and present, might at first sound ill-suited for Coelho's simple fable, but Mœbius adapts well to the material. Even if you put down the book unconvinced by Coelho's arguments about following your dream, you might consider looking to Mœbius instead with our post on his tips for aspiring artists. Either way, The Illustrated Alchemist itself showcases a collaboration between two well-known creators who most definitely paid their dues.

moebius alchemist 4

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in CinemaFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Discover Japan’s Earthquake Proof Underground Bike Storage System: The Future is Now

Behold, the ingenious underground bicycle storage of Japan! What a vision of futurist efficiency - the only thing missing is Raymond Scott’s Powerhouse (aka Bugs Bunny factory music).

Japanese cultural commentator Danny Choo strapped a camera to his seat to capture a bike’s eye view of the robotic Eco Cycle Anti-Seismic Underground Bicycle Park. It takes an average of 8 seconds for two-wheelers to make the journey - human involvement stops at the street level card reader.

(One internet commenter wondered what happens if the system malfunctions…and all I can say is I once spent what felt like an eternity, trapped in Disney’s Haunted Mansion.)


As futuristic visions go, it's a finite one. The environmentally-friendly design allows for fairly easy de-installation, should public demand for safe, subterranean bike parking wane.

It's also earthquake-proof, a feature which gives rise to all sorts of dystopian Planet of the Apes-style fantasies (replace Apes with Bikes).

Cities from London and Paris to New York and Hangzhou have embraced bikesharing schemes, but the Japanese model allows cyclists to keep their own rides. Signs posted at street level remind riders to remove personal effects like pets (!) before using the system.) Unlimited parking and retrieval comes in at under 20 bucks a month.

It’s an idea whose time has come. As of this writing, the cycle-friendly Netherlands is plotting the world’s largest bike park - underderground - to be launched in 2018.

Hat tip to Danny Choo.

- Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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