Kabuki Star Wars: Watch The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi Reinterpreted by Japan’s Most Famous Kabuki Actor

The appeal of Star Wars transcends generation, place, and culture. Anyone can tell by the undiminishing popularity of the ever more frequent expansions of the Star Wars universe more than 40 years after the movie that started it all — and not just in the English-speaking West, but all the world over. The vast franchise has produced "cinematic sequels, TV specials, animated spin-offs, novels, comic books, video games, but it wasn’t until November 28 that there was a Star Wars kabuki play," writes Sora News 24's Casey Baseel. Staged one time only last Friday at Tokyo's Meguro Persimmon Hall, Kairennosuke and the Three Shining Swords retells the events of recent films The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi in Japan's best-known traditional theater form.

To even the hardest-core Star Wars exegete, Kairennosuke may be an unfamiliar name — though not entirely unfamiliar. It turns out to be the Japanese name given to the character of Kylo Ren, the power-hungry nephew of Luke Skywalker portrayed by Adam Driver in The Force AwakensThe Last Jedi, and the upcoming The Rise of Skywalker.

In Kairennosuke and the Three Shining Swords he's played by Ichikawa Ebizō XI, not just the most popular kabuki actor alive but an avowed Star Wars enthusiast as well. "I like the conflict between the Jedi and the Dark Side of the Force," Baseel quotes Ichikawa as saying. "In kabuki too, there are many stories of good and evil opposing each other, and it’s interesting to see how even good Jedi can be pulled towards the Dark Side by fear and worry."

The thematic resonances between kabuki and Star Wars should come as no surprise, given all Star Wars creator George Lucas has said about the series' grounding in elements of universal myth. Lucas also actively drew from works of Japanese art, including, as previously featured here on Open Culture, the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa. And so in Kairennosuke and the Three Shining Swords, which you can watch on Youtube and follow along in Baseel's play-by-play description in English, we have the kind of elaborate cultural reinterpretation — bringing different eras of Western and Japanese art together in one strangely coherent mixture — in which modern Japan has long excelled. No matter what country they hail from, Star Wars fans can appreciate the highly stylized adventures of Kairennosuke, Hanzo, Reino, Sunokaku, Ruku and Reian — and of course, R2-D2 and C-3PO.

via Neatorama

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds Becomes a New BBC Miniseries Set in Edwardian England

H.G. Wells began writing the novel that would become The War of the Worlds in the England of the mid-1890s. As a setting for this tale of invasion from outer space, he chose the place he knew best: England of the mid-1890s. Staging spectacles of unfathomable malice and fantastical destruction against such an ordinary backdrop made The War of the Worlds, first as a magazine serial and then as a standalone book, a chillingly compelling experience for its readers. Orson Welles understood the effectiveness of that choice, as evidenced by the fact that in his famously convincing 1938 radio adaptation of Wells' novel, the hostile aliens land in modern-day New Jersey.

Subsequent adaptations have followed the same principle: in 1953, the first War of the Worlds Hollywood film set the action in 1950s Los Angeles; the latest, a Steven Spielberg-directed Tom Cruise vehicle that came out in 2005, set it in the New York and Boston of the 2000s. But now, set to premiere later this year on BBC One, we have a three-part miniseries that returns the story to the place and time in which Wells originally envisioned it — or rather, the place and very nearly the time. Shot in Liverpool, the production recreates not the Victorian England in which The War of the Worlds was first published but the brief Edwardian period, lasting roughly the first decade of the 20th century, that followed it.

In a way, a period War of the Worlds reflects our time as clearly as the previous War of the Worlds adaptations reflect theirs: television viewers of the 2010s have shown a surprisingly hearty appetite for historical drama, and often British historical drama at that. Think of the success earlier this decade of Downton Abbey, whose upstairs-downstairs dynamics proved gripping even for those not steeped in the British class system. This latest War of the Worlds, whose trailer you can watch at the top of the post, uses similar themes, telling the story of a man and woman who dare to be together despite their class differences — and, of course, amid an alien invasion that threatens to destroy the Earth. It remains to be seen whether the miniseries will rise to the central challenge of adapting The War of the Worlds: will the emotions at the center of the story be as convincing as the mayhem surrounding them?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Appeal of UFO Narratives: Investigative Journalist Paul Beban Visits Pretty Much Pop #14

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TV news reporter Paul Beban (ABC, Al Jazeera, Yahoo, and now featured on the Discovery Network's Contact) joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to discuss the public fascination with UFOs, both at the peak of their popularity in the 50s and in the current resurgence. Do accounts of sightings necessarily make for good TV? Do you have to believe to be entertained? Is belief in UFOs related to religious belief? To beliefs in conspiracy theories and anti-government venom? To humor?

We get into the mechanics of Contact, the Area 51 hubbub,and also touch on the show Project Blue Book, films like Arrival (2016) and UFO (2018), the documentary Unacknowledged (2017), the short story "Roadside Picnic," and more. To learn more about UFO lore in America, check out some of these podcasts.

Some of the resources we used for this episode included:

Plus, here are some stats from Gallup about UFO sightings and belief, you might want to pick up the book Nostalgia for the Absolute that Paul refers to, and here's the 2014 talk by Robbie Graham that Brian referred to describing "hyper-reality" and the Hollywood UFO conspiracy. Here's a list of UFO documentary series.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Metropolis Remixed: Fritz Lang’s German Expressionist Sci-Fi Classic Gets Fully Colorized and Dubbed

Those of us who grew up with late-night cable television will have a few memories of happening upon old movies that didn't look quite right. Usually drawn from the 1940s or 50s, and sometimes from the depths of genres like science-fiction and horror, these pictures had undergone the process of colorization in hopes of increasing their appeal to a generation unused to black-and-white imagery. Alas, even the most high-profile colorization projects back then tended to look washed-out, with lifelessly pale faces lost among washes of green and brown. On the technical level colorization has improved in the decades since, though on the artistic level its usage remains, to say the least, a suspect endeavor.

But what if the film chosen for colorization was, rather than some piece of drive-in schlock, one of the acknowledged masterpieces of early 20th-century cinema? MetropolisRemix comes as one especially intriguing (if also startling) answer to that question, bringing as it does Fritz Lang's hugely influential 1927 work of German Expressionist sci-fi from not just the world of black-and-white film into color but from that of silent film into sound.

To add color its makers used DeOldify, "a deep learning-based project for colorizing and restoring old images (and video!)" previously featured here on Open Culture when we posted this colorized footage of Paris, New York, and Havana from the late 19th and early 20th century. You can get a taste of the MetropolisRemix viewing experience from this trailer:

In its entirety this version of Metropolis runs just over two hours, quite a bit shorter than the film's most recent restoration, 2010's The Complete Metropolis. The difference owes in large part to the lack of dialogue-conveying intertitles, which have been rendered unnecessary by a full-cast English-language dub that includes music and sound effects. Not everyone, of course, will approve of this "fan modernization," as its creators describe it. Phil Hall at Cinema Crazed prefers to call it "the most recklessly bad idea for a film since All This and World War II, the infamous 1976 nonsense that united Second World War newsreel footage with mostly unsatisfactory cover versions of Beatles music." But the sheer brazenness of MetropolisRemix nevertheless impresses — and somehow, Lang and his collaborators' vision of an industrial art-deco dystopia survives.

via Messy Nessy

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Philip K. Dick Tarot Cards: A Tarot Deck Modeled After the Visionary Sci-Fi Writer’s Inner World

What does Philip K. Dick have in common with Jorge Luis Borges, Hermann Hesse, and John Cage? Fans of all three twentieth-century visionaries will have much to say on the matter of what deep resonances exist between their bodies of work and the worldviews that produced them. But they can't overlook the fact that Dick, Borges, Hesse, and Cage all, at one time or another, enthusiastically consulted the ancient Chinese divination text known as the I Ching. Also known as The Book of Changes, it became a must-have countercultural volume in the 1960s, and the words of guidance it provided, in all their openness to interpretation, surely influenced no small number of decisions made in that era.

What the I Ching had to say certainly influenced the decisions of Philip K. Dick, in life as well as in writing. Not only did he use the book to write The Man in the High Castle, his 1962 novel portraying a world in which the Axis powers won World War II, he also included it as a plot element in the story itself.

And speaking of alternate histories, we might ask: could Dick have written The Man in the High Castle without the I Ching? Or could he have written it using another divination tool, perhaps one from the West rather than the East? What would the novel have looked like if written while harnessing the perceptive power of tarot, the 15th-century European card game whose decks also have a long history as windows onto human destiny?

Recently the world of tarot, the world of the I Ching, and the world of Philip K. Dick collided, resulting in The Fool's Journey of Philip K. Dick, a tarot deck published by Wide Books. "PKD scholar Ted Hand and tarot artist Christopher Wilkey have brought together a new vision of tarot and the great works of Philip K. Dick," says Wide Books' site. "Ideal for advanced students of tarot as well as novices to the I Ching," the deck "takes the seeker through an initiation into the life and writings of one of the greatest writers of recent times." In addition to its 80 cards, each drawing from some element of Dick's body of work, the deck includes "four rule cards for two I Ching inspired card games and an eight-sided folding booklet about tarot as Gnostic Allegory, with beginning exercises contrasting tarot to the I Ching."

Two of the games pay tribute to particular Dick novels: A Maze of Death and its "domino-type game" that "familiarizes players with the trigrams of which I Ching hexagrams are composed," and Ubik, which has "players either hoping to avoid accumulating entropy or trying to capture all the energy you can from the deck and other players to be the last standing at the end of the game." If that sounds like a good time to you, you'll have to register your interest in ordering a copy of The Fool's Journey of Philip K. Dick on Wide Books' contact form, since the initial run has sold out. That won't come as a surprise to Dick's fans, who know the addictive power of one glimpse into his inner world, with its rich mixture of the supernatural, the scientific, the paranormal, and the paranoid. But what kind of books will they use his tarot deck to write?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Why Should We Read Pioneering Sci-Fi Writer Octavia Butler? An Animated Video Makes the Case

Two of the most startlingly original science fiction writers of the past century, Samuel R. Delany and Octavia E. Butler, emerged in the 60s and 70s and created dystopian visions that resonate with us today with more depth and immediacy than the majority of their contemporaries. Both writers also happened to be African American. But why should this detail matter? Why indeed, asked Butler, in an equally relevant question, “is science fiction so white?” She went on to explore the question in a 1980 essay published in Transmission, not with a history of the genre, but with rebuttals to the reasons for excluding people like her.

“A more insidious problem than outright racism is simply habit, custom,” Butler writes. People get comfortable with things as they are—an attitude antithetical to the spirit of sci-fi. “Science fiction, more than any other genre deals with change—change in science and technology, and social change. But science fiction itself changes slowly, often under protest.”

Butler died too young, in 2006 at age 58; but she lived to see resistance to change in science fiction persist into the 21st century. Yet in her most compelling, and slightly terrifying, projection into the future—her mid-90s Parable series of novels—change is the only thing that anyone can rely on.

All that you touch, you Change. All that you Change Changes you.

N.K. Jemison quotes these lines from Parable of the Sower in her introduction to the book’s reissue this year. Published in 1993, Parable’s futurism didn’t have the same frisson as that of, say, William Gibson at the time. “Roving, uncontested gangs of pedophiles and drug-addicted pyromaniacs? Slavery 2.0? A powerful coalition of white-supremacist, homophobic, Christian zealots taking over the country?” writes Jemison. “Nah, I thought, and hoped Butler would get back to aliens soon.” Set in the context of a U.S. post-massive climate collapse (possibly), hyper-financialization, and corporate rule.… the novel now seems all too prescient to its current-day readers.

But even Butler’s alien stories are stories about humans in radical transition, and collective social actions with both devastating and transformative outcomes. In Dawn, the first novel in her Xenogenesis trilogy (now called “Lilith’s Brood”), human woman Lilith Iyapo “awakens after 250 years of stasis,” following an apocalyptic nuclear war on Earth, “to find herself surrounded by aliens called the Oankali,” as the animated TED-Ed lesson above by Ayana Jamieson and Moya Bailey tells it. These beings want to trade DNA with the remaining humans, thereby creating a hybrid species. The alternative is sterilization.

The chilling scenario in Dawn and its successors has its moments of Lovecraftian dread, but it goes in an even stranger direction, bringing an added dimension to the meaning of the word “dehumanization.” What would it mean to slowly transform into another species? Such profoundly universal questions about the meaning of human identity reached “readers who had been excluded from the genre,” notes Emanuella Grinberg at CNN. Butler peoples her books with humans of every color and ethnicity, and aliens only she might have imagined. But most of her protagonists are black and brown women. Many of the readers Butler influenced, like Jemison, are women of color who became genre-changing sci-fi writers themselves.

Butler’s work “helped define the literary cornerstone of Afrofuturism,” notes Grinberg. Her writing was strategic, a way to confront dehumanizing political and social political realities. Parable of the Sower, the TED lesson explains, was partly a response to Butler’s home state of California’s Proposition 187, which denied undocumented immigrants basic healthcare, education, and basic services. In the follow-up, Parable of the Talents (1998), an authoritarian presidential candidate campaigns on the slogan “Make American Great Again.” Her best-selling novel, Kindred, published in 1979, tells the story of a contemporary woman repeatedly pulled back in time to the Maryland plantation of her enslaved ancestor.

Why should we read Octavia Butler? You’ll have to read her to answer that question yourself. But I’d venture to say—along with the intro to her life and work above—because she had a better read on how the time she lived in would turn into the time we live in now than nearly anyone writing at the time; because she told strange, wonderful, outlandish, compelling stories that stretched the imagination without losing sight of the human core; because, like Ursula K. Le Guin, she challenged the world as it is with profound visions of what it might be; and because she not only excelled as a storyteller but specifically as a committed science fiction storyteller, one who deeply touched, and thus deeply changed, the form.

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

Would You Go Back to 1889 and Take Out Baby Hitler?: Time-Travel Expert James Gleick Answers the Philosophical Question

The vast majority of us have no inclination to kill anyone, much less a small child. But what if we had the chance to kill baby Adolf Hitler, preventing the Holocaust and indeed the Second World War? That hypothetical question has endured for a variety of reasons, touching as it does on the concepts of genocide and infant murder in forms even more highly charged than usual. It also presents, in the words of Time Travel: A History author James Gleick, "two problems at once. There's a scientific problem — you can set your mind to work imagining, 'Could such a thing be possible and how would that work?' And then there's an ethical problem. 'If I could, would I, should I?'"

By the simplest analysis, writes Vox's Dylan Matthews, the question comes down to, "Is it ethical to kill one person to save 40-plus million people?" But time-travel fiction has been around long enough that we've all internalized the message that it's not quite so simple. We can even question the assumption that killing baby Hitler would prevent the Holocaust and World War II in the first place.

Maybe those terrible events happen on any timeline, regardless of whether Hitler lives or dies: that would align with the Novikov self-consistency principle, which holds that "time travel could be possible, but must be consistent with the past as it has already taken place," and which has been dramatized in time-travel stories from La Jetée to The Terminator.

Gleick doesn't have a straight answer in the Vox video on the killing-baby-hitler question above as to whether he himself would go back to 1889 and put baby Hitler out of action. "When you change history," he says of the moral of the countless many time travel stories he's read, "you don't get the result you're looking for. Every day, everything we do is a turning point in history, whether it's obvious to us or not." This in contrast to former Florida governor and United States presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who, when he had the big baby-Hitler question put to him by the Huffington Post, returned a hearty "Hell yea I would." But given time to reflect, even he concluded that such an act "could have a dangerous effect on everything else." It appears that some of the lessons of time-travel stories have been learned, but as for what humanity will do if it actually develops time-travel technology — maybe we'd rather not peer into the future to find out.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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