A 5‑Hour Journey Through North Korean Entertainment: Propaganda Films, Kids’ Cartoons, Sketch Comedy & More

Over the sec­ond half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, South Korea became rich, and in the first decades of the twen­ty-first, it’s become a glob­al cul­tur­al super­pow­er. The same can’t be said for North Korea: after a rel­a­tive­ly strong start in the nine­teen-fifties and six­ties, its econ­o­my foundered, and in the famine-strick­en mid-nineties it prac­ti­cal­ly col­lapsed. For that and oth­er rea­sons, the coun­try has nev­er been in a posi­tion to send forth its own BTS, Squid Game, Par­a­site, or “Gang­nam Style.” But what­ev­er the dif­fi­cul­ties at home, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea has always man­aged to pro­duce enter­tain­ment for con­sump­tion by its own peo­ple: movies, ani­ma­tion, tele­vi­sion shows, music, and more besides.

Then again, “enter­tain­ment” may be too strong a word. A few years ago, attend­ing a North-South cul­tur­al exchange group in Seoul, where I live, I had the chance to watch a recent movie called 우리집 이야기, or The Sto­ry of Our Home. It told its sim­ple tale of a fam­i­ly of orphans try­ing to sur­vive on their own with sur­pris­ing tech­ni­cal com­pe­tence — at least com­pared to what I’d expect­ed — albeit with what I remem­ber as occa­sion­al jar­ring laps­es into flat pro­pa­gan­da shots, stern nation­al anthem, flap­ping red-starred flag and all. Accord­ing to “Enter­tain­ment Made By North Korea,” the new five-and-a-half-hour analy­sis from Youtu­ber Paper Will, that sort of thing is par for the course.

In order to put North Kore­an enter­tain­ment in its prop­er con­text, the video begins before there was a North Korea, describ­ing the films made on the Japan­ese-occu­pied Kore­an penin­su­la between 1910 and the end of the Sec­ond World War. Though the expul­sion of the defeat­ed Japan end­ed colo­nial rule in Korea, many more hard­ships would vis­it both sides of the new­ly divid­ed coun­try. But even dur­ing their strug­gles to devel­op, the rulers of both the devel­op­ing North and South Korea under­stood the poten­tial of cin­e­ma to influ­ence their peo­ples’ atti­tudes and per­cep­tions. Watched today, these pic­tures reveal a great deal about the coun­tries’ pri­or­i­ties. For the DPRK, those pri­or­i­ties includ­ed the encour­age­ment of unstint­ing hard work and alle­giance to the state, embod­ied by its founder Kim Il Sung.

Lat­er, in the sev­en­ties and eight­ies, came some diver­si­fi­ca­tion of both media and mes­sage, as ser­i­al dra­mas and chil­dren’s car­toons, some of them craft­ed with gen­uine skill and charm, dis­cour­aged indi­vid­u­al­is­tic atti­tudes, sym­pa­thy for for­eign­ers, and thoughts of defec­tion. Under Kim Il Sung’s movie-lov­ing Kim Jong Il, North Kore­an films became more watch­able, thanks in large part to his kid­nap­ping and forcibly employ­ing South Kore­an direc­tor Shin Sang-ok. Under his son Kim Jong Un, the coun­try’s pop­u­lar cul­ture has flirt­ed with the very out­er reach­es of cool, assem­bling the likes of instru­ment-play­ing girl-group Moran­bong. Nev­er­the­less, in North Korea, enter­tain­ment con­tin­ues first and fore­most to enforce the pre­ferred ide­ol­o­gy of the rul­ing class, some­thing that — per­ish the thought — could sure­ly nev­er hap­pen in the West.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Read Dic­ta­tor Kim Jong-il’s Writ­ings on Cin­e­ma, Art & Opera: Cour­tesy of North Korea’s Free E‑Library

A‑ha’s “Take On Me” Per­formed by North Kore­an Kids with Accor­dions

How to Defeat the US with Math: An Ani­mat­ed North Kore­an Pro­pa­gan­da Film for Kids

North Korea’s Cin­e­ma of Dreams

Watch More Than 400 Clas­sic Kore­an Films Free Online Thanks to the Kore­an Film Archive

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

Google Launches a New Course Called “AI Essentials”: Learn How to Use Generative AI Tools to Increase Your Productivity

This week, Google announced the launch of Google AI Essen­tials, a new self-paced course designed to help peo­ple learn AI skills that can boost their pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. Taught by Google’s AI experts, and assum­ing no pri­or knowl­edge of pro­gram­ming, the course ven­tures to show stu­dents how to “use AI in the real world,” with an empha­sis on help­ing stu­dents:

  • Devel­op ideas and con­tent. If you’re stuck at the begin­ning of a project, use AI tools to help you brain­storm new ideas. In the course, you’ll use a con­ver­sa­tion­al AI tool to gen­er­ate con­cepts for a prod­uct and devel­op a pre­sen­ta­tion to pitch the prod­uct.
  • Make more informed deci­sions. Let’s say you’re plan­ning an event. AI tools can help you research the best loca­tion to host it based on your cri­te­ria. You can also use AI to help you come up with a tagline or slo­gan.
  • Speed up dai­ly work tasks. Clear out that inbox faster using AI to help you sum­ma­rize emails and draft respons­es.
Google AI Essen­tials fea­tures five mod­ules (the video above comes from Mod­ule 1) and takes about 9 hours to com­plete. The tuition is cur­rent­ly set at $49, and those who com­plete the course will earn a Google cer­tifi­cate that they can share with their pro­fes­sion­al net­work.
Google AI Essen­tials fol­lows up on anoth­er course recent­ly-fea­tured here on OC, Gen­er­a­tive AI for Edu­ca­tors. Find it here.
Note: Open Cul­ture has a part­ner­ship with Cours­era. If read­ers enroll in cer­tain Cours­era cours­es and pro­grams, it helps sup­port Open Cul­ture.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Google & Cours­era Launch New Career Cer­tifi­cates That Pre­pare Stu­dents for Jobs in 2–6 Months: Busi­ness Intel­li­gence & Advanced Data Ana­lyt­ics

Google & MIT Offer a Free Course on Gen­er­a­tive AI for Teach­ers and Edu­ca­tors

Google & Cours­era Cre­ate a Career Cer­tifi­cate That Pre­pares Stu­dents for Cyber­se­cu­ri­ty Jobs in 6 Months

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André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto Turns 100 This Year

Peo­ple don’t seem to write a lot of man­i­festos these days. Or if they do write man­i­festos, they don’t make the impact that they would have a cen­tu­ry ago. In fact, this year marks the hun­dredth anniver­sary of the Man­i­feste du sur­réal­isme, or Sur­re­al­ist Man­i­festo, one of the most famous such doc­u­ments. Or rather, it was two of the most famous such doc­u­ments, each of them writ­ten by a dif­fer­ent poet. On Octo­ber 1, 1924, Yvan Goll pub­lished a man­i­festo in the name of the sur­re­al­ist artists who looked to him as a leader (includ­ing Dada Man­i­festo author Tris­tan Tzara). Two weeks lat­er, André Bre­ton pub­lished a man­i­festo — the first of three — rep­re­sent­ing his own, dis­tinct, group of sur­re­al­ists with the very same title.

Though Goll may have beat­en him to the punch, we can safe­ly say, at a dis­tance of one hun­dred years, that Bre­ton wrote the more endur­ing man­i­festo. You can read it online in the orig­i­nal French as well as in Eng­lish trans­la­tion, but before you do, con­sid­er watch­ing this short France 24 Eng­lish doc­u­men­tary on its impor­tance, as well as that of the sur­re­al­ist art move­ment that it set off.

“There’s day-to-day real­i­ty, and then there’s supe­ri­or real­i­ty,” says its nar­ra­tor. “That’s what André Bre­ton’s Sur­re­al­ist Man­i­festo was aim­ing for: an artis­tic and spir­i­tu­al rev­o­lu­tion” dri­ven by the rejec­tion of “rea­son, log­ic, and even lan­guage, all of which its acolytes believed obscured deep­er, more mys­ti­cal truths.”

“The real­is­tic atti­tude, inspired by pos­i­tivism, from Saint Thomas Aquinas to Ana­tole France, clear­ly seems to me to be hos­tile to any intel­lec­tu­al or moral advance­ment,” the trained doc­tor Bre­ton declares in the man­i­festo. “I loathe it, for it is made up of medi­oc­rity, hate, and dull con­ceit. It is this atti­tude which today gives birth to these ridicu­lous books, these insult­ing plays.” He might well have also seen it as giv­ing rise to events like the First World War, whose grind­ing sense­less­ness he wit­nessed work­ing in a neu­ro­log­i­cal ward and car­ry­ing stretch­ers off the bat­tle­field. It was these expe­ri­ences that direct­ly or indi­rect­ly inspired a wave of avant-garde twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry art, more than a few pieces of which star­tle us even today — which is say­ing some­thing, giv­en our dai­ly diet of absur­di­ties in twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry life.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Intro­duc­tion to Sur­re­al­ism: The Big Aes­thet­ic Ideas Pre­sent­ed in Three Videos

Europe After the Rain: Watch the Vin­tage Doc­u­men­tary on the Two Great Art Move­ments, Dada & Sur­re­al­ism (1978)

A Brief, Visu­al Intro­duc­tion to Sur­re­al­ism: A Primer by Doc­tor Who Star Peter Capal­di

The For­got­ten Women of Sur­re­al­ism: A Mag­i­cal, Short Ani­mat­ed Film

Read and Hear Tris­tan Tzara’s “Dada Man­i­festo,” the Avant-Garde Doc­u­ment Pub­lished 100 Years Ago (March 23, 1918)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

Behold The Drawings of Franz Kafka (1907–1917)

Run­ner 1907–1908

Runner 1907-1908

UK-born, Chica­go-based artist Philip Har­ti­gan has post­ed a brief video piece about Franz Kaf­ka’s draw­ings. Kaf­ka, of course, wrote a body of work, most­ly nev­er pub­lished dur­ing his life­time, that cap­tured the absur­di­ty and the lone­li­ness of the new­ly emerg­ing mod­ern world: In The Meta­mor­pho­sis, Gre­gor trans­forms overnight into a giant cock­roach; in The Tri­al, Josef K. is charged with an unde­fined crime by a mad­den­ing­ly inac­ces­si­ble court. In sto­ry after sto­ry, Kaf­ka showed his pro­tag­o­nists get­ting crushed between the pin­cers of a face­less bureau­crat­ic author­i­ty on the one hand and a deep sense of shame and guilt on the oth­er.

On his deathbed, the famous­ly tor­tured writer implored his friend Max Brod to burn his unpub­lished work. Brod ignored his friend’s plea and instead pub­lished them – nov­els, short sto­ries and even his diaries. In those diaries, Kaf­ka doo­dled inces­sant­ly – stark, graph­ic draw­ings infused with the same angst as his writ­ing. In fact, many of these draw­ings have end­ed up grac­ing the cov­ers of Kafka’s books.

“Quick, min­i­mal move­ments that con­vey the typ­i­cal despair­ing mood of his fic­tion” says Har­ti­gan of Kafka’s art. “I am struck by how these sim­ple ges­tures, these zigza­gs of the wrist, con­tain an econ­o­my of mark mak­ing that even the most expe­ri­enced artist can learn some­thing from.”

In his book Con­ver­sa­tions with Kaf­ka, Gus­tav Janouch describes what hap­pened when he came upon Kaf­ka in mid-doo­dle: the writer imme­di­ate­ly ripped the draw­ing into lit­tle pieces rather than have it be seen by any­one. After this hap­pened a cou­ple times, Kaf­ka relent­ed and let him see his work. Janouch was aston­ished. “You real­ly didn’t need to hide them from me,” he com­plained. “They’re per­fect­ly harm­less sketch­es.”

Kaf­ka slow­ly wagged his head to and fro – ‘Oh no! They are not as harm­less as they look. These draw­ing are the remains of an old, deep-root­ed pas­sion. That’s why I tried to hide them from you…. It’s not on the paper. The pas­sion is in me. I always want­ed to be able to draw. I want­ed to see, and to hold fast to what was seen. That was my pas­sion.”

Check out some of Kafka’s draw­ings below. Or def­i­nite­ly see the recent­ly-pub­lished edi­tion, Franz Kaf­ka: The Draw­ings. It’s the “first book to pub­lish the entire­ty of Franz Kafka’s graph­ic out­put, includ­ing more than 100 new­ly dis­cov­ered draw­ings.”

Horse and Rid­er 1909–1910

Horse and Rider 1909-1910

Three Run­ners 1912–1913

Three Runners 1912-1913

The Thinker 1913

The Thinker 1913

Fenc­ing 1917

Fencing 1917

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Franz Kaf­ka Says the Insect in The Meta­mor­pho­sis Should Nev­er Be Drawn; and Vladimir Nabokov Draws It Any­way

Vladimir Nabokov’s Delight­ful But­ter­fly Draw­ings

The Art of William Faulkn­er: Draw­ings from 1916–1925

The Draw­ings of Jean-Paul Sartre

Flan­nery O’Connor’s Satir­i­cal Car­toons: 1942–1945

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.

How Édouard Manet Became “the Father of Impressionism” with the Scandalous Panting, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863)

Édouard Manet’s Le Déje­uner sur l’herbe (1863) caused quite a stir when it made its pub­lic debut in 1863. Today, we might assume that the con­tro­ver­sy sur­round­ing the paint­ing had to do with its con­tain­ing a nude woman. But, in fact, it does not con­tain a nude woman — at least accord­ing to the analy­sis pre­sent­ed by gal­lerist-Youtu­ber James Payne in his new Great Art Explained video above. “The woman in this paint­ing is not nude,” he explains. “She is naked.” Where­as “the nude is posed, per­fect, ide­al­ized, the naked is just some­one with no clothes on,” and, in this par­tic­u­lar work, her faint­ly accusato­ry expres­sion seems to be ask­ing us, “What are you look­ing at?”

Here on Open Cul­ture, we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Manet’s even more scan­dalous Olympia, which was first exhib­it­ed in 1865. In both that paint­ing and Déje­uner, the woman is based on the same real per­son: Vic­torine Meurent, whom Manet used more fre­quent­ly than any oth­er mod­el.

“A respect­ed artist in her own right,” Meurent also “exhib­it­ed at the Paris Salon six times, and was induct­ed into the pres­ti­gious Société des Artistes Français in 1903.” That she got on that path after a work­ing-class upbring­ing “shows a for­ti­tude of mind and a strength of char­ac­ter that Manet need­ed for Déje­uner.” But what­ev­er per­son­al­i­ty she exud­ed, her non-ide­al­ized nudi­ty, or rather naked­ness, could­n’t have changed art by itself.

Manet gave Meuren­t’s exposed body an artis­tic con­text, and a max­i­mal­ly provoca­tive one at that, by putting it on a large can­vas “nor­mal­ly reserved for his­tor­i­cal, reli­gious, and mytho­log­i­cal sub­jects” and mak­ing choic­es — the vis­i­ble brush­strokes, the stage-like back­ground, the obvi­ous clas­si­cal allu­sions in a clear­ly mod­ern set­ting — that delib­er­ate­ly empha­size “the arti­fi­cial con­struc­tion of the paint­ing, and paint­ing in gen­er­al.” What under­scores all this, of course, is that the men sit­ting with her all have their high­ly eigh­teen-six­ties-look­ing clothes on. Manet may have changed the rules, open­ing the door for Impres­sion­ism, but he still reminds us how much of art’s pow­er, what­ev­er the peri­od or move­ment, comes from sheer con­trast.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Scan­dalous Paint­ing That Helped Cre­ate Mod­ern Art: An Intro­duc­tion to Édouard Manet’s Olympia

Édouard Manet Illus­trates Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” in a French Edi­tion Trans­lat­ed by Stephane Mal­lar­mé (1875)

A Quick Six Minute Jour­ney Through Mod­ern Art: How You Get from Manet’s 1862 Paint­ing The Lun­cheon on the Grass to Jack­son Pol­lock­’s 1950s Drip Paint­ings

Watch Icon­ic Artists at Work: Rare Videos of Picas­so, Matisse, Kandin­sky, Renoir, Mon­et, Pol­lock & More

The Muse­um of Mod­ern Art (MoMA) Puts Online 90,000 Works of Mod­ern Art

Great Art Explained: Watch 15 Minute Intro­duc­tions to Great Works by Warhol, Rothko, Kahlo, Picas­so & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

Bukowski Reads Bukowski: Watch a 1975 Documentary Featuring Charles Bukowski at the Height of His Powers

In 1973, Richard Davies direct­ed Bukows­ki, a doc­u­men­tary that TV Guide described as a “cin­e­ma-verite por­trait of Los Ange­les poet Charles Bukows­ki.” The film finds Bukows­ki, then 53 years old, “enjoy­ing his first major suc­cess,” and “the cam­era cap­tures his rem­i­nis­cences … as he walks around his Los Ange­les neigh­bor­hood. Blunt lan­guage and a sly appre­ci­a­tion of his life form the core of the pro­gram, which includes obser­va­tions by and about the women in his life.”

The orig­i­nal film clocked in at 46 min­utes. Then, two years lat­er, PBS released a “heav­i­ly-edit­ed 28-minute ver­sion of the film,” using alter­nate scenes and a rearranged struc­ture. Renamed Bukows­ki Reads Bukows­ki, the film aired on Thurs­day, Octo­ber 16, 1975. And, true to its name, the film fea­tures footage of Bukows­ki read­ing his poems, start­ing with “The Rat,” from the 1972 col­lec­tion Mock­ing­bird Wish Me Luck. You can watch Bukows­ki Reads Bukows­ki above, and find more Bukows­ki read­ings in the Relat­eds below.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Hear 130 Min­utes of Charles Bukowski’s First-Ever Record­ed Read­ings (1968)

Charles Bukows­ki Reads His Poem “The Secret of My Endurance

Tom Waits Reads Charles Bukows­ki

Four Charles Bukows­ki Poems Ani­mat­ed


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The Origins of Anime: Watch Early Japanese Animations (1917 to 1931)

Japan­ese ani­ma­tion, AKA ani­me, might be filled with large-eyed maid­ens, way cool robots, and large-eyed, way cool maiden/robot hybrids, but it often shows a lev­el of dar­ing, com­plex­i­ty and cre­ativ­i­ty not typ­i­cal­ly found in Amer­i­can main­stream ani­ma­tion. And the form has spawned some clear mas­ter­pieces from Kat­suhi­ro Otomo’s Aki­ra to Mamoru Oishii’s Ghost in the Shell to pret­ty much every­thing that Hayao Miyaza­ki has ever done.

Ani­me has a far longer his­to­ry than you might think; in fact, it was at the van­guard of Japan’s furi­ous attempts to mod­ern­ize in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry. The old­est sur­viv­ing exam­ple of Japan­ese ani­ma­tion, Namaku­ra Gatana (Blunt Sword), dates back to 1917, though much of the ear­li­est ani­mat­ed movies were lost fol­low­ing a mas­sive earth­quake in Tokyo in 1923. As with much of Japan’s cul­tur­al out­put in the first decades of the 20th Cen­tu­ry, ani­ma­tion from this time shows artists try­ing to incor­po­rate tra­di­tion­al sto­ries and motifs in a new mod­ern form.

Above is Oira no Yaku (Our Base­ball Game) from 1931, which shows rab­bits squar­ing off against tanukis (rac­coon dogs) in a game of base­ball. The short is a basic slap­stick com­e­dy ele­gant­ly told with clean, sim­ple lines. Rab­bits and tanukis are main­stays of Japan­ese folk­lore, though they are seen here play­ing a sport that was intro­duced to the coun­try in the 1870s. Like most silent Japan­ese movies, this film made use of a ben­shi – a per­former who would stand by the movie screen and nar­rate the movie. In the old days, audi­ences were drawn to the ben­shi, not the movie. Aki­ra Kurosawa’s elder broth­er was a pop­u­lar ben­shi who, like a num­ber of despon­dent ben­shis, com­mit­ted sui­cide when the pop­u­lar­i­ty of sound cin­e­ma ren­dered his job obso­lete.

Then there’s this ver­sion of the Japan­ese folk­tale Kobu-tori from 1929, about a woods­man with a mas­sive growth on his jaw who finds him­self sur­round­ed by mag­i­cal crea­tures. When they remove the lump, he finds that not every­one is pleased. Notice how detailed and uncar­toony the char­ac­ters are.

Anoth­er ear­ly exam­ple of ear­ly ani­me is Ugok­ie Kori no Tate­hi­ki (1931), which rough­ly trans­lates into “The Mov­ing Pic­ture Fight of the Fox and the Pos­sum.” The 11-minute short by Ikuo Oishi is about a fox who dis­guis­es him­self as a samu­rai and spends the night in an aban­doned tem­ple inhab­it­ed by a bunch of tanukis (those guys again). The movie brings all the won­der­ful grotes­queries of Japan­ese folk­lore to the screen, drawn in a style rem­i­nis­cent of Max Fleis­ch­er and Otto Mess­mer.

And final­ly, there is this curi­ous piece of ear­ly anti-Amer­i­can pro­pa­gan­da from 1936 that fea­tures a pha­lanx of fly­ing Mick­ey Mous­es (Mick­ey Mice?) attack­ing an island filled with Felix the Cat and a host of oth­er poor­ly-ren­dered car­toon char­ac­ters. Think Toon­town drawn by Hen­ry Darg­er. All seems lost until they are res­cued by fig­ures from Japan­ese his­to­ry and leg­end. Dur­ing its slide into mil­i­tarism and its inva­sion of Asia, Japan argued that it was free­ing the con­ti­nent from the grip of West­ern colo­nial­ism. In its queasy, weird sort of way, the short argues pre­cise­ly this. Of course, many in Korea and Chi­na, which received the brunt of Japan­ese impe­ri­al­ism, would vio­lent­ly dis­agree with that ver­sion of events.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Art of Hand-Drawn Japan­ese Ani­me: A Deep Study of How Kat­suhi­ro Otomo’s Aki­ra Uses Light

The Aes­thet­ic of Ani­me: A New Video Essay Explores a Rich Tra­di­tion of Japan­ese Ani­ma­tion

How Mas­ter Japan­ese Ani­ma­tor Satoshi Kon Puhed the Bound­aries of Mak­ing Ani­me: A Video Essay

“Evil Mick­ey Mouse” Invades Japan in a 1934 Japan­ese Ani­me Pro­pa­gan­da Film

Watch the Old­est Japan­ese Ani­me Film, Jun’ichi Kōuchi’s The Dull Sword (1917)

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.


What Would Happen If a Nuclear Bomb Hit a Major City Today: A Visualization of the Destruction

One of the many mem­o­rable details in Stan­ley Kubrick­’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Wor­ry­ing and Love the Bomb, placed promi­nent­ly in a shot of George C. Scott in the war room, is a binder with a spine labeled “WORLD TARGETS IN MEGADEATHS.” A megadeath, writes Eric Schloss­er in New York­er piece on the movie, “was a unit of mea­sure­ment used in nuclear-war plan­ning at the time. One megadeath equals a mil­lion fatal­i­ties.” The destruc­tive capa­bil­i­ty of nuclear weapons hav­ing only increased since 1964, we might well won­der how many megadeaths would result from a nuclear strike on a major city today.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Nobel Peace Prize, film­mak­er Neil Hal­lo­ran address­es that ques­tion in the video above, which visu­al­izes a sim­u­lat­ed nuclear explo­sion in a city of four mil­lion. “We’ll assume the bomb is det­o­nat­ed in the air to max­i­mize the radius of impact, as was done in Japan in 1945. But here, we’ll use an 800-kilo­ton war­head, a rel­a­tive­ly large bomb in today’s arse­nals, and 100 times more pow­er­ful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshi­ma.” The imme­di­ate result would be a “fire­ball as hot as the sun” with a radius of 800 meters; all build­ings with­in a two-kilo­me­ter radius would be destroyed, “and we’ll assume that vir­tu­al­ly no one sur­vives inside this area.”

Already in these cal­cu­la­tions, the death toll has reached 120,000. “From as far as away as eleven kilo­me­ters, the radi­ant heat from the blast would be strong enough to cause third-degree burns on exposed skin.” Though most peo­ple would be indoors and thus shel­tered from that at the time of the explo­sion, “the very struc­tures that offered this pro­tec­tion would then become a cause of injury, as debris would rip through build­ings and rain down on city streets.” This would, over the weeks after the attack, ulti­mate­ly cause anoth­er 500,000 casu­al­ties — anoth­er half a megadeath — with anoth­er 100,000 at longer range still to occur.

These are sober­ing fig­ures, to be sure, but as Hal­lo­ran reminds us, the Cold War is over; unlike in Dr. Strangelove’s day, fam­i­lies no longer build fall­out shel­ters, and school­child­ren no longer do nuclear-bomb drills. Nev­er­the­less, even though nations aren’t as on edge about total anni­hi­la­tion as they were in the mid-twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry, the tech­nolo­gies that poten­tial­ly cause such anni­hi­la­tion are more advanced than ever, and indeed, “nuclear weapons remain one of the great threats to human­i­ty.” Here in the twen­ty-twen­ties, “coun­tries big and small face the prospect of new arms races,” a much more com­pli­cat­ed geopo­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion than the long stand­off between the Unit­ed States and the Sovi­et Union — and, per­haps, one beyond the reach of even Kubrick­ian­ly grim satire.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Watch Chill­ing Footage of the Hiroshi­ma & Nagasa­ki Bomb­ings in Restored Col­or

Why Hiroshi­ma, Despite Being Hit with the Atom­ic Bomb, Isn’t a Nuclear Waste­land Today

When the Wind Blows: An Ani­mat­ed Tale of Nuclear Apoc­a­lypse With Music by Roger Waters & David Bowie (1986)

Inno­v­a­tive Film Visu­al­izes the Destruc­tion of World War II: Now Avail­able in 7 Lan­guages

The Map of Doom: A Data-Dri­ven Visu­al­iza­tion of the Biggest Threats to Human­i­ty, Ranked from Like­ly to Unlike­ly

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

Pink Floyd Plays in Venice on a Massive Floating Stage in 1989; Forces the Mayor & City Council to Resign

When Roger Waters left Pink Floyd after 1983’s The Final Cut, the remain­ing mem­bers had good rea­son to assume the band was tru­ly, as Waters pro­claimed, “a spent force.” After releas­ing solo projects in the next few years, David Gilmour, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright soon dis­cov­ered they would nev­er achieve as indi­vid­u­als what they did as a band, both musi­cal­ly and com­mer­cial­ly. Gilmour got to work in 1986 on devel­op­ing new solo mate­r­i­al into the 13th Pink Floyd stu­dio album, the first with­out Waters, A Momen­tary Lapse of Rea­son.

Whether the record is “mis­un­der­stood, or just bad” is a mat­ter for fans and crit­ics to hash out. At the time, as Ulti­mate Clas­sic Rock writes, it “would make or break their future abil­i­ty to tour and record with­out” Waters. Richard Wright, who could only con­tribute unof­fi­cial­ly for legal rea­sons, lat­er admit­ted that “it’s not a band album at all,” and most­ly served as a show­case for Gilmour’s songs, sup­port­ed in record­ing by sev­er­al ses­sion play­ers.

Still A Momen­tary Lapse of Rea­son “sur­passed quadru­ple plat­inum sta­tus in the U.S.,” dri­ven by the sin­gle “Learn­ing to Fly.” The Russ­ian crew of the Soyuz TM‑7 took the disc with them on their 1988 expe­di­tion, “mak­ing Pink Floyd the first rock band to be played in out­er space,” and the album “spawned the year’s biggest tour and a com­pan­ion live album.”

Uncer­tain whether the album would sell, the band only planned a small series of shows ini­tial­ly in 1987, but are­na after are­na filled up, and the tour extend­ed into the fol­low­ing two years, with mas­sive shows all over the world and the usu­al extrav­a­gan­za of lights and props, includ­ing “a large dis­co ball which opens like a flower. Lasers and light effects. Fly­ing hos­pi­tal beds that crash in the stage, Teles­can Pods and of course the 32-foot round screen.” As in the past, the over-stim­u­lat­ing stage shows seemed war­rant­ed by the huge, quadro­phon­ic sound of the live band. When they arrived in Venice in 1989, they were met by over 200,000 Ital­ian fans. And by a sig­nif­i­cant con­tin­gent of Vene­tians who had no desire to see the show hap­pen at all.

This is because the free con­cert had been arranged to take place in St. Mark’s square, coin­cid­ing with the wide­ly cel­e­brat­ed Feast of the Redeemer, and threat­en­ing the frag­ile his­toric art and archi­tec­ture of the city. “A num­ber of the city’s munic­i­pal admin­is­tra­tors,” writes Lea-Cather­ine Sza­c­ka at The Archi­tects’ News­pa­per, “viewed the con­cert as an assault against Venice, some­thing akin to a bar­bar­ian inva­sion of urban space.” The city’s super­in­ten­dent for cul­tur­al her­itage “vetoed the con­cert” three days before its July 15 date, “on the grounds that the ampli­fied sound would dam­age the mosaics of St. Mark’s Basil­i­ca, while the whole piaz­za could very well sink under the weight of so many peo­ple.”

An accord was final­ly reached when the band offered to low­er the deci­bel lev­els from 100 to 60 and per­form on a float­ing stage 200 yards from the square, which would join “a long his­to­ry… of float­ing ephemer­al archi­tec­tures” on the canals and lagoons of Venice. Filmed by state-run tele­vi­sion RAI, the spec­ta­cle was broad­cast “in over 20 coun­tries with an esti­mat­ed audi­ence of almost 100 mil­lion.”

The show end­ed up becom­ing a major scan­dal, split­ting tra­di­tion­al­ists in the city gov­ern­ment and pro­gres­sives on the council—who believed Venice “must be open to new trends, includ­ing rock music” (deemed “new” in 1989). It drew over 150 thou­sand more peo­ple than even lived with­in the city lim­its, and while “it was report­ed that most of the fans were on their best behav­ior,” notes Dave Lifton, and only one group of stat­ues sus­tained minor dam­age, offi­cials claimed they “left behind 300 tons of garbage and 500 cubic meters of emp­ty cans and bot­tles. And because the city didn’t pro­vide portable bath­rooms, con­cert­go­ers relieved them­selves on the mon­u­ments and walls.”

Enraged after­ward, res­i­dents shout­ed down the May­or Anto­nio Casel­lati, who attempt­ed a pub­lic rap­proche­ment two days lat­er, with cries of “resign, resign, you’ve turned Venice into a toi­let.” Casel­lati did so, along with the entire city coun­cil who had brought him to pow­er. Was the event—which you can see report­ed on in sev­er­al Ital­ian news broad­casts, above—worth such unsan­i­tary incon­ve­nience and polit­i­cal tur­bu­lence? The band may have tak­en down the city’s gov­ern­ment, but they put on a hell of a show–one the Ital­ian fans, and the mil­lions of who watched from home, will nev­er for­get. See the front rows of the crowd queued up and rest­less on barges and boats in footage above. And, at the top of the post, see the band play their 14-song set, with bassist Guy Pratt sub­bing in for the depart­ed Roger Waters. It’s appar­ent­ly the orig­i­nal Ital­ian broad­cast of the event.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Pink Floyd Play Live Amidst the Ruins of Pom­peii in 1971 … and David Gilmour Does It Again in 2016

Pink Floyd Films a Con­cert in an Emp­ty Audi­to­ri­um, Still Try­ing to Break Into the U.S. Charts (1970)

How Pink Floyd Built The Wall: The Album, Tour & Film

Pink Floyd’s Debut on Amer­i­can TV, Restored in Col­or (1967)

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

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Inside the Beautiful Home Frank Lloyd Wright Designed for His Son (1952)

Being Frank Lloyd Wright’s son sure­ly came with its down­sides. But one of the upsides — assum­ing you could stay in the mer­cu­r­ial mas­ter’s good graces — was the pos­si­bil­i­ty of his design­ing a house for you. Such was the for­tune of his fourth child David Samuel Wright, a Phoenix build­ing-prod­ucts rep­re­sen­ta­tive well into mid­dle age him­self when he got his own Wright house. It must have been worth the wait, giv­en that he and his wife lived there until their deaths at age 102 and 104, respec­tive­ly. Not long there­after, the sold-off David and Gladys Wright House faced the prospect of immi­nent demo­li­tion, but it ulti­mate­ly sur­vived long enough to be added to the Nation­al Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places in 2022.

Giv­en that its cur­rent own­ers include restora­tion-mind­ed for­mer archi­tec­tur­al appren­tices Tal­iesin West, the David and Gladys Wright House would now seem to have a secure future. To get a sense of what makes it worth pre­serv­ing, have a look at this new tour video from Archi­tec­tur­al Digest led — like the AD video on Wright’s Tir­ran­na pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture — by Frank Lloyd Wright Foun­da­tion pres­i­dent and CEO Stu­art Graff. He first empha­sizes the house­’s most con­spic­u­ous fea­ture, its spi­ral shape that brings to mind (and actu­al­ly pre­dat­ed) Wright’s design for the Solomon R. Guggen­heim Muse­um.

Here, Graff explains, “the spi­ral real­ly takes on a unique sense of longevi­ty as it moves from one gen­er­a­tion, father, to the next gen­er­a­tion, son — and even today, as it moves between father and daugh­ter work­ing on this restora­tion.” That father and daugh­ter are Bing and Aman­da Hu, who have tak­en on the job of cor­rect­ing the years and years of less-than-opti­mal main­te­nance inflict­ed on this house on which Wright, char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly, spared lit­tle expense or atten­tion to detail. Every­thing in it is cus­tom made, from the Philip­pine mahogany ceil­ings to the doors and trash cans to the con­crete blocks that make up the exte­ri­or walls.

“David Wright worked for the Bess­er Man­u­fac­tur­ing Com­pa­ny, and they made con­crete block molds,” says Graff. “David insist­ed that his com­pa­ny’s molds and con­crete block be used for the con­struc­tion and design of this house.” That was­n’t the only aspect on which the younger Wright had input; at one point, he even dared to ask, “Dad, can the house be only 90 per­cent Frank Lloyd Wright, and ten per­cent David and Gladys Wright?” Wright’s response: “You’re mak­ing your poor old father tired.” Yet he did, ulti­mate­ly, incor­po­rate his son’s requests into the design — under­stand­ing, as Bing Hu also must, that fil­ial piety is a two-way street.

Relat­ed con­tent:

12 Famous Frank Lloyd Wright Hous­es Offer Vir­tu­al Tours: Hol­ly­hock House, Tal­iesin West, Falling­wa­ter & More

A Beau­ti­ful Visu­al Tour of Tir­ran­na, One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Remark­able, Final Cre­ations

130+ Pho­tographs of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Mas­ter­piece Falling­wa­ter

What Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unusu­al Win­dows Tell Us About His Archi­tec­tur­al Genius

A Vir­tu­al Tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Lost Japan­ese Mas­ter­piece, the Impe­r­i­al Hotel in Tokyo

When Frank Lloyd Wright Designed a Dog­house, His Small­est Archi­tec­tur­al Cre­ation (1956)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

Steven Spielberg Calls Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange “the First Punk Rock Movie Ever Made”

Steven Spiel­berg and Stan­ley Kubrick are two of the first direc­tors whose names young cinephiles get to know. They’re also names between which quite a few of those young cinephiles draw a bat­tle line: you may have enjoyed films by both of these auteurs, but ulti­mate­ly, you’re going to have to side with one cin­e­mat­ic ethos or the oth­er. Yet Spiel­berg clear­ly admires Kubrick him­self: his 2001 film A.I. Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence orig­i­nat­ed as an unfin­ished Kubrick project, and he’s gone on record many times prais­ing Kubrick­’s work.

This is true even of such an un-Spiel­ber­gian pic­ture as A Clock­work Orange, a col­lec­tion of Spiel­berg’s com­ments on which you can hear col­lect­ed in the video above. He calls it “the first punk-rock movie ever made. It was a very bleak vision of a dan­ger­ous future where young peo­ple, teenagers, are free to roam the streets with­out any kind of parental excep­tion. They break into homes, and they assault and rape peo­ple. The sub­ject mat­ter was dan­ger­ous.” On one lev­el, you can see how this would appeal to Spiel­berg, who in his own oeu­vre has returned over and over again to the sub­ject of youth.

Yet Kubrick makes moves that seem prac­ti­cal­ly incon­ceiv­able to Spiel­berg, “espe­cial­ly the scene where you hear Gene Kel­ly singing ‘Sin­gin’ in the Rain’ ” when Mal­colm McDow­ell’s Alex DeLarge is “kick­ing a man prac­ti­cal­ly to death. That was one of the most hor­ri­fy­ing things I think I’ve ever wit­nessed.” And indeed, such a sav­age coun­ter­point between music and action is nowhere to be found in the fil­mog­ra­phy of Steven Spiel­berg, which has received crit­i­cism from the Kubrick-enjoy­ers of the world for the emo­tion­al one-dimen­sion­al­i­ty of its scores (even those com­posed by his acclaimed long­time col­lab­o­ra­tor John Williams).

Less fair­ly, Spiel­berg has also been charged with an inabil­i­ty to resist hap­py end­ings, or at least a dis­com­fort with ambigu­ous ones. He would nev­er, in any case, end a pic­ture the way he sees Kubrick as hav­ing end­ed A Clock­work Orange: despite the inten­sive “depro­gram­ming” Alex under­goes, “he comes out the oth­er end more charm­ing, more wit­ty, and with such a dev­il­ish wink and blink at the audi­ence, that I am com­plete­ly cer­tain that when he gets out of that hos­pi­tal, he’s going to kill his moth­er and his father and his part­ners and his friends, and he’s going to be worse than he was when he went in.” To Spiel­berg’s mind, Kubrick made a “defeatist” film; yet he, like every Kubrick fan, must also rec­og­nize it as an artis­tic vic­to­ry.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Steven Spiel­berg on the Genius of Stan­ley Kubrick

When Stan­ley Kubrick Banned His Own Film, A Clock­work Orange: It Was the “Most Effec­tive Cen­sor­ship of a Film in British His­to­ry”

Peter Sell­ers Calls Kubrick’s A Clock­work Orange “Vio­lent,” “The Biggest Load of Crap I’ve Seen” (1972)

A Clock­work Orange Author Antho­ny Burgess Lists His Five Favorite Dystopi­an Nov­els: Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Island & More

Ter­ry Gilliam on the Dif­fer­ence Between Kubrick & Spiel­berg: Kubrick Makes You Think, Spiel­berg Wraps Every­thing Up with Neat Lit­tle Bows

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

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