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Month: March 2003

Two kids enter

I’ve sort of been putting off writing about Battle Royale on account of “Damn, I have no idea what to make of that.” But faint heart never won Oscar, or some such, so let’s see if we can make some sense out of the uber-controversial high school Series 7.

First off, the brief summary: a class of Japanese high school students are brought to an island, given random weapons, and they don’t get to leave till only one is left alive. If they don’t get to that point within a few days, they all die. This is theoretically part of a program to deal with juvenile delinquency. Carnage ensues.

It’s a tremendously bloody movie. I wouldn’t call it gory, but I would certainly call it violent. No worse than your average R-rated horror flick — which is kind of interesting, because those usually contain a hefty slice of violence directed at teenagers, but they don’t provoke the same kind of reaction as Battle Royale. It’s OK when it’s the monsters doing the slicing.

Taking a step back from the subject matter, and thinking of it purely as an action movie, it’s not bad. The tension is good, the acting is good, and the plot is decent. It’s not the be all and end all of action flicks, but it’s solid. Not too surprising, considering the director, Kinji Fukasaku, had been making movies for 40 years. But that’s the easy part of the analysis.

When I get closer to the subject matter, I just hit a wall. Series 7 is a satire and commentary on reality shows. This ain’t that; there’s no hint of the game show to it, although it’s clear the survivor will become a national hero. However, the event isn’t televised. So what can I make of it? What is Fukasaku getting at here?

The 1998 White Paper on Crime may be a relevant reference point. It’s particularly concerned with juvenile delinquency, which is covered beginning here. The crime rate among Japanese youth was up severely in 1998, and the nature of the crimes committed seems to have been fairly disturbing: “The survey results on juvenile offenders also indicated that in bodily injury cases, the number of those with motivations of ‘Passion’ has shown a remarkably higher percentage than ‘Grudge or Revenge’, while the results of the survey on characteristics of juveniles admitted to juvenile classification homes (hereinafter the ‘survey results on juveniles in juvenile classification homes’) showed that the motivation of ‘on the spur of the moment’ has been the highest in homicide cases.”

The White Paper seems to have been fairly prophetic, given this BBC report on the subject. Be sure to read the sidebar titled Japan Teen Attacks, and see also this article. I notice, in particular, that the kids are attacking not just each other but adults — which, understandably, is a matter of some concern. In contrast, the media-driven frenzy in the US focuses on self-directed violence in the form of school shootings.

(This shouldn’t be taken to mean that I think no US teens commit violence against adults, or that all Japanese teen violence is directed towards adults. I’m doing culture analysis here, so I’m interested in how teen violence is depicted.)

I’m thinking that Battle Royale has to be interpreted in the context of both Japanese concerns about juvenile delinquency and the generation gap (a la Speed Tribes). In that light, it’s an expression of angst and fear. It is, perhaps, a horror movie after all, but the monster is the generation gap.

It's all true

I know everybody says this, but man, there are a metric boatload of pretty badly formed RSS feeds out there. I have most of an application written that trawls a blogroll for RSS feeds and generates a “friends” page from whatever it finds. I even respect “Last-Modified” headers. Unfortunately, everyone kicks out bad RSS. Some people also have pretty flaky RSS autodiscovery bumpf — Atrios, for example, winds up pointing my l’il robot to an RSS feed containing the last few comments on his blog. Weird. I could work around that, though, although it would kind of kill the glorious automation purity I’ve got now.

What really gives me hives is the malformed feeds, though. Yeesh. Maybe I can steal some code from Amphetadesk, or maybe Mark Pilgrim has some useful stuff. Oooh, or wait, mt-rssfeed has a liberal parser module which does not require me to run Python. Hm.

Wayback machine, please

The Observer has a story on US war plans:

America intends to depose Saddam Hussein by giving armed support to Iraqi opposition forces across the country… the plan, opposed by Tony Blair and other European Union leaders, threatens to blow apart the increasingly shaky international consensus behind the US-led ‘war on terrorism’.

It envisages a combined operation with US bombers targeting key military installations while US forces assist opposition groups in the North and South of the country in a stage-managed uprising. One version of the plan would have US forces fighting on the ground.

Despite US suspicions of Iraqi involvement in the 11 September attacks, the trigger for any attack, sources say, would be the anticipated refusal of Iraq to resubmit to inspections for weapons of mass destruction under the United Nations sanctions imposed after the Gulf war.

Well, there you go. Date: 12/2/2001.

Turkish puzzle

The Turkish Parliament voted today on the motion to allow the US to base troops in Turkey for the war on Iraq. Initially, the motion appeared to pass by a thin margin of 264-251, with 19 abstentions. However, Speaker Bulent Arinc quickly announced that the motion failed because it failed to gain a majority of yes votes. I.e., the abstentions had it.

Bulent Arinc is a member of the majority Justice and Development Party, whose leader publicly backed the motion. The narrow margin along with his actions has to represent a fairly sizable division within the party, which is no surprise, but I’m sure Recep Tayyip Erdogan was hoping that it wouldn’t be quite this painful.

The Turkish Parliament has adjourned until Tuesday.

I liked screwing Stephen King

Salon has a little puff piece of a Cronenberg interview on line, of interest probably mostly to the fanatics like me, except for one excerpt which I will provide here.

When I did “The Dead Zone,” I was very happy with the film. I was very happy with the experience of mixing my blood with somebody else’s, in this case Stephen King. When you use someone else’s work as the basis, it’s something you would never do on your own, but something you really feel an incredible empathy for and connection with. The two of you mix together — why, it’s just like sex, I suddenly realized! — and you make something that didn’t exist before.

That says so much about how Cronenberg sees the world, doesn’t it? The easy natural metaphor: mixing blood. Working, creatively, with another human: “mixing my blood.” And then he realizes, yes! It’s sex! And he was very happy to be making love to Stephen King…

Via John Tynes.

Supplemental WISHes

Whoops, I missed a WISH. Well, last week was pretty busy. This week, it’s all about supplements.

What do you think about supplements to game systems? Do you like the additional material, or are you just annoyed about spending the money for the additional rules? Name up to three supplements you?ve really enjoyed, and describe why you liked them.

I like supplements. I have the gamer fondness for more crunchy stuff, although I’m just as happy without it, but what I really like is cool world material. This bias is about to become utterly apparent when I talk about my three favorite supplements.

First, perhaps the best supplement ever, GURPS Fantasy II by Robin Laws. I’m cheating, here, because the reasons I love the Madlands have nothing to do with the fact that they were presented as a supplement. There’s nothing terribly GURPSy about the Madlands; they’re an insane Cthuloid Laplanderesque setting permeated with the horror of Christopher Robin. Layered over the bleak chill of the Madlands, you’ve got half a dozen ornately conceptualized cultures ranging from a really original take on magocracy to a society of immortals that does magic by shooting up powdered gems. You’d do just as well running the whole thing in FUDGE or D20. Really, it’s a game world that hijacked GURPS for a quick trip to your local gaming store.

So OK, let’s have another first. First, perhaps the best real supplement ever, Spherewalker Sourcebook by Greg Stolze. It’s a volumnious sourcebook presented as an encyclopedia, which is a terribly clever conceit. I think it works so well because the short format of each entry forced Stolze to really focus on getting a game hook or two into a couple of short paragraphs. Further, the interlocking format, in which the entire picture becomes clear only after reading all the entries, is an excellent model for a revelatory campaign — a mode that Everway is well suited for. Doesn’t hurt that it’s very well written.

Second, I’m gonna say Charnel Gods by Scott Knipe. I talked about it a lot in the entry linked to above, so maybe just go back and take a look. This almost falls into the category of “more a game world than a supplement,” but the skill with which Knipe adapts the Sorcerer memes to support his unique concept saves it. You could run Charnel Gods in another system but it’s better in Sorcerer.

Third, I will cheat a little more and claim that the psi order/region supplements for Trinity are a single choice. I could pick one of them but I’m lazy, and they’re really all very good. Andrew Bates, the line editor for Trinity, solved the White Wolf splatbook dilemma: how do you make a clan/guild/breed/whatever book interesting and useful for most of the player base? Answer: you link the psi orders to a specific region and make the order books cover the region as well. Since each order was really designed side by side with the region in which they reside, it doesn’t feel forced. Bates did more within the parameters of the White Wolf system than any other line developer. (Sorry, Rich, Justin, et al. But Bates is the man.)

It’s probably obvious, given the examples I’ve chosen, that I’d rather have world than rules. I like it when rules are presented to support new aspects of the rules; for example, I’ve been pretty impressed with the Forgotten Realms line lately. (For a high magic over the top what if John Woo directed a fantasy movie feel, the Realms aren’t bad.) I am not so hugely fond of just new widgets. The classbooks for D&D excited me insofar as some of the classes provided new plot ideas.