Archive for July, 2011

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Cool Music Video: Full Moon Party

July 21, 2011

A while back I posted “The TV Show“, a video by animator Kousuke Sugimoto and musician Takayuki Manabe. Here’s another of Sugimoto’s early videos, also with music by Manabe.

Three apes encounter a musical note from space that sends them rocking to the end of the earth (literally).

 

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Cup Noodle and Gundam: Boil Japan (?)

July 18, 2011

Nissin Foods has just released a new ad for Cup Noodle as part of their 40th anniversary campaign this year. This one features a giant Gundam robot rising to its feet holding an enormous kettle of boiling water, then ends with a somewhat unexpected tagline.

“Boil Japan.” This raised an eyebrow the first time I saw it. After all, between radiation fears in Tokyo and further north, and having to suffer through one of the hottest summers ever with minimal air conditioning (part of the electric belt-tightening made necessary by Fukushima accident), people around here are probably feeling pretty well boiled already.

There is, however, an explanation. According to Nissin, their Cup Noodle campaigns all year have centered around the idea of “this country has hidden strength” (which is the Japanese copy that appears on-screen just at the end) and of rebuilding the spirits of people. They describe the ad as taking some of Japan’s coolest imagery and “using them in a way that boosts up the energy and imagination of the Japanese people by heating up their courage and passion.”

Ok, but why “Boil Japan”? It’s actually a play on words. It doesn’t appear anywhere in the ad, but the answer can be found in the description on their website, where they use the word “Wakasu”, written as 沸かす(to boil), but which can also be written as 湧かす(to boost or raise up).

I have to wonder how many in the target audience will get the pun, since it requires them to understand the word “boil” (not a big hurdle), then recognize that one of the many ways to translate it into Japanese is a homophone for “boost or raise up”. Had the voice-over actually said something like “Nihon wo wakasou!” it would have been a lot clearer.

The Gundam model used in the commercial is most likely all CG, but it’s very similar to an actual full-scale Gundam statue in Japan. Built in 2009 to commemorate the manga/anime’s 30th anniversary, the 18-meter statue originally stood at Odaiba, where it overlooked Tokyo harbor.

Via Pink Tentacle

At the end of 2009, it was dismantled and moved to Shizuoka, where it now stands near Higashi Shizuoka station with Mt. Fuji in the background. This version of the giant robot doesn’t have nearly the same range of motion as the one in the commercial: far from being able to crouch down and stand up again, the one here can only move its head back and forth.

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Japan’s Manabu Otake Crowned 2011 World Class Champion Bartender

July 15, 2011

Last month, I wrote about the Japan finals of Diageo’s World Class Bartending competition. Ten of the country’s top bartenders went head-to-head in a series of challenges that tested their knowledge, artistic creativity, culinary skill and physical reflexes in creating both original and classic drinks. In the end, The Cerulean Hotel’s Manabu Otake stood as Japan’s champion cocktail crafter.

Today in Delhi, India, he was crowned as the 2011 World Champion, beating out 31 of the world’s top bartenders from around the world.

Manabu Otake celebrates his victory at the 2011 World Class Finals

The champion poses with the judges

Photos via Luxury Insider

Above: Original cocktails from the Japan Finals. Champion Otake creates his Blanche Niege, runner-up Hideki Yoshida (also at the Cerulean Hotel) creates his Botanicals Perfection, and 2nd runner-up Tsuyoshi Miyazaki from the Imperial Hotel mixes his Silky Ciroc.

By winning the Japan Finals, Otake advanced to the World Finals held this week in New Delhi, India. As one of a field of 32 bartenders from as many countries, Otake once again had to prove his skill in front of a team of judges that included bartending experts Dale DeGroff, Hidetsugu Ueno, Gary Regan and Salvatore Calabrese.

Sweden’s Boudy Ghostine prepares a spice-based cocktail for Salvatore Calabrese.

The Finals consisted of six rounds of competition: The Spice Market Challenge, in which the contestants had one hour to pick out ingredients at a local market and craft a cocktail to highlight the regional flavor; Asian Food Pairing, in which they were giving a selection of distinctly-flavored dishes to complement; Cocktails Against the Clock, a speed round testing their ability to perform under pressure; and the Classic and Vintage Drinks with a Twist, Cocktail Theatre and the Stars, and Gentlemen’s Drinks and Fancy Tipples tests, which all required contestants to go beyond the basics in impressing the crowds with their knowledge, creativity and flair.

2011 Champion Manabu Otake mixes a celebratory cocktail

Photo via Luxury Insider

Brazil’s Talita Simoes completes the speed round for Dale DeGroff

Side note: Over the past decade, consumption of high-end spirits in India has skyrocketed. Alcohol sales have seen 20% annual growth over the past five years, with a projected market value of US$40 billion by 2014, making it one of the world’s biggest markets. As the world’s largest producer of spirits, these facts likely influenced Diageo’s decision to hold the world championships here.

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Update: Portal 2 Soundtrack Volume 2 Available for Free Download

July 14, 2011

I posted about a month back that Valve was making the soundtrack for Portal 2 available for free download from their site. Volume 1 had just been released, with hints at a volume 2 available in the near future.

Portal2

Well, the wait is over and a new block of 18 tracks is available for free download at the link above. The dark electronica themes continue into this volume, and I’m looking forward to giving them a thorough listening-to (been rather busy at work).

 

Not included for download is the extremely catchy ending song, “Want You Gone” by Jonathan Coulton. He wrote and composed “Still Alive” for the previous game, and his dark humor and ability to craft diabolically infectious earworms is still in strong form.

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Sexy Swordswoman Slices Calories for Cup Noodle

July 10, 2011

Nissin Foods has recently released a series of commercials for the low-calorie versions of their popular Cup Noodle instant ramen. This latest version, for the Curry flavored noodles, features model/actress Yoko Maki as a veggie-slicing samurai.


 

This commercial shares some similarities with another samurai-themed ad also run by Nissin this year (the 40th anniversary of Cup Noodle), in which artist Takehiko Inoue (perhaps best known for writing and drawing the popular basketball manga Slam Dunk and samurai-era manga Vagabond) paints a larger-than-life (3 meters tall, to be exact) portrait of an Edo-era samurai.

 

 

According to Nissin, the ad, which was released after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, was intended to convey a message that “this country has hidden strength” and “to inspire the hope and courage to move forward”.

 

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Massive Deposits of Rare Earth Elements Discovered under Pacific

July 5, 2011

A Japanese marine research team has just announced the discovery of deposits of rare earth beneath the Pacific that dwarf current reserve estimates.

Many of the high-tech products we use every day, including cell phones and PCs, depend on rare earth elements – a class of substances consisting of the 15 elements in the lanthanide group of the periodic table, plus the elements Scandium and Yttrium (which are included due their chemical similarities to the other lanthanide elements). These elements are used in the production of high-strength magnets, lasers, high-refraction lenses, petroleum separation catalysts, batteries and a wealth of other applications, in addition to having a number of medical uses. This makes them essential to our modern-day lifestyles, and 21st-century civilization as we know it would grind to a halt without them. And up to now, 97% of the world’s production has been controlled by just one country: China.

Despite their name, rare-earth elements are actually fairly plentiful. The problem is that they are highly dispersed throughout the earth’s crust, making recovery uneconomical except in a few locations. Inner Mongolia is one of the largest concentrated deposits, with an estimated 40 million tons sitting under the ground (other known, but much smaller, sites include South Africa, India, northern Europe and North America). Although global reserves are (were) estimated at approximately 110 million tons, China is the only major producer right now. Responding to fears that rising worldwide demand may deplete their natural reserves (and possibly also responding to the fact that they have near-complete control over a resource vital to the world’s  economy), China has tightened mineral exports, leading to a sharp increase in commodity prices and correspondingly higher production costs for many high-tech goods. In one notable incident, following a collision in 2010 between a Chinese fishing vessel and a Japanese Coast Guard vessel, Japan immediately backed down from its side of the dispute after China threatened to cut off rare earth exports to them altogether, despite video evidence that the Coast Guard vessel had been deliberately rammed. Following this display of economic helplessness, rare earth prices tripled Japan, sparking new initiatives to recycle electronics so that the materials can be recovered.

So Japan, and much of the rest of the world, has been over a barrel with regard to the rare earth element supply. This made today’s news of the discovery of massive high-concentration deposits under the Pacific Ocean very interesting. According to Associate Professor of Earth Science Yasuhiro Kato, of Tokyo University, “The deposits have a heavy concentration of rare earths. Just one square kilometer of deposits will be able to provide one-fifth of the current global annual consumption.” The discovery was made by a team from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, led by professor Kato, which had been taking study samples from over 2,000 sites around the Pacific. The results of their study, which were published Monday in the British journal Nature Geoscience, found the highest concentrations of rare earth elements over an area of 8.8 million square km near Hawaii and an area of 2.4 million square km around Tahiti, with total deposits estimated at 100 billion tons, exceeding previous estimates of the elements abundance by a factor of a thousand.

 

Map of the concentrations of rare earth elements found by Kato's team. The size of the circles indicates concetration (ppm) of the elements. The highest concentrations were found near Hawaii and Tahiti.

via Asahi Shimbun

Although the deposits are under 3,500-6,000 meters of water, they are very close to the surface of the sea bed, being found mainly in the top 8-20 meters of mud and sediment. Recovery will still be difficult and costly, and although many mining companies have already voiced interest in exploiting undersea mineral sources, Chinese producers are not in any danger of losing their near-monopoly anytime soon. Further complicating matters, undersea mining could have severe environmental consequences, and environmental groups are worried about the possible effects on marine ecosystems.

Should these difficulties be overcome, Japan would still not achieve the rare earth self-sufficiency they desire, although having the option of purchasing from the US or France would no doubt be preferable to depending only on China. Few deposits were found within Japan’s own Economic Exclusivity Zone, which extends approximately 370km from the coast, but Professor Kato has commented that “future studies will have to be done focusing on Japan’s EEZ.”

 

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Animated Eco-warfare Electronica in Nobukazu Takemura’s “Sign”

July 4, 2011

Osaka-born musician and composer Nobukazu Takemura has been producing works since 1993 that defy easy categorization. Covering a range that extends from jazz to chamber music to electronica, his creative style and many collaborative efforts have made him an influential figure in the Japanese experimental music world.

“Sign”, released on a 2000 EP of the same name, came packaged with the video below, animated by Katsura Moshino. It features a robot who, after discovering nature, goes on the attack after a greedy factory owner poisons and guns down the people of the local village, all set to very melodic glitch electronica.