Sunday, February 17, 2013
Curious habits of Japanese TV
--There is no disinclination to show the same short video--a man getting out of his car caught in a traffic jam, shaking his fist at the cars struck around him, then resignedly getting back into his car--twice, three times, even four or five times in a few minutes while the reader rattles on. The essential importance of video supporting the narrative or narrative explaining the video is often not recognized.
--Another example of witless picture editing is the all-too-familiar shot of a gaggle of politicians coming out of one room and striding down the hall to enter another room, without the slightest verbal exchange or the slightest notice of the camera. What can the viewer possibly learn from this?
--We have already made note of the extraordinary detail of weather reports. It's also interesting to note that on NHK's evening weather report, the main (usually male) news reader stays on camera when the young (female) weather reporter begins her run-through of the expected weather, and he invariably injects a comment to show his interest, then after a moment or two backs away out of camera, thus showing that he while he is interested in the weather report he is not really responsible.
--Ads, particularly those for soft drinks, are often built around a shot of fanatically precision dancing by an outlandishly costumed troop, featuring the unnatural jerking back and forth of arms and leg movements and spins as meticulous as well-oiled machinery. These five-second sequences by a dozen or so dancers of exactly the same height must have required weeks of rehearsal.
--NHK broadcasts the Evening News in 27 languages, including Gaelic.
--You will have noticed that when something untoward happens, but something which is photogenic and which by good luck has been captured on camera, such as a picturesque bicycle accident or a bank robbery in a remote prefecture, the evening news programs will devote five minutes or more to it, with the police shown diligently making measurements and holding patchy interviews with attractive observers. The time devoted is governed by the supposed interest in the video, not by the importance of the story.
--Sometimes video will show someone (a politician usually) speaking, but then narration comes on and the speaker is still shown to be speaking but the video's sound is cut off to let the narration go on under. So the politician or whoever is shown to be saying something but we don't hear what.
--We are too often treated to stock shots of the signs of political parties on the roofs of their headquarters, when there's nothing else handy to show.
--The camera will pan across four or five people lined up behind a desk pretending to engage in a panel discussion but in fact there will be no exchange of ideas. One person will go on for three or four minutes about something and the others will periodically nod and say things like "Of course" and "I see." Then another person at the desk will rattle on about something else which may or may not be related while the others nod and say "Naturally" and "Uh huh." So there is no real discussion at all. This practice even has a name; the person who gives a periodic mumbled response to the long explanation is called an "ai-zuchi," which means roughly the person on the other side who nods.
- Alex Mitsumori
Monday, February 11, 2013
It's a big city, but it's well served by its intricate train and subway system. So far, so good, but how to get to the subway station?
If you don't fancy a stroll (subway stations are maybe an average of 300 yards apart), you may be able to take a bus. Depending, a bus will come along in ten to twenty minutes, and so everyone can know exactly when to leave home it will surely be on time to the minute.
If you board at the start of the run, a digital display at the front of the bus will count down the minutes before the bus will start. The uniformed bus driver in peak cap and white gloves will thank everyone everyone as they board and swipe their pass over the reader. He will often greet old customers by name.
In time, the driver will announce that he is about to start the bus's big rumbling diesel engine, then you're off. (Time was when most buses, even those on rural routes, had conductors to collect the fares from everyone seated, but now this is done automatically at the machine at the front which reads everyone's pass; money is rarely exchanged.)
During the ride, a dulcet recorded female voice will announce name of the next stop, and the stop after that.
The back roads are so narrow that buses going and coming cannot pass each other except at places where one bus can pull over to get out of the way. Because the schedule is so carefully maintained, there's usually a wait for the other bus to come by of no more than a minute, but nevertheless the driver will apologize for the inexcusable delay.
At the end of the line, which will be in front of a train station, the recorded voice will thank everyone for taking the bus and wish everyone a good day. The bus empties in half a minute.
The bus then goes to the bus-parking area next to the station to wait until it's time to make the run back. Some of the runs along the back roads are extraordinarily circuitous, the better to sweep up passengers from as many neighborhoods as possible.
- Jean-Claude Folgaritsen
Monday, February 4, 2013
Above is a photo of the latest shinkansen bullet train which whizzes from Tokyo Station south to Osaka and sometimes all the way to Kyushu, the southern island. The shinkansen has all the conveniences of travel by plane (hostesses, beer, meals--although you'd do better to buy a bento box lunch on from a stand on the platform--
--or even better from a stand in the basement of a department store). The shinkansen also goes north, and a tunnel to Hokkaido, the northern island, is now under construction.
The latest shinkansen can hit 300 kph but the experimental maglev (magnetic levitation) variation, which cannot be bothered to make physical contact with the tracks, has hit 580 kph on test runs. The construction of the maglev is due to begin in 2014.
Looking at a map of Japan's rail system, you would think the busiest train station would be Tokyo's Shinjuku Station, because Shinjuku is the starting point for trains funneling out all over the country not just north and south, just as Chicago is the busiest station in the US, but no, Tokyo Station is the busiest just because it is where the shinkansen starts. A 16-car Shinkansen train (inevitably, with all seats taken) leaves Tokyo Station every six minutes. As you can imagine, a certain discipline on the part of passengers is required for this schedule to work: when a soon-to-depart train opens its doors, its seats are all taken in, say, thirty seconds.