Get infected in Hong Kong with SARS Zombies!

SARS Zombies posterBack in July, I had the opportunity of attending a press screening of a film that I had never heard of before: SARS Zombies. The debut film of director, producer, scriptwriter, action director, special makeup artist, and actor Samuel Leong, SARS Zombies is quite possibly the very first serious homegrown Hong Kong zombie flick (at least in the Romero sense of the term). I recently interview Sam for SCREAM magazine, and the issue is available now! For now, here is the synopsis from my article, a trailer, and info on the screenings in Hong Kong taking place this weekend!

“The story begins 10 years after the 2003 outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in Hong Kong. A gang of thieves has decided to raid a jewelry dealer situated in a large industrial building, and after a heated face-off between the gang leader (also played by director Sam Leong) and the security guards on duty, it seems that the felons have achieved their purpose. While they search the premises, however, they accidentally stumble into another flat inhabited by a man and his young daughter. It turns out that the man is a doctor who, driven to insanity by the loss of his wife to the first SARS outbreak, has been working ceaselessly to find a cure ever since. Engaging in increasingly questionable experiments, the man eventually resorted to testing on cadavers and even his own daughter, who became the host of a mutant strain of the SARS virus, this time standing for “Sudden Aggressive Reanimation Syndrome.”

Of course, it isn’t long before the girl bites one of the gangsters as he attempts to force her out of the flat. In the inevitable mayhem that ensues, the robbers and hostages are progressively infected, with the entire building eventually becoming a hive of the undead. The film climaxes in a high-kicking, bone-crunching, head-drilling last stand against the living dead, finally revealing a twist that drives home some of the more subtle commentary that director Sam Leong has attempted to infuse within his neoteric effort at zombie cinema.”

SHOW DATE: October 25, 26, and 27, 2013

SHOW TIME: 19:30 ~

VENUE: Causeway Bay (Windsor UA Cinema)

Humanless Operas and Aquatic Theaters – Tokyo’s Avant-Garde Theatre

Genet & John SkeletonThe right connections will take you into many strange new places, and the past few weeks have been no exception. What started as an appointment to interview the “Father of Goth in Japan,” Genet of the band AUTO-MOD (est. 1980), eventually allowed me to witness some of the most cutting-edge modern theater in Japan. When I first met with Genet, it just happened that he had tickets for what was being touted as the first humanless opera, “THE END,” starring the virtually omnipresent vocaloid character Hatsune Miku. The holographic electronic opera featured Shibuya Keiichirō, a slew of designers, musicians, and even fashion designs by Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs, all collaborating to help Hatsune Miku to seek out the meanings of what it is to die and truly “end.” Unfortunately, the production suffered from a bout of overindulgence, and unless you’re a true fan, you can probably get roughly the same experience in truncated form by viewing the following trailer. The idea is promising, and we may see more mature efforts in the future…

Arakajime Ushinawareta Sekai HeWhat I never would have expected, however, was the next invite from Genet to see the Suizokukan Gekijō (Aquarium Theater) performance of a new work by playwright Momoyama Yū, “Arakajime Ushinawareta Sekai He” (To the Long-Lost World). The Suizokukan Gekijō troupe has been active since 1987, and is known for its spectacular use of colossal outdoor sets incorporating massive amounts of water, vehicles, and the natural environment. This time was no exception, as the troupe transformed the small tutelary shrine of Nishitaishidō Hachiman Jinja into a labyrinthine network of metal scaffolding and unbelievable sets ranging from the back alleys of a post-war Shōwa-period town to the decimated ruins of a doll museum.

 

 

Suizokukan GekijōThe story revolved around the lost souls who gathered around a place called Namidabashi (Bridge of Tears), each one on a quest for something in a world of memory, illusion, and madness. Between sets a massive deluge poured down from the ceiling, met by towering cascades from below, using literally tons of water to create a spectacle unmatched by what an indoor theater could provide. Moving street cars and elaborate buildings all attested to the true artistry of the troupe, and the acting of the performers also met up to the standards. Due to difficulties in securing locations, the troupe has not performed in Tokyo for several years, and may not be back for a while. If you have the chance to go out and see this underground troupe, be sure to jump at the chance! You won’t be disappointed.

 

Hold on to Your Sanity Points! Nyaruko is Back!

narukow_b2pYes, everyone’s favorite crawling chaos is back in a new series that has been airing since last month, and Akihabara is in full-on Nyaruko-mode! I recently made the journey to the otaku culture capital of the world to visit the Cure Maid Cafe, which is currently running a Haiyore! Nyaruko-san W campaign. I had to make a Sanity roll when I sampled the blasphemous and chaotic pasta-like thing  seen in the photo, topped off with the “Nyaruko” fizzy non-alcoholic cocktail. The show itself has currently been aired up to episode 6, and while it lacks some of the frenetic humor of the first series, it still manages to offer up a lot of laughs and more geek references than you can shake an unspeakable crowbar at. For those who are not so well-versed in the more esoteric aspects of Japanese culture and the Lovecraft mythos, I recently discovered the amazing and incredibly thorough NyaruReferences blog, which offers episode-by-episode rundowns of every reference in the anime and information on the original light novels as well! Check it out!Instant Sanity Loss! NyarlathotepNyaruko

Japanese Alternative Fashion Boutique NUDE N RUDE

Nude-n-RudeHaving made a trip to my old stomping grounds in Shinjuku, I was pleasantly surprised to find the scandalous clothing brand NUDE N RUDE now has a shop in the major department store MARUI. I was around for the opening of the head shop in Koenji, founded by talented designers Riria and Nana, and I even modeled in one of their early fashion shows, so I’m delighted to see that their manic brand of “bright despair” has grown to be so successful. The current lineup features various designs incorporating Eliphas Levi’s famous Sabbatic Goat (Baphomet)  and inverted crosses made of real bones. In the photo you might also notice that the bag features an image of Cthulhu, representative of the chimerical vichyssoise of occult and controversial symbols incorporated among the garish hues of their designs. Definitely worth a visit if you have the chance!

Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead 2 & 3!

Lust of the DeadI have arrived in Japan, and the first surprise of the day was finding Naoyuki Tomomatsu’s latest outré contributions to the burgeoning(?!) genre of rape/zombie films: Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead 2 & 3. For those who have read my previous post on the maiden title in this series, and those who are aware of the fact that Japan has practically built up a porn industry based on non-consensual intercourse, this should come as no surprise. For the rest of you…well, watch the trailers below and consider yourselves warned.

Goth in Japan Research Project

John SkeletonIt seems like only yesterday that I left the Land of the Rising Sun, and now I’m about to depart once more, this time for two months. During my stay in the Tokyo and Kansai areas I will be conducting ethnographic research on goth subculture in Japan from a cultural anthropological perspective. I am particularly interested in the meanings of goth for individual participants in goth’s Japanese localization in terms of formation of cultural identity. I hope to post brief updates regularly here at JohnSkeleton.com, and I look forward to hearing any comments or criticisms from anyone who happens to drop by! If happen to be in Japan and see me, please say hello and let me know your thoughts on all things goth and/or gothic!

Further details about the project will be posted on the Goth in Japan Project section of the web site.

Modeling for Dark Beauty Magazine with La Carmina!

La Carmina & John SkeletonWhile jet lag is certainly no excuse, I find I’ve been spending more time in my coffin, safely sequestered away from the light, since my return from my conference and research in Goth’s homeland and current mecca: the UK and Germany, respectively. But more to come on that front, for now, I’d like to post some extremely belated photos from a shoot that I did with my dear friend La Carmina in Hong Kong last September.523339_10200344529323634_1055202805_n

After some photo manipulations by our mutual comrade Kanae Hamatsuka, the series of dynamic shots feature the designs of what is perhaps HK’s finest Gothic clothing brand, Spider, against the frenetic energy and neon dynamism of the Pearl of the Orient. As it turns out, the photos have been a hit with several magazines, and even made the cover of Dark Beauty magazine. You can find more details and behind-the-scenes photos on La Carmina’s lovely blog here and here.

You can purchase print or digital copies of the magazine here.

Photographer: Ken Yuen
Assistant Photographer: Jacqueline Kwok (noircorner)
Photo manipulations: Kanae Hamatsuka
Hair: Emma Woodall of Toni & Guy Hong Kong
Wardrobe: Spider by Natalie Lam, Hong KongLa Carmina & John Skeleton

Turning Goth in Japan – John Skeleton Presents at Strawberry Hill!

Strawberry Hill HouseWho would have thought? This week on March 8th and 9th, 2013, I have been honored with the opportunity to not only attend, but also present at an academic conference hosted by St. Mary’s University and Strawberry Hill House in London! Amidst the Gothic splendor of the home built by Horace Walpole (1717-1797), the author of what is considered the first true Gothic novel, I will be sharing the fruits of my nascent research on Japan’s Goth subculture in a presentation titled, Turning Goth in Japan: Behind the Scenes of Goth Subculture’s Japanese Localization. In my presentation, I hope to explore the ways in which the “aesthetics of rebellion,” i.e. fashions, performances, and body modifications, are used as subcultural capital within the unique context of Japan’s localized Goth scene. The two-day conference looks to be a splendid opportunity for learning, and of course I will take the time to sample some of the local dark culture while I am in the city of fog.I hope to report soon on the results of the conference. Farewell for now!

Gothic: Culture, Subculture, Counterculture – A Two-Day Conference 

Strawberry Hill House

John Skeleton – Now Live from Hong Kong!

The scent of autumn is in the air, and the end of October is drawing near…you know what that means! It’s time to jam-pack your homes with jack-o’-lanterns and break out your besoms for the spookiest night of the year, All Hallow’s Eve! But before that, some of you may just be wondering where I have been for these past few months…

Photo by National Geographic

For those who haven’t heard, let’s just say that the pursuit of my studies of Japan, Asia, and the Gothic have led me from my castle deep in the mountains of Japan to a much more metropolitan environment – the legendary Pearl of the Orient, Hong Kong! From among his colorful cataclysm of cosmopolitanism and East-meets-West sensibilities, I will attempt to give my insight into Goth from an Asian perspective through this blog. Shifting from a focus on horror films, from now on I will extend to the Gothic in film, literature, games, music, events, and anything else that I find interesting. Changes to my site may be slow in coming, so for now I will attempt to give you some highlights of what I’ve been up to.

My history with the Japanese body modification scene goes way back, but it was only this April that, thanks to my dear friend and Tokyo subcultures author/blogger/journalist La Carmina, I was able to experience something complete different: becoming a bagel head!

Maybe you missed the memo, but the bagel head trend has gone viral after being featured on National Geographic’s hit show Taboo (the bagel head episode originally aired on Sept. 24, 2012). The process involves injecting the body with a sterile saline solution to create a large protrusion that, while completely disappearing after 24 hours, looks mysteriously like something that might go well with cream cheese.

John Skeleton as a Bagel Head!

The bagel head trend went viral after being covered in La Carmina’s blog countless media outlets, including The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed to name a few. A few reports got the story wrong though, claiming the unique body mod phenomena as a hot new fashion trend sweeping Japan and having permanent or negative effects. La Carmina and I were interviewed by The Japan Times and set the record straight there and in her popular blog.

The bagel head filming took place in April while I was still in Japan, but since then I’ve been keeping busy here in Hong Kong as well. Although it’s not Goth-related in anyway, for those interested Japanese anime and popular culture, you may be interested to know that the earless cat robot Doraemon is quite popular here in HK! I reported on an exhibit celebrating 100 years before the fictional birth of manga duo Fujiko Fujio’s futuristic creation. You can read my full report and see more photos here in La Carmina’s post.

John Skeleton & Doraemon

La Carmina, who also works as a TV presenter and production arranger, also recently visited Hong Kong, and many adventures were had. And these stories shall also be told…in a later post! For now, you can find a sneak peak here while I get a severed-head-start on the horrifying Halloween events yet to come…until next time, happy hauntings!

Haiyore! Nyaruko-san – H.P. Lovecraft Meets Akiba!

H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)

It seems that the Old Gent is appearing just about everywhere these days, with the deities and grimoires of the Cthulhu Mythos being summoned from their blasphemous, non-Euclidean outer dimensions to make appearances in episodes of such standard television fare as South Park (where Cartman befriends the cosmic entity and trains him to, among other things, destroy Justin Bieber) and Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated (notable for Jeffrey “Herbert West” Combs voicing the character “H.P. Hatecraft”). Of course, Lovecraftian inventions cropping up in unexpected places is nothing new, as famous fiction and comic writers like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Mike Mignola have been borrowing from H.P.’s lore for years, and metal bands such as Metallica and Black Sabbath have paid tribute to the Mythos as well. Of course, the Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred is practically an essential text in the library of anyone dabbling in the dark arts these days.  Not only that, but an entire book could be written on the subject of Lovecraft’s influence on the world of film, and in fact, one already has: Andrew Migliore and John Strysik’s excellent The Lurker in the Lobby: The Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema.

While the Providence writer’s influence has long been felt in the West, more recently his works seem to be cropping up in more unexpected places, more specifically, Japanese anime. The aforementioned Lurker in the Lobby covers some little-known works of J-horror like Marebito (Takashi “Ju-on: The Grudge” Shimizu, 2004) and Uzumaki (Higuchinsky, 2000, based on the manga by self-professed Lovecraft fan Junji Itō), and even an adult animated OVA entitled Mystery of the Necronomicon. While the former two films successfully draw more on the atmosphere and general themes of Lovecraft’s work, the latter merely uses names, characters, and the infamous Necronomicon as little more than glorified props to support an otherwise lifeless story. However, one thing is certain: Lovecraft’s scope of influence is certainly not limited to the English-speaking world.

Cover of the first light novel volume

In fact, Lovecraft’s works have been available in Japanese for decades, introducing to a whole new audience the works of an author who was woefully underappreciated during his own lifetime. A major factor behind the permeation of the Mythos into Japan’s geek culture was surely the seminal tabletop RPG Call of Cthulhu, first published by Chaosium in 1981. Despite the infiltration of Lovecraft literature and spin-off materials generated by the game, it seems that, like the followers of Cthulhu, Japanese Mythos fans have been lurking in hiding in the secret places of the Earth, waiting until the moment when the stars are in their proper alignment so that from its accursed place in the sunken abyss will rise…Cthulhu Co., Ltd. R’lyeh Land, the most popular theme park for Mythos deities this side of Fomalhaut??!?!

Yes, I could only be talking about the latest and one of the most delightfully bizarre incarnations of H.P. Lovecraft’s beloved universe of cosmic horror: Haiyore! Nyaruko-san (Crawling Up! Nyaruko-san)! Originally a light novel series written by Manta Aisora with illustrations by Koin, the series has spawned no less than two manga adaptations, two animated OVAs, and an animated television series currently airing in Japan, directed by Tsuyoshi Nagasawa.

It’s your typical story of boy meets alien or otherwise non-human girl, girl falls in love, numerous other beings get involved resulting in inevitable chaos, rinse, repeat.  This formula has been seen before…a LOT.  In fact, ever since Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura, there have been numerous adaptations of the “magical girlfriend” theme involving sexy non-humans (who still always look very human, for some reason) with a penchant for dull, everyday-Joe high school student in Japan (who may or may not have a heretofore unknown past involving other worlds).  Urusei Yatsura worked, as did other later shows that borrowed a similar formula, such as Tenchi Muyo!  However, it also fell flat on several occasions, as any superficially grafted formula is wont to do when lacking the strong characters to back it up.

So what does Nyaruko-san bring to the table?  Well, the basic alien girlfriend formula is in place as Nyaruko (voiced by Kana Asumi), a Nyarlathotepan (yes, the deities of Lovecraft are apparently races of alien beings now) working for the Space Defense Agency, rescues high school student Yasaka Mahiro from a Night Gaunt attack, revealing that Mahiro is the target of a galactic criminal organization and she has been assigned to protect him.  Of course, Nyaruko falls head over heels for Mahiro and ends up living in his home, a matter which is complicated by the later arrival of Kūko (voiced by Miyu Matsuki), a female Cthughan who is madly in love with Nyaruko, and Hasuta (voiced by Rie Kugimiya), a “loli trap” and member of the Hastur race who is completely smitten by Mahiro as well.  The love triangle between Nyaruko, Kūko, and Mahiro forms the core romantic thread of the story as Hasuta tags along for the ride, but what really carries the show from mediocre to highly enjoyable is the frenetic pacing and humorous references that sometimes fly by so fast that you might miss them if you blink.

Not as reliant on the typical situational humor drawn from the awkward scenes that are bound to occur when a boy and several girls/boys infatuated with him live under the same roof, the show is more heavily focused on (self-) referential humor and various parodies, consistently breaking the fourth wall as well.  The Mythos references are obviously there, with the predictable Lovecraftian vocabulary (unspeakable, blasphemous, unnamable, etc.) being used for laughs, along with puns that may seem somewhat esoteric to English-speakers, such as Nyaruko’s amphibious vehicle the Nephren-car, and the Cola of Cthulhu from R’lyeh Land, as well as that theme park’s Innsmouth mascot.  (The latter pun is only detectable when Innsmouth is spoken in Japanese pronunciation, as “mouth” is the same as “mouse” = Mickey Mouse.) Sanity points are also frequently mentioned in reference to the RPG. Nyaruko-san doesn’t limit itself to Mythos humor, however, with everything from Pokémon and Mobile Suit Gundam, to Back to the Future showing up in rapid succession.

Otaku culture is also a major theme in the show, as Nyaruko informs Mahiro that Earth’s entertainment, including Japanese anime, manga, and games, are highly valued commodities on the galactic market. BL (Boys’ Love), gaming console wars, and other Akiba-related topics often form the key plot points of episodes, with hilarious results.  Almost always managing to maintain a playful tongue-in-cheek approach without falling victim to its own stereotypes, Nyaruko-san is an enjoyable romp through a unique and entertaining world.

So is it in any way true to Lovecraft? Perhaps not, but one thing is clear: the creators certainly knew a thing or two about H.P. and his universe, and weren’t afraid to take some (extreme) creative liberties and have some fun with the gods and monsters of the Cthulhu Mythos.  While there has been no announcement of an English release for the novels or manga, the animated TV series and OVAs are being streamed by Crunchyroll.  So if you like your Lovecraft light, fun, and sprinkled with a liberal dose of chaotic humor, you might just be able to wrap your tentacles around Haiyore! Nyaruko-san and what are certainly some of the cutest Cthulhu characters yet to be seen!