Monday, May 30, 2005

Superstitions and ghosts in Japan, and buzz about the new Zeta Gundam movie

Japan can be a superstitious place, with many beliefs that aren't always easy for Westerners to accept. In addition to some old wives tales that are a bit off the wall -- don't cut your fingernails at night, or you won't be able to be with your parents when they die -- a lot of Japanese beliefs revolve around ghosts. The Japanese seem to believe very strongly in all manner of apparitions, and there are many TV shows that feature, say, ghost photographs with pale faces floating in the background, or videos of babies reacting to an unseen entity. Sometimes they take a lighter tack, filming popular television personalities with hidden cameras as they are forced to spend the night in a haunted house, rigged with fake ghosts by the studio staff, of course. Considering what a death-oriented place Japan can be (many holidays, such as Obon, are celebrations for the dead), it's no surprise that the Japanese think about ghosts more then most people.

Then again, sometimes there are supernatural happenings closer to home which give me pause. Once we stayed in a old hotel in Kusatsu, a town that's been famous for its natural hot springs since the Edo Period, and my wife was suddenly unable to move her head -- she was sure that someone had committed suicide by hanging themselves in the room in the past. Another time we went to the "Niagara of Japan," a local waterfall that is a popular tourist spot. It's beautiful, but also dangerous, and claims several lives each year. As we were walking, my wife felt something grab her leg and pull her towards the water, which gave us quite a scare. My daughter seems to have some connection to the spiritual world, too: shortly after my father passed away, she turned to an empty hallway and started shouting at empty air. My wife thought it was me, peeking from around the corner, but I was still asleep.

The world is buzzing about Star Wars right now, but for Gundam fans (like my son and I), there's something else to get excited about, the Zeta Gundam: a New Translation movies, which compress the 50-episode series into three movies, imitating the successful three films made from the original Mobile Suit Gundam series. My son and I went to see the film on opening night on Saturday, and really enjoyed it. The movies add quite a bit of new animation as well as some new scenes and side-plots, and the new animation is very nice, although having two different character designs in one film took some getting used to. Zeta is very close to my heart as an anime fan, the "Empire Strikes Back" of the Gundam universe, with its darker character-centric story and superb redefinition of the classic mecha anime genre.