Saturday, 22 September 2018

Distorted Idea of Beauty

Several days ago, my best friends and I had an interesting conversation about body positivity. I opened the topic on an idle afternoon—while they were all at work, hustling like a person should. At first, I just asked what body positivity meant to them, out of pure curiosity—as I feel the phrase has been used to promote unhealthy lifestyle. Fortunately, they all agree that it is about respecting and appreciating your body, about taking care of it by leading a healthy lifestyle and diet and accepting it in its uniqueness. That being said, some of them admit to not yet able to truly apply it to their own lives and bodies. The conversation then turns to the role our looks have on our self-worth—how many percents does our appearance contribute to our self-esteem? After deep consideration, I myself was surprised to find that my self-esteem only consists of a small percentage of looks—some of my best friends say the same, although some others say theirs are higher. It's inevitable to start talking about how we hate how we look sometimes. This—it turns out—might actually be related to how few compliments we receive from our closest comrades on our appearance. It may not be everything, but it helps to know that people who like us likes what look like too.

Old dress + shoes // Hand-me-down bomber jacket + tights + purse // thrifted hat // photos by Gina

One of the reasons we dislike the way we look, too, is seeing ourselves in photos—and how strange they can seem sometimes. However, what we often don't realise is that photos are basically a distorted image based on light play. A minor change in the light source, intensity or even colour can create a huge difference in how an object is portrayed. It takes a genetic skill to actually look photogenic. Aside from the fact that light can enhance or downgrade someone's beauty, we are always our harshest critics. We are quick to judge ourselves based on the so-called 'flaws' that we see popping all over our bodies, when no one else even noticed it. For instance, in these photos, I can clearly see the one zit on my left cheek and the dishevelled fringe that I missed—like they were marked with a bright red marker. Why do we find the need to bend the lights and distort the images to really see the beauty within ourselves? Don't we realise that true beauty lies in our ability to love and cherish who we are? Let's all look in the mirror now and cite 5 things we like about our bodies! That should be our difficult task of the day.

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Wednesday, 19 September 2018

10 Great Japanese Series You Might've Missed

If last week I shared some lesser-known Japanese movies that I love, this time I'd like to share some Japanese series of the same nature. Series take a lot more commitment, as my friend Uli once said, but sometimes it is really worth it. I try to search for those titles that aren't available in other forms and has little to no gimmicks within—i.e., fanservice of any kind. They tend to be down-to-earth stories that are mostly plausible to happen in the real world, so if you're not an otaku, it shouldn't be hard for you to swallow. Some of the stories can be quite dark and/or less pleasant, while others are sweet and serene, but I will make sure to let you know in each synopsis if there is any red flag to watch out for. Well, hope you'll enjoy them!

Inside Mari


Isao Komori is a college dropout shut-in who spends his days gaming and jacking off, after three years of failure in making friends and creating a new life in Tokyo. One morning, when he wakes up, Komori finds himself in the body of a beautiful high school girl who he often sees at the local convenience store, Mari Yoshizaki. At school, pretending to be Mari, Komori is caught by her classmate Yori, who notices that something is off about Mari. Together they go to Komori's old apartment, only to find that another "Komori" inhabits his old body and the real Mari is nowhere to be found. It is a really intriguing story filled with numerous plot twists and shocking turn-of-events, dealing mainly in the search for identity, friendship and the concept of 'home.' However, if you are uncomfortable with the subject matter of sex and pornography—not in any romanticised way—you may want to steer clear of this one.

Princess Maison


Now this one is a unique drama series, with a down-to-earth cinematography and realistic storyline. It tells the story of a 26-year-old woman who is looking to buy an apartment of her own. She frequents the marketing gallery of an upcoming apartment complex. Helped by the marketing employees, she is figuring out the bits and bobs of buying property and the best option for her current financial situation. This series is rather slow-paced with barely any dramatisation, acting so good it almost feels semi-documentary and quirky characters to boot. Numa-chan, the main character, is so adorable. I love her pigtails! The story also highlights the rising demand for owning property among single women in Japan, giving us a peek at what real estate looks like in the city today. A good change of pace from the more action-/drama-packed of other series.

School Counselor


While bullying is infamous in Japan, it apparently doesn't only happen in schools and/or workplace—it can also occur at home. With parents demanding the impossible of their children, no wonder many of them fall into depression—or worse. This series looks into that whole thing. Hinata Aizawa works as a high school counsellor and often finds herself face-to-face with children in troubling conditions. Among these students, Keigo Yoshioka stands out as he has refused to come back to school after summer holiday. One day, he commits suicide. Some believe that the bullying he receives in his class and basketball club may be the cause of his death. Some others point to his mother as the cause. It is Aizawa's mission to find out the truth. It is a chilling look at what school life in Japan is actually like. The most interesting point here is Aizawa's own issues with her mother—probably the most despicable woman I've ever seen.

Caution, Hazardous Wife


A terrific dramedy of the life of Japanese housewives, mixed with numerous fighting scenes and impressive martial arts. Nami Isayama is a normal housewife, but she hasn't always been one. Before she met her husband, she was working as a special agent, fighting bad guys and accomplishing missions. She falls in love at first sight and moves to a new house with her husband. In the new neighbourhood, she becomes friends with Yuri and Kyoko, her fellow housewives. She thought she was going to have a peaceful life, taking classes and drinking tea with her friends. However, whenever she smells trouble in her neighbourhood, her old instinct to fight re-awakens. It's a really great story on female friendship and empowerment, on love and marriage and the small world of Japanese housewives. Very, very awed by Haruka Ayase's amazing stunts! Someone says this is like "Japanese Desperate Housewives" and I couldn't agree more—a little more badass though.

Kantarou: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman


When you're passionate about something, wouldn't you want to find any way to pursue it? Even if it's just in the little things that give nothing but happiness as a reward? That's what Kantarou is doing in this hilarious collaboration between TV Tokyo and Netflix. You see, Kantarou is greatly passionate about sweets. It is his goal to try each and every sweet shop in Tokyo. Unfortunately, he now works as the sales rep in a publishing company, which will most likely take up the majority of his time. He doesn't want to just eat sweets on the weekends, so he comes up with a plan. Being a sales rep, Kantarou spends plenty of his working hours going from bookstore to bookstore to promote the company's latest published works. This gives him time to visit a sweet shop of his choice every time. Between the effort for Kantarou not to get caught and his exaggerated foodgasm, this series is just too funny to miss! Little warning, though: you might want everything he eats afterwards.

Recovery of an MMO Junkie


Japan is an extremely workaholic country. The work hours there are crazy and the seniority complex can be rather distressing. When 30-year-old Moriko quits her job of 11 years and turns to online game to pass the time, it is no surprise that she feels happier than ever. Signing into the MMORPG Fruits de Mer as a male hero 'Hayashi,' Moriko often hunts for monsters and explores dungeons with her friends, including the lovely healer Lily. Turning into a total recluse, Moriko's only venture to the outdoors tend to be her trips to the convenience store nearby, where she bumps into Yuuta. Although sure to never see each other again, it turns out Yuuta and Moriko have more in common than they know. The story is very sweet, simple and rather slow-paced. With very few characters and no branching storyline, it is a breath of fresh air to watch amidst the action-packed variety of titles usually being offered.

Red Data Girl


It is hard to talk about Japan, without diving into the spiritual, especially in the animated world. There are countless Japanese animated series that deal with the spiritual world—BLEACH and Yu Yu Hakusho, to name a few. Red Data Girl is one such series. The story revolves around the life of Izumiko, a 15-year-old girl who was raised in a shrine in the mountains and tend to break any electrical appliance she touches. Although said to be a goddess and overflowing with spiritual powers, her bodyguard Miyuki doesn't think very highly of her. Miyuki's father—Izumiko's guardian—enrols both of them at Hojo High School, a special school filled with exorcists from prestigious families, in order to protect Izumiko from everyone who wants to get at her power. Set in rural-looking areas, the story takes on a subtly action-packed adventure of exorcism and spiritual battles, with romance and friendship thrown into the mix.

Kids on the Slope


When we think of the music scene in Japan, very rarely would we probably think of jazz. Well, me, anyway—as I'm not a huge fan of jazz anyway. But, apparently, it is a historical part of the Japanese music scene. Recommended to me by my brother, this is a story about jazz in the 1940s. The story centres around Kaoru, a high school student who just recently moves to Kyushu. At first being unable to make friends, he meets the school's delinquent Sentarou and they quickly bonded over their love for jazz. They start having jam sessions after school, using the basement of a record shop owned by their classmate, Ritsuko. It's a heartbreaking story of love and friendship, where three very different people bond over their love for music. My favourite piece from this anime is the jazz rendition of A Few of My Favourite Things. It really gives the song a twist and character different from the Julie Andrews version.



WARNING: reading this will spoil at least the first episode for you, but unless you can take my word that this series will be the most heartbreaking one you'll ever watch, I'd suggest you read it. The story starts off with four high school girls who, together, form the School Living Club. Along with their supervising teacher, these girls make the most of their school life by actually staying at school 24/7. However, it turns out, the shocking reason behind this club is that they are in the middle of a zombie apocalypse and they have to barricade themselves at the school to survive. Mixing the genre of science fiction, drama and comedy—injected with a lot of moe goodness—this series will attack you with twists and turns all the way to the end. It is filled with many hilarious moments, but also with many tearjerking moments, serving the dystopian genre in the most heartfelt manner. 

Hanasaku Iroha: Blossoms for Tomorrow


One of the most heartwarming, down-to-earth and quintessentially Japanese animated series that I've ever watched. With a rather simple storyline, it manages to lure the audience by creating loveable and relatable characters with a touch of thick Japanese culture. Ohana has always been told to 'fend for herself' by her single mother, but when the latter runs away with her boyfriend and stuck her with the debt, Ohana has no choice but to work for her estranged grandmother at her inn. Although at first clueless and incapable of much, Ohana learns to love the job, her colleagues/friends and the inn itself—ultimately, her cold grandmother as well. It is a story about hard work, integrity, friendship and growing up. Peppered with peeks into the traditional inn industry in rural Japan, the series brings the story and visuals to life magnificently.

What other Japanese series should I watch? Let me know!

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Sunday, 16 September 2018

Sun-Soaked Afternoon

This post isn't sponsored by Pizza Hut in any shape or form

Lately, eating out hasn't been a thing in our family anymore—although looking at this blog and my instagram, you wouldn't be able to tell. We have been keeping an extra tight leash on our budget and make the most of homemade meals. That being said, my sister, my Stepmom and I often have chances to eat out—for me, at least, it's always at the mercy of other people's wallet. My Dad, on the other hand, hasn't really been leaving the house, except to the mosque or to run errands. Last week, with our brother off in Japan and our Stepmom out of town, my sister decided to take my Dad and me out for lunch. We opted for pizza—one dish we haven't figured out how to make at home. It was a full-course Pizza Hut meal, complete with soup, appetizer, pizza, pasta and drinks—just like it used to be when we were younger. It's kind of funny how I think of it as a luxury now. It turned into a really relaxing, sun-soaked afternoon, filled with jokes and life updates—and plastic-free too!

Sejauh Mata Memandang scarf // old top + purse // Etsy necklace // hand-me-down skirt // thrifted loafers // 

photos by Akita

Tomorrow I'll be back at uni once again. After spending around 2 months of running as far away from that part of my life as I can and escaping reality, I finally have to go back. It's kind of depressing when I think about it. I'm a little traumatic about the whole process, as the last time I was buried in assignments, I almost had a nervous breakdown. But, you know what, I just have to suck it up, because I really need to get this over with. Okay, let's think happy thoughts. My birthday month is coming up—although my birthday tends to always suck, at least the buildup is always exciting. I've still got numerous interesting books to read—and I'm looking forward to each and every one. One of my credit card debts will be fully paid soon, so I'm excited about having a lot of extra cash on me, finally. Yup, I'm excited about those things. Also, this year I think I'm going to start living slowly—starting with my birthday list. More details coming up next month.

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Wednesday, 12 September 2018

10 Great Japanese Movies You Might've Missed

Since as long as I can remember, Japan has always fascinated me. It has always been my dream destination, whose culture and people really intrigue me. For years I have been consuming Japanese entertainment—including animation and drama series—as well as learning their language from scratch—since I was 12. The love may not be all that apparent on this blog, but it is very, very real—and I'd like to talk more about it, if I may. Also, lately, that feeling of great hankering for Japanese movies have really clawed onto me, urging me to leaf through various titles of TV dramas and live action movies on the internet. It has also led me to feel like sharing top 10 Japanese movies you might've never heard of before. These are titles that are, in no way, related to a series of the same kind—nor very gimmicky, as far as anime goes.

Let Me Eat Your Pancreas


Japan is laden with drama movies about people with terminal illnesses—starting with 1 Litre of Tears—and the sick one is almost always a girl. This is one of those stories, but I feel like it is told in an entirely different perspective. The story starts with a young teacher named Shiga who is asked to take charge of the library committee, in lieu of the old building's demolition. It brings back memories of 12 years ago, when he was in the library committee himself with only one other student, Yamauchi. They became close, due to Shiga's accidental discovery of Yamauchi's deteriorating pancreas—practically a death sentence—and kept this secret together. It's a story about love and friendship, about what it means to be alive and somewhat reminds me of Me Before You.

My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday


Have you ever felt like you found the right person at the wrong time? What if there will never be a right time? What if you only have the here and now, and nothing more? Well, this is more or less that kind of story. It all starts when Takatoshi finds himself falling in love at first sight with a woman he sees on a train called Emi. He goes after her when she gets off, they talk and she leaves him off with "See you tomorrow!" Afterwards, they start seeing each other everyday and start a relationship. But, apparently, Emi has a secret—her time moves backwards to Takatoshi's, making her yesterday his tomorrow and vice versa. It's a heartbreaking tale of time and fate, reminiscent of Benjamin Button and About Time. Also, Nana Komatsu—who plays Emi—is just incredibly beautiful and has wonderful acting skills, I love her so much!

Our Little Sister


A heartwarming tale of three sisters who adopt their half-sister, in the wake of their father's passing. The youngest daughter was the product of their father's affair with another woman, leaving his previous household in shambles. They live together in an old house in Kamakura, left by their grandmother. Suzu, the youngest, learns to live with three sisters of different personalities who sometimes fight with one another and have issues with their own mother. With the scenery of country life—including whitebait fish-drying and plum-fermenting—and the everyday antics of sibling love, this film really re-shapes what being a family means. The warmth, serene and sometimes conflict-ridden storyline remind me a great deal of Little Women.

If Cats Disappeared from the World


When a young postman has a minor accident while on the job, he finds out that there is a brain tumour inside his head, leaving him with only a few days to live. Upon coming home, he is met with a devil who looks exactly like him. The devil promises him an extra day to live, in exchange for something to be erased from the world—but the man doesn't get to choose what gets erased. Little by little, the young man recalls memories with his ex-girlfriend, best friend and family. If you ever feel like your life is insignificant or meaningless, this is probably the movie you should watch. When you really pay attention, it is amazing the kind of connection we make with people—and how that is achieved. It really gives our life a whole other perspective. Interestingly, only one character—and the cats—gets a name in this movie.

Survival Family


Now, let's change to this drama-comedy for a change. The story takes place in today's Japan, when suddenly all electrical appliances stop working all of a sudden—including battery-powered products. A family of four in Tokyo learns to survive as they move out of the city towards Kagoshima, where their extensive family lives. Unable to take any sort of public transport, they have to weather the distance on their bikes, battling through the struggle to survive and bonding over common difficulties. There is a feel similar to zombie apocalypse in this movie—the existence of zombie replaced with their impending doom, due to lack of electricity. These city folks are challenged when their comfort is taken away from them, especially since they got along so awfully previous to the disaster. It is really funny in parts, really heartbreaking in others. To me, there is an added element of spook when I see the deserted cities, the chaos and, well, the idea of having our comfort taken away so suddenly.

The Anthem of the Heart


When Jun Naruse was little, she learnt that there can be consequences to her words when she unknowingly blurted out about her father's affair to her mother. Her world came crashing down and everyone blamed her. Since then on, she became afraid of speaking. Fast forward years later when she's in high school and is basically forced to organise a play for her class. Forming new friendships with Takumi, Natsuki and Daiki, Jun learns that music can set her free. At first, I thought this would be another story of romance, but turns out to be more about overcoming fears, friendship and, well, music. I think it's the kind of story that every teenager can relate to, at some level. It has twists and turns that I didn't expect, making it wholly unpredictable. The character designer, Masayoshi Tanaka, is one of my favourites.

A Letter to Momo


After the death of her father, Momo and her mother moves out of Tokyo to the more rural Seto Inland Sea. Her father left her with an unfinished letter, containing only "Dear Momo." While exploring her new attic in the old house, Momo finds a strange book about youkai (spiritual creatures) that changes her life. She is suddenly faced with three youkai that only she can see. Adjusting to her life in the countryside—at first very difficult for her city-bred heart—Momo slowly comes to terms with her father's passing, especially since her last memory of her father was rather unkind. This is a story about family that is coloured with Japanese belief. Set in a rural environment, it gives a wholly traditional Japanese feel about the story. The production is very well done and the relationship between Momo, her father and the three youkai is very fascinating.

Miss Hokusai


Even if you don't know who Hokusai is, you must've seen some of his paintings before. He is a legendary Japanese painter of the pre-Meiji era. Now, this film is the story of his daughter, Oei. It only covers a small portion of her life, presumably less than a decade. However, it manages to show us the resentful relationship and professional rivalry between her and her father. It also brings up her love for her blind younger sister, Onao, who seems to be a taboo topic for her father. The film depicts rather well slices of their lives, with a touch of the strong Japanese belief for the spiritual, including youkai, spirits of the dead and dragons. It is so quintessential, that parts of their job revolve around this topic. Oei also seems like a very modern woman for her time, giving a fresh perspective of Japanese women of this era.

A Silent Voice


Bullying has always been a kind of elephant in the room in Japan. Everyone in Japan knows—and everyone who's dabbed even a little bit in the Japanese society, really—that it is quite a common occurrence, especially in schools. When people think of bullying, it often paints the perpetrator in a bad picture—but this movie will change your mind. In elementary school, when a deaf girl named Shoko transferred in, Shoya starts to bully her. One day, it went too far, that resulted in Shoko's transferring away. Since then on, everyone in class starts bullying Shoya, even though he wasn't the only culprit. In high school, by pure chance, Shoko and Shoya are reunited. They start to form a strange friendship coloured with repentance. It's a very real depiction of bullying and life as a student. I know this isn't in any way underrated, but I want to include it in this list. A word of warning: within the first 15 minutes, you might be needing a tissue already.

In This Corner of the World


Suzu is a girl who grows up in the early Showa period. She loves to daydream and paint. She lives in Eba, Hiroshima, until she moves to Kure at 19, when she marries a man there. This movie tells the story of her childhood, adolescence and—finally—emphasising on her marriage during the last years of World War II. It shows life during the war, through its thick and thin, in bad and good times—because those existed then too. Coloured with wartime struggles, such as rations, air raids and, later on, the atomic bombs, it tells a heartwarming story of family and heartbreak. Sometimes we get to see Suzu's surroundings and situations through her painter's eyes—softly coloured in watercolour and splashed with imagination. So much so, sometimes, that it's hard to tell where reality ends and imagination begins.

Any other Japanese films you think I should watch? Let me know!

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