News Sushi: Morsels of News from Japan and Beyond #26

Editor Note: It is Friday and that means it is time for the World Famous, soon to be Intergalactic Famous, News Sushi from our very own, Hamish Downie. He brings us a decidedly different slant on Pop Culture as viewed through the lens of a non-native living in Japan. Thank you Hamish for your insights.


Twenty-six, the age I went to Japan for the first time. The age I travelled outside of my home country for the first time. It took me six months to prepare, and I had to listen to Madonna’s song “Jump” many countless times to pluck up the courage to do it. But, now, twelve years later, I’m enjoying the fruits of that labour.

I’ve got a really great interview for you today, which I’m really excited to share. Plus, as always, some of the cool happenings around Japan. So, let’s get to it!


Elan Rie, the star of my short film, “Lost Hope” and upcoming feature has taken a lovely little photo of a sleeping dragonfly, so I thought I’d share it with you here…

From the little to the big… see Tokyo from the Top… here Time Out Tokyo tells you the best places to view the mega-city from on high…

Do you ever feel too dry while watching a film? Well, this next craze to bring you back to the open-air cinema could be just the thing for you…

Bathtub Cinema…

Tokyo’s new Bathtub Cinema

I can’t imagine this being good in the long run, because I get waterlogged and wrinkly after about 30 minutes in the bath… let alone two hours! But, if it’s like a hot spring and we go in and out, it could work. The hot spring in Shirahama I usually go to has a large TV screen in the outside section. I think it’s a bit sad to look at the TV went there’s usually a canopy of stars to look at, or the sea, mountains and night city view… but, that’s just me.

If you want to read more about it:

It reminds me a little of the Bed Cinema that I wrote about on my neglected blog years ago:
The other thing it reminds me of is the “Spamusement Park” that the town of Beppu in Kyushu, Japan keeps threatening to open. Beppu is a town famed for it’s nearly 3000 hot springs. A couple of years ago, they released this video:

And stated that if it got one million views, that they’d actually build it. The one in the video is just a regular Amusement Park that they’ve filled with hot spring water. It could be fun… but, I see…


[if you don’t hear the quote immediately …. it’s “Danger, Will Robinson!”]

In any case, they apparently did keep their promise – for three days! You were only allowed to go if you’d pledged 8,000 yen (about US$72) to their campaign. You can see the results here:

Read more here:


My good friend and former roommate Nina recently had this very beautiful pre-workout meal… so I thought I’d share it here:

Next, is a Yokan (traditional Japanese Dessert), that she had…


Screenwriter and Podcaster Contrarah

TGG: I’ve been listening to this great new podcast, and I’m really excited to share it with you all. For our readers (a lot of whom are indie filmmakers), could you introduce yourself and tell us the concept behind your podcast?

Contrarah: Hi I’m Contrarah and the podcast is called Beyond Bechdel. The title refers to The Bechdel Test, which was created by cartoonist Allison Bechdel in the 1980s. Bechdel’s strip called Dykes To Watch Out For [link:], featured female characters. In one strip, one character (who I’ve always presumed to represent Allison herself) asks another (presumably Bechdel’s friend Liz Wallace, credited with inventing the test) if they want to go to the movies. Liz says that she will only see a film if it has:

1) two women on screen

2) who talk to one another

3) about something other than a man.

That seems pretty straightforward, but the joke is that they couldn’t find anything to watch!

What inspired me to make the podcast is twofold:

1) The ‘Bechdel part’ – More than 30 years later, the vast majority of films, TV shows, you name it, fail the test and I want to figure out why. Does the test need updating? Should it be so liberally applied when that wasn’t Bechdel’s intention?

2) The ‘Beyond’ part – I want to interrogate other discrimination and unconscious bias in the media, to make these industries more representative. I am really keen on exploring intersectionality. It’s all fine and well having lots of young, middle class thin, straight white women represented on screen, but what about the women of colour, those with a disability, LGBT, different weights, different religions, ages. Let’s explore how we to make films reflective of the many different types of woman existing.

Each episode is either a discussion with my co-host Nick, and/or an interview with a filmmaker, discussing their specific experiences and thoughts. What’s really important to me – with my producer hat on – is treading that fine line between ensuring that more female voices are heard, and podcasting discussions between men and women on the female experience, because the industry won’t change without the buy-in of the many men in powerful positions.

TGG: As this is a geek website, I probably should say the obligatory…. “but…. Wonder Woman was a huge hit and it was directed by a woman so all our problems are solved and now we can go watch testosterone fuelled films that only have one female character in a bikini with a clear conscience”. Is ‘Wonder Woman’ enough? Where to next?

Contrarah: Wonder Woman isn’t close to being enough, it’s not even a perfect example as it doesn’t have nearly as many Bechdel passing scenes as you’d think, because all the female characters in the film talk too much about the male characters! However, it’s a great comparator with Justice League on how to show and how not to show female bodies on film. A Fantastic Woman, Black Panther, Blue is the Warmest Colour and The Incredible Jennifer James are examples of recent films that are both compelling and more representative. I also highly recommend Lady Macbeth as a blistering depiction of a multi-layered female character. We like to push the envelope on the pod, like discussing the success of 50 Shades of Grey. On the surface it looks like a film about a girl with a male domination fetish, but it was directed by a woman, edited by a woman and based on a book by a woman which is virtually unheard of even today. 50 Shades made a fortune which means there’s clearly an audience for this take on a woman’s pleasure.

TGG: That brings up an interesting point. I remember a lot of critics raking ‘In the Cut’ over the coals for being sexist, but that was written and directed by a woman (Jane Campion), produced by a woman (Nicole Kidman), and based on a book by a woman (Susanna Moore). Similar accusations were lobbed at “Gone Girl” which Gillian Flynn adapted for the screen based on her novel of the same name. I’m really interested in your opinion on these films.

In The Cut is a great example, I found it very hard-going, but I am a little more relaxed about the on-screen exploration of those subjects, when I know women are in control of the material. The bigger problem with that film was how it affected Meg Ryan’s career. The backlash she received for daring to go outside of the small romcom zone was so unfair and misogynistic by men and women.

I love Gillian Flynn. I’ve read most of her stuff and I enjoyed the film adaptation. I think that Fincher is a very sensitive director and is never overly salacious. I also felt that Flynn’s screenplay and consultancy on the project, again put me at ease that the material wouldn’t be messed with. I love all of Flynn’s characters, women can be evil and complex just as male anti-heroes are. I’ve read Sharp Objects and am enjoying the Vallee adaptation so much (to the extent that you can enjoy it 😂).

TGG: Are things getting better or worse for women on screen? What can we do as filmmakers to make things better for women?

Contrarah: I would have to say things are getting better, but it might not feel like it! Once upon a time men and women didn’t see where the biases were because the film industry is institutionally sexist – and institutionalised means that we’re all blind to the discrepancies and just accept them. The Me Too movement and a flurry of stats from studies showing how rarely women are depicted on screen have opened our eyes. This goes hand in hand with women having a larger role in society as a whole: from earning more in their jobs, having access to greater childcare options and holding senior business and political positions. Every generation looks back at the past and can’t believe what our forebears put up with. We’ve gone from criticising easy targets like picking apart Straw Dogs and Pretty Woman to now realising that something as asinine as a tagline can create bias. The vast majority of taglines use male pronouns – the best we get is ‘The bitch is back’!. And we used to criticise films for having too few female action protagonists, now we have more but most of the time their only fighting women. So with every step forward comes a new challenge. But that’s a good thing, once we identify the problems we can then solve them, and that’s where filmmakers come in. Hire more women across the board: that means off-screen and on-screen, all different jobs, all different types of women. And use more female critical reviewers. To end on a positive note: change is already happening, just look at the nominees at this years Oscars: they’ve never been more diverse and never included women in so many different categories,

TGG: I’m really interested in a topic on your recent podcast about ‘fridging’. What does that term mean, and is subverting it enough? And what is the ultimate fridging movie?

Contrarah: It’s a fascinating topic. On that episode, Nick and I aren’t even sure what fridging is, but I’ll give it a go! It’s often the removal of a female character from a film (by murder or rape) by a villain solely for the purposes of giving a male hero an emotional arc for his motives throughout the rest of the, usually revenge against the villain. Fridging also comes from comic books, when Deadpool’s girlfriend was literally found stuffed in a fridge!

Fridging is worrying because it is damaging to everyone. It can reduce female characters to trophies that have no agency, to be won or lost by males. Some don’t get a backstory or even have names! And fridging suggests that male characters can only express feelings of sadness, grief or other lower-strength emotions after the death of a loved one, which is a bit extreme. I did joke in that episode that there should be more male characters fridged, to give female characters more screen time, but really the solution is to stop all fridging by fleshing out all characters, so if they are then later removed we’ve established our own relationship with them, they’re not just plot devices. I don’t want to name one movie but we go through quite a few on the podcast, including one with the fridging of a dog.

TGG: So, where and when can we catch this awesome podcast?

Contrarah: Ah thanks for saying that! We are on iTunes, Google, Stitcher and getting on as many platforms as we can find. We host the Podcast on Soundcloud and we have a:

Twitter @Beyond_Bechdel

Search anywhere for Beyond Bechdel and you should find us.

TGG: Finally, as we love supporting independent creators, where can we find and support your work as a filmmaker?

Contrarah: I am currently working on a feature screenplay on men’s rights groups and feminism – I’m nothing if not on-brand! – I want to direct it once it’s ready, so please watch this space! While that chugs along I run a script-editing service and have worked on many wonderful scripts this year. One of them is top secret, going in to production with a female writer/director soon and I can’t wait to see the finished product. I’m in the process of setting up a website [for script editing] but I want all my testimonials etc first so, [in the meantime] please contact me on twitter at the @contrarah handle!

Thank you for an amazing interview, and we’ll be looking forward to seeing more of your work in the future!


Alison Bechdel at work in her south Minneapolis apartment. 1990. Photo by Tom Sweeney.

In-depth New Yorker interview with Alison Bechdel

Interesting twitter exchange… perhaps some films worth revisiting for ‘Old Classics… Newly Reviewed’? If you don’t know what I’m talking about… you are missing one of the best columns on this website!

For those of you who watched the great show on Netflix “Please Like Me” and who have just watched her comedy special “Nanette”… you’ll know that Hannah Gadsby came to comedy via a History of Art degree. Well, you’re in for a real treat, because two years ago, shemade a web series (albeit short lived) called “Renaissance Woman” and it’s every bit as biting and clever as her other work:


A Trip from Florida provides the funny this week…


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