Jason’s Diary: In Closing

I hate to sound like a broken record, but this year’s festival was fundamentally different for me.  That being said, I had a fantastic time, and I’m sure I’ll be revisiting my fest memories from time to time in subsequent articles here on Opus.  Many thanks to Mike Hertenstein, for his gracious offer, encouragement, and enthusiasm.  Many thanks to J. Robert Parks for the wonderful trailer talk on Friday, to Dave Canfield, to Nathan, to J.W. and Kim, and to Paul, John, and the other speakers I was able to meet.

There were many familiar faces that I hoped would be there, but weren’t.  However, I meant a lot of new faces, and I hope to be able to continue corresponding with them and building up the personal and professional relationships.

And of course, many thanks to the good Lord for bringing all of this crazy stuff together—and for the wonderful weather.  I’m not complaining about the air conditioned hotel room, mind you, but this year’s weather really made me wish we’d camped out.  Ah well, maybe next year.

After 2002, I was filling rather burnt out on Cornerstone.  But now, five years later, I’m more excited than ever about the fest, and I hope we’ll be able to come back next year.

Jason’s Diary: June 30, 2007

Today was the final day of Cornerstone 2007 for us, and like all final festival days, was bittersweet.

First up was a screening of Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday, a Studio Ghibli film that most probably haven’t seen—due to Takahata’s career being overshadowed by that of his colleague, Hayao Miyazaki’s.  Which is a shame, because this is a truly wonderful film, and one that I have grown to appreciate more and more with each viewing.

The film follows a young woman named Taeko who is gearing up for a vacation with her sister’s in-laws on their remote farm.  Interspersed with Taeko’s travels and experiences on the farm are flashbacks to her fifth grade year, a year that held tremendous impact on her adult life.  As such, the film, with its themes of memory and nostalgia, became incredibly poignant in light of my experiences at this year’s Cornerstone.

In many ways, I felt like Taeko.  When I came to Cornerstone this year, my “old” Cornerstone self tagged along, and much of the fest was spent reliving past fests as I walked around, attempting to reconcile my nostalgia for the fests of yore with the way I am now, and the way I was experiencing this year’s fest.

I almost wasn’t sure I’d be able to lead the post-film discussion because I found myself tearing up during the film’s closing scene, in which Taeko comes to a final sense of closure.  It’s a beautiful and truly moving scene, and the perfect end to a beautiful—and sadly unknown—film.

Afterwards, I followed another one of Nathan’s hunches and checked out Slam Dunk.  Nathan described it as a “ludicrous” and “retarded”, and so it was—in the best way possible.  Imagine a couple of hardcore guys singing hardcore songs, but with crunked out hip-hop replacing the screaming vocals and distorted guitars.  It’s the sort of thing that, in small doses, is simply hilarious, especially when you throw in some manic stage diving and a nicely circling pit, and topped off with a cover of Blink-182’s “I Guess This Is Growing Up”.

Later that night, we had our final screening of Haibane Renmei, and I’ll just say, this is what I was happiest about at the fest.  Haibane Renmei was a huge success, in my opinion, with about 30 people or so watching all of the episodes.  The final discussion was very exciting, as people threw out a lot of great thoughts and ideas concerning the series, which is very ambiguous and thought-provoking.

I was most excited by the number of younger kids in attendance.  You could see the wheels turning in their heads as they chewed on the series’ themes of sin, redemption, death, and transition.

I was hoping to stick around to catch I Vitelloni, but after Only Yesterday, I think I’d had my fill of nostalgia and poignancy.  Renae and I wondered around the fest for awhile, just soaking in the sights and sounds.  We caught a couple of interviews in the press tent, including one faciliated by John Morehead on missions, syncretism, and Wicca.

After that, we spent some time at the Gallery Stage, listening to Leeland, a Coldplay-ish praise and worship group.  Not usually my cup of tea, but there were some strong songs in there, and there’s no denying the group’s passion and fervor.

We finally made it over the Imaginarium for our final event.  We weren’t able to stay for all of The Host, but we did experience Dave Canfield at his most delirious, as he officiated the Imaginarium giveaways.  In hindsight, I wished I’d entered the drawing, because there was some cool stuff in there—mecha model kits, stacks of DVDs, autographed poster for The Host.  I snagged a free Hot Fuzz poster, though, so I can’t complain too much.

Jason’s Diary: June 29, 2007

J. Robert Parks was right.  I can’t get the darn theme song from Linda, Linda, Linda out of my head.  Not that I mind, because Linda, Linda, Linda is a fantastic film.

It wasn’t quite what I was expecting—I think that after the cinematic riot that was Kamikaze Girls, I was expecting something similarly off-the-wall. Linda, Linda, Linda is surprisingly straightforward and even mundane, following a group of high school students as they seek to overcome some internal strife in their rock band and get ready to play at the upcoming school festival.

The band is on the verge of breaking up, until they draft a Korean exchange student (Bae Doo-Na, The Host, Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance) to be their new lead singer.  From that point on, the film winds its way through the relationships, foibles, and dramas of high school until the final, climactic concert.

But on second thought, the film isn’t quite that mundane.  There’s a surprising amount of ambiguity and uncertainty, and even melancholy, in this very mainstream film.  Although it’s set in a high school, it’s ultimately a far cry from your typical “high school” film, with a certain anxiety underscoring much of its length.  As such, long after the credits stopped rolling, my wife and I still found ourselves reflecting on the film, wondering about this or that character, thinking about how that particular plot might’ve played out had the film kept going.  Whille, of course, singing the title song.

Then it was over to the Imaginarium to catch another installment of Paul Nethercott’s seminar on Japanese culture, including the aforementioned “hikikomori”.

My friend Nathan, who runs The Record Machine, told me a few of his bands were playing Friday night.  After the final screening of Haibane Renmei, including a short Q&A session—because so many people were getting into the series and wanted to talk about it—Renae and I headed back out into the night to catch a few shows.

First up was The Winston Jazz Routine.  The more I listen to their music, particularly the excellent Sospiri (which I picked up after their set), the more I’m reminded of Sufjan Stevens.  The same breathy vocals and elaborate, packed arrangements are there, but filtered through a post-rock atmosphere similar to that of The Album Leaf.  Suffice to say, it was a welcome change from all of the screaming and thundering guitars that permeated much of the fest.

State Bird was an absolute blessing in disguise.  In the absence of the Danielson Famile, this sixpiece—fronted by a guy who looked like Chris Elliott in running shorts—brought some much-needed silliness and surrealism to this year’s fest.  And they did so with incredibly catchy songs and a quirky stage presence to boot (and a pinata full of candy).  I wasn’t the only one taken in by their silliness; by the end of their show, a sizable number of the crowd found themselves in a strange parade that meandered about under the tent.

Afterwards, I caught up with Renae at the Imaginarium to catch a little bit of True Stories before heading back to the hotel.

Jason’s Diary: June 28, 2007

Thursday kicked off with another batch of Haibane Renmei, followed by what might possibly be the most surreal film ever screened at Cornerstone.  I don’t know that for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised.  Kamikaze Girls more than lives up its name; it’s a reckless, absurd—and oftentimes, laugh out loud hilarious—jaunt through Japanese pop culture.

On the one hand, you’ve got Momoko, a young Japanese woman obsessed with the Rococo period of French history.  Disgusted by the rest of the uncouth folks in her town, she has taken to living as dainty and fanciful a life as possible, wearing frilly dresses, and taking leisurely strolls through the manure-strewn roads of her backcountry hometown.  On the other hand is Ichigo, a tough-as-nails punk chick who rides her decked out scooter with the rest of her hardcore gang.  Throw the two in together, and watch the sparks—and surrealism—fly.

Seriously, the film often plays out like a fever dream a la Tears Of The Black Tiger or perhaps more accurately, Bangkok LocoKamikaze Girls is full of absurdist scenes as Momoko and Ichigo form an unlikely friendship based solely on their shared desire to be independant and unique in an otherwise conformist culture.

Afterwards, Mike and I did a sort of tag-team discussion, touching on various aspects of Japanese pop culture.  Following our discussion was Paul Nethercott, who spoke on the “hikikomori”—a large group of Japanese youth who have chosen to completely isolate themselves from the rest of society, often for years at a time, by simply holing up in their room.

Then it was time for the film about American “otaku”—Darkon.  I’d seen the trailer a few months ago, and was instantly intrigued.

Darkon follows a group of individuals who participate in live-action role-playing. Rather than roll dice in “Dungeons & Dragons” or click the mouse in “World Of Warcraft”, these people dress up in suits of armor, pledge allegiances to fictional countries with complete political, social, and religious structures, and engage in full-size battles down at the local soccer field.

It’d be so easy to present these folks as mere oddballs, but Darkon is better than that.  True, there are some people for whom the game is potentially problematic, but for most of the people, the game seems to be a truly positive thing in their lives.  The film certainly raises a number of intriguing questions about our need for fantasy, as well as the tenuous connections that exist between “fantasy” and “reality”. 

Aside from all of that, Darkon is just a lot of fun. The filmmakers present the group’s many battles in an epic manner, complete with sweeping crane shots and soaring orchestral scores—which both underscores the amateurishness of their antics while also treating it with a certain measure of gravitas that I personally found gratifying.

Also, the disparity between the fantasy and reality is sometimes humorous—such as when the players are seen unloading their armor and weapons from the back of the family minivan—and sometimes poignant—more than one individual touches on the fact that their real lives leave them feeling like worthless cogs, and it’s only through the game that they experience any sort of community or camaraderie.  But it’s always respectful and sympathetic.  And maybe it’s just the inner twelve-year-old speaking, but much of the time, I found myself wanting to strap on some homemade armor, grab my foam rubber sword, and slay a couple of dark elves for myself.

The final film I saw was Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Bright Future.  Actually, since I’d seen in several times before, Renae and I ducked out briefly to grab some dinner.  Afterwards was yet another fascinating discussion, touching on topics ranging from the alienation of modern society to the peculiar set of social and economic conditions that makes modern Japan such an alienated and troubled society.

Later that night, we caught our first concert.  Starflyer 59 has always been a Cornerstone mainstay.  Unfortunately, the “real” band—which was just Jason Martin and Trey Many—experienced a number of technical difficulties with their “fake” band (i.e. Trey’s PowerBook).  And so we left after just a few songs that spanned much of the band’s catalog.

Jason’s Diary: June 27, 2007

In years past, when Opus was doing its super-duper hardcore Cornerstone coverage, my friends and I envisioned bringing a laptop with us to Bushnell, staying in a hotel or one of the nearby college dorms, somehow finding an Internet connection, and uploading daily updates to the site—concert reviews, interviews, photos, videos, etc.

It took nearly five years, but I’m finally living out that dream tonight.  Of course, everyone else has already beaten Opus to the punch, but ah well.

This year’s Cornerstone festival is quite different for me than previous festivals.  For one thing, I’m living it up in a hotel, rock star-style.  Part of me feels bad about wussing it this year—my favorite Cornerstone memories involve staying up until the wee hours of the night at some random campsite, maybe mine, maybe not, and swapping all manner of stories, oftentimes with folks you met for the first time earlier that day—but one can’t deny the drawing power of air conditioning, cable TV, and hot showers.

Another thing, I’m not here by myself.  This time, there are two of us.  The wife is here with me this year, and so, even as I indulge in nostalgia, I’m also very aware that someone is with me who is experiencing all that is Cornerstone for the very first time.

And finally, I’m not attending Cornerstone as a mere festivalgoer.  This time around, I’m an official speaker.  I’ve been helping out with Flickerings, Cornerstone’s very own artsy-fartsy film festival, and so far, it’s been a blast.  This year’s theme is “J-Pop”, and we’ve already indulged in a fair amount of Japanese pop culture so far—Space Battleship Yamato, the first episodes of Haibane Renmei, and Train Man: Densha Otoko.

I gave my lecture, entitled “An Introduction To Otaku Culture”, at 1:00pm today, immediately following the morning screening of Space Battleship Yamato (which, despite being nearly thirty years old, still has much to recommend it).

It was a relief to finally be done with the lecture after becoming increasingly obsessed with the topic (especially within the last few weeks) and a pleasure to see how well it seemed to go over.  At least, I noticed people nodding their heads throughout (not in a drowsy manner, mind you) and laughing at my jokes—all good signs that, at the very least, people were listening.

Train Man: Densha Otoko went over very well with the crowd.  I’ll confess, I was a little worried that this very mainstream, very commercial slice of Japanese cinema might not be appreciated for the charming little film that it is, but the crowd really got into it.  Afterwards, Mike Hertenstein (the Flickerings programmer and all-around cool guy) and I had something of tag-team discussion about the film, touching on some of the themes and ideas contained within—which was great fun, and hopefully, as rewarding for the audience as it was enjoyable for me.

Of course, Cornerstone being Cornerstone, some things haven’t changed.  There’s that familiar scent, an intriguing and often pungent combination of sweat, mud, port-a-potties, and more sweat.  There’s the thundering, raucous sound of countless punk and hardcore bands that immediately pounds your cranium as soon as you step outside.  There’s the heat, which likes to occasionally smack you upside the head, just to see if you really have been keeping hydrated.  And also, the random rainstorms that don’t do much to cool you off, but do quite a bit to make you a wee bit uncomfortable.

I would, of course, not change any of these things (with the possible exception of the heat).

I’ve also been able to have a few encounters with familiar faces, or at least, familiar online personas and the faces behind them.  I’m keeping my eyes open for more such encounters, and the more random, the better.  Bumping into folks that I haven’t seen in years in the middle of the merch tent, encountering an old IRC buddy in the food court—these are the things of which beloved Cornerstone stories are made.  I saw that the Asylum—the original Cornerstone goth tent, and a regular hangout of mine back in the day—was back, and so hope to see if any of the original crowd is still there.

Tomorrow (Thursday), looks to be even more packed than today.  Independent filmmakers, the next batch of Haibane Renmei episodes, Kamikaze Girls, Bright Future, Darkon, and maybe even an actual concert or two somewhere in the midst of all of the films.  I can already feel that weariness setting in, and can’t wait.