Archive for August, 2012

I recently mentioned Spirited Away as one of the best dragon movies in the early 21st Century. It got me thinking about dragons in Japanese folklore generally.

Like all Asian dragons, Japanese dragons are associated with forces of nature involving water, such as rivers, the sea, and storms (presumably storms with lots of rain falling). A typical dragon in Japanese illustration will have three toes; Chinese and Korean versions show five or four toes respectively.

Japanese lore also has a few unique color distinctions. Blue and green dragons symbolize the east and the season of spring. Red are associated with the south and the season of summer. Both red and green dragons can sometimes signify good luck.

A black dragon signifies the north and winter, and it appears to evoke negative emotions like anxiety and revenge. Red and black dragons are also associated with storms. A white dragon symbolizes autumn, and presumably the west, along with death and grief. In all Asian cultures, white is the traditional color for mourning.

In addition, gold dragons embody wealth, prosperity, and many positive attributes like kindness and wisdom. Yellow dragons are regal, often called “Imperial dragons,” and obviously connote dominion over the earth.

Next time, I’ll talk about a few specific dragon characters in Japanese folk tales. In the meantime, I recomment an excellent web site called The Dragon’s Inn, which has tons of fun facts about Asian dragons.

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The Dragon King #2

The Dragon King podcast, episode 2, is now available on Podbean or my web site.  The short story is one of my favorites, “The Donkey and the Unicorn.”

Look for the next episode on August 19, 2012.

Time notes: Introduction, 0:05; Story reading, 0:50; Author comments, 8:25; End credits, 10:05; Total run time, 11:30.

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What would be a dragon’s favorite pop song? I’m teetering between “Hunk of Burning Love” (Elvis version) and “I’m Burning For You” (Blue Oyster Cult). Surely there must be others. Help me make his playlist!

What songs do you think the dragon would want to listen to?

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I leave the subject of dragons in the movies with Spirited Away. Not just a great dragon movie but one of the greatest family movies from the first decade of the 21st Century, Spirited Away won all sorts of awards after its release in 2001. There’s good reason for that.

The story is classic fairy-tale in many ways. A young girl, Chihiro, is dragged along by her parents as they blunder into a world of spirits that they can’t see, but Chihiro can. In their ignorance, they guzzle spirit food and are punished by a transformation into swine. Chihiro searches desperately for a way to restore them and escape the spirit world.

Helping her is Haku, a river dragon in human form who, in some ways, is trapped as much as Chihiro. His river has been paved over in the human world. Without a home, he’s become a flunky to Yubaba, the wicked old witch who runs the spirit bath house. Yubaba has stolen Haku’s name and uses it to control him, but the youth/dragon retains enough of his independent will to back Chihiro’s quest.

What truly dazzles is the setting, a bath house steeped in the Shinto lore that connects modern Japan with its past. Yubaba’s establishment is a combination resort and hot spring spa, where nature spirits can retreat from the noise and pollution of an increasingly urban landscape. The spirits show incredible variety, some cute and some terrifying, but all of them mysterious and unpredictable.

Anime and manga continue to enjoy popularity among youth in the US. If you’re a fan who wants to understand something of Japanese culture, the films of Hayao Miyazaki are a great window to peer through. As the great master grows older, some of the films under his banner are actually by understudies. While good, they don’t have quite the magic touch.

For the youngest families, Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro are great choices. Older viewers may also enjoy Princess Mononoke.

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I am proud to announce that the first episode of my new podcast is now available on Podbean or my web site. The Dragon King collects a series of short stories I wrote in the style of the Brothers Grimm.

Episode 1 features the title story, “The Dragon King.” I hope you’ll enjoy it, and I’d love to hear some comments.

Time notes: Introduction, 0:10; Story, 1:33; Author comments, 15:40; Credits, 16:40; Total run time, 18:05.

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Much attention is being paid to actor Christian Bale, due to the terrible events at his recent movie opening, so I thought I’d talk about one of his earlier genre films. Reign of Fire, released in 2002, was the first role I remember Bale in, actually.

This is sort of an odd film, a post-holocaust/horror flick where humanity struggles to survive against mad killer dragons. Thebackground is that subway construction in London arouses dragons from slumber deep within the earth and nothing, not even nuclear weapons, can stop them. The sole purpose of the scary beasties is to wipe out all life on earth and then go back into hibernation. Hmm, wouldn’t you think that after killing everything else, they’d kill each other, too?

As you may be able to tell, the writing is pretty shaky here. Two different survivor groups argue about how to defeat the dragons, while the world burns around them. Some well known actors — Bale, plus Matthew McConaughey and Alice Kriger — do their best, but how much can you do with a script that largely consists of people doing dumb stuff and getting munched?

The dragons themselves are CGI, if I recall. They’re scaly and scary, but there isn’t much personality among them. Still, you could do worse than spend an hour with Christian Bale and some bad-ass dragons.


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