SpringWatch — The blossoms are out!

Although blossom season isn’t as big an event in the UK as it is in East Asia, it is still enjoyed by many around the country. This bank holiday (the archaic British term for public holiday which originates from when the Bank of England closed) has been the warmest recorded which means that many families have been enjoying the blossoms and the many other delights of Spring. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many families, young and old people, dogs enjoying early May as much as over the last few days.

British blossoms are delightful, though they do not have the symbolic meaning that they have elsewhere. In Japanese culture, cherry blossoms (Sakura) are a symbol of the transient nature of life, and are a cultural feature in art, literature and film. The way they bloom en masse, like clouds, conjures classic iconic images of Japan. There is even a hierarchy for work trips to hanami (“looking at flowers”) picnics. Its definitely on my wish list to travel to Japan for cherry blossom season, but for now I have to make do with the UK’s version, which isn’t shoddy at all (I hope you agree):

Lots of shades of colour on this street’s blossoming trees.

I like the juxtaposition of the pink blossom and the blue sky (which can be a rarity for this time of the year in the UK)

Here I am under a particularly blooming tree, taken with an old iphone camera.

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Seeing Things

An Art Exhibition inspired by the hallucinations of Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Visual Hallucinations

It was a pleasure to attend the first day of the Seeing Things interactive art exhibition, which is taking place at the lovely Forum in Norwich over the next two weeks.

Charles Bonnet Syndrome is a type of visual hallucination which people can experience after sight loss. In comparison with other types of hallucination, those who experience these know that they are just a creation of the brain as a reaction to visual loss.

 Fascinating paintings depicting some of these hallucinations. Source: Own photo

 

The Art of Charles Bonnet

This art exhibition, set up by the NNAB, features art from people who suffer from the syndrome, as well as other visual artists who have been inspired from speaking to those who experience these vivid hallucinations, which have their own unique attributes in comparison with other types of hallucinations.

To the left – a bear statue in front of some upside-down cupcakes. Strange faces can also be a feature of the condition. Source: Own photo

Experiences

Dominic Ffytche, a world expert in the condition, gave a fantastic lecture about the Syndrome, and it was indeed fascinating to listen to the experienced of sufferers from the condition. The audience comprised of people who suffered from the condition, people who had not previously heard of the syndrome and clinicians, such as myself, who are aware about the condition but want to understand more and gain perspective.

I was particularly intrigued by the number of people who experience hallucinations of old period clothing from different eras, which seems to be a consistent feature of the syndrome. Interestingly, even when the syndrome was first described 250 years ago — the literature describes sufferers talking about people wearing period dress of the time. Perhaps 18th century formal-wear has a hallucinatory quality to it?

 Dr Dominic Ffytche, an expert in the condition, shows images of certain visual hallucinations that people experience. Source: own photo

Gaps

Even though Charles Bonnet Syndrome was first described 250 years ago, by a Swiss philosopher who was writing about his grandfather’s experiences having lost his sight to cataracts, we still do not know why exactly it happens. Certainly, we suspect that the brain fills in the gaps generated from visual loss by producing new fantastic pictures or old images which it might have stored. For many people, these hallucinations are not a problem but for some they can, understandably, be distressing. Certainly, it helps to understand these hallucinations and it is useful for both sufferers, the public and clinicians (such as yours truly) to be aware and understand this fascinating condition.

 An interesting hallucination — bear and inverse cupcakes. Source: own photo

To this end, it is fantastic to have an art exhibition which both raises awareness and bewitches us, humbling us as clinicians into realising there is still so much about the eyes and the brain that we don’t yet understand. Do you have any experience of this condition? Please feel free to comment below.

Links:
Royal National Institute of Blind People
Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind
NHS Charles Bonnet Syndrome Information

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Mary and the Witch’s Flower Spoiler-Free Review: The Birth of Studio Ponoc

Last week I caught a preview screening for the debut feature from Ghibli heir Studio Ponoc at the fantastic Cinema City Picturehouse cinema in Norwich, UK. I had consciously avoided any review of this film, apart from chancing upon a somewhat disappointing missive a few weeks before.

The cinema was packed to the rafters with cinephiles, and it was a rare pleasure to witness flawless etiquette amongst the audience (which spanned all ages). The only test for the latter was a slightly overlong, nevertheless interesting, behind-the-scenes documentary which preceded the film itself, explaining the birth of Studio Ponoc. Founder Yoshiaki Nishimura was brutally honest in his statement that the creation of a new studio was deemed necessary for several Ghibli staffers after Hayao Miyazaki’s announcement that he would not be making any more feature films. “We have young families” stated Nishimura in his explanation of the rationale behind the new studio.

Studio Ponoc

Studio Ponoc was founded in April 2015, and Nishimura brought several other Ghibli members of a similar age to himself, with the goal being the birth of a new Japanese animation dynasty. Indeed, Ponoc is a Serbo-Croatian word which means midnight or the beginning of a new day. The pedigree of Ponoc’s crew is not in doubt — its lead director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, has already been a key animator of Spirited Away and Ponyo, before taking the reins completely for The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There. Other animators have had roles in a number of Studio Ghibli’s masterpieces over the years.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower is the debut feature for the studio, and is scheduled for a UK-wide release on the 4th May 2018. It is based on “The Little Broomstick”, a children’s novel written by Mary Stewart in 1971. The version I saw was in Japanese, with English subtitles. The dubbed version features some stellar voice cast including the likes of Jim Broadbent and Kate Winslet. However, my personal experience is that there is always some magic lost in the dubbed versions of japanese animated films.

Film Synopsis (No Spoilers apart from those already in the Trailer)

The film starts with a bang, with a chaotic battle scene which only reveals its significance towards the end of the film. We meet Mary, a well fleshed-out young red-haired girl who does not like her hair and is inquisitive about the world. She gets annoyed easily, particularly at her own quirks, but she is caring and empathetic in her interactions with others. As a lead character, she is excellent and deserves to be the early symbol for Studio Ponoc in the same way that Totoro has been for Studio Ghibli. Indeed, our empathy for her transcends some of the finest Ghibli protagonists: Kiki, San, perhaps even Spirited Away’s Chihiro.

Mary’s world is upended following a visit into the woods, which is clearly inspired by the studio’s heritage, and the rest of the story has a magical theme (as implicated by the title) with segments which do resemble Ghibli’s classic Kiki’s Delivery Service. Mary meets a Headmistress who appears inspired by Zeniba from Spirited Away, enters a world of the arcane arts and encounters a perilous situation which threatens all that she loves. The plot is somewhat formulaic and, perhaps, lacks the flights of whimsy and depth from Ghibli’s finest works which could elevate it to a true masterpiece. However, the formula is, like a perfect witch’s potion, brewed perfectly and did not feel derivative.

Visuals

The film is mainly set in Rural England, and the behind-the-scenes featurette described how the animators travelled to England and made sketches of the countryside. Their meticulous research has paid dividends in some breathtaking English scenery, from forests filled with mist to verdant countryside. Later scenes have a psychedelic appearance which seem inspired by The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, and have so much detail that it is impossible to appreciate them in just one viewing. To put it simply, the beauty of this film rivals anything that Studio Ghibli has done.

BBFC Age Rating

The film is rated “U” for very mild threat. Whilst I agree that the feature warrants a U rating for children to have the optimum chance to be bewitched by this film, it does actually have some intense moments, including emotive scenes involving animals.

Overall

The spirit of Ghibli permeates this film, and a tight plot is complemented by stunning visuals which rival any of the works of the studio’s progenitor. Despite a fantastical narrative, the magical whimsy of Ghibli’s finest works doesn’t quite make it over to Ponoc’s debut to forge a true masterpiece. However it is an immensely strong debut feature which Ghibliholics, fantasy fans and many more will wolf down faster than Spirited Away’s No-Face.

This kind of film needs to be championed, as a world without the beauty of Miyazaki’s legacy, would be a dark world indeed.

My rating: 

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EGX Rezzed 2018 Review

I just attended the Rezzed games event in London for the first time. This is a spin-off from the main EGX (originally, the Eurogamer Expo) with a primary focus on indie games. It also seeks to attract young budding games-makers and journalists to the industry. The weekend had a very relaxed theme and people were immensely friendly. The location in London’s Tobacco Dock was also well-ventilated (very important when there are lots of gamers), there wasn’t much queuing required (often none), and it made for a thoroughly pleasant experience for a Spring weekend.

There were a number of games that I enjoyed both playing, and looking at. Here are some of my highlights:

Onrush

Codemasters.com

There were, of course, smatterings of “triple A” titles, and the one which I enjoyed the most was a racing game developed by Codemasters called Onrush. This was a fast-based arcade-style racing game with various types of vehicles on a hilly terrain and it was setup as a 6vs6 competition in the expo. It reminded me of the Excitetruck remake on Nintendo Wii and MotorStorm on Playstation. The gameplay was very crisp, and it was obvious that the makers have put a lot of time testing the game to make sure it plays beautifully. The soundtrack was outstanding too. The release date is 5th June 2018.

Homo Machina

http://www.homomachina-game.com/

This gorgeous 2D exploration game from Darjeeling Productions is inspired by the medical illustrations of Dr Fritz Kahn. Think of the concept of the Pixar film “Inside Out” with tiny little humanoids controlling your actions. I just wanted to watch the game, can’t wait for it to come out on mobile and tablet formats.

Bad North

https://www.badnorth.com/

This game caught my eye in the Nintendo Switch section (though it will be released on all formats) – a compact little real-time strategy game on rotatable islands inhabited by humble island dwellers who are under attack from Vikings. It may look simplistic but the minimalist charm and movements (e.g. the way the arrows and rain drop) were zen bliss.

Phogs

Image: Bitloomgames.com

This was such a wacky offering from Bitloom Games – you and a friend control a double-ended dog as you solve puzzles on various floating islands, with the aim being to feed a giant worm with either an acorn or a globe-shaped light bulb (!) The cooperative mechanic (both players sharing one controller) was amongst the finest I have every played, and the lovely pastel colours were joyful to look at. Loved it!

Me sitting on some Phogs-theme upholstery

Strange Brigade

Image: Strangebrigade.com

This cooperative third-person shooter by Rebellion Developments had an exuberant 1930s theme to it, I played a level as one of four diverse heroes fighting hordes of mythic beings in some kind of Egyptian setting. The visuals were stunning and the gameplay mechanics felt great, but the main attraction of the game was the over-the-top British pulp style narration.

Knights and Bikes

http://foamswordgames.com/

This hand-painted game set on a British island seemed to have an ET/Stranger Things/Super8 style theme to it, with an 80s feel and coming-of-age theme. In the small part that I watched, there was a clear emotional underpinning to the game which suggests a lot of heart has been put into the writing and design.

The Leftfield Collection

There were some awesome little indie games in the Leftfield Room – the ones which stood out for me were Wobble Garden:  a spring and light based installation which provided a sensory experience unlike any other game I’d played before. Haiku Adventure had a beautiful Japanese ukiyo-e inspired landscape scene in a puzzle game which seemed to involve using Haiku to chill out a flock of assorted wildfowl.

Other Comments

The show also had some very nice retro games, and also had a few multiplayer units for games which had already been released. I particularly enjoyed re-awakening my old puzzling skills in Sega’s Puyo Puyo Tetris. My younger brother Sina The Doc, who first suggesting we attend this expo, also enjoyed meeting some of his podcasting heroes and had a go on a game which appears inspired by the classic Theme Hospital, Two Point Hospital:

My younger Brother on the left, Sina The Doc

A nice weekend, maybe I’ll come again next year!

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Verification for Steemit

There are number of different blogging websites available, sometimes they can be use synergistically and other times they may be at odds with each other.

As well as using the crisp blogging platform which is Medium and the social media/miniblogging community which is Tumblr, I have recently joined the Steemit.com community. This is a new form of decentralised online community and media generation/sharing which has very interesting principles, predominantly, community-orientated anarcho-capitalist ones.  It does have a lot of potential I feel, although it is not intrinsically meritocratic right at the start. It would be fascinating to observe whether a Pulitzer winner can anonymously join Steemit and write dozens of insightful multi-faceted articles and then get ignored completely if they do not know the many intricacies of how the place functions. 

Nevertheless, I do want to persist with Steemit as the community spirit engendered within it does seem an attractive proposition for new media.

My username there is, predictably, doctoryak and this is my steemit blog: https://steemit.com/@doctoryak

This is the post which needed verifying: https://steemit.com/funny/@doctoryak/jukuv-altitude-associated-lacrimosity-syndrome-a-new-disease-entity

This is my verification post: https://steemit.com/steem/@doctoryak/verificationforsteemit-s1brvl5bo4

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