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February 06, 2012 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 2012-02-06

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0 The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Monday, February 6, 2012 - 7A

The Michigan Dyily - michigandailycom Monday, February 6, 2012 - 7A

Learning to
embrace the art
of calligraphy

Super heroes done right

There are plenty of art
forms that have suc-
cessfully made their
way across countries and con-
tinents - painting, sculpture
and photog-
raphy have
* countless
as they
have passed
through the
hands of the LAUREN
many people CASERTA
who devel-
oped them
into the styles we see today.
Of course, the same cannot
be said for every traditional art
form, especially those for which
there is no exact cross-cultural
equivalent. Many East Asian
practitioners consider the pro-
cess of creation just as important
as the piece of art that takes
shape, turning the actions of
writing, gardening or even serv-
ing tea into carefully choreo-
graphed displays.
Americans have often been
fascinated by cultures outside
of our own, but the 21st century
has dawned to reveal a rather
kitschy side to our desire for
objects and images from outside
our borders. We love stuff but
would rather forego the emo-
tional or traditional "baggage"
that comes with it. Japanese
calligraphy is a perfect - and
often painful - example of how
an intricately-tuned cultural
tradition can be watered down
into a commercialized, easy-to-
swallow concept once it has left
its natural habitat.
Japan uses three main writing
systems to render language and
meaning. Kanji, a vast collec-
tion of characters that are both
concise and visually beautiful, is
considered the most complicated
of the three. Able to pack a huge
amount of significance into a
single symbol, kanji is the writ-
ing system most commonly used
in Japanese calligraphy.
Unfortunately, it's these char-
acters - which look decidedly
exotic to anyone who grew up
learning the Latin alphabet in
the United States - that also end
up plastered on Asian-themed
Walmart bathroom accessories
and tattooed on your friend's
upper tailbone.
So why do America's com-
mercial tendencies often result
in these grievous cultural misin-
terpretations? It's because what
is essentially a fully developed
artistic ceremony, a carefully
choreographed dance between
brush, ink and paper, has been
diluted down to a final visual
product that is easy to silkscreen
onto mass-produced comforters.
Though many Americans have
been taught to see Japanese cal-
ligraphy as purely visual, it's the
physical and mental process of
putting it to paper in which the
true art form lies.
As a Westerner with a firm
love of the Roman alphabet, this
was a concept I had to see to
believe. I had the opportunity
to watch an instructor and try
it myself during a visit to Japan
in 2008. Though I did quite well
at the beginning, I was quickly
reprimanded for using my left
hand (how do righties live such

an empty life?) and forced to
make the awful switch, making
all my subsequent work look as
though I'd spooked an octopus
over my sheet of paper. ThoughI
know I'll never cut it asa brush-
wielding artist, I did gain a
deep appreciation for an artistic
medium in which process is just
as important as the end product.
Those of us west of the Prime
Meridian don't really have a
cultural equivalent to something
like East Asian calligraphy,
which is just as much a mindset
as it is a fine art. The ceremony
begins the moment you sit down
and lay out your tools in the
correct positions - inkwell and
brushes to the right, paper to
the left. As you mix your ink and
load your brush, your thoughts
must clear as you allow the
meaning of the kanji you have
chosen to crystallize in your
mind and as you concentrate on
each of the strokes you are about
to make.
That Kanji
tattoo doesn't
say what you
think it says.
Even your execution mat-
ters - the character you draw
consists of a set number of
strokes that must be laid down
in the correct direction and
order. Strokes must be elegant
yet deliberate - any mistakes
or hesitation will show, and
attempting to break the pattern
of the ceremony to fix them will
earn you a death-glare from your
instructor. Watching a true mas-
ter of calligraphy (and yes, there
is a calligraphy credentials sys-
tem in Japan that can grant you
titles like "Grand Master") gives
you a sense of the overarching
rhythm of the entire ritual. The
resulting pitch-black characters
contrast starkly on the soft white
paper, giving off a sense of grav-
ity even to those who cannot
read them.
But you can't shrink-wrap and
sell a process, only its artistic
result. The girl inking your tat-
too isn't concentrated on imitat-
ing the sequence of calligraphic
brush strokes for your rib cage
design - she's concentrating on
making sure you don't ask for a
refund when you see her work.
The IKEA product designer
mass-producing Asian-themed
wall plaques doesn't care that
writing the word "Tranquility"
beneath the kanji for "tranquil-
ity" is redundant and incorrect.
of course, that doesn't
mean we should stop borrow-
ing from other countries and
their cultures - we are who
we are today because we have
assimilated the knowledge and
talents of other cultures. But
borrowing means an obligation
to understand a culture's tradi-
tions as a packaged deal, even
the parts we don't usually get to
see in action.
Caserta is training her pet
octopus to write calligraphy. To
assist, e-mail caserta@umich.edu.

New talent gives
'Chronicle' that
something extra
Daily Arts Writer
Watching high-school stu-
dents soar around the Seattle
Space Needle isn't what it used
to be. A decade
ago, a certain
measure of awe
came hand- Chronile
in-hand with
walking into a At Quaity16
movie theater and Rave
to see two teen-
agers throw 20th Century Fnx
cars at each
other. Now, itcjustseems like clev-
er CGI trickery. Let's face it - the
yearly rigmarole of big-name stu-
dios bombarding the box office
with at least a handful of super-
hero flicks has had a tiring effect.
Sadly, the increasing number
of caped vigilantes no longer
feels as badass as the comic book
characters we grew up read-
ing about. Even origin stories,
the revelatory tales that give us
a glimpse into how particular
heroes developed their abili-
ties, have started to seem jaded,
weighed down by repeated script
gimmicks and an overwhelming
air of unoriginality. But some-
how, "Chronicle," director Josh
Trank's feature debut, finds a
way to defy the norm.
Unlike many of the taste-
lessly boring superhero adap-
tations released this past year
(our glowering eyes are trained
squarely on you, "Green Lan-

"Wait Madge, is that you?! Wait, what are you doing with Cee Lo?!"

tern"), "Chronicle" is entertain-
ing and meaningful. Perhaps
it's the found-footage format,
never before used in a superhero
movie, that breathes life into the
film. Or maybe it's the exception-
al performances by the young,
talented leads. In any event, it
works exceptionally well.
Dane DeHaan (TV's "In Treat-
ment") plays Andrew, a troubled
high-school geek who struggles
with an abusive father and a
terminally ill mother. While at
a party with his cousin Matt
(Alex Russell, "Almost Kings"),
Andrew befriends high-school
jock Steve Montgomery (Michael
B. Jordan, TV's "The Wire"), and
the three teenagers discover an
otherworldly object that grants
them highly concentrated teleki-
netic abilities.

Andrew is pushed to the lim-
its by his circumstances, and it's
easy to realize why all that pent
up hostility will eventually come
pouring out. In a certain sense,
this dynamic adds a much needed
base of reality to the movie, but in
the long run, it also ends up being
a discernible flaw.
The first 45 minutes of the film
are spent exploring the fun side
of having superpowers: prank-
ing little kids at the supermarket,
flying around the Seattle Space
Needle and rigging the high-
school talent show. It's a fun little
diversion that puts the audience
at ease and seems much more
realistic than three high school-
ers randomly deciding to fight
crime with their newly acquired
Nevertheless, the movie picks

up speed quickly, as Andrew
finds it increasingly difficult
to control his ever-expanding
power. And despite the excel-
lently constructed car-toss
scenes and the well-composed
script, this is where the movie
stumbles. Technically, every-
thing goes according to Trank's
plan, but at the end of the day,
it all just seems too rushed.
The audience is given rational
context for how Andrew finally
loses control, but we're never
given a believable reason as to
why. Fortunately, this slight mis-
step isn't enough to make this a
bad movie.
"Chronicle" will always be
remembered as a surprisingly
well-made film. It's just that it
tried to hit a little harder than it
needed to.

Whales saved, plot drowned
in heavy-handed 'Miracle'

For the Daily
Director Ken Kwapis deliv-
ers another moderately heart-
warming tale about an animal
rescue with far
too many sub-
plots in his lat-
est film, "Big Big Miracle
Miracle." Kwa-
pis frequently At Quality16
helms movies and Rave
with interwo-
ven story lines Unloersal
like "He's Just
Not That Into You" and "Sister-
hood of the Travelling Pants,"
and he returns to theaters with
this mildly enjoyable, kid-friend-
ly drama.
John Krasinski (TV's "The
Office") stars as Adam Carlson, a
television reporter who catches
a lucky break when he discov-
ers a family of whales who are
trapped. Also starring is Drew
Barrymore ("Charlie's Angels")
as Greenpeace activist and
Carlson's ex-girlfriend Rachel
Kramer. Krasinski gives his
typical charming performance,
while Barrymore seems rather
lifeless in her attempts to play
an animal activist convincingly.
The underlying romantic story
seems out of place thanks to
their astonishing lack of chem-

Together, they draw the
attention of media outlets
around the world to the plight of
the whales, delightfully named
Fred, Wilma and Bamm-Bamm.
A ragtag group, comprised of
locals, reporters and outside
helpers, flocks to Point Barrow,
Alaska and manages to accom-
plish a miracle that is lost under
an overwhelming number of
story lines.

"Does this ice make me look fat?".

good a
film is
love an
of the.
they ar
story a

Scriptwriters Jack Amiel
s film afloat. and Michael Begler wrote the
film's characters in an irritat-
ingly banal fashion, with every-
one depicted in a flattering
h a cast of surprisingly light - even the oil tycoon has a
ctors, including Tim Blake good heart. And the attempts to
("O Brother, Where Art make the characters seem more
") and Kristen Bell ("For- dimensional feel contrived. At
g Sarah Marshall"), the one point, Kramer unconvinc-
cluttered by all of the ingly yells "I'm going to tell
tic, political and social (everyone) that Ronald Reagan
ts that arise throughout. killed those whales!" in an over-
multiple couples falling in the-top attempt to be ruthless in
nd too many characters to the fight for the whales.
vying for good PR, none While the film is marketed
actors are really given the toward children, parents will
unity to shine because appreciate the historical refer-
re confined to such limited ences, including a phone call
.rcs. between Reagan and Mikhail

"Gorby" Gorbachev, and a
recorded appearance of Sarah
Palin from back in the day. Both
children and adults alike will
enjoy the few highlights of the
movie, which include a stir-
ring show of determination by
the crew of a Soviet liner and a
humorously intimate moment
between Krasinski's character
and a helicopter pilot with a fro-
zen-shut eye.
Ultimately, "Big Miracle" falls
short. A few decent laughs and
touching moments sprinkled
here and there can't save this
movie from itself. Perhaps a
more fitting idea for a film based
on a whale rescue would be to
actually focus on the whales.


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