Tag Archives: Japan

View From The Couch – 06/Sep/2014

Lessons For A Saturated Economy

I found this commentary about the impact of the property bubble in the Sydney Morning Tabloid this week. it’s written from the perspective of the younger people who cannot get into the market. A lot of people seem to think it’ young people whining, but there are lessons in history from all this property bubble business (that all these banks are denying exists here). The experience in Japan in the late 1980s through to earl 1990s was pretty instructive. The Bubble and the aftermath of the Pop created economic havoc on the Japanese Gen-X who were coming into the workforce at the time. This resulted in high youth unemployment as well as low rates of marriage and birthrates – and effectively brought forward the peak population date of Japan. The resulting impact of that event was that all the projections the government had made about pension plans and how the labour force was going to support the retiring Baby Boomers went out the window. Much of the low growth and sluggish economy of Japan in the aftermath of The Bubble can be put down to a generation of working people essentially placed out of options and never finding the traction that earlier generations had.

I have friends who are basically economic refugees from Japan. They got out because there were no immediate options that were rewarding or befit their education. Many ended up without kids, others delayed having kids. The 90s and early 2000s saw a remarkable exodus of young, educated Japanese people, who are now not over there contributing to economic growth.

The process of writing off and paying down debts in Japan has been grueling, and worse still government intervention into what they called PKOs – price keeping operations for assets – has distorted the markets leaving what can only be called zombie companies.

The PKO money came out of the government to shore up the asset values of shares and property which is to say, they socialised the debts. The Japanese government under Ryutaro Hashimoto argued that this was necessary to stop a disorderly exit, which is to say, it allowed some investors to keep their bubble profits to pay off the bubble debts instead of getting wiped out. You wonder how those parties got to enjoy such favourable treatment, but then if you see how entwined Japanese heavy industry, banking and the old MITI was in its day, it was one of those things that people acknowledged tacitly without putting up a big fight. After all, what happens to Japan should Mistubishi or Sumitomo should fail? The option cost of bailing out those companies essentially ate the future of Japan.  And that’s just Japan. The GFC has exposed the same problem in advanced economies across Europe and North America as well as Australia and New Zealand.

The point of all this is to say, private sector debt has a way of becoming public sector debt, and “too big to fail” essentially eats the future. A few things are very clear from the property bubble in Australia is that the private sector debt is bigger than it has ever been, and should it get called in, it would wipe out our four major banks (BASEL II and III notwithstanding). Because those banks are still in the TBTF category, the government will socialise those losses by bailing them out, and then we’ll see our future spending go up in smoke to preserve the inflated prices everybody paid for their houses.

The finer point of all this is, if you don’t think there’s a housing bubble, then that’s one problem. If you do thing that there is a housing bubble but think it’s just a matter of the market correcting itself, then you’ll be in for a surprise.

Ross Garnaut Says There Is a Bubble – But So What? Cut Rates

This one‘s related but really interesting. Ross Garnaut thinks there is indeed a bubble going on in the housing market, and that the Reserve Bank of Australia is keeping a close eye on it. Basically, Garnaut is saying the rest of the economy outside of housing could do with the lowering of rates. The rates being as they are keeps the Australian Dollar too high, and makes Australia’s economy less  competitive. The only thing keeping the rates where they are, is this deep concern that there is a housing bubble going on, so the rates need to sit at as high a place a possible given the parameters. Instead Garnaut is saying if the RBA cuts rates, then the rest of economy would be able to compete and grow, and the housing bubble should be dealt with specific measures. He also says governments should stop favouring housing for the purposes of capital adequacy.

“It is ludicrous to be worried about lending risks in the housing sector on the one hand while at the same time requiring banks to put more capital aside when they are lending to BHP,” he said.

“And there are several reasons to do something about negative gearing. There are budget reasons, and reasons to do with keeping within reach the old Australian dream of widespread home ownership.

“It would also contribute to putting a lid on the housing bubble so we could reduce interest rates and the exchange rate as required by the rest of the Australian economy.

“But the problems can’t be solved by the Reserve Bank alone. It requires co-ordination of prudential regulation, monetary policy and fiscal policy.”

It’s an interesting idea that evokes the old definition of inflation. Inflation, is essentially too much money chasing too few assets. This explains exactly why housing bubbles happen. Given that housing is given a privileged position in measuring capital adequacy, banks are better off lending out mortgages than lending out business loans for capital expenditure. The money headed to mortgages become much easier money by dint of a definitions for capital adqaucy. This devalues businesses against property ownership, even though property ownership in of itself – especially home ownership – can’t contribute to the economy in the way that a productive business can. Things like negative gearing simply make it worse. So all the money goes into the property market but of course the overall supply side of the property market itself can only grow at a certain rate. As more money gushes into the property market, it can do nothing but create a condition where the prices of homes inflates. Too much money chasing too few assets.

Is China Finally Wobbling (Just A Little bit?)

It’s been like five and a half years since the market bottom following the Lehmann Shock which triggered the GFC. Since then the world has looked on… make that Australia… Australia has looked on to China to keep its economy afloat. China in turn obliged by doing massive stimulus spending, which resulted in it sustaining its 7%+ annual GDP growth rate. There are some who think China has been inflating its GDP figures for years to get more investment, and think there is a 30%discrepancy between what China’s real size as an economy is and what the stated size is. That would explain the vast lack of growth in consumer spending that China has so needed to move from an export-driven economy to a consumer driven economy.

China subsequently pushed all levels of government to take on debt and give stimulus to the market and that has resulted in a massive ballooning of debt in China to fund this 7+% growth. Since the GFC, year after year, economists, investors, traders ad analysts of all persuasions have pointed at China and said it is unsustainable. Somehow China never imploded or popped or collapsed. All those ghost cities built in the middle of nowhere with speculation money? No problem. All that re-hypothecated collateral minerals that went missing? No problem. All those companies that started going sour and failed to pay their bonds? Government intervention has saved the day. If you had bet on China to unravel in the last few years, you would have lost money on all those bets.  It would’ve been hard losses to take too, because rationally speaking, China had every reason to come unstuck. The proof was in the pudding, and the pudding’s been magic so far.

Now, there are signs the magic pudding isn’t going to hold up. I don’t know how China is going to kick the can down the road next time, but they may yet have a way of doing so. After all, one of the interesting aspects of the great recession has been the way things just keep going on in spite of the numbers. If China can’t kick the can down the road, this is going to be it for the 23 long years of economic growth in Australia. The cracks are already showing up in commodity prices. Iron ore – the biggest corollary to the health of Chinese industry has sunk to a five year low. This is going to hit our export figures. Falling commodity prices should bring the value of Australian Dollar down. Things are about to get very bumpy.

I can report to you that the money-go-around in Sydney has stopped to a snail’s pace. There are a lot of companies sitting on unpaid bills, the companies themselves waiting to receive payment to pay those bills. I have to say it hasn’t been this slow since August 2007, which was exactly the peak of the market before the GFC. I’d start selling shares this month if I had any to sell.


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Asahi Newspapers Reported Falsehoods

Some Would Call This Lying

In 1982, Asahi Newspapers published an article based on the ‘testimony’ of one Seiji Yoshida who claimed that Korean women were forcibly removed to be made into comfort women. Seiji Yoshida wrote a book that claimed to be a confession of these acts during World War II. Since then the notion of ‘Comfort Women’ and sex slavery has flowered and people have been demanding apologies from the government of Japan. Asahi Newspapers in the mean time have cited Yoshida’s testimony 16times to bolster the case that such forcible removals by the Japanese government and its agencies took place.

This naturally led to the South Korean government demanding more apologies and in the intervening years has contributed to a great deal of animosity between the two countries. As a result of this diplomatic fracas, the government of Japan ran an extensive investigation to find out just what happened. They interviewed a number of women who claimed to have been forcibly removed by Japanese military and police personnel – and so in the mid 1990s, Yohei Kohno issued a statement basically regretting these forcible removals. The “Kohno Statement” as it is known basically forms an acknowledgement that forcible removals took place, and expresses the usual ‘deep regret’.

Even to this day, the Anti-Japanese rhetoric coming out of Seoul is based on this material. The picture that is emerging this week in Japan is that all this talk about “Japan must have proper awareness of its own history”,  and “reparations must be made for Comfort Women” has been based on the Asahi Newspaper making these statements as incontrovertible fact. Never mind that nobody else has ever come forwards to admit they were part of such activities, or that there was ay documented evidence of such things taking place. The entire case for Seoul rests on the Asahi claims, which in turn rests on the ‘Yoshida ‘Testimony’. Any suggestions to reappraise the content and context of the “Kohno Statement” have been attacked as historic revisionism by the South Korean government and media.

The problem is, the Yoshida Testimony has been comprehensively debunked. Nobody can corroborate the Yoshida Testimony because it never took place. Investigations have been made into the women who fronted up for the interviews which formed the basis of the “Kohno Statement”, and it turns out their stories don’t line up with any of the movements of Japanese units and police during the times these things have been alleged to have taken place. None of it lines up. It was all a fabrication.

As  a result the Asahi Newspaper has issued an editorial retracting the publication of the article 32years ago. The editorial claims it was filled with factually incorrect material. An unkind person might call them lies. Asahi Newspaper has not apologised for sticking to their guns through the years, even when they probably realised some things were untenable in the ‘Yoshida Testimony’ wrong as far back as 1992.

They Sack You For Forging Evidence

In most countries there’s  heavy penalty for forging evidence. For instance in Australia, the faked email ended Malcolm Turnbull’s chances of ever becoming Prime Minister. It destroyed Godwin Grech’s career at treasury. A similar thing happened in Japan .In Japan, a forged email destroyed the career of Hisayasu Nagata who ran with exactly the same sort of fake email as evidence as the Utegate scandal, and it brought down the listed company Live Door. The point is, these kinds of forging evidence gets you smashed in public life. Right now, Asahi Newspaper has been found to have done exactly that – run on unverified forged evidence – for 32 years and has been found out and is trying to get out of it by simply ‘retracting’ the article of 32 years ago.

There’s simply too much time and history that has come out of this fraud. The entire country of South Korea has been banging on about ‘Comfort Women’ fir 32 years based on the very same information, trusting in the institution of Asahi Newspaper. The Government of Japan admitted to guilt it need not have admitted to because it never happened, just to maintain friendly relations.  Asahi Newspaper’s ongoing insistence that the ‘Yoshida Testimony’ was factually correct has done untold damage to the reputation of Japan and all Japanese people around the world.

There are people running around accusing Japan of having systematically committed sexual slavery during World War II, and are alleging Japan is refusing to apologise for it. There are organisations in America building monuments to the kidnapped juvenile Korean girls pressed into prostitution that Seiji Yoshida imagined, claimed to have kidnapped, but never existed.  I can’t talk to a Korean without eventually getting into arguments about what is “a proper recognition of historic facts”. And let’s be honest, these are vile-beyond-the-vilest of accusations. You’d hope that there would be a shred of evidence – but there isn’t – and Asahi Newspapers has spent the last 32 years championing this load of bollocks as  God’s own truth. It’s one thing for South Koreans to want to believe this about Japan (it’s easy to imagine the worst of people if you don’t like them). What kind of outfit tries to pin this vile bullshit on their own people?

Just what kind of people work at Asahi Newspapers if they’re willing to propagate this stuff for 32years, retract it, then try to carry on like nothing’s happened?

In short, Asahi Newspapers can’t expect to get out of this with a slap on the wrist. They’re answerable for all of the misunderstanding between the governments in Tokyo and Seoul. The Diet should subpoena the editors and board members at Asahi, past and present to get an explanation. I hope they’re forced to close and they all lose their jobs. Really, I do. If it happens next week it won’t be soon enough.

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’47 Ronin’

As You’ve Never Experienced Before

Every few years the Japanese film industry fishes up a new rendition of the Forty-seven Ronin story. They do it because it sells. The most performed Kabuki is ‘Chuhshungura’, based on the Forty-seen Ronin and their revenge upon Kohzukenosuke Kira. I think I’ve watched upwards of 5 iterations of this story across movies TV series and even listened to a radio play. I may have even played a role on a school play where I was one of the guys holding back Lord Asano who tried to cut down the insolent Kira in the The Great Corridor of Pines of Edo Castle.

So not only is this story steeped in history, the fictional representation is steeped in its own history. Because we know the facts so well, we know who the 47 were, how they came to be the members of the revenge party, what they said when they committed ritual harakiri and where they are buried. I’ve even made my little pilgrimage to Sengakuji where their tombstones line up, and there’s even a museum there of the equipment they used on the night of the  revenge.

This movie allegedly draws inspiration from those events, but you sure coulda’ fooled me!

What’s Good About It

Maybe it’ a good thing that even a garbled version of this story gets out to the west. Rinko Kikuchi makes for a very fetching dragon.

The usual gripes aside, it’s nice to see that the cast of Japanese people are played by Japanese people. Even with the heavy accents, at least they get the mannerisms and body language and manners right. This is in stark contrast to ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ which had all the production design down but the main actors were natively Chinese, and so there was a massive dissonance with the body language and mannerism that made it really hard to watch. This film is the opposite. Surrounding the actors being convincingly Japanese is a production designed sword-and-sorcery Japan that is completely  bizzarro-world. Forget Keanu Reeves and his character, the ‘Japan’ in this film is completely out of this world.

What’s Bad About It

It’s pretty mind-warping, so it took about 20minutes for me to get used to the mimesis and vernacular of this film. The obvious difficulty of inserting a character Keanu Reeves can play into the ranks of the 47 presents the script with an inordinate amount of credibility issues. Call it the dances-with-wolves problem where you can’t sell a story about an exotic culture unless the main character is  white dude and he’s really good at what the other non-white dudes do because he’s either super-talented or he’s the chosen one.

Yeah, I know it’s a marketing problem.

Yeah, if people really wanted to know the original story they can watch one of the many historically accurate renditions with subtitles, straight from Japan. This is meant to be a sword-and-sorcery, dungeons-and-dragons sort of take on the story.

But it’s just *bad* BAD bad. B-a-a-a-a-a-ad to the bone.

What’s Interesting About It

It’s amazing what you can do if you don’t give two hoots about historic or geographical or cultural accuracy. Amazing!

It gives me immense insight into how Greeks must feel when they watch ‘Clash of the Titans’, ‘Wrath of the Titans’, ‘Troy’; or how Jewish people might feel when a hyper-Nordic Jesus goes around doing his Jesus thing in your average Hollywood film. There’s odd, there’s wrong, and then there’s Hollywood, which is odd and wrong in a league of its own.

Yeah, I knew I’d feel that going in, but still, it never hurts to spell out the things that bother you, and what exactly this all means.

Playing Oishi

In the tradition of Kabuki, the guy who plays Yoshio Kuranosuke Oishi has got the leading role. It’s the role where the star gets to do his thing; it’s the guy audiences have always flocked to see. So casting Hiroyuki Sanada for Oishi is actually quite classy. Of course, the Oishi in this film is given to rigid formulaic observances, indecision and prevarication, doubts and despair, living down to the stereotypes of a dutiful samurai held by Hollywood, and necessarily possesses an irrational faith in Keanu Reeves as if he knows that Keanu Reeves must be the chosen one to lead his sad lot to glory. Hamlet never suffers this badly.

This is indeed a different Oishi to the one we’ve come to love. The traditional Oishi is wise, patient, subtle, clever with the subterfuge, formidable with his resolve, never lost faith in his mission, carefully figured out who amongst the 200 or so Ronin from Ako, actually had the fortitude to go through with the deed and was meticulous in his planning. Instead, this Oishi is bumbling from moment to moment, making up his plans as he goes along, very much a victim of circumstance and hardly a navigator of his destiny.

It did remind me of the line, “our deeds will echo through time” from ‘Gladiator’. It’s true enough for Oishi and his cohorts – but sometimes the echo chamber is broken and the signal you get is really distorted. I wondered how Sanada kept a straight face through the entire venture (ordeal?). I guess it’s what you call professionalism. Sanada is an interesting actor. He’s invoking the name of Yukimura Sanada with his stage name.

What Are They Wearing?

I know I’m repeating myself but… what the hell was the wardrobe design doing in this film?

Lost in Asia

Keanu Reeves is in a strange career limbo where he is marketed heavily to Asia than he is back in the west. it is as if the Matrix persona of Neo has propelled him into a latter day Chuck Norris who may one day recover his standing in the west. He was in ‘The Man of Taichi’ playing a martial arts nut and evil head honcho in his directorial debut. Combined with this fiasco of a film, he seems he’s totally on the outer. The post-Matrix years have not been great for Keanu. I liked his crooked cop in ‘Street Kings’ and his turn in ‘Constantine’ was sort of interesting but not quite. But then it’s a rare script that can turn his wooden brand of acting into a credible characteriation. He may be lost in Asia for many more years to come. Or maybe this movie has completely sunk him as an action lead actor who can carry a film. He really should consider appearing in a Woody Allen movie.


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Hard To Identify With Anything

I’m keeping it simple today. I was reading some magazines from Japan in the last few days and surfing blogs in Japan. And I have to tell you I just don’t identify with the tenor or spectrum of politics over there at all. I don’t know if I ever did, but I used to have a handle on it. Now it feels like the children are running the kindergarten, and there are a lot of emotionally immature people in charge of institutions both public and private. And it’s really quite alienating.

Be that as it may, I feel really alienated by Australia as well. I know I’ve tried to just live with it and get on with it, but this Abbott Government has to be the most alienating government in Australia I’ve ever experienced. I thought the John Howard years were pretty awful, shameful, pathetic and on the whole hard to bear, but 7months in, this Abbott Government just creeps me out. And with that comes my deep alienation from the idiot mainstream that thought voting for this was better than voting for Kevin Rudd’s ALP.

So here’s the thing. I’ve tried to be a grown up and talk about things that matter in between writing about movies and music and whatnot, but I just can’t get my head around how bad politics has become around the world. Even the USA has turned into a place I can hardly relate to, and so even pop culture has become a spent refuge. I can’t hide there any more. I’ve tried the bread-and-circus routine, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in the bread-and-circus tumble-drier of cultural flotsam.

But today, is the day I’m saying I don’t know what to tell you that is both meaningful to me and meaningful to you. It’s insane. I don’t know how I’ve ended up here. I don’t know how the world has ended up here. It’s seven years from the GFC, employment growth is returning but we keep exporting jobs to Asia, the government keeps lying to us about inflation; real wages are not going up, they’re stagnant or going down, but the government wants us to believe our productivity is falling so we should all take pay cuts; but they’ll go into debt hard even while they vilify debt; they’ll print money and make it easier for the rich to do business but they’ve locked a generation out of housing in many parts of the world; there is no future, there is no revolution, we’re sort of at the precipce where we go from ‘Brave New World’ into Orwell’s ‘1984’ (I kinda wish it was Van Halen’s ‘1984’ – at least that would rock).

It really is a terrible world, and these politicians really do suck hard. I’m surprised we’re not occupying places and throwing up barricades. I’m not advocating it, I’m just surprised we’re not there.

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Senseless In Davos

Where Rhetoric Goes To Die (But Where Bastardry Thrives)

This forum going on in Davos is a bit of a joke. A few days ago Shinzo Abe got up and said his visits to the Yasukuni Shrine was to pray for world peace. If you overlook how disingenuous this is, sure, why not? Except all it did was provoke storm of protests form the governments of China and South Korea who like it or not have made it an industry to complain about the alleged re-militarisation of Japan. And so the Chinese have been on a diplomatic offensive everywhere telling every world newspaper what a threat Japan is to world peace. Which of course taken in a vacuum might look that way but as with Shinzo Abe and his disingenuous-ness, the Chinese are building Aircraft carriers and unilaterally declaring  airzones in their favour.

Let’s be bluntly honest. The Chinese themselves are the biggest threats to world peace full stop, without comparing them to Japan. So if you overlook that glaring fact, then maybe Shinzo Abe’s visit to a war memorial looks provocative. I’m not sure the Chinese sales pitch is working, even in Africa. After all, it’s not like Japan’s been to any kind of conflict, let alone war for nearing on 70years while China’s happily had war action in every decade since World War II ended. The Korean War, the land war with the USSR, The invasion of Vietnam in the 70s not to mention the various oppressive things they are doing to their ethic populations in Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Manchuria and to the Uighurs.

So there’s that. But the clincher might be the fact that for any person complaining about the Yasukuni Shrine housing Class ‘A’ war criminals from the Tokyo Tribunals, nobody can name all the names. They just say, “Class ‘A’ War Criminals” like there’s some universal understanding of what that means. Most of them wouldn’t know who Justice Webb was, nor would they understand what Keenan and Pal had to say after the trial about the Tokyo Trials.

Be that as it may, we’re going to keep hearing about these visits. Here’s the vexing thing. Japanese Prime Ministers since Junichiro Koizumi have eschewed going to the Yasukuni Shrine. That’s dating back to 2006 or so. Since then, the first go around for Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda, Taro Aso, Yukio Hatoyama, and Naoto Kan, have come and gone without attending the Shrine and you can’t say they got any slack from the Chinese or the South Koreans. It’s been a noisy chorus of complaint regardless. Its not surprising that Shinzo Abe decided he may as well serve himself and his constituency by visiting if there wasn’t going to be any merit in not going. The complaining – for all its pseudo-historic self-righteous legitimisation – is gratuitous.

Tony Abbott – Asshole Representative

By now it is clear that Tony Abbott’s essential style is ‘thrower of artless haymakers’. This week he got up in Davos to try and sheet home the blame of the Australian Government debt to the ALP and threw their record under the bus. It doesn’t matter that it’s not the done thing when you represent your country. It doesn’t stop him from behaving like a prat. It doesn’t matter that his characterisation of that recent history is totally at odds with how the rest of the world understood the GFC or how much they would like to swap their problems for ours. It doesn’t matter that he comes over like a jerk – he’s used to that, he doesn’t even notice any more – and that it subtracts from the sum total of Australia’s credibility for voting him in. That’s right. He really doesn’t care. If he went there as an individual to speak bullshit, that just reflects badly on him. Unfortunately as Prime Minister, his Bullshit speak makes us all look incredibly stupid.

Yet, he’s our man in Davos. The more I think about it, I think our political class has collectively flown into the twilight zone of good sense or simply into a post-modern simulacrum of politics and not real politics at all. Pleaides was threatening to destroy his computer in furious protest at Tony Abbott’s choice of general Cosgrove as the next Governor General, but really Tony Abbott’s just meeting expectations of being the pits. And just as the whole thing reflects badly on Australia, it reflects badly on the Coalition that they think this is their man to lead the nation. So far, he’s a bust.

It was reported Tony Abbott met with Shinzo Abe, and they didn’t discuss whaling as an issue. This upset the Greens back home. After all, how could Tony Abbott not bring up the most symbolic issue that exists between Australia and Japan? Quite easily it seems. Tony Abbot claims they mostly talked about the TPP, trade and security. In the most ironic of ways, it actually makes sense. Why bring up whaling and make thing unpleasant? That being said, I find it incredibly hard to imagine Tony Abbott bringing up a topic that is not close to his heart at all and arguing a robust case on its behalf. Whatever he is, he is not that good a politician.

Dissing Jakarta From Afar

The even more peculiar thing about the Abbott Government so far is how it has mishandled the relationship with Indonesia so badly, to the point where we ought not be surprised should a shooting engagement erupt on the high seas between our navies.

The worst provocation would have been this business of sending back the asylum seekers in boats. To do this, the Australian Navy had to sail into Indonesian waters without permission. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison fronted the media and claimed that the Australian Navy might have “inadvertently” entered Indonesian waters.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t see how that makes our navy look good when our Immigration Minister uses being lost as an excuse for being somewhere where they probably should not have been.

Jakarta’s in a huff and they’re buying more military hardware. They’re buying F-16s fro America and 8 submarines from Russia. All because we provoked them with our navy, unilaterally sending back asylum seekers in boats; and in turn, this was because this government came to power on the stupid slogan “stop the boats” so they had to be seen to be doing it (otherwise they would be seen  to have broken a promise).

If you thought Shinzo Abe was a bit of a dummy incurring the complaints from China and South Korea for having visited the Yasukuni Shrine, he’s got nothing on Tony Abbott.

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The End Of The End Of World War II As We Know It

The events leading up to the surrender of Japan on 15th August 1945 is an interesting topic. There was quite a bit of politicking carried out by the heads of the military in Japan. Some of the meetings were pretty dramatic and poignant. The angst and the pride of proud men on the line, trying to salvage the un-salvage-able, hit a crescendo in early August 1945.  It’s great fodder for an excellent movie. As it turns out (as Apple staff are told to say instead of “unfortunately”), this is not that movie.

What we have instead is a fairly ill-informed, loosely told crappy reconstruction of the earliest days of the MacArthur GHQ. For  start General Bonner Fellers is the romantic lead. Why, they could have had Curtis LeMay as the comic relief!

What’s Good About It

Somebody had to approach the topic at some point in time; why on Earth did MacArthur let the Emperor of Japan avoid going to trial a the Tokyo Trials? It’s a worthy question.  Of course, then they smother it in a bullshit romance flashback, but the film sort of gropes at a fairly interesting point about Japan between 1868 and 1945: Japan was a constitutional monarchy. So the immediate thrust of the film is try and pin the blame on the Emperor and the throne, only to find the Emperor as having been a sort of passenger of history who rubber stamped things.

All of this is handled in a very ham-fisted way, but the core of it is that they can’t stick the Emperor on trial not only for reasons of realpolitik, but basically because the roles ascribed to the Emperor doesn’t line up with dictators like Hitler or Mussolini.

What’s Bad About It

The romantic subplot is terrible. It’s just awful. And it takes up lots of screen time.

The directing is even worse. I don’t know where they find these crappy directors. This Peter Webber fellow can’t set up a scene without crossing the line over and over again. He’s also a terrible director of actors, and seems to have no idea how editing works, so consequently seems to create scenes with no tension or rhythm. The sense of narrative is a mess and on the whole he seems to have been interested in all the wrong things, just so he can tell his crappy romantic story which probably has no basis in real life whatsoever. I thought Baz Luhrman was a particularly awkward, technically deficient director, but this Peter Webber is even worse. He has himself a really interesting topic and makes an utter balls up of it.

I don’t know what else to say but this is a really crappy movie entertainment-wise as well as being a particularly shitty bit of film making.

What’s Interesting About It

They keep making and remaking these Pocahontas stories where some white dude goes to another culture and falls in love with some local girl. Then the dude ends up being the meat in the sandwich of the story and well, you only have to look at successful examples like ‘Witness’ (the Amish) or ‘Avatar’ (aliens with blue skin) to see it’s a ruse to get you an ‘in’ on the narrative about “the other”. Of course the other painful one is ‘The Last Samurai’ which was preceded by ‘James Clavell’s Shogun’ many years ago. You’d think that white people could get to Japan and just get on with whatever it is they need to do in the story instead having to spend 40minutes chasing skirt. But you know how it goes.

Some films are more deft at doing this insertion-of-romantic-hocus-pocus while films like this one stick out as a monument to the stupidity of the trope. Other films are worse on this count – like ‘Dances With Wolves’ where it turns out there’s already a white woman who’s gone native on the other side waiting or the white male hero to show up. It’s the kind of narrative move that strains credulity but for the sake of getting on with the story, you grin and bear these bits. Sometimes there is what I like to call the ‘Tatanka’ where the white guy swaps vocab with the locals. Which sometimes has narrative bearing, but usually it’s just another ruse to establish the white male hero is getting to see things form the perspective of the other. “our people think… blah-blah-blah.”

The point being you’d think that sometimes sensible producers would say to their writers “look, that story trope has been done to death and it’s harder and harder to do it better. If you don’t have a good story angle, don’t do it.” The producers on this one, displaying an incredible naivety and possibly mediocre sensibilities, chose to go hard with the insertion-of-romantic-hocus-pocus, the Tatanka, and the obligatory “our people think blah-blah-blah”.

Well, I  point both my index fingers at the heavens by my temple and say “Tatanka” to you!

Sometimes It’s Shrouded In Secrecy, Sometimes It’s Shrouded In Myth, But Sometimes It’s Just Coated With Bullshit

Western historians really don’t want to hear this but the two atomic bombs didn’t really figure that much into the thinking of the ministers meeting with the Emperor in the days leading up to the end of the war. The records of what was discussed is actually out there, published long ago. Plenty of historians have gone through this material and it’s pretty clear that when they dropped the first bomb on Hiroshima, the news merely dampened the mood in that room even further. You have to understand that Generals Anami and Itagaki were pretty keen to fight the Americans on land, hand to hand on the streets and inflict as much casualty on everybody and everything. That’s what the generals wanted and were willing to repeat the Battle of Okinawa all over Japan.

You can just imagine the Emperor impassively listening to this tirade thinking, “what are these lunatics talking about?”

So what were they talking about? They were talking about the Potsdam Declaration. In particular they were particularly concerned as to how to interpret ‘…subject to…’ and whether this meant that the Emperor would become the subject of the President of the United States or whether the people of Japan would become slaves. On the 9th the news of Nagasaki being bombed by the second atomic bomb came in and they were still arguing about what ‘…subject to…’ meant. One can imagine remarks like the Clintonian “that would depend on what you meant by ‘subject’ and what you meant by ‘to'” that would fit perfectly in such conversations.

It’s painful to read this stuff. Whole cities were being laid to waste and the blowhard chiefs of the General Staff and Army minster Anami going on about how everybody in Japan was going to die in battle. Ascribing the end of the Pacific War to the 2 atomic bombs is incredibly optimistic reading of the impact of technology. If anything it was a bonus side show, as it didn’t really sink into the retrograde heads of the General Staff and Army minister Anami.

One’s natural inclination is to think  there must be more to the end of the war and the two atomic bombs than this; we are often betrayed by just how banal and prosaic the actors are, on history’s great stage.

Showa Emperor Hirohito And Culpability

The more things I read and see about the late Showa Emperor, the more I’m persuaded to think that he didn’t speak up enough. he didn’t speak up much at all from what we can gather, and when he was a young man, it’s easy to believe he he was totally cowered and intimidated by the great admirals and generals that fought in the war against Russia in 1904-1905. Even in the 16th year of his reign as Japan stumbled along into war with America, one feels he could have spoken out a bit more than insist on peace.

Some western and Chinese historians have decided that the Showa Emperor had a sideline in being a villainous conspirator with the Army generals and gave them tacit support for the push into China and Manchuria, but this is contradicted by the extensive Kido diaries. The man was a lot more alone and isolated on the throne. The film comes close to capturing just how isolated the Emperor was from his people. What it doesn’t do is fill the gap in between with any kind of explanation or meaning. There’s just this sable black gulf of willful ignorance and Rumsfeld-ian unknonwn-unknowns.

From all accounts, he interpreted his position under the Meiji Constitution as being a  ceremonious head of state who rubber stamped the decisions made in cabinet. He sat through his cabinet meetings, stony faced and impassive, but always keeping his opinions to himself and away from the ministers. During the ‘February 26 Incident‘, when junior Army officers attempted to mount a coup in his name, he refused to lend any support to them, berated them for killing cabinet minsters, and threatened to lead the Imperial guard divisions himself to root out the young officers.

You sort of wonder why he didn’t tell these crazy generals to get back in their box more often, in the lead up to the war.

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The Money That’s Not There

Deficits? What Deficits?

A few weeks ago I made an observation over elsewhere on the interwebs which I forgot to note over here. Once upon a time in the 90’s when Pauline Hanson was a tyro crank politician, she was much ridiculed for her views. They were in most part totally outlandish and powered by a kind of backward looking xenophobia that made your skin crawl, but in particular she had a solution for Australia’s debt problem, which was “print more money.”

The press went to town on this statement as a clear indication that this would not work because printing money wold cause a massive outbreak of inflation; the likes of which crippled the Weimar Republic, so clearly this was a stupid idea born out of a stupid person. So the narrative went. And who amongst us who bothered to study modern history didn’t know of the crazy inflation that engulfed inter-war Germany as the Weimar Republic busily printed money to pay their reparations for World War I? Print money, you get Weimar Republic.

Fast forward 15 years and 5 years on from the GFC we find, in fact that is exactly the US Federal Reserve Bank is doing in its guise of Quantitative Easing, and even the Bank of Japan has joined the ranks of central banks ‘printing money’ with the celebrated ‘Abenomics’ in progress. The interesting thing is that inflation – the kind we read about in history books about the Weimar Republic – hasn’t exactly broken out in neither the USA nor Japan. In fact the Bank of Japan is running the printing presses much faster than the US Fed, and it might not make its inflation target of 2%. Go figure that one out.

No Inflation. All that money printed, and still no inflation. If anything central banks in the advanced economies are scared shitless of a collapse in asset prices.

I hate to say all this because I really dislike Pauline Hanson, but if the amount of deficit of the Australian Government was the size that it was – such that it could be paid off by the selling of assets under John Howard – maybe the Hanson plan of printing money back then might have been better? That way, the Federal Government, and by extension we the people would still have those assets.

Or maybe government debt isn’t as big a deal as the private sector is making out. What’s really bad about Greece and the other distressed euro economies probably is the fact that they can’t devalue their currency by printing their own money. But if we go by the – ahem, *gulp* – “Hansonomics”, Greece ought to quit the Euro zone and just print whatever money it likes to pay its freaking debts. And as crazy as that sounds to educated minds the evidence seems to be the case. Stick that into your objectivity pipe and smoke it.

This brings me to this article here.

In a 34-page review for clients of how a Coalition government might change economic management, Mr Eslake, chief Australian economist for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, also highlights the potential for “significant and ongoing tensions” in an Abbott government between its “genuine economic liberals”, such as shadow treasurer Joe Hockey, and those who are “more sceptical about markets … including in many cases Tony Abbott as Prime Minister”.

He predicts that the Coalition will ultimately adopt all of Labor’s proposed budget savings measures, except for ending the tax break for cars bought through salary sacrifice.

Even so, Mr Eslake estimates, the Coalition has so far committed to $28.4 billion of tax cuts and $14.8 billion on new spending in the next four years, a total of $43.25 billion. But he estimates the nine savings measures the Coalition has announced so far would save only $13.44 billion over the same period.

“By our reckoning, over the remainder of the election campaign, the Coalition needs to announce additional savings measures totally in the vicinity of $30 billion over the four years to 2016-17 in order to be able credibly to claim that it would produce better bottom line outcomes than those projected (by Treasury and the Department of Finance), he said.”

“That is a substantial sum, although it is considerably less than the $70 billion ‘black hole’ suggested by the government.”

And that ought to give you a bit of a scare. If the polls are to be believed the incoming Liberal National Coalition Government is selling itself on being fiscal hawks and that 30billion will come out of something somewhere along the way in a fit of austerity worship. I don’t know where it will come from, and by the sounds of it, neither does treasurer-to-be Jolly Joe Hockey, but knowing their political persuasion it’s likely to come out of welfare cheques and education budgets.

Yet in a bigger picture sense, all this pain it will inflict on millions of people will basically hurt the economy anyway while doing not much good. It’s almost enough for you to endorse Hansonomic Printing Presses and ask them to simply print the money to pay the freaking debt. It’s what grown up countries do.

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