Sample post for MA Module portfolio

In Japan in the near future, fear of out-of-control teenagers has resulted in the government creating the ‘Battle Royale’ act. With this act, randomly selected school classes are taken to an island and forced to fight and kill each other until there is only one survivor. Refusal to fight will result in the activation of the exploding necklace that they have all been fitted with.

NOTE: This is slightly longer than I expect from you but should give you a rough idea.


‘The nail that protrudes gets hammered down’: Old Japanese saying.

‘The nail that comes all the way out never gets hammered down’: Contemporary Japanese saying.

These two opening adages offer a unique insight into the main themes of Battle Royale. Set in the near future this is the violent tale of school children been forced to kill each other became a worldwide phenomenon. The opening scenes set the tone for what is to come. With classical music dramatically introducing the inter-titles we are told that Japan has suffered from economic and social collapse and that with 800,000 children boycotting school the adults took fright and instigated the Millennium Education Reform Act (known as Battle Royale).

br mad gun


We are then introduced to Class B of Zantsuji Middle School via a black and white class photo. The central face is a recognisable one, the actor/director/comedian ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano. It will be their teacher Kitano-sensei (the film keeps the same name for the character as the real-life person) who will run the brutal game that Class B will soon find themselves involved in. The use of Kitano serves several purposes: first, Kitano is one of the most successful Japanese stars to have emerged in last few decades and as a result he has very high levels of audience recognition on both the domestic and the international stage. This can be seen in the poster that was used to advertise the film where several of the children’s faces are crossed out but he remains a dominant central figure. Secondly, Kitano is clearly an adult male and placing him as the opponent makes the children’s fights all the more tragic since they are competing against a figure who (via his most famous film roles such as Violent Cop (1989), Boiling Point (1990) and Sonatine [1993]), has a proven ‘history’ of violent behavior. Thirdly, and perhaps more vitally, his role as iconic mass media figure opens up the notion that this game could happen. Kitano himself presents many TV game shows such as Takeshi’s Castle (1986-1989) and the use of a real games presenter gives a depth and a potential realism to this outrageous game show concept. At the end of the show he presents to them a painting that he has drawn of all the murders with Noriko standing as an angel-like figure in the centre. He says that of all the students Noriko would be the only one worth dying with. His admiration for Noriko relates back to a dream that she had where she and Kitano-sensei were walking on the beach. When she wakes up she comments that Kitano-sensei seemed sad. The sadness of Kitano-sensei is the heart of the films narrative impetus. Battle Royale is far more about these feelings of sadness than it is a violent action film. The motivation of Fukasaku is to reveal a real social problem that he sees as affecting contemporary Japan. For him the sadness of Kitano-sensei reflects the malaise and feelings of inferiority that Japanese adults have suffered in the last few years. He states that ‘the fact that adults lost confidence in themselves, that is what is shown in Battle Royale. Those adults worked very hard through the 70s in order to rebuild Japan. They went through that period working for national interest. Of course there was a generation gap between the young and the adults, even throughout that period, but consistently adults were in control in terms of political stability and whatever was going on in the nation. However since the burst of the bubble economy, these same adults, many of them salary men and working class people were put in a very difficult position with the economic downturn and all of a sudden most of them started to lose confidence in themselves. And the children who have grown up and witnessed what happened to the adults, their anxiety became heightened as well. So I set the film in this context of children versus adults’ (Fukasaku 2001).

For Fukasaku, the state of the nation has spawned this brutal game. Juvenile delinquency has been caused by the lack of confidence and the crisis that has set in amidst the older social groups rather than any innate problem with youth. The children are not originally to blame but they will be disproportionately punished for the failures of the adults. This reflects a real crisis in Japan where there have been several well-documented cases of the teachers and school system showing an extreme approach to the disobedience of children. The fear of those in positions of authority are that their inadequacies will lead to them losing power and control and as a result they conduct themselves in an overly aggressive fashion towards the children that most represent their fears.

The presentation of the brutal government structures that are using a vulnerable group as scapegoats reflects the concerns that Fukasaku expressed for his entire filmmaking career. Fukasaku himself had witnessed the brutal effects of a war including having to clear away the bodies of his own classmates after a bombing raid (Antoniou 2004). He saw first hand the damage that a government can cause a nation to suffer. He was always a harsh critic of the post-war reconstruction and the failures that he perceived in post-war Japanese social and economic structures. He was part of the 1960s movement to challenge the status quo and of course in Battle Royale we are told that Shinji’s uncle was an activist in the 1960s and he had taught Shinji how to make bombs. This evocation of an earlier attempt to challenge the social system (which failed) is seen as an encouragement for the children to attempt to fight back. Although Shinji himself will ultimately die, Shuya and Noriko survive and it is on them that Fukasaku places his hope for the future. His final call for them to ‘run as fast as they can’ offers a hope for a future that will challenge the dominant structures and create a new type of society. The opening sayings reflect the changes that are taking place in Japanese society and culture. From a situation where any dissent from individuals would be repressed for the collective harmony, the situation in the contemporary age is one where more and more people are beginning to challenge the status quo and society is beginning to acknowledgment that individual opinions cannot always be ignored (Yoneyama, 1999).



Presentation for Showroom Japan Foundation Series

So I am presenting on three films as part of this process and the first one is on Kinoshita’s Tragedy of Japan/日本の悲劇.  In the next two weeks I will also be speaking on the Cowards to the Sky/ふがいない僕は空を見た (Tanada, 2012) and Being Good/きみはいい子 (Mipo O, 2015).

Looking forward to it!

I was hoping to insert my prezi here but I cannot figure out how to do it so I have included the link for any interested people!

Reflections on week one

Right, I have decided to use this space as a public forum on my teaching. I am sure few people read it but I think that being open to public scrutiny when you are in public education is a vital thing!

So, the first week – the module introduction! I always dislike these weeks. It is like the pre-party when a few people have arrived but don’t know each other so mill around looking confused and then drinking too much to compensate for nerves.

Firstly, the module grew exponentially this week so a cozy and intimate module of 20 is now a large and more unwieldy workshop of 38. This has resulted in a room change and, on a personal level, makes it hard to learn everyone’s names. In terms of group discussions it now takes longer to get around to everyone and hear each groups opinions. The workshop is two hours long and the room is not big enough to get everyone into a circle so I may need to employ some creative ideas on  room formatting.  Turns out there are multiple websites devoted to just this so next week I will employ what is know as a ‘cabaret style’ setting.  Will involve moving table so that is a pain but never mind!

As usual I ran out of time and had to rush going though got reading. This is not satisfactory and, to counter this, next week I think I will start with the reading so I can ensure that all students are ok with how to break down an article and, hopefully, figure out the key points.

This week with ‘Wink on Pink’ by Christine Yano, so as you can correctly guess, we spent some time on かわいい as a concept. I dislike かわいい loads. To me, it too often symbolises the most commodified, negatively gendered, lacking in intellectual content and trite narrative that you can get in popular culture. Still, it does sell and lots of students are clear devotees of the cute-aesthetic so I will need to tread carefully!

Asking people a popular culture artefact they really like was interesting. The clear winners were Studio Ghibli, 응답하라 1988/Answer me, 1988 and 치즈 인 더 트랩 / Cheese in the Trap. So Korean and Japanese culture is once again  leading the charge. Few films were mentioned and even less people cited music as their main popular culture passion – this is a curious one and means that shifting the focus towards TV a bit more may prove popular.


Nobody wanted a set screening so all have promised to watch in their own time….we shall see. If it becomes clear people are not watching it then I will have to bring back a set screening and take attendance. I would rather not as clearly smacks of school but I have no desire to have  a class when no one has seen the visual artefact under discussion.
The DoCoMo ‘be careful while texting’ advert got some laughs as did the wonderful xiaorishu.  So perhaps humour is the best way forward – this will be hard in the weeks on sex industry but we shall see!




In conclusion, it seemed to go okay. I always feel better once I know the class a bit better and have figured out what really makes people tick. Next week Hallyu and Winter Sonata.

School Newsletter

One of the administration tasks I had this year was to write the school newsletter. As with most schools we have a newsletter each year that is sent to various agencies and alumni. This year, the very lovely Keighley (schools marketing manager) and I, decided the way forward was a complete redesign. We are rather pleased with the outcome. I think it looks rather good!

The PDF is here for those who are interested in having a read!Newsletter – inners_webIMG_0671IMG_0672

New Module: Popular Culture in East Asia

As with all new jobs one of the main elements that causes, not a panic exactly but rather a pause for thought, is new module development. This year I will be starting up the new module Popular Culture in East Asia. This module is aimed at the second years and I am very much looking forward to it.

The format will be workshop based as I have a long and deep seated hatred of lecture/seminar approach when I find myself totally discounted for the class for one hour and then running out of time in the seminar sessions.  Talking with the students about the issues and academically debating them as a group is clearly much more interesting that standing there and talking at them in my opinion. Still, maybe I have been lucky and always had some good and interesting students in my classes….

So we have a two hour workshop each week. Now what to fill them with….This module I am toying with using this blog as public forum for self-reflexivity about my aims and ambitions as a educator and the successes and failures that accompany any teaching experience.

Firstly, curriculum design. With such a wide topic this is a challenge in many ways. What to include, what not to include, my personal loves and hates vs. the field of study and, of course, the fact that the students on average are 15 years younger that me and their notion of popular culture is, well,to be frank,  slightly more up-to-date than mine.  Take a week on stardom – I love with an overwhelming passion Tony Leung-Chiu-wai 梁朝偉. I always have and always will but to the 18 year old student he is an old man. They prefer the youthful (in my mind, baby face and bland) fresh young visages of various K-Pop bands.  The last ‘boy’ band I really listened too was SMAP and they started in 1988 and have recently disbanded with the average age of the band member somewhere in the early to mid 40’s. So a bit of a disjuncture there….




Secondly, this is a School of East Asian Studies, not media department. This mean that theoretical frameworks are more of a challenge, and, often the wider linguistic and cultural knowledge the students have is not matched by media knowledge and experiences.

Thirdly, the endless worry of assessment. How to assess – essay, exam, blog posts? Does the assessment match learning outcomes? What about the student with dyslexia? Have I unnecessarily challenged the student who English is little shaky? I am dyslexic i HATE exams with a passion, yet, this schools policy is we much have a percentage (at least 50% as an exam). How to I write the exams scripts to help the students as much as I can but still test their academic standards.

So, in short a lot to thing about.

I will be posting on this more over the next few weeks so if you are interested, keep reading.

Academic Tantrums


This is not research related but rather a quick post on something that I have been thinking about over the weekend. In the last few months my beautiful and intelligent toddler has alternated from being a complete delight to acting like something reminiscent of a mixture of Regan from the Exorcist with Damien from the Omen thrown in for good measure. In a rather amusing attempt to chart her toddler’s motivations,  a mother from Australia charted all the reasons for a tantrum inside a 12 hour period. From such rational (!) reasons like the shape of sandwich to the weather, the list made me feel a lot better since suddenly realizing the complete insanity that takes place in my house is a completely normal and shared experience was a liberating feeling. Over the weekend just some of the reasons we had tantrums were:

  • Her father asked her nicely if she would like breakfast
  • She wanted pink socks
  • I gave her pink socks
  • I would not let her eat quavers for breakfast
  • She wanted to feed the ducks
  • The ducks did not eat the food she threw to them
  • She would not put her hat and gloves on
  • She was cold since she did not have hat and gloves on


This got me thinking about academic tantrums and the shared experience we all feel in the working environment. I used to work with some people who threw the closest thing to serious tantrums that I have ever seen in the work environment. By this I mean almost shouting unreasonable and often highly ridiculous demands (“I should be allowed to email during meetings despite everyone been told not to because I am special” was my favorite one and then sulking and being unpleasant whenever their own way was not given). This not only led to a horrid work environment but, frankly, really damaged this person’s professional standing inside the whole unit. What I found notable was that this person’s behavior was always linked to his or her (!) own subjectivity and never once about the wider work environment unless it directly impacted them. These were people who never gave a s**t about anyone else. I have found that those who are most prone to unreasonable behavior at work are often those colleagues who are most likely to screw others over in their desire to scramble to the top and/or avoid any admin work.

Yet, aside from the manic few, there are the shared complaints we all have that reflect the wider work environment rather than any individual personality type. I would would love to throw an on-the-floor screaming fit many times in the working day over the conflicting pressure we are under. We don’t, as social norms and the fear of getting fired (usually) prevent us from doing so but the underlying reasons are often not dissimilar to my daughters. For the most part it is compete frustration we cannot 100% control the environment around us. I mean, who has not felt the desire to scream over the following:

  • Students don’t attend meetings
  • Too many student attend meetings and we get nothing else done
  • We don’t get recognition for our research
  • People recognize our research and ask us to do stuff (talks, reviews etc.) as a result
  • We need to ensure academic standards
  • We need to ensure that all students do well on the modules to ensure our teaching reviews are good – academic standards are often left behind in this
  • We want research-led teaching
  • Research-led teaching confronts us with the reality not all students love our research topic as much as we do

The list can go on…..

The complicating pressures on us at all times in the working day can lead to a real sense of unbalance and stress and it is this stress that feeds our primitive desires to throw fits, complain and metaphorically lash out at anyone/anything we think, often erroneously,  may be able to control it. Think about how many times you have heard colleagues (and yourself!) complain about ‘the university’ as it we are in some way separate from it.

How do we deal with tantrums with toddlers I think gives us insight into how to deal with academic ones.

– A firm schedule. Take a research day, turn off email, put a do not disturb sign on office door – do the same each week where possible and keep to it.

– Participate in the wider debates. I have found the unhappiest staff are those who don’t engage with their wider school/colleges etc. This ranges from professors to postdocs. The most frustrating people I have ever encountered were a couple of teaching fellows/temporary staff who never tried to understand the system and the pressures schools and other individuals were under and therefore did not tailor their behaviour accordingly. This meant they continually did not get jobs due to their own actions and reputation for very poor collegiality (incidentally there were all male and I think there is a lot more that can be said here but perhaps another day). Whilst the temporary staff life is tough – making demands that schools can never meet due to wider pressures and policies, does not help your own case.

– Model academic behavior – in short, be nice to your colleagues and students. If anything, this is my resolution this year – everyone has merit and deserved respect so try to treat them accordingly.


I may return to this debate later.