Saturday, November 23, 2019

Make Imperial Japan Great Again - an exclusive (fake) tell-all interview with Shinzo ABE

(NB - this interview is part of our Agence Fausse Presse series which already featured, among other extremists, KIM Jong-un* and Donald Trump**)

Seoul Village - "Prime Minister ABE, thank you for accepting this interview. To start with, do you prefer Westerners to call you Shinzo ABE, or ABE Shinzo?"

Shinzo ABE: "I don't care, as long as you don't confuse me with Kan ABE: I'm so ashamed by my paternal grandfather, who ruined the reputation of my family. This man was a dangerous peacemonger who dared oppose Hideki TOJO and Imperial Japan militarism. All my life is about clearing my name, the reputation of that side of my family. When you think that his eldest son, my father, had to become a kamikaze to prove to everybody that he was on the (extreme) right side of Japan's history."

SV - 'Your maternal grandfather, on the other hand..."

SA - "Needless to say, Nobusuke KISHI was my hero: a genuine war criminal I could be proud of, and relate to. My visits to Yasukuni, or my congratulations to war criminal memorials pale in comparison to the headstone he dedicated to TOJO and the other fallen war criminals***... what an inspiration for us."

War criminal Kishi would be proud of his Rising GrandSon

SV - "By 'us', you mean Nippon Kaigi."

SA - "Of course. I'm very proud of my brainchild Nippon Kaigi. Nobody thought that a maze of exotic extremist groupuscules could be merged into Japan's dominant political lobby, reuniting hardcore neofascists with Shinto fundamentalists. But in order to achieve that incredible feat, I needed Korea's help."

SV - "Pardon me....?"

SA - "We love it when Korean nationalists hijack history issues. As fellow extremists, we need each other to play a naughty ping pong game and make moderates inaudible. And these guys are very successful at fueling anger from the Korean people, and not anger at us, but anger at Japan in general, which makes it easier for us to say 'look, these people are radicals, they can't see reason, we are the victims in this story. Korean nationalists helped us revive our ailing fascist movements, but at the beginning in 1992, we felt really scared: for the first time, Korean Comfort Women spoke up about what they came through under Imperial Japan rule, for the first time in decades, the less pretty side of our history was exposed to the Western world, and back then, nationalism was kept at bay in Korea so the victims could be heard without any distortion. We really feared that our grip on Japanese society could be loosened. We had to react in order to defend the memory of our beloved war criminals."

SV - "Well you still controlled the political system. The only embryos of apologies were issued by lame duck officials, in personal statements that were not really binding for the nation."

SA - "Yeah. We keep deleting records, and rewriting history in textbooks, but even with our propaganda machine and our control of the local media, it's hard to get rid of the 1993-1994 statements of Yohei Kono and Tomiichi Murayama. At least, we've successfully destroyed press freedom at home, and even made it almost impossible for foreign journalists to expose my ABEIGNomics, or even to mention Nippon Kaigi, but this takes a lot of time and money."

SV - "Money?"

SA - "Do you know how much money we spend every year in advertising and advertorials on CNN and Co? Almost as much as we invest in soft power in South East Asian countries. But these foreign media never cover stories about us, and these countries have yet to seek apologies or reparations for their Comfort Women."

SV - "Well Western audiences certainly know a lot more about judo and Japanese food than about your Moritomo Gakuen scandal, corruption around Tokyo 2020, or the role of yakuzas in the olympics and in the highly controversial Fukushima cleanup..."

SA - "... you can stop here: I get your point, and I don't want foreign or for that matter Japanese audiences to be enlightened about our ABEIGNomics."

SV - "You don't risk much. It's not like in Korea when everybody's on the street as soon as a new scandal pops up."

SA - "Of course, otherwise we would have been kicked out of power decades ago. We're very lucky that Japanese people are not interested in politics, in defending their democracy and their constitution. We're also very lucky that the US didn't purge our political dynasties at the end of WWII, because they needed people like my 'good' granddad Kishi to secure Japan's support during the Cold War."

SV - "Unlike Germany with Nazism, Japan has never been liberated from Imperial Japan".

SA - "Yes, and we want that situation to continue forever. As you well know, Nippon Kaigi's official goal is to restore Imperial Japan as a whole, including militarism and State Shinto, to repel peace treaties and human rights laws, to recenter education around nationalism, to deny war crimes and to reject postwar pacifism by changing the constitution. This can only happen if the Japanese people, who is overwhelmingly pacifist, is kept unaware of the past, and of our agenda for the future."

SV - "Undoing your democracy should be even easier with a man like Donald Trump in the White House."

SA - "Definitely, and not just because Putin is also very pleased if Japan joins his collection of failed democracies. The difference is that we don't need any meddling in our elections."

SV - "Still, Trump is much more powerful than you."

SA - "Don't misread my losing rounds of golf against Donald. If I spend 200% of my time with him flattering his ego, that's way cheaper than spending millions in foreign media. Plus I receive preferred treatments compared to other traditional US allies."

SV - "That's right. Trump asked you only 4 times more money to pay for the US military umbrella, compared to 5 for South Korea."

"#Trump asked #Japan to multiply by 4 its financial contribution to US defense. #ShinzoAbe's (losing) rounds of #golf with #POTUS paid off (#Korea was asked x 5)." (20191116 -

SA - "Well Donald learned business from his mobster friends, so I expected this kind of racketing from him. Besides, MOON Jae-in is too weak. He's out of sync in the region because has nothing to do with strongmen like Vladimir, Narendra, Rodrigo, Jong-un, Jinping or me. Still, I see some hope: lately, MOON seems to have learned more than a few tricks from Donald, judging by the way he's handling justice****..."

SV - "Anyway, there is at least one strong Korean leader these days. Will you meet KIM Jong-un?"

SA - "Maybe. I really want to thank him, to tell him to keep up the good job, to keep shooting missiles over our heads. I badly need enemies at the gate, a boogeyman to justify our return to militarism and our destruction of Japan's postwar pacifism. To make fascism relevant in Japan, to Make Imperial Japan Great Again."

Seoul Village 2019
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* see "Exclusive interview with KIM Jong-un - Season III" (2018), "EXCLUSIVE-Second interview with KIM Jong-un" (2017), "Exclusive interview with KIM Jong-un" (2013)
** see "Trump: The Art of the Dealapidation (Exclusive Interview)" (2018)
*** see "The Elusive Independence Day - When will Japan officially proclaim its Independence from Imperial Japan?"
**** see "Moon Landing - The Cheong Wa Dae Curse"

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2019 - Collective City (also resilient and walkable)

Seoul is infinitely more walkable and pedestrian friendly than a few decades ago, but during the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, you can even hop from one World capital to the other* without leaving its center. For this second edition, two main venues have been added to the Biennale's horizontal axis, Seoul HOUR and the Seoul Museum of History joining the DDP, Sewoon Sangga, and Donuimun Museum Village.

Six months after the pre-biennale symposium and the Seoul HOUR inauguration (see "Seoul Hall of Urbanism and Architecture, Seoul Biennale 2019 Symposium"), the usual suspects showed up on opening day at Dongdaemun Design Plaza:

"Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism opening ceremony @ DDP Seoul.
Park Won-soon, Dominique Perrault, Seung Hyosang, Francisco Sanin" (@theseoulvillage - 20190907 -
The whole Barnum was supposed to move a few hours later to Donuimun Museum Village, but a last minute guest star crashed the party: because of Typhoon Lingling, all opening day festivities were eventually held in Zaha's landmark. Still, I decided to visit the Cities Exhibition on the same day, even as Lingling kept clearing her throat:

I had a great time exploring the whole show without the crowd, and intended to finish with Ulaanbaatar, a city that moved me so much three years ago (see "Welcome to Ulaanbaatar Village"). Unfortunately, when I arrived, its 'ger' was being dismantled at the last moment: located on the main building's rooftop, it could have been blown away. If this precaution turned out to be unnecessary, it somehow hammered down even harder (without any nails) the core messages from a city facing tremendous challenges, but at the same time able to leverage the amazing flexibility of its architecture. This could well be the poster image of a resilient city:

"Ulanbaatar's ger at Seoul Biennale Cities Exhibition unfortunately had to be temporarily folded yesterday because of Typhoon Lingling. If the typhoon failed to deliver its expected punches, this episode illustrates at the same time the flexibility of Mongolia's iconic architecture marvel, and urbanism challenges faced by its sprawling capital.
#SBAU #DonuimunMuseumVillage #gerhub" (@stephanemot 20190908 -
Go enjoy the countless shows, conferences, and other events (including the parallel ones) across the capital, and don't forget to pass by Seoul Museum of History, with its excellent 'Collective Market City' exhibition highlighting the key role markets played in the city's evolution from its very beginning:

"Collective Market City exhibition at Seoul Museum Of History. SBAU Live Projects with Jang Youngchul, Tomaz Hipolito, Young Wookoh, 000간, Roh Kyung, Oh Jaewon, Bang Jeongin" (@stephanemot - 20190909 -

Hurry up - you only have a couple of weeks left to enjoy SBAU 2019 (until November 10):

SBAU 2019:

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* yes, like last time, Pyongyang is there (this time at the Seoul Hall Of Urbanism and Architecture):

"North Korea meets South Korea at Seoul Biennale Pyongyang expo. Seoul Madang, Seoul HOUR. SBAU" (20190910 -

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Moon Landing - The Cheong Wa Dae Curse

Is MOON Jae-in losing it? Is the Cheong Wa Dae curse eventually catching up with him? How much is this weird leadership crisis affecting Korea's future? And to start with, am I sounding a bit too dramatic?

Last year (see "Checks and balances"), I singled out "three disturbingly noxious axes" around which MOON's very character was being questioned:
  • is he being too much played by KIM Jong-un
  • is he letting ideology too much undermine the economy
  • is he taking too much liberty with separation of powers?
Since then, the least one could say is that MJI did nothing to clear mounting fears around these axes. Worse, the way he's coping with CHO Kuk scandals is now threatening his whole presidency to its very core.

MOON's controversial decision to stop sharing intelligence with Japan as a retaliation to Shinzo Abe's trade war on Korea perfectly illustrates the malaise around all three axes:
  • North Korea? Clearly the biggest winner of this decision (not to mention China or Russia, also pleased to see the ROK-US-Japan tripartite alliance weakened in a most sensible part). South Korea has the most to lose as KIM Jong-un's most exposed neighbor, and MOON appears once more as someone eager to seize any alibi to undermine his own country's security in favor of the North.
  • The economy? By retaliating on political and military dimensions, MOON plays ABE's hand, and makes it even more difficult to quickly solve an already tricky trade conflict that impacts key parts of Korea's badly weakened economy. If ABE started the trade war as the one shooting himself in the foot ("Japan v. Japan - Artificial Belligerence v. Artificial Intelligence"), MOON not only follows suit, but does so with a bazooka.
  • Democracy? Pulling out of 'GSOMIA'* grabs all headlines when MOON needs a diversion from the CHO Kuk scandal. The decision came out of the blue (house), without a proper debate on the impacts.
If this looks bad, what to say of MOON's obstination to support CHO Kuk, his Justice minister nominee?

Every day brings new revelations about CHO's misdeeds. The man who posed as a champion against corruption managed to bring back memories of the two most corrupt characters in the saga that led to PARK Geun-hye's impeachment: like him, CHOI Soon-sil erected an outrageous system to illegally favor her daughter's studies and career, and like him, WOO Byung-woo brought shame on SNU Law School by bending law to destroy justice.

The controversial CHO Kuk
CHO's nomination for justice seems doomed, yet MOON Jae-in keeps supporting him as stubbornly as he does for economic advisers that have like himself no clues about economics, and accelerate a downward spiral ahead of the upcoming global downturn.

The case of CHO is much more serious, and existential for MOON, but all in denial, he doesn't seem to realize what's at stake. Everybody knew he was weak on North Korea and the economy, but failing on the very values that brought him there, on justice, on fairness, on transparency... this is the ultimate betrayal, and the president is already losing his base: recent polls show that a majority of youth have now a negative opinion of him. And Korea University students as well as Seoul National University students are starting to demonstrate following the footsteps of Ewha students, who started the movement that brought down PARK, and set the tone with apolitical approaches, focusing on wrongs to be fixed (CHOI Soon-sil's daughter benefited from illegal support at Ewha, CHO's daughter at KU).

The onus is also on lawmakers from the ruling party, who will have to face the consequences of enabling this mess (if not to face history the way GOP congressmen will for enabling Trump)... but no one wants to be the catalyst before the elections, and the scapegoat for the rout. 

No political leader, left, center, or right, seems to stand out as a credible solution for the future. Could a dangerous populist emerge from the ashes of burned illusions? Korea deserves so much better. It proved so beautifully that it could rise to the highest ideals of democracy.

Of course MOON Jae-in doesn't risk impeachment for defending one rotten apple, but his capacity to run the country could be seriously challenged if he loses all support, further undermining an already weakened nation. So let's hope the President sees reason before it's too late.

Seoul Village 2019
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* General Security Of Military Information Agreement

Monday, July 1, 2019

A small step for CVID, a giant leap for Trump's ego... and North Korea's propaganda

ICYMI, from Kim-Xi to Kim-Trump-Moon, one week without crossing red lines.
=> Watch as a Twitter moment ('DMZero Progress')

'Strategic patience 2.0: Kim Jong-un tells Xi Jinping he'll be patient with Trump..." (20190622 -
'Kim Jong-un post-summit blues: "ain't no Sunshine when Xi's gone" (20190622 -

'P.S. I love you. Donald' (20190623 -

'Will Trump visit the DMZ next week? Will he meet his pen friend Kim Jong-un?' (20190623 -

'Exclusive - what Donald Trump wrote to Kim Jong-un' (20190624 -
'So we've got the answer to the first question: Trump will visit the DMZ. For the second one (Trump Kim Summit III?): Kim Jong-un's mention of DJT's 'courage' after reading his (RSVP?) letter could be a clue...' (20190624 -
'Unsurprisingly, Trump tweeted that he'd like to shake hands with Kim Jong-un at DMZ.... Expect a Moon Jae-in moment when both walk for a second on the North Korea side.' (20190629 -
'We should call them #TrumKimHandshakes, not #TrumpKimSummit. #AllFoamNoBeer' (20190629 -

'Trump strategy at the DMZ:
1 shake hands with Kim Jong-un
2 say hello
3 chat about the weather and my beautiful tweets
4 step on the other side of the MDL
5 photo ops
6 zero progress, #NorthKorea #winning

#ArtOfTheDealapidation' (20190629 -
'Watch out, Jared! Here's Harvanka - @USAmbROK' Ivanka Trump - Harry Harris (20190629 -
'Please, don't forget to wash after your courageous VX handshake!' (20190629 -
'Trump: Obama was begging to meet Kim Jong-un. In his dreams. Trump Kim Summit' (20190630 -
'#MoonJaein qualifies the dismantling of #Yongbyon #nuclear facility as the beginning of 'Irreversible' (#Denuclearization). But it wouldn't add a C or an actual I to #cvid' (20190630 -
'To the journos at #CheongWadae: does #Trump's US to Korean translator wear a #MAGA hat? Sure sounds like she does.' (20190630 -

'Choppers heading north... Trump Kim Summit' (20190630 -
'Shortly after 5~6 choppers left from downtown (above), at least 4 flew from #Yongsan. #MoonJaein joined the #DMZ ahead of #Trump for #TrumpKimSummit' (20190630 -
'The spaghetti western moment when #Trump & #KimJongun will walk to the demarcation line...' (20190630 -

'Trump realizes how close to the DMZ Seoul is...' (20190630 -
'Trump receives a golf gift. Not something to club Kim Jong-un to death with, mercifully.' (20190630 -
'Trump abducted' (20190630 -

'Kim Jong-un interviewed on the other side' (20190630 -
'We'll invite him right now to the White House' - Trump about Kim Jong-un (20190630 -
'#YTN caught the threesome #MoonJaein #KimJongun #DonaldTrump' (20190630 -
'#Trump confirmed he'll invite #KimJongun to the #WhiteHouse. With a #MAGA hat or a #Trump2020 cap? Anyway made in #China...' (20190630 -
'#KimJongun totally running the show. #Trump's passive body language speaks volumes. No plans beyond shaking hands and inviting KJU to DC.' (20190630 -
'OMG. #Javanka in the room with #Trump & #KimJongun!' (20190630 -
'I love the smell of VX in the morning' (20190630 -
'What a Barnum. Even by #Trump standards. Journos not contained at all, positioned at the last moment, 3 heads of state thrown in the newsfeed frenzy...' (20190630 -
'#Trump #WhiteHouse's guestbook: #KimJongun's signature to join among others, #MBS', #alSisi's... Make Amerika Great Again
#ArtOfTheDealapidation' (20190630 -
'Well isn't #TuckerCarlson the Secretary of #Trump Defense on Fox?' (20190630 -

'Talks restart. #Nuclear proliferation doesn't stop. #KimJongun #winning #ArtOfTheDealapidation #TrumpKimSummit' (20190630 -
'And they're back' (20190630 -

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Thursday, June 27, 2019

Magok updates

Last month, ULI organized a presentation of Magok District, starting with an update by SH Corporation, and a visit of the recently inaugurated Seoul Botanic Park, the most significant addition to the puzzle since our 3-part, May 2018 focus (Framing Magok (Part I - Location) / Magok's horizontal verticals (Part II - Cluster) / Magok's lifespace (Part III - Environment)).

'Definitely a greenhouse, and the effect that comes with one. Inside Seoul Botanic Park / 서울식물원. Magok District Seoul' (20190528 -
As expected (see the second part of that focus), bringing big players in innovation proved much easier than building a diverse and open startup ecosystem, which requires among other things a vision, planning, and free urban spaces for creativity to bloom. SH decided to devote a stretch along the waterway to a more open neighborhood (명소화거리). Let's hope it will remain low rise, not overly scripted, and free from the usual storytelling and franchises. 

Like the MICE strategy, this happens very late in the process. I couldn't help but think about Canal Walk. Cornerstone hot spots like this new street or the Magok Square should be ready from day one, with the rest of the city revolving around them, not a just final touch supposed to add some sort of soul to a big development.

As I put it in the DMC-Songdo parallel, particularly for a New Town, 'sequence is of the essence'.

'Urban planning sans urban planning. This is where Magok District's 명소화거리 will rise. A potential cornerstone for the whole neighborhood, unfortunately added very late in the project, like Sondo's CanalWalk. Hope it will be low rise, not flashy, but sustainable' (20190528 -

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Sunday, June 2, 2019

Gisaengchung - BONG Joon-ho's existenchial Parasite

BONG Joon-ho's 'Gisaengchung' ('Parasite' / '기생충') is perfectly written, filmed, and played. At times a bit too much, but only because BONG happens to be a great author, a great filmmaker, and a great director.

Before getting to that, let's push a couple of things out of our way: first, I won't give away any spoilers, and second, this is more a dark comedy than a tragicomedy. Not a new genre (very distant echoes of IM Sang-soo's 'The Housemaid', or KIM Ki-duk's '3 iron'), but a brilliant Korean movie with a universal reach. BONG proves he remains a league of his own with a unique, very theatrical object (think Feydeau meet 'Arsenic and old lace')*, and before all else, the heck of a cinematographic masterpiece. 

Is this truly BONG's chef d'oeuvre? his best movie ever? It doesn't supersede 'Memories of Murder' as my favorite Korean movie yet, but certainly made it already to my top 3**. I can't tell for sure: unlike for 'Snowpiercer' or even 'The Host', I had such great expectations for this one (even before it got the Palme d'Or in Cannes), and there's so much to take in at once.

Even as you watch Gisaengchung, you feel this narrative and visual overload. BONG forces you to realize that the gimchi will somehow hit the fan, to want to know, among all possible worst case scenarios, which one will prevail, and to enjoy the ever darker humor first permeating, then overflowing this over-the-top gem.

That may be it: an overpowering trainwreck feeling that makes the movie work, and at the same time makes you want to slow down to appreciate each and every detail. You're enjoying it too much, to the point you can't enjoy it enough. And as soon as the movie is over, you want to watch it ten more times. Lucky Darcy Paquet, who watched it seven times to deliver the English subtitles***... and cursed Darcy, who had to keep everything all to himself until the movie was released!

So kudos to BONG Joon-ho the author, for keeping us under his spell, and for delivering another powerful social satire, But also kudos to BONG Joon-ho the filmmaker, for implanting haunting images and other sensorial stimulations inside our brains (best rain pandemonium ever, best olfactory effects ever). And kudos to BONG Joon-ho the director for getting the best from an outstanding cast.

CHOI Woo-sik (Ki-woo), SONG Kang-ho (Ki-taek), JANG Hye-jin (Chung-sook), PARK So-dam (Ki-jung)
Of course, BONG can thank SONG once more: his favorite actor SONG Kang-ho proved again that he was a genius at playing dumb in a thousand different and creative ways. 

But what to say of the women in this movie! Yes, the versatile LEE Jung-eun steals the show, like the multifaceted Miranda Richardson did in Spider, but did she really need that Ri Chun-hee impersonation, or was that just BONG's special bonus for Western audiences? And if the confident PARK So-dam and the insecure CHO Yeo-jeong were absolutely perfect in their roles, I was totally bluffed by JANG Hye-jin's performance as Gisaengchung's unsung cornerstone, between this stinky basement full of life, and that cold, bright mansion. Too early to tell if the young JUNG Ziso is the new Doona BAE.

If the male side looks weaker, that's because the roles demand it, starting with CHOI Woo-sik's or JUNG Hyeon-jun's. Yet LEE Sun-kyun portrayed a credible Chairman PARK.

Gisaengchung poster
The French poster for Cannes Festival

So go watch this brilliant epic. And let yourself get infected.

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* so theatrical, they even invited PARK Jeong-ja's voice to the trailer ** even if I can't kick anyone out of my "Seoul Village Movies"
*** again, Darcy, you had a Deborah Smith / Han Kang moment with this one!

'Unexpected director's cut: Agnes Varda welcomes you to KU Cinematheque' (20190531 -

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