TIME movies

The Japanese Are Fat-Shaming the New Godzilla

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Poster for the upcoming reboot of "Godzilla" Warner Bros.

The Hollywood reboot of the Japanese monster film hits theaters on May 16, but Japanese fans are already annoyed by how "massive" the monster appears in trailers

Many Americans are waiting in anticipation for the May 16 premiere of Godzilla, a Bryan Cranston-starring reboot of the 1954 Japanese horror classic. And the recent string of trailers has only increased excitement.

But in Japan, fans of the original film aren’t exactly thrilled with the look of the new Godzilla. In fact, some fans are down-right annoyed with how fat the monster appears in the American trailer. “When I finally saw it, I was a bit taken aback,” Godzilla fan Fumihiko super-fan Abe told the AFP at a Tokyo exhibition of paintings of the monster. “It’s fat from the neck downwards and massive at the bottom.”

Other fans joked online that the American version of the monster had “done a ‘super-size me,’” calling it “a calorie monster” and “Godzilla Deluxe.” And perhaps the most cutting insult of all, posted to a Japanese forum, read, “He’s so fat, I laughed.”

Luckily for Japanese fans, who will get the opportunity to judge the reboot in theaters in late May, it sounds as if the Hollywood version of Godzilla doesn’t actually feature that much Godzilla, fat or otherwise. Vulture reports that the monster is an “elusive presence” in the film.

[AFP]

TIME China

Obama Ends Asia Tour in China’s Long Shadow

President Obama delivers remarks to US and Philippine troops at Fort Bonifacio in Manila on April 29, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks to U.S. and Philippine troops at Fort Bonifacio in Manila on April 29, 2014 Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

The region's biggest power remained the proverbial dragon in the room throughout the U.S. President's weeklong tour to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. But the more he said the visits weren't about China, the less that rang true

U.S. President Barack Obama’s four-nation tour of Asia ended Tuesday with a speech at Manila’s Fort Bonifacio. Standing in a gymnasium packed with camo-clad soldiers, Obama spoke about the 10-year military pact signed Monday. The agreement, which was the centerpiece of his visit to the Philippines, will give U.S. planes, warships and troops greater access to the archipelago. Many Filipinos see the deal as a counter to China, with which the country is locked in a bitter maritime dispute. Obama insists it is not. “Deepening our alliance is part of our broader vision for the Asia-Pacific,” he said.

Left unsaid, of course what this “vision” for Asia means for the region’s rising power, China. The recurring theme of Obama’s tour was that it was not about Beijing. This was a friendly visit, full stop — and it was indeed full of well-wishes and vows of trust. Yet the more Obama denied it was about China, the less it rang true. Through stops in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, China loomed large — the proverbial dragon, or panda, in the room.

The mixed messaging underscores the challenge of one of the Obama Administration’s signature foreign policy initiatives: the so-called pivot to Asia. The plan calls for the U.S. to shift resources away from the Middle East to East Asia, where they see more opportunity ahead. But China is also expanding its influence in the region. And Obama chose to visit four countries that are wary of China’s rise.

“President Obama obviously wants to avoid any appearances that this is part of a new Cold War with China,” says Mark Thompson, director of the Southeast Asia Research Centre at City University of Hong Kong. “But this is a tricky balancing act because this is increasingly how the U.S.’s traditional allies that he is visiting are viewing things.”

Take Japan. President Obama’s visit to Tokyo came amid ongoing Sino-Japanese territorial disputes. A set of rocks, called the Senkaku in Japanese and the Diaoyu in Mandarin, is administered by Japan but also claimed by China. The U.S. maintains a neutral stance on their ownership. But while in Tokyo, Obama said for the first time that the islets are covered by the security treaty that commits the U.S. to defend Japan should it be attacked — a boon for hawkish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but not great news for the Chinese.

It was a similar story in the Philippines, where the signing of a military pact and a speech to soldiers did much to counter the notion that the visit was, as Obama insisted, not about countering China, but rather, deepening long-standing ties. “The Obama strategy is military deterrence and balancing, combined with political and economic engagement,” says Minxin Pei, a China scholar at Claremont McKenna College, in California. “The problem with this strategy is that the Chinese tend to take the engagement part for granted and see the deterrence part as pure containment.”

Even in South Korea, which is not embroiled in a territorial dispute with China, Beijing was, at times, a silent presence. In Seoul, Obama announced that the U.S. and South Korea agreed on a binational defense team that, in the event of war, would put South Korean troops under U.S. control. Citing signs that North Korea plans to conduct another nuke test, Obama warned the U.S. would “will not hesitate to use our military might” to defend its allies. Yet there is a growing sense that to move forward with North Korea, it is China, not the U.S. or South Korea, that holds the key.

And then there’s Malaysia, a country with whom neither the U.S. nor China has particularly strong ties. A recent editorial in Global Times, a Beijing-backed newspaper, claimed the Obama visit — the first by a sitting President since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 — was a reward for Malaysia adopting a harder stance toward China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. If that’s the case, Obama certainly isn’t saying. But he certainly stepped lightly in Kuala Lumpur, choosing not to visit opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is appealing charges of sodomy that he says are politically motivated. The President also failed to convince Malaysia (or Japan for that matter) to commit further to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-country trade bloc that does not include China.

Still, the host countries gained much: Japan’s Abe got U.S. cover for his rightism; the Philippines and South Korea received some military muscle; and Malaysia’s leaders gained prestige from hobnobbing with Obama. Beijing seems quite content to let all this play out. State media predictably lashed out at Obama’s pledge on the Senkaku/Diaoyu islets and had some stern words on the U.S.-Philippines military agreement. But the official response to Pivot 2.0 was uncharacteristically measured, almost dismissive. When asked about Obama’s visit at a regular press conference Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, “Whether it [was] to counter China or not, we will tell based on what the U.S. says and does.” As for China not being on the itinerary, Qin riffed on a saying that traces back to a Qing-era love poem: “You come or you don’t come, I’m right here.”

TIME Food & Drink

Restaurant Tries to Make Dining Alone Less Awkward by Seating Patrons with Giant Stuffed Animals

Much less conspicuous

Ever feel self-conscious eating out alone? Moomin Café in Tokyo has recently gone viral because gigantic stuffed animals are seated across the table from solo diners in an attempt to reduce any discomfort.

Waiters enthusiastically pair parties of one with characters from a Finnish picture book series.

While a dining partner that looks like a hippopotamus certainly won’t make your table any less conspicuous, will you really be worried about other people’s opinions when you have this punim resting over your pancakes?

Some of the meals appear to be inspired by the stuffed animals, too:

This restaurant might even be more magical than the cat cafe that opened in New York.

(h/t: First We Feast)

TIME

South Korean Ferry Disaster Mirrors Earlier Japanese Boat Capsizing

The South Korean disaster was strangely similar to a 2009 Japanese boat's sinking

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In 2009, the Ariake, a Japanese ferry on its way to Okinawa through rough currents, capsized and slowly sank.

Five years later, the Korean ferry Sewol capsized and sank in rough currents as well, only this time the ship trapped hundreds of high school students on its way down.

The incidents are not merely similar, they’re nearly identical: The two ships were made by the same builder, run by the same operator and capsized at roughly the same time into their journey. Since the Ariake’s accident, Japan has taken steps to make ships safer, precautions that might have prevented the Sewol tragedy.

TIME Japan

U.S. and Japan Fail to Reach Trade Deal During Obama’s Visit

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe attend a joint news conference after their meeting at the State Guest House on April 24, 2014 in Tokyo.
President Barack Obama and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe attend a joint news conference after their meeting at the State Guest House on April 24, 2014 in Tokyo. The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images

The U.S. and Japan failed to reach a last-minute bilateral trade deal during President Obama's visit this week, which would have paved the way for a 12-nation, U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, the main economic component of Obama’s "pivot" to Asia

The U.S failed to reach a last-minute agreement on a bilateral trade deal with Japan during President Barack Obama’s trip this week. Clinching the deal would have paved the way for a 12-nation U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, the main economic component of Obama’s foreign policy “pivot” to Asia.

Japan’s Minister of State for Economic Revitalization Akira Amari and U.S. trade representative Michael Froman made a final effort during President Obama’s visit to Japan, after conducting talks for over three weeks, but the two parties didn’t see eye to eye on most of the major contentious issues, the Wall Street Journal reports.

A Senior Administration official told reporters on board Air Force One en route from Japan to Seoul, South Korea that the U.S. and Japan would continue trade talks despite the two’ countries failure to reach a final agreement while Obama was in Japan. The official also said Obama’s presence was critical in bridging a gap on one particular set of disagreements between the two countries.

The U.S. had aimed to conclude talks last year. However, Japan refused to meet its demands for an elimination of all tariffs, offering only tariff reductions for sensitive farm products such as beef and pork.

“If Japan wants to push forward in this new century, then reforms are going to have to take place,” Obama said at a news conference on Thursday. “Trans-Pacific Partnership is consistent with those reforms.”

 

[WSJ]

TIME Barack Obama

Watch: Obama Meets ‘Scary’ Humanoid Robot In Japan

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On the second day of his visit to Japan Thursday, President Barack Obama toured the country’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation where he came face to face with the tiny Honda-built humanoid robot ASIMO.

“It’s nice to meet you,” the robot said in a metallic voice, welcoming Obama to the facility. It then proceeded to run around and kick a soccer ball at the commander-in-chief, who deftly stopped it.

But the experience left Obama spooked. He later quipped, “I have to say that the robots were a little scary, they were too lifelike,” he said. “They were amazing.”

TIME

VIDEO: Obama Met a Robot on His Tokyo Trip

The revolution has begun

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It’s finally happened: The President has gone head-to-head with a robot.

President Barack Obama played soccer against a ASIMO, a very lifelike robot created by Honda, at the Natural Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo on Thursday.

Despite sharing some friendly conversation and bowing to one other out of respect, Obama later confessed to the Associated Press that “the robots were a little scary. They were too life-like.”

MORE: Smooth Moves: The History and Evolution of Honda’s ASIMO Robot

 

TIME Syria

Almost All of Syria’s Chemical Weapons Have Now Been Removed

German Company To Destroy Syrian Chemical Weapons
A worker stands next to a machine that will be used to destroy chemical weapons from Syria during a press day at the GEKA facility on March 5, 2014 in Munster, Germany. GEKA is federally-funded and its sole function is the destruction of chemical weapons from military arsenals. Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons last August and disposal, which is already underway on an American ship in the Mediterranean, is scheduled to be completed by June. Nigel Treblin—Getty Images

President Obama says the removal of 87% of Syria's chemical arsenal can be credited to U.S. leadership, even as Syrian opposition groups claim forces loyal to President Bashar Assad had used chlorine gas in several attacks last month

Syria is close to having shipped out all of its chemical weapons, U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday.

“Eighty-seven percent of Syria’s chemical weapons have already been removed, ” Obama said, speaking at a joint press conference in Tokyo, where he is on a state visit.

“That is a consequence of U.S. leadership. The fact that we didn’t have to fire a missile to get that accomplished is not a failure to uphold international norms, it’s a success,” the President said, stressing that it’s not a “complete success until we have the last 13% out.”

Obama’s remarks followed Tuesday’s statement from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the group monitoring the destruction of the stockpile of chemical weapons, which said that the June 30 deadline for the complete removal of chemical weapons was within reach.

“We hope that the remaining two or three consignments are delivered quickly to permit destruction operations to get underway in time to meet the mid-year deadline for destroying Syria’s chemical weapons,” H.E. Mr. Ahmet Üzümcü, the director-general of OPCW, said.

The U.S. President’s comments also come after accusations by Syrian opposition groups that the Assad regime used chlorine gas against civilians in several attacks the last month. American, British and French government officials have said that there are “strong indications” of gas having been used.

TIME Asia

Obama to Japan: Yes, the U.S. Will Defend You

JAPAN-US-DIPLMACY
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe following a bilateral press conference at the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo on April 24, 2014 Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

The President has said for the first time he would defend Japan if disputed islands claimed by both Japan and China come under attack

Just how low would he go? In November 2009, as Barack Obama shook hands in Tokyo with Japan’s Emperor Akihito, the U.S. President bowed his head deeply in the Japanese tradition. The deferential greeting kicked up a minifirestorm back in the U.S., with right-wing Americans chastising Obama for somehow submitting to a foreign power.

On April 24, Obama, on an Asian tour that was delayed by last fall’s U.S. government shutdown, again met with Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. No deep bows were in evidence this time. Instead, Obama used the morning meeting at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace for a little levity, joking that in the intervening four years, his hair had turned gray. “You have a very hard job,” the Emperor responded.

Obama is kicking off his four-nation Asia trip with a state visit to Japan, where he is underscoring the allies’ security ties and pushing for a trade pact that faces hurdles in both Washington and Tokyo. While the President will not stop in China this time around, Beijing’s growing regional footprint will surely be a matter of discussion in all the countries he will visit: Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. All of these nations are currently involved in territorial disputes with China, mostly over tiny uninhabited bits of rock in contested waters.

One of the conflicts involves islets in the East China Sea that Japan administers but to which China lays claim. Since the Japanese government nationalized some of the outcrops in 2012, maritime and aerial confrontations between Beijing and Tokyo have increased significantly. The U.S. says it does not take a stand on who actually owns the scattering of rocks, called the Senkaku in Japanese and the Diaoyu in Mandarin. But speaking alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Thursday, the U.S. President for the first time acknowledged in a press conference that the disputed islands are covered by the security treaty that commits the U.S. to defending Japan should it come under attack.

Japan’s postwar constitution, which was written by the occupying Americans, emphasizes a commitment to peace from a former imperial aggressor that marched across Asia during the first half of the last century. The charter precludes Japan from possessing a normal military, and it has never been amended — a rare, untouched document among democracies today.

The proudly patriotic Abe, who has a rare electoral mandate after the country cycled through six leaders in as many years, wants to change the constitution (or at least the interpretation of it) in order to enable the establishment of a more conventional army. Specifically, he wants to allow for what’s called “collective defense,” in which Japan can help defend an ally under attack, like a U.S. ship from a North Korean missile, for example. Local polls, however, show that many Japanese aren’t convinced by Abe’s wish for constitutional revision.

As the Pacific’s policeman, the U.S. has helped keep regional peace for decades. Obama has made clear his intentions to rebalance American foreign policy toward the Asia-Pacific. But with regional tensions increasing, amid China’s more assertive defense of its territorial claims, a little backup from an Asian ally wouldn’t be unwelcomed by America. Under Abe, Japan’s defense spending has begun to increase slightly after an 11-year lull. While Japan can only form a defensive armed forces, its military spending is the world’s sixth largest. In remarks before Abe and Obama’s bilateral meeting on Thursday morning, the Japanese Prime Minister noted that “the alliance between these two nations is indispensable and irreplaceable as the foundation for a peaceful and prosperous Asia-Pacific region.”

On Thursday afternoon, Obama will visit Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine, a top tourist site and sacred spot in Japan’s indigenous Shinto faith.

Two days before, another North American made headlines by visiting an altogether more controversial Shinto place of worship in Tokyo. Canadian pop star Justin Bieber posted pictures online of his stop at Yasukuni Shrine, where the souls of 2.5 million Japanese war dead are enshrined, among them top war criminals responsible for Japan’s military expansion across Asia. The Yasukuni complex also houses a war-history museum that downplays atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers. Bieber’s visit earned him the wrath of Chinese fans, and he quickly apologized for causing any offense.

In December, on the one-year anniversary of his latest stint as PM, Abe became the first Japanese leader since 2006 to visit Yasukuni. The pilgrimage earned him an expression of “disappointment” from the U.S. embassy in Tokyo. (At the Thursday press conference with Obama, Abe explained that his visit was to honor the war dead in general, not war criminals.) On April 22, one day before Obama arrived in Japan, nearly 150 Japanese legislators visited Yasukuni, spurring a furious response from Chinese and South Korean officials.

Emperor Akihito’s father Hirohito (known in Japan as the Showa Emperor) used to pay homage at Yasukuni. But he stopped visiting after 1978 when 14 top war criminals’ names were added to the shrine’s honor rolls. Emperor Akihito has not paid his respects at Yasukuni, either — a pointed absence by a figure venerated in state Shinto, a version of the faith that focuses heavily on imperial worship.

Obama will meet with Emperor Akihito two more times during his Japan visit, once at a Thursday dinner and another time at a farewell on Friday before the U.S. President heads to South Korea. It’s a pretty safe bet that Obama won’t be breaking out any low bows at either occasion.

TIME Ukraine

Further Sanctions on Russia Are ‘Teed Up’ Obama Says

President Obama speaks during a joint news conference with Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister, unseen, at the State Guest House in Tokyo, April 24, 2014.
President Obama speaks during a joint news conference with Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister, unseen, at the State Guest House in Tokyo, April 24, 2014. Junko Kimura-Matsumoto—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Tension between the U.S. and Russia continues to escalate as President Obama says new sanctions could be days away and Moscow claims the U.S. is fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine, where state buildings in several towns have been seized by pro-Russian separatists

President Barack Obama has announced that the implementation of a new round of sanctions against Russia might be only a matter of days, “not weeks”, away and noted that such measures were already “teed up”.

He was speaking at a press conference during a visit to Tokyo.

“We continue to see men taking over buildings, harassing folks who are disagreeing with them … and we haven’t seen Russia discouraging that,” said Obama, referring to the seizure of public buildings in several towns and cities in east Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists. He also went on to criticize the Kremlin for failing to abide by the “spirit or letter” of an accord hammered out on the Ukraine crisis in Switzerland last Thursday.

The threat of new penalties comes after the U.S. expanded targeted sanctions against aides and business leaders with ties to Russian President Vladmir Putin late last month, in the wake of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the U.S. of colluding with Kiev and failing to hold up its end of the Geneva deal.

“I don’t have any reasons not to believe that the Americans are running the show in a very close way,” said Lavrov during an interview with Russia Today on Wednesday.

During the course of the interview, Lavrov accused the White House of focusing on unrest in eastern Ukraine but failing to put pressure on Kiev to disarm the armed nationalist group Right Sector, which Moscow claims engaged pro-Russia groups at Easter in a deadly skirmish that killed at least three people. Kiev has dismissed the skirmish the work of provocateurs.

Lavrov went on to suggest that further attacks against ethnic Russians in the region could ignite military action from the Kremlin. “Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian Federation,” said Lavrov. An estimated 40,000 Russian troops are massed near the Ukrainian border and poised for battle, according to NATO’s high command.

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