Kimi no Na wa, a visual dream that could use a splash more history

With how much I adore Hayao Miyazaki films (Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle being my picks), I’m shocked it took me this long to hear about and get around to Makoto Shinkai’s film Kimi no Na wa (aka “Your Name”). Special thanks to Kevin for introducing it to me and asking me to jot down these first impressions.

REVIEW] 'Your Name' (Kimi no Na wa) | Rotoscopers

The film is about a country girl Mitsuha and city boy Taki who swap bodies and live out the other’s life in their dreams. There is a subplot on time travel that culminates around a rare comet passing overhead, which itself is a rich, technicolor piece de resistance to a stunning visual experience. I won’t spoil the ending, but I’ll say the the film’s magic is best experienced firsthand. I wish I had had the chance to see this in theaters on a big screen.

Beyond the visual splendor of the film, the plot revolves around a young love story. It’s written as a romance exploring the idea of a “soulmate,” but I believe the protagonists’ development could have been equally fulfilling left as a coming-of-age self-discovery story. For example, from the onset of the film, we get flashes of Mitsuha’s listless and lonely life; she feels unseen. With a father who neglects her, a sister who is too young to be her listener, and friends who have blindly accepted their small town lives, Mitsuha feels trapped and bored in her countryside life. It’s no wonder she grows frustrated and one day yells into the void wishing she could be a “handsome Tokyo boy in her next life.” Careful what you wish for.

Mitsuha’s wish to experience life as a “handsome Tokyo boy” feels like a nod to two tensions: one of tradition versus modernity and the other of different freedom of the sexes. Japan is a country steeped in tradition, so it’s no surprise that Mitsuha holds the perception that she could only lead an interesting, free life as a boy in a big, bustling city. Her life kept pulling her to an olden world while Taki’s Tokyo life reflected the future.

I wish Shinkai had spent more time exploring this cultural tension, especially from Taki’s side too. There is a tremendous amount of backstory on Mitsuha, especially about her family (along with an explanation for why she might be having these body-swapping dreams), but there’s very little on Taki’s history. It’s unclear why he’s having the same body swapping dreams and if he had aspirations for a simpler, pastoral life. It would have, for me, made it more believable that he could fall in love with a random country girl far away.

Shinkai uses Japanese Shinto religion, belief in the supernatural, and spirituality as a way to explore the ideas of fate and time, but if only he had another half hour in the film to dig into them. There are several scenes between Mitsuha and her grandmother, where they touch on the spiritual significance of nature and rituals, that feel under-explored. I was left hanging when her grandmother seemed to notice that Mitsuha was not herself and implied how it’s something that runs in her family, but the film doesn’t have the time or desire to expand on the family history.

Despite my wish for more depth to the characters, my favorite part of the film is hands down Shinkai’s interpretation on memory. Memories are often ephemeral and flawed but they are permanent in their emotional resonance. Neither Mitsuha nor Taki can recall the details of what happened when they switch bodies, so they start to keep a diary on their phones as recap for when each wakes to his or her original body. However, they’re able to maintain their emotional connectedness, even as time and memory start to warp so much so that they can’t recall each others’ names (hence the film’s title). While they never get to be together, the two appreciate how the other makes them feel stronger, braver, and loved. It reminds me of the quintessential Maya Angelou quote, “People will forget what you said…[or] did, but [they’ll] never forget how you made them feel.”

Kimi no Na wa is the kind of special film I need to watch 3, 4, 5+ times to appreciate all of its components. I didn’t even touch on the music — a mix of mostly Japanese upbeat pop — in this review, but that’s what I’ll be paying attention to the next time I watch.

Teaching Hard History: American Slavery

Source: https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/tt_hard_history_american_slavery.pdf

Author: Southern Poverty Law Center, 2018

Results:

8% of U.S. high school seniors could identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War.

68% of the surveyed students did not know that slavery formally ended only with an amendment to the Constitution.

22% of students could correctly identify how provisions in the Constitution gave advantages to slaveholders.

44% of students answered that slavery was legal in all colonies during the American Revolution.

An Antidote to Helplessness

I have three windows open, but I’d be lying if I said I could see clearly right now. Each window features so many tabs that the tightly packed icons have been rendered nearly indistinguishable. It’s a decent reflection of my frenetic brain state these last few days.

Many of our lives — mine included — were upended these last two weeks. We went from commuting to our offices to cordoning off “home offices” inside cramped apartments, and from rarely giving thought to hand washing to doing so every chance we get for fear of hurting ourselves and others around us. Those are just two of the most obvious behavioral changes we’ve had to make.

It’s a testament to our ability to adapt that so many of us found normalcy in shifting swiftly to remote work, living in lockdown, and taking self-quarantine measures. For me, however, it only heightens an awareness of the invisible lines that divide the privileged and the less so. If I’m being honest, I feel guilty and insecure. Because while I continue to work with little business continuity risk, I have a parent whose small business was forced to close, friends who have been furloughed, and family and friends left to unduly risk their lives as healthcare practitioners.

Thankfully, times of crisis have a funny way of bringing things into focus. Amidst my guilt and fear, I am also hopeful. Before us is an unprecedented opportunity to take care of each other, to prioritize our loved ones, and to give back to our communities. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the headlines and feeling small and worried that you’re not doing enough, you’re not alone. We have a long way to go before this pandemic subsides, and an even longer time before our global economy regains its footing. But instead of giving into helplessness, I’m choosing hope and the effective actions that rise from it. 

If you’re asking yourself, “How can I make a difference when so many things are broken?” start small. Even one text saying, “How’s it going? Thinking of you.” can brighten someone’s whole day in trying times. Here is a shortlist of actions I’ve taken and been inspired by as antidotes to helplessness, one tiny act of kindness at a time. If any of them move you and you are in a position of privilege, I encourage you to give (or anything similar). In moments like these, even the smallest acts of compassion will have ripple effects.


🙏 Support your community and beyond

  • My younger sister is a nurse at one of the most preeminent cancer hospitals in the U.S. Two weeks ago, her floor was designated the coronavirus floor, so for now and the foreseeable future, she is on the frontlines of coronavirus care without the requisite masks and personal protective equipment (PPE). We can do our part by (1) not hoarding them for ourselves and (2) donating to organizations like shipping and logistics startup Flexport to support the sourcing and transport of these critical supplies. Mask a Hero NY is also helping connect those who can donate mask supplies with hospital workers in need.  
  • Volunteer to serve meals to our sick, elderly, and vulnerable. In San Francisco, there are great organizations like Meals on Wheels, Project Open Hand, or any of the number of non-profits or food banks listed here, all of which need volunteers, supplies, or funds.
  • There may never be a better time to foster a shelter pet. Is this to help a precious dog or for me to get emotional support? Why not both, and I’m certainly keeping my fingers crossed to hear back from San Francisco’s SPCA and Muttville.

🤝 Find strength in solidarity

  • Throw a virtual party. Finding ways to connect is more important than ever, given social isolation and loneliness can lead to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions. South Korea popularized virtually eating together, and self quarantine shouldn’t stop you from having all sorts of virtual get togethers: happy hour, playing Catan together, or even celebrating your birthday (🎉, Lee!). For those in San Francisco and beyond, I’ll be hosting another virtual block party hosted on Icebreaker soon! Message me here if you’d like to join.
  • Practice #PhysicallyDistantSociallyClose by joining new tribes. Redditers were way ahead of us when it comes to finding hyper-connected online communities revolving around niche interests. A few places to get started:
    • Join a Book Club (built by the avid readers and builders behind Highlighter)
    • Quarantine Together (supported by the wonderful InterIntellect community)
    • Check out Instagram Live videos by your favorite Influencers. I’ve had tons of fun joining Jessica Olie for yoga practice, tuning into friends’ Live sessions featuring their personal passions like baking and tarot reading, and sending love to local SF choreographers who are making the most of this quarantine by hosting their own IG Live dance classes (In fact, now is a great opportunity to take online classes from teachers and choreographers all over the world who wouldn’t normally offer them.)

💸 Pay it forward

  • For food deliveries or groceries, tip generously. Before local stores and my laundromat closed, I purchased gift cards to use for when they re-open. You can still support local businesses by purchasing gift cards here, here, and here (last one is for SF only).
  • Those who are already the most vulnerable will be disproportionately hit by this economic lockdown. These are the individuals and families without a financial safety net, the ability to WFH, without safe homes, access to affordable health care or education, etc. While our government leaders, economists, and lawmakers debate an economic stimulus, if you’re able, a few organizations worth checking out and supporting:
    • The One Fair Wage Emergency Fund provides cash assistance to service workers.
    • Donate the money you would have spent on your daily commute or coffee habit to Cancel Corona, a collection of nonprofits supporting the communities hurt by coronavirus. 
    • My friend Lyndsey wrote up her own helpful guide on all the ways you can pay it forward (and stay sane).

💕 Take care of yourself

  • With limitations on being outside, it’s important to be intentional about getting enough movement in your day to maintain both physical strength and mental acuity. Tons of gyms have started to release online classes, but here are two of my favorite free workout resources:
    • Melissa Wood Health for short-but-tough workouts using only your own body weight. She offers a 7-day free trial and a few free flows on her YouTube.
    • HIIT workouts courtesy of former Australian Pole Vaulter Amanda Bisk will have you working up a sweat.
  • Introverts, rejoice! Want a new book to read? Here are my recommendations. Need something new to watch? Binge watch your celebrity hero on MasterClass. Need a moment of distraction-free productivity?  Try FocusMate or Focused. Been meaning to brush up on your cooking skills? Why not try a new covid-19-ready recipe or learn all 59 ways to cook an egg. Want to learn a new instrument and support out-of-work musicians? Check out MaestroMatch.

Nothing is too small, and every donation of our time, money, and mindshare counts. Thank you to the many friends who inspired me to give and to continue giving. That said, we’re only scratching the surface of what will require massive action from our local and federal governments.

In the meantime, “you are more powerful than you think.” So let me know in what ways you’re giving back, other ways I may be able to contribute or highlight other efforts big or small, and our collective efforts will help strengthen and rebuild our communities.

And since I have you: If you’re healthy, stay healthy. Call your loved ones. Wash your hands. Be kind.

💕

Special thank you to Jen, Mason, and Phillip for reading earlier drafts, and to the friends who moved me with their ways of giving back during this crisis: Roy, Lisa, Aleka, Shawn, Nitin, Paula, Noah, and many others.

 

The extra 1%

At work, I have a note that reads:

1.01^365 = 37.8 vs. 0.99^365 = 0.03

The one additional percent of effort, over the course of a year, compounds into a dramatically different result than one percent less of effort. It’s a daily reminder that a little hustle goes a long way. 

From Ingestion to Digestion: lessons from a year in books, podcasts, and dialogue

52 weeks of education from 52 books, 500+ hours of podcasts, and endless conversations

Fueled by technology, our society is obsessed with the new and next big thing. While neomania drives our ability to continually ideate/design/build/ship, it also leaves little time for introspection and reflection. I’m no exception. I have a genuine love for enrichment through education, and my brain acts as a sponge, absorbing knowledge and constantly seeking its applications. This time last year, I set out intent on ensuring that my learning did not stop simply because I was no longer in an academic setting.

Over 52 weeks, I read 52 books, listened to 500+ hours of podcasts, perused thousands of articles/blog posts, and enjoyed a myriad of interesting conversations. But ingesting information for the sake of information isn’t nearly as valuable as digesting it, drawing your own conclusions, and sharing it with others. There is tremendous value in pausing to look back on all that has been gathered to connect the dots. Dakota Shane Nunley wrote a great piece reflecting on his life learnings from this past year so I wanted to write some of my own takeaways in hopes of paying tribute to my contemporary mentors.

From doctors and economists to venture capitalists and everyone in between, a new generation of thinkers and creators are leading the charge to change the world. The following 5 points were key lessons they expressed or demonstrated time and time again that we can apply to better our own lives.

1. Set positive constraints

“Decisions lead to options, options to choices, choices to freedom.” — MK Asante

It seems counter-intuitive. Constraints usually hold negative connotations, but positive ones can help keep our harried lives in check. Once we identify our priorities, we can set rules around them, which in turn can be incredibly liberating.

For many successful individuals, waking up at or before 5am was the norm. This gave them ample opportunity to read, meditate, spend a few hours devoted to their most important morning rituals. For others, I often saw a recurring commitment to spend time with loved ones sans tech. Emails were only to be checked at certain times of day and time off meant time unplugged.

These micro decisions did not come at the expense of convenience. Instead, they behaved as guidelines to optimize happiness.

2. The path to success is rarely linear

Very few people interviewed or written about knew exactly what they wanted to do/be when they grew older. Some had a semblance of the industry they wanted to be in or some functional role they wanted to occupy, but the most impressive, knowledgeable leaders revealed a non-linear career progression.

By being unafraid to replace what they do with what they aspired to do, they opened doors to meeting people and being exposed to new industries. This provided unique opportunities to grow and be challenged while others around them provided support and resources.

“When you say what you want, you give others the opportunity to help you make your dreams come true.” — Bruce Kasanoff

Look at the diverse careers of John Maeda, Andrew Chen, and Karlie Kloss. Heck, look at the Rock (ahem, that’s Dwayne The Rock Johnson). They are proof that success is not just one upward vertical climb.

3. Be obsessed

Look at this awesome iceberg image. That is why every single accomplished person is obsessed with whatever it is they do.


Success is bright and shiny and easily celebrated. What is rarely highlighted is the grueling work it takes to get there.

To get better at something, it takes commitment and diligence. Atul Gawande said that “[betterment] does not take genius…it takes a willingness to try.” No one writes about what lies beneath the tip of the success iceberg because more often than not, diligence is mundane. So find something to be obsessed with to make the hundred thousand steps to betterment worthwhile.

4. The devil is in the details

The importance of user experience was stressed above all else this year. Especially when it came to technology and digital content, the maturation of the web meant that design remained as a key product differentiator.

It’s easy to write off great design because good design solutions feel obvious. Facebook designer Julie Zhou and sushi chef Jiro Ono both understood that mastering the art of simplicity entailed a deep understanding of complexity’s depth and being able to strip away the non-essentials. This process calls for a venerable number of iterations, a painstaking attention to detail, and a holistic understanding of the essence of a product.

Without such meticulous behavior, we would have been stuck with functional products that never graduated to become the usable and beautiful products we know and love today.

5. Ask honestly and listen earnestly

Every single writer, CEO, designer, founder, contributor repeated this mantra in one way or another. If I could recommend one book from the dozens I read this year, it would hands down be Americanah by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In it, she has a quote that encapsulates this last point that I won’t even try to paraphrase:

“ If you don’t understand, ask questions. If you’re uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It’s easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here’s to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.”

Ask honestly and listen earnestly. Doing so can only spread a little more empathy to the world.

Consolidating a full year’s worth of knowledge into five points almost does a disservice to the collective wisdom of all the information out there. It’s been humbling to have access to so much, only to realize that what I have learned only scratches the surface of many of these subjects.

But I’m also excited. We can learn via almost any medium today and as more and more people around the world gain access to the web, anyone with internet connection can access this knowledge. We can learn more, faster, better than ever before so long as we are humble enough to admit what we don’t know. All of these lessons remain tried and true, and as we head into another year, I can only hope to continue learning and adding to this list.

For anyone who is curious, you can find my 2015 reads here, and I always welcome book/podcast/article suggestions via my twitter @minney_cat.

Special thanks: 
The quantity and quality of information I ingested this year would have been impossible without the help of some of my new favourite apps. Even within the veritable mountain of quality content out there, Overcast, Pocket, Medium, This.cm, and Airtable were instrumental in gathering, recommending, organizing, and consolidating the very best to help me on this educational journey.

 

Introducing: In What World, a podcast

Conversations on how tech is changing society

Originally posted to our Medium Publication ‘In What World

A few weeks ago, my co-host Patrick and I launched the pilot episode of our podcast, In What World. In it, Patrick and I talk about some of today’s shifting technologies and how they are redefining our understanding of social, economic relations. And as we release more episodes, we wanted to share some words on how and why In What World came to be.

…..

Patrick and I are part of a unique generation that’s experienced one hell of a technological revolution. We remember what it was like to watch movies on VHS, learn to type on some of the first web pages on The World Wide Web, and stay in touch with our friends via AIM. Two decades later, we’re living in an even more sophisticated society that boasts online social networks connecting millions (sometimes billions) of users, mobile devices rivaling the computing power of desktops, and an increasingly online world.

These advancements have made the seemingly impossible possible and ushered in a new era of amazing products, services, and companies. With the transition into a consumerism driven culture, we in the developed world experience nearly instantaneous communication, access to troves of data, and convenience like never before. And admittedly, we’ve largely benefited from a host of these novelties.

Patrick and I met via an app — the kind of tech whose existence is evidence of the shifting ways in which people interact. We met to make new friends in a new city but remained connected for our shared love for conversation. We spent a lot of time talking about how ordinary lives are being shaped by extraordinary changes and asked each other challenging questions on what that might mean for our future. These concerns don’t have black and white implications, and we’re not exactly sure how the future will shape out. However, we are sure of this:

technology is changing how we interact with the world, and we need to talk about
how it’s doing so.

The tech industry holds fast to its belief in “build now, mend later.” And while the lean, iterative process of creation enables enormous creativity and risk-taking, it leaves little room for reflection. So after months of dialogue, we decided to create this podcast to share our thoughts with you.

In What World is our place to discuss how recent innovations are impacting lives. We believe that thoughtful conversations can help us become better informed individuals, and we hope you’ll enjoy what we make. Along the way, we’ll continue to share our process of creating this podcast and what we are learning from it as well.

And we want you to be a part of our conversations. So Tweet at us, write to us, and let us know what’s on your mind in the world of tech in society. We’ll continue to need your honest feedback on what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s missing to deliver a meaningful audial experience.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned.

A Decision that Betrays SXSW’s History

The original edition of this post can be found at my Medium page, @minnkim

To be clear, I am not a gamer. I’m not plugged into the video game community. However, I feel strongly about the influence prominent and established organizations can have on the promotion of open discourse. SXSW Interactive had an opportunity to set a positive example, and their recent cancellation of two gaming culture panels following online threats is not only disheartening but unfaithful to SXSW’s overarching mission to be “a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas.”


Last week, the tech-focused SXSW Interactive festival announced it would host two panels on the topic of video game culture. “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” were intended to shed light on sexist tensions within the gaming community and the toxic world of online harassment. Although not directly associated with the Gamergate controversy, these panels would serve as opportunities for critical discussion on online etiquette and the exclusion of minorities in the gaming world.

Following the announcement, SXSW was barraged by threats of violence which ultimately led to their decision to cancel the two panels. Cancellation letters to panelists cited security concerns while reminding attendees that SXSW prides itself in its commitment to diversity.

The cancellations have incited additional backlash, and Buzzfeed has even threatened to withdraw their attendance unless the conference reconsiders and finds a way to ensure appropriate safety precautions be made by the time of the conference in March.
Since 1994, SXSW Interactive has welcomed growing numbers of independent thinkers, builders, and leaders to share their visions for our future.

By cancelling panels on diversity in gaming, SXSW is doing a disservice to its history and mission.

In 2015, SXSWi hosted nearly 34,000 festival participants from 85 foreign countries with 2,700 speakers and 3,389 media in attendance. While SXSWi’s attendee list has grown over the years to include some of the biggest names in tech, it’s also maintained its core desire to bring together a variety of people to discuss and generate ideas. The conversations borne out of this event influence millions of readers via print, online,and broadcast coverage.

Given that sexism in the tech space has been a hot topic the last few years, SXSW’s cancellation suggests that discussing challenges in the gaming industry are not worth the trouble of ensuring a civil environment for constructive conversation. Although diversity challenges exist in any male-dominated industry, digital harassment in this Internet-everything era is of particular concern and not giving voice to the issue propagates undue influence to online bullies.

Diversity is always a prickly issue; it is multi-faceted, messy, and contentious. But as an organization devoted to discourse with its breadth of influence, SXSW had opportunity to stand firm in its belief and encourage the kind of open dialogue that leads to new ideas that drive us forward. At the very least, it could have enlightened many to the darker sides of the Internet so that we as a community could talk about how to make it a better, safer, and more accessible place for all. By refusing to seize this opportunity for enormous positive interaction and information exchange, SXSW has comprised its core tenets and demonstrated a glaring ignorance to the needs of its community.

Uncovering the Dots

This was originally posted on my Medium page. While I’m quite loyal to WordPress, I’m testing out several different publishing platforms for a better understanding of each one’s pros and cons (particularly with respect to user experience and engagement). Apologies in advance for anyone who has already read this.

It’s impossible to connect the dots if they have yet to be discovered.

I’ve never been one for Netflix, but over the last few months, I’ve applied the art of binging to podcast listening. There are a plethora of great ones in the audial ether, but a recent episode of Exponent hit home with respect to Ben and James’s notion that maintaining optionality upfront allows the discovery of focus down the road. The reason? While having general direction can be a guiding force, becoming too prematurely focused on an exact plan can blind you from recognizing opportunity when it arises.

Like Ben, I spent the early months of my undergraduate career trying to meticulously plan every class and schedule for the next four years. I took the necessary courses to earn my degree in Cognitive Psychology and Math-Econ, but in the process, I took a slew of courses with no obvious reason that ended up being some of the most impactful. These were often unrelated to my majors and didn’t fulfill any prereqs, but I took them because I wanted exposure to interesting topics and people. In doing so, I experienced incredible discourse in classes like Christian Environmental Ethics, Politics of Whiteness, and James Joyce Literature that directly contributed to a formative and enriching education.

By forgoing micromanagement and focusing on taking engaging, intellectually stimulating courses, I explored new disciplines that allowed me to discover new interests. Takeaways on intersectionality in my political science classes became applicable to perspectives on economic behavior or on human factors. I learned what did and didn’t inspire me largely by stumbling upon a wide array of these topics, and it ultimately helped me make connections that previously were not readily evident.

My early career trajectory reflects the same exploratory strategy, and I’ve prioritized taking on roles that continue to expose me to great teams and new skills that may yield emergent growth opportunities. And over the years, I’ve begun to narrow the aperture. In particular, a recent deep dive into User Experience Design crystallized the niche I had been seeking but couldn’t define. My sales stint at a major retailer and my current role in financial technology had taught me the importance of having functional, usable, and beautiful products, but UX principles taught me how to apply those product attributes around solving user problems.

I’m not sure if I would have come across the concepts of UX Design/Product Thinking had I not been persistent about learning and pursuing my random interests. In which case, I wouldn’t have been able to put a name to what I now feel confident immersing myself into. There is still so much more to learn, but with healthy doses of gumption and curiosity by my side, I can’t wait.

Such Fine Lines