The Harry Potter Japan experience

harry potter japan

Revelio! The magic continues, Potter fans

On July 15, Universal Studios Japan (USJ) revealed its first branch of Harry Potter park outside the United States. Time to fulfill those long time Hogwarts dreams, eh?

When I first heard the news early this year, I got so excited that I really pushed through with an Osaka exit (we entered Japan via Tokyo) for our trip because of this!

Coming second to Tokyo Disneyland as the most visited theme park in Japan, USJ officials say that they expect an increase of 2 million tourists per year with the opening of HP world.

Attractions similar to Florida are also featured in Japan including: Flying Ford Anglia, Hogwarts Express train, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, Flight of the Hippogriff ride, Honeyduke’s Sweets Shop, Gladrags Wizard Wear, Ollivander’s Wand Shop, Zonko’s Joke Shop, The Three Broomsticks restaurant, Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, the Hogwarts castle and of course, Butterbeer carts!

Meanwhile, it also has two exclusive features: live owls and the Hogwarts’ Black Lake which shows the castle’s reflection.

Since its opening, visitors of the park seem to prioritize HP before other Universal Studios attractions. HP has a 1.5 – 2 hours waiting time while others have an average of 20-30 minutes.

Prior to entering the HP world, the staff required us to go to a ticketing office to get a standby ticket with time schedule.

Staff says that we should wait for our numbers to be flashed in the bulletin board in front Mel’s Diner as it will dictate our fate upon entrance to HP World. The ticket also says it does not guarantee entrance so we were nervous by this time. What if our numbers won’t get picked? The volume of people is massive. We waited patiently and luckily it paid off.

The Great Hall

The ceiling is bewitched. I read about it in Hogwarts, A History

Our first stop was the castle. The path leading to the Forbidden Journey ride was a journey in itself as the tour leads to halls with talking photos, Sorting Hat, Dumbledore’s office, Gryffindor common room, the Room of Requirement and thousands of floating candles. One of the highlights is the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom which has Harry, Ron, and Hermione in it. The pals speak in Japanese though, so good luck if you don’t understand or speak Nihongo (FYI: we don’t.). Despite this, the park will still fill you with visual surprises!

Afterwards the forbidden ride, we tried the Butterbeer. There are two Butterbeer carts, one in the entrance and one near the Hippogriff ride. You have two options for the drink: cold and frozen. It’s a non-dairy and non-alcoholic drink which you may opt to buy in a regular cup (500 yen) or in a souvenir mug (1000 yen). It tastes like a butter ball candy turned into a cream soda with foam on top. I have a sweet tooth but this one’s sweetness level is above my standard.

If not for the language barrier, USJ would be perfect. I wish they’d provide tourists with English audio guide to help cope with the interactions.

Located in Osaka, USJ is surprisingly easy to access via train:

Osaka station > Nishikujo station > Universal City (15 minute ride)
Kansai International Airport > Nishikujo station > Universal City (1 hour ride)

 

Train map going to USJ
Tickets are from 6,980 yen per adult and 4,880 yen per child (ages 4-11).

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Enemy (2014)

What would you do if one day you discover an exact copy of yourself and he turns out to be an unlikely better version of you? Is he a twin, a doppelgänger, or just a stranger who happens to look like you? Will you have the courage to face him to end your questions?

This is the premise enemyof Enemy, a psychosexual, arachnophobic thriller which stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam Bell, a History teacher stuck in the normalcy and redundancy of life just like his lessons in school. Upon a colleague’s suggestion, he picks up a movie and finds a bit player named Anthony Clair who looks and sounds exactly like him. He tracks down his lookalike and conflict ensues soon after.

The film may leave more questions than answers –a true mark of a Denis Villeneuve craft (Prisoners) –perplexing enough to be open to many interpretations.

The scenes present continuity and disruption of timeline, suggesting a non-linear narrative. Nothing seems to make sense at first. The way it was sewn as a whole leaves the viewer the task to think, solve, and be involved in puzzling the pieces together.

In the opening, there is an epigram saying “chaos is order yet undeciphered” quoting the book from which it was inspired by, Jose Saramago’s The Double. This quote becomes a foreshadow to the overall run of the film.

Meanwhile, the ending may enthrall or irritate some. My reaction to it was “WHAT THE FUCK!” my eyes wide open, forehead wrinkled, jaw dropped. It will leave you confused and dumbfounded.

A film like this requires the audience some careful observation and attention as it goes on telling without saying much.

This proves Director Denis Villeneuve effective in inducing fear and chills around a mind boggling storyline. It feels surreal. The spider is somehow similar to the notion of elephant in the room but with Adam’s case, it symbolizes entrapment and vulnerability, hence the creation of a doppelgänger.

The technical aspects of the film are worth noting as well. The camera works involving aerial shots of Toronto buildings, a few black out scenes, the overall nauseating yellow and brown color tones, the terrifying clarinet scoring, the acting especially from Gyllenhaal who successfully portrayed two different but somehow the same characters, and the supporting cast including Isabella Rossellini who was involved in only two yet vital scenes as Adan’s mom; Melanie Laurent as Adam’s girlfriend both clueless and naive to what is happening; and Sarah Gadon as Anthony’s wife whose stare pierces through your soul, are all worthy of praise. Everything felt like a well-made web that it’s hard to pinpoint where it even began.

The subconscious is an intriguing place to explore and with all that happened in this film, Enemy is surely a twisted yet brilliant piece of art.

Villeneuve’s attempt to disorient the audience is successful; leaving the key of interpretation for everyone to discover is certainly a gem on its own. A second viewing, even if it is an intended marketing strategy or not, wouldn’t hurt. After all, it’s natural to want to re-watch it especially with its premise.

Just a tip, once you’re out to solve the film: start from the end.

Also, would anyone give me a clue as to why the letter N is italicized in the poster? Villeneuve used this method before in Prisoners but with Enemy, I’m still clueless. I could only guess that it’s perhaps related to how you should view the movie, start from the eNd? I tried.

Rating: 9.5/10

Watch the trailer HERE.

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Xiao Long Bao for P32 only!

In Manila, Xiao Long Bao is often associated with the word expensive. Most restaurants sell six pieces for a price of two rice meals in a fast food chain. But what is this Xiao Long Bao really all about?

Xiao Long Bao is a ground pork swimming in a hot broth placed inside a delicate, almost transparent dumpling wrapper. My first chance upon this Shanghai delicacy is both an art and a mystery. A soup inside a bun with pleats on it? What sorcery is this?

Turns out that the process of cooking Xiao Long Bao takes time and effort. The broth inside was first in gel form before steaming commences. At first I thought it was injected inside. So maybe that is why it is a bit pricey as compared to your regular Chinese dimsums. To some, paying the price is worth it but to others, finding a cheap alternative that tastes good and matches with their budget is an adventure.

And so, the search ends today.

The Chinese Kitchen, which opened its first branch last July 8 in the newly renovated SM Makati food court, offers Xiao Long Bao for just P32 (2 pcs.).

20140725-224410-81850561.jpgCoin in place for comparison

Contrary to the usual servings of Xiao Long Bao placed in a bamboo steamer, The Chinese Kitchen’s version is served directly in a soup spoon ready to be devoured. They also don’t provide chopsticks but we don’t mind.

A small bite will make the broth gush out so be careful. The taste and size on the other hand, is okay for its price. For a quick Xiao Long Bao fix, this place is okay to those crawling to their next payday.

The Chinese Kitchen also sells Noodles, Rice Toppings, Buchi, and Mango Sago.

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Watch indie Filipino movies online!

Tara Nood Tayo

Great news, film buffs! You can now watch indie Filipino movies online for a minimal fee.

Times are hard for the local indie movie industry. Films are produced with limited funds, limited time, and with little to no guarantee of showing in theaters. If lucky, they will be shown in selected cinemas for only a span of one (1) week; if it’s good and the market supports it, probably two (2) weeks. Sometimes if the film don’t sell much, it will be pulled out by the theater before it even hit the one week benchmark. Marketing is also hard and media exposure would be close to none. Basically, the market for indie films is very small.

But here comes a concept too ingenious to pass up. A website called Tara Nood Tayo (TNT) recently opens the window for local indie industry to a wider audience.

With TNT, one can watch and support the local indie cinema for just 1 USD / 43 PHP for a single day viewing.

To avail of the services, create an account and load up your credits via Paypal or Credit card. After which, you may begin purchasing films.

Currently there are 23 films available for viewing including previous Cinemalaya entries such as Jay, Endo, Mayohan, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, and one of last year’s Sineng Pambansa entry, Sonata.

 

*The author of this post is not, in any way, related to the creators of TNT.

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Dropping by a real life Pokémon Center

Whenever I look back at my childhood, Pokémon (Pocket Monsters or Poketo Monsuta in Japanese) will always be a part of my most vivid memories. To an extent, I even practiced my drawing skills and the closest I could get was a sketch of Voltron, Diglet, and Togepi. I remember being proud about those achievements. Nostalgic. To me, Pokémon will never lose its charm.

japan pokemon center

So with my recent trip to Japan, a stopover to one of the Pokémon centers is of course included in my bucket list. Currently there are eight Pokémon centers in the country and the one I visited was in Osaka, which is dubbed as the largest Pokémon center in the world.

pokemon center osaka

Located on the 13th floor of Daimaru Umeda Store in Osaka station, the center is a 10 minute walk using the Midosuji Minami (Midosuji-south) exit.

Admittedly, it is the ultimate gift store for avid Pokémon fans as it touches on your inner child. Here you can buy pokéballs, slippers, stuffed toys, trading cards, keychains, stamps, snacks, etc.

 

I went inside expecting to take home something but there’s no Togepi at the time we visited so I saved some money. Aside from that, I did not notice any of the animé’s human characters like Ash, Misty, Brock, Team Rocket, Professor Oak, Nurse Joy, and Officer Jenny. So, sorry fans of the aforementioned. I also didn’t notice any Jigglypuff, Psyduck nor Snorlax stuffed toys. Despite this, the trip to the Pokémon center was still fun!

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World’s first Kitkat boutique is located in Tokyo

In January this year, a specialized store which sells exclusive Kitkat flavors opened in Tokyo. Kitkat, synonymous to the Japanese word kitto katsu meaning “Good Luck” or “You will surely win”, is a well-loved chocolate not only in Japan but also worldwide so a stop to this place is definitely on the list.

Located at Seibu Department Store, just a few minutes walk from Ikebukuro station, Kitkat Chocolatory is attracting both tourists and locals alike for their wide array of flavors.

kitkat chocolatory japan

Upon our arrival at 10:30 in the morning, a long line of people greeted us, waiting to get their dose of the treat. Turns out that they sell only 300 pieces per flavor per day and the flavors are exclusively sold in that store.
kitkat guy

Each flavors are sold in individual boxes, ready to be given as a gift. But prior to getting your hands on those boxes, a short window shopping trip to Kitkat’s history will entertain you as you wait.

kitkat chocolatory japan

If you have plans on trying exclusive varieties such as Sublime Bitter, Special Chili, Vanilla Cheesecake, and Sakura Green Tea, it would be best to make this stop a first on your list.

sublime bitter kitkat

Other Japanese Kitkat flavours include Wasabi, Azuki Red Bean Toast, Roasted Tea, Rum Raisin, Apple, Purple Potato and Cinnamon Cookie.

special chili kitkat

Prices range from 300-400 yen per box.

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Begin Again (2014)

Begin Again is like a love letter, a plea, and a commentary to and on the music industry. It is full of musical references, including puns and praises, plus a beautiful soundtrack that magically hinges every arc in the story. It has cliché tendencies but it’s a feel good film with a style that will charm its way to your heart and leave you smiling all throughout.

Essentially, music is the core of Begin Again. Music operates on every character portrayed: on why Gretta and Dave drifted apart and why Dan is emotionally distant from his family. The film emphasizes that passion, when mixed with business is a solution for lost art. Eventually, music becomes a tool for them to mend what it has broken.

The film heavily tackles the wins and losses of signing a record label –how it could turn you into a star and how it would redefine an artist based solely on the market influence. It also shows how a single click can influence hundreds and thousands of people in this age of social media.

While the film has nothing brand new to tell, it goes away with a treatment that will win your heart, specifically by showing flashbacks through different perspectives. Musical scoring also serves as a foreshadow to the next scene and admittedly, director John Carney has good ears as all of the songs here will leave you wanting for more.

Armed with a polished set of color tones, Carney made the streets of New York city more inviting as Dan, Gretta and the rest of the crew begin recording medleys on rooftop, in pathways, and in subway platforms in lieu of trimming down expenses and to give off a more artsy vibe.

begin again movie

A scene reminiscent to The Beatles’ rooftop performance

One aspect I liked about Begin Again was the evolution of characters and the way each were given an allowance for mistakes. They were free from judgment or bias, and each embodies the official soundtrack entitled “Lost Stars” really well.

Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is a self destructive record executive, an alcoholic who has a disheveled relationship with his former wife and daughter. He handles family issues in a nonchalant way but when it comes to music, his ears are tailored to magically hear things when something beautiful comes his way. Meanwhile Gretta (Keira Knightley) starts off as a weak girl who becomes a strong, free-spirited woman after her break up with Dave (Adam Levine). Knightley stood out in this due to the revelation of her tender and sweet soulful voice that can infect you with its calm and soothing appeal. And there’s also Adam Levine who is unexpectedly a bliss to watch. This is his first movie acting stint and I wasn’t really expecting much from him but to his credit, he was likable even without the mushiness. A scene stealing moment for Levine was the one wherein he tries to seek forgiveness by reverting a song written for him by Gretta back to its ballad form instead of the one heavily manipulated.

Also appearing in a small but pivotal role is Catherine Keene as Ruffalo’s wife, a music journalist who is also a “lost star” in her own right. They have a child, Violet (Hailey Steinfield), a teenage who longs for a male figure in her life. Another character worth noting is Gretta’s ever supportive friend Steve (James Corden), who keeps everything lighter with his comic relief.

Overall,  the film exceeded my expectations for its wit and treatment. To anyone looking for a break from the robots, apes, and other fictional stories, this film which overflows with honesty is not a thing to miss.

Rating: 10/10

Watch the trailer HERE.

 

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Top 17 Movie Characters of 2013

This gallery contains 18 photos.

According to my record, I’ve watched over 50 films in 2013, most of it Filipino-made. That’s a great leap from my record of less than 10 annually, excluding reruns of my favorite romcoms. (Yeah, haha, I’m so busy looking toward … Continue reading

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Easy Zucchini Noodle Recipe

Some days you just want to stay at home and curl up in bed all day. Forecast says that rainy season is up again, hence Manila traffic could get a whole lot worse, too. So to ease the rainy days away, I tried the zucchini pasta recipe from thefatkidinside –sounds healthy right?

I’ve always thought of zucchini as a more beautiful name of cucumber (I know, how shallow). Turns out that zucchini is more like an unriped melon in texture: consistent in toughness, easy to slice as it won’t slip, and tastes refreshing but not sweet. To some extent it is similar to a cucumber as both are green, cylindrical, and have seeds; however the texture of the two varies. Zucchinis appear dry while cucumbers have a bumpy outer core. (AHA!)

The recipe asks to use a Julienne peeler, something I’ve discovered only upon reading the blog. It does wonders of turning vegetables into thin noodle-like strips. I thought we have it at home so I was excited to go straight from work. I rode the MRT and dropped by Landmark to gather my ingredients. Then I mustered Manila traffic. It was raining and everybody’s rushing home. The tiny drops of rain falling on the roof of the jeepney added weight to my excitement and impatience. I can’t wait any longer. I want to do it and try it, for the first time.

When I got home I checked if we have the Julienne peeler, unfortunately no. I almost gave up because the weather makes me feel lazy. But I manually did it. I grated the zucchini patiently using a knife and it was actually a rewarding experience. I promised myself that the next time I do this, I’ll buy a Julienne peeler beforehand. Hahaha!

And so without further ado, here’s the recipe I used. I tweaked it a bit, good for two (on diet) persons:

Ingredients:
1 zucchini, sliced noodle strips
1 riped avocado, cubed
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
4 tbsp. sunflower seeds
4 pcs. small tomatoes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 lemon
Basil leaves (optional)

easy zucchini noodle recipe

Procedure:

1. Heat the pan with olive oil.
2. Toss in the garlic. Don’t burn.
3. Place the sliced zucchini in the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes.
4. Turn off the heat.
5. Add the tomato and sunflower seeds in the pasta. Mix carefully.
6. Add salt and pepper to taste.
7. Squeeze in the lemon and top with basil. (For this version, I used dried oregano as there was no basil available in the market earlier)
8. Serve!

Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes
Total cost: Around 300php

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Globe Text Scam

*beep beep*

“Someone texted me!”

I come running to see who is it and then I saw this:

globe text scamWhat? Really? Wait, what?

Reading the first part of the text made me feel hopeful (gullible mode: 10% activated) but then I checked the sender’s number which seems invalid since local Telecommunications company often use three or four digits. In my mind I’ve cursed him a lot; many times, even lifetimes –for trying to fool me not just with a Globe promo, but with a message full of errors as well. Then I got back to reality and cursed him continuously and proceeded to delete it.

I sighed.

And then I sent him this:

globe text scam game of thronesHell hath no fury, right Mr. Martin?

So next time, don’t play with my emotions okay??? Choose your battles wisely, man.

And Globe, can you do something about this? For the love of your subscribers who are on the brink of changing network provider due to these kind of instances, do something. First, take a look at my growing list of text spammers. They are increasing every day. I’m not even glad about it.

globe scam

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