American Go E-Journal » Go Spotting

GO SPOTTING: Kenichi The Mightiest Disciple & Night Train

Thursday July 28, 2011

“Episode 49 of Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple said a little about go,” reports EJ reader Asa Euster. “Not much,” Euster adds, “the show was just using go as an example of a game of territory.” Kenichi is an anime based on the Japanese manga by Syun Matsuena.

Night Train is “a low-budget thriller about how greed can drive a person to do terrible things, and it features go!” writes Will Lockhart. “The film (starring Danny Glover, Leelee Sobieski and Steve Zahn and available on Netflix) takes place on an overnight train somewhere in Northern Europe. A man commits suicide by overdosing on pills, and when two other passengers and the conductor discover that he has a box containing precious jewels, they hatch a plan to dispose of a dead man’s body and take the box. The film periodically cuts back to two Asian men on the train, playing go, though the game looks like a fairly weak kyu game. Not only is there go in the movie, but its presence actually may be symbolic of the greed that overtakes the train passengers.”

Categories: Go Art,Go Spotting
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GO SPOTTING: Mr Nice Plays Go

Tuesday July 26, 2011

Danish E-Journal reader Martin Liechti spotted go in the new film Mr. Nice, a 2010 crime film – now in limited release in the U.S. – about Howard Marks, a notorious Welsh drug smuggler played by Rhys Ifans (a friend of Marks in real life) and also starring Crispin Glover and Chloë Sevigny. Liechti sent us this screenshot of a scene in which a woman is sitting by a goban. The Danish subtitle says: What’s that?

GO SPOTTING: Go, Poker and the Sublime

Sunday July 10, 2011

When Frank Lantz thinks about games, he doesn’t play around. Lantz teaches game design at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, the School of Visual Arts, and the New School. He created games for Cartoon Network, Lifetime TV, and VH1 before becoming becoming the co-founder and creative director of Area/Code. His writings on games, technology and culture have appeared in a variety of publications. In a recent lecture on “Go, Poker and the Sublime” at a game developers’ conference (click here to view online), Lantz declared that games are an art form on a par with music, literature and film, perhaps even “the most important art form of the 21st century. Describing go to his mostly non-playing audience, Lantz comes up with some remarkably well-turned phrases, explaining how “Go is good at teaching itself to you,” “. . . at the border of the discrete and the continuous,” “. . . thought made visible to itself.” I especially enjoyed his riff explaining why “light” is better than “heavy,” yet “thick” is better than “thin.” Lantz goes on with a similarly eloquent description of poker, which he finds to be about “the alchemical transformative power of greed.” Looking at both games together, Lantz sees a contrast with video games that dominate today’s market. Go, poker and similar pastimes are more abstract, less reliant on make-believe – in short, they are games that grownups also play. They are infinite – players do not reach an end point as in narrative-based adventure and role-playing games. He exhorts the game developers in the audience to think big: “I want a game that I can play my whole life, that I can teach my son, and he will play his whole life.” Mostly known for the iPhone app “Drop7,” Area/Code has pursued other innovative “social gaming” ideas such as Macon Money,  an alternative currency “game” conducted in “RL” (real life) in Macon, GA; and Budgetball, a physical sport that also requires a certain degree of fiscal planning.  In January, Area/Code was acquired by Zynga, the social gaming giant behind Facebook megahits such as Farmville and Mafia Wars, giving Lantz an even bigger arena in which to realize his dream. With its emphasis on building, cooperation and balance, go has much in common with social media games like Farmville and Cafe World (another Zynga biggie) with the added spice of life-and-death struggle. If Zynga’s next games have bit more of a competitive edge, perhaps we’ll know why . . .
- Roy Laird

GO SPOTTING: David Mitchell’s Novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Sunday July 3, 2011

If you need another reason to read David Mitchell’s spellbinding new novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, the game of go plays a key and major role in the story. Indeed, one entire section of the book is entitled “The Master of Go” and not only does go strategy drive part of the novel’s structure, but the game itself — in fact, a specific game, the board and pieces — play a dramatic role at the climax of the riveting novel. Thousand Autumns is more than just a terrific read, though. Mitchell has “meticulously reconstructed the lost world of Edo-era Japan, and in doing so he’s created his most conventional but most emotionally engaging novel yet,” wrote Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times. Set in atmospheric coastal Japan, this epic story centers on an earnest young Dutch clerk, Jacob de Zoet, who arrives in the summer of 1799 to make his fortune and return to Holland to wed his fiancée. But Jacob’s plans are shaken when he meets the daughter of a Samurai. Thousand Autumns is now out in paperback, as well as available as an e-book.

GO SPOTTING: Yojiro Takita’s New Film

Saturday June 25, 2011

Yojiro Takita’s next film has an interesting historical connection to the game of go. Takita (r) – who won an Oscar in 2009 for Okuribito (Departures) – is adapting the novel ‘Tenchi Meisastsu,’ about a 17th century astronomer and mathematician. The film is an adaptation of To Ubukata’s novel of the same name, based on the life of Shibukawa, who later took on the name of his father, champion go player Yasui Santetsu, first head of the Yasui house. The novel has won literary awards in Japan on its way to selling 380,000 copies. It was published by Kadokawa, which is collaborating with Shochiku on the movie. Tenchi Meisastsu — which roughly translates as “insights into the universe” — is being shot at Shochiku’s Kyoto studio until the middle of August, and is slated for an autumn 2012 release.
- based on Gavin J. Blair’s story in The Hollywood Reporter, with thanks to Ramon Mercado for spotting the reference.

Categories: Go Art,Go Spotting,World
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GO SPOTTING: The Origin of Atari

Monday June 13, 2011

Many go players know that video game pioneer Atari was named after the go term, but how many know that this was actually the second choice for the company’s name? “Sente” was the first choice by Nolan Bushnell (r) and his partner Ted Dabney, according to By Any Other Name: The Origin of Atari on the CHEGheads Blog by Shannon Symonds, Acquisitions Cataloger for the International Center for the History of Electronic Games. “Both in print and on camera, Bushnell cited the strategy game Go as his favorite game of all time,” Symonds notes. After their original choice, Syzygy, turned out to already be trademarked, “Bushnell provided the state with three new names from which to choose: Sente, Atari, and Hanne. All three reference moves in Go.” Symonds also reports that “In 1984, Atari created a subsidiary company called Tengen, which translates to “the origin of heaven” and is the very center point on a Go board.”
- thanks to Jeremiah Parry-Hill for spotting this

GO SPOTTING: Go: A Novel/George Hoshida’s Go Sketches

Sunday June 5, 2011

Janice Kim’s article about go stones in a Japanese internship camp (GO SPOTTING: ‘The Archaeology of Internment’ 5/9) prompted roving E-Journal contributor Peter Shotwell to send along some excerpts from Holly Uyemoto’s 1995 book Go: A Novel, which focuses on generational differences among Japanese-Americans. The sketches below — which are not part of the novel — are from the George Hoshida Collection on the Japanese American National Museum website.

I used to not like Uncle Mas very much. He bored me… I always found Uncle Mas drab, a frog on a log. It requires no stretch of the imagination to picture his tongue popping out suddenly,  catching a fly or a raindrop. But one day, my grandmother told me a story about Uncle Mas that changed the way I saw him for good…

Before he became a naturalized citizen, [Ojiichan, another uncle] carried a copy of the Constitution in his wallet and took it with him everywhere he went. He quoted from it freely. After Pearl Harbor… Ojiichan brought out his Constitution and cited the Fourth Amendment rights [but they] took him away, the Constitution neatly folded again and put back in his wallet.

Ojiichan was a great go player [but] deemed a Japanese cultural item, the government barred Ojiichan from taking his old go table with him into camp, so he made one… He learned to shape and polish quartz veined with orange borax, and obsidian black and bright, with edges that cut metal and skin. Uncle Mas was fascinated with the go board. He begged Ojiichan to let him play with it. Ojiichan told him not to go near the board… Later, he brought down the go board and the stones, smooth quartz and biting obsidian, and asked my grandmother, ‘Where is he?’ He then set about teaching Uncle Mas how to play—not the five-in-a-row kind of go that children and Westerners play, but the real thing. Uncle Mas learned quickly. He had an aptitude for strategy: in the end, both too much so, and not enough. Ojiichan’s friends would gather around, joke, give Uncle Mas hints, and make friendly wagers about how many moves it would take Ojiichan to win. The nightly face-off between Ojiichan and Uncle Mas became community entertainment.

Uncle Mas winning was never a question, but one day it happened. About six months after he started playing, he beat Ojiichan. And Ojiichan made him swallow one of his own stones. This was Uncle Mas’s victory, and his punishment. Uncle Mas thought Ojiichan was joking, but he wasn’t. He insisted Uncle Mas swallow the stone. Uncle Mas reasoned that as the winner, he should choose whether or not he had to swallow the stone. Ojiichan said it was his ‘tadai no gisei o haratte eta shyori,’ his conquest, having exceeded his master, and his punishment for the same reason—the Japanese equivalent of Pyrrhic victory.

Uncle Mas swallowed the stone, and he stopped playing go…after his big win, he made himself scarce…The next time my grandmother saw him was when she was called to the infirmary after Uncle Mas had been found in the latrine trying to pass a huge fecal boulder. He was rushed to the hospital and operated on. The doctor said he would be fine. There were no fresh fruits and vegetables to speak of in camp. Most meals consisted of mutton and either rice or potatoes. The camp doctor assured Ojiichan and my grandmother that constipation was entirely normal in camp, but it seemed that there had been an inorganic stoppage of Uncle Mas’s bowels: during his operation, the doctor extracted one perfectly round, flat, knife-edged obsidian stone.

‘Remember that story about Uncle Mas?’ I asked my mother one day. ‘The go stone Ochiijan made him swallow?’ ‘Nobody made anybody swallow anything,’ my mother said.  ‘Then why does Uncle Mas have a bad stomach?’  ‘Because he can’t express himself.’ ‘You mean, talk?’

When he was released from the camp infirmary, Uncle Mas was whole again, except that he stopped talking… A week later, he suddenly slumped over. He was rushed back to the infirmary. There were lots of cuts in Uncle Mas’s large intestine; they had ruptured and were bleeding. The doctor removed four feet of Uncle Mas’s large intestine and sewed him up again. ‘Don’t you remember?’ I prodded my mother. ‘Grandma told me.’ ‘I was a baby then. Besides, sometimes she just liked to tell you stories.’

But Uncle Mas still has terrible troubles with his stomach, and he still refuses to play go. I saw him studying Ochiijan’s fancy table once. Uncle Mas ran his hand over the top, touched the carvings, and, pulling back in order to see, squinted at the inlaid grid. He opened the drawers and studied the stones. He held one of the smooth black onyx in his palm, rolling it back and forth. And then he walked away.
- excerpted from Go: A Novel, by Holly Uyemoto

Sketches from the George Hoshida Collection on the Japanese American National Museum website. George Hoshida (1907-1985) was born in Japan and at the age of five, his family settled in Hilo, Hawaii. As an active practitioner of Judo, Hoshida was active at the local dojo. This led directly to his arrest by FBI agents on the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor as a potential saboteur. Unlike most Japanese Americans living in Hawaii, Hoshida was incarcerated for the duration of the war, first at Kilauea Military Camp and Sand Island in Hawaii and later in mainland Justice Department internment camps at Lordsburg and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Eventually, he was able to rejoin his wife and young daughters, but only when they agreed to leave Hawaii to be incarcerated with him in a War Relocation Authority camp on the mainland. Hoshida began a visual diary of his incarceration from his earliest days in prison. The two notebooks in the collection of the Japanese American National Museum are an extremely rare visual document of the special Justice Department camps and chart his frequent movement from one facility to the next. (Hoshida bio courtesy the Japanese American National Museum, which supports several Japan relief efforts.)
- editing, layout and graphics research by Chris Garlock

“Flawed” Use of Go in Kissinger’s New Book?

Sunday June 5, 2011

Henry Kissinger ‘s understanding of go strategy informs his latest book, On China. However, according to a recent review in The Economist, Kissinger’s book “is marred by three related flaws. The first is Mr Kissinger’s insight that Chinese strategists think like players of wei qi or Go, which means that, in the long term, they wish to avoid encirclement. Westerners are chess-players, tacticians aiming to get rid of their opponents’ pieces ‘in a series of head-on clashes’, he writes. ‘Chess produces single-mindedness; wei qi generates strategic flexibility.’” The review, entitled No go points out that “This conceit has been used by other authors. It appears every few pages here like a nervous tic. Even before Mr Kissinger joins the game, the metaphor is pulled into service to analyse, among other things, Chinese policy in the Korean war, the Taiwan Strait crises of the 1950s (where, of course, “both sides were playing by wei qi rules”), the 1962 war with India (“wei qi in the Himalayas”). Later he describes events in Indochina as ‘a quadripartite game of wei qi,’ just at the time when genocide was under way in Cambodia.” Finally, The Economist reviewers say, “the picture of Chinese foreign policy, as formulated by cool, calculating, master strategists playing wei qi, makes it appear more coherent, consistent and effective than it has been. China’s involvement in the Korean war, for example, led, in Mr Kissinger’s phrase, to ‘two years of war and 20 years of isolation,’ hardly a goal for China—or a wei qi triumph.” In a related story, Leonard Lopate recently interviewed Kissinger on NPR’s WYNC and they briefly discussed the game of go; click here to hear the interview; they talk about go  from approximately 13:50 to about 16:20. Click here for our January 24, 2011 report on Kissinger on Go and Chinese Strategic Thinking.
- thanks to Robert A. McCallister, past president of the AGA and former publisher of The American Go Journal, and to Richard Simon, for spotting these reports

“Flawed” Use of Go in Kissinger’s New Book?

Go Spotting: Don Winslow’s Novel “Satori”

Saturday May 14, 2011

Don Winslow’s Satori is based on Trevanian’s Shibumi so it’s not surprising that the novel has go references. “The whole book uses references to go for all its plot twists and turns,” reports Rusty Brown. “The author learned go in college, but said he wasn’t proficient at the game.” A sample from the novel: “When the immediate situation is untenable, Nikko, what do you play for? Time, Otake-sama. Play for the long game.”

GO SPOTTING: Go on the History Channel

Friday May 13, 2011

GO SPOTTING: Go on the History Channel: Reader Drew Chuppe recently caught a go reference on a History Channel program called “The Art of War.” “They were talking about how the teaching of Sun Tzu could have helped Robert E. Lee win the Civil War,” Chuppe writes. “To my surprise, the narrator remarked that on the final day at Gettysburg, ‘Lee abandoned his go strategy and reverted to chess strategy’ and stated that the charge up Cemetery Ridge was dictated by chess strategy.” Go “teaches us to stay away from the opponent’s thickness and look for weaknesses in his position,” says Chuppe, noting that “Ordering a charge across a broad, open field into cannon fire is the battlefield expression of placing a stone next to your opponent’s strong wall. As an aside, I have read The Art of War but I do not recall any overt reference to go (though) there are a few strategic statements that could apply.” In a related go connection, graphic designer and longtime American go community contributor Mike Samuel – who designed many of the annual U.S. Go Congress logos — designed the History Channel’s iconic logo.