A couple weeks ago, I finally submitted my application to spend a year abroad studying at Waseda University in Tokyo. If you had told me three years ago that this would be my current plan, I would’ve thought you were insane. In early 2009, I had been dropped out of college for six years, was still overseeing post-production on my feature-length film, Legends of Minigolf: The Flamingo’s Challenge, re-exploring the possibility of pursuing a career in video games by dabbling with Game Maker and reading more about the industry, and was making plans to move back to Hawai’i without any clear aim other than to see what such a shock would do to my system.
Funny how things change. As 2009 progressed, I watched my film be rejected from every festival we tried (and oh my god, did we try—we tried all the time), and the personal toll that and the film’s production process took on me made me begin to reconsider whether I was really committed to pursuing the unsteady life of an independent filmmaker1. As I contemplated my pending move to Honolulu, I began to think about what video game career opportunities might be available to me, and saw that Sakaguchi Hironobu had his Mistwalker studio based in Honolulu. Suddenly it seemed like learning Japanese might be a good career prospect for whatever I might want to do in Hawai’i. Soon I was thinking about enrolling at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and pursuing a degree in Japanese primarily to gain language proficiency. And then I thought about money, which gave rise to the thought that I might be able to knock out such a degree at one of the colleges in Utah pretty quickly. Some good friends of mine got married that year, and that event helped me realize that I would also like to spend some more time with the many dear friends and loved ones I have in Utah before they all moved away themselves.
So I enrolled at Salt Lake Community College in January 2010 and began with just Japanese 1010. I was really enjoying it, which was not something I had really expected based on my previous, somewhat bitter experience with college. I wrapped up my associates degree in the Fall semester, and transferred to the University of Utah with declared Japanese Language and Literature and Asian Studies majors (there was enough overlap, I didn’t feel like that was overambitious). One of my classes that semester was an upper-division survey of modern Japanese literature in translation course, taught by Mamiko C. Suzuki. It was mostly a literature discussion course (around more than 10 novels!) with paper writing and workshops, but it was some kind of revelation for me. The way Suzuki conducted the class was profoundly inspiring, and I came to find that I had a real academic interest in the literature aspect of the major. And then because of the structure of the class, I was able to write my final paper on any piece of Japanese media I wanted. I selected Kobayashi Masaki’s wonderful 1967 film Samurai Rebellion and found to my surprise that what I wanted to do most was write papers on Japanese film forever.
Before long, I began considering graduate school as a definite and a PhD as a maybe. Today, I see myself on a track that involves a Masters in Japanese cinema (or perhaps a hybrid literature-cinema program, like at the University of Oregon), and a PhD in the same field. Each semester, I’ve taken new classes in new fields that have challenged me and met faculty from diverse academic backgrounds who have had a profound and positive impact on me. This semester is no different, as I’m taking a class taught by Margaret Wan about martial arts literature and cinema, exposing me to an entire line of thought about literary and cinematic genres and a rich amount of Chinese tradition I had only vague awareness of prior, and studying classical Japanese poetry and grammar under Yukio Kachi.
At the same time, I’ve rededicated myself to hobbyist video game creation. A passion for creating video games has been with me since I started designing levels for fictional games at my cousin Steven’s house in 1992. I spent the latter half of the nineties making QBASIC text adventures and ZZT games. In my first years of college, I continued to work with the ZZT-inspired BANG! with my friends David and WiL Whitlark. Though I wanted to make films professionally, I saw video games as an alternative or supplemental career choice. Eventually, though, I abandoned that pursuit. Now that I come to video games again, I find letting go of the desire to achieve success and make money with my games is liberating. Naturally, I love it when someone plays a game of mine and I know that they’ve enjoyed it, but for me it’s ultimately about having a creative outlet I can manage on my own (writing code at my desk at 3 in the morning is a lot easier than wrangling actors and locations) in a field that is apart from my area of study, which I find is a useful separation. This is truly a hobby, though I love that being involved in the hobby on the Internet these days puts me in some contact with professional and semi-professional developers I admire.
So that’s a summary of the academic, professional, and hobbyist situations I find myself in (I’m leaving, of course, many personal and social details out of this post). As time goes on, the track I see myself on may change, though I truly feel more resolute and determined in my current pursuits than I think I may ever have. In half a year’s time, I’ll find myself in Japan, overseas for the first time in my life. I have no idea what kind of experiences I’ll have or what changes to my character and perspective await me, as life has proven quite unpredictable. I’m excited to meet what comes, though, and I might even blog about it here and there.
1 Please note that I have not given up on releasing Minigolf in some form. Please contact me if you’re interested!