Review: Tokyo Godfathers at the Michigan Theater

What would a small town be without its indie theaters? Ann Arbor is blessed to have not only one but two independent theaters showing the likes of Wes Anderson as well as cult favorites like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and cutting documentaries like I Am Not Your Negro. But one of my very favorite things about these theaters is that they introduce foreign films to Ann Arbor. This friday, I saw the classic Christmas anime Tokyo Godfathers at the Michigan Theater. (Highly recommend grabbing some ramen at Tomukun beforehand). Before we even saw the film, my friends and I were amazed by the gorgeous Art Deco interior of the theater which reminded this reviewer of another film, Eyes Wide Shut. The interior is a bit of a labyrinth and it took us a few tries to find our auditorium. The Michigan Theater was built in 1928 and also hosts theater, comedy, and live music.

When we nestled into the velvet seats, I was struck by what a turnout this one night viewing had! There was diverse audience of students and families, as well as Japanese speakers and those of us relying on subtitles. (There was one particular scene in which one of protagonists escapes at gun point with a Spanish-speaking mafioso, made even funnier if you understand Spanish.) Despite being an animated film, Tokyo Godfathers is a dark comedy full of slapstick and physical comedy than anyone of any age or background can enjoy. This film centers on a homeless trio who find a newborn abandoned newborn in a garbage can. The three protagonists are a middle-aged alcoholic named Gin, a transgender woman named Hana, and a dependent teenage runaway named Miyuki. Hana immediately accepts the child and takes her back to their dwelling to play house. They all have varying opinions about what to do with the baby and ultimately decide to find and confront the parents, as she was abandoned with some identifying photographs.

Thus begins their odyssey from Christmas to New Years to find the baby’s parents. Along the way, we learn more about the protagonists and how they became homeless. Despite being  a picaresque comedy, the movie is fairly realistic in its depiction of homelessness. It shows the protagonists’ difficulty finding warm and clean places to bathe the baby and sleep. At one point, they find some money and stay all night at a diner, sleeping in shifts. In a harrowing sequence, Gin is separated from the group and attacked and beaten by a group of young men walking through the park. It’s a grim reminder that although many cities and people fear the homeless or see them as a problem, it is in fact people with out homes who are the most vulnerable and likely to be victimized. Without consistent access to phones or internet, homeless people can also lose touch with each other quite easily and may not know if friends and family are still alive.



Whenever the movie begins to verge on despair however, the protagonists have a turn of luck or lightheartedness, something they attribute to the baby. In an ironic twist, Gin is saved by a bartender who is part of Hana’s chosen family. Without spoiling too much more, this is a gem of film not to be missed. If you’re looking for a quirky holiday film that celebrates family and will keep you on the edge of your seat, I highly recommend checking out Tokyo Godfathers.

REVIEW: The Moth StorySLAM

At 7:00 PM last Tuesday Night, The Blind Pig in downtown Ann Arbor was bustling with conversation. Red and blue lights illuminated rows of black folding chairs surrounding a small stage. A Moth StorySLAM – a night of spontaneous, intimate, live storytelling – was about to take place!

Half an hour before the show started, the host asked for ten volunteers from the audience to spontaneously sign up to tell a story revolving around the night’s chosen theme: Fortune. After some encouragement and warnings that “the show won’t start until we get ten names in the bag!” there were eleven people signed up.

Before the first storyteller stepped up to the stage, I got a bit nervous. I remembered that the storytellers featured on The Moth podcast got months of coaching on how to engage people with their stories. These people had spontaneously signed up half an hour before! I didn’t know what to expect.

In the end, it was better than the podcast by far.

All kinds of people stepped up to the stage: a Michigan alum whose life was changed by one decision by a football player, a man who started his own consulting firm for nonprofit companies, a woman raised in the backwoods of Alaska and dreamed of moving to Detroit. Most of the storytellers came from walks of life I have never walked before, and yet I felt such a strong connection to each of them. Each one was so genuine and human – they stuttered on stage, they called out to their relatives sitting in the crowd, they sometimes had to take a moment after remembering something triggering.

After each story, the host would get back up and regale the audience with little “story slips” – pieces of paper with short story prompts on them that anonymous audience members had filled out and put in a basket at the front. They were all hilarious to hear. In the meantime, three groups of audience members who served as unofficial judges – the “Fortune Cookies”, the “Fortune Tellers”, and “Serendipity” – decided on a score out of ten to award the storyteller. They held up pieces of paper with numbers on them to whoops and hollers, and the next storyteller stepped up to the stage! It was the coolest combination of intimacy and newness – like sitting around a cozy fireplace with faces I had never seen before.

If you missed out on this event, never fear! Another StorySLAM is happening in Ann Arbor on December 14th, 2021 with the theme: Beginnings.

REVIEW: Candle-Making with the Coven Mavens at Booksweet!

For those who prefer more intimate Halloween celebrations, this Samhain candle making workshop at new North Campus bookstore Booksweet was not to be missed. The Coven Mavens curated a truly magical experience right down to the golden place settings and the abundance of dried herbs and essential oils. Before we made our striped candles, Coven Mavens Juliana and Sara shared with us a bit about Samhain. “Samhain is the traditional celebration in Celtic and Wiccan belief at the end of Harvest before winter begins when the veil between worlds is understood to be thin. This means that we might feel the closer presence of the dead, or ancestors, or even spirits like fairies.” The Coven Mavens are two alumni of the University of Michigan who now facilitate magical events around Ann Arbor.

The Coven Mavens at the divination table
Coven Maven Juliana pours wax for a participant

This workshop attracted local Ann Arbor families and students a like. There were people like myself there who practice witchcraft and other types of spirituality but I would say we were outnumbered by participants as equally passionate about scented candles and candlemaking. The Coven Mavens helped us along every step of the way with tips to make even stripes and a large variety of ingredients including palo santo oil, dried lavender, and sea salt. My favorite scent to try was the white birch! The workshop also featured optional Tarot reading and a raffle. Each participant received a goody bag with a metal candle snuffer among other treats. I was really impressed with the quality of it all and excited to add my new candle and snuffer to my altar!

I hope in the future the Mavens will host more events and give us an even deeper glimpse into some of these magical traditions. The Coven Mavens may attract a wide range of customers but when it comes to witchcraft, they are the real deal. They practice magic themselves as part of a larger group and hold specific events to share some of their practice through their business. They are what Booksweet owner Truly Render calls “community experts”, local practitioners, writers, scholars, and activists based in Ann Arbor who collaborate with Booksweet.

Booksweet is a family owned and operated business that seeks to showcase the work of these experts and foster community around literature and discussion. The shop features curated reading lists, including a Racial Justice List and a Gender Reading List. Past partners have included Black Men Read and Booksweet is a proud partner for monthly Family Book Parties when the weather is nice. Next month, Booksweet is hosting  11/6 event with with Rise, a student-led advocacy organization committed to restoring funding for public higher education to make public colleges and universities affordable and accessible to all.

A selection of books on the topic of racial justice
Participants at the candle making table
My new Samhain candle!

Booksweet is not your typical Barnes and Nobles type of experience. Where as larger bookstores might provide variety and anonymity– a place to drink a coffee and work undistracted– smaller bookstores like Booksweet offer a curated, interactive experience. They have a unique selection of books ranging on topics from religion to current events to young adult fiction to graphic novels.

I picked up a gem I have been coveting, Misfits: A Personal Manifesto by Michaela Coel, the genius writer, director, and star of tv series I May Destroy You. Included at this event as well were various books of magic and tarot decks discounted to the participants of the workshop. If you’ve been craving a change in perspective, check out Booksweet on 1729 Plymouth Rd!


REVIEW: The Holy Bones Festival

If you’re looking for some kitschy fun, look no further that Ypsilanti’s Holy Bones Festival. The Halloween Spirit was out in full force as local artists and performers showcased their spookiest wares and performances. I commend the talented drag and burlesque performers for doing their routines on a chilly evening!
During one memorable number, Johnny Rocket, dressed as a mummy did a striptease unraveling their bandages. Local drag queen Zooey Gaychanel, I first saw perform at the Spectrum Center’s Fair in September was also headlining.

Johnny Rocket strikes a pose

The Halloween Market featured everything from antiques to enamel pins to bath bombs and indie comics. I particularly enjoyed talking with Detroit-based Bad Love Design who sells cheeky, high-quality affordable prints inspired by retro cartoon an 60s pin-up aesthetic. Bad Love is working on a forthcoming tarot deck, so keep your eyes peeled! I also stopped to talk to the owner of Conjure Goddess, a new hoodoo shop opening up in Ypsilanti. They stock everything a witch could need from incense to Tarot cards to conjure oil. I was really impressed by the diversity of magic shops and businesses in Ypsi as well as the amount of queer-owned and women-owned businesses at the fair.

Owners of the Conjure Goddess
Bad Love Design


Last but not least, the food options were few but notable. Fork in Nigeria was definitely the stand-out, with various kinds of fufu and jollof. There was also a more economical taco truck option. Both had vegetarian choices. There was also a lot of hot cider going around! I ducked out before the festivities ended but I did get to hear some of the mellow tones of London Beck before I left. The fun, lighthearted atmosphere nearly allows you to forget how hard the performers and artists work to put events like these together. All in all, I think the Holy Bones festival is a great choice for families and for students and young adults.

REVIEW: The Holy Bones Festival

The holy bones festival was a Halloween themed festival-carnival of sorts with enough novelties to satisfy any occult appetite. Held near downtown Ypsilanti, you could see a lot of Ypsi spirit and pride. From 3D-printed Ypsi structures to local artists, the city’s art scene was reflected pretty well. The festival lasted an ample 7+ plus hours and had exciting events like drag shows. Even though the festival featured 40+ artisans, the fair could be explored in an hour or so. The art ranged from stickers, t-shirts, crystals, jewelry to novelty items like skull wall decorations, a mini horror-themed room, haunted dolls, and much more. There was also a tarot card reader who had a really cozy tent set up. 

There were also some decorated skulls on display with backstories of their own. 

The events really came alive (or dead since it was horror-themed) in the night after the carnival lights were turned on. I watched the drag/costumed show where people lip-synched to songs and gave interactive performances to the audience and went to see the Ypsi downtown and returned again after sundown. There was live music throughout the event and had up-and-coming artists perform some of whom had released albums with the support of Ypsi artist funding.

For food, there were 2 food trucks and one stall. One could pick their choice of Nigerian food, tacos, or sliders. All of these had lines throughout the duration of the event so you know the food was good.  

There was also an improv show for which you had to buy tickets separately. It was held in a nearby church. The church had LED lights inside with spooky music that really upped the ante and gave a gothic vibe to the event. The performers were unfortunately not very good and not worth the price of a ticket. Their jokes or the storyline was not that funny but the performers did perform very enthusiastically. Sadly many members of the audience left during the intermission. 

All and all the holy bones festival would be a nice one-hour event to go to if you want to see spooky things on display. It has only been a thing since 2019 and considering that all the ticket proceeds go to the restoration of the Ypsi art scene, we can expect this festival to gain major traction in the coming years and be on the level of a full-blown paradise for all things evil and occult Halloween carnival!

PREVIEW: Princess Nokia at the Majestic Theater


Genre-crossing Bronx based rapper Princess Nokia is ascending to new heights on her Bloom tour, coming to the Majestic Theater in Detroit this Monday the 18th. Bloom is her first world tour and she will be performing songs from her two new full-length albums released during quarantine, Everything Sucks and Everything Is Beautiful. These two albums truly showcase her range as an artist and her influences from 90s hip hop and the various New York subcultures that nurtured her career.

In Everything Sucks, we meet her more emo persona, a bitter and braggadocious young woman who seeks success to spite her enemies and her critics. Everything Sucks explores more fully the themes she rapped and sung about on A Girl Cried Red, her 2018 mixtape, which contained candid lyrics about her hurt and anger at past traumas of being a foster child and having a loving but inconsistent relationship to her birth family. This Nokia is all about control; she needs no approval from others and the men in her life are plentiful and disposable. Singles from this album include “I Like Him” and “It’s Not My Fault”.

Princess Nokia, real name Destiny Frasqueri, celebrates her duality as a gemini with these two albums. In Everything Is Beautiful, we see the Nokia who embraces and celebrates her loved ones. This Nokia found peace and sings a lot about her chosen family, forgiveness, and transcending the ego. She also celebrates her Puerto Rican heritage and her connection to the strong women in her life who keep her grounded. In tracks like “Soul Food y Adobo”, she layers Spanglish lyrics over brass instrumentals evoking 60s Soul. At age 29, Nokia has taken up the mantle of adulthood and all that entails. She no longer looks to her past as something holding her down but rather the platform on which she has built her success. The Bloom tour is a triumphant celebration of her fully realized self.