Kumamoto — Gambaru Zo

I realized the other day that I haven’t had a conversation in English in about two weeks.

Most of this week has been pretty quiet here. On Monday, I aided a shoot for a documentary about working mothers in Kumamoto prefecture. We interviewed a few people in Kumamoto proper and then packed up our gear and drove to a mountain village called Yabe, which is famous for an ancient stone bridge and for its tea, where we interviewed the volunteers at a sort of daycare establishment. One young girl was deathly afraid of facial hair, which proved to be a problem because half of our crew was bearded.

On Wednesday, after a slow day where I spent much of it trying valiantly to read Haruki Murakami‘s South of the Border, West of the Sun in Japanese (and after a week and a half, I’ve gotten all of five pages into the book), R’s dad called me up and told me to drop his office. I’ve been told by Horita-san that Mr. Sumi is probably the biggest freelance producer in Kumamoto, which was a huge surprise to R who tends to think of him as just “dad.” He favors flashy suits (by Japanese standards) and bears a freakish resemblance to Japanese television comedian Tamori. His office is a former bar and he still plies his clients with drinks. When I got there, I was met by Mr. Sumi and two executives with a local radio station who look like they’ve knocked back more than a few beers. Later, Mr. Sumi took me to his favorite Curry Rice joint. He called everyone working there by their first name, bummed cigarettes off the main chef, and poured himself and me a beer from the restaurant’s tap. Clearly, I thought, he’s a regular. We bonded in a manly fashion over beer and gyoza and curry.

On Thursday, I was the cameraman for a TV commercial. One of the local TV stations is sponsoring a vaguely desperate sounding spot called “Kumamoto Gambette zo” which exhorts the denizens of the prefecture to continue to struggle on in spite of the grim economy that has harried the country for the past decade. In this go around, the ad focuses on the manly exploits of a river rafting outfit. Horita-san approached me about this last week saying:

“Do you want to man a camera for a shoot?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Can you swim?”
“Yeah, sure.” (Which is a lie.)
“OK, you’re going to shoot in the boat. It’s really dangerous. Lots of people have died.”

Not being familiar with Horita-san’s mordant sense of humor, I was thinking that I might have signed on to a Deliverance-style trip of raging white rapids, jagged rocks, and amorous hillbillies. But when he showed me the brochure showing pictures of old people and toddlers beaming with good cheer, I figured that it was pretty safe. A bigger worry, it turns out was the weather, which has been generally miserable for the whole week. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m lucky. It has never rained during one of my shoots.” True to his word, during the hour or so of the boat ride not only did it not rain, but the sun peaked out of the clouds. When I returned I realized that I had a very incongruous-looking sunburn on my nose and back of my neck. Though the scenery was beautiful and rapids thrilling, I really couldn’t pay attention to it because trying to get a good shot while not to getting the camera wet. Which proved to me something of a feat. I spent most of the time in the front of the ship sitting with a rather bemused family wondering why there was foreigner pointing an expensive looking camera at them. While that spot afforded a good point of view to shoot, it was also a prime place to get soused by the rapids. I came off the boat, wet and burned at the same time.

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