Kumamoto –the Yamaga Shoot

It’s Monday and I’m not at work. Today is a holiday in honor of the ocean. In America, all our holidays are either political or religious — we honor dead presidents, dead soldiers, and the all-but-dead labor movement. In Japan, they natural cycles of life such as a holiday for the spring equinox, the autumn equinox and old people.

Well itâs still raining here. Like a bad case of the clap or the Strom Thurmond, the rainy season just won’t die. This weekend we’ve been drenched with such a massive amount of rain that the train system was shut down and 16 people died south of here from a freak mudslide. It’s probably too soon to start gathering pairs of animals in a houseboat but it feels like that time is near. One of joys of rainy season is the fact that mold seems to grow on every flat surface. There’s a corner in the tatami room I’m living in that seems to grow little civilizations of mold every two or three days, only to fall to the apocalypse of a damp rag and the Japanese equivalent of Windex.

I learned this week that I am susceptible to “Kourabyou” or AC Sickness. Electricity being insanely expensive and all here, they have these little tiny air con units that only outfitted to cool a single room and they are only used a few hours a day when the heat becomes so unbearably awful that everyone threatens to dissolve into great puddles of sweat. The problem is that these little AC things are great breeding grounds for all sorts of nasties and when the units are turned on these little nasties get spewed out into the air. Because of Ma Sumi’s mostly macrobiotic home cookin’ and a regular regime of nose washing (warm tea, add a pinch salt, then snort the concoct up your nose like you were Margot Kidder in a 1970s beach party), I’ve been remarkably free of allergies in spite of the presence of an emotionally needy dog named Hachi. That was until this week when while plowing through Pynchon at work, I started feeling all dizzy and phlegmy. Later while driving out to location scout in Yamaga with Horita-san, I complained that I felt like crap. He casually mentioned that everyone who sat at my desk developed some form of “Kourabyou.” The building manager is not especially fussy about duct cleanliness and my desk in fact directly faces the main vent. When I mentioned my problem to R’s mom, who is a fellow sufferer, she immediately made a big steaming macrobiotic potion of daikon radish and ginger — which tastes about as good as it sounds — and an extra round of nose washing. For now, it seems to be doing the trick.

On Tuesday, R and I had a rather ludicrous argument about post-structural theory. I accused her of not understanding Barthesian theory; she argued that I was not articulating myself clearly (a fair complaint, but you try to discuss Barthes in Japanese) and that I was a big poophead. We’ve more or less resolved the Barthesian theory issue, but the poophead issue remains a topic of debate.

But the big news of the week was that I directed with relative success that promo bit for the resort town of Yamaga. While the budget for this shoot was small and the crew limited to the staff of BIG, this marks the first time that I shot in a location where I wasn’t looking over my shoulder for the police. In fact, at one point I had the banners of a famous local kabuki house rearranged and the street in front wetted down by a band of city officials.

My big concern was whether or not Oshima, my producer for the shoot and a native of Yamaga, could cough up a cute girl. Yamaga was famous for its monochromatic traditional architecture and its touro festival featuring young maidens sporting pink kimonos and gold colored paper lanterns atop their heads. Horita-san said that the promo bit should be like an exotic fantasy directed towards the jaded city-folk of Fukuoka. Right, I thought, I’ll contrast the recto-linear lines of the architecture with the curvy pinkness of the touro maidens, culminating with a reasonably attractive lass flashing an enigmatic smile at the camera. Early this week, Oshima told me that the city government couldn’t find any cute girls with their own head lanterns, but they did find three who were “kinda ugly.” Christ, I thought, there has to be one or two girls per generation born with the gift of beauty in the town. My mind raced back to a painful conversation at the town hall in Ogawa-machi some nine years ago with a pair of civil servants who sat near my desk. They pointed out one woman after the next who worked at the city hall who they at one point or another had boinked. Most had crooked gold teeth, weather-beaten skin and that unfortunate frizzy hair-do that women pushing 40 inevitably get in some countries. If guys like that are calling the only three touro maidens available in the whole friggin’ town “kinda ugly”, I’m screwed. Fortunately, the guys at the Yamaga city hall not only proved to be harsh judges of beauty — the three women looked just fine — but they managed to dredge up a real babe for the close up.

Up until four or so in the afternoon, things were going swimmingly, most of my storyboard was shot, and Oshima came through with the touro maidens. Then disaster struck. We were shooting in a public hot spa of sorts where you can wile away the time soaking your feet in spring water. We had set up the camera just the way I liked it, when about two dozen Chinese tourists came in and camped out. In spite of the camera, the lights, and me glowering at them, the group ignored us and had a grand old time. While I would have been happy to forcibly remove them from the site, Horita seemed inclined to wait them out. Then the camera crapped out.

And then it rained. Hard. Since the touro lanterns are made of paper, shooting seemed impossible. Things worked out fine in the end. We gave up on the foot spa place when the Chinese tourists started breaking out picnic lunches, and went to the next location. We dug up a substitute camera and a stunt touro that could brave the rain. I saw the footage on Friday and it looks all pretty good. The stuff we shot in the rain looks great. Now I’ve got to edit it all.

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