Posts Tagged 'thomas pynchon'

Kumamoto Summer: The Complete Series!

Ten years ago, after graduating with a useless Master’s Degree in Japanese Studies, I panicked and fled the country for a wild and woolly trip around the world.

Five years later, after graduating with a largely useless Master’s of Fine Arts in Film and Video, I again panicked and fled the country. This time, I went to Kumamoto, to work at a Japanese production company and live with my then girlfriend and her family. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Over the three so months I was there in 2003, I shot two commercials that aired on Japanese TV (you can see them here and here), read Gravity’s Rainbow, and suffered a low level headache from speaking Japanese pretty much 24/7.

I documented my time there on my first blog Broad Spectrum Antibiotics and now I’m reposting them, cleaned up and with lots of pictures and links, on WITMOT. You can read the first entry here.

Additional material: I also posted blogs entries from my first visit to Kumamoto here. And you can look at more pics of Kumamoto that I took here.

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Kumamoto — DARPA-tastic

At work today, I was merrily reading about the myriad of corporate interests plotting again Tyrone Sloproth in Gravity’s Rainbow, when I noticed that the single aging computer that’s connected to the web was free. After briefly checking my mail, I happened upon a startlingly bizarre news story that seemed like a continuation of Pynchon’s tome. Apparently John Poindexter at the Total Information Awareness agency (recently renamed the slightly less Orwellian Terror Information Awareness agency) has unveiled the Pentagon Terror Market Program. No, it’s not a correspondence course for the School of the Americas, it’s a surreal free-marketeer attempt to make (more) money off of mayhem in the Middle East. A quote:

Traders would buy and sell futures contracts ” just like energy traders do now in betting on the future price of oil. But the contracts in this case would be based on what might happen in the Middle East in terms of economics, civil and military affairs or specific events, such as terrorist attacks. Holders of a futures contract that came true would collect the proceeds of traders who put money into the market but predicted wrong.” (Quoted from an AP news story. The links has gone dead.)

Not only does this seem like something that’s in ridiculously bad taste, but it seems largely irrelevant to, y’know, finding and capturing terrorists. That is until the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency released a statement on Monday that justified the project in pseudo-mystical terms that Pynchon would surely adore.

“DARPA said markets could reveal Îdispersed and even hidden information. Futures markets have proven themselves to be good at predicting such things as elections results; they are often better than expert opinions.” (Quoted from same dead link)

I’m gathering that DARPA is also organizing a crack team of tarot card readers too. You can read the projects strangely laconic web site here.

In other news, Oshima and I went up to Yamaga to present my promo. Three or four middle-aged men grunted their approval and that was about that. Afterwards, Oshima and I ate at one of her favorite takoyaki joints.

Also, I saw on TV the other day that there is a new freshly scrubbed pop-starlet named You. One at imagine spontaneous Abbott and Costello routines popping during the most inappropriate occasions·

A: Hello, thanks for coming to the Strom Thurmond funeral service. May I ask your name?

You: I’m You.

A: No, you’re not. I’m me. You’re you.

You: Right. I’m You

A: No·. (usw.)

Kumamoto — Fun with Editing

If I wrote this missive yesterday, I would have said something like the rainy season is basically over and I’m spending most of the day feeling my sweat pool in my socks. My sweat may be still pooling in my socks, but it’s raining outside something fierce. The backyard, as such, of the Sumi’s is flooded and the tram has shut down. It seems that R and I are stuck in the house for the day. Despite the rain, there’s some sort of awful karaoke contest going on right now in the neighboring zoo. Someone is doing his best to bludgeon “Let It Be.” I’m trying to ignore it, listening to The Red Hot Chili Peppers of all things. Yesterday, R and her cousin’s daughter and I were rooting around in Sumi’s storage room, where I discovered R’s college CD collection. Apparently, she listened to exactly the same stuff I did back then. There are lots of Dinosaur Jr., Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth albums here, and even a Nirvana disc too. Of course, after our respective college careers our musical tastes radically diverged. I started listening to Japanese neo-lounge and she started listening to stuff that sounds like surgery without anesthetic.

R’s mom just brought in a slice of melon. Yesterday, we started an English conversation class with Mrs. Sumi and one of her old friends. Even though the lesson seemed painfully self-conscious at the time, both women seemed to really enjoy learning English. Mrs. Sumi is now waltzing about the house tossing out English phrases to me and to R, who’s really embarrassed about the whole thing.

Anyway, the week started off slowly. Most of the planned shoots have been done for the immediate short term and most of the staff at BIG was busying themselves for the next spate of shoots next week. On top of that, Ruriko was off for a few days with her aunt and her cousin Chakko to the dubiously named Jigoku Onsen (Hell Hot Spring) over by Mt. Aso.

I had little to do but study Kanji and read Pynchon. I just got up to the part where Tyrone Slothrop pied a racist US army major from a hot air balloon when R’s dad called me up to go hang out. When I arrived at his office, there was a guy with a punch perm and lots of gold jewelry, sucking on a toothpick seated on the couch. I forgot his name but apparently he was the event coordinator for a traveling comedy show that Mr. Sumi was promoting for Kumamoto. When we were introduced he almost immediately asked me where my ancestors were from. When I responded, “England and Scotland mostly.”

He said, “Good. Like Bush.” When we went out to eat yakitori together, he talked about the wonders of his hometown Osaka, how he would never visit America because there are too many guns, and how the Chinese were always dishonest. He asked me what I thought of Bush, I said that he was an idiot and only interested in helping the rich (which, by the way, is not a particularly controversial opinion in Japan) he seemed vaguely disappointed. When I refused to agree with him that the Hispanics were mucking up America, he seemed more disappointed. Then, as we were all getting chummy, he mentioned that he would never let his daughter marry a foreigner. Later, Mr. Sumi and I parted ways with Mr. Punchperm guy and obliquely ridiculed the guy at a bar with only six seats and wall full of expensive bourbon. As I think about that night, I sort of think that Mr. Sumi intentionally invited me along that night to rile up Mr. Punchperm, who he spent three long nights wining and dining and listening to his racist platitudes.

On Wednesday after a fair amount of prodding, Horita-san let me take a crack at editing that Gambaru Zo ad that I shot last week. Aside from Horita, there are two other BIG directors I deal with regularly. One is Miyazaki-san, who is really sharp. When he mentioned that his favorite author was Abe Kobo and that he was looking to read some American books, I recommended Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. He immediately bought it and then lent me the first volume from his favorite comic book series 20th Century Boys. I’ve read about half of it and in spite of the fact that’s it’s peppered with Tokyo slang I’m finding it really addictive.

The other director is Oshima-san, who I think is still a bit cowed by my foreign presence. She was assigned to help me with the editing. When I banged out a version of the 15-spot that I thought was pretty good, she didnât say anything but clearly she thought that something was wrong. When Horita saw it, he said that the version was decently edited but wrong for the concept of the campaign and offered a few suggestions. The following day, I re-edited the spot and Oshima was quiet in that something’s-wrong-but-I’m-too-shy-to-tell-you-what sort of way. After about a half hour, she gets Miyazaki who tells me that there’s supposed to be text in the spot too. OK, that’s the first I’ve heard of that. Together with Miyazaki and Oshima, we eventually hashed together a commercial that not only features most of my editing choices, and a lot of my photography, but also a half-second shot of the back of my head. Anyway, assuming the TV high mucky-mucks like the piece, it should be airing in the next week or so.

It’s a little sobering to think that after all the pain, effort, and money that I spent on my films while in Cal Arts, this 15 second piece that took two and a half days to throw together will be seen by more people than all the others combined.

You can watch the final result here: .

Kumamoto — Film Shoots

It’s raining here again . When I first came to Japan last week from Los Angeles, I thought, “Oh hey rain.” Now the novelty has worn off and like every other person in Japan, I’m griping about the weather.

Anyway, it’s been a busy week. On Tuesday, I went to location scout in a resort town north of Kumamoto called Yamaga. It’s primarily famous for a massive festival it holds in August where over a thousand young women don pink kimonos and strapped golden lanterns to their heads. It used to be stipulated that the participants must be virgins, but in recent years that rule has apparently been quietly dropped. Another attraction is that unlike much of Japan, which looks like a bad stretch of East Berlin meets a bad stretch of Van Nuys, Yamaga has kept much of its original charm — traditional kura buildings line the main streets and a famed kabuki theater has been resorted to its original luster. I was being taken there by Oshima-san, a fellow BIG employee and Yamaga resident, who the previous day matter-of-factly informed me that their were going to shoot a 45 promo bit for the town and that I’d be directing it. In spite of the crappy weather (rain again), we scouted the town and I took notes.

When we got to Hachisendaiza — the kabuki theater — we learned that the local government was holding an anti-bosozoku event. Bosozoku are largely thuggish orange-haired high-school dropouts who annoy everyone with their improbably loud motorbikes, and who like the Hell’s Angels in the States have been associated with all sorts of deviant and criminal behavior. Anyway, we were ushered into the theater toting a bunch of free anti-bosozoku, where I noticed that the audience consisted of a) old people b) cops c) glassy-eyed high school students who were dragged to this event for Their Own Good. The event opened with a Cops-style video of bosozoku terrorizing the streets of Kumamoto. A couple minutes into it, the video feed went out, and the audience was left listening to a cacophony of roaring motorcycling, police sirens, screams, and at least one heart-rending dog yelp with no idea what was going on. We decided that it was a good time to leave.

When I got home, my head throbbed from excessive Japanese-use, so I vegged out in front of the TV. I saw a “rap contest” on one show, which had about as much funk as your average Christmas office party. It would have been better described as a make-the-lyrics-up-as-you-go-along karaoke contest. One memorable contestant simply issued forth a string of rude words set to John Lennon’s Imagine. Ex.: “She’s ugly. Big tits. Fart.” Later on the news, there was a news story where a jilted lover doused his hostess ex-girlfriend with gasoline, and set the entire hostess bar where she worked alight. Parts of downtown Kumamoto still smell a bit acrid. In other news, “The Great Sasuke”, the Mexican-wrestling mask wearing member of the Diet hailing from Iwate prefecture, vehemently denied that he was a male porn star before taking a turn into politics. Who could tell, I thought, he was wearing a mask.

The next day was a rare break in the gloom of the rainy season. Horita-san, my boss, leapt at the opportunity and scheduled a shoot TV commercial for a land development company. After driving hither and yon to collect needed equipment, the employees of BIG along with a cameraman named Yamano (and who was classmates with Miike Takashi at Imamura Shohei‘s film school), gathered in the parking lot of the company’s headquarters. The main task of the day was a time-lapse shot of the building — an over-designed Ando Tadao knock-off — as the sun set. I struggled for most of the shoot to trying fight the haze of brain fatigue and look like I understood what was going on. Overall, the shoot went fine until the area was beset by bats that were hunting for bugs in the adjacent rice fields.

Call time for the next day (Thursday) was at 4:15 am, which considering that I managed to drag myself home for the previous night’s shoot at 10:30 or so at night, was pretty brutal. Bleary-eyed, we all choked down some horribly artificial tasting convenience store sandwiches and prepared for another time-lapse shot of the building as dawn broke. After a few more shots, including one where the camera swept over the employee’s of the company on a crane, we packed up and headed for the hills in search of a lonely stretch of mountain road.

With the camera set up on the yellow line, we waited for the clouds to line up in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. The crew talked at length about the merits of Tora! Tora! Tora! over Pearl Harbor. Horita regaled us with a story about working with Kurosawa. One day, Kurosawa had Horita corral 5,000 extras in full costume for six hours atop Mt. Aso before canceling the day’s shoot because he didn’t like the shape of the clouds. Fortunately, Horita wasn’t as stubborn at that great master, and we wrapped by noon.

On the way back from shoot, we ate the curiously named Ringer Hut, a sit-down fast-food establishment that reportedly sells Nagasaki style noodles. The first thing I noticed about the place was the pitchers of water on each table, presumably to counteract the mouth-scalding amount of MSG in the food. The restaurant puts the patron in an American style war of attrition with his or her meal, a rarity for Japan. In this case, my foes included a tub of noodles, a bucket of fried rice and a dozen very nasty fried dumplings. In the end, it turned into a pyrrhic victory for me, as I felt like crap for the rest of the day.

Yesterday, everyone looked haggard at the office and Horita let me leave at noon. I spent much of the day reading Gravity’s Rainbow, which after spending a week struggling to read office memos and to understand Kumamoto’s thick dialect, zipped by like a dream. That night, R and I saw Shinoda Masahiro‘s latest Spy Sorge, a flawed but well-meaning flick that unfortunately coarsened to a muddleheaded pacifist yarn that seemed more naive that profound. When John Lennon’s Imagine faded in over the credits, I sort of hoped it was the version I saw on TV earlier in the week. “Have more tea, sir. Vomit.”


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