Posts Tagged 'tokyo'

Links (8/5/08)

From my regular trolling of the interwebs:

A huge scale model of Shanghai in 2020. Looks like they’re going to trash all of those beautiful traditional houses. [via Boingboing]

And here’s series of pics about how a post-apocalyptic Tokyo might look. [h/t Ted]

Looks like Franz Kafka was something of a porn hound.

Creepy weird jokes tech jokes from the Aphex Twins.

This is the best example of Rickrolling I’ve seen yet.

The 5 best human accomplishments done totally high.

And finally, a music video Godard-style. From his cinematic rant La Chinoise.

[h/t Joan]

One Wonderful Sunday (1947)

Kurosawa followed up on No Regrets for Our Youth with this remarkably bleak comedy about a young couple that simply wants to have a pleasant Sunday together. Yuzo is a disillusioned soldier who is valiantly trying to maintain his dignity and integrity in the ruins of postwar Tokyo. Masako is his relentless chipper girlfriend. They are too poor to live together much less marry. They only have 35 yen between them for the day.

The day goes from one failure to another, each one underlining their yen-less existence. When Yuzo tries to contact an old war chum who owns a dance hall, the management assumes his looking for a handout. When they go to the zoo, they get caught in the rain. When they try to go see a concert, scalpers swoop in and by all the cheap seats, beating Yuzo up when he complains.

Kurosawa has dealt with postwar deprivation in movies like Drunken Angel and Stray Dog, but in neither of those films are as emotionally raw as this one. After Yuzo drives Masako away in an act of misdirected fury, he sits there sullenly in his own apartment, listening to the rain piss down. His desperation is almost unbearable. Kurosawa leaves the shots long in this scene and the camera static. It would have made Andre Bazin swoon.

For the first two-thirds of the film, you could say this is Kurosawa’s most Neorealistic film. Instead of a bicycle, these characters are wandering around a cruel and indifferent city simply looking for some relief from their grinding poverty. A lot of the movie is shot on the streets of Tokyo too, giving Sunday a documentary feel like Rome, Open City and Bicycle Thieves.

Then the last third kicks in. Kurosawa suddenly veers uneasily from gritty Neorealism to a strange mixture of Capraesque whimsy and Peter Pan-style appeals to the audience. Following yet another petty defeat, this time in a coffee shop, Yuzo regroups his shattered spirit and starts looking towards the future with an inkling of hope. When that wisp of a silver lining slips away, Masako turns to the camera and beseeches the audience to clap for our broken hero, shrilly begging “Onegai Shimasu” over and over until your eyes are as dewy as hers. Breaking the fourth wall is a movie like this is really bizarre and jarring. But by doing so Masako, and by extension Kurosawa, is pleading with the postwar audience to think about the future ahead of them and not the yawning abyss below them.

Tokyo — You Can’t Go Home Again

Omotesando circa 1974I’m in Tokyo now watching a TV show with some Japanese starlet in Peruvian jungle suffering through a meal of turtle penis.

Every time I go to Tokyo there is some new building or development being thrown up. The other day I dropped by Roppongi Hills — a shiny new complex with a huge movie theater, a sundry of overpriced shops and an impressive collection of bad public art. This being summer vacation, the place was packed with family’s and young couples snapping photos with their cell phones left and right. The place looked like it would be more a home in West LA and I soon left feeling like I had seen the place before. Instead I sought out some of the bars where I danced all night in when I lived in Ibaraki eight years ago. My favorite bar had since been turned into a Starbucks. Tokyo has been wrecked and built up so many times, and each new building is more ridiculous and inhuman that the last, giving the place increasingly a feel of a dystopian sci-fi flick, that part of me simply wants to say: build more. Make Tokyo more gigantic and bizarre. But then yesterday, while R and I were looking for an over-priced macrobiotic restaurant along Omotesanto — Tokyo’s answer to the Champs Elysee — we noticed that the famed Dojunkai Apartment complex had been demolished. The Dojunkai apartments was one of first examples of Bauhaus architecture in Japan which somehow survived the 1923 Kanto earthquake and US Air force in 1945. They were elegant and gave the whole area a certain charm. In its place I sure they’re going to throw up some shiny glass box featuring another fuckin’ Starbucks.

Speaking of times gone by, the other day I ventured up to Ibaraki for the day. I first went to Tsuchiura, located on the far finger of Lake Kasumigaura. It was where my friend Ted lived and where I frequently went to escape from the tedium of Ogawa machi — small farming berg where I was placed. The place was more depressing than when I visited two years ago. The shopping mall where Ted and I bought used CDs and drank beer was a ghost town and all of the old department stores have gone belly up. There is a new department store monstrosity that opened up about five years back across from the train station. My friend Yuki predicted that it would go belly up too in a couple of years. Yuki and I spent most of the day catching up over okonomiyaki at one of the few stores still open in that shopping mall.

I told her about working at BIG and R and we talked about our mutual distaste for George W. Bush. She told me about her dumb job and her cat Godzilla who is getting on in years. We gossiped about mutual friends. One is working in a wedding salon as a hairdresser and another has expanded to an alarming girth. Yuki also told me about a dream she had in which she was along with Ted helping me move from my apartment in LA, which was literally on the beach. When the moving guys showed up they brought out a vast array of exotic vacuum machines to clean my house. I was apparently wildly fascinated by them and kept pestering the moving guys with questions. Eventually, they mentioned that they had a vacuum cleaner shaped like a dog. After repeatedly pleading with them, they grudgingly brought the thing out of their van. It was only a beat up plastic toy dog and clearly in no way a vacuum cleaner. I was very disappointed. It was good talking to Yuki. The more my Japanese improves the more I realize that I actually have something to talk about with her, which I’ve sadly learned isn’t always the case.

Speaking of that, for dinner I jogged up to Mito where I briefly saw Ikuko, an ex-girlfriend of mine. I met her at the used-clothing shop she opened up two years ago. The store itself is roughly the size of my bathroom in LA but the location was pretty good and her wares were cool if pricey. She introduced me to her ferret-faced boyfriend who scowled at me for twenty minutes as she closed up shop and then hopped in his Jeep Cherokee and left. We ate dinner at a Thai restaurant that her brother opened, talked about old times and R and ferret-face, and then I grabbed the last train back to Tokyo, which for some reason is at the appalling early time of 9:30pm. On the way back, the train stopped for an hour at the station closest to Ogawa-machi. Something was messed up because of the heavy rain and freakishly cold weather the area is experiencing. Across from me sat a young mother who passed the time staring into her cell phone and whacking her spastic child who was terrorizing the train car.

Anyway, it’s only a few days before my grudging return to the US of A whereupon I’m going to have to find a job fast or move into a cardboard box.

Spring Break ’03 Part 6 — The Long Return Home

I’m bleary-eyed and back in the US of A. Today, apart from the continued illegal war, and a frightening virus sweeping through China, I learned that Hong Kong actor/pop star Leslie Cheung committed suicide today. This sad news made a weird connection with me because the Reuters article [now, sadly, offline] about the incident indirectly quotes the Barnes and Noble web site, which features a bio written by yours truly, back when I was working for allmovie.com. I guess this is an example of the decline of journalistic standards.

Anyway, R and I spent the remainder of my time in Tokyo around Ueno. It’s cherry blossom season there, so we went to Ueno park and looked at the blossoms and thought about the transcience of life. We then looked at the drunk middle-aged men gathered under the trees in the traditional picnic party/drinking marathon on a blue tarp known as Hana-mi and we thought that we should leave.

I bought some pants at the last minute at a store called Muji, which is like Ikea, Trader Joe’s, the Michael Graves section of Target and an slightly more interesting Gap rolled into one. It’s great. Contrary to popular opinion, Japan is becoming a reasonably affordable place for clothes, if you have the right body-shape. Since I’m build like a tall (if hairy) Japanese — Gap clothes look weird and billowy on me as if even pants with a 31″ waists have legs the width of cheese wheels — this place is great.

Somehow in the bizarre logic of time-zones, I arrived in Los Angeles seven hours before I took off from Tokyo. I departed from Narita at around 7pm 3/31/03 only to arrive at noon the same day. Needless to say, my body clock is still higglety-pigglety. The same sextet of loud UCSB college girls sat in from of me who same in front of me on the way over. They all filled out there sweatpants like overstuffed sausage skins as they read People magazine and brayed loudly about boys, partying and tennis. Girls gone Wild in Tokyo. Still nothing short of a projectile vomiting toddler could be worse than the Texan frat boy I sat next to that last time I ventured over the Pacific. For the entire ten hour flight, he proselytized to the guy sitting next to him about the virtues of fundamentalist Christianity and right wing politics. I was hoping the plane would crash just so I wouldn’t have to listen to the guy.

When I arrived, my heart swelled when I learned that I had seven messages on my cell phone’s voice mail. Friends and family wished me a safe return, I thought? A possible job offer to pull me out of my art school penury? No. It was some stoner who thought I was Raymond and, like, was waiting for me on the “second level.”

Anyway, I’m going to start seriously working on this autobiographical essay film that I’ve been thinking about for years and for which I shot 8 hours of footage in Japan. Instead of standard shots of scenic wonders and family, or even trains — of which I shot 14 hours when I was in Tokyo in 2001 — I shot a lot of semi-abstract images of light and reflections. I have no idea if any of them will look good or not, but I might post a few samples.

Spring Break ’03 Part 5 — Tokyo

It’s been a busy couple of days here in Tokyo. On TV right now an announcer is trolling the streets of Shibuya asking overly tanned teen aged girls about current events. One woman thought that America was at war with Hawaii. Another thought that Iraq was the entirety of Africa while America was located in three lonely islands north of Siberia.

Yesterday, I saw Kurosawa Kiyoshi‘s last film Akarui Mirai (Bright Future). For anyone who has seen his other works like Charisma, Pulse, or Cure, you expect a certain amount of oddness and genre-bending, but this film was probably the weirdest and perhaps his most subtle in his canon. It was half a horror film — a bit like Pulse — half a family drama like License to Live and then some other stuff like a mass of day-glo jellyfish and a band of teenage thugs sporting Che Guevera T-shirts, which didn’t really fit in either category. When the lights went up and the audience filed out of the shoebox sized theater, there was dead silence. Finally someone in the elevator in a black turtleneck and pink hair turned to her friend and said, “What the hell was that?”

Yesterday, I also went to my favorite CD store in Japan, Los Apson, located on the sixth floor of a normal looking office building. The place, which not only sold albums that are found no where else but also Mexican wrestling memorabilia and porno posters from the 1970s, was having an Anti-War sale. I took advantage of the 10 percent off for peace discount and bought a couple odd ambient discs (5 Sleepers and Ochi Brothers) while R picked up a few noise albums by Merzbow.

Working backwards, the day before yesterday I saw Marcus, my friend from my University of Michigan days. He’s living in Tokyo and somehow managed to snag a huge (and I mean huge) house in north Tokyo about 15 minutes from Ikebukuro. It has a large front yard, which is about as rare as having a swimming pool in Manhattan. He was evasive on the exact nature of the purchase, but I suspect it was some bankruptcy auction thing. Anyway, he had a few words of advice about living in Tokyo, which if Chimpie McCokespoon continues his march towards an American police state (e.g. if rumored Patriot II becomes a reality) be might be an option I seriously consider.

Three days ago, I met with my friend Tomoe who is 8 1/2 months pregnant with her second child. I met her ten years ago in Boston and she was my first Japanese conversation partner. Since then, I stayed with her family in Mitaka (on the west side of Tokyo) numerous times, and then I caught up with her again in Prague where her husband worked for Toyota and my dad was teaching for a semester at Charles University. She was really happy for me, and gave me a really nice, if heavy, crystal tray she picked up in Prague. Her son, who is three years old, has memorized every train station in Tokyo and told us how to get from Mitaka to Senju. It was impressive for a number of reasons, but most of all, I realized to my great dismay that this toddler could read kanji better than I could.

That night, Yo-chan took us and his girlfriend Mikio to a Kyoto restaurant. He wanted to celebrate our engagement and Mikio’s passing of the nurses exam by treating us to an 11-course meal. Kyoto cuisine consists of tofu, bamboo shoots and very little soy sauce. All of it was terrific. Yo-chan and I ordered shochu (rice liquor, a strong version of sake basically) that came in a flask made of bamboo.

Anyway, tomorrow I return to America, the war, my thesis, and my futile attempts at looking for a job. R is going to be in Tokyo for another two months…

Spring Break ’03 Part 4 – Last Day in Kumamoto

Hello all. We made it to Tokyo and I’m now sitting in R’s brother’s humble pad located in Kita-senju, which is the northeast corner of this sprawling city. In spite of the crowds, the cramped living conditions, and the cost, I really like Tokyo.

The day before yesterday, R and I meandered around the shopping district of Kumamoto. Compared to Tokyo, Kumamoto has a relaxed — R would say lackadaisical — pace and an artsy-craftsy sort of favor. Or at least that was the case in the shopping district, which featured boutique after boutique featuring Indian wrap-around skirts, hemp bracelets, and a variety of hipster updates of traditional Japanese crafts. Kumamoto also boasts a thick accent roughly equivalent to a Scottish burr, which R and Yo-chan (R’s brother delight in teaching me).

For lunch, R’s mom took us to a really good soba restaurant (soba being a specialty there) set in a beautiful old house complete with a courtyard garden. There’s probably not a single nail in this building, R’s mom commented. Then she took us to a nearby antique shop/coffee shop/ two-hundred plus year old tavern located right on one of the canals that rib the city. The antique collection was impressive — featuring a lot of European stained glass for some reason — but the building was out of this world. In the old days, customers arrived to the place by the canal. The dock and boarding room were still beautifully in tact. Why aren’t more old buildings preserved like this in Japan?

Later, after eating at an Indian themed coffee shop, which seemed to be a center for the local Kumamoto peace movement, we went back to the hotel where I was treated to a reality TV show where a team of young (18-20 yr old) hostesses talked shit about a team of older (28-30) hostesses. A cat-fight ensued in a wrestling ring and the loser of the match suffered the indignity of getting pied. It’s only a matter of time before FOX starts airing its own version.


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