Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday papers: Comic Strip Presents...

Desmond: "I guess you live for the moment, huh?"

Kix: "Well I am at the moment."

On the turntable: The Free Spirits, "Tokyo Live"

On the reel table: "The Decalogue" (Kieslowski, 1988)

Saturday, January 26, 2008


By the windowside,
Reading Nihongi.
Shadows of snowflakes
Drift up the page.

On the turntable: Ornette Coleman, "This is Our Music"
On the reel table: "Gloomy Sunday" (Schubel ,1999)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Screen Test

The other night, I was asked whether I prefer Ozu or Kurosawa. I'm a big fan of both directors. I've been a Kurosawa fan for over twenty years, since being amazed by "Ran" on the big screen. Not longafter, I saw "Throne of Blood" in one of my film classes. Just prior to coming to Japan, I watched nearly every one of his films over a couple months. Ozu I came to later. I remember being bored by "Tokyo Monogatari" a year or two into my stay here. I've since changed my position. This past year, I've seen all of his post-war films, and have come to love his slow and steady pace. His films have become a Sunday night tradition, pleasant as a warm bath.

So coming back to the original question. How to answer? I've begun to watch Kurosawa again this winter, and aside from "Seven Samurai," which may be my favorite film of all time, I find his stories to be a little over the top sometimes. I don't love him any less; just that I find his hyperbole tiring. Like spending time with a talkative friend, enjoyable yet.... Last weekend I watched "Dodeskaden' again, a film I didn't enjoy very much 15 years ago. I think less of it today. Granted, I'm watching these old films with 2008 eyes, eyes that are subject to change. But lately, my criteria for disliking a film is based on there being more drama than characterization. I found "Dodeskden" to fail miserably here. Supposedly a character study, the stories are overwrought. It's a film of all peaks and no valleys. Then it hit me. It had no "ma." This simple concept (or lack of concept) is what makes a work of art Japanese. Ozu's films are "filled" with ma. Aside from his half dozen or so best films, Kurosawa's works lack it somewhat. Which is bizarre because to most, his films represent Japanese cinema worldwide.

On the turntable: The Waterboys, "The Best..."

On the reel table: "Room 666" (Wenders, 1982)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Heard in the Kyo

Miki:  "Yeah, sometimes you'll almost bump into somebody, and they give you an angry look.  But then you say, 'Sorry,'  and they smile."

Ted:  "You all outta be Catholic"

On the turntable:  John McLaughlin, "Extrapolation"
On the nighttable:  Donald Keene, "On Familiar Terms"
On the reel table:  "Dodeskaden" (Kurosawa, 1970)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Monday, January 21, 2008

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Facing West

Death.   It is the most natural thing in the world, but we never get used to it.  I'm at an age where I have already lost an entire generation of my family.  That was expected -- the old timers go first.
But losing both my father and son in the space of 2 1/2 years wasn't, nor was losing three close friends to cancer, all under 30, in the time between.  I've been awash in death, and it should have become a habit by now, like putting away winter clothes, or that first cup of coffee in the morning.  
Yet every year, I lose someone else.  And it never gets easier...

On the turntable:  Eric Clapton, "From the Cradle"
On the nighttable:  Masanobu Fukuoka, "The One-Straw Revolution"
On the reel table:  "Reds" (Beatty, 1981)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

One Foot in Front of the Other

In early October, I went to New York to wander the Village with Michael Thaler.  His blog documents not only these walks he'd take, but also his long bout with cancer. I always felt that he was walking so as to stay one step ahead of the disease.  But yesterday, cancer overtook him.

I was happy that I could send him one last email before he died.


I haven't known you long, but I feel that we became
close friends in that short time. "Kindred
Spirits," going beyond the cliche. Through our talks
and your writing I feel I have a sense for what a good
man you are. 

I feel honored to have joined you as we walked your
"Songlines" through the East Village back in October,
listening to your stories and meeting many of the
folks who composed your world. The photos you took of
them were
your imprints on their lives. 

I have confidence that your Zen and Karate training
have prepared you for your illness, and for the greatest
of foes who waits beyond. Yet I also have incredible
respect for the fact that you see your condition as a
teacher and not as an enemy. There lies the real

We'll meet again my friend, somewhere, sometime. I'll
again play Shih-te to your Han Shan, as we wander 
, laughing at the rain...


For Michael:
On the turntable:  Lou Reed, "Magic and Loss"
On the nighttable:  Gary Snyder, "Mountains and Rivers Without End"

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Art. Life: The Imitation

The pipes of CLo's shower
like Tibetan horns

The wavering fue note
which ends "Yatai Bayashi."
As played by car brakes.

On the turntable: Eric Clapton, "Eric Clapton"
On the reel table: "Notebook on Cities and Clothes" (Wenders, 1989)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

And then there is this...

Drop by if you feel inclined.  Chairs available upon request...

On the turntable: The Yardbirds, "Five Live Yardbirds"
On the reel table:  "Tokyo Twilight"  (Ozu, 1957)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash

Yesterday was Ebisu Matsuri, the festival which honors the God of Wealth. As we are both self-employed, Miki and I wanted to pray for a prosperous year. Thus, we followed the elderly hoards (praying to get their pensions?) into Gion, down a street lined with food and toy stalls, most run by dark-skinned youth of the dyed hair variety. The shrine itself was slightly less crowded than a Who concert. We joined one of the four queues leading to the roped bells hanging to call the gods. Old women jumped from queue to queue like they were navigating an LA freeway. The younger, white clad miko on the Noh stage nearby moved with far more elegance. I was just getting used to the tiny, wrinkled hands pressed into my back, when we suddenly changed lanes to a spot behind a blind man. His dog was dressed in a plaid apron like a maid in a 70's sitcom. Once at the front, I prayed, one of the only people who didn't make a monetary offering. I mean, if the whole idea is to make money, the last thing I'd do is throw cash away into a wooden box. To quote Bono, "The God I believe in isn't short of cash, mister." Karmically, I was almost blinded when a coin tossed was deflected by an well-timed pull of the rope, bouncing off the shoulder of the pushy old timer to my right. The huge tuna between us and the gods passed no judgement, simply laying on it's side looking like a beat-up eggplant.

Back out on the main street again, we ducked into a temple dedicated to wild boars. Last year was this animal's year, and being Miki's Chinese zodiac "sign," she prayed to give thanks for 2007's safe passing. I simply walked around looking at the temple's many statues and paintings of boars. For some reason, I've recently grown slightly nervous at running into one of these in the wild. It's more a sense of apprehension than a full blown fear, but one that's increased in these days where the weather has gone crazy and the behavior of animals has gotten more unpredictable. If I run into a bear or boar some time this winter, I wouldn't at all be surprised.

Further down the street, we ate takoyaki next to a man who was well into his cups. For some reason, he was convinced I was French. Parting with an "A bien tot!", we then rode our bikes over to a smaller shrine at the south end of the Path of Philosophy. The Shrine's ema of a three-legged crow suggests it's link with the Shugendo sites of Kumano. But the main attraction here is the large statue of Ebisu. A real beauty. The national government has hopes of making this a national treasure, but the Shrine politely refuses, hoping instead to entrust the kami.

At the opposite end of the Path is soft cream. Miki and I sat on a stone bridge, lapping away the warm day. Nearby, a rickshaw driver was having a rough time drumming up business. Perhaps a prayer to Ebisu would help...

On the turntable: Neil Young, "Harvest"

On the reel table: "Tokyo-Ga" (Wenders, 1985)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Steppin' out on The Blog

This morning, I had a winking flirtation with the idea that if I were to start a new blog, I'd call it Cognitive Dissonance.  Then after a quick Google, I found that one already exists!   I'd start one anyway, but that would be too much like a cognitive mid-life crisis.

On the turntable:  The Free Spirits, "Tokyo Live"

On the reel table:  "Red Beard" (Kurosawa, 1965)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Boogie Down a la Rimbaud

I am one of those annoying people who is always wearing headphones. Unless I'm in actual conversation with someone, I am rarely far from my music, which over three decades, has led to an amount only measurable by copious.
I am also one of those people who, when on a bike, don't ride so much as race. Under the iPod, I feel like I'm gliding in slow-motion over the city to my own personal soundtrack.
A side affect of this whole phenomenon is the St. Vitus dance I do while in public, limbs and phalanges atwitch. It takes all the willpower I have not to jump up and down in the vegetable aisle, tracing the shapes of the produce with my bobbing head.

On the turntable: Gov't Mule, "Life Before Insanity"
On the nighttable: Anodea Judith, "Eastern Body, Western Mind"
On the reel table: "A Very Long Engagement" (Jeunet, 2004)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

"...and he breathed his last."

Over the past year, I've gone big for the Flashman series of novels, whose protagonist is a skamp and a rake and a cad, in those days when bosoms heaved, and such words meant something. As I sat reading the eighth installment on a Bullet Train speeding west, the author of the series, George MacDonald Fraser, was dying halfway across the world on the Isle of Man. In that instant, life became that much more ... modern.

On the turntable: Shakti, "Natural Elements"

On the nighttable: George MacDonald Frasier, "Flashman and the Dragon"

Tuesday, January 01, 2008