Noboribetsu, Hokkaido, Japan trip — DAY 2

December 31, 2006

All the ingredients for a near ideal time were there: setting off solo onto unknown paths, few to no people around, interesting natural phenomena to check out and one better than expected find.

Early on the paths a few people were wandering, including one Korean guy who asked me to take a photo of him with his Nikon D50. … , but I said, “well, have a nice day” and made haste down a snowy & icy path in my trusty Salomon GCS GTX’s which he could not match in his smooth soled generic Puma’s. … I don’t usually interfere in the natural order of things, but I thought to myself this creature should not meet its fate from the bottom of some lesser sighted human, so I picked him up with a twig and placed him on a grassy patch on a bank, where I thought it could burrow into the ground and warmth easier as well.

…On warmer days the parking lot next to it suggests it could be a crowded place, but the road was closed for winter and I was the only visitor. … I was briefly trespassed against by a young Japanese couple, who of course asked me to take their photo for them, but they at least had the respect not to linger there. … The sulphur smell was mild, barely tickling my nostrils, but enough to remind me of home (Florida) where reverses-osmosis water treatment is common, a process that requires sulphur.

Walking up and away from the lake I actually felt a bit chilled myself, and thought if I should stop and put on my warmest base and mid-layers, but once up and around the bend I warmed again. I had noticed on one of my maps a photo of two people dipping there feet in a creek of warm spring water. … Striding down a small valley with a creek at the bottom I soon found the spot I saw in the photo earlier and it was much better than I even hoped for. … First I walked in a shallow part, just up to the bottom of my ankle, but then rolled up my pants past the kneed and waded into a pool with a small waterfall. Here the bed of the creek was totally sandy, but as I dug my toes into it, I quickly found out that a mere inch under the surface the sand is too hot for bare toes.

…The rock wall next to the waterfall formed almost a perfect natural seat, albeit a slime-covered one, so I just went and got my rain cover and sat for awhile dangling my legs in the warm sulphur water, sometimes daring to dig into the hot sand, letting the sounds of the rushing water remove me from time.

…Leaving this natural hot spring area, at the head of the trail two Japanese boys were approaching, I encouraged them to go down and try the “foot bath” as they translated what the sign said that I couldn’t read at all. Starting to head back now I saw two young boys walking by themselves and wondered if there really was no parent around. They continued on past me, one boy saying konichiwa, which I said back to him, and then I saw there was a parent, a father going the wrong way.

…I will now head to a shrine, solo, as this is customary to do on New Year’s Even in Japan.

Noboribetsu, Hokkaido, Japan trip — DAY 1

December 30, 2006

Ishido and his family generously invited me to join them on their New Year’s holidays in Hokkaido, Japan.

…Our flight was delayed by an hour because a pigeon had tragically been sucked into the jet’s engine while it was sitting on the tarmac. … After picking up our rent-a-car we careened down and empty highway flanked by a set of distant snowy covered peaks. The rest of the scenery, raised grassy hills along the highway reminded me of driving down the highway in Rhode Island with my parents when I was a small kid.

We checked into the hotel and I was quite surprised at the size of my room, much bigger than my apartment, a room for at least 3 people normally. … Of course everyone hit the onsen right after unpacking, but I packed up my backpack and headed for Hell Valley, a serious of sulfur emitting cracks in the ground surrounded by barren slopes. I got there at twilight’s last light and with tripod in had was able to catch some of the flittering sulfur clouds still.

Also, apparently Noboribetsu is founded by, or protected by some kind of tall red demon with horns, and a blue demon companion that wields a long spiky club. A lot of people pose for pictures with the red demon, which is of such a size and position that it’s easy to pose in a quite a inappropriate position between its legs. While I was taking all my photos of Hell Valley with camera, tripod and remote, two couples asked me to take their photos presumably thinking I knew what I was doing with such gear on display.

…After leaving Hell Valley it was time for dinner with everyone in our own private dining room called a zezokan or something like that, which dates back to the Bushi Era I was told. One feature of this style of dining is that everyone has their own 2-foot by 2-foot table to eat at, which is only about a foot off the floor.

…Everyone retired to their rooms after dinner and I begin what I thought would be a fruitless search to get jacked-in in this town. Three hotels including my own told me they had no access and that in fact all of Noboribetsu was off the grid. Having lived in Asia over 6 years now, I know not to believe what I’m told, although if I’m told the same thing by 3 different sources, it’s usually true. Yet I couldn’t accept that this major tourist area was not wired in at least some way. Heading up to what I learned earlier was the first and best hotel in the area, some 50+ years old, I found acceptable 10 minute for ¥100 access.

Harry Potter book 7 gets a title!!!!!

December 22, 2006

DUDE…..just released and official, the title of Harry Potter book 7 is:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

These are my spontaneous thoughts immediately upon hearing the title . . . .

Haven’t read much or listened to any comments on it yet, but I like it. In a sense it doesn’t sound very majestic or epic, but it does sound ominous and I imagine a small forest, all dark, save for an eerie white light off to the left illuminating the bottoms of gnarled trees, before which stands Harry, sweaty and dirty, wand clenched tightly in his right hand held stiffly out below his waist. A wounded Voldemort has scrambled into that bit of forest, and Harry will enter to END HIM. Yet, Voldemort is still extremely dangerous, wounded, and will take Harry with him.

…And as I read that final scene in the book I will be floored. Harry gone, Voldemort vanquished…but the costs: Harry, Ginny, Hermione, only left Ron.

The Harry Potter series will end severe. And the first body to drop will be in the first third of the book… Voldemort will leave a wake of major characters.

…Somehow the release of the title makes me want to be back in the U.S. No one here is feeling the impact of it, but it’s noon back in the real world and they must all be abuzz in schools, in their workplaces……the Deathly Hallows.

Snape will be badly hurt, but he will live. He will finally feel remorse for his actions for the first time in his life.

Had JUST mentioned earlier today to two different groups of people how Harry Potter book 7 was the #1 reason to keep living, one of only two reasons actually.

Krispy Kreme comes to Tokyo!!

December 18, 2006

About two weeks ago I noticed that a cafe on Shinjuku Southern Terrace had closed up and in the window I saw a sign: KRISPY CREME COMING IN “11 DAYS” I was pretty surprised by this, and kind of stoked. I never lived in an area that had a Krispy Kreme before, only visited, but I had tasted them and had heard people’s almost reverence for them. So Saturday I strode by their local on their grand opening day, and as I should have expected, the line was a extremely long and intimidating. … I thought to myself, “only Japanese would line up like that for donuts!” However, I would come to learn that to be a hasty judgment.

So when the opportunity arose this afternoon to give it another shot I thought surely that at 4pm on a Monday afternoon the line could not be nearly as long as in the evening of opening day. I was totally wrong, it was even longer due to the place being featured on various TV shows. In all I waited in line about 32 minutes and actually saved myself another 15 minutes of waiting by choosing to only get the “assorted dozen” pack. I went upstairs expecting all seats to be taken, but the place was fairly empty. … I noticed there were many AC outlets along the countertop inviting one to bring their laptop or other electronic gadget for a nice long stay. The interior was very cozy indeed and a hanging LCD TV showed various Krispy Kreme openings around the U.S…. I soon realized Japanese weren’t the only ones lining up for their Krispy Kremes.

…I ate the chocolate covered one with rainbow sprinkles first, and with the very first taste I realized that there were not just ordinary donuts. I could understand while people otherwise deprived of such donuts would find themselves willing to wait in borderline-ludicrous lines. … Compared to the largest donut chain in Tokyo, Mister Donut, there is just no comparison. I always knew Mister Donut was putting out a substandard product, and upon once again consuming a real donut, well, I don’t think I will ever slum it and be eating a donut away from my own hometown Krispy Kreme. Upon leaving with my leftover donuts in the huge logo emblazoned box, I offered to sell it to two young j-girls for go-ju-man ($5,000).

THE PLAYER [1992] review

December 18, 2006

I always thought THE PLAYER was a baseball movie until only recently. Then I thought it would be more of a comedy and parody or a satire, but not a dark one. So after watching it tonight I was quite surprised to find it a very dark movie, with some violence even, and lots and lots of cynicism, vapidness, and totally devoid of any character to root for as all were as they often said in the movie, “assholes.”

The story unfolds nicely having been setup by a long continuous take right from the opening of the movie and all of a sudden you find the movie turning violent, then with bits of romance, and then some criminal investigation thrown in. The pacing is fairly good and nothing seems left behind story-wise. And maybe best of all it references one of my favorite, little-known Hitchcock films, ROPE.

THE PLAYER shows how fragile the egos are of not only movie stars themselves, but also the people most responsible for getting movies made. You constantly have to work at staying relevant, never knowing when a cooler upstart will swoop in and replace you. You’ve got to maintain your buzz in the industry indefinitely, it seems if you wanted to take a break, you might as well retire forever because you’d never be able to get back in, never mind catch back up.

The ending of THE PLAYER also has a slightly Hitchcock-ian feel to it as the main character suddenly finds himself twisted into a certain fate by the final moments of the story, but unlike most of Hitchcock’s endings, the Player himself can live with it.

SUPERMAN RETURNS [2006] review ***SPOILERS***

December 17, 2006

What a waste of $270 million dollars. If that is indeed the budget of SUPERMAN RETURNS, where oh where did they spend that money? Because the CGI in the film was all about the quality of the first Harry Potter movie, and there were almost no action sequences until the final act of the movie. You have one of the best characters ever, modern effects technology that can show what it really means to be superman, and all we get is a bullet in the eye that just bounces off? … So many ludicrous things in this movie.

Before I get totally negative, the action sequence in the beginning of Superman guiding the falling passenger jet was pretty exciting. And I was ok with the job Brandon Routh did portraying the Man of Steel.

Ok, other than those two things, oh and I guess the nominal inclusion of the classic Superman theme, the rest of the movie was ludicrous and horribly miscast. … What was that haircut on Superman’s kid? Could a child have a more ludicrous haircut? … What mother would take their kid out like that?

…Obviously everyone now knows Kevin Spacey is nothing but a big fraud as an actor. Was he ever good in any role?

…Could have shown Superman doing any number of cool things, but just the uninspired shots of him up in space, who couldn’t think of that?

The absolute most totally and utterly ludicrous thing: Superman on an operating table!!! … He can hangout in space where there is NO air, but some fool is pumping air using that pumping device.

…At least it was good to hear that classic theme again, something missing from many movies today, including the Spider-Man series.

LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA [2006] review

December 9, 2006

It’s not often Japan gets a movie before the U.S., but when you have a movie about Japan made by Clint Eastwood, such is the case. However, for some reason, the theater I saw it in used the movie’s first title, Red Sun, Black Sand, which caused me much confusion when trying to buy tickets online since I didn’t know Clint changed the title.

LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA is a simple story told in gray-tones with a splash of sepia here and there highlighted by Ken Watanabe strong lead performance. The movie is well acted overall with each character displaying one main trait, be it courage, loyalty, bravery, or heart.

However, about half-way through the movie and a third of the way into the assault upon Iwo Jima by U.S. forces, I started to think, “what is the point of this movie? Does it have any real point?” I felt like it wasn’t showing anything new about war, providing no new insights since as Clint shows, Japanese troops have the same doubts and misgivings as soldiers from any other country. Many just want to go back home, some don’t think what they are doing is worth dying for anymore, and others are just totally sold on the propaganda fed to them by those in power.

I felt some emotion during the movie, but most of it was manipulation, and not so strong because all the emotional scenes were very predictable, like as soon as an officer gives a speech, sure enough their cave is hit by a bomb and that officer is critically wounded. That said, I could hear many crying and sniffling in the audience. The young Japanese guy sitting to my left, a noisy mouth breather during the whole movie, cried several times. Maybe if you are a Japanese then seeing your own soldiers dying is more emotional to you. Maybe that’s a strength of the movie, as none of them died a heroic or even noble death. All their deaths seemed pointless, as everyone knew the island had no chance to be held. But this risks making a pointless movie.

Foo Fighter's concert!!

December 4, 2006

This was my second time seeing The Foo Fighters, the first time was in Tampa, Florida on their very first tour back in about 1996. Terry and I totally rocked out during that show and I think in fact I almost strangled him right during the concert I was so excited and he so as well that he didn’t care I was doing it! The Foo Fighters took the stage promptly at 7pm at the Nihon Budokan, a venue of great renound, perhaps most famous for being the first place The Beatles played in Japan way back in 1966-ish. It’s kind of nice to attend a rock concert by first walking through old temple gates, a rather Japanese-ish experience. … I was happy to pay it as the concert from up above in the calm seats would have been a very dissatisfying experience.

I filed into the Budokan slightly nervous that the ticket I swapped for might not be legit, but no troubles at all. My ticket was for the “C” section of the floor, which was in front of the stage off to the right. … So as the lights dimmed around 7:03pm, boom, Dave comes out dressed all in black with trademark black sweatband on his right wrist, ratty mop hair, and raspy full beard. … Dave offered various witticisms throughout saying how this was the largest headlining tour of Japan ever for the band and they were glad to be able to do it. Then later on was a very personal story about the last time they toured Japan in 1998 (although they have played Fuji Rock since then) when Dave was feeling pretty sick. He said how after about 5 songs the sickness was too much and he had to go offstage right to the bathroom, and was unable to come back out.

…After this they went into the best part of the whole set, a trio of songs beginning with the best song by any band I’ve heard this year “DOA,” the only song to my knowledge they played off their latest album (glad of that actually), then “Generator” and finishing with “The One.” … Up to then, I realized and remembered that things in Japan are not the same as their equivalents in the U.S.

…So Dave goes on with things like, “I have a lot of love….and most of it is for Taylor.” It was pretty funny stuff, and seemed somewhat spontaneous as I doubt Taylor is that good of an actor to fake his reactions. … Finally, and only toward the very end of the show did Dave acknowledge bassist Nate Mendel, calling him the perfect bassist because he doesn’t jump around, just “holds down the fort.”

…They played a respectable 1 hour 45 minute set, but the only song they played from their first and best album was “Big Me.”