Hanami 2007

March 31, 2007

This afternoon I met three of my old students from Hosei University, two of which went back with me to Florida about four years ago. The weather didn’t cooperate too much as there was heavy overcast with no sun at all peaking through, and it was chilly, exactly the opposite of the two previous days which were sunny and warm. We went to Shinjuku Gyoen, which I have been to about 20 times, but only one of the other three had ever been there even a single time before! Shocking to me.

I knew exactly where to go for a nice hanami (picnic under cherry blossoms) spot. Despite the weather, we had a good supply of western foods and snacks to chow on and it was good for everyone to catch up with each other’s various travels to Spain, Paris, Egypt, Turkey, etc. Also, due to the ill weather, the park itself was not overly crowded.

Earlier, on Thursday I met a friend in Hibiya Park where we ate lunch on a bench under a very nice sakura (cherry blossom) tree in hot sunshine. It was a very pleasant way to pass the afternoon, especially knowing most people were working in the neighboring skyscrapers. One baby kept coming over to us, well, her, and offering us water or whatever he was drinking.

GOJIRA (Godzilla) [1954] review

March 31, 2007

GOJIRA the film may not necessarily be legend, but the character Godzilla is most certainly a legend. … And this can be applied to movies that have become legend and/or iconic. Just hearing one note of a character’s theme, or one note of a film’s score, and you instantly know it. I really can’t think of any movies that are of this stature to me that do not have an instantly recognizable score.

No doubt that Akira Ifukube’s score is iconic, legend, and instantly recognizable. Dint-dint-da, dint-dint-da, dint-dint-da, duh-duh-duh, dinta-da-dinta. … These sounds have become elemental to me as I absorbed them in my childhood from exposure to the “Creature Double Feature” every Saturday afternoon. … To this day I still feel ill about him losing his battle to Mothra. Why, why didn’t he use his atomic breath more when battling those two worms at the end?

This original version of the original film that started a flood of subsequent movies would be hardly recognizable to anyone who has only seen any of those subsequent movies. GOJIRA is a very subtle film, with a powerful story, and minimal, modest action sequences. It is shot in a grayscale black and white, which lends itself perfectly to the subtle directing of Ishiro Honda. Such touches as the female lead, Emiko, played by Momoko Kochi, looking silently overboard into the sea for a few moments after hearing of the peril that may be before her and everyone else on the ship going out to investigate the sinking of 3 other ships. It was just a great shot from early in the film that sticks in my mind even after all the action.

…Ethics are at play, and despite mass casualties and the burning of Tokyo, rash decisions to use great power in retaliation are not made, as they are in modern times. … Though some of the acting, especially by Miss Kochi is a tough dramatic, the sum of it adds to powerful final scenes as the weight of choices made by certain characters resonates. I got a bit choked up myself for the fate of some characters, and for the fate of Godzilla, my childhood hero still.

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH [2006] review

March 21, 2007

I had long wanted to see Al Gore’s slideshow global warming documentary, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, but didn’t feel such a priority as I am already a life-long environmentalist and didn’t need to be converted. An in the end, I was left feeling I wanted to see more than what Al showed, maybe because I keep up with so much news on a daily basis, the things he showed didn’t seem entirely new.

Still, there were many startling revelations, such as the possible disappearance of the northern polar ice cap, the rising of the oceans and how the population has skyrocketed in the past 50 years. The first two of those have come under some criticism as no time tables can be set on them as Al suggests, but no doubt Al makes an extremely compelling case to stop wasting energy and start getting serious about insuring the Earth can survive humanity.

What I liked best were the small details, the things I never heard about before, like how simple things like there being less cold days allowing pine beetles to survive the winter and kill forests of pine trees; how warmer winters also cause caterpillars to hatch sooner, but too soon for baby birds to be hatched in time to eat. Those things were fascinating and horrifying to me.

I’ve been bringing my own cloth bags to the grocery store for the past 10 years, and nothing makes me feel prouder than refusing the cashier’s offer of plastic. I go over and proudly fill up my cloth bags amongst all the others stuffing plastic covered produce into yet another plastic bag. Living in Tokyo naturally makes one more eco-friendly. I don’t own a car, I use public transportation all the time and walk waaaay more than I ever would in the U.S.

At the end, Al shows how we have the means to bring CO2 output levels back to how they were in the early 90′s with tech that exists now. Can we get politicians in office that will ever enact what it takes to reverse the massive environmental destruction going on now? I certainly hope so. In the meantime I’ll be spending as much time in Nature as I can, while I still can.

MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO [1988] review

March 10, 2007

Because he knows this, the spirits in MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, are all the more magical. Totoro seems to understand Japanese just fine, but he/she/it only ever replies with a series of deep bellows and wide grins. When Totoro is wake, his/her/its eyes are in a constant state of wide-openness so that he/she/it always looks surprised. … And Totoro’s reaction of first fright to a raindrop hitting he/she/its umbrella then gradually turning to delight is quite the magical movie scene. I loved the way his/her/its fur all frizzed out in reaction.

…As always Miyazaki paints a landscape that anyone would yearn to live in. The whole movie I was questioning why the hell do I live in the city? … The worst part about the movie was that it ended without giving me another scene in its enchanted forest.

At first I was surprised to see a male lead character in a Miyazaki film, as I thought he always uses girls. When another boy reacted with great embarrassment upon first seeing the male lead, I thought that was strange. … But once the male lead stepped out into the open I saw he was wearing a skirt, and then there was no doubt it was a girl after the numerous trademark Miyazaki bloopers exposing shots.

…The two girls moved into a deserted country home with their father while their mother finishes recovering from a never named illness. … Right away we learn that the house was not actually deserted but filled with tiny dust ball creatures. Soon thereafter we are introduced to Totoro, who apparently is quite a deep sleeper not easily roused.

The score by Joe Hisaishi (he does all of Miyazaki’s films) was especially good with a great theme for whenever Totoro comes on screen or something magical happens.

The story is incredibly simple, and the plot and climax of the movie involve quite simple things, which made me eager for more, more, more Totoro. I plan on buying a Totoro stuffed toy for my room as soon as I can.

UPDATE #1 — I did buy a stuffed Totoro who resides on my bed in the day time.

UPDATE #2 — my second viewing of Totoro on Saturday 25, 2008

There was only one movie I could watch after my final skimboarding session in Japan, and that was MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO.  It’s the only movie pure enough to accompany and complement the purity of skimboarding and the Sea.  I also got to watch it with Aya too, our first Miyazaki movie together.

I found the character of Mai to be kind of annoying this time, and thought she was misbehaving too much and being unreasonable.  Other than that, the scene where Totoro waits for the bus in the rain along with the two heroine girls of the story remains one of my all-time favorite movie scenes.

I liked the Cat Bus much more this time, maybe because Aya likes it so much.

Skimboarding Dream #001 (but really of course more)

March 3, 2007

Had yet another dream about skimboarding last night. I’ve been having at least one a week all winter. My mind is bent on the day I can return to the beloved Sea with board under arm, breath in the salt air, and be at home again.

So in my dream last night I was walking down the beach, like a beach on Sanibel Island and just happened to come across my skimboard lying on the sand! I thought how lucky no one stole it. It wasn’t my current “Sander” skimboard, but rather more like the classic fiberglass covered wood “Western Flyer” skimboard I used to ride in my youth. I picked it up and proceeded to have some nice smooth rides, as most rides in my dreams tend to be. There were several other skimboarders around as well. I have mostly skimboarded alone all my life, so it was nice to have company.

Today was the warmest day of the year so far in Tokyo. If weather like this can stick around for good, then I could begin my 2007 skimboarding season as early as April 1st, or even the end of March. That would be sweet.

THE BICYCLE THIEF [1948] review

March 3, 2007

He chose the two leads, a father Vicci and son, Bruno because of their walks. It was funny to read that bit of trivia after watching the movie as I noticed Bruno’s halting style of walking several times during the film. I wondered why he always made false starts in strange directions instead of just following his father immediately.

…Vicci, after a year of waiting, finally gets a job he thinks is great, plastering posters around Rome. The government official handing out jobs stresses it is an absolute necessity that he bring his bicycle to the job. … Well, he gets it out of hoc and all is good, for a morning. As the title indicates, his bicycle is stolen and we then spend the rest of the movie searching for it with him and his son. They get some help along the way by a couple of neighborhood men, though I didn’t understand why they would offer to help him so much.

…People are quite quick tempered and very suspicious about being accused as Ricci doesn’t receive much cooperation when he thinks he comes close to finding his stolen bicycle. … Then he utters what is a famous line, even though I didn’t know so at the time, still, as soon as he spoke it, I knew it must be a famous line, “Why should I kill myself worrying when I’ll end up just as dead?” And then later enjoying a meal he probably can’t afford with his son in a restaurant, “There’s a cure for everything except death.”

I can’t say I got very emotionally engrossed in THE BICYCLE THIEF, as it seems he just had a bit of bad luck and surely getting another bicycle couldn’t have been that hard. However, in the final act of the movie, when desperation rapidly sets in on Ricci, and both the audience and his son watch him with increasing fear of what he might do, I found myself feeling for Bruno, the son. I didn’t want him to feel the disappoint that was about to befall him. And then the movies ends quite abruptly, definitely a surprise to a modern movie watcher.

…The man does not press charges against Ricci, but he also never finds his bike. I was still totally expecting him to find it at the end of the movie.