Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mamoru Oshii's next flick

Have been awaiting this baby for some time now, with whispers circulating round the traps - Mamoru Oshii's first feature-length live-action movie since the brilliant Avalon (2001).

It's called Assault Girls, and will be released in Japan in December.

Until that happens, here's a quality taster from the director of the Ghost in the Shell movies.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Old shanty houses round Okusawa

As a city, Tokyo isn't really known for its affection for old buildings.

Aside from the fact the historical structures in this metropolis were either (a) destroyed in the big 'quake of 1923 or (b) carpet bombed by the U.S. Army Air Forces in WW2, and the fact that there's an ongoing risk from further earthquakes, the residents themselves (generally) seem to see buildings 25 years or older as eyesores - in the way of modernization or funky new apartment blocks.

So, aside from areas where you can find lots of history, like in Yanesen, near Nippori, it sometimes feels that Melbourne, a 162-year-old city, has more preserved "real" history than Tokyo, a city that's in its 406th year as a capital - but was a village before that.

In Okusawa (in Setagaya-Ku), a fairly expensive residential area, there are some absolute gems of weatherboard houses tucked away around corners and down moldy alleys. For me, this reminds me that I'm in Japan, and not just another western city with McDonald's and 7-Eleven stores.

One of my faves was demolished a couple of years ago, however, and made into... a car park. The fate of the rest also doesn't look too promising; my theory is that once the elderly residents die out, their abodes will be razed and made into apartments.

Yesterday and today I set out to take some happy snaps for posterity, and here are just a few of these wunderbar places that give the local area... character.

Truth to tell, tho', I wouldn't choose to live in any of them in this 'quake-prone country and given the absolutely oppressive humidity in summer. Looking is another matter.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The local hippy wheels

Not quite sure what the point is of this Citroën, parked permanently in Jiyugaoka, about 5 minutes from our place. I know it's a permanent installation, 'cos the vehicle is all rusted up and the tyres are flat, plus it's chained off from the outside world.

Given that the householders have a relatively huge house in Jiyugaoka - one of the more expensive residential areas in Tokyo - and also have a classic Mustang in their driveway, I'm more inclined to believe that these people love classic cars than that they got all risque and lobbed off their clothes during the Summer Of Love in 1967... and remain nostalgic to this day.

I could be wrong, tho'.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Shonan-Enoshima Beach

Tokyo, once summer kicks in after the yawn-inspiring rainy season ends, in mid-July, is hot - sometimes unbearably so, combined as it is with a humidity hovering round 75%.

So, like most people located in close proximity to the coast, Tokyoites flock to the beach to cool off, and the closest decent offering is Enoshima, right near the ancient capital of Japan (Kamakura) which can be reached by monorail from Ofuna JR Station, 48 km south-east of Tokyo.

Enoshima is actually a tiny island, linked by bridge to the famous Shonan surf resort area, which is itself named after an ancient beauty spot on the Xiang River, in China.

The popular area has also featured in a lot of manga and anime over the years, such as ‘90s series, Shonan Jumai-Gumi.

The truth is, while it’s a great play to cool off and see Japanese kids let their hair down and put heavy makeup on, the beach has a reputation for being more than a little dirty - and the gray-black volcanic sand certainly doesn’t lift that impression.

But the monorail, the shrines atop Enoshima itself, and a good quick swim at the height of summer are well worth the visit. Just be careful from August on, when the jellyfish start settling in.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Nihon Minkaen Open-Air Folk House Museum

A hidden treasure trove of historical artifacts, this one is located on the side of a huge hill in the middle of a forest, located about 15 minutes’ walk from Noborito Station, just 25 minutes by train from Kawasaki - and entry costs ¥500 for hours of incidentally educational fun!

Apparently (according the propaganda hand-outs they give you) in order to preserve historic architecture from around Japan, from 1965 the city of Kawasaki began dismantling historical houses dating back to the 17th Century and relocated them here, so that now there're 25 fascinating structures, including a shrine, a watermill, and a kabuki theater.

Functional furniture, tools and utensils are also kept, as well as recreations of original thatch roofing and tatami flooring — and there’s a wunderbar soba restaurant hidden away in one of the old farmhouses.

All up it's a mesmerizing, surprisingly quiet place that transports you away from this bustling metropolis to a more tranquil time, where no neon signage or J-pop pervaded our everyday activities.

And - just occasionally - that’s a wee bit of a blessing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror

Caught one of the press screenings yesterday of this new offering from Production I.G (possibly my favourite anime production house in Japan, and the people behind the Ghost in the Shell franchise).

Otherwise known here in Japan as Hottarake no Shima - Haruka to Maho no Kagami, you can check out the official website here.

The animation direction is none other than Naoyoshi Shiotani (the director of the South Korean SICAF 2008 Grand Prize-winning Tokyo Marble Chocolate), and it's directed by Shinsuke Sato, the writer/director of Princess Blade (2001).

You'll need to brush up on your basic knowledge of Inari shrines - plus a re-reading of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and re-screenings of Spirited Away, Toy Story, The Empire Strikes Back and the Rankin/Bass-produced 1964 stop motion version of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer - to fully appreciate the controlled, irreverent madness here.

Distributor Toho are unleashing the flick here in Japan on August 22.

In the meantime, check out the trailers over at Twitch.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Yamamoto-tei Teahouse

For once I'm not going to get all flippant and/or vitriolic on you, with hardly a shade of cynicism either.

The reason being, Shibamata is one of the truly hidden joys of Tokyo, a place where history stands still - and the locals carefully cultivate this.

It’s the hometown of the (sometimes) lovable tramp, Kuruma Torajiro, who featured in the world’s longest running film series (the Tora-san movies), there’s the madly beautiful Daikyo-ji Temple, and here you’ll find one of the most beautiful traditional-style homes in Tokyo: Yamamoto-tei.

Construction on Yamamoto-tei commenced at the end of the Taisho period (1912-26) as a private residence, but it was opened to the public in 1991 and has been converted into a fabulous restaurant, and is perhaps the principle remaining example here of sukiya zukuri, or “teahouse style”, with shoji paper panels and tatami mats, and breath-taking views of a gorgeous garden, pond and waterfall. It literally radiates in summer.

Best of all, entry costs just ¥100.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sushi + Banana = Treat?

We have a new baby out through IF?, from Tokyo-based Nana Mouskouri's Spectacles. (If you can guess the identity of this producer - or even better, care to try - then you're a better person than me. But I guess that goes without saying, so why I mention it is beyond me; the bit about being better, I mean.)

This one is all about sushi. And bananas. Long story.

Anyway, if you're otherwise motivated, you can take a listen to some sample sounds of the EP, along with the new remix EP of Enclave muzak (by me, Ben Mill, Cut Phobic and E383), right HERE.