Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

Kabei (2008)

This past week finally gave into my Netflix suggestion and watched the film Kabei (2008) directed by, Yamada Yoji. Yamada is very well-known for the extremely long running and warmly regarded Tora-san or Otoko wa tsurai yo series which debuted in the 1960’s and ended in the mid 1990’s after 48 entries upon the death of main actor, Atsumi Kiyoshi.

This film chronicles the life of one family throughout Japan’s war with China and the United States. Through the eyes (and narration) of the family’s youngest daughter the events of her father’s incarceration for thought crimes and mother’s hard work to keep the family together are laid out in a slow and deliberate manner. Even with a standard running time of two hours each scene paints a detailed portrait of the family’s struggle.

While the story, narrative structure, costuming, and cinematography all strengthen the film, the actors who fill the space and give life to the story fall a bit short. The film required a delicate balance of sadness and repressed emotions. The script seemed to call for characters to reach the brink of sanity before pulling back and keeping their emotions tucked away. This is a challenging task, but not impossible. The interactions between Kabei, her children and Toru (Asano Tadanobu) are generally engaging and it is easy to be swept up by the narrative beats of the film.

Unfortunately, because Yamada covers so much ground through the narrative of the film specific moments, such as characters death, are given short shrift. In these scenes the actors seem to fail at imparting the proper emotion or thrust of the scene. In addition, the editing of these crucial scenes comes off almost comical through the speed of a cut or the length of time a shot remains focused on an object or person. This is a matter of personal taste, but it quickly threw this viewer out of a film depicting a relatively unique wartime experience.

I am a fan of a lot of Yamada’s work, but in key areas this film fell short and it is a shame. However, with the recent announcement that his next feature, Tokyo Kazoku, will play off similar themes to Ozu’s, Tokyo Monogatari and even incorporate the recent events of the Tohoku earthquake into the narrative, I will be very interested to see what lays ahead.

Until next time, Cheers!


soro soro

In the next few weeks I will be wrapping up my second time studying abroad in Japan. Both times I was in Tokyo and connected with a prestigious university. Both times I learned a lot about myself and believe I have grown in many ways. At the same time I am a bit melancholy about leaving. There is this greater feeling that I did not accomplish all I set out to do. It is not necessarily a bad thing, just a realization that no one can accomplish every goal or idea they set out for themselves. Also, not living as a tourist here it is easy to get into the daily swing of life and not seek out a new opportunity everyday. Now with my return so close I am conflicted with enjoying myself while at the same time focusing on the larger responsibilities I have.

Like I just said I was unable to do everything I set out to, but this year has provided a wealth of memories and experience that will hopefully propel me to the next stage of my studies and life. I find in these little pockets of time just before a big move or change I tend to reflect on my choices and make an assessment of where I have been going vs. where I want to be going. For the most part I am on track, but there are a few adjustments that must be made. Especially over the coming months. I look forward to writing more and seeing what the next few months will bring.

Until next time, Cheers!

Categories: Japan, Life

Real Folk Drink Chu-hai

One of the earliest experiences I can remember from the start of my study abroad at Waseda University was bonding with friends over a delicious road-brew can of Chu-hai! Like many who travel to Tokyo will discover, Japan has it’s own variety of the B&J’s, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, fruity alcoholic beverages. The general term chu-hai is applied a variety of brands. The term chu-hai is shortened from the longer Shochu-Highball (焼酎ハイボール). Shochu is an alcohol distilled from corn, grain or potatoes that usually has a pretty high alcohol level. (Usually around 25%)

The drink itself is a carbonated beverage mixed with shochu and a fruit flavor. The flavors change from season to season, with Lemon and Grapefruit seeming to be a constant throughout the year. Keeping your eyes open though, it is easy to find grape, watermelon, apple, plum, peach, grape and (drum roll please) Strawberry!!

After almost a year of waiting the Strawberry Chu-hai has arrived and I have made it a personal goal to drink every variation I could get my hands on. So far there are three varieties I can review.

1. Asahi kajitsu no shunkan (果実の瞬間:苺)

As it says on the can it is a winter variety and has 0.2% Fruit Juice and a 4% Alcohol level, which is pretty standard. I remember enjoying the melon and grape flavors of this brand during the summer.

It is sweet with a slightly rough alcohol aftertaste which I am not completely in love with. Carbonation of the beverage provides a nice bit of fizz which tickles the tongue. A burst of strawberry flavor hits at first, but subsides in favor of previously stated.

Rating: 3/5





2.  Rifure Taimu (リフレタイム:チューハイイチゴ)

This one is the best of the bunch and usually sold at your local Family Mart convenience store. It is also 4% alcohol, but boasts a whopping 1% fruit juice combo. It is also the least expensive by at least 30 yen. Unlike the others the alcohol aftertaste is at a minimum and there is a burst of strawberry flavor. Like a friggin’ Starburst candy. The flavor is smooth, but not overpowering and easily my favorite.

Rating: 5/5






3. Calpis Sour (カルピスサワーミルク仕立てのもろやか苺)

Similar to the rifure and the Asahi before it this chu-hai has a 4% alcohol level and a 1% fruit juice infusion. The major difference from this one and the other two is the added mix of milk with the strawberry. Calpis in general is like a sweet milky substance which really isn’t my favorite. However, when it comes to strawberry I am willing to give it a try. This one combines a bit of sweetness with a lot of sour. Not really my style, but I imagine people who love sour skittles and the like will be in heaven with this one. Really did not like the milk action though. Just something didn’t mix right. Usually I am a big fan of smoothies and whatnot, but this was just lacking big time. The final insult was also a bit of a rough alcohol aftertaste, which just sucked. Again, not my taste, but it could appeal to the sour milk loving variety. I do enjoy the taglines though. “We use Strawberry, Milk, and the refreshing Vodka” (I will have THE Vodka) “Refreshing Taste, Enjoy It’s Crisp” (whatever the heck that means)

Rating: 2/5


Categories: Japan, Life

Entrance exam

Today arriving at Meiji I was greeted with the sight of thousands of young high school students taking their entrance exam for the university.

In all the years I have read about studied or known that this existed it is the first time I have seen it up close. it was quite a sight. Apparently it will be going on for the next few weeks so I plan on taking a few pictures as it is quite a production.

Categories: Japan, Life Tags: ,

Coming Soon to an Eiga Nerd near you…

This past month, actually much longer, I have been preparing materials and working to submit applications for PhD programs. Currently I am working on six applications. Following their completion I will be able to re-focus my attention on the goals I laid down during the outset of this blog. For instance, in October I had the pleasure of seeing more than half of the films that made up the Wakao Ayako retrospective. I took notes for each of the screenings and plan on posting some of my thoughts for each. Also, at that same theater they are screening every existing Ozu Yasujiro film till the end of the month. This includes all of his remaining silent films, many of which were destroyed during WWII. The majority of these films are not available for home video so I will try my best to make it to them. Also, I plan on using whatever free time to search out the wide variety of second run theaters offering hidden treasures of film not available for mass consumption. For the past few months I have felt disconnected from the city and I do not want to miss out before I leave.

These aspirations and writings related to my graduate thesis I plan on sharing in this space. The majority of information related to my research will be the tidbits not pertinent to academic study, but interesting none the less.

These are a few of the changes I plan to make in the coming weeks and who knows maybe a few surprises too!

Until next time, cheers!

Categories: Japan, Life

Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

Today, October 28, 2010 I took the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) at a test site in Tokyo. Previously, I took the exam for entrance to my Master’s program at the University of Oregon. In preparation for applying to PhD schools I opted to take the exam again. The immediate score I received was 1070 (590 Verbal Reasoning 480 Quantitative Reasoning). Anyone familiar with the format knows that it takes around four hours and is composed of three sections and four parts. Writing Assessment (Perspective & Critique), Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning. My major weakness is mathematics or the quantitative reasoning section. As a student in the humanities it has been sometime since mathematics played any part in my academic circle.

Neither score I received will set the world on fire as each section ranges from 200-800 points. While I scored higher on my verbal reasoning score it does not place me in the top percentile of people who take the GRE. This score is only a part of my application and I have excelled in the majority of other academic areas, but I still feel a bit cold about my results.

My work ethic for the test was very strong and I even had the help of my sweetheart back in Oregon, but that was betrayed by the limited time I provided myself for preparation. Fearing the deadline for admissions this year I hastily decided to take the exam at the end of October, having only registered on the sixth of that month. This left merely three weeks to prepare. While I had taken the test before and was familiar with it, I had forgotten many of the trips and more detailed elements of this test. On top of which many of the math concepts I learned in high school had completely escaped me.

Part of me is happy to have achieved a relatively strong verbal score, but I know I need more time in both areas to succeed. Talking with my girlfriend, who is not a native English speaker, she spent nearly a year preparing herself for the exam. Her score was around 1200, getting a perfect 800 in the math section and a 400 in the verbal section. While I cannot compare myself to her score I can understand that with a longer prep period I know I could achieve much more than I did today.

I have a lot more work to do, but today felt a little sad knowing that even though I worked hard, I needed to give myself much more time to prepare for this portion of the application process. Even though the future is uncertain, I will do my best in all the other areas of my application and keep working hard.

Until next time, cheers!

Eros + Massacre

Today I am heading to the National Film Center of Japan, a ten minute walk from Tokyo Station, to see the Yoshida Kiju(Yoshishige) masterpiece Eros + Massacre. The film will start at 12:30 which will be followed with a talk by the director. I am very excited as I have never met or seen a talk by director Yoshida. My advisor, Daisuke Miyao, translated his book Ozu Yasujiro no han-eiga (Ozu Yasujiro’s anti-film) which tackled a lot of issues Yoshida had with Ozu’s work. The film being screened today is considered by some as a nail in the coffin of the loosely defined Japanese New Wave, of which I am writing about currently. I am very excited and will include an update when I return. Cheers!
This is a link to the schedule for today’s screening:
The screening was a real treat. The film center did a restoration on the film, showcasing a brand new print. At the end of the screening and talk one of the film center employees mentioned that they are still looking for an original print (full 226 mins.) that may exist in Paris. It has not been found yet, but their belief is that it is out there. Yoshida Kiju (Yoshishige)’s talk was very enjoyable. He joked if anyone could understand the ‘dream’ (i.e. craziness) of what they had just seen. He went on to describe in detail his vision for the film of presenting a dream on the screen. I believe he has touched on this idea before, but it was no less interesting hearing it from the man himself. He was quite soft spoken and slight in stature, but his words were direct and very passionate. One of my favorite moments was his description of parting with Shochiku following his six film where they edited the final scene. In essence he told them to screw off and for him was the break of being a person who made films versus filmmaker. Also, as a surprise treat his wife, actress Okada Mariko, made a brief trip to the stage describing the difficulty of the shoot and how they had to wait to receive word if they could even screen the film in Japan. Afterwards I lined up like so many others to receive an autograph. Okada was very kind and I thank her politely for the autograph. Also, after Yoshida signed my program he looked up, flashed a smile and shook my hand. Over coming a bit of nerves I even slipped out that I enjoyed seeing the new print of the film. He smiled again and thanked me. After that I was down the stairs and heading home in the pouring rain. All in all it was a great experience and a new memory to share here and with future classrooms when I screen Yoshida’s films.