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Japan: a moveable feast - click opera
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Fri, Jul. 27th, 2007 12:12 pm
Japan: a moveable feast

I'm being a bit of a homebody just now, writing my novel and watching recent Japanese movies downloaded by our neighbour Yoshito. Since a large part of me (no, not that part, clearly) is a Japanese woman -- or at least seems to react emotionally like one -- the film I've enjoyed the most is a real "women's picture": Kamome Diner (written by Yoko Mure and directed by Naoko Ogigami).



Set in Helsinki (but written by a Japanese woman who'd never been there), this quiet, warm and quirky film tells the story of Sachie, who notes some similarities between Finland and Japan (forests, saunas, soul) and sets up a diner there. At first no-one comes, and Sachie collects a motley band of Japanese ex-pats, who work for her despite the fact that the diner has only managed to attract one customer -- a Finnish Japan freak, a blond boy who arrives each day in a different Japanese-themed t-shirt, drinks coffee, and sits in the corner by the window, eavesdropping on the conversations of the staff and speaking to them proudly in Japanese.

"Ah, your shirt shows a geisha today!" exclaims the tactless new waitress. "Why don't you bring your friends? [Sotto voce:] Oh, you probably don't have any."

The emotional payoff came, for me, at the end. Sachie is swimming at the local pool. She's finally attracted some loyal customers (they love her onigiri) and her success is represented by a crowd of bathers suddenly applauding her and declaring "You've really succeeded with your diner, Sachie!" The non-realistic "affirmation moment" resembles the one at the end of the Train Man movie, when the neons of Shinjuku suddenly light up with messages of congratulation for the otaku-turned-human. It's a classic Japanese women's picture moment; a fanciful, sentimental, valorizing visualization of the individual's affirmation by the collectivity. Society approves, and that matters. For some reason, it's a moment I always find deeply moving. Somebody honest, kind, humble, constructive and determined got their efforts recognized, their talents rewarded. It doesn't happen much in Western films these days.

Sachie's diner reminded me of Smart Deli, our favourite Japanese cafe here in Berlin. Run by Yumi Son, Smart Deli is like a little cultural mission for Japan, with muted Japanese TV playing in the corner, Japanese pop music on the stereo, Japanese home cooking and a constant stream of Japanese customers. There's also usually a Japan otaku sitting there. Sometimes it's me.



Yesterday Hisae and I were delighted to find that they've started getting Japanese magazines like Tune and So-En at Smart Deli. Yumi's husband works in Dusseldorf, (known as Little Tokyo on the Rhine) where they actually have Japanese bookstores and video stores. So we order tapes of Japanese TV, and get them delivered from Dusseldorf. Yesterday Yumi asked us to recommend magazines she could leave lying around the cafe for customers to read, and we gave her a wish list of our top 20.

But it was already pretty exciting to see Tune and a new magazine (beautiful photos!) about tuna, or fashion mag So-En. The picture on the right is from So-En. It's someone called Kinichi Ogata, who runs an interiors shop in Sendai. I like to dream that I live in his forest house. That's what magazines are for, right -- dreaming?

They're also for identifying trends, no matter how small or silly. A flick through Tune suggests that the thing to do this season is wear dungarees with the chest panel hanging down, either just on one side or all the way down, from the waist, so it looks like a skirt.



I love how you can assemble Japan anywhere. It's a moveable feast. No matter where you are in the world, you can organize a matsuri -- we're running a little stall outside Smart Deli on August 12th, starting at midday, for example. And if I sound like the Finnish Japan freak in the Kamome Diner now, that's because I basically am him. That's me in the corner.

26CommentReplyShare

electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Fri, Jul. 27th, 2007 10:44 am (UTC)

stfu and make me pickled cucumber sushi.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Jul. 27th, 2007 01:51 pm (UTC)

Ha, funny you should recommend that we recommend Marxy's favourite magazine!

In fact, I blogged about Oh! Mikey last year at the height of the Momus-Marxy flame wars. Marxy had been claiming that the Japanese were incapable of self-conscious postmodernism or something.

I have to say that my book is a lot closer to Oh! Mikey than it is to Kamome Jyuduku or Densha Otoko. It'll make people laugh rather than cry.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Jul. 27th, 2007 02:55 pm (UTC)

That's a huge question! I think postmodernism is the name for the current cultural era, and that it embraces non-Western cultures as well as Western ones. For instance, Islamic fundamentalism is a postmodern Islam, locked into a dialectic with the cultures it seems to oppose.

I think Japan's postmodernism has been easily embraced because Japan is already positioned at an "ironic" distance from other cultures. If pomo is all about second degree, second take and so on, Japan's very "secondariness" (marginal, but with strong, fast links to the hub) makes it a culture which is "naturally" postmodern.

But, you know, you could write books (that nobody would read) about this...


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 04:11 pm (UTC)

I believe it also has the reading 'shiki/jiki', as in 'danjiki', to fast.

Sorry, just thought I'd be a smart-ass while I'm here.


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Fri, Jul. 27th, 2007 11:07 pm (UTC)

Akira Asada talks (it's somewhere online), in socio-economic terms which often tends to be a bit more refreshing and poignant then zen metaphors, about japan already manifesting the basic conditions of post-podernism in late edo. interesting read if you can find it.





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(Anonymous)
Sat, Jul. 28th, 2007 01:57 am (UTC)

He also told Derrida that Japan couldn't be deconstructed because the Japanese already deconstructed everything, at which Derrida said something to the effect of, yeah, I seriously doubt that.


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Sat, Jul. 28th, 2007 02:44 am (UTC)

and to some degree he would've been correct.

was Asada showing off how cool japan is or implying that power is more difficult to challenge precisely because it shows it's mechanism and carries its own undoing?

weren't Derrida's last efforts about showing deconstruction to be embedded in ancient chinese thought and stuff ?




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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jul. 30th, 2007 08:03 am (UTC)

Small point: dungarees are basically what were until recently Levis - jeans, denim pants.
The flap-down garments are called overalls, or in some rural American parts - overhauls. Similar garments with sleeves are coveralls.


ciao


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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Fri, Jul. 27th, 2007 01:45 pm (UTC)

losing your religion ?
: )


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peacelovgranola
-
Fri, Jul. 27th, 2007 08:58 pm (UTC)

i like that you can assemble japan--and that japan also
assembles you(me), too.

i really want to see this diner film now.
(speaking of movies, we watched oshima's
cruel story of youth the other night--the japanese
rebel without a cause, as it's sometimes called).

a couple of small points on pomo:
i'm thinking pomo doesn't "embrace" cultures
as much as it "manifests" itself from within them
(at different times, since all cultures are on different
trajectories, at different points on different spectrums)

also, i was thinking maybe islamism is also pomo
because it's harkening back to a pre-modernist
expression? shades of lyotard's idea that the post-
is somehow pre-... islam is a tricky one, but never-
theless extremely important and interesting...


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microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Fri, Jul. 27th, 2007 10:05 pm (UTC)

I really hate being off-topic on your posts, but I came across this,/a> list of "obsolete" musical instruments and thought of you. Have you used any of these instruments? I know Jonny Greenwood has used the Ondes Martenot, and you most likely have used one of those synthesizers.

Maybe you could try tracking down one of the instruments and trying it out. It could be new inspiration, you never know!

(I'd also like to direct you to
this post in momus_lolz)


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microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Fri, Jul. 27th, 2007 10:07 pm (UTC)

ARRGH WHAT IS UP WITH ME MESSING UP HTML THESE DAYS?

First link

Second link


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Jul. 27th, 2007 10:29 pm (UTC)

I was playing Toog's Schillio Clavioline in Paris a couple of weeks back:



Second link -- wow! Hats off! And everything else too!

I think I have no reason not to friend momus_lolz now...


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microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Fri, Jul. 27th, 2007 10:36 pm (UTC)

How exactly did it sound? I'm not a musical genius when it comes to octaves and all that. I saw in the article that it creates brass and string sounds, did you perhaps use it during one of your gigs?

All for you, Momus! It shows just how much I love you. ;)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Jul. 27th, 2007 10:41 pm (UTC)

Actually, I should have said I saw one at Toog's place -- for some reason he couldn't switch it on. The oldest electronic instrument I've played (and owned) is a theremin. A wooden one.


ReplyThread Parent
microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Fri, Jul. 27th, 2007 10:49 pm (UTC)

Aah, I see! Well I guess that one is going to be a little mystery then, isn't it? Actually, quick Youtube searching brings this video up. I guess it DOES create a realistic brass sound. Interesting!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Jul. 27th, 2007 10:53 pm (UTC)

That vid shows quite well how it's designed to clip on under more conventional keyboards, like a synth parasite!


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jul. 27th, 2007 11:29 pm (UTC)

hi, I'm very grad, that you've enjoyed it.

And I've not downloaded these movies.
Sorry, it's secret, from where it comes :)

---Yoshito


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Jul. 28th, 2007 03:26 am (UTC)

"Kamome Diner" was one of the many contemporary Japanese films that recently showed at the Japan Society in New York. While I wasn't able to see it, I saw another movie that I'm convinced is one of the best movies of the decade, and perhaps one of the best movies ever to come out of Japan. It's called "Memories of Matsuko" (Kiraware Matsuko no Issho in Japanese). Above all, it's a movie about spirituality, and I think it casts new light on the Japanese psyche, which, traditionally, has floated somewhere between agnosticism and atheism. If I were you, I'd see if your friend could find you a copy.


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pinkfoils
pinkfoils
Boarding School
Sat, Jul. 28th, 2007 04:47 am (UTC)

Mmm, if only television programming were more like a youtube video of the act of flipping through a magazine or a book...strangely hypnotizing.


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butterflyrobert
RND
Sat, Jul. 28th, 2007 07:59 am (UTC)

Somebody honest, kind, humble, constructive and determined got their efforts recognized, their talents rewarded. It doesn't happen much in Western films these days.

What I especially dislike about far too many Western films is that nearly everything important that happens is the result of an accident or mistake.


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pictureofclouds
pictureofclouds
Sat, Jul. 28th, 2007 12:07 pm (UTC)
On the topic of Japan freaks…

Aren’t you worried that Japan is quickly becoming the ‘alternative culture’, much in the same way as the “alternative” music scene exists?
Don’t you see the West selectively importing Japanese culture as a kind of alternative to Americanism? (I guess in the same way Japan selectively chooses what Americanism it imports)
I mean my HMV has an Anime section the same size as its foreign film section, and the only Japanese films are basically live action anime: Miike Takashi, Casshern, Versus and the like. But nobody knows about NOobody Knows. Just Google Otaku and you will find many Western people claiming to be one, predominantly not knowing that it is an insult. The existence of the terms Wapanese and Yellow Fever.
There is probably a notable increase in websites such as Jbox offering Japanese products. I have never known for a Chinese (other than their famous epics), Korean or Thai films to be shown on terrestrial T.V. But Spirited Away, both Battle Royale’s and Dead or Alive have been shown.


I worry that like the dilution of alternative idealism, the principle of supply and demand will reduce Japan to little more than a controlled consumer product. Monoculture trying to monopolise by allowing people to think, by choosing Japanese culture, they are free thinking.

Maybe I am just being over dramatic


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 07:12 am (UTC)
incredible!

Nick! Such a great piece of writing. I think you must be one of the most overlooked writers of today. We all think so!


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Jul. 31st, 2007 12:24 am (UTC)

Clearly I'm a bit late in coming to this conversation. Sorry. But I too loved Kamome Shokudo. I even, without understanding much of the spoken language -- but for maybe "Irasshaimase!" and "onigiri" -- went to see it twice while it was still playing in cinemas last year, or the year before, here in Tokyo.

I admit to being a periodic reader of "Click Opera", and I certainly have never felt I'd had more to offer of much worth to the entries, nor the sometimes dozens of comments and comments-to-comments that come in as responses. But I felt, this time, I owed it to actor-writer Yoko Mure and her director husband Naoko Ogigami, and to Momus for also enjoying the film and writing about it, to admit (proclaim?) that this gentle, quiet movie is one of the highlights of my stay in Japan. Chotto hazukashi ne. This may be a little embarrassing. But we liked Kamome so much, we even found at the Tsutaya rental shop a DVD with some episodes of "Yappari Neko ga Suki", the three-sisters-living-in-one-Tokyo-apartment sit-com from some ten years ago that features two of the three actors in Kamome Shokudo.

And as I've entered myself into this conversation anyways, and even if this is merely a forgotten comment at the bottom of a lengthy scroll in a page that is no longer current, it seems worth reflecting that an unassuming film made for bored Japanese housewives and shot to look like an issue of everyone's favourite simple-life-in-Japan magazine Kunel, can lead to a conversation that touches on: kanji trickery; Japan's pomo-ness, either inherent or adapted; and a "that's-me-in-the-corner" confessional for embarrassed (or not) Japanophiles. There's even an interesting suggestion that the new palatable alternative in the Western mainstream is composed of lifted bits from Japan. Hrm.

So, thanks for the forum. It's great. Perhaps I shouldn't be merely periodic in my visits. Thanks to an anonymous contributor, the next time I'm at Tsutaya, it'll be Kiraware Matsuko no Issho that I next seek. Good luck to you and Hisae with the Smart Deli masturi in August. I'm sure we're all expecting a report.

--Colin


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Jul. 31st, 2007 02:59 am (UTC)

Thank you, Colin, a lovely appreciation of a fine film. And, now you mention it, it was a bit like a film from the people who brought you Ku:Nel. Even down to the subtle product placement!


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