I was inspired to read Granta 124: Travel (2013) becuse of the general theme of travel and the fact that it contained pieces by three of my favorite contemporary writers: Rattawut Lapcharoen, Dave Eggers, and Haruki Murakami. That being said I was disappointed by all of them save Murakami, who had an interesting nonfiction piece about walking in his former hometown of Kobe years after the 1995 earthquake ravaged the area. Lapcharoen (author of a impressive short story collection, Sightseeing, in his debut) wrote a strange story, "The Captain," about a Thai American who returns to SE Asia for his honeymoon and is separated from his wife and held captive by locals who drain his bank accounts. I couldn't discern if he was trying to make a statement about modern Thailand or whether he was making some sort of personal metaphor out of the situation. Egger's story was something like a real life anecdote written as fiction and not very memorable. That being said there several other more memorable pieces such as Hector Abad's memoir about a visit to the Colombian amazon jungle in "A Rationalist in the Jungle." Another interesting piece was "Barrenland" by A Yi, which at first i mistook for a short story, but turned out to be memoir by a rural Chinese policeman. "Water Has No Enemy" by Nigerian writer Teju Cole was another enticing personal memoir about calamities and other extraordinary events that took place on a return visit to Lagos. I also found the photo essay "Tour Gide," with commentary by Phil Klay with WWII photos from Colonel A. Black, fascinating. There were more nonfiction pieces in this collection than usual and there were several pieces that didn't appeal to me on some level.
Yearning (1964) is one of Mikio Naruse's last films, he died in 1967, and it displays many of the traits of his "invisible" style. The hall marks is expert editing that resutls ina seamless narrative. It is yet another "woman's" film about a family struggling economically with their small shop against the lower cost competition of supermarkets. The family is planning to expand and build their own supermarket in order to compete. However, there is one obstacle to this plan, which is the presence of Reiko (played with the usual emotive power by Hideko Takamine), the widowed wife of the oldest son of the family. She single handedly rebuilt the store after it was bombed during the war. The only person concerned about her fate is Koji, the never do well youngest son who has quit his salaryman job that he got after college. He gambles and drinks every night-sometimes getting into trouble as he does in the opening of the film when Reiko bails him out and covers for him to his mother. Koji, who was seven when Reiko married his older brother, declares his love for Reiko, but she refuses it for the love of her dead husband and in order to give Koji a chance to find happiness with a younger woman. However, she admits to being pleased ot hear this as a woman, which causes her to accept her fate and leave the family. It is interesting to note that the Japanese title of the film, Midareru, is closer in meaning to "disorder." This refusal leads to a tragedy later in the film, so it is darker than most Naruse films which often end on an ambiguous note.
The first tan tan men meal inspired by the "甘いから、辛いから" (from delicious to spicy) Brutus maagazine speical edition at the highly regarded Chinese restaurant in the Westin Hotel in Ebisu, Ryutenmon. It was excellent with handmade noodles and had some heat, but not cheap at ¥1900. It seems that Ryutenmon is or has been a Micheline one star restaurant, which might explain the price as well as the location.
I have been an admirer of the writing of Paul Bowles for some time and have been aware that his wife, Jane Bowles has also done some writing, but did not get around to reading any of her work until I was inspired to read her novel, Two Serious Ladies (1943) after reading Negar Azimi's excellent New Yorker blog post, "The Madness of Queen Jane." It is a curious novel about misfits and and sesnitve people who do not get own with the average people of their day and struggle with inner demons. Azimi's openign sold me on the novel:
The Hotel de las Palmas, in Jane Bowles’s conspicuously strange novel “Two Serious Ladies,” is a gnatty pension where pimps and winos lie about. It is here, in a rundown Panamanian port town called Colon, a place “full of nothing but half breeds and monkeys,” that Frieda Copperfield, a fine lady of early middle age and of respectable provenance, decides to jettison her handsome but square husband to find warmth and gin-soaked comfort in the arms of a teen-age prostitute named Pacifica. Lying in leonine Pacifica’s tiny bed, her cheek resting on the girl’s breast, Mrs. Copperfield feels that she has finally found the sort of love that she has always looked for. “I wouldn’t live anywhere else for the world,” she says, a little later, about the inn that will soon become her adopted home.
The other "serious lady" aside form Mrs. Copperfield is Cristina Goering. Again Azimi states it succinctly:
As “Two Serious Ladies” opens, we meet Cristina Goering, an acquaintance of Frieda Copperfield’s, whom we are told is the daughter of a powerful American industrialist. From here, Bowles relates each woman’s separate story, until the two, who are friendly but not intimate, cross paths at the book’s unforgettable end. Both women—they are referred to as Miss and Mrs., like the good librarian types they appear to be—are of bourgeois bearing. Both, too, astonish, perplex, and offend just about everyone they meet, willfully straying from the straight path set before them and descending into debaucherous excess. Dipsomaniacal uptown girls—one is never far from a drink in this tale—these serious ladies find pleasure downtown, in the company of lunatics, clowns, and misfits.
This edition also has an informative introduction by Lorna Sage and memoir by Truman Capote that was written as an introduction to her Collected Works (1966). It was an unusual novel about those who didn't fit into "proper" society, much like Jane and her acclaimed husband I would suspect.
The second Luchino Visconti film, La Terra Trema (1948), is also the second from his oeuvre that I have seen. It is considered one of the great masterpieces of Italian neo-realism in that it is shot entirely on location in Sicily with uncredited amateur actors. There are several long takes of three to four minutes in length throughout the 160 minute film. He manages to combine realism with artistry with beautifully framed sequences and use of the desolate seaside and rocks that surround the harbor. It is a simple story of poverty and hope that quickly becomes hopelessness. While the cinematography is richly compelling, La Terra Trema suffers from Visconti's addition of a documentary-style narrator, who oversells the tragedy with lines like: "It wasn't enough that their fellow man was their enemy... nature was there, too." That being said, it felt overlong and could have been edited down to less than two hours. But all in all, a worthy example of Italian neo-realism.
Brutus magazine has a special issue devoted to "甘いから、辛いから" (from delicious to spicy) with profiles on restaurants with mabo dofu (spciy tofu), tan tan men (spicy noodle soup), and curry. The first stop on the list for me was Curry no Mise Shyaridesu in Nakano. I got the mutton keema curry, the shop's spiciest at ¥750. This was Japanese style curry shop so suffice to say I didn't think it was all that spicy.
The Missing Picture (2013), directed by Rithy Panh, is a powerful film that documents the period when the Khmer Rouge ruled over Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. This was nominated for Best Foreign Film for the 2014 Academy Awards. Panh's story is personalized and painful as he lost most of his family to starvation, disease, or being disappeared during the upheaval that saw Phnom Penh emptied when the Khmer Rogue took power in 1975. It seems that Panh has survival guilt, something not so uncommon with holocaust survivors. Panh tells his story using carved figures in panoramas he made from his memories from his life experiences. He also uses a lot of archival footage from the time period as well as surviving Khmer Rogue footage that has survived and propaganda films crated by the Khmer Rogue. He broaches subjects such as S21 where western medicine was banned, so they tried to create local cures for the many diseases that ravaged the workers in the work camps. I was surprised and pleased to see some footage from the 60s and 70s that showed the influence of rock-n-roll, in which Panh says his brother had a rock band and was probably killed for being an artist. Ideology kills and as a Buddhist Panh accepts destiny. It is a powerful personal stoey that tells the story of a misguided nation recovering from temporary madness.
Gaiton Tokyo is a Thai street stall style chicken rice (kaomangai) restaurant that has just opened on Meiji-dori near the Shibuya New South Exit.
It is a simple, but delicious meal that has the ambiance of a Bangkok street stall. Chicken rice, spicy dipping sauce, chicken stock soup served with fresh coriander on request for ¥750 and ¥50 for extra rice. Singha beer available. I'd like to see more one dish types of stall places here in Tokyo.