I think I put off seeing Steven Spielberg's Bridge Of Spies (2015) mostly due to the ubiquitous star Tom Hanks. That being said I liked him in Hologram for a King, so I decided to give this a chance since it also got lots of great reviews. It is a conventional melodramatic historical film based on a true story about trading spies during the cold war, but it has great production values and cinematography, acting, and, writing as well. And the fact that it was written by the Coen Brothers somehow escaped me-I would have seen it for that reason alone.
Otsu is a Micheline one star Italian restaurant near Yoyogi park that serves great Northern Italian food. I wanted to try a new place and they have a very reasonable lunch set for ¥3800. The first dish on the menu was katsuo (skipjack tuna).
Next up was pasta with red sauce and eggplant.
Spanish pork with mustard seed sauce, thyme, and mild baby green peppers from Hokkaido.
Dessert was gelato with honey, dates, and crumbled cookie.
Several people recommended the Netfllix TV series Stranger Things (2106) and I decided to give it a try despite my misgivings about the premise (I'm not a huge Sf or fantasy viewer). And the main reasons I gave in were the fact that it takes place in the 80s when I grew up (nostalgia factor) and the fact that it starred Winona Ryder, a favorite from that era. I wasn't really drawn into the show until the third or fourth episode. And even then the believablity gaps were annoying for me. There were some good 80s music moments and along the way, but I don't think I liked it as much as the people who recommended it to me. One of the selling points for me was that it was only eight episodes, so I can Image that I could the find time to watch season two.
Edward Snowden's whistle blowing story of the illegal surveillance by the US government is captured simultaneously, as he is interviewed by media, in Laura Poitras' film Citizenfour (2014). A story that I haven't followed probably as closely as I should have (hence the reason I decided to watch this documentary), but this enlightened me to the controversy and the significance of what the government was doing. But call me cynical-it didn't really surprise me and I just don't see how it affects most people. But I do know that's not the point. A historical and significant document about the rights of people all over the world.
In Tran Ahn Hung's (The Scent of Green Papaya) film The Vertical Ray Of The Sun (2000), the overall impression is one of a lush, sensuous summer day in the tropics. The film is big on atmosphere that is created by sublime cinematographer Ping Bin Lee (who has worked on films for Wong Kar-Wai and Hsiao-Hsien Hou) rather than plot. The story mostly takes place in Hanoi and Halong Bay among beautiful locations of sunlight apartments and among the picturesque islands that dot Halong Bay (this is where one husband has his second family and often goes for his work). The story concerns three sisters and their love lives: the youngest (the director's ravishing wife Tran Nu Yen-Khe- see above) seems to be love with her brother, one sister's husband has another family, and the third is pregnant and suspects her husband has cheated on her. The film captures everyday moments like waking in the morning to the strains of The Velvet Underground, preparing meals, and having coffee in the coffee shop. It was an enjoyable experience to be in that atmosphere, but it doesn't have the same overall poignance of the other master directors that Ping has worked with (Wong and Hou).
Tony Richardson's A Taste Of Honey (1961) is a kitchen sink drama of the British Realist school based on a play by the young Shelag Dleaney. It has recently gotten a Criterion release and is notable for providing lyric sand inspiration to Morissey during his time withe Smiths. Here is a ample of lyrics from the play/film: “That river, it’s the colour of lead” / “You can’t just wrap it up in a bundle of newspaper” / “And dump it on a doorstep” / “Oh well, the dream’s gone, but the baby’s real enough” / “I’m not sorry and I’m not glad” (This Night Has Opened My Eyes), “I dreamt about you last night. Fell out of bed twice” (Reel Around The Fountain), “I’ll probably never see you again” (Hand in Glove), “It’s a long time, six months” (Shoplifters Of The World Unite And Take Over), “You want taking in hand” (Barbarism Begins At Home), “Sing me to sleep”(Asleep), “What would you say if I started something?” (I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish), “Put your arms around me” (Tomorrow), “Anyway it’s your life, ruin it your own way” (Alma Matters). Rita Tushingham won the British Academy Award for her performance as the young working class girl who has gotten herself pregnant in this, her debut role. (Both Tushingham and costar Murray Melvin, as Peter the gay artist, won awards at the Cannes Film Festival.)The story is also remarkable since two of the characters are a black sailor and a gay artist who are not mocked but portrayed realistically and sympathetically rather in an stereotyped manner. There is some excellent work by cinematographer Walter Lassally throughout the film as well.
Netflix has yet another compelling original TV series in Last Chance U (2015), which follows the trials and tribulations of Eastern Mississippi Community College's football team. The team is a powerhouse that has won national championships four out of five years. The team is made up of troubled students who have been bounced or unable to make it through other programs for academic or behavioral problems. The show mainly focuses on the star players, the head coach, and their main academic advisor. The show reflects a lot about values in America, the South, and Mississippi in particular. It was a short six season series, but I will tune into Season Two as well.
Bitter Lake (2015) is a fascinating BBC documentary from Adam Curtis about how the simplified narrative of "good versus evil" has been applied to the situation in Afghanistan. He first focuses on how America's special relationship with Sadi Arabia created a chain of events that would lead to the rise of wahhabism and eventually led to the formation of the Taliban and ISIS. Other factors are considered, for example the wars int eh middle east between Israel and Saudi Arabia and later the wars in Afghanistan first between the Soviet Union and later in the war terrorism that included England and the United States. It has a strong narrative and excellent visuals along with an interesting soundtrack. It was something of a innovative documentary. I would like to see what Curtis does next-this was an informative, compelling, and entertaining film.
I got Lesley Downer's book, On The Narrow Road To The Deep North: Journey Into A Lost Japan (1989) as background reading for a trip to the Tohoku region (this time Sendai and surrounding areas-Yamadera and Matsushima). I also read Matsuo Basho's book The Narrow Roads to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches knowing that Downer would refer to them in her travels. And I am glad that I did, she relied on that book and the diaries of his companion Kawai Sora's diary in which he noted the weather, price of accommodations and other mundane facts of the journey-I learned that Basho only highlighted the more memorable stops and occasions embroidered with poetry. Her journey was undertaken in 1985, so it was rare for foreigners to be undertaking the journey she did, however, unlike Alan Booth who walked all of Japan and wrote about it, she walked, hitchhiked, and took trains to complete the journey and hers was following the route of Japan's most famous poet. And perhaps this trip inspired Booth's later travels in which he followed Osamu Dazai's travels in Tsurugu, Saigo Takamori's retreat, and the searched for the final home of the defeated Heike clan. Downer's book is rich in detail about her encounters with local people and the history of the region in regards to the famous and historical figures who spent time in this region. Unlike Booth's book, she is less forthcoming about herself-sometimes she gets exasperated with people she meets, but she is less humorous and forthcoming about her travels. I understand that she was looking for the world that Basho encountered, but I still don't have a strong feeling of what it was about the journey that inspired her. Unlike Booth, who has a great love for Tohoku, where he initially lived when he came to Japan, Downer had lived further south in the mountains of Gifu, before returning to Japan. That being said I enjoyed having Downer around as I visited some of the places (Yamadera, Sendai, and Matsushima) that she did retracing Basho's footsteps. I intend on coming back and seeing more of Tohoku and I might even re-visit this book when I do.