I ate at the main branch of Kumari, a Nepali restaurant that has two branches in Asagaya. I was told that it was better than the one near me, on the south side. I had today's curry-keema eggplant curry with nan for ¥780. I couldn't tell the difference between the two.
I was inspired to see Rory Kennedy's Last Days In Vietnam (2014) after reading fictionalized accounts of the events in Viet Than Nguyen's Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Sympathizer. I have also read many books and seen many films on the Vietnam War and this is an often overlooked incident in the war. Here Kennedy gives due to the many servicemen and government workers who ignored orders to help save the many Vietnamese people who would have faced punishment form the invading North Vietnamese communist army. One of the more alarming discoveries was that former Deputy Secretary of State under the W. Bush administration, Richard Armitage, was one of the many servicemen who defied orders to save as many Vietnamese as possible. it is incredible to know that a man who had first had knowledge of Vietnam would have been so hawkish about invading another country-Iraq and inflicting the same kind of damage that the US did in Vietnam. I guess history is bound to repeat even is you have firsthand knowledge of such mistakes. There's lots of amazing film and photography that documented the evacuation. The film is well-researched and has a compelling narrative about an under-reported incident from the Vietnam War.
Adrift In Tokyo (2007) is an offbeat comedy from director Satoshi Miki. In this film a hapless 8th year college student with no family and a large debt, Joe Odagir is given a chance to work off the debt as a companion on a walk from West Tokyo to the main police department in Kasumigaseki with his debt collector Tomokazu Miura. On the walk they become an likely pair of friends and have several comedic episodes along the way. It is a quirky and entertaining film.
Matthew Heinenman's documentary Cartel Land (2015) is impressive and equally infuriating at the same time. In his film he chronicles two groups of vigilantes without any commentary or analysis. One group on the American side is a bunch of fringe anti-immigrationists who feel the need to keep undocumented Latinos out of the country. One of the leaders declares that he is fighting the cartels that run drugs and humans across the boarder, but I think it's more about making sure that the desperate Mexicans don't get in. They managed to only film one capture of desperate looking people. The other group-the Autodefensas , however, may be more troubling. The leaders cited the infiltration of the cartel in the legitimate institutions led to the need for a vigilante force that is not corrupt to protect the towns being harassed by the cartels. The director does a good job of showing how the cartels have terrorized the towns with beheadings and multiple murders, but shows less how it was the fault of police or militia or courts or whatever. He does show that as the group grows in power they start exhibiting the same behaviors of the cartels by robbing houses they raid, targeting personal enemies, as well as harassing women. The leader of the group is a womanizer and loses control of the group, which eventually allies itself with the corrupt militia. I would have liked some analysis of how the cartels could be beaten-perhaps how they were beaten in Columbia and other countries. It began as a story of people helping themsleves and taking back their towns and ends with the status quo keeping business the same as usual.
I was impressed with Robert Wise's film noir classic, The Set-Up (1949). The director's name seemed familiar and saw that he directed several blockbusters later in his career (The Sound of Music and West Side Story). Here is already on top of his game with this story of a proud boxer on his way down and out, "Stoker" Thompson (Bill Ryan) who gets in a fix with some gamblers. His girl. Julie (Audrey Totter) is tired of seeing him take a beating in the ring and has been begging him to quit. Wise gets all the details right as he has constructed a seedy town, Paradise City, with a neon flit backdrop of seediness and sin. The fights scenes are well done with expressive cuts to the colorful characters in the crowd.
Viet Thanh Nguyen's award winning debut novel, The Sympathizer (2016), was probably "the" novel of 2016-winning the Pulitzer Prize as well as several others. The novel is noted for binary relationships throughout the novel: east-west, north-south Vietnam, double agent, communist-capitalist. The narrator is a half-French, half-Vietnamese intelligence officer for the South Vietnamese army who is also a mole for the North Vietnamese. His story is told in flashbacks and the opening sequences describe the fall of Saigon and his subsequent journey to Los Angeles in America where he continues his double role. At one point, he is hired as a consultant for a "Francis Ford Coppola-like" director who is producing an epic Vietnamese war movie. This section feels contrived since everyone knows what film he is drawing inspiration from in this section. He is involved in some counter-intelligence activities, which haunt him. He also has a couple of love affairs, first with an older Japanese American woman he works with and later his commanding General's head-strong daughter. The General orders him back to Vietnam to take part in guerilla fighting with the established Communist government and the book moves into its third section once he is captured. His capture is where Nguyen can delve into the torture legacy of the US and North Vietnamese-detailing the many ways that prisoners were psychologically and physically broken down. It is clear that Nguyen has done his research to inform the book with facts--for example a fictional US General states (like General Westmoreland in the seminal documentary Hearts and Minds), that the Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. He makes some good observations, for example: "Americans on the average do not trust intellectuals, but they are cowed by power and stunned by celebrity." It is an impressive debut and probably worthy of all the awards it has amassed-I have yet to read any other fiction published last year to compare it to though. Oh, and one more note on the novel, he writes that one refugee girl was brought to Spokane, Washington and sold into prostitution-which I take offense to since I am from there we had a Vietnamese family that was settled there and went to my private Catholic school-no prostitution was involved-an unlikely place for that anyway. I realize it's fiction, but come on give us a break.
Billy Corben's documentary Cocaine Cowboys (2006) was a compelling portrait at the evolution of the drug business and its effect on Miami. The director talks to the early pioneers of drug smuggling, distribution, and laundering of money as well as public officials, policemen, and reporters who were active during the era. . One of the most noticeable changes was how Miami changed almost overnight in the 70s and 80s from a place where old people went to die to the excess of luxury cars, jewelry, and discos fueled by drug money. And then it was the murder capital of the world. Things got worse during the Mariel boatlift, where Cuba's Castro emptied his jails and mental institutions and Jimmy Carter gave them refugee status-there was an immediate rise in murder and rape in the city. Then in the Reagan years the war on drugs was stepped up and Miami started getting the resources they needed to fight the war. A fascinating portrait of Miami and the drug business.
Kent Jones's documentary Hitchcock / Truffuant (2016) is a fascinating look at two great auteurs. Truffuant sought out Hitchcock for a series of interviews that he turned into a book. The film looks at that process and the films of Hitchcock himself with commentary from some of the best filmmakers of today such as Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Peter Bogdanovich, Paul Schrader, Olivier Assayas, Arnaud Desplechan, James Gary, and Richard Linklater. Informative and inspiring.
There are several things remarkable about John Huston's The Misfits (1961). So first of all, I am a fan of Huston's films and somehow had missed this one. It also has an all-star cast with Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe in their last roles. Gable died of a heart attack shortly after filming ended and Monroe died of a a drug overdose a year and a half later. The film also had Montgomery Cliff, who like Monroe was having problems with alcohol and stimulants and according to Monroe was in worse shape than her. The screenplay was penned by Arthur Miller for Monroe, whose marriage with Monroe dissolved through the filming of the picture. The story is of a modern west in Reno where people used to go for quick divorces, and questions about masculinity and what it means to be man in the modern era. There are themes of innocent creatures being harmed throughout. It was an interesting film, that becomes fascinating with the back story of the troubled production of the film.