Eggs benedict at the West Park Cafe in Yoyogi Uehara. This is one of my favorite weekend places, because they have western style brunch, burgers, and great sandwiches. Also, this one opens up the windows (see below).
The Onion AV Club has an entertaining interview with Chuck Klosterman:
The first essay in Chuck Klosterman’s excellent new collectionEating The Dinosaur concerns the inherent lack of real truth to be found when interviewing famous people. As a guy who’s been on both sides of the journalist’s tape recorder, he should know, and in the essay, he does what he generally does best—asks himself a pointed but sort of unanswerable question, then examines it. (And brings pop culture into the mix to provide evidence and/or anecdotes.) So “Why do I give interviews?” and “Are people honest when they’re giving interviews?” are rolled around and left unanswered, and we’re all the better for it. It’s just the first salvo in a great set of pieces that also touches onWeezer, Garth Brooks/Chris Gaines, and ABBA. (Also: some sports.) So instead of doing a straight-up interview and then wondering whether Klosterman was telling the truth—or worse yet, rating the quality of our questions—we thought it’d be fun to keep the conversation centered on essentially one topic, in honor of Halloween. So Klosterman spoke with The A.V. Club about fear: his worries about pandemic disease, running over motorcyclists, and whether technology will end us all.
The Man Within is Graham Greene’s first novel, but it shows
much of the promise that will be developed later to give us novels like The
Quiet American and The Heart of
the Matter or The End of the
Affair. The hallmark feature of the Penguin
series is the insightful introductions, and we have yet another useful one by
Jonathan Yardley who puts the novel in context of Greene’s career and
biographical details that are mirrored in the novel. There are many aspects of
this novel that will be developed later like the tortured hero who uses
religion to navigate an indifferent and hostile world. This novel also has a
love affair with an idealized woman-something that recurs in his alter novels
as well. It is an impressive debut, if not without some faults like sentimentality,
but overall interesting in context of Greene’s vast and impressive body of
I’ve been meaning to see the documentary, The Heart of the
Game, about a Seattle high school's girl’s basketball program, Roosevelt High School, for a
number of reasons. It got great reviews, the coach, Bill Resler is a professor
from my alma matter the University of Washington, I love basketball, and I did
a long term substitute teaching assignment there and had a good friend who
worked there for years. It turned out to be better than I had anticipated,
because I didn’t know about the personal story of team star Darnella Russell
who is seemingly college bound when she gets pregnant drops out of school
returns and tries for her final year of eligibility. She is denied by high
school sports governing board at first, but finally triumphs in the end. It is
a great story, but also raises some questions about double standards between
genders. It’s entertaining, full of vibrant personalities, a compelling story, and
is essentially a feel good movie.
Is it just me or are the Japanese particularly sensitive to
criticism. It seems that every time they are criticized, they resort to the
cultural relativism argument. Parental abduction? Cultural difference. Eating
dolphins? Cultural difference.
Here are some quotes from the mixed reactions from the
documentary “The Cove” about the dolphin slaughter in Taijima:
Inoue, a resident of Saitama, said she found the final scene, where dozens of
dolphins trapped in a hidden cove are speared by fishermen, turning the water
blood red, “shocking.” But she didn’t think the hunt should be stopped
entirely. “There are a lot of cultural differences in people’s eating habits,”
say it’s OK to kill and eat cows, but not dolphins,” said Hiroshi Hatajima, a
42-year-old office worker from Tokyo. “That kind of special treatment isn’t
going to register with a lot of Japanese. We have to eat animals to survive.
It’s a cultural clash.” The film, while well-made, “comes across as somewhat
propaganda-like,” he said.
Sorry, eating dolphins is
NOT like eating beef. I like to think that I can admit that America is not
perfect and needs a lot of reforms both politically and culturally. We drive
uneconomic cars too much, eat large portions of unhealthy food, and have some
dubious policies in regards to international politics and health care.
Anyway, I found Sawa
Kurotani, author of “Behind The Paper Screen” column in The Daily Yomiuri, to be another cultural
apologist, which is troubling since she is an anthropologist by training. In
her latest column she questions the westerns assumptions about “hikikomori”
(young people who withdraw from society and stay shut in their homes):
I was thinking of my
memory of being shut out, as I read Michael Zielenziger's Shutting out the Sun,
which centers on hikikomori, or "shut-ins" who literally confine
themselves in their bedrooms and avall social contact for months and years.
Zielenziger's analysis, albeit well researched, is not without problems of its
own. His perspective on hikikomori is explicitly and implicitly influenced by
his own (read "American" or "Western") ideals of
individualism, self-reliance and independence, and as a result, he labels
hikikomori as a uniquely "Japanese" phenomenon. However, he does make
an important suggestion that the uchi-soto distinction and the extreme concern
for maintaining sekentei or public appearance tightly surround the private
sphere of uchi, and once hikikomori shut themselves in, there is no way out of
this self-imposed seclusion.
I remember correctly, he even surveyed other Asian countries and lo and
behold-it IS a uniquely “Japanese” phenomenon. In fact I saw a BBC report which
also came to that conclusion-which also supports her western-centric view. But
instead of addressing to how to combat it or agree that it is counterproductive
to a society that won’t have enough workers in their near future to run its
economy, she cites lack of understanding of the culture as the focus of the
I think there is
something akin between my childish craving for the safety of home and the
decision of young adults to cocoon themselves inside their uchi. To put it
another way, I suspect that the impulse of hikikomori to shut themselves in may
be an infantile reaction to the difficulty of childhood-to-adulthood transition
and an avoidance of adult social relationships that are not always pleasant or
easy. In fact, many anthropological studies document the difficulty of
transition to adulthood experienced in many societies and the ubiquity of
elaborate rituals to mark this critical transition. If so, might teenagers and
young adults from different social and cultural backgrounds have similar
experiences and thus at least a degree of empathy for the plight of Japanese
hikikomori? While I had no way of truly testing this notion, I could at least
find out what young Americans thought of this. I assigned the book for my
"Japanese Society and Culture" class, to see what my students might
have to say about this.
Perhaps I should not
be surprised, but no one in my class seemed to relate to hikikomori whatsoever.
My students were first perplexed, and then upset, that seemingly bright and
talented young people would choose to shut themselves up in their rooms and
entirely depend on their parents to take care of them. It was very difficult
for them to wrap their heads around the idea that there is a place on Earth
where expressing one's individuality was discouraged, where being
"different" in any way can result in such harsh bullying by their
peers. They discussed in disbelief how Japanese parents do not express their
affection much and are unable or unwilling to intervene in their children's
lives in decisive and effective ways. They are also shocked at how extreme
forms of bullying are allowed to go on in Japanese schools.
Their responses are,
more than anything else, telling of the social and cultural environment in
which these American students were raised. They were socialized with firm
beliefs in individuality and independence. They place a great deal of
importance in the emotional ties among family members, but they also define
such ties as connection between individuals, which need to be regularly
expressed and affirmed, and the kind of amae or "indulgence" typical
in Japanese family is not considered appropriate for adult children.
really find this concept of “amae” really counterproductive to critical
thinking and autonomy, which many of my students lack in addressing their
studies as college students. I would say this is on par with the culture of
acceptance in America where it is OK to be fat or that everyone should get to
pass because everyone is good at something. These are not productive norms and
should be challenged.
Their comments also
point to a disciplinarian approach of the contemporary American school system.
Despite the common perception to the contrary, American schools, in fact, closely
monitor students, ready to quickly intervene and strictly punish any antisocial
behavior. Most importantly, they are taught to look outwardly, beyond the
safety of private family sphere and the comfort of a narrow but familiar world,
and carve out their own niches as unique individuals in a broader social
universe. Not that all of my students would achieve these ideals, but shutting
themselves in the privacy of their homes is not even a viable option in their
that’s not a good thing? If you quit your job and stop going to school in America you’re
going to get kicked out on the curb. I can’t think of many other societies that
have NEETS (people not in employment, education or training) either. This is another
example of the permissive culture and it’s “amae.” In America we call NEETS,
bums or freeloaders.
Bruce Eaton’s book length essay about Big Star’s second
album Radio City for the 33 1/3 series seems to have placed accuracy above all
in the story of this recording. It is mostly transcriptions of interviews with
band members and the engineering staff at Ardent Studios about how the
recording was made. I think it would have been more compelling if these
interviews had been paraphrased and put into a more coherent narrative. I was
also missing insight/analysis of the songs. The author claims to have read everything
written about Big Star yet he makes no references to any other printed
material. The book doesn’t really come alive until the end where the author
recounts how he ended up playing with Alex Chilton after Big Star broke up.
There's a great article in the November edition of The Atlantic on Mad Men:
Some elements of Mad Men’s appeal have been nicely explained by Charlie Rose (who can always be counted on to embrace the conventional wisdom) in that inimitably sycophantic, answering-his-own-question-that-isn’t-even-a-question way of his: “Why has this so resonated, especially with critics and people who like smart writing and tightly drawn characters?” he pronounced in an interview with the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, and two of its male stars, Jon Hamm and John Slattery. The writing—and the direction, photography, and (with one important exception) acting—is superlative, the show is dramatically compelling. Moreover, as Rose’s customarily reverential invocation of the critics suggests, not just Rose but also Mad Men’s affluent, with-it target audience are particularly susceptible to liking whatTheNew York Times’ Arts and Style sections tell them to like (30-plus articles in two years!). Add to this the meticulous, lush styling and art direction, which make the series eye candy for its (again) target audience, already in thrall to the so-called mid-century-modern aesthetic—an appeal that’s now further fueled by the slimline suit/pencil skirt marketing tie-in with Banana Republic, that canny purveyor of upper-mass-market urbanity. Then there is the miraculous Hamm, playing the lead character, Don Draper. Here is an actor who at once projects sexual mastery and ironic intelligence, poise and vulnerability. That alchemy has created the greatest male stars, from Gable to Grant to Bogart to McQueen to Clooney, because it wins for them both the desire of women and the fondness of men. So the show’s white-hotness was all but predetermined.
Invisible Waves has the same production team that created the
masterly Last Life in the Universe, one of my favorite films. We have director
Pen-ek Rataraunang, screenwriter Prabda Yoon, cinematographer du jour
Christopher Doyle, and actor Tadanobu Asano reunited for another stylish mood
piece with film noir underpinnings. It is the story of a chef who murders the
boss' wife with whom he is having an affair in order to atone for his misdeed.
However, in execution it is similar to Last Life in mood and tone that is underscored by the background music and
haunting locations and sets. The action takes place on three islands, Hong
Kong, Macau, and Phuket, but anyone who has been to these places will hardly
recognize the lonely, rundown locations that could be anywhere. There is an
otherworldly sequence on a cruise ship that takes the murderer from Macau to
Phuket in which he is forced to grapple with his conscience. There are supporting
roles by Hong Actor Eric Tsang (Internal Affairs) and Korean actress Hye-jeuong Kang (Sympathy
for Lady Vengeance). I think this film
might be more cinematic than Last Life, but doesn’t emotionally resonate with me like that film for some reason.
However, it is a masterly made film with plenty to offer viewers. Unfortunately,
this film got limited release. I ordered the film from Australia, but I think
it is definitely worth seeking out.
After reading two recent impressive novels (Citizen Vince
and The Zero) by Jess Walters I have decided to go back and read
his first two novels. The first of which is Over Tumbled Graves. The title
comes from an epigraph from T.S. Eliot’s seminal poem “The Waste Land”:
the faint moonlight, the grass is singing
the tumbled graves.
In fact, Walters states in an interview in the back of the
book that he has tried to write a parallel structure with the poem in the
novel. I can’t judge whether he has achieved this aim or not because I can’t
remember the poem clearly, but I am sure that it was studied at some point in
my undergraduate English literature career. However, this detail accurately
identifies this as a “literary thriller.” Walters has done an admirable job of
characterization in bring alive detectives Allan Dupree and Caroline Mabry not
to mention humanizing the prostitute victims like Rae-Ann, which he identifies
as one of his goals in the novel. He also wanted to expose the cynical economy
of crime with the media, which is especially applicable to serial killers.
Which brings us to another aspect of the novel that hit s home a little too
close, Walters reported on several serial killer cases while working as a
journalist in my hometown of Spokane: “the coin shop killer” and Cory Bartell
who confessed to Walters. This confession led to his intent to personify “the
banality of evil” that killers like Bartell possessed. He was angry with
Walters for identifying the wrong type of baseball bat he used to kill his
mother in an experiment to see if he could get away with murder. Furthermore
soon after the publication of the novel Richard Yates, a killer of prostitutes
in Spokane was arrested suggesting Walters had drawn from that, when in
actuality it was written before. Another of Walters’s intentions was to
personify the city of Spokane as the setting for the novel. I think this is an
extremely successful first novel. It is philosophic, compelling, entertaining, and
well written with well-developed characters. As a bonus, the P.S. edition has
an interview, a back story explanation, list of recommended books, and summaries
of his other books including an excerpt from his latest.