I was inspired to read Edgar Allan Poe's lone novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym from Paul Theroux's description of it in The Old Patagonia Express. He called it the most frightening book he had ever read and later when he met Jorge Luis Borges in Argentina, Borges called it Poe's greatest work. I'm not sure I would go as far as either of those writers, but it was an entertaining read. It was chock full of disaster: mutiny, castaways, cannibalism, and murderous blood-thirsty natives. I really find the introductions of the Penguin series very informative in setting up the context of the text. In this case academic Richard Kopely discusses the personal allusions in the novel as well as the religious symbolism present in the novel. This is especially true of allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem, of which Ariel is a former name of the city and the name of the ship in the novel. It was interesting that he noted that Gordon Pym was an inspiration to Herman Melville for Moby Dick, especially the chapter "The Whiteness of the Whale." It is most certainly an under-rated novel that deserves to be in the pantheon of American literature.
I was impressed by the James Bond reboot with Casino Royale in 2006 introducing Daniel Craig as Bond, less so by the follow up Quantum of Solace in 2008, which I can barely remember. However, Skyfall (2012) is more like the former than the later. This one, directed by Sam Mendes, opens with a great chase scene on motorcycles on the top of the Great bazaar in Istanbul followed by an inspired credit sequence. The locations were all fabulous as Bond traverses from Shanghai to Macao and back to London, before heading to Scotland and his family's old "Skyfall" estate for the climax with bad guy Javier Bardem. It also has appearances from all the Bond familiars: M, Q, and Miss Moneypenny. There is a slight meta-aspect of the film that winks at the Bond conventions and traditions. It was a very entertaining addition.
I have heard good things about Fatz's Burgers in Koenji, so I thought I'd check it out. I have to say they have one of the best burgers in town, I also ordered the chili con carne ¥600 (see below), and the Texas Burger (see above), which has Havarti and cheddar cheese with chili. And it is certainly one of the elite gourmet burgers around. It was perhaps too much chili for one meal, next time I will get a cheeseburger with the Havarti and cheddar. Koenji is next to Nakano--where our university will move next year
I think Whit Stillman is one of my favorite contemporary directors even though his output has been very limited. In fact Damsels In Distress (2011) is his first film since 1998's The Last Days Of Disco. It is typical of Stillman films in several respects: it is a dialogue-based comedy with several female protagonists, dancing and Stillman stalwart Taylor Nichols make a cameo-as he has in all four of Stillman's charming comedies. I must admit I was somewhat skeptical after reading reviews and wondered if he had gone too far with some of his farcical ideas concerning well-meaning coeds who helm the suicide prevention center and frat boys who are so stupid that they can't recognize colors, but oddly enough it works in the Stillman universe. A lot of this has to do with the wonderful, witty dialogue. There are some great gags throughout like the "flit lit" storyline about the dandy tradition, the “flit lit” tradition—that is deprecating college
slang for something that is important — this tradition that comes down
from Johnson to Laurence Sterne to Jonathan Swift, and then to the Oscar
Wilde era and eventually Evelyn Waugh, and separately Jane Austen. Violet talks about the influence of dance crazes on society and refers to the waltz, the tango, and the twist as examples of it before unleashing her own "The Smabola." I also like how he has turned Greek fraternities into Roman ones-complete with a "Roman Holiday." Greta Gerwig is the Chloe Sevigny stand in (and look-alike from Days of Disco) and does an admirable job as the earnest Violet. It was more enjoyable than I thought it would be, but is probably my least favorite Stillman film to date, which essentially is by order of release:
I was recently out west on the Chuo line, so decided to check out Tonogayato Gardens, a semi-Western style strolling garden, to take in the fall colors. I didn't previously know about this park even though it is only 2 minutes from the station, since I am usually visiting Kokubunji to go to my friend's bar, The Lighthouse.
I heard some talk about Hendrick's Gin being the best gin around. It is produced by William Grant & Sons in Girvan, Scotland and was launched in 1999. I thought I'd check it out. It wasn't availiable at the local liquor store so I made a trek to the mecca, Tanakaya in Meijiro. It is a different taste from Bombay Sapphire, which is my standard. Instead of the spicy botanical taste, it has a smoother cucumber and rose flavor. It is a nic echange of pace, but not sure its worth ¥4100 per bottle, when Bombay Sapphire is under ¥2000. That being siad I like the old timey bottle design.
I was compelled to read Patrica Highsmith's novel, The Tremor of Forgery (1969) because Graham Greene called it her finest novel. From what I have read so far, I am in agreement. That being said I have only read The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cry of the Owl previously. This novel about a writer holed up in Tunisia writing a novel can't help but recall Albert Camus' The Stranger and The Cure's Stranger-inspired song "Killing An Arab." Highsmith does an excellent job of creating a sense of exile and dislocation. There are subtle contrast between earnest Americanism in the character of OWL and European cynicism in the melancholy Danish painter that the protagonist befriends. There is a foreboding sense of dread that seeps into the story, which unexpectedly ends on a high note. I have to admit I am somewhat fascinated with North Africa since I am a fan of former expatriate writer Paul Bowles, who lived for many years in Morocco. This novel also calls to mind the writing of Bowles. I suspect I will read more of the Ripley series in the future as well. Highsmith creates fascinating characters who live outside the normal limits of morality.
A friend recommended 7025 Franklin Avenue in Gotanda for gourmet burgers. So I thought I'd give it a try. I think I'd recomend it for ambience over the food-it has a pleasant, spacious bistro-like feel with a nice patio. The burger was good (not worth going out of your way), however, it had too much lettuce, tomato, and onions on it. Bonus points for squeeze bottles and for carrying A&W Root Beer
Nagisa Oshima is one of Japan's most well-known directors and one of the harbingers of the Japanese New Wave film movement. His films tend to deal with issues like politics, identity, gender, and sex, thus, he has been a great favorite of critics and academics. In The Films Of Oshima Nagisa: Images Of A Japanese Iconoclast (1998) Maureen Turim mines the films of Oshima to study the different levels of meaning found throughout his body of work often with the aid of theorists like Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucalt, and other postmodernist favorites, as a result, the book is sometimes overly academic and turgid in places. However, I do think that there is a lot going on in the films of Oshima, however, some of them are difficult to watch because of his avant garde approach or the fact that the films are fully loaded with messages.
In "Cultural Iconoclasm and Contexts of Innovation" Turim discuses auteur theory, authorship, and meanings that can exist outside the author's intent. She identifies Oshima as an iconoclast seeking new icons to replace old ones. Turim discusses Oshima's claim to hate all Japanese cinema. In the second chapter, "Cruel Stories of Youth and Politics" looks at Oshima's first films which focus on "sun tribe" stories and are overtly political. These include the following: A Town of Love and Hope (1959), Burial of the Sun (1959), Cruel Story of Youth (1960), and Night and Fog in Japan (1960). I found this section overwhelming with theoretical applications of post modern theorist. However, I think it is important to note that Oshima employs characters whose politics diverge from his own. This is followed by "Rituals, Desire, Death." In this section Turim looks at Death By Hanging (1968), which she sees as his most Brechtian film, Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1969), which shows avant garde fragmentation, Boy (1969), his most humanist film, The Battle of Tokyo, or the Story of the Young Man Who Left His Will on Film (1970), one of Oshima's most challenging films, and The Ceremony (1971). The next section, "Signs of Sexuality In Oshima's Tales of Passion" looks at two of his most infamous and well known films. Realm of the Senses (1976) which explores the history of the seduction of a serving girl by her boss and had to filmed outside of Japan due to the graphic sex portrayed in the film. The companion piece to this is Empire of Passion (1978), which is a ghost story also about sexuality. "Warring Subjects" presents a contrast between two films form different periods of the director's body of work for contrast, The Catch (1961), an adaptation of a Kenzuburo Oe short story, and Merry Christmas Mr.Lawrence (1983), an adaptation of a novel by South African Lauren van der Post. These films are critical of the Japanese sense of victimization by their war leaders during WWII which absolves them of individual complicity.The next section, "Popular Song, Fantasies, and Comedies of Iconoclasm" examines these themes in the following films: A Treaty on Japanese Bawdy Songs (1967), Three Resurrected Drunkards (1968), Dear Summer Sister (1972), and Max Mon Amour (1987). I found the section on Oshima's documentaries, "Documents of Guilt and Empire," especially fascinating. This includes three films with a Korean focus. Forgotten Soldiers (1963) about the protests for compensation of Korean nationals recruited to fight for Japan in WWII. A Monument to Youth (1964) about a Korean woman, Park Oh He, who lost a limb in the opposition protest against Syngman Rhee, and tries to move from prostitution to working in an orphanage. Also, Diary of Yunbogi (1965) which is about street kids in Seoul. Turim then discusses four films related to war. The Pacific War (1968) is made up of clips from propaganda films made during the war. In The Battle of Tsushima (1975) Oshima interviews survivors of the Russo-Japanese War. The Dead Remain Young (1977) is a memorial of civilian victims or a torpedo attack in WWII that was mostly Okinawian children. The final film was Human Drama: 28 Years of Hiding in the Jungle (1977) that looks at Yokoi Shoichi was lived in isolation in Guam. Oshima was an early critic of China's cultural revolution which can be seen in his film Mao and the Cultural Revolution (1969). The other two films discussed, Joi Bengla! (1972) and The Golden Land of Bengal (1976), celebrate and examine a new Asian nation, Bangladesh. In the concluding section, Turim mentions two documentaries that he had made, Kyoto, My Mother (1991) and The Century of Cinema for the British Film Institute and that Taboo (1999), his final film, was in pre-production.
To date I have seen Shadows and Fog in Japan, the Criterion box set Oshima's Outlaw 60s: Pleasures of the Flesh, Violence at Noon,Sing a Song of Sex, Japanese Summer: Double Suicide, Three Resurrected Drunkards, Realm of Senses, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, and Taboo. I am inspired to see any of the documentaries I can find, perhaps Criterion could bring out a box set? Turim sees Empire of Passion as a companion piece to Realm of Senses and a work of high merit, which inspires me to see it. This book is a comprehensive look at one of the most challenging Japanese directors.