El Pato is an American style restaurant and bar in Koenji. Their burger is mighty fine, but it might be second best burger joint in Koenji-see Fatz's Burgers. However, they do have two types of Shiga Kogen craft beer (one of my favorite Japanese beer makers) on tap and outdoor seating.
One of my summer projects is a close study of the films of Mikio Naruse, often seen as Japan's fourth greatest director, after Mizoguchi, Ozu, and Kurosawa. This project started with a viewing of the surviving five silent films, which have been released as a box set, Eclipse26: Silent Naruse by Criterion. I have also started reading Cathrine Russell study of Naruse, The Cinema of Naruse Mikio: Women and Japanese Modernity (2008). She explains that the classical cinema emerging in Naruse's films of the 30s is predicated on melodrama as the popular form specific to the experience of modern life. Russell writes that no other director provided as complex figures of modern women in this decade as did Naruse with his films about "new women", porfessional women, cafe waitresses, wives, and daughters-inlaw. The second group following the silent films is "Naruse at P.C.L.: Toward A Japanese Classical Cinema, 1935-1937." These section discussed the following films: Three Sisters with Maiden Hearts, The Actress and the Poet, Wife! Be Like a Rose!, Five Men in the Circus, The Girl in the Rumor, Tochuken Kumoemon, The Road I Travel with You, Morning's Tree-Lined Street , Feminine Melancholy, Avalanche, Learn from Experience. Of these I have only previous seen, Wife! Be Like a Rose!. Many of these are available on DVD or You Tube.
Three Sisters With Maiden Hearts (1935) is Naruse's first talkie and it is an impressive debut. Naruse makes great use of sounds: voice over narration, ambient noise from boats, background music, and the actors singing and playing performances. It is set in Asakusa and opens with a montage of signs and shots from an outside location that show what it was like in the mid 30s, in fact there are several outside location shots throughout the film. This film was also an adaptation of novelist Yasunari Kawabata's novel, Sister of Asakusa, he would later adapt Kawabata's The Sound Of The Mountian. This story is about a fatherless family in which the mother trains country girls to play and shamisen and sing accompaniment in bars and restaurants for room and board in the seedy Asakusa. A task that her oldest and middle daughter have also done. The youngest daughter dances in a burlesque dance troop. It is learned through flashbacks that the middle daughter has left he family to take up with a sickly pianist. In this film as in others, there is a contrast between modern women who dress in the western style, in this case the youngest, and those who wear the more traditional kimonos, the oldest and middle daughters. Naruse continues to use progressive camera techniques that are largely absent from the later films: mostly medium and close shots, shots through windows and grates, pans, montages, fades and dissolves.
The next film in this period was The Actress and the Poet (1935), a comedy of sorts that deals with traditional roles of husband and wife. It is one of many available on You Tube. It concerns Geppu, a house husband and a poet whose poems bring in meager earnings, sponge cake for example.The wife, Chieko (Sachiko Chiba who was briefly Naruse's wife), is an actress who rehearses late and has colleagues over for parties and such. In one scene his wife rehearses a play that closely resemble his situation and a friend, Nose, comes by and tries to break up the fight before realizing it was only make-believe. He invites himself to live with them until he gets on his feet and convinces Geppu that it's his idea. This triggers real fight about his intrusion and as in comedy of manners the wife realizes how to play the role forgives the husband and Nose and becomes a dutiful wife serving the husband breakfast and attending to his needs. On a side note a young couple tries to commit double suicide ot collect on a insurance policy-the second such mention-the previous in Three Sisters with Maiden Hearts-apparently it was in vogue at the time.
After this, Naruse created one of his early masterpieces, Wife! Be Like A Rose! (1935), which I viewed earlier this year. It was the first Japanese film to get a release in the US. It is largely due to the performance of Chiba as a modern woman that it became one of Naruse's greatest success. There are some formal editing elements that standout: movements that occur just before or just after shot-change proper and cutaways that have been said ot be more "disruptive" than Ozu's pillow shots. The camera movement is also impressive and not as excessive as some of his silent films.
This was followed by the light comedy, Five Men in the Circus (1935), which I could only find without subtitles, thus Russell's analysis of the is film was very helpful in understanding the film. It is a story about itinerant musicians who play popular music. The owner's daughter, Sumiko, is in love with one of the performers and stages a fall, which can be seen as an attempt at suicide, from the trapeze. Her failed suicide allows her to marry. This inspires one of the troupe to reconcile with his mistress and she joins them signaling a familiar pattern in Naruse where a dramatic crisis resolve a key conflict, but it leads to an ending that opens to a new beginning for the characters. A journey without a destination as Russell points out.
The Girl in the Rumor (1935) was produced from an original script by Naruse. This is one of his shorter productions at 54 minutes, and available with subtitles on You Tube. It is about a struggling family sake business run by a widower and his two daughters. Again we have the traditional one, Kunie (Sachiko Chiba) and the modern western style daughter Kimiko (Ruyuko Umezono). The father is trying ot marry off the oldest daughter, while the youngest has been seeing the prospective groom ruining her sisters chances and doesn't want her father to let his mistress live with theme even after it is revealed that she is her true mother. The melodrama comes to a conclusion when the father is arrested for diluting his sake to help make ends meet. It has themes, pointed out by Russell. that recur through Naruse's oeuvre in that his film as these films are often concerned with the bonds and relations between women confronted with a social practice that is silently condoned by social convention but rarely publicly addressed.
Naruse's first film in 1936 was Tochuken Kumoemon (You Tube), a study of masculine pride and egoism. Tochuken's poor behavior toward his samisen player and wife as well as his son are among the major themes of the film, whereas, he feels that family should be secondary to his singing career. He resents his son for trying to make him a fully realized human and father-this is also how he feels toward his wife who is dying of TB. Tochuken is a very unlikeable lead and the contradictions of the film indicate that Naruse's fixation on gender include this study of male arrogance. The scenes of Tochuken reciting rokuyuko are impressive: they are made up of multiple tracking and panning shots that dissolve into one another and have sweeping shots of the audience.
The Road I Travel With You (1936) represent somewhat of a departure for Naruse as he set this film among the upper middle class. (You Tube) The film is concerned with the display of wealth even if they are not empowered by it. Two brothers approaching marriage age and their mother, a woman who was a mistress to a wealthy man, are living in Kamakura. Their fates for marriage depend on several outside factors such as status, money, and parental decisions about the fates of their children-usually based on acquiring new wealth. It challenges the traditions of sustaining class hierarchies by exchanging children among wealthy families. Like many Naruse films it end inconclusively and ambiguously. It can be considered a minor work in Naruse's oeuvre.
There are no trees in the urban underbelly of Tokyo's pleasure quarters where Naruse's Morning's Tree-lined Street (1936) takes place mostly in a hostess bar downtown. (You Tube) A younger sister, Chiyo (Sachiko Chiba), arrives in Tokyo looking for work to find that her sister, Shigeyo, is employed as a down-scale hostess in a tawdry lifestyle. Chiyo is taken with a young bachelor, Ogawa, and begins to work as a hostess until she can find something else. There is an unusual dream sequence, which isn't recognizable by any film grammar to alert us of the shift in the perspective of the film, but later she wakes and find that Ogawa has been transferred to Sendai rather than on the lam for embezzling from his company. Naruse will return to this milieu later in his career, most notably in A Woman Ascends the Stairs.
The middle class is the setting for Naruse's next film, Feminine Melancholy (1937), where Takako Irie stars as Hiroko, a woman trapped in an unhappy arranged marriage. Russell suggests that it one of the most damning critiques of women's social roles in prewar Japanese cinema in the depiction of a the arranged marriage as a form of servitude or slavery. The Japanese home for Naruse in the 1930 served as a structural allegory for the harmony of the family that is inevitably threatened by his narratives of family relationships. In this film, Hiroko eventually leaves the unhappy marriage and looks forward to living life single to find her own way.
Avalanche (1937) is an adaptation of a novel that Naruse and critics felt was a failure. (You Tube) He uses a new cinematic feature in the film when he periodically pauses while a dark filter drops like a screen over the image and there is a voice over of the character's thoughts. It is a love triangle about a man who has married a submissive traditional girl, but regrets not marrying the modern fast talking girlfriend. There is too much speechiness in the film. It ends somewhat ambiguously. This film reinforces the idea of the emotional distance between men and women that create misunderstandings and miscommunication.
The last films of 1937, the peak year of production in Japan-562 films produced, by Naruse was a two part (each was 78 minutes long) adaptation of a novel by Kikuchi Kan, Learn From Experience (You Tube). Takako Irie plays Toyomi, who is abandoned by her lover for another richer, more modern woman, Yurie (Chieko Takehisa), when his father insists on arranged marriage to save the family. She has a child out of wedlock that is eventually adopted by the married couple and a sort of tug of war between the child ensues, before the father intervenes. The film is remarkable for the way it showcases modern Tokyo: strolling in Ueno, dancing in Tokyo dance-halls, and shopping for Western clothes in Ginza.
Today's appetizers, four in total, were included in the tan tan men set, which was a bargain at ¥1200.
A small bowl of soup also accompanied the meal. There was a choice of four styles of tan tan men. I chose the first, which was unusual in that there was very little soup, but was very flavorful nonetheless.
I am slowly working my way through the John Cassavetes boxset, and the second film in the collection is Faces (1968). It is another hallmark in American independent cinema with a focus on giving the actors room to inhabit their characters and a focus on their interpretations via their body movements and facial expressions-hence the reliance on hand held cameras that could follow the actors as they explored their characters. It seeks finding truth in the underbelly of middle America and uses a deteriorating relationship between a typical middle class couple, Dickie (John Marley) and Maria (Lynn Carlin) whose marriage is falling apart. It somewhat reminiscent of Who Afraid of Virgina Woolf?.Throughout the film characters are being unmasked and revealing true emotions and vulnerability that lies behind the facades they present in everyday life. The catalyst for Dickie is the prostitute Jeannie (Gena Rowlands) and for Maria it's the hustler Chet (Seymour Cassel). Surprisingly this daring film garnered three Academy Award nominations (for Best Supporting actor -Cassel, Best Supporting Actress-Carlin and screenplay for Cassavetes) even though it is the extreme opposite of a Hollywood film in the way it was produced, it took two years to finish since they ran out of money for the film. In the end it is a triumph of independent film making.
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.