Review: Films Set In Japan – ‘The Grudge’ (2004)

With Halloween on the horizon I thought it would be topical to review a horror movie. ‘The Grudge’ is actually a re-make of ‘Ju-on’ but unlike most re-makes it is done by the same director Takashi Shimizu albeit with an American cast. Now I’ve never seen the all-Japanese original so I sadly can’t compare the two but I’ve heard that this 2004 version isn’t half as scary. I’ve gotta say that, apart from a couple of brief moments, I didn’t suffer too many chills down my spine during its 98 minutes duration.

This film stars Sarah Michelle Gellar (of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ fame) who plays an American nurse called Karen working in Tokyo. A series of mysterious deaths occur at a house in Aoyama which sadly (for a locations buff like me anyway!) can’t be visited as it was just built on a soundstage at Toho Studios. She then encounters the supernatural spirit which possess the victims, claim their souls and pass on the curse to some other poor b*stard! To be honest its pretty hard to give too much of a sh*t about deaths of people you don’t ever really get to have much, if any affection for and that includes Gellar who is given a surprising lack of screen time given what I said a moment ago about her being the star.

 

‘The Grudge’ shows a series of vaguely connected events in a non-linear narrative and contains all the usual horror film trademarks such as black cats, shadows, creepy noises, creeking doors, slamming doors, lifts, attics, haunting music, mirror reflections, scary sound effects, books which turn pages automatically and it is for this reason that I was a bit disappointed with the film as it just doesn’t bring anything new to the horror genre. Having said that, my expectations before watching it were low so in one sense I didn’t actually mind it! Furthermore, as beautiful as Japanese girls are, they sure do make scary villains which I guess must have something to do with their long black hair.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time this last year trying to work out some of the locations of this movie for there is very little information on the internet regarding exact sets. The places I have successfully identified include the University which Karen and Doug attend and the restaurant where the latter works. The University is in Takaido (on the Inokashira line which runs between Kichijoji and Shibuya) and is actually a medical college. The restaurant is called Fungo Dining and can be found in Nishi Shinjuku and is where a scared Karen turns up leading to Doug asking his boss if he could go home early. Exciting stuff! Far more interesting is the building where a guy tops himself in the movies opening moments and I was most surprised to learn that this took place by Yanagibashi bridge where the Kanda and Sumida rivers meet; a place I was at back in April when I cycled the length of the river in one day.

 

I have a strong interest in films set in Japan (hence the title of these reviews!) but if it wasn’t for this fact I don’t think I’d be too fussed about the film. There must have been some interest there though as it spawned two sequels with the first one also taking place in Tokyo which I will no doubt review one day!

 

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Bubba Gump Shrimp Restaurant

I often forget about ‘Forrest Gump’ but it’s certainly up there among my all-time favourite films and it was only a few months ago that I heard there were a couple of Bubba Gump Restaurants in Tokyo which were inspired by the 1994 movie. In the film “Bubba” and Forrest Gump agree to go into the shrimp business as partners after the end of their service to the U.S. Army. However, “Bubba” dies in the line of duty and following his triumphant victory in a ping-pong tour Forrest earns enough to buy himself a shrimp boat. Of course theres way more to the story than that but this is not the place to go into such details.

It’s a rarity in Tokyo but the ‘Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.‘ restaurant in Kasuga is actually located in a very picturesque area among the shops, boutiques, restaurants and theme rides of LaQua. There’s even a fountain in front of it which has water displays every hour similar to that outside the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

 

Just round the corner from the restaurant is a mock-up of Forrests bench (where he tells his story to a stranger in the film) for the photo opportunist featuring the logo, his bag and even his trainers which are so big you can slide your feet into them.

 

As someone who is always on the look out for movie related stuff I jumped at the chance of going here last weekend when a colleague invited me along. The themed restaurant is full of interesting Gump-related stuff like ping-pong bat drink menus, memorabilia from the film, licensed merchandise, quotes on the wall and tables, screenshots, food & drink with specific Forrest Gump names and to get the attention of the waiter one has to flip over the blue ‘Run Forrest Run’ sign to a red ‘Stop Forrest Stop’ one meaning that they will stop by your table to take your order.

   

I actually really liked this place but its not the kind of restaurant one returns to too often and especially not with such sky-high prices! I splashed out on a pina colada type cocktail (1200 yen) and we kind of shared our meals; shrimp rigatoni and “I’m Stuffed!” Shrimp (shrimp stuffed with crab, baked in garlic butter with cheese and served with rice) which were 1980 yen each! They were both really nice (and so they should be at that price!) and really filling too but we decided to move on to a way cheaper place for a couple more drinks but not before I had my photo taken in front of the cream-coloured suit worn by Tom Hanks in his academy award winning role.

   

Review: Books Set In Japan – ‘The Man With The Red Tattoo’ (2002)

A slight tweak on my ‘Review: Films Set In Japan…’ series for this one-off special book review. I’ve never read any 007 novels and I only came across this a couple of years back when I was surfing the net in search of the filming locations for the 1967 film ‘You Only Live Twice’. I’d forgotten all about it until I saw it in a second hand book shop a few weeks ago so I picked it up (I paid for it too!) as I was interested to see what parts of Japan the story takes place in.

  

This James Bond adventure was written by Raymond Benson and is in some ways the natural follow-up to the aforementioned movie even though they are over thirty years apart. Of course Bond never really ages and his ally Tiger Tanaka is back albeit not in tip-top condition following a triple bypass.

The book doesn’t stray too far from the film formula with a host of symmetrical characters and sets. For example, Agent Rieko Tamura is a carbon-copy of Agent Aki in ‘You Only Live Twice’ and Bond experiences traditional Japanese culture this time via a chase through the Kabuki theatre as opposed to going to see some sumo action in ‘You Only Live Twice’.

Unlike the Bourne franchise, Bond stories have always taken place at famous sites around the world and this book is no exception as it features Hachiko, Meiji shrine, Yoyogi Park, Kabuki-cho in Shinjuku, Tsukiji fish market, Kabuki-za theatre, the Great Buddha in Kamakura as well as places up in Hokkaido which I’m not familiar with. As a locations geek I’m never too keen to see such landmark places appear in stories and this particular one did feel like a guide-book at times as the history of the places was worked into the story. Maybe thats ok for readers who don’t know about Japan but personally I didn’t see a need for such lengthy background of the places featured. Chases through both Tsukiji fish market and Kabuki-za seem to only happen in order to give the author a chance to pad out the book with some facts about those places.

I found the book fairly easy to read and therein lies a kind-of problem as I often fail to get a proper real grasp of the plots in the movies but thats almost of secondary concern among the gadgets, girls, catchphrases and action.

The photos below are of places that feature in ‘The Man With The Red Tattoo”:

Top line: Hachiko statue outside Shibuya station & Meiji Shrine in Harajuku

2nd line: Mejiji Shrine outer gate, Harajuku & Studio Alta in Shinjuku

3rd line: Kabukicho area in Shinjuku

4th line: Bond stays on the 30th floor of the Imperial Tower which is part of the Imperial Hotel & Tsukiji fish market

5th line: The remains of Kabuki-za theatre in Ginza & The Great Buddha, Kamakura

Bottom line: Takanawa Prince Hotel in Shinagawa