Tokyo Filming Locations: Pt III – Kill Bill

Due to parts of ‘Kill Bill’ being in Japanese (which aren’t subtitled in Japan) I didn’t get into it on my first viewing back in 2004 but when I saw it again five years later my mind was completely changed and I really enjoyed it. The idea of ‘re-mastering’ these ‘Tokyo Filming Locations’ was to add new photos of both locations and screenshots as well as tidying-up the slightly amateur-ish layout of the old-style MSN live spaces ‘Tokyo Fox’ website. However, with this film there really isn’t too much to add and its very questionable whether it should even be included at all as, even though they were ‘set‘ in Japan, two of the main locations were actually filmed in China.

 

The Bride (Uma Thurman) flies to Okinawa to visit retired sword maker Hattori Hanzo (one of Bill’s former tutors) to aquire the perfect sword needed for her revenge attacks. The sushi bar (above left) and workshop (46 mins) were made in the Beijing studios. Tokyo appears for real on screen after 65 mins when we see O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) being driven over the illuminated Rainbow Bridge with The Bride trailing her on her motorcycle  through Shinjuku along Yasukuni-dori (lower left) one minute later as she heads to a restaurant.

 

    

That restaurant is ‘Gonpachi’ at 1-13-11 Nishi-Azabu in Minato-ku which served as the inspiration for the ‘House of Blue Leaves’. This very nice, cavernous, rustic-themed place (below left) was not actually used though as a similar looking one was built on a soundstage in the studios in Beijing. It was used for the extensive and bloody slice and dice one-against-all scene which precedes her showdown with O-Ren outside that place in the snow. This popular restaurant is fairly expensive but does have a good, cheap lunch menu deal and soon fills up. My photo above right was taken on my first visit a couple of years ago whereas the ones below were shot before the place opened which is why its empty!

     

Tokyo Filming Locations: Pt II – Lost In Translation

‘Lost In Translation’ came out not long after I came to Japan the first time back in 2003 and though I didn’t think too much of the actual story I quite enjoyed it simply for the fact that it was filmed in what was to become my new home. I was more surprised about how many people with no affinity to Japan thought the movie was great. I guess I am just not the arty-farty type! Director Sofia Coppola used the following locations:

* The Park Hyatt Hotel (3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku) features throughout the films 97 minute entirety and is where the characters Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johanson) stay and the 52nd floor is the ‘New York Bar’ where a fair few scenes were filmed including when they meet for the first time on 23 mins. I went up to this bar for a quick peek but didn’t stay as I knew for sure that it was expensive.

   

* Kogenji Temple is a tiny temple in Nishi-Shinjuku (11 mins 58 secs to see the same angle as below left) which Charlotte visits in the rain for a few brief moments. When I went there it wasn’t anywhere near as tranquil and spiritual as in the film where the moment was further aided by the soundtrack.

 

* Shibuya Crossing is the worlds busiest crossing and has appeared in a countless number of films and ‘Lost In Translation’ is no exception as it appears on screen after 18, 35 and 62 mins.

 

* Air is a nightclub for Tokyo hipsters in Daikanyama (2-11 Sarugaku-cho) and is where Bob, Charlotte and some Japanese friends party amid oversized balloons with a film of fireworks projected onto them after 42 mins. When I found this place there was nothing more than a door with a board outside detailing the club’s forthcoming events.

 

* Bob sings ‘More than this’ by Roxy Music at Karaoke-kan (30-8 Utagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku) and for the anoraks out there rooms 601 and 602 are the ones which feature after 46 mins.

  

* Rainbow Bridge (below) can be seen after 50 mins on what is supposedly the taxi ride home from the karaoke session but makes no sense geographically as in reality their hotel in Shinjuku is quite near to the karaoke box in Shibuya.

 

* Ichikan is a small and hard-to-find sushi restaurant at 9-5 Daikanyama-cho, Shibuya-ku and is seen on 56 mins and the chef in the film does actually work there. This is no cheap kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurant but is actually of high cost. With the cheapest course being 6000 yen (45 quid) I decided to not bother going in which was a shame but there is a limit to my research on a film which I’m not that bothered about!!

 

* A.P.C. Underground clothing store at 4-27-6-B1 Jingu-mae) in Harajuku is where the strip club scene (61 mins) was filmed. By day, its one of those so-called fashionable stores where the designer trainers, t-shirts and so on are minimal (I’m talking only three t-shirts on one rail!) and given a lot of space and this is the only part of the film that was ‘faked’ as all the other locations played true in the movie.

 

* Nanzen-ji temple and Heian-jingu shrine are the two places Charlotte visits on her little trip to Kyoto. 72 mins of the film have passed when she walks over the stepping stones (below left) in Heian-jingu garden (600 yen entry) before moments later walking across the impressive shrines grounds seen below right.

           * Shabuzen is a shabu-shabu restaurant under the Creston Hotel (Kamiya-cho 10-8, Shibuya) and is where Bob and Charlotte are shocked by the idea that they actually had to cook the meat themselves which to be honest is still not something I like as when I go out to eat I don’t want to have to cook. Japanese homes are so small that entertaining guests is not so possible so they like to go out and cook the thin slices of beef and vegetables themselves. My friend Michael went for the shabu-shabu deal while I had a late change of heart and plumped for the unagi-don (grilled eel in a sweet sauce on a bed of rice in a bowl) set instead which was OK but probably not worth the extra cost which I had to pay for the privelege for eating in surroundings far more sophisticated than I am used to. It appears on screen after 81 mins.

     

Tokyo Filming Locations Pt I: You Only Live Twice

One of the first major international films to use Japan’s capital as a backdrop was the 1967 James Bond film ‘You Only Live Twice’ starring Sean Connery. Despite being killed off before Nancy Sinatra’s beautiful 007 theme kicks in its just a crafy strategy. Bond goes on a mission to Japan 16 minutes into the film starting at the sumo arena (more commonly known as Kokugikan) in Ryogoku. He enters the changing rooms where yokozuna (‘grand champion’) Sadanoyama Shinmatsu gives him his ticket and the match is between Kotozakura Masakatsu and Fujinishiki Takemitsu which he seemingly only watches for a few moments before leaving with Aki. The address is 1-3-28 Yokoami, Sumida-ku.

   

The New Otani Hotel at 4-1 Kioi-cho, Chiyoda-ku near Akasaka-Mitsuke station plays the part of Osato Chemicals exterior for a few brief moments after 24, 28, 36 and 41 minutes. Its small, but peaceful gardens round the back are worth a visit for anyone wishing to take a break from the concrete jungle.

 

 

Bond escapes Osata Chemicals in a car with the help of Aki who avoids his questions which makes him suspicious and she flees to a secluded subway station which is Nakano-Shimbashi on the Marunouchi Line (28 mins). This is the private transportation hub of Japanese secret service leader “Tiger” Tanaka who many years later appeared in Raymond Benson’s ‘The Man With The Red Tattoo’ book. Bond is hot on her trail and follows her down the steps seen below right and on to the platform which is obviously a bit different these days. Believe it or not taking such simple photos wasn’t quite so straightforward as when I was down the far end of the platform a member of staff came down to tell me not to take photos. I asked him why not a few times before giving up as people just don’t question rules in this country. He must have seen me on the CCTV cameras but thankfully I’d got my shot just before he intervened.

      

On yet another escape from Osata Chemicals, Bond and Aki drive by Yoyogi National Gymnasium (above right) on 42 mins. This escape leads them well away from Tokyo to the docks of Kobe where he tries to dodge SPECTRE agents. The photo below left was taken in Kobe Harbour in May and the red bridge in the background appears briefly before the exciting roof-top scene below right.

 

The helicoptor flight (54 mins) was filmed above Ebino in Miyazaki prefecture. Himeji castle appears after 69 mins and is under extensive reconstruction at the moment but luckily I captured it back in 2005. This white castle is the Ninja training school where Bond turns Japanese and the shots below all get a second or two of screen time!

     

After Aki meets her inevitable demise, Bond limbers up (76 mins) in the West Bailey. When I was in Himeji back in May I had only one screenshot with me and was most surprised to see that the stone statue thing behind Sean Connery was still knocking about. Needless to say I was the only person in the whole place who took an interest in this piece of concrete!

 

Kirishima National Park in Kagoshima (on Japan’s southern main island) is the extinct volcano which can be seen briefly on 87 mins with the interior of Bolfeld’s hideout filmed back in the UK at Pinewood studios.

See other James Bond filming locations by clicking on the cities below:

London   Prague   Venice   Como   Istanbul   Las Vegas

Review: Films Set In Japan – ‘The Ramen Girl’ (2008)

The late Brittany Murphy plays the overly common ‘fish out of water’ role in this one which follows the ‘The Karate Kid’ style format in terms of student respecting and doing all that the teacher requests beginning with taking pride in doing the less-glamorous jobs first in order to appreciate things further up the ladder. Her character Abi is stranded in Tokyo after her boyfriend heartlessly dumps her. She’s miserable, speaks almost no Japanese but despite this she still has a job working at a law firm which in reality probably wouldn’t happen. Late one night she enters her local ramen (chinese noodles in a meat broth with some vegetable toppings) restaurant where she encounters the tyrannical Japanese ramen master Maezumi and thats where the story begins.

Veteran actor Toshiyuki Nishida is well known in Japan and he plays the chef who isn’t charming enough to be liked but likewise he isn’t mean enough to be hated. He speaks no English, she speaks no Japanese and in my view their relative cluelessness as to what the other person is talking about is what makes this film different as this happens in foreign countries but is rarely seen in films. Neither do they suddenly transform into native speakers as often happens! Of course this ‘lost in translation’ scenrio means the film has quite a bit of Japanese dialogue and therefore English subtitles which rarely appeal to English-speaking audiences.

Abi loves the ramen so much she decides that she wants Maezumi to train her in the hope that it will give her life some meaning or something like that. Of course he’s not interested but she’s insistent and eventually he relents and gives her all the cleaning to do and as the weeks pass she wonders if she will ever actually be taught how to make ramen. Eventually she does and the film pretty much turns out as one would expect…or does it?! She creates her own unique ramen dish and hopes to get the approval of the grandmaster ramen chef.

As for the locations there’s no famous Tokyo landmarks and all that features of the capital city are a few street scenes. The ramen restaurant was a studio set but the Ramen Museum Abi goes to on a date is real and is in Yokohama.

The end to the movie feels a bit rushed and not really in line with the rest of the film. ‘The Ramen Girl’ is a good way to introduce Japanese culture, values and traditions to other cultures. It really shows how obsessive the Japanese are about food and that it has to be made with ‘tamashii’ (soul) which has had the most lasting impact on me not that I can ever really understand such a thing.

TF TV Review: ‘An Idiot Abroad’ In Japan

Creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant very much added to their already impressive portfolio of television work last year with ‘An Idiot Abroad’ on Sky One which featured their mate Karl Pilkington visiting the seven wonders of the world. In some way the episode featuring Petra and the Dead Sea inspired me and certainly whetted my appetite for going to Jordan back in June of this year.

Now for anyone who hasn’t seen it the format may just sound like any other travel documentary show but Karl is a wonder in himself as he has lived a very sheltered life but is more than happy with it as he never wanted to travel and didn’t go abroad till he was 21. He is very British as he’s not easily impressed especially when something is considered to be wonderful by so many. He has a very unique outlook on life and speaks his mind without thinking in a way which is not so prevalent in todays P.C. society. This is both funny and stupid but his comments really do come across as being without any cynicism or nastiness.

 

Despite his protests at the end of the first series the show came back in September for a second series which saw Karl checking off some of the ‘100 Things to do before you die’. He got to choose his ‘Bucket List’ but of course Gervais and Merchant threw in a few surprises and so far we have seen Karl living on his own desert island in Vanuatu, doing the trans-siberian express, swimming with dolphins (changed to sharks!) in Australia, whale watching in Alaska, meeting a Gorilla in Uganda and driving Route 66 in the USA. The final episode of the series was aired last Friday night in Britain and featured Japan which I was very excited about as I have absolutely loved all the episodes so far giving me some real laugh-out-loud moments.

On his arrival in Japan he went to a cat cafe which (to most foreigners) is one of those quirky ‘only-in-Japan’ weird things and is certainly not something that appeals to me but that may be because I have a cat allergy! Karl then did a bit of sumo albeit with his boxer shorts still on underneath the ‘nappy’. In true ignorant British style he says “Its just something for fat people to do which is good as there aren’t many sports for fat people!” As he pointed out at the time he has already done wrestling during the series so this did feel a bit tiresome as we’ve seen him beaten up before.

The beauty of the show is that Karl has no idea of what he will be doing or where he will be going in the lead up to the main reason which he is in that country/part of the world for. Gervais and Merchant feel that he needs a cosy hotel to sleep in after his sumo encounter which (for me) inevitably resulted in him spending a night in a capsule hotel (“a coffin with a cat-flap” to quote Karl!) which is still one of those things I’ve never done during my time in Japan. Neither have I been on the shinkansen (bullet train) which takes him to some place in the countryside which I’ve not even heard of. As a man of simple pleasures who prefers fish-fingers to sushi, eating a fermented fish delicacy does not please him too much!

He then meets a zen master in Kyoto which leads to some funny scenes such as mopping a floor which was cleaned a few hours earlier. Why bother?! Japanese tea ceremony is something I’ve heard a lot about but is also a tradition which I will just never understand. Likewise for Pilkington who moans in trademark style about it taking so long (“they couldn’t get a job in a cafe because the queues would be horrendous”) though by the end he does change his tune a bit saying that its great that they’ve made an event out of something which most of us do without even thinking about it. The main reason Pilkington was in Japan was to climb Mount Fuji but before he does that he gets a good (?) view of it from Fuji Q Highland. The views from the top of Fuji itself were far more impressive than what I witnessed when I climbed it back in 2007.

Though still great I found the Japan episode of this series (S02 E07) the least funny or interesting one which I can only guess is due to my emotional attachment to the country and the fact that most of the stuff featured wasn’t new to me. In fact it may not have been new to those who have never stepped foot in Japan as the likes of capsule hotels, robots, pre-work exercises, pointless inventions, electronic toilets, sumo and so on have been seen in a number of British shows about Japan from the likes of Justin Lee CollinsAdam & JoeKelly Osbourne and Jonathan Ross.