As Tokyo Fox is slowly running short of films ‘set’ in Japan to review, it’s time to start a new series analysing those movies inspired by Japan that have been set in other countries, most commonly the USA. Having been to the new Hachiko statue at the University Of Tokyo recently, the Akita dog was very much on the brain so I guess this Lasse Hallström-directed re-make is the perfect place to start. Continue reading
On August 9th 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and over 40,000 people were instantly killed including (as far as this film story is concerned) the husband and a few siblings of a woman who is now the grandmother of four children. Whether or not Akira Kurosawa made this film or not, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will never be forgotten but what is perhaps surprising in this film is that there’s no real antagonism towards the Americans and instead it’s a simple reminder to all humanity that the consequences of not respecting one another can be catastrophic.
The Japanese title of this film is ‘Hachi gatsu no kyoshikyoku‘ and interestingly the Hollywood star Richard Gere would go on to star in another Japanese related film starting with the same first word by way of ‘Hachi: A Dog’s Tale‘ (2009) telling the story of the iconic dog. Of course he’s way more famous for his other film roles (‘American Gigolo‘, ‘Pretty Woman‘, ‘An Officer and A Gentleman’ etc) and he does only feature in the final third of this movie but that’s more than enough to merit its inclusion in thisTokyo Fox series! It’s not the first time a Kurosawa movie has been reviewed here though as ‘Kagemusha‘ (1980) was also included for similarly vague reasons relating to the executive producers!
For once this is quite a short Kurosawa film (98 minutes) and it’s also not one about samurai warlords laden with symbolic references to Japanese society. Instead, we see his most humanistic film which is quite moving at times and is a poem against war and the scars it leaves on the minds of those who have suffered.
The main person to have endured agony here is an elderly woman called Kané who is living a peaceful care free life close to nature in the Nagasaki countryside, but the memory of the disaster continues to haunt her and she is forever laden with heavy memories of the past. She is the most intriguing character and a convincing one at that. She displays a range of emotions including suffering, wisdom and forgiveness as embodied by the phrase “blame it on the war” which she continues to repeat throughout the movie. She tries to communicate this message to her four grandchildren who seem interested in their country’s sorrowful history and it is kind of through their eyes, as well as their naive words, that Kurosawa lets us in on the tragedy.
As the memorial day is approaching Kané learns that her only living brother is in Hawaii (having made his fortune in pineapples) and wants to see her before he dies but she is a little reluctant to go despite the grandkids urging her to. Next, the parents return from their very own Hawaii trip and, hoping to get in on the wealth of the Hawaiian family, they try to persuade Kané to go. However, when the son of Kané’s brother (Richard Gere), suddenly arrives in Nagasaki, the parents are sure it’s because he wants to end the proposed visit because they guess he must resent the idea that his own country caused the death of Kané’s husband a.k.a. his uncle.
There is a very nicely filmed scene in the latter part of the film where the four kids and their granny are sitting under a blue moonlight whilst the adults are just obsessed about the wealth of their distant relatives. ‘Rhapsody In August‘ has pretty much no soundtrack other than the natural sounds of wind, water, traffic and people as well as the old organ in the house which one of the older boys plays at opportune moments.
A range of themes are touched on throughout the film such as the effect of the atomic bomb on both nations, the attitudes of the three generations and the effect of American culture on the Japanese. The film moves along at a slow pace and I was a little disappointed that there was no conflict at any time. There are chances aplenty to make Clark (Gere) feel guilt for what his country did but he was let off and spared any real pain or discomfort as everyone bowed their heads, apologised and forgave one another.
The ending is a all a bit weird for me as a violent thunderstorm erupts over the village which Kané believes to be a new bomb fallen on Nagasaki leading her to run desperately for cover chased (eventually) by her entire family in a scene that is a little theatrical but one that has a lasting impact with the broken umbrella coming to represent a flower of peace or something like that!
Tokyo Fox Rating 6/10
With the latest incarnation of Godzilla getting nearer it seems a fitting time to go back 60 years and take a closer look at the original Japanese movie which launched the iconic monster onto our screens. Released nine years after the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki the opportunity was seized to use this radioactive lizard from beneath Tokyo Bay to serve as a symbol for the horrors of nuclear holocaust.
Godzilla has come and gone in many guises but nothing can get close to beating this original black and white Toho Studios version which, as an English speaker, needs to be watched with subtitles for maximum impact of the Japanese perspective. There’s no messing about from the offset and it’s straight into the action with fear and panic hitting Japan as an “underwater volcanic eruption” happens in the sea causing some fishing boats to capsize near Odo Island.
A research team led by Dr Yamane head to this pacific island off the Izu Peninsula; a fictitious isle with the scenes actually filmed around Toba city at the entrance to Ise-Shima National Park on the Shima peninsula. On discovering huge radiation emitting reptilian footprints in the sand, rumours abound that it must be Godzilla to which a woman replies saying its just a legend. Little did she know how true her words would become as Godzilla morphed into a worldwide cultural icon.
The gigantic amphibious bipedal dinosaur lives in caverns under the sea and comes ashore to prey on humans when it can’t find fish in the sea and many young virgin girls were sacrificed to appease his hunger and keep him from coming ashore. However, hydrogen bomb tests disturbed its peace and so it looked for a safer place which happened to be Shinagawa and Ginza!!
Affected by the radiation, it managed to gain an unbelievable destructive power and strength as well as white-hot atomic breath; an archetype which followed in the form of many on-screen monsters both good and bad with perhaps the worst featuring in ‘Monster‘ (2008). Two Zillo Beast episodes in ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars‘ (S02E18/19) played homage to what the Japanese call ‘Gojira‘.
Dr Yamane senses that atomic testing is behind Godzilla’s emergence and he (and he only!) thinks that it should be isolated and studied. The eye-patch wearing Dr Serizawa and his oxygen destroyer are key to sending Godzilla back to the depths of the ocean. He is arranged to be married to Emiko, but she is in love with some naval officer and it’s this love triangle which is pivotal in the monster plot.
I think I’ve been quite critical in the past about this film but on watching it again for this feature I have actually grown much fonder of it. It’s duration is an ideal length (90 minutes) and it’s quite a dramatic film with all the monster movie elements we now take for granted; a fire-breathing creature, stormy oceans, tanks and officers, mad scientists, frantic decision making, government officials, flames, fleeing citizens running for their lives and buildings being toppled. Of course, it was just three metre high miniature set pieces that were used to replicate the capital city whilst a man wearing a heavy rubber suit stomped all over them. Having most of Godzilla’s scenes at night probably helped make it a bit more convincing. I think, given the age of the film and its budget, the effects are pretty good and the sequence where Godzilla goes on the rampage in Tokyo is still superb both technically and artistically,with a genuine sense of dread. The residents run for their life, as they do throughout, which has parallels to the real life horror and devastation in Japan by way of atomic bombings, tsunami and earthquakes.
‘Godzilla’ rightfully deserves to be called a classic despite the ending which is perhaps one of the most blatant examples of not-quite finishing a movie and leaving it open to a sequel as Dr Yamane stands aboard a ship and says “I don’t think that was the only Godzilla. If they keep experimenting with deadly weapons….another Godzilla may appear…somewhere in the world!” The perfect way to set up the potential of another movie and what do you know but only half a year later there was another one by the name of ‘Godzilla Raids Again‘ (1955) and the series limped on for an incredible 26 more Toho-made films as well as four American productions including the forthcoming one directed by British filmmaker Gareth Edwards.
If you thought we were running out of films ‘set’ in Japan to review then using the original Godzilla film (a Japanese production of course but included in this series due to its huge impact on the Western world) opens up the possibility of extending it for another few years with reviews of the never-ending dross churned out in this franchise.
Beyond The Movies Rating 7/10
When it comes to films set in Japan there are usually two sorts of movie; those from many decades ago which usually feature a geisha of some kind and those more modern ones where the protagonist arrives in Japan for some vague reason and is a ‘fish out of water’. Sadly, for me, ‘House Of Bamboo‘ is the former but I really shouldn’t have let my prejudices get the better of me for this 1955 remake of the black & white noir ‘Street with No Name‘ (1948) is actually better than most films of that era.
This was the first American movie to be filmed in Japan since WWII and the magical and mystical Mount Fuji lingers beautifully in the background (a matte painting perhaps given it really is captured so perfectly in the centre of the screen!) as the scene is set. The narration at the beginning of this Sam Fuller directed film informs viewers that it was filmed entirely on location in Japan with Tokyo, Yokohama and the Japanese countryside featuring throughout. Fuller makes great use of its locations and the likes of Ginza, Asakusa and the Great Buddha of Kamakura are used in scenes along with other places in Tokyo and Yokohama which are impossible for me to recognise given the facelift they have undergone over the years.
Herein lies the problem as I enjoyed it so much from a cinematography point of view that I forgot there was some kind of gangster story amongst the wide-shot travelogue of post-war Japan! It seems that too many things were sacrificed in the name of capturing the broad vision. In fact, making out who is who, is not so easy as there are rarely ever any close-up shots of the main players or was this because Robert Ryan only ever had one facial expression!
‘House Of Bamboo‘ is a tale of undercover cop Eddie Kenner (Robert Stack) who tries to infiltrate a gang and ultimately take them down thus proving that Sandy Dawson (Robert Ryan) is the man behind a protection racket that rules the capital’s numerous pachinko parlours and commit bank robberies, knock off jewellery stores and rob trains carrying military ammunition. It has to be said that some of the violence is rather comical and the robbery capers are dealt with only briefly and without the expected rising tension.
When a U.S guard dies during the aforementioned train-heist in the foreground of Fuji-san, Kenner is despatched to save the day and ends up becoming closely acquainted to the dead man’s widow Mariko (Shirley Yamaguchi) which all gets more air-time than it really merits. Furthermore, its all a bit corny and the dialogue is slightly cringeworthy and thankfully only a smattering of Japanese language is used throughout.
Anyway, Kenner somehow worms his way into Dawson’s group and later informs the police of a planned robbery but Dawson gets wind of there being a mole in the camp which inevitably leads to jealousy (aspects of homosexual tension!) and mistrust among the ranks, fingers of blame being pointed and set-ups being put into place, all of which culminates in a shoot-out at a great set piece on top of an amusement ride.
This story of deception, betrayal and ruthless criminality is a pretty looking movie which turns ugly. There’s only so far you can take ambiguous tension but overall its a slightly above average film which stands the test of time far better than I’d anticipated and shows Tokyo and Yokohama at a time when it was still on the brink of modernisation and still a world away from what we know and see today.
Tokyo Fox Rating 6/10
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner what better way to celebrate the most romantic date (or what we’re told should be the romantic date!) on the calendar than taking a look at some places which have provided the backdrop for some scenes of affection being shown between lovers. Of course these images are helped on the silver screen with clever editing, added studio footage, CGI and musical scores which all add to the occasion. Basically, what we’re saying is that what you saw happen on screen may not transfer itself to your visit! This list features a mix of the good, the obvious, the bizarre and the plain wrong! So here without further ado is our Top 10……Most Romantic* Filming Locations…
(* The Beyond The Movies definition of romance!)
1. Villa Del Balbianello, Como (Italy): ‘Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones‘ (2002) & ‘Casino Royale‘ (2006) – A double dose of romantic action to get us started. Anakin and Padmé got secretly married here in the former and Bond recovers from his beating and then declares his love for Vesper in the latter. More details here and here.
2. Royal Exchange Building, London (UK): ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary‘ (2000) – Bridget catches up with Darcy here and is relieved to see him present her with a new diary so that they can make a new start together as one. More details here.
3. St. Mark’s Anglican Church Darling Point, Sydney (Australia): ‘Muriel’s Wedding‘ (1994) – There’s surely got to be a church somewhere in this list and so its this one! Muriel finally realises her dream here…or does she?! More details here.
4. Bocca Della Verita, Rome (Italy): ‘Roman Holiday‘ (1954) – Providing the films most famous scene where Joe pulls his hand out of the ‘mouth of truth’ with his hand up his sleeve astonishing Ann. More details here.
5. Maya Bay, Phuket (Thailand): ‘The Beach‘ (2000) – Leo not only stole the heart of the beautiful Francoise here but he stole her from “French boy” too! Don’t expect to have this place to yourselves is all I’m saying! More details here.
6. Katz’s Deli, New York (USA): ‘When Harry Met Sally‘ (1989) – “I’ll have what she’s having!” is the classic line delivered at this sandwich shop following Sally’s fake climax in response to Harry’s boast that none of his one night stands had faked an orgasm. More details here.
7. Tiffany’s, New York (USA): ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ (1966) – The image of Audrey Hepburn in her black evening gown and sunglasses with a pearl necklace around her neck and a coffee and croissant in her hand is an iconic one. She gets out of a yellow cab as the morning light breaks and gazes up at the famous jewellery store sign. All girls love Tiffany’s and who would’ve thought that 18 months after visiting this place with my girlfriend I’d be presenting her with a Tiffany’s engagement ring! More details here.
8. Whittier High School, Los Angeles (USA): ‘Back To The Future‘ (1984) – Marty went back to the past to change his future by getting his parents together in the first place at the ‘Enchantment Under The Sea’ dance at this school. More details here.
9. Imperial Palace, Las Vegas (USA): ‘Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery‘ (1997) – Alotta Fagina’s penthouse suite where Austin shagged her rotten to use his exact words! More details here.
10. Tiki Motel, Los Angeles (USA): ‘The Terminator‘ (1984) – John Connor was conceived here in what is perhaps the most pivotal point in the whole Terminator franchise. You could stay in the same room where Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese did the deed! More details here.
The Kiyose International Club is a volunteer group that hosts events and parties for foreigners and neighbouring guests as well as also having Japanese classes, a choir and conferences for foreigners. One of my students is in charge of organising these events and often asks me in class to check posters and speeches for English mistakes. Inevitably, she got round to asking me to be a presenter at one of these events such is their desperation for native English speakers at these things!! Though not so keen at first I eventually agreed to do it as I was happy with the topic and having bored her this last year with tales from my trips she knew I was a seasoned traveller with a few anecdotes up my sleeve to keep an audience awake!
Furthermore, I saw it as a challenge and an opportunity to do something different and see if I could actually entertain to any level beyond doing farting noises with a few five year olds!! It’s been a while since I did any kind of presentation. Ages in fact, as the last time was at University over 15 years ago when I had to regularly do them as part of my course.
‘My Travel Memories‘ was the theme for the one today (17th November) with the “My” referring to each attendee as well as the guest speakers. Having informed the organiser that I wanted to do it about my trip to Tunisia in 2009 she thankfully gave it the green light and so my plan began to tell the story of travelling around a country in what was at the time for me an untouched continent. Oh and of course it gave me the chance to incorporate a bit of Star Wars stuff into the proceedings too!
This was certainly not a Star Wars convention so I had to keep that part to a minimum and so instead focused on the other parts of the country (above) which often get forgotten about (especially by me!). My presentation was supposed to last about seven minutes but was more like 11 minutes with the first segment focusing on the nightmare of my birthday travelling between Tunis in the north and Tozeur in the south.
In the days preceding this event I spent a fair bit of time putting together some notes, remarks and photos together into a flashy Google Drive document but once I’d realised I would need wi-fi to go ahead with that I changed it to a more simplified iPhoto slide show. I needn’t have bothered though as on my arrival at the Naka-Kiyoto Area Civic Center we soon realised that there wasn’t the right cable to connect my laptop to the giant projector screen. I was a bit peeved with that not that I was ever really confident of such a thing ever working smoothly. Time for plan B!!
The event started at 2pm with my student giving the opening remarks followed by a few more speeches before the session leader David introduced us presenters and the foreigners present including people from Afghanistan, Korea, Philippines, Zambia and Thailand. Following a short discussion on our tables an elderly Japanese guy Matsumoto-san (below left) kicked things off with his presentation about his time in Egypt with the main focus being the tipping culture differences.
A summary of my speech was given in Japanese beforehand (above right) which I thought a bit strange as it’s kind of a spoiler but I guess it has to be done to prepare the non-native speakers for what was about to come. Despite not being able to use the big screen for my presentation I decided to use my computer still though many would have needed binoculars to see what was on screen! I did have some larger copies of some of my pictures which I could hand to my student to show to the watching audience of fairly well-travelled people.
The speech seemed to go on for far longer than in my rehearsals but that didn’t matter. My voice just about managed to hold up for the duration and I got through everything I wanted to. The set-up wasn’t quite how I envisaged it but I muddled through and was just about able to juggle holding the mic in one hand, cue cards in the other whilst also having to do some technical wizardry on the computer (hit a button a dozen times or so!) which was facing the audience rather than me.
It was a shame I couldn’t use the big screen to display stuff as that meant I had to rely more than ever on my scripted “ad-libs” working better than they should have had to. I soldiered on though and thankfully there were a few questions at the end (about tipping, food & health, misunderstandings and something else which I forget) rather than silence!
Once I had done my presentation I could relax far more and really enjoyed talking in our groups about our own travels not that I added any further by way of my other experiences. The final presentation was by a Filipino lady called Rosevel (below) who gave a very entertaining and passionate speech on the cultural gap between her homeland and Japan. She put me to shame in terms of not showing her nerves so much but I guess she was performing on home turf whilst I was in unknown waters.
Overall, I had a lovely afternoon and it was nice to do something a bit different for once and I left with a very positive image of all those present who were very nice and welcoming to me and, though I thought I was a bit nervous at times, the feedback I got was all positive…not that you’d expect anyone to come up and say it was rubbish!!
Since first starting the Tokyo Filming Locations part of this blog in 2009 it has grown into a pretty sizeable piece of work leading to some readers enquiring about whether I had a map detailing whereabouts each and every site is. Of course, addresses of each film location have been detailed in those entries but it has to be said that it’s a lot nicer to view where they all are and it gives one a better idea of which ones are close to hand.
Comprehensive, entertaining and exhaustively researched this ‘Tokyo Filming Locations‘ map contains detailed coverage of dozens of films and how each location was used on screen. Films to feature include Lost In Translation, Babel, The Wolverine, You Only Live Twice, Kill Bill: Volume I, Godzilla, The Grudge, The Ramen Girl, The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift and many, many more.
How to use this map: Dip in and pick out what you want to see. Take your time, live the experience, sample the bars and restaurants. While there are plenty of commercial establishments in this list, some are in residential areas and are in fact private property where the owners have no connection or even knowledge of the films. Please respect their privacy.
* Please note that some of the addresses are not exact but are very close and together with the information on this site the two should work together hand in hand to help you find the place you desire.