Cycling The Wolverine Tokyo Trail…In One Day!

The idea of this cycling venture then was to ride the route (supposedly) taken in ‘The Wolverine‘ (2013) which tends to zig-zag its way across the capital without too much respect for distance and time. For Tokyo residents the geography in this sixth film of the X-Men franchise is quite bewildering at times as the film edit makes it seem like such a vast city is easily walkable when in reality the distance between places is quite far. In its defence, geography has rarely ever been a strong point in movies. What do those who criticise it really expect? A painstakingly long scene shot in real time?!! Of course Wolverine/Logan could have used public transport to get around but that doesn’t seem to exist in the X-Men universe! To follow in the footsteps of the Wolverine meant taking in seven places with one of them repeated and yes I really did go there twice.

Themed cycling tours of Tokyo have taken a bit of a backseat in recent times on this site so it was nice to get back in the saddle for a few hours on a nice warm Spring day. The first Tokyo location appears 19 minutes in and thankfully it’s only a five minute ride away from the my place! It’s the classic shot of Yasukuni dori in Shinjuku which has featured in so many movies and TV programmes over the years and I guess it’s become the classic shot (alongside Shibuya crossing) of the neon lights of Tokyo really hitting the foreigner visiting these shores. I get to travel under the same bridge half a dozen times a week so I probably take it for granted. The photo’s below show the screenshots, the ones taken on the day of this tour and a bonus couple taken only the night before to show how it looks at night.

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After that I cycled on to Zojoji temple (below) in the Shiba neighbourhood of Minato-ku which is about 8km away and a route I’ve taken a few times now not that stops me from ever doing it smoothly! The funeral procession takes place at this temple on 35 minutes; locations which Tokyo Fox premiered back in April 2013 following the release of the trailer. However, not all the funeral scenes took place at Zojoji as pretty soon the action moves to the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney which previously featured in ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert‘ (1994). The real action scenes were filmed at this Australian location as the two places are blended together. There are no ponds or water features at Zojoji so it’s the Sydney gardens which you see prominently around the 37 minute mark. Posing as the Wolverine with three chopsticks poking out from between my fingers was pretty embarrassing and they’re not even that visible in the pictures!

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Tokyo Tower does loom large over Zojoji temple and is in the background of a selection of the screenshots and my pictures. In ‘The Wolverine‘ though this tower seems to be prominent quite a lot whereas in reality it can hardly be seen at the best of times in Tokyo due to the many skyscrapers in the city.

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During the funeral at Zojoji, Yakuza gangsters attempt to kidnap Mariko but Logan helps her to escape which is done in reality is done in a very roundabout way taking in Darling Harbour (Sydney!) and Zojoji itself with a chase going on through the two-storied sanmon (below) which was originally built in 1605 and is a rare example of early Edo-period architecture in Tokyo.

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Within seconds the action is in Takadanobaba (below) which is about 10km away! We only get to see the briefest of rooftop chases and arrow shots outside this station which  also appeared in the Jackie Chan movie ‘The Shinjuku Incident‘ (2009). Takadanobaba is on the Yamanote, Tozai and Seibu Shinjuku lines. Sadly I was unable to get on the rooftop of an eikiawa to get an identical match to that seen on 44 minutes.

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The action quickly moves on to Akihabara on 45 minutes where they take a brief respite in Big Apple Slot & Pachinko parlour (1-16-1 Soto-kanda) opposite Sega Gigo

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Photography is forbidden in panchinko parlours but mobile phone camera’s always allow for a sneaky one! After exiting this place Logan and Mariko walk across the bridge over the Kanda River in the direction of Mansei Akihabara Youshoku (2-21-4F Kanda-Sudacho). If they had any sense they would’ve stopped for one of their famous deliciouskatsu-sando as I did on a previous themed cycling trip.

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JR Ueno Station is the next location and this is easy and quick to get to as it’s just down the road from Akihabara. It appears after 46 minutes and is where Mariko and Logan take the Shinkansen (Bullet train) to “Nagasaki” even though these super-fast trains only go north from Ueno. If they had wanted to go south then they may as well have just gone a bit further south to Tokyo station which probably wouldn’t have been too much of a problem for them and no doubt they’d have ran or walked it!

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The station has many exits but its outside the Central exit on Jewellery Bridge where Mariko thanks Logan for saving her, says she’s fine (twice) meaning that she doesn’t need his help and then advises him to see a doctor before walking off to catch her train.

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I then had to cycle back the way I’d just came and so passed through Akihabara again (as well as the subsequent stop in Ginza) as I returned to Zojoji temple for a second time. In the film it’s a brief return to the temple on 47 minutes as one of the baddies gives an impromptu interview to the waiting media and paparazzi. Yukio is still there and looks on at the interview before Mariko’s father asks her where her gaijin friend is. Quite a bit of set dressing was added by the production team when they were filming at this temple which explains why some of the match-ups may not be so easy to notice as being the same!

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I was pretty much sick of the sight of this temple by the time I returned and I didn’t hang about for too long. Having been here only a week prior for the cherry blossoms I knew the angles I needed and was happy that the place was quite empty.

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On 52 minutes Logan and Mariko disembark from the Shinkansen and are in Fukuyama for a few seconds before it switches back to Ginza where the Nakagin Capsule Tower (8-10-6 Ginza) appears as a love hotel which they check into. In reality this place is not a place for couples to get it on but is home to many unmarried salarymen wanting to stay in a small place. The interior of these tiny apartments could be seen in episode four of the BBC documentary ‘Journeys Into The Ring Of Fire‘ (2006). The building is a fine example of Tokyo modern architecture and was one of my favourite examples of architecture in this article from July 2012. I can only assume that digital wizardry was used for this scene as the road they are seen walking down is not the one that’s actually next to the building. IMDb says that this street was Brisbane Street, Surry Hills in Sydney!

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So that was it for my day of following in the footsteps of the Wolverine. I managed to avoid getting hit or wounded but the 53.59km ride did no favours for my left knee which I smashed a few days earlier. For the record I paused the Runkeeper app at each of the seven locations (yes, I really did go to Zojoji twice!) so my time of 3 hours 38 minutes, give or take a short stop here and there, is pure riding time.

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Review: Films Set In Japan – The Wolverine (2013)

Typical eh! You wait ages for a new film set in Japan to be released and then two come out at once! Emperor‘ (2013) hit Japanese cinema screens on July 27th and this sixth installment in the X-Men film series had a worldwide release the day before that. Of course ‘The Wolverine‘ is yet to be shown on the big screen here but Tokyo Fox managed to get access to an exclusive pre-screening of it.

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Now before I start, I do have to say that I have never read any X-Men or Marvel comics so my knowledge of this character is perhaps more limited than others. However, I did do my homework beforehand in one sense as I watched the previous five X-Men films in anticipation of this release and my visit to the temple where the funeral scene was filmed. I can’t say that I was too enthralled by those movies but I was very much absorbed by the  Logan/Wolverine character and, unlike many others, I actually didn’t mind the 2009 ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine‘ film

Wolverine Samurai‘ as its titled here takes place after ‘X-Men: The Last Stand‘ (2011) and in a sense the movies opening storyline is very true to the heart of X-Men as the U.S. drops the bomb on Nagasaki in WWII. This particular event on 9th August, 1945 led to anxiety of the atom age breaking and the possibility of radiation and mutation affecting people. As  most of the soldiers commit suicide Logan saves a soldier named Yashida. Many years later, Yashida is a rich technology entrepreneur and still ever grateful for being saved, he invites Logan (via Yukio) to Japan because he’s dying from the radiation he was exposed to. He offers Logan the chance to become mortal if he promises to protect his grand-daughter, Mariko from the Yakuza. It’s an appealing offer for someone who feels his gift has been a bit of a curse recently.

Huge action star Hugh Jackman is always charming and charismatic in interviews and his portrayal of the ageless character is fantastic…. and a good job too as the film almost never leaves Wolverine’s side! Three female characters feature prominently with Yukio being the most interesting one; a ninja with the gift of seeing the future who acts as “bodyguard” to him as she calls it during the movie. Mariko (Tao Okamoto) was not so memorable for me and just a standard damsel in distress. The third is the venomous Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) who I didn’t really get into and thought she could have been utilised better.

I did find the film to include a few too many ninja fight scenes but I guess that’s what the kids want to see! Fights on top of moving trains have long been a feature of movies but the one on the bullet train from Ueno station was pretty exciting stuff not that any of the passenger extra’s seemed too bothered about all the destruction and devastation! What I did find of interest was the nod to a small scene in ‘Diamonds Are Forever‘ (1971) with someone being thrown over a high-rise balcony into a pool below by someone who didn’t know there was a pool there! Homage was also paid to Akira Kurosawa’s1957 film ’Throne of Blood‘ (or is it just more a case of it not being too original lacking in ideas!) when the Wolverine is halted by the arrows of archers and turned into a pin-cushion.

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Japan is principally the backdrop for the majority of the flick with filming taking place at  Tokyo Tower and Zojoji Temple as I revealed back in May but I should add that quite a few of the ‘Japan’ scenes were shot in New South Wales in Australia. Naturally, the cinematography was one of the films highlights for me in a film with plenty of plot loopholes and things that just don’t add up such as his memory but I guess you’ve gotta suspend belief a little bit when watching such films anyway. X-Men films always have a post credit scene and this one was no exception but I don’t really like these cheap ways of promoting the next film in the franchise with some vague ending.

Tokyo Fox Rating 7/10

Tokyo Daytripper: Zojoji Temple a.k.a. The Wolverine Temple

So this is a bit of a first then as TF presents you with some filming locations for a movie  that hasn’t even come out yet!! ‘The Wolverine‘ is the sixth installment in the X-Men film series and it is released at the end of July in most countries apart from Japan of course where the locals have to wait till mid-September. It’s fairly common that Japan is the last country to see an international film released but perhaps a bit surprising given that Tokyo features quite prominently.

Scenes were shot in late August 2012 at Tokyo Tower and Zojoji Temple which can be seen quite a bit in the trailer which is where I got the screenshots below from. The Main Hall is used for a funeral scene and it looks quite different from normal with the addition of lots of lanterns and cars going by where I’m standing in presumably some sort of funeral procession. The Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and his accomplice are seen climbing the steps of the Main Hall with the sanmon (main gate) visible in the background.

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Despite the Star Wars obsession on this site I’m not actually such a big fan of sci-fi films or even comic book heroes but any regular reader of ‘Tokyo Fox‘ knows that I have a strong interest in any movie shot in Japan and so in anticipation of this release I have been working my way through the previous films to get me ready for ‘The Wolverine‘ which I will watch at the cinema (maybe even when I’m back in Britain in August) and review on this site in the Films ‘Set’ In Japan section; the first time I will have reviewed a film of such sort on its release. If it wasn’t for the fact that I have a set of Spider-Man Top Trump cards (below left), which I often use in lessons to help teach comparatives and superlatives, I wouldn’t have had any idea who the likes of Professor Xavier, Magneto, Storm or Iceman were!

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I can only assume that the shot (above right) was taken either from a crane, helicopter or The Front Tower Shiba Koen although when I went up to the top on the 24th floor (and subsequently the 22nd, 21st, 20th, 19th, 18th….) I couldn’t get the view I wanted. For the record there is nothing on the 23rd floor and the views on each floor were all looking in the wrong direction with offices taking up space on the side I needed.

For your information, further filming took place at the start of September 2012 outside Fukuyama Station in Hiroshima-ken and in Tomonoura, a port in the Ichichi ward of Fukuyama but sadly I didn’t know about that when I was in Hiroshima earlier this month. If I did I could at least have got a shot of the station in anticipation that a similar one would be seen in ‘The Wolverine‘!

Parramatta in Sydney doubled up as a Japanese city and Sydney Olympic Park was made into a Japanese village draped in snow. Filming also took place on Brisbane Street in Surrey Hills which was transformed to look like a Japanese street with Japanese signs and vehicles scattered throughout…according to Wikipedia, so it must be true!

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This isn’t the first time though that Zojoji Temple has featured in a movie for who can forget its appearance in the Steven Seagal classic ‘Into The Sun‘ (2005) where the main hall could be seen on 66 mins in the foreground of Tokyo Tower (above left) whilst there was some meeting between the baddies though god knows why they chose to meet at such a public place! My not-so-perfect match-up of that film is above right.

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As for the temple itself, it is worth a visit in its own right and is included in the ‘Fodor’s Tokyo Top 25 Sights‘ guidebook and was therefore visited by me a few years ago when I cycled all 25 sights in one day. I have visited it half a dozen times now and definitely rate it as one of the best in Tokyo and along with Shiba Koen Park next door and Tokyo Tower nearby it all makes for a nice day trip within Tokyo. The two-storied sanmon was originally built in 1605 and is a rare example of early Edo-period architecture in Tokyo. After entering the complex through the sanmon (above) you soon come across a statue,  the stone image of buddha’s foot, a purification trough and the Great Bell of 1673 (3m high) which can all be seen in the four images below.

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I guess this temple is most famous for its rows and rows of little statues of jizobosatsu(the protector of the souls of stillborn children) which are decorated with baby clothes, toys and little windmills. Dressed mostly in red baby bonnets the statues are colourful and sad at the same time.

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The building (below left) standing in the background of the folded paper prayers and next to the Main Hall (seen from a different angle below right) is Ankokuden which houses the Black image of Amida Buddha and is used as a prayer hall as it is widely revered as a place that brings victory and wards off evil spirits.

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Above left is the Mausoleum of the Tokugawa Shoguns which is not normally open to the public apart from on certain days each year. Some statues (above right) stand in front of its gate.

The Wolverine‘ is released in the UK, the USA and most of the world on July 26th. It comes out in Japan on September 13th!