Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thriller, thriller night

Tsutaya is a giant DVD, CD and manga rental chain that's open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with branches all over Japan. You can hire nearly any DVD for a week for a measly 100 yen (not new releases though). Heaps of the Japanese movies don’t have English subtitles (the Miyazaki anime films do though – I loved Porco Rosso), but they do have a big selection of Western movies, so it’s been a pretty useful resource over the long, cold winter months.

Walking around the aisles at Tsutaya looking for something to watch is a maddening experience, for two reasons. Firstly, of course, all the movie titles are in Japanese, so for example, instead of looking for Lord of the Rings, you're looking for ロードオブザリング (roudo obu za ringu). This makes browsing very difficult, as it’s often quicker to just pull boxes off the shelf and look at the covers than it is to decipher the translations. Sometimes titles are translated phonetically (like Lord of the Rings above), but sometimes they’re completely butchered into baffling Japanese phrases. For example, Sense and Sensibility translates to On One Fine Day, the Bond film You Only Live Twice is given a kinda totally different meaning with the title 007 Dies Twice, and Army of Darkness is known as Captain Supermarket (!). Apparently Mr Deeds Goes to Town is known here as Opera Hat, but it was translated so long ago (1937) that now no one knows why!

Secondly, Tsutaya has the absolute worst in-store music I’ve ever, ever heard anywhere ever. Michael Jackson’s Thriller is literally on something like a one minute loop, blaring the trumpet hook at you again and again as you try to decipher the spines of ザネバーエンディングストリー (The Neverending Story) or ココシャネル (Coco Chanel). It’s part of a current (long-running, trust me) promotion, and it’s horrible, especially when you get in one of those video shop “can’t choose” stupors.

But there are many entertaining aspects to this place as well. Chief among them for me is browsing the selection of crappy C- and D-grade knock-offs of blockbuster movies that seem to have been churned out solely to hoodwink the foreign DVD-renting public. I took some photos the other day to illustrate.

This here is Tomb Soldier, starring not Angelina Jolie, but perhaps Angelina Jolie’s body double from the Tomb Raider movies.

Next we have Jack Hunter 1 and 2 (above), and the remarkably similarly-themed Treasure Hunter series. The blatant crystal skull on the cover of Treasure Hunter is a nice touch.

Batman, the Dark Knight himself, apparently has a few contenders for the title of Gotham City’s most brooding, dressed-in-black vigilante in the Darkness Knight and the Black Knight.

Optimus Prime’s brother just doesn’t have the star power of his more famous sibling, but that didn’t stop him winning the lead role in Transbattle. Good for him.

After the release of Hulk and The Incredible Hulk, some genius saw a clear gap in the market for Incredible.

At least The Bible Code isn’t based on a ham-fisted, poorly-researched, hackjob detective novel, and doesn’t star Tom Hanks.

I love this one: The Day Another Tomorrow. The dream sequel we all wanted but thought we would never get? You'll notice this one is from the director of Centre of the Earth -- that's not the same movie as Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

I think the flavour of the month in Japan is disaster movies, as there are heaps of these generic 2011/Cloverfield clones crowding the shelves. I don’t know what the deal with the snake and the submarine is though (the movie is called Snake Dive – sounds exciting).

And of course, at the top of this post you saw Shark in Venice, a movie about a shark. In Venice. This is not a direct rip-off of anything as far as I know, and actually looks pretty awesome. It’s a really big shark! In Venice!

I regret to inform you that we have not watched any of these gems yet, but maybe I should do a review sometime...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Tokyo ni ikimashita!

Last month we went to Tokyo again, but we never blogged about it because we've been having internet problems and our connection's slowed down to a horrible impossible speed (oh no! my cola!). But Tokyo was really very fun, so let's just forgive and forget our tardiness and jump right on in there.

We left Sendai on Waitangi Day up to our shins in snow and travelled happily on the shinkansen through a Siberian countryside. This is Gareth in the local park on the way to the subway station.

On this trip we decided to shy away from the backpackers and capsule hotel experience and stay in the luxury of a business hotel's double room -- no bigger than a bathroom, but none-the-less our own room. We were even treated to complimentary hand towels and dried beans.

The hotel was in Asakusa-bashi, close to the very old district of Asakusa, famous for its architecture, temples and local craftwork. Unfortunately, in the area directly surrounding our lodgings we found nothing but cheap souvenir shops and about two million bead shops. It did have one super redeeming feature though: a sumo stadium. And to our utter delight there was a tournament happening on the Sunday. Considering there are only six major tournaments a year throughout Japan we certainly felt our luck.

We really enjoyed the sumo! There was lots and lots of ceremony involved: the wrestlers would enter the ring, throw salt around, slap themselves on the thighs, stomp their feet, throw around more salt, allllllmost look like they were about to start, throw more salt, crouch and then finally wrestle. It was pretty fun seeing them go for it -- lots of grabbing and pushing and flipping each other, and some very close matches with big comebacks and exciting finishes.

At half time there was an amusing bit where three or so scrawny gaijin kids at a time would try to push the wrestlers out of the ring. It was funny; they didn't move an inch.

This is apparently the sumo mascot (the bird, not the old man).

Outside the stadium, Gareth delighted in giving a big sumo wrestler a big purple nurple.

The night before we had been to see a band called The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, a kind of 80s indie throwback band who were pretty fun, if perhaps not extraordinary. We discovered they were playing on the day and kind of decided to go on a whim, since we get so few international bands playing in Sendai. Here's a blurry picture (the lead singer never took his zipped-up leather jacket off the whole time, even though it was super hot inside. He was very dedicated to "the look").

Afterwards we treated ourselves to the drunken salaryman's dinner of choice: ramen.

And finally (skipping back to Sunday, after the sumo), there was the reason for our trip in the first place: miss Joanna Newsom, touring her then-soon-to-be-released (now released) album Have One On Me. She was so beautiful, like a little horse nuzzling her harp, and her fingers were like spiders spinning webs. Her drummer was amazing too.

She played for around an hour and a half, and she was just devine. The venue was not so good -- it seemed overbooked it was so crowded, and we could hear trains going past overhead sometimes -- but it didn't dampen our enjoyment one bit.

Here is one of Joanna Newsom's new songs for you to sample:

Joanna Newsom - Easy

Have One On Me is a beautiful album, and it is three discs long! Bliss!