Monthly Archives: September 2007

TODAY WAS A GOOD DAY

Somebody in Japan had this wonderful idea that there should be at least one public holiday every month. At the moment all that misses out is June, so this means we have wonderful holidays like Marine day and, this past Monday, Respect for the Aged Day. There’s also the Autumnal Equinox and Health and Sports day coming up in the next three weeks, so it’s all coming up sunshine and roses.

As a result, I decided to do something different and go out on Sunday. I was on the train to Shibuya, listening to Dreadzone, when an elderly couple came and sat down either side of me. Normally this wouldn’t be anything special, but the fact that chose those seats over several pairs of adjacent seats in the carriage told me I should prepare for some light conversation. Sure enough, they both leaned around and front of me and hit me with all the English they had.

Nice cellphone! Which cellphones are better, Japanese or Western? Are you from America? Is today your day off? Etc. Of course it wasn’t as grammatically correct as all that – just “today day off?”, for example – and there was plenty of Japanese vocab sprinkled in too, but I could understand and I responded to all their queries with civility. Half the people in the carriage were giggling uncontrollably to themselves; I’m sure the sight of a very tall gaijin being accosted by a typically earnest old couple was a hilarious sight.

After a while they got off, and I was able to return to my soothing, unchallenging music. Upon reaching Shibuya, I soon learned it was the day of the local matsuri. I’d never been to one of these before, so you can imagine my excitement. Teams of shouting, grunting people were carrying heavy mikoshi up and down the closed-off streets and, by the looks of things, having a lot of fun. What I’ve heard is that basically it’s one long day of drunkenness with alcohol flowing beforehand, at several stops during, and long into the night afterwards. I don’t know whether that makes hauling these things around in the brightness and heat easier, but most people seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Several hours and a bottle of shochu later, we picked up and headed off to a club called Womb. I tell ya, I never thought I’d happily pay ¥3500 (around NZ$40) just to enter a complex of darkened rooms, but there it was. It was AMAZING. There was the thumping electro/house, the laser lights glowing over the crowd, the dry ice turning people more than five feet away invisible… the atmosphere was perfect. Most of all, it really felt like everyone was there to have a good time, which gave the unusual effect of a jam-packed dancefloor filled with happy people. Unusual, because back in NZ, you couldn’t have that without the requisite pushing and shoving. Here, everyone was just glad to be in the company of about 750 like-minded people.

What’s more, being taller than pretty much anyone else in the room, I was an obvious visual focus for a lot of people. This meant that, in a very foreign experience for me, they would often follow my lead. I put my hands up, they put their hands up, and so on. I became very excited and was soon taking every opportunity to string people along, which is hilarious if you can imagine me with my lanky, unco dance moves being the leader of the pack. They all kept smiling and laughing, so I carried on until my shirt and pants were so soaked with sweat that I had to leave the dancefloor and re-hydrate.

I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so disgusting, or euphoric, in my entire life.

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Next (2007) (F)

IMDb / Rea / Ingman
Written by a series of shiftless, talentless idiots
Directed by Lee Tamahori

I’d never watch something like this, but a friend sent me an effusive email detailing how terrible it was and that I should watch it and see the ineptitude myself. It’s tempting to just post his email here, because I agree with everything he said, but that would be as lazy as the people who wrote this mess so I’ll put in a little bit more effort. It’s a movie about seeing a short time into the future, which – besides being impossible to make a decent movie about in the first place – should twig them to the fact that every single negative review will make a bad joke about it. Here’s mine: the future showed me turning the movie off and watching more Simpsons re-runs. But my friend’s words bound me to finish it.

The laziness of the writing truly astounds. I’m not kidding here: if anyone – you, my four year-old nephew, Rob Schneider – sat down and watched this, they’d think of better ways to write every last scene or line of dialogue. Without thinking. Things in this movie that are totally unexplained: 1) Cage’s ability to see the future 2) the reason for a plot to destroy Los Angeles with a nuclear weapon 3) why Cage can see all of Biel’s future, but nobody else’s 4) why Julianne Moore is hanging out at shitty Vegas magic shows looking for someone to help find said nuclear weapon… etc. A dead hooker appears in a shot for literally no apparent reason. The ‘it was all a dream’ cop-out is used more ridiculously than ever before. Worst of all, the film is 90 minutes long, but barely anything happens in the first hour, a balance which utterly fails to make you give a shit at any point.

Of course they’re not alone, though. In fact, it’s obvious throughout that every single person involved knows they’re working on D-grade trash. Every single person. And not the entertaining kind of trash, either, the kind which has violence or really bad acting or unintentionally funny lines. No, I imagine this film set was populated entirely by people who were only there for the coffee and donuts. I wonder how big Cage’s trailer was. I wonder what he thought as he looked over the day’s re-writes. Probably ‘do it for Kal-El’ or something, but I’d like to think there would’ve been a healthy dose of ‘gots to get paid’ in there. Anyway, the CGI smacks you over the head and says “I AM NOT REAL”, the cinematography ignores all basic film shooting principles at some point or another, and Tamahori’s direction is now officially the opposite of what it was back in ’94.

I do like Nicolas Cage as an actor, and I do always derive some enjoyment from his work, but he has two modes. One is mega-brilliant, inspired, inhabit-the-character Cage that we saw in Adaptation. and Leaving Las Vegas, while the other is often hilarious, sometimes overdone, always phoning-it-in Cage of Con Air and The Wicker Man. And in mode 2, which he offers up here, he is the least assuring person in the world to say the words, “Look at me. It’s okay. It’s over.” I’m not saying the role should’ve gone to someone else – nobody’s right for it – but he’s particularly not right for it. Same goes for Julianne Moore, the least urgent FBI agent handling a broken arrow crisis ever. Jessica Biel looks lovely as always, but pretty face can only distract for so long.

The music sucks, too. It’s all turgid shite, film ‘entertainment’ in the loosest sense of the word. The only thing I wouldn’t change is that bit where Dr. Strangelove was on the TV. In the above picture, an exchange of outrageous mediocrity has just taken place between Biel and a girl, the result of which is Biel learning that Cage ‘likes’ her; cut to Cage “leering at her like a deranged mental” as my friend so eloquently put it. The director asked for wistful, bashful longing; he gave him deranged mental. The audience asked for a solid helping of meat and taters sci-fi action; they were given a slice of mouldy bread and a packet of instant mash.

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I WOULD LIKE TO LEAVE THE RIDE

Hello, 11th of September. I have an appropriate post for you.

I don’t know if I should be writing about this – not because it might get me in trouble, but because I’ve been here such a short time and I’ve only had one relatively tame experience with racial profiling by police. I could also be accused of fearmongering and of racism as strong as anything I mention. However, it is important and I should know as much about it as I can just in case something happens; also, perhaps this will be a useful set of links for other people. I don’t know. On with it.

Last Friday’s Metropolis had a feature by a gaijin on his experience of being arrested in Japan. He was held for 19 days without charge, suspected of “not cooperating with the police and hitting a man with a bottle”. It reads like you’d imagine a standard account of jail experience in a foreign, first-world country would read; indeed, not unlike the great Matt Frear’s. Most of it doesn’t sound that awful, but you can feel that the worst thing would be the absence of those daily comforts we most take for granted. A shower, a decent meal, a book to read.

Thing is, Matt was held for a day, while Paul was held for 19. Without charge. I must repeat that because it is most important. How can this be legal in a supposedly ‘free’ country? I turned to Wikipedia (what? It’s usually right) for clarification of the law that makes that possible, whereupon I found a page about Daiyo kangoku, or ‘substitute prison’. The stipulation is that under standards of habeas corpus, you can be detained by authorities for 72 hours; next, the prosecutor can request ten days’ detention (a right that is frequently exercised), usually used to elicit a confession; finally, a further ten days can be requested for the same reason. 23 days altogether. Paul got off light.

My first reaction was to think that this must not happen too often, but then I remembered back to my first day of training for work. During the persistent ‘don’t do drugs’ spiel drummed into our heads by the trainer (Simon Amstell from this entry, a really top bloke I’ve found), he said that judges really don’t give a shit about you. They just want to stamp the piece of paper and go home. So that’s what they do. The same Wikipedia page says that further detention past 72 hours is requested in 85% of cases, and 99.8% of those are approved. These figures date from 1987 so things could have changed, but it’d be foolish to write them off just for being 20 years old.

Concerned at this sentence in Paul’s article – “His two friends, mere onlookers, were also guilty and spent the same 10 days as their friend” – I thought shit, this could happen to me even if I did absolutely nothing wrong, I must find out more. The following is a list of things I found interesting (needless to say, some of them contain fucking strong language):

*A 2000 Shizuoka Police guidebook called “Characteristics of Crime by Foreigners Coming to Japan”
*A magazine on ‘Shocking Foreigner Crime’ that was stocked in convenience stores (and quickly withdrawn after protest)
*Do gaijin commit more crime than Japanese nationals? Not really. So why are they being vilified in some quarters?
*Instant Checkpoints in Japan: Extranationality as Sufficient Grounds for Suspicion
*Don’t leave home without your Gaijin Card
*Looong account of experience with prison in Japan (if you ask me, the guy behaved really stupidly and deserved some kind of retribution, but y’know… civil liberties…)
*Japan Times reporter arrested for kicking “No Japanese” bar signboard (this is a real clusterfuck, with bigots and idiots on both sides)
*Gaijin achieves EPIC LULZ by accosting a homeless man in Osaka, then throws the guy’s bike at a garbage truck, then gets beaten by the garbage truck driver (video)

A guy called Debito Arudou features heavily in all of this. He appears to have the biggest online presence of any gaijin rights activist, and while he appears to be the kind of guy who would be an activist even if he lived in the Garden of Eden, he’s smart and he knows more about this shit than anyone else I could find. He’s also a naturalized Japanese, putting him in the unusual position of looking like a gaijin (and presumably being subject to the same racial profiling) but carrying documentation which qualifies him as a Japanese citizen.

All I’ve really done here is compile a list of things to get upset about, mostly things that could happen in any Western country, but when you put them in the context of that 23 days I think the implications are a bit different. I’ve learnt tonight that idiots are idiots in all countries, some people can’t handle their piss, and that I put myself in serious danger that time I went all the way to Ginza without carrying any official identification. I must state clearly that this isn’t a bitchfest about how Japan sucks, because it doesn’t and I’m loving my time here. I do, however, find it interesting when civil liberties I’ve previously taken for granted don’t exist, and when any kind of racial profiling is supported by police/politicians/press/a general authority.

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THE FEELING IS FRIGHTENING, BUT ISN’T IT EXCITING

Typhoons are a big deal here. A typhoon hitting the mainland will dominate all news hours and publications, and has every man, woman and child on the alert. Schools wait anxiously, ready to close their doors, and train lines shut down at the first sign of danger. Calls to loved ones run at about 500% of standard (my estimate). Cellphone companies must love typhoons.

My first Japanese typhoon hit in August, and I was told by everyone I met that I should be careful and not make too many plans because if I went somewhere, I could get stranded. Over the course of the weekend it struck, I received about five messages from various people making sure I was okay, even though I’d only been in the country for seven weeks. And of course, it was a massive anticlimax. It rained a little bit, and the wind was a tiny bit stronger, but there had been much fiercer storms since I’d moved here. I continued drinking as usual (yes, that’s right Ed, drinking).

This week another warning went out all over the news. Typhoon coming, lock up your daughters etc. I was like, yeah, whatever, strike me down with your pathetic volley, I’ll be on my feet and coming back for more. But this time, they weren’t kidding. I went to work on Thursday in steady rain, and by 6:30pm – halfway through my shift – it had picked up sufficiently that all of our schools in the region were closed, so that people could get home before the trains shut down. That night, sleep was difficult as the trees outside flailed about and sideways rain splattered against my window (which I now know leaks like a sieve in extreme weather).

On Friday the rain had stopped, but the gusts of wind remained. I was meeting friends in Tokyo, so I went to the train station, where I found that most trains weren’t running and the ones that were had been delayed by about 50 minutes. I waited, it eventually came, and it was PACKED – packed like you would imagine Japanese commuter trains are, with guards shoving passengers inside so the doors can close.

Being squeezed in such a tight space was something I hadn’t experienced since the dining hall queue at school. I wanted to take out my camera and get a photo, but this was impossible because my arms were pressed against my sides by the two young guys and tiny old woman to my left and right respectively. To my surprise, even in these conditions, people still closed their eyes and went to sleep, no doubt dreaming of that PlayStation ad where millions of people have a huge pile-up. By the time I came to get off, we may have been lovers; I can’t be sure.

I arrived in Shinjuku at 2, by which time the nastiness had been replaced by brilliant sunshine (well, as brilliant as it can be through the thick smog). I met my friends, and had a very pleasant afternoon and evening drinking and eating. Can’t wait for the next one. I can be like Philip Seymour Hoffman in Twister.

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