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Introducing The #DFNYFive!

Here’s the first #DFNYFive, our five favorite flicks!  So hard to choose,  but these are the ones that consistently come to mind when people ask.  And it doesn’t necessarily mean that these are best movies ever made, just the five flicks that I can return to over and over again and enjoy just as much as the first time I saw them!

1. Annie Hall (1977)

2. Seven Samurai (1954)

3. All The President’s Men (1976)

4. A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway To Heaven) (1946)

5. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Hope you like the #DFNYFive,  what are your favorites? Looking forward to receiving some interesting responses!

 

Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog (1949)

Japan’s earliest exposure to what could be conceived of as a “gun” would be the “teppō” (鉄砲, lit. “iron cannon”) from China in the late 1200’s. Basically a hand-held cannon, it was a simple tube that would hold gunpowder and a projectile, but had no trigger or sights.

Approximately 250 years later, Portuguese traders would introduce to the country the more recognizable matchlock (known as the “tanegashima,” after the Japanese island of the same name where Portuguese adventurers were forced to take shelter from a storm). The lord of the island purchased two matchlocks, which eventually led to the daimyo Oda Nobunaga, Japan’s “great unifier,” ordering 500 of them for his soldiers, forever changing the face of war in Japan. Despite the reputation of the katana (sword) as being the ultimate weapon of the samurai, the gun would eventually have much more of an impact on the battlefields of Japan, culminating in the Boshin War, or Japan’s civil war, fought from 1868-1869 between the ruling Tokugawa shogunate (military power) and the forces that wanted to restore the Emperor to ultimate political power.
Regardless of the gun’s importance in Japan’s internal political struggles, after the Meiji Revolution, the wearing of weapons (notably swords) in public was outlawed, which also led to very strict gun laws, resulting in very few guns in Japan. Perhaps this is why Japan has one of the lowest rates of gun deaths in the world (0.04 per 100,000 people in 2017, as compared to the United States’s 4.43 deaths per 100,000 – with the U.S. having 120.5 firearms per 100 people compared to Japan’s 0.3 guns per 100).

With that background in mind, I’m curious what Japanese audiences in 1949 thought of Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog (野良犬, Nora inu), the story of a rookie detective (portrayed by Toshiro Mifune) who has his gun stolen by a pickpocket on a crowded bus, and spends the rest of the film in a frantic quest to retrieve it.

While the loss of the gun is regarded as a lapse in responsibility on the part of the detective, for some reason, his superiors don’t seem to be as overtly concerned as he is.
The film gradually reveals similarities between Mifune’s character Murakami and the pickpocket, Yusa (遊佐 – portrayed by Isao Kimura). Both had their backpacks stolen from them when they returned from the war, but while Murakami took from the experience the desire to become a police officer, Yusa turned in the opposite direction to a life of crime. In fact, a famous eight-plus minute sequence in the film shows Murakami walking through the black market of Ueno dressed as a returned soldier in his attempt to find a gun dealer who might lead him to his missing gun. The gun is a Colt – the same maker as the iconic American weapon known as “the gun that won the west,” adopted as the standard US military service revolver from 1872 until 1892, and it is one of several ways that Kurosawa references the westernization of post-war occupied Japan.

Murakami’s search for the thief leads him through crowded baseball stadiums, dance halls with western music playing, and he also encounters a female pickpocket who had been known for her kimonos, but now exclusively wears western dresses. And while this might be a stretch on my part, even the name of the pickpocket, Yusa, can be interpreted as a reference to America. While not that much of an uncommon name, its romaji (Roman letter) spelling of Y-USA immediately made me wonder if Kurosawa had chosen it for strictly that reason. Either way, the connection between Murakami and Yusa seems overt from the get-go, with the title Stray Dog being applicable to both of them. Yusa as a frantic criminal, whose actions gradually get more and more violent, and Murakami’s desperation to find him and his weapon. Without revealing too much, the final confrontation between the two men is a must-see sequence that has Kurosawa playing upon their physical similarities to great effect.
An interesting note about the film relates to the partnership of the young rookie Murakami with the older veteran Detective Satō (portrayed by Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura (Seven Samurai, Ikiru). This type of pairing is a common trope in western police films, and Stray Dog might be the first film to depict such a relationship in either Japan OR America. In this way, despite the theme of Japan’s westernization in the film, it might have actually had a hand in exporting at least this one now-familiar idea to western audiences. Regardless, this “buddy cop” pairing includes moments of both sage advice being offered from the older partner, as well as moments of friendship as well as dramatic tension as their relationship develops, easily setting the standard for the many films that would use this story device in the future.
Ultimately, Stray Dog is an excellent early example of a film noir with compelling characters in difficult circumstances which also provides a look into a period in Japanese history where the country was going through profound changes – both overt and in less obvious ways. And the answer to whether those changes were for the better or worse depends on who you ask.

DFNYFocus on: Yukinori Makabe (真壁 幸紀)

The latest DFNY focus features Japanese director Yukinori Makabe (真壁 幸紀), who was born in Tokyo prefecture in 1984.

He won the Grand-prix at the 2012 Louis Vuitton Journeys Awards with his short film “The Sun and The Moon”. The festival head juror was director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name).

His first feature film “I Am a Monk” was released in 2015 and screened at many international film festivals.

In 2017, his short film”Home Away From Home” starred French actress Irène Jacob, winner of the 1991 Cannes Film Festival award for best actress. 

“Love, Life and Goldfish” is his third feature film and first musical film.

Yukinori Makabe’s WEBSITE:

(日本語での表記は後に続きます)


DFNY: Love, Life and Goldfish was adapted from a manga by Noriko Otani, were there many changes made from the original story?  Is music as important in the manga, or was that only in the film?  

Yukinori Makabe:  The musical element of the film is not in the original manga, it was established uniquely for the movie.  When I read the manga for the first time, I was very impressed with the dynamic feeling of the pictures, it was as if I could hear music coming out of the pages. I made the film as a musical in order to convey that feeling to its maximum effect.

DFNY: Were your choices of including certain kanji intended as an homage to its manga origins?

YM: I was aware of the “speech balloons” used for writing dialogue in manga, but I also wanted to try and put the kanji on the screen as a way of having a much more vivid sensorial impression of the feelings that were being expressed.

DFNY: I was also curious if  the Japanese title, すくってごらん (Sukutte Goran – “Please Try Scooping?”) is meant to be ambiguous, as both 掬う (to scoop) and  救う (to rescue) have the same pronunciation, すくう (sukuu).  This was particularly noticeable in the lyric [すくいたくて], and I wondered if its potential double meaning was intentional.  Additionally Kashiba’s desire to “rescue” Yoshino kept making me think of this possibility.

YM:  That’s right, there are two meanings.  Additionally it was important that the words rhymed with the feelings coming from Kashiba’s heart, as well as showing the uniqueness of the Japanese language and the word play that is possible.  I’m curious to see how that aspect will be received by people who don’t understand Japanese at all.  

DFNY: How was the development process? Were the songs written after the script was written, or before? 

YM:  First, a rough outline of the plot was written, including the parts where a song was to be inserted.  Once that was completed, the music was written in parallel with the completion of the script.


DFNY: Were any songs left out of the final cut?

YM: No songs were ultimately cut out, but there were several that were rewritten so many times, that it feels like the total number of songs eventually written was huge.

DFNY: Do you have a background in music (playing an instrument, or singing) or making music videos?  If so, how much of an impact did it have on your filmmaking choices?

YM:  I was in a band when I was a student, so I can play the guitar.  I’ve also directed several music videos.  Additionally, a big part of my background is that the time of my youth overlapped with the beginnings of the Japanese rock festivals, when a lot of artists appeared and were able to sell millions of CDs.  I think the fact that the Japanese music scene was so active when I was at such an impressionable age, and had so many opportunities to come into contact with music on a daily basis, is one of the factors which led to my eventually making a musical film such as this.

DFNY: Does the film have any other influences, such as Japanese folk tales, etc?  I was particularly curious about the dance/crowd scenes and why the dancers/crowds had their faces concealed?

YM:  The dancers and crowds are hiding their faces in a similar manner to how the “kuroko” (black-dressed stage assistants) of Kabuki do.  For the film, it was necessary to show their physical movements, but I didn’t want their facial expressions to be seen.  A face can convey a lot of information – for example, the audience might look at one of the performers and think they resemble someone, or have a large nose, etc, and so there is a high possibility that they might be distracted by something that has nothing to do with the film.  I was trying to avoid that, and challenged myself to reveal the world of the film to the audience.

DFNY: How did you go about finding your cast?  Were you looking for actors who could sing/play instruments, or the opposite, singers/musicians who could act? 

YM:  This film has many cast members who are very active on the stage.  I like to see a wide variety of theatrical performances such as Kabuki and Takarazuka (an all-female musical theater troupe based in Takarazuka, Japan) and of course traditional plays and musicals, so I get a lot of information about actors from there.  Kanako Momota is a singer, but I knew from her past appearances on the stage that she was very talented as an actress, so I offered her the role in the film.

DFNY: Did the different backgrounds (kabuki and pop music) of your two lead actors lead to any different approaches to their performances?

YM:  Yes, there was contrast in my approach to the two of them.  A lot of the attraction of Matsuya Onoe’s performance style is his spontaneity, so I didn’t give him a lot of detailed instructions and allowed him to perform freely.  Even if there eventually needed to be some corrections, I would give him a rough idea of what I was looking for, but allowed him the flexibility to come up with some of his own performance ideas.  And Kanako excels at intuitively grasping the type of performance I’m looking for, and is able to embody it with details like emphasizing the endings of certain words as well as her facial expressions.

DFNY: I have only seen two Japanese musicals (The Happiness of the Katakuris (カタクリ家の幸福) and Carmen Comes Home (カルメン故郷に帰る), and have only heard of maybe 20 or so others – are there many more musicals that aren’t well known, or does Japan not have as big a history with musicals as the United States?  If so, do you think there is a reason? Also, some of my favorite Hollywood films are musicals (West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Camelot) – do you have any favorite musicals, whether Japanese or from another country (such as France’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg)?  Besides the technical challenges, were there any box-office/audience concerns as to making a musical film?

YM:  The fact that there haven’t been any musical masterpieces in recent Japanese movies was one of my motivations for making this movie.  In the 1950s and 1960s, the so-called golden age of Japanese cinema, many musical films were made.  There were films from the band Crazy Cats such as You Can Succeed, Too (1964) starring Frankie Sakai and Japan’s Irresponsible Era (1962) starring Hitoshi Ueki.  Love, Life and Goldfish is most likely influenced by the comedy films of that era.  I consciously made the film thinking of the tempo, freedom, and strangeness of directors like Kihachi Okamoto or Yuzo Kawashima who made Suzaki Paradise Red Light (1956) which you had mentioned as one of your favorite Japanese movies (in DFNY Japan’s “DFNY Five”).  The difficulty of making musical films in Japan lies in the Japanese temperament – our personalities are basically more shy and withdrawn, so if you try and make a musical movie that matches the tone of ones from the United States or Europe, it wouldn’t be a good fit for us.  

What was interesting to me in my research for this film was learning about the difference in religious beliefs between Japanese people and Americans.  For example, there are many churches in America, and I think it is common to pray to God.  Therefore, the act of spreading one’s arms and exulting up towards the heavens as seen in so many musicals might not seem so unusual there.  But this pose is not seen in Japan.  In fact, if anything, prayer in Buddhism is performed with the hands placed together with the head facing down.  In this film, we have excluded the more exultant scenes and have tried to have the songs emerge more naturally.  I wanted to make a new sort of musical that Japanese people wouldn’t be ashamed to see.  I made this film while strongly keeping that thought in mind.

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真壁幸紀。

1984年生まれ東京都出身。

2012年にLouis Vuittonの映画祭Journeys Awardsでショートフィルム『The Sun and The Moon』がグランプリを受賞。

審査員はルカ・グアダニーノ監督。

2015年、長編第一作目『ボクは坊さん。』は多くの海外映画祭で上映された。

2017年にはショートフィルム『Home Away From Home』に1991年カンヌ国際映画祭主演女優賞のフランス女優、イレーヌ・ジャコブを迎えて制作。

『すくってごらん』は長編第三作目、初めてのミュージカル映画となる。

DFNY: ”すくってごらん”は大谷紀子による漫画からの映画化ですが、原作から大きく変えた点は多々ありますか?漫画でも音楽は重要視されていますか?それとも、映画の中だけのことでしょうか?

Yukinori Makabe: 音楽要素に関する部分は、原作の漫画にはない、映画オリジナルの設定です。漫画を初めて読んだ時に、音楽が聞こえてくるような、画の躍動感がとても印象的でした。それを映画として最大限に伝える方法として、ミュージカルにしました。

DFNY: 漢字をスクリーン中に入れているのは、漫画へのオマージュですか?

YM: 漫画の「吹き出し」を意識した部分はあります。

ただもっと感覚的に、心の声の表現として、漢字を画面上に出すという表現にトライしてみたかったという想いです。

DFNY: 日本語のタイトルも気になりました。「すくう」という音から、救うと掬うと二重の意図があると思いますが、主人公の気持ちを反映したものでしょうか?

YM: そうです、二つの意味を持たせています。また香芝の心の声は韻を踏んでいたり、日本語の面白さ、言葉遊びは大切にしました。日本語が全くわからない、外国の方にどう観てもらえるのか、興味深いです。

DFNY: デベロップメントのプロセスですが、曲が先にできて脚本を書いたのか、それとも脚本が先に出来ましたか?

YM: まず曲が入る箇所を含めた、大まかな構成プロットを作りました。それが完成したら、シナリオ作りと同時並行で楽曲を制作しています。

DFNY: 最終的にカットされた曲はありますか?

YM: 最終的にカットした曲はありませんが、それぞれの楽曲が完成になるまで、何回も作り直しているので、作った曲の数は膨大です。

DFNY: 例えば、楽器演奏や歌など、音楽的なバックグラウンドや、ミュージックビデオを制作したなどの経験はありますか?

そういった経験が映画制作の中でのクリエイティブな選択を行う上で、どのような影響を与えましたか?

YM: 学生時代にバンドを組んでいたので、ギターは弾けます。またミュージックビデオの監督も数作やっています。

それも含めバックグラウンドとして大きいのは、自分の青春時代が、日本のロックフェスティバル創世記と重なり、多種多様なバンド・アーティストが出てきて、CDが何百万枚と売れる時代だったという事です。

多感な時期に、日本の音楽シーンが盛り上がって、日常的に音楽と触れる機会が多かったことは、今回のような音楽映画を生み出すことになった、一つの要因だと思います。

DFNY: 日本の民話など、何か影響を受けていますか? 特にダンスや群衆のシーンで、なぜダンサーや群衆が顔を隠しているのかが気になりました。

YM: ダンサーや群衆が顔を隠しているのは、歌舞伎の黒子の手法を採用しています。

映画として、彼らの肉体の動きは必要だったのですが、表情は見せたくありませんでした。

顔の表情というのは、とても情報量が多いので、例えば「誰かに似ている」とか、

「鼻が大きい」とか、観客が映画に関係ない情報を受け取る可能性が高いのです。

今回はそれを遮断して、世界観を作ることにチャレンジしました。

DFNY: キャストはどのように見つけましたか? 歌えて弾ける俳優を探したのか、もしくは逆で、演技が出来る歌手やミュージシャンを探しましたか?

YM: 今回のキャストは、舞台を中心に活動している人が多いです。

僕はストレートプレイやミュージカルはもちろん、歌舞伎や宝塚など、多種多様な舞台を見るのが好きなので、そこから俳優の情報を得ています。

百田夏菜子さんは歌手ですが、彼女は女優としての才能もとても高い事が、過去の出演作でわかっていたので、オファーしました。

DFNY: かたや歌舞伎で、もう一人はポップミュージックという違うバックグラウンドを持つ主演の二人は、演技の面で違ったアプローチは見られましたか?

YK: 二人へのアプローチは対照的です。尾上松也さんは、ご自身が持っている衝動的なお芝居が魅力なので、細かい指示はせず、まずは自由に演じてもらいます。

そこで、修正があっても、大まかな演出をつけて、自分の中から、演技プランを出してもらう作業をしました。

百田さんは、こちらの演出意図を的確に捉え、それを体現する事に長けているので、台詞の語尾や、表情など、細部にわたり演出を付けています。

DFNY:  日本のミュージカルは2つしか観たことがありません。(「カタクリ家の幸福」と「カルメン故郷に帰る」)日本のミュージカルでは他に20作程しか聞いたことがありませんが、もっとたくさん知られていないミュージカルがあるのでしょうか?

それとも、日本はアメリカほどミュージカルの歴史が無いのでしょうか?

もしそうであれば、何か理由があると思いますか? 

筆者にはハリウッド映画でいくつか好きなミュージカルがあるのですが、(ウェストサイドストーリーや、屋根の上のバイオリン弾き、キャメロット)監督には、邦画でも洋画でも、好きなミュージカルはありますか?

ミュージカル映画を制作する上で、技術的な問題の他に、興行的な問題や観客への配慮などありましたか?

YM: まさしく近年の邦画で、ミュージカルの代表作がないという事が、今回のこの映画を作る動機になった部分があります。

1950年〜60年代、いわゆる日本映画黄金期と呼ばれる時代には、ミュージカル映画がたくさん作られていました。

フランキー堺さん主演の『君も出世ができる』や植木等さん主演の『ニッポン無責任時代』に代表されるクレイジーキャッツ映画など。

今回の『すくってごらん』はその時代の喜劇映画に多分の影響を受けています。

Toddさんも好きな映画に挙げていた『洲崎パラダイス赤信号』の川島雄三監督や岡本喜八監督の、テンポ・自由・奇妙さ。

そのあたりは、意識して制作しました。

日本でミュージカル映画がなかなか難しいのは、やはり日本人の気質にあります。

基本的にシャイでテンションは低いので、そこをアメリカやヨーロッパのテンションに合わせてミュージカル映画を作ろうとすると、どこかで無理が出ます。

また今回作るにあたり、研究して興味深かったのは、宗教観がとても大きいという事に気づきました。

アメリカでは教会が多くあり、神に祈る事が日常であると思います。

いわゆるミュージカルに代表される、「手を広げ、天を仰ぐ」という行為が、様になるのは、日常的に同じような形があるからです。

しかし、日本にはありません。

あるとしても仏教で、手を合わせ、下を向いて祈ります。

今回は、いわゆる「手を広げ、天を仰ぎ、歌う」というシーンは排除していますし、突如歌い出すという事への違和感をなるべく和らげるようなシーンの作り方をしています。

「日本人が見ても恥ずかしくない新しいミュージカル映画」にしたい。

その想いを強く持って、制作しました。

KOSHIEN: JAPAN’S FIELD OF DREAMS (2019)

『甲子園:フィールド・オブ・ドリームス』

Director Ema Ryan Yamazaki grew up not far from where Japan’s legendary high school baseball championship, the Koshien tournament, is played. After nine years in New York studying and working in documentary film, Yamazaki returned to Japan and combined that background with her interest in baseball to make KOSHIEN: JAPAN’S FIELD OF DREAMS.

KOSHIEN shows what an incredible impact baseball has had on Japan – over 4000 teams from all of Japan’s 47 prefectures compete for a place in the final game, and the series can be seen on television all day for the weeks it is held in most restaurants, bars, and most public places throughout the country.
While the championship series is usually called simply “Koshien,” the name actually refers to the stadium where the series is played, the Hanshin Kōshien Stadium in Nishinomiya. The tournament itself is officially named the National High School Baseball Championship (aka “Summer Koshien,” as there is also “Spring Koshien,” officially known as the National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament, held in the same stadium).
Yamazaki has said that the deep cultural impact baseball has had on Japan is likely due to how it was introduced – initially aimed at younger students for the purpose of spirit building, with a focus on elements such as discipline and hard training similar to those found in the traditional Japanese martial arts. In fact, when baseball was first introduced, its name of “yakyū” (野球 – “field ball”) originally had the character for “way” (道) after it. Pronounced “dō,” this made the resulting word “yakyūdō” sound similar to martial arts such as judō (柔道) or aikidō (合気道).
The focus of baseball on younger students in Japan can be seen in the way the very first game was introduced. In approximately 1873, Professor Horace Wilson, an American professor of English at Kaisei Gakko (which became Tokyo Imperial University), felt that his students needed more exercise to help supplement their studies. Wilson introduced them to America’s pastime, and Its popularity soon spread – by the late 1800s there were not only amateur leagues playing in Tokyo, but players from Ichiko High School achieved a highly celebrated victory over a team of American adults from the Yokohama Country Club.
Perhaps the height of early enthusiasm for the game in Japan was seen in 1934, when thousands of cheering fans greeted American baseball legends Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, who were in the country for a month-long tour to play exhibition games against Japanese teams. It was hoped that those games would help ease the rising tensions between the two countries. Ruth and Gehrig were joined by other Major Leaguers including Jimmie Foxx, Charlie Gehringer and catcher Moe Berg – Berg was not as highly regarded a player as the other men, but he was actually a gifted linguist who was later believed to have been sent on a spying mission for the United States.

Although the tour was not successful in averting the eventual war between the US and Japan, it did help to further cement the popularity of baseball in the minds of the Japanese public. It became so popular that there were even young men who grew up in Tokyo after the war that didn’t realize it was an American game.

KOSHIEN focuses on coach Tetsuya Mizutani who is trying to get his team from Yokohama Hayato High School into their second Koshien tournament. His former mentee, Hiroshi Sasaki, has had much more success with his team and is attempting to get into his tenth tournament. Their relationship is complicated by the fact that Mizutani has sent his son to Sasaki’s team in Iwate where he might actually have a chance at playing in the tournament. Additional proof of the success of Sasaki’s coaching can be seen in the fact that pitchers Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels and Yusei Kikuchi of the Seattle Mariners can be counted among his former players. Ohtani is seen in the film saying how Koshien is “like (our) World Series.”
The history of baseball in Japan, combined with the players demonstrating the virtues that have been instilled in them that are so highly regarded by Japanese society, as well as the passion and respect for the game shown by the fans (both the tens of thousands attending daily in the stands as well as the millions watching on television), results in a compelling narrative that tells the unique story of how something as quintessentially American as baseball can be adopted by another culture and turned into something that is truly their own.

Supermarket Woman (スーパーの女, Sūpā no onna) (1996)

Although it’s been debated what was the first supermarket  (King Cullen of New York, or Ralphs of California), it has been accepted that around 1930, stores began to appear that fit the description of a supermarket as defined by the joint research of the Food Marketing Institute, the Smithsonian Institution & H.J. Heinz – those stores having the attributes of “self-service, separate product departments, discount pricing, marketing and volume selling.”  It took a bit longer for similar stores to develop in Japan, with their first versions appearing sometime around the early 1950’s, but as in America, the earliest customers of these larger stores were housewives, whose discerning eyes for quality foods at lower prices quickly put local fish, vegetable and even flower stores out of business.  


A fictionalized version of one of these housewives appears in Juzo Itami’s Supermarket Woman (スーパーの女, Sūpā no onna) (1996).  Hanako Inoue (portrayed by Itami’s wife, Nobuko Miyamoto) has a chance encounter with her childhood friend Gorô Kobayashi (Itami regular Masahiko Tsugawa) in a local supermarket.  After Hanako complains about the store that they’re in, Gorô asks her to come look at another store with him.  When Hanako has even worse things to say about that store, Gorô admits that he is the store’s titular “Honest Gorô,” and asks Hanako to come work for him and help revitalize his business.

As in many of Itami’s other films (A Taxing Woman, Minbou) there is a commentary on social issues such as vice and corruption, in this case via a subplot about the bribery of Gorô’s store manager and an attempt to steal employees by the larger store, “Bargains Galore.” There is also a larger point made of how the opinions of women (who generally hold the purse strings in Japanese families) were being ignored by men such as those who ran the larger supermarket whose only concern was profit  and not the concerns of their customers.  Even the men who ran the meat and fish departments in the back of Gorô’s store had egos that wouldn’t allow them to consider that a woman might be right in her ideas of how to increase their productivity over their “traditional” methods.

In true Itami fashion, Supermarket Woman is a fun, entertaining film that also provides an opportunity to think about other issues – in this case issues that still exist beyond the supermarket walls, giving a look into not just Japanese society, but many others around the world as well.

Family Game (家族ゲーム) (1983)

Japan in the 1980’s was enjoying the results of one of the greatest economic booms ever seen in the modern world. In the postwar period, its economy grew at a rate of 7.1% from 1945 to 1956, setting the stage for its role as the economic giant it became in the 1980s. As a result, many families in Tokyo (Japan’s capital and greatest concentration of its massive wealth) were now able to enjoy luxuries that the previous generation couldn’t have imagined. The result was not just parents splurging on luxuries like expensive golf club memberships or foreign goods and trips, there was an incredible amount of pressure put on children (especially the oldest son of a family) to get into a good school, then get a good job, and continue this cycle of economic growth and academic pressure for the next generation.

Into this environment came the “katei kyoushi,” or “home tutor.” While this was not exactly a new phenomenon, it had now become a luxury that many more families could afford (or at least felt the pressure to spend more money on). This is the basic premise of Yoshimitsu Morita’s film, Family Game (Kazoku Geemu / 家族ゲーム (1983), adapted from Yohei Honma’s novel. Actor Yūsaku Matsuda is introduced as the tutor Yoshimoto who quickly works his way into a position of power in the family that has hired him to help improve the grades of their son Shigeyuki. Of course, the father being a hard-working Japanese “salaryman” (サラリマン / businessman), he is barely aware of what is going on in that family, so it is very easy for Yoshimoto to take charge. The role of the father is played by famed director Juzo Itami, who had himself made several films at the time with themes regarding Japan’s economy and other social issues (A Taxing Woman, Minbou). In fact, Itami’s negative focus on the Yakuza in his films led to suspicions that his 1997 suicide may not have been that at all.

Yoshimoto has unusual methods and seems to fear no repercussions, as in an initially amusing sequence where he forces Shigeyuki to write the Chinese characters for “twilight” (yuugure / 夕暮れ) for what appears to be several hundred times while Yoshimoto merely sits there, leisurely reading a book on plants, but subsequently strikes him, causing his nose to bleed. There is a great visual effect at the desk where the camera is placed below what seems to be a clear panel, allowing the audience to get an up-close view of what is going on at the desk, further pulling them into the narrative.

There is also an interesting cinematic choice for the setting of the family’s dinner table – they are arranged in a straight line, facing the camera as if they are sitting at a restaurant counter, which results in an almost Last Supper-like view of the family members – especially when Yoshimoto joins the family at the table and is placed in the center seat, seemingly the “savior” of the family. Except that this savior has been paid for – but is it for the benefit of the children, or to appease the desire of the parents to keep up with the social pressure for better grades, schools and jobs?

While often absurd and surreal, Family Game offers a glimpse into the life of a Japanese family in the affluent 80s, with insight into the pressures that the children faced then, and apparently still do – the equivalent of billions of dollars are currently spent on the “cram school” industry, adding hours of extra study and homework to a student’s regular class load. As such, it seems that the Family Game continues.

Red Beard / Akahige / 赤髭 (1965)

Despite not being as well known as some of director Akira Kurosawa’s other films with actor Toshiro Mifune (Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Yojimbo), Red Beard (Akahige/ 赤髭 – 1965) is a stunning cinematic achievement that may actually surpass some of those other more popular films, and should be seen for several reasons.


First and foremost, it is an incredible film – set in the mid 1800s (towards the end of the Tokugawa period), the story is an adaptation of Shūgorō Yamamoto’s 1959 short story collection, Akahige Shinryōtan (赤ひげ診療譚 – The Tales of Dr. Red Beard), with an additional character added from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1861 novel, Humiliated and Insulted.  This character becomes a central figure in the transformation of Yūzō Kayama’s Noboru Yasumoto, the protégé to Mifune’s Dr. Kyojō Niide (the titular Red Beard). At first an arrogant, entitled figure who has plans of becoming doctor to the Shogun, Yasumoto gradually comes to see the value of working to help the people who are the castoffs of society.

Regardless of its name, Red Beard is really the story of the transformation of Yasumoto, and not Red Beard, who actually appears in almost less than half of the film’s three hour-plus running time.  Yasumoto learns that despite Red Beard’s gruff exterior (as well as his incredible martial prowess as seen in an amazing fight sequence), he is a compassionate doctor, concerned about the lives of his patients, and feels that most of them would likely get better if not for their financial circumstances, as seen in this exchange with his protégé: 


Dr. Kyojô Niide: Poverty’s a political problem they say. But what has politics ever done for the poor? Has a law been passed to get rid of poverty and ignorance?

Dr. Noboru Yasumoto: But this place! Government funds-…

Dr. Kyojô Niide: Better this than nothing. The problem is deeper than that. If it weren’t for poverty, half of these people wouldn’t be sick. I know. There is always some story of great misfortune behind illness.


Yasumoto had been trained under what was at the time cutting-edge Dutch medical training, known during the Edo period as “Rangaku,” or the study of western sciences by means of the Dutch language.  Ironically, westerners at this time were nicknamed “koumoujin” (“redheads”), which might have been intended by author Yamamoto as an indication that Red Beard and his young assistant trained in Dutch learning might have had more in common than it originally seemed. 

In addition to its intense acting, striking cinematography and compelling story, Red Beard is an interesting note in the history of Japanese film.  It is the last of 16 films (in as many years) together for director Kurosawa and his star Mifune, which resulted in one of the greatest collaborations in cinematic history, Japanese or otherwise.  Ironically, in their first film together, Drunken Angel (1948), Mifune would play the hot-headed young man mentored by an older doctor, and unless Kurosawa knew that this would be their last time working together, he presciently gave Mifune a perfect role for the bookend of that relationship.  

Even still today in Japan, when a doctor is more interested in helping people than making a lot of money, it is said that he or she is “like Akahige.”For that reason, Red Beard offers not just a captivating look at another time and place, it offers a deeper insight into contemporary Japanese society – and thus, it is a must-see film for anyone interested in Japanese history and culture – or even “just” looking for an incredible cinematic experience.

Chibi Maruko-Chan (ちびまる子ちゃん)

Chibi Maruko-chan is one of Japan’s most enduring (as well as endearing) fictional figures in popular culture.  Originally conceived as the main character in Momoko Sakura’s 1980’s shōjo manga (comics aimed at a younger female audience), Chibi Maruko-chan has subsequently gone on to have success in the anime (cartoon) world, a live action spin-off, several animated motion pictures and even multiple video game adaptations, all in a period of time of over thirty years.  

Chibi Maruko-chan (whose name translates as “Little Maruko-chan,” with “-chan” itself having the meaning of a feminine diminutive), is a lovable yet mischievous character, whose personality is constantly giving rise to situations that most Japanese little girls would rarely find themselves in.  She usually tries to get money out of her mother and beloved grandfather to go downtown to the local shops to buy candy or toys.  Usually reluctant to wake up to go to school, her older sister relishes the role of getting her out of bed on a daily basis.

Maruko’s classmates, who are regular participants in her antics, have their closest western equivalents in the Peanuts Gang, the creation of Charles Schultz, with their legendary mascot, Snoopy.  But where Schultz’s characters are a group of children that have their adventures in a world of unseen adults (who, even when heard, speak in unintelligible trumpet-sounding voices), Chibi Maruko-chan and her friends live within a world of Japanese sensibilities and have a much higher interaction with older people, be they parents, grandparents, teachers, or shopkeepers, etc.  There are often references to traditional Japanese games, customs, foods, holidays, etc, which make the world of Chibi Maruko-chan an excellent introduction to Japanese culture.

#ChibMarukoChan #ちびまる子ちゃん

Daily Japan Focus On: Art Collector/Dealer Norman Brosterman

The latest Daily Japan Focus is on Norman Brosterman, an American architect, art collector/dealer and author of Inventing Kindergarten (1997) and Out of Time: Designs for the Twentieth-Century Future (2000).  Norman’s unique collections have featured items from the Japanese arts of ikebana (生け花) baskets, kimono (着物), as well as the traditional Japanese game of sugoroku (双六).

(日本語での表記は後に続きます)

DJ)  What was your earliest exposure to Japanese art, and has your first impression of it changed in any way?

NB)  I learned to love Japanese gardens and bonsai at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden when I was a boy. In architecture school the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and its affinities to traditional Japanese houses became an interest. But the first Japanese things I collected, after seeing the Cotsen Collection at Asia Society in New York in 1999, were Ikebana hanakago – baskets for flower arranging.

DJ)  Have you subsequently had the chance to see gardens and bonsai in Japan to compare them with those of your childhood memories? If so, were there any notable differences? Similarities?

Also, what about the Ikebana baskets appealed to you for collecting purposes?  Are there a large variety of styles/techniques depending on the artist?  How many different types of each were in your collection?  Can you list some examples that stand out for you? 

NB)  When I was at Ryoanji in Kyoto, standing on a sort of island in the large lake, my daughter said, ”This is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.” Indeed, Ryoanji may have been the actual model for the one I grew up with in New York. Finally getting to see the real thing brought a tear to my eye. The famous rock garden at Ryoanji was also actually duplicated in Brooklyn many years ago but has not been accessible for some time.

One of the great things about ikebana baskets is their absolute diversity. While there are “styles,” pretty much anything that can hold a water cylinder can be utilized. And because most of the great ones are signed on the bottom, the works can be identified by the artist, an opportunity for connoisseurship. I had around fifty by all the best makers – Tanabe Chikuunsai I, Maeda Chikubosai I, Iizuka Rokansai, and others.

DJ) Speaking of collections, you had great success with your 1930’s Japanese propaganda kimonos collection.  Can you tell us a bit about how that came about, any issues you may have had building it (due to their controversial nature, etc), its display history and where it is now?

NB) There was an exhibit in 2004 at the Bard Graduate Center in NYC called Wearing Propaganda, with a big book. I did not see the show but Noriko Miyamoto, a dealer in Sag Harbor who I knew, was a lender to the show. I asked her about these “war” kimonos and she started finding some for me. Then I discovered there was a dealer in Osaka who found many for sale over a period of years. He was happy to sell them, no thought to controversy. They seemed really undervalued for such historical and creatively designed objects. I ultimately donated 13 to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston when they agreed to produce a book that included many more of mine. And they did – https://www.mfa.org/collections/publications/brittle-decade – I also sold about 10 to the Metropolitan Museum in NYC and to other museums, finally selling the bulk remaining to a private collector.

DJ)  It seems like your experience with wartime propaganda kimono led directly to your latest collection of “wartime propaganda Sugoroku” (a traditional board game that can be described as a kind of Chutes and Ladders with images representing various historical events) – is there a connection?  Can you tell us a bit about how that collection came about, as well as some of its historical significance and its current status? 

NB)  Yes the imagery on the war kimono is similar to the imagery on the sugoroku. I can’t quite remember when I first noticed the games but it was when I still had the kimono. Each is a history in itself and the graphics on all are fantastic. Out of every 20 or so games that I have seen only one was likely to have the kind of direct connection to actual historical events that I have sought out. As most were published for children they are predictably trips to the zoo, nursery rhymes, trips around Japan, etc. The ones I have, about 250 now, while published for children, cover themes like the First Sino-Japanese War (1895), The Russo-Japanese War (1904/5), World War I, the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and the Second Sino-Japanese War (1931-1945), and social history like the prevention of the spread of disease, Japanese politics, etc. There is also a science-fiction component to the collection that starts with fantasy weapons in the 1920’s and goes right through to Godzilla, futuristic architecture, and space flight in the 1950’s.

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Thank you to Norman Brosterman for this fascinating glimpse at these traditional Japanese arts.  We hear that he’s currently working on a book, we’re guessing it will be centered on one of them, stand by for more information coming soon!

In the meantime, here are links to Norman’s website and books:

Norman Brosterman’s website: Brosterman.com

Inventing Kindergarten (website):  Inventing Kindergarten

Out of Time: Designs for the Twentieth-Century Future (at Amazon): Out of Time 

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最新のDaily Japan Focusは、アメリカの建築家、そして、アートコレクター及びディーラであり、Inventing Kindergarten (1997)やOut of Time: Design for the 20th Century Future (2000)の著者でもある、ノーマン・ブロスターマン氏に焦点を当てます。ノーマン氏の、ユニークな生花の花籠や着物、そして双六のコレクションまでお話しを伺います。

DJ)  日本美術に最初に触れたのはどのようなものでしたか? また、その第一印象からはどのように変化しましたか?

NB)  少年だった頃にブルックリン植物園の日本庭園と盆栽を好きになりました。 建築学校では、フランク・ロイド・ライトの作品と、日本の伝統的な家屋との親和性に興味を持ちました。 ですが、1999年のアジアソサエティーニューヨークでコッセン・コレクションを見てから、初めて日本の物でコレクションしたものは、生花の花籠でした。

DJ)  その後、実際に日本で庭園や盆栽を見て、子供の頃の思い出と比較する機会はありましたか? もしあれば、何か顕著な違いや、類似している点はありましたか?

また、生花の花籠のどのような点が収集するに至るまで、あなたを魅了しましたか? アーティストによって、スタイルや技術は多種多様にあるものでしょうか? あなたのコレクションには、いくつのタイプの花籠がありますか? 特に特筆すべき例がありましたら、教えて下さい。

NB)  京都の龍安寺にある、大きな池中の島に立っていると、娘が”これは、ブルックリン植物園だわ”と言ったのです。 確かに、龍安寺は私がニューヨークで共に育った(ブルックリン植物園の)モデルだったのかもしれません。 ついに本物を見ることができて、涙が出ました。 龍安寺の有名な石庭もブルックリンで何年も前に複製されましたが、しばらくの間いくことが出来ませんでした。

生花の花籠の素晴らしいことの一つは、絶対的な多様性です。 「スタイル」はありますが、水容れを保持できるのであれば、何でもありです。 そして素晴らしいものは、底にサインがされていますので、目利きによって作家を識別する機会を担保できるのです。 わたしは、例えば、田辺竹雲斎、前田竹盆栽、飯塚琅玕齋などの最高の作り手による50ほどの花籠を所有していました。 

DJ)  コレクションと言えば、Normanさんは1930年代の日本のプロパガンダ着物コレクションで大成功をおさめられましたね。 それがどのようにして起こったのか、コレクションを構築するにあたって何か発生した問題(例えば、物議を醸し出す性質のもの)なども含めて教えてください。 また、どういった所でそのコレクションは展示されましたか?

NB) 2004年にニューヨークのバード大学院センターで、Wearing Propaganda(訳注:着るプロパガンダという意)という展覧会があり、大型本も出版されました。 わたしはその展覧会は見なかったのですが、知り合いのサグ・ハーバーにいたディーラーのNoriko Miyamotoさんが作品の貸主でした。わたしは彼女にこの”戦争”着物について尋ね、それから私のために探し始めてくれました。 それから、何年にもわたって、大阪でたくさんの(そういった着物を)扱っているディーラーを見つけました。彼らは喜んで売ってくれましたがが、物議を醸し出すとは考えませんでした。 こんなにも歴史的で創造的な物なのに、大変過小評価されているように見えたのです。最終的には、13の着物をボストン美術館に寄付し、彼らはわたしのコレクションからたくさんの着物を載せた本を出すことに合意しました。 そして彼らが出版したのはこちら https://www.mfa.org/collections/publications/brittle-decade で、10点の着物はニューヨーク市のメトロポリタン美術館や他の美術館にも販売し、しまいには残りのたくさんの着物を個人収集家へ販売しました。

DJ) 戦時中のプロパガンダ着物の経験が、あなたの最新のコレクション”戦時下のプロパガンダ双六”(Chutes and Laddersのようなと説明される、伝統的なゲームで、時代を象徴したイベントや描写がたくさん描かれている)に導かれるようですが、何か繋がりはありますか? そのコレクションがどのように生まれたのか、そしてその歴史的な重要性と、現在の状況について少し教えてください。

NB)  そうですね。 戦争着物と双六のイメージは似ています。 実際いつ初めてゲームに気づいたかは覚えていないのですが、その頃はまだ着物を持っている頃でした。 それぞれがそれ自体が歴史的を含み、すべてにすばらしい絵が描かれていました。 私が見た20ほどのゲームのうち、たった一つだけが私が探していた実際にあった歴史的な出来事に直接的に関係している可能性がありました。  ほとんどのものは、子供向けに出版されたもので、予想通り、動物園への旅や、幼稚園での歌や、日本中を旅行することなどについてでした。 私が所有しているものは、現在250点ほどあり、子供向けに出版されていますが、日清戦争(1895)、日露戦争(1904/5)、第一次世界大戦、満州の日本占領、日中戦争や、日中戦争(1931-1945)、そして病気蔓延の防止、日本の政治などの社会史などのテーマを扱っています。 コレクションには、1920年代のファンタジーな兵器から、ゴジラ、未来的な建築、1950年代の宇宙飛行に至るまでのサイエンスフィクションの要素もあります。

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お話しを通じて、日本の伝統的な芸術の魅力を垣間見れたことに感謝します。 現在、今回伺ったお話しの中から、1つのテーマをフィーチャーした本を準備中とのこと。 詳細は近日公開予定です。

それまでの間、ノーマン氏のウェブサイトや本はこちらからご覧いただけます:

Norman Brosterman’s website: Brosterman.com

Inventing Kindergarten (website):  Inventing Kindergarten

Out of Time: Designs for the Twentieth-Century Future (at Amazon): Out of Time 

DFNY Focus On: Filmmaker Pierre Filmon

Our latest DFNY Focus is on French Filmmaker Pierre Filmon. He is a writer, producer and director, known for his documentary on Hungarian-American cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, Close Encounters with Vilmos Zsigmond (2016), as well as Papa est mort (2014) and Le silence, d’abord (2003).

DFNY: What is a film that you love that might surprise people who know you?
PF: Someone giving a look at my list of 809 favourite films (so far) could be considered to know me (https://www.imdb.com/list/ls000431317/) and she / he could be surprised by some entries like Sky Riders (1976) by Douglas Hickox, Clockwise (1986) by Christopher Morahan or Monsters (2010) by Gareth Edwards. But I sure also love those three films, although very different from each other and from my main classical films taste, but I appreciate the breathtaking action bravoura and its staging in the first, the clever script and its funny rendition in the second, the smart effective achievement by a low budget film for the third one.

DFNY: If you could pair up any two actors/actresses, living or dead, to appear in a “Dream Flick” together, which two would it be & what kind of film?
PF: Let’s pair two dead actors, then… A young Montgomery Clift and a young Ava Gardner, utmost vibrant interiority facing irresistible intense sensuality. Directed by a young Nicholas Ray (the one who did They Live by Night).

DFNY: Which film has had the biggest impact on you personally, and why?
PF: Children of Paradise (1945) by Marcel Carné, because I met its director a few months before his death, because this film is undoubtedly a (if not “the”) French film at its finest, because I was a projectionist and screened this particular title much more than any other film in one theater (the Ranelagh theater in Paris) which had a retro-projection system (and two titles only every weekend for years – the other title being “Grock” 1931 by Carl Boese). So I often went, during the longest reels, just behind the screen (invisible to the audience on the other side of the screen), on stage, and watched the huge image at its foot, admiring the masterpiece. Because it’s the film I would dream to have made.

DFNY: If you could have one prop from any film what would it be?
PF: I’m not really a fetishist so I would not wish to detach an object from any film (except from mine : I keep a few objects from my own shootings) because it would lose its magic power.

DFNY: Is there any subject matter which you would not make/watch a film about?
PF: Arachnophobia (1990) by Frank Marshall was chilly enough to watch once, so please do not ask me to make a film about spiders…

Pierre’s 2016 documentary on cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, Close Encounters with Vilmos Zsigmond can be seen on Amazon Prime:

More information on Pierre and his films can be found at his IMDB page, as well as his website:

Daily Japan Focus On: Jazz Pianist Senri Oe (大江 千里)

The latest Daily Japan Focus is on Japanese musician Senri Oe (大江 千里 – Oe Senri). Born in Japan, Senri is a pianist, composer, producer, actor, singer, and songwriter who had a very successful pop-music career in Japan in the 80’s and 90’s (winning the equivalent of their Best Album Grammy several times), but after the death of a close friend and band member, Oe-san decided to make a complete change and go to New York to pursue a career in jazz music. Our exclusive interview (translated from Oe-san’s original Japanese answers, posted below as well) give an insight into his thoughts and experiences in New York from his first days here until now.

(日本語での表記は後に続きます)

Daily Japan: What did you think of NYC as a “musical city” before you came here, and has being here changed your mind?

Senri Oe: Broadway, street performers, jazz clubs – I thought that the whole town was overflowing with music. In fact, when I first tried out living here for four years in the early 90’s, I came in contact with a lot of music. In particular, the club culture was a lot of fun – there were all night clubs, and even ones where you could start dancing in the morning and go until the afternoon. I was really impressed, and thought, “Wow, what energy!” Compared to the time from around when Giuliani was mayor, it really feels like NY has become much more “grown up” and quiet. NY has been my base for the past 13 years, and since living here and seeing how extremely safe it is, and how people follow the rules, it doesn’t really feel much different from Tokyo. But it also seems like the crime and homelessness that had been increasing since Trump took office has seen a sudden rise since the Corona pandemic, and it feels like a return to the dangerous times with a lot of crime like from before Giuliani. But unexpectedly, you can hear a lot of lively music playing in the streets, it’s really fun.

DJ: How much time had you spent in NYC before you decided to locate here? How were those experiences?

SO: I finally came to NY the winter I was 29. I planned to stay at a midtown Sheraton like a good tourist, but I managed to get myself invited to stay at the apartment of someone I’d just met. What’s more, the person was going to London and said “feel free to use the place,” so while staying for the first time in a place that had its own piano, I was able to write music while looking out the window at the dancing snow. Ever since that intense first experience, I came to strongly believe that NY is the city I must come to when my power is low. Soon after my trip, I came back again for a recording, eventually renting an apartment and coming back and forth from Japan for about four years. When I think about it now, I saw everything at that time as sparkling from a tourist’s viewpoint, probably because I would come to stay whenever I got time off from work. Back then it was a very different world from the NY I’m living in now. It felt full of danger and excitement, the people were interesting, even the older people were lively and funky.

DJ: What was your first musical gig in NYC and how did it go?

SO: When I was attending the New School, I performed as part of a trio with an Israeli bassist and a drummer from Connecticut – we were invited to play at a Korean restaurant on St. Mark’s Place by a businessman who liked jazz. That was my first gig. At the time, I had bought something to put my tips in from a local Korean supermarket, it was a small pot for one person to cook rice in. I’d actually used it ever since then to cook in, and although it broke recently, it’s always been a meaningful memento for me.

DJ: How has NYC changed musically since you’ve been here?

SO: Recently, the number of places to see live music has decreased greatly, and they’ve been split into two types – first there are the famous venues that lots of tourist go to, and then there are the places where the locals go. There’s also been a decrease in the amount of jazz and other music being played in the hotel lobbies and lounges, etc. It’s been really sad, but somehow despite so many places being closed from the pandemic, there’s also been a revival of hearing music in different places throughout the city. So even with venues closing, events being cancelled, musicians having to depend on unemployment insurance, and even having my own difficulties at this time, music will always be something that’s enjoyed. That’s the current state of music now.

DJ: How does NYC compare to Tokyo musically? The audiences?

SO: Tokyo has everything, it’s a huge market with musicians going there from all over the world, so it doesn’t seem second to NY at all in that regard. But New York has opera, ballet, jazz and classical music – people here can even drink champagne in inexpensive seats without it being so unusual, I only wish it could be like that in Tokyo. Audiences in Tokyo obey the rules and conform to the mood of the room, so I think their behavior and manners are great. New Yorkers seem to think it’s all about their “having fun” when they come to hear music, so it seems like they’re much more active participants. I’m not sure which is better, but for me, it’s easier to perform in NY. I’m the type that easily gets caught up in things, so when I hear their cheers and reactions, I can play with a lot more excitement than usual.

DJ: Who are some of your musical inspirations?

SO: Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Burt Bacharach, Herbie Hancock, Antônio Carlos Jobim, Ravel, Bach….

DJ: If you weren’t playing/composing music, what would you be doing?

SO: I’m 60, so if I were working at a company, it would be almost time for retirement. But I don’t have the kind of personality that’s suited for coming and going to a company at the same time, so I’m sure if I did something outside of music, I would have done something where I would have had a lot of flexibility and freedom about making my own schedule – perhaps something like real estate.

Senri Oe’s WEBSITE:

Check out Senri’s album HMMM:

Check out Senri’s music videos:

‘Poignant Kisses’(Hmmm)  3’35”

‘Re:Vision’(Hmmm) 3’53”

‘Orange Desert’ (Hmmm) 5’13”

‘Indoor Voices’ (Hmmm)  4’38″

Additionally, Senri Oe’s song ‘Togetherness’ has been selected by the AP News organization as one of their “Top 40 songs to listen to during the pandemic.”:

Article: “40 songs about the coronavirus pandemic.” Listen here. (AP)

Video: SENRI OE, “Togetherness”: The Japanese pianist’s breezy instrumental track will brighten up your day. (AP)

DJ: ここに来る前、音楽の街ニューヨークをどんな風に思っていましたか? ここにきてからそれは変わりましたか?

SO: ブロードウエイ、路上演奏、ジャズクラブ、、、町中に音楽が溢れていると思ってました。
実際、試験的に住んだ90年代の初頭の4年間もたくさんの音楽に触れることができましたが、特にあの頃はクラブカルチャーが楽しくて、夜通しそして朝から昼過ぎまで踊っているというクラブもあり「なんてエネルギッシュなんだ」と感心しました。その頃に比べるとジュリアーニ市長以降「おとなしい静かなNY」になったなあと感じています。13年前からニューヨークが拠点になりましたが、住んでみると非常に安全で人々も規則に順従、東京とあまり変わらないような印象です。しかしトランプ政権後に増えたホームレスや様々な犯罪が、更にパンデミックにより最近は一気に増えて、ジュリアーニ市長以前の危険で犯罪が多い街に逆戻りしていると日々感じます。でも皮肉なもので、ストリートで鳴っている音楽は逆に生き生きして
面白いのです。

DJ: 実際に引越しを決めるまで、何回ニューヨークに通い、時間を過ごしましたか? その時はどんなことを経験されましたか?

SO: 29歳の冬に初めてNYにやってきました。ミッドタウンのシェラトンに宿泊し安全な観光客であるはずが、その日に知り合った人のアパートへ転がり込み、更にその人がロンドンに旅に出るので「あとは自由に使っていいよ」とピアノのある部屋を出会ったばかりの僕に貸してくれて、窓の外に雪が舞うのを見ながら曲を書きました。この強烈な最初の体験から、NYは「自分にパワーがないときに来ちゃいけない街だ」と痛感しました。その後すぐにまたレコーデイングでNYを訪れることになり、やがてアパートを借りて日本とNYを行ったり来たりということを4年ほど経験しました。あの頃は、今思えば観光客の視点で全てがキラキラしていたし、仕事で休みができればすぐにNYに戻って暮らすという生活でした。あの頃は、今僕が暮らしているNYとは別の世界です。とにかく危険やスリルにあふれていて、人々も面白くて高齢者も元気でファンキーでした。

DJ: ニューヨークでの初めてのギグはどんな感じでしたか?

SO: ニュースクール大学に在学中、イスラエルから来てたベース、コネチカット出身のドラム、そして僕がピアノという3人でセントマークスにあるコリアンレストランで、ジャズ好きの経営者に誘われてトリオで演奏しました。これが最初のギグです。そのとき近所にあったコリアンスーパーでチップを投げてもらう入れ物を買ったのですが、それが小さな一人用のご飯を
炊く釜だったのです。その釜は最近までずっとご飯を炊くのに使っていました。つい最近割れてしまったのですが、思い出の品でした。

DJ: あなたがここにきてから、ニューヨークの音楽シーンはどのように変わりましたか?

SO: 最近ではライブハウスがだいぶ少なくなり、観光客がたくさん来る有名なベニューとローカルの人々が集う場所という二極化が進んでいました。ホテルのロビーのラウンジなどで演奏するジャズなども少なくなり、街からどんどん音が消えていくのが寂しかったのですが、皮肉な事にこのパンデミックでライブハウスが閉まったことで街のあちこちで音楽が復活しつつあります。ソロやバンド、ビッグバンドも街角で演奏しています。ライブハウスはクローズしたまま、イベントは全て中止となり、ミュージシャンも失業保険に頼らずえない、生活は僕も苦しいですが音楽は楽しい。それが最近の音楽事情です。

DJ: 音楽的に東京とニューヨークはどんな違いがありますか?オーディエンスも違いますか?

SO: 東京はなんでもあるし、世界中から演奏家もやってくる巨大なマーケットで、NYと比べて負けてない感じです。ただNYはオペラやバレエ、そしてジャズもクラシックもそうですが、シャンパンを飲みながら安い値段の席でも日常感覚で音楽を楽しめるので東京もそうなればいいなあと願ってます。東京の観客はルールを守って場の空気を読む人が多く、マナーやお行儀がとてもいいと思います。NYはとにかく「自分が楽しむ」ために音楽を聴きに来るので、観客は大変に能動的です。どちらがいいかというと僕はNYの方がやりやすいです。乗せられやすいタイプなので、観客の声援や反応が大きいとつい普段以上に張り切って演奏してしまいます。

DJ: 音楽的なインピレーションを誰から受けていますか?

SO: セロニアスモンク、ビルエバンス、バートバカラック、ハービーハンコック、アントニオカルロスジョビン、ラベル、バック、、、、。

DJ: もし、演奏したり作曲などしていなければ、何をしていたと思いますか?

SO: 60歳なので会社勤めをしていればそろそろ引退の年です。しかし毎日同じ時間に会社に行って帰る生活に適していない性格なので、音楽以外だと時間や日々のスケジュールを自分で組み立てて柔軟な時間割で働ける職業に就いていたでしょう。例えば、、、不動産とか。