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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!

 

Listening To Springsteen In Japan

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(Blinded By The Light – Warner Bros. Pictures/ New Line Cinema /Entertainment One)

I was lucky to catch the film Blinded by the Light at the Tokyo International Film Festival at the last minute (thank you Naozo!).  Director Gurinder Chadha’s film captures the experiences of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor growing up as a young Pakistani immigrant in England in the 1980’s and is based on Manzoor’s memoir Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll. 

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(The Boss with journalist Sarfraz Manzoor)

It was interesting to me as an American who had grown up listening to Springsteen’s music to see how much of an impact it had on a young man from a different country and culture, struggling in his adopted country, while I was watching the film in a THIRD country (Japan) going through my own challenges living in a different country.

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(Bruce with director Gurinder Chadha)

I wasn’t a hardcore Springsteen fan per se (I was actually a David Bowie fan, which led to some memorable battles in the sixth grade!), but growing up in the Tri-State area in the early 1980’s, it was hard NOT to listen to The Boss.  In fact, I’m not sure exactly when I first heard Bruce’s music, but at my upstate New York summer camp, they played Born to Run on repeat over the loudspeakers so many times that it feels like that album is the soundtrack to my early childhood.

It wasn’t until the summer of 1987 (coincidentally the same year that Manzoor’s memoir and film are set in) and I was having very similar experiences as him (the pains of young love, wondering where life would take me, and a desire to be somewhere else) that I began to listen to a ton of Springsteen while driving alone at night – specifically Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, and of course, Born To Run.

Now listening to Springsteen in Japan (again on repeat, but now on Spotify!), I’m mentally brought back from here to a very different time and place, and realizing just how much his music captures the essence of the American spirit – a desire for exploration and aspirations for a better life while also being tinged with the difficulties of life and the struggles that so many go through.

From driving in a car as a teenager to flying halfway around the world in a jet airplane thirty-plus years later, I’m finally realizing that I truly was born to run, and looking forward to seeing where the (thunder?) road takes me next!

Blinded by the Light Wikipedia Entry:

 

Kawaii Halloween At Kawaii Monster Cafe In Harajuku

Kawaii Halloween!

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What better way can there be to celebrate Halloween in Tokyo than at a place that literally has the word MONSTER in the name?  Harajuku’s most surreal gathering spot, the Kawaii Monster Cafe (designed by local artist Sebastian Masuda, the “Kawaii King”), is like a trip to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory after it having had all its candy-making machines set to KAWAII!

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While it can seem like it’s Halloween everyday in Harajuku with its legions of Kawaii culture adherents and fans of dressing up in colorful cosplay outfits, October 31st brings out an even larger than usual number of costumed revelers to the storied area.

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(Pink Warriors’ Dance show set on KMC’s famed giant revolving cake-stage!)

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(Even the food gets in on the colorful act at KMC!)

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(Dessert is as colorful as the rest of KMC!)

The Kawaii Monster Cafe seems to be the natural place for Halloween revelers to gather, whether it’s as the starting point for a late night out, or as a place to spend the night and celebrate with characters like mascot Choppy, Pink Fat Cat and also watch performers like Pink Warriors and Tempura Kids with their colorful costumes that are a perfect fit for Halloween!

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(Checking out Choppy & Pink Fat Cat)

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With its guests wearing a mix of costumes both kawaii (cute) and kowai (scary), the Kawaii Monster Cafe is the must-go-to place for any serious Halloween revelers in Tokyo!  Looking forward to seeing how the party grows next year!

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Kawaii Monster Cafe is located at:
4-31-10 Jingumae
4F YM Square Bldg
Shibuya 150-0001

Tel +81-3-5413-6142

KMC Website:

Kawagoe – Memories Of A Distant Japan

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Getting off the train at Kawagoe Station, it at first feels like any of the dozens (if not hundreds) of similar areas scattered throughout the Tokyo metropolitan area.  The usual assortment of shops, convenience stores, and fast food restaurants give way to an even larger mix of stores, pachinko parlors, and karaoke bars as one makes the fifteen-minute or so walk towards the Kurazukuri historical area that is separated from the station not just by distance, but seemingly by time.

Approaching the older part of the city, it’s immediately striking to see the black-tinged buildings that hint at previous encounters with damaging fires that were apparently held at bay by the local builder’s historical expertise at building structures with multiple layers of clay to help defend from fire damage.  Looking up at most of the remaining buildings, one can see the unique interlocking structures of massive window shutters that were designed to be shut to an almost paper’s-width thickness to block out fire.

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But it’s hard to imagine such conflagrations on a beautiful October day walking along the central Chuo street with hundreds of other visitors to a city that has retained all the charms of a time long past.

An interesting feature of Kawagoe shops is that many have retained the old sign-boards of prior businesses, so you might find a clothing store with a sign for an old knife-maker in front, or an ice-cream shop that was previously a rice seller, etc.

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Speaking of knife-makers, there is one shop, Machikan, with an impressive array of what seem to be razor-sharp tools, knives, and even farming implements.  The young man behind the counter took a break from his work at the whetstone to give an enthusiastic explanation of the hamon (blade patterns) on a beautiful collection of katana and naginata blades that would be at home in any museum.

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The enthusiasm of locals for their culture and history didn’t stop there – I was fortunate to be able to just join a guided tour that had started at the Kawagoe City Art Museum given by a woman with more than enough energy to overcome any tourist’s jetlag.  She possessed an intimate knowledge of the area’s rich history as both an ally and friendly rival to Tokyo.  She mentioned how visitors to Tokyo (then called Edo) were so impressed by the neighboring city’s opulence, returned to Kawagoe, and then had luxurious (but hollow) adornments added to the top of their buldings.

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Additionally, the name Edo for Tokyo, led to Kawagoe becoming known as “Koedo” or “Little Edo” (小江戸)  – a name which seems to have been taken by the current local craft beer, Coedo (but spelled with a “C,” possibly to avoid appearing to have an official connection to the city?).

Further encounters which included a kindly book-binder in another well-preserved building (that had previously been a livestock feed-producer), along with many friendly food vendors, souvenir shop owners, restaurant & ice-cream store workers, led me to believe that there is not one merchant in Kawagoe that does not have both a pride in their city, as well as a friendly spirit that seems to be fading in their neighboring city, Tokyo.

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It seems that for neighboring Tokyo residents, Kawagoe has a very strong attraction.  While Tokyo has remnants of old townscapes that were not successful and have been taken over by new businesses, Kawagoe managed to have similarly old areas develop thriving businesses early on.

The old towns in Tokyo have had their beautiful old buildings mercilessly torn down by large developers and replaced with new buildings that seem to be all of one design, and by doing so, the loss of those towns’ individuality continues.

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I’m curious to find out more about the process of how Kawagoe goes about preserving their classic look while at the same time allowing for new building construction.  In the meantime, it can definitely be said that Kawagoe seems to be a city that’s worth it to residents of Tokyo to take a day and visit, so it must be doubly so for foreign visitors as well!

Koedo-Kawagoe Website:

 

DFNYFocus On: Filmmaker Anna Takayama

ANNA TAKAYAMA was born in New York and raised in Tokyo. Her first short film, Neko Sees All, screened at the St. Louis International Film Festival as part of its Narrative Short Program, “Mixed Emotions,” and made its online debut on Kentucker Audley’s NoBudge.com. She is currently working on her second short film, The Voice Actress, which tells the story of a veteran voice actress living in Tokyo.

Q:   What is a film that you love that might surprise people who know you?
A: “The Brave Little Toaster” (1987). I think about this movie a lot. I love the idea of these banal everyday objects coming to life and going on an adventure looking for their owner. It’s kind of like the original Toy Story.
Q:   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?
A: Setsuko Hara and Isabelle Huppert in a remake of “Mulholland Drive” (but set in Cinecitta like in “Contempt”)
Q:  Which film has had the biggest impact on you personally, and why?
A: “Stranger than Paradise”. My mom told me she skipped school one day to go see this film on repeat at a (now defunct) arthouse theater in Tokyo. I think that was probably the first indie arthouse film I ever watched… I also think this film might be one of the reasons why I came to NY.
Q: If you could have one prop from any film what would it be?
A: Flubber. Hands down.
Q: Is there any subject matter which you would not make/watch a film about?
A: Hmm… maybe military films. And films that show kids and animals being harmed.
#TheVoiceActress Kickstarter Campaign Is Live:

 

 

DFNYFocus On: Le Cinéma (@lecinema_)

Le Cinéma Can Also Be Found At Instagram, Posting “Pictures Of Films We Love” – Thank You For Your #DFNYFocus!

https://www.instagram.com/lecinemaig/

Q: What is a film that you love that might surprise people who know you?

A: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. I used to love Jim Carrey and this film so much when I was a child and I still watch it from time to time. It brings me happy memories.

Q: 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?

A: I would have loved to see a volcanic Anna Magnani and a cerebral Isabelle Huppert in a Pedro Almodóvar film.
Q: Which film has had the biggest impact on you personally, and why?

A: It may sound cliché, but ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ changed my vision of cinema. I was 16 and I had never seen something as mesmerizing, as visually beautiful. It blew me away and still does.
Q: If you could have one prop from any film what would it be?

A: The winged puppet from La double vie de Véronique.
Q: Is there any subject matter which you would not make/watch a film about?
A: Animal cruelty.

DFNYFocus On: Independent Filmmaker Jason Charnick

Jason Charnick is a Bronx-born, Los Angeles-based independent filmmaker. Starting his career in 1999, he has worked in post-production, writing and directing his own independent shorts 5:19 TO MOLINA and CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR, and now faces his family’s past and his own future by presenting his debut feature, the personal documentary, GETTING OVER.

DFNY: Which film do you love that might surprise people?
JC: It’s no surprise if you’ve known me for a while, but considering I’m a documentary filmmaker, it might surprise people to hear how much I’m still addicted to National Lampoon’s Vacation. The trials and tribulations of the Griswold family has been a personal favorite for over 30 years now. I can recite from memory BOTH the R-rated and the TV edit of Clark’s car meltdown!

DFNY: If you could pair up any two actors/actresses, living or dead, which two would it be & what kind of film?
JC: Oooh, good one… if I took some extra time to really think about it and go deep into the vault, I’m sure I could think of some crazy combinations, but off the top of my head let’s keep the comedy aspect rolling, and go with Gilda Radner and Chris Farley. That would have the potential to be the funniest movie ever!

DFNY: Which film has had the biggest impact on you personally, and why?
JC: Yet another question that I’m having a tough time narrowing down… I see what you’re doing here! I’m gonna take the easy way out and pick two! The first would be Scorsese’s Goodfellas. Yes, it’s almost a cliche mob movie at this point, but imagine a 15 year old year kid, sitting in the third row of the theater, looking up at this monstrous screen watching how Scorsese moves the camera around like the master that he is. It was the first movie that really broke through to me, and showed me the art form of motion pictures, rather than just something the family did on the weekends. The second would be Clerks. Less than three years after Goodfellas taught me how film can be art, Clerks taught me that I myself could be involved in making movies as a career. Growing up, the movies were always something other people did on such a grand scale, and Clerks was so gritty and homegrown, that it sparked a love of independent film that still burns in me to this day!

DFNY: If you could have one prop from any film what would it be?
JC: It’s funny… I collect autographs, and much of my collection are from famous filmmakers, but I never considered collecting movie props. But if I were to dive into that ocean, and nothing was off limits, I’d probably want that snow globe from Citizen Kane. Another cliche, yes, but Orson Welles is the original independent film icon, and I’m in a Welles state of mind lately with his last film and the new doc about it airing on Netflix right now.

DFNY: Is there any subject matter which you would not make/watch a film about?
JC: Very little is off limits in its entirety, but I’m squeamish, and not really a big fan of the really bloody/gory torture porn movies, or any kind of extensive real life violence. A good horror/thriller is always solid though, but blood for blood’s sake… no thanks. Also, anything that would deny the holocaust is an immediate dealbreaker.

 

Official website of GETTING OVER, an independent feature-length documentary by Jason Charnick about his father Ray, a hardcore heroin & cocaine addict and petty criminal who passed away from complications due to AIDS in 1997. Now available in stores on DVD & Blu-ray, and online on all streaming platforms. 

On My Introduction to Japan & Japanese Culture Via “Budo”

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My earliest exposure to Japan and Japanese culture was my study of Judo at the age of eleven.  I’m honestly still not sure why I was drawn to it, I was never an athletic kid, and even during little league play, I was happy to sit and read a comic book out in left field as no one would ever reach out there.

But for some reason, I can still remember that when choosing among my elementary school’s weekend activities, the “gentle art” of Japanese self-defense just jumped out at me.  Perhaps it was because I had just moved to a new school, and was definitely feeling like an outsider.

I remember taking to it instinctively, and even now after almost 20 years of studying the Japanese language, when counting numbers, I still remember the memorization trick my first teacher gave me for counting “1,2,3,4” (ichi, ni, san, shi) – “You have an “itchy knee”, and the “sun” is what “she” is looking at”.

I loved it – the techniques were actually fun to learn, and I enjoyed the training a lot.  I’m sure my parents were surprised when this quiet, comic book-reading skinny little kid said he wanted to register to go to the Bronx for a Judo tournament.  And upon arriving there, they were definitely relieved to hear over the loudspeakers “no chokes for kids under 13”.  I don’t remember how I did, but it was an eye-opening entry to another world.

Not many of my friends knew that I was practicing Judo, but it definitely came in handy on the playground a few times – and its ability to be effective without pain definitely appealed to me.  After I got too old for the junior high school program, I took a couple of years off, but then, after seeing the film The Karate Kid (about another “new kid in town”) my interest in Japanese martial arts was reignited, and within a few days I was in a Karate dojo making LOTS of use of my “itchy, knee, sun, she” counting practice!

The dojo became my second home.  At one point, I was there 5-6 days a week while training for my black belt test.  My Sensei (teacher) became like a second father to me, and he loaned me a videotape that would come to have great significance to me many years later.  It was called Budo, and was a combination history/demonstration of most of the major Japanese martial arts, several of which I would end up studying over the next few decades.  When I finally arrived in Tokyo to study Yoshinkan Aikido, I would look around in amazement that this school was the same system and instructors (albeit in a new location) that was highlighted in that old videotape which I had first seen so long before (and watched dozens of times since then).

In addition to Judo, Karate and Aikido, my study of Japanese Budo (martial arts) over the years has included Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu, Yagyu Shinkage Ryu Kenjutsu as well as Kendo.  This intense introduction has given me a deep appreciation and respect for Japanese culture, and ironically a big part of it was thanks to a film of the same name (Budo).  That film also has a symbolic meaning as an example of another art form that is of great importance to me – cinema.  My love of film inspired me to start writing about it via Twitter and this blog, and I’m hoping that via film I can help bridge some of the cultural gap that exists between Japan and the west, whether it is via introducing Japanese films to a western audience, or explaining some of the nuance of western films to a Japanese audience.

In that sense, the film Budo might have been the most significant film I’ve ever seen – hopefully somewhere down the road, someone who’s reading this will be similarly inspired to pursue something they love – but hopefully one that’s a lot less painful! 🙂

Budo – Full Fim at Youtube

(Image courtesy Mondo Digital)