Monday, June 30, 2008

One night in Urayasu / 浦安の夜

Last Sunday, a friend of ours (Yukio, the best man at my wedding) invited us to go for a drive around the Boso Peninsula with his girlfriend. Since our friend lives in Urayasu in Chiba Prefecture and wanted to get an early start, he suggested staying over at his place the night before. So, after work on Saturday, I made a short trip home and then we left our house to go to Urayasu (it's about an hour train ride). Yukio and his girlfriend met us at the train station and immediately took us to a neighborhood restaurant for dinner. I forgot the name of the restaurant but we ordered a large onion salad, hiya-yakko, grilled head of yellowtail, assorted sashimi plate, and an mixed yakitori platter. I forgot to take a picture of the hiya-yakko which is a cold tofu dish topped with ginger, green onions, bonita flakes, with a dash of soy-sauce.


Onion Salad


Grilled head of yellowtail


Assorted sashimi platter


Assorted yakitori platter


"HELP! They're eating my body!" cried the mackerel.

"助けて!私の体が彼らに食われてます!" と叫んでるアジ。

After dinner, we went to a karaoke box and spent an hour singing. Mikako and I sang quite a few Bon Jovi tunes and the two singles by current popular idol group Shuchishin. Unlike the U.S., you don't sing on a stage in front of strangers so there's no worries about how badly we sing.


Tomorrow we leave for the Boso Peninsula. We tried to go to sleep around 1:00am but one of us would not let us sleep. Not intentionally of course, but Yukio had the loudest snores I've ever heard. I don't think Mikako or Yukio's girlfriend could really catch a wink. To think, my snoring used to be just as bad according to my family and friends. I must ask for their forgiveness!! If I knew Yukio's snores were going to be this loud, we should have caught the first train in the morning on Sunday!


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ern's Monthly Page Turners (June 2008)


It's the end of the month and is time once again for my monthly book reviews. I wouldn't want to disappoint you without giving you a variety of literary and visual morsels to devour, along with some children's lit, travel essays, and a biography or two.

1. GREEN PARROTS: A WAR SURGEON'S DIARY by Gino Strada - More non-fiction on who suffers the worst from wars. This should be required reading for all politicians - especially the "chicken hawk" politicians who still currently lead our country. It's such a tragedy that the person who needs to read this the most is our bumbling, oil-loving, Prez-idiot Bush and to all the manufacturers of weapons. This diary doesn't follow any chronological order but was written about the forgotten sufferers of various wars - the people, mostly women and children, who by no choice of their own, find themselves living in the midst of a war zone. So, why such a cute title for heavy subject? Because the "Green Parrots" refer to a slang term for a small winged anti-personnel mine. They're shaped like a toy which children find irresistible, only to find themselves waking up in the next instant either in darkness or without a limb. You will be sad to read about the "collateral damage" from the Iran-Iraq war, mostly the forgotten Kurds, Cambodia, Peru, Afghanistan, the Sudan, Djibouti, Ethiopia. Oh, but the governments of those places will try their hardest to gain international aide only to have aide directed towards the military! Who even came up with that term - "collateral damage" as if innocent people were some kind of commodity? Also, don't you find it disturbing that when things get a little uncomfortable, the big name NGOs, (The United Nations, the International Red Cross, etc.) are the first to leave the areas of conflict when they're most needed? All you have to do is remember how the United Nations reacted to the genocide in Rwanda. "Oh, I think it's time to leave - and we'll only take European nationals with us!" Pathetic. It's as if they exist only to clean up the after effects of war. Pathetic. Thank god there are people like Dr. Strada who left the International Red Cross and started Emergency. A very non-profit organization that sets up hospitals in war zones. Do you want to hear more news that hardly gets aired in the U.S. How about General Colin Powell's response when asked about the Civilian Iraqi casualties during the first Gulf War? "Oh, we don't care about that!". And you can be sure Prez-idiot Bush won't sign the Ottawa Treaty (also known as the Landmine Treaty) for banning the production of anti-personnel mines, along with the other major countries such as China, Russia, North & South Korea (no surprise there), India & Pakistan (no surprise there either). Of course not. And do we know why? Because 80% or more of landmines are produced and exported by those countries. America as a leader in humanitarian aide? Please, just look below the surface at how our current administration handles our foreign policy. Pathetic! Pathetic! Pathetic! Oh, I still love my country - I just don't like its current administration. But be sure to read this!!

2. THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE THUNDERBOLT KID: TRAVELS THROUGH MY CHILDHOOD by Bill Bryson - A bit of light reading from one of my favorite travel writers. This time around, Bryson leads us on a trip through his childhood, which is about growing up in Des Moines, Iowa in the fifties - when life was simple (or so Bryson says) - when kids played outdoors, when doctors endorsed cigarette ads, the Golden Age of Comics, the beginning of the television age, and the scary prospect of Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare. I imagine no one thought Bryson would become the world wide traveler he is known for today. Most entertaining.

3. WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN by Morgan Spurlock - From the documentary film maker who brought us the entertaining exploits of eating a McDonald's only menu for an entire month and titled the film "Super Size Me" comes another companion book to a documentary in the making. Spurlock is about to become a father, but with the world being as dangerous as it is today with the Global War on Terror and radical Muslims wanting to become martyrs, he decides to go look for Osama to ask him why the bearded one hates us so. So starting from New York, Spurlock first heads down to Washington, D.C. to talk to Stephen Coll (Pulitzer prize winning author of "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001) to get an idea of what he's getting himself into. He also participates in a class led by a former SAS member on how to survive hostile areas. And then his search for Bin Laden takes him first to England (you will have to read this to find out why)→Northern Ireland (to talk to a former IRA member)→France→Egypt→Morocco→Jordan→Israel→The West Bank and the Occupied Territories→Saudi Arabia→Afghanistan→and finally to Pakistan and its frontier which the U.S. military refer to as Talibanistan and where he experiences having mortar shells explode around him, thus giving him the courage to give up his search for Osama and to head back to New York for the birth of his child!! Not a dull page in this book.

4. LOVE AND FREE: NEW YORK EDITION by Ayumu Takahashi - After starting and running a company for three years, Takahashi resigns from his position and with his new bride who also quit her job as an OL (office lady), the newlywed embark on an adventure that will take them around the world. From November of 1998 until June 2000, their travels will take them to Australia, Southeast Asia, Eurasia, Europe, Africa, South and North America before returning to Japan. Their only rule was to spend at least a week in each place before moving on. This book is a collection of Takahashi's thoughts and pictures that was taken during the trip. Originally published in 2001, Takahashi had his book reprinted in a bilingual edition - hence the New York edition moniker.

5. 別冊Lightningハンバーガーの本 [The Hamburger Book] - Here's a subject dear to my American heart. Apologies to all vegans and vegetarians but I love my charred flesh! And what is more American than hamburger? This isn't exactly a history of hamburger mind you. It is a guide to the gourmet burger shops of Tokyo and its surroundings. Of course the book covers the major multi-national chains (McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's) as well as local favorites (Mos Burger, Freshness Burger, Lotteria). Ah, but it's the gourmet burger shops that will have you salivating. There is quite a few shops I have yet to try out. The owner of one of the burger shops listed in the book (Baker Bounce) lives in the same apartment complex as I do, and he recently opened his second shop in Roppongi's mega-trendy Midtown area (he must be doing pretty good). It was in this book where I discovered the Village Vanguard and already experienced their Harvey Pekar burger. Of course I will post my burger experiences on my blog once I've had a taste of the various shops. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at things) me and Mikako's favorite burger shop wasn't listed (Eric's Burger). Meaning it still won't be overcrowded with burger enthusiasts and for the time being will remain a local secret (although I've already written it's praises on my blog! Silly me - sometimes you just have to share wonderful secrets).

6. WORKING STIFF: THE MISADVENTURES OF AN ACCIDENTAL SEXPERT by Grant Stoddard - Here's a light-hearted little story of an English chap who wins an online quiz where the prize is having sex with a married woman!! To begin with, I shall state that the following is not suitable for young children or immature dweebs. The married woman in question is Lisa Carver, who is a writer for the online sex magazine Stoddard is in his twenties, living in New York and wants to stay, but his visa is rapidly reaching its expiration date. But with a recommendation from Ms. Carver (who he does have sex with) he lands himself a job with and becomes a sexual guinea pig for a section called, "I Did It for Science". He is a braver soul than I as he experiences everything from bondage to sploshing, to orgies and gay sex, and test runs a variety of sex toys and ointments and whatnot. One of his last assignments for was to make a plaster cast of his own thang and have a girl-buddy give it to him - giving new meaning to the term, "go f&#k yourself!".

7. SEEK: REPORTS FROM THE EDGES OF AMERICA & BEYOND by Denis Johnson – A collection of non-fiction essays covering everything from a Christian biker rally, panning for gold in Alaska, and experience the Rainbow Gathering of hippies in the forest of North Central Oregon. But what makes this book most interesting are his dispatches from outside the U.S. Covering war ravaged Liberia and having an audience with then president, Charles Taylor. Hanging out in Saudi Arabia on the dawn of the first Persian Gulf War, being the last American in war torn Somalia after the “Black Hawk Down” incident, and being in Afghanistan during the reign of the Taliban. Oh my, reading about African politics in Liberia and Somalia, is like reading something beyond science fiction or fantasy. Somalia is still without a stable government and yet it survives. One wonders why idiots like Robert Mugabe are still in power too. So many beautiful countries, yet so dangerous with the politics of it all.

8. MONSTER by Walter Dean Myers - Pretty intense young adult novel. As most of you know, I have no qualms about reading children's literature and quite enjoy it. This title caught me surprise as it's quite a powerful story. Steve Harmon lives in Harlem. He's young, black, and on trial for murder...and he's only sixteen! The book is written from Steve's perspective. He is writing about his trial in the form of a screenplay. The books is also interlaced with Steve's own thoughts as if he wrote them down on a legal pad. The writer has the prosecution and defense present their case and leaves the verdict a little ambiguous so that it would get you to thinking how you would respond if you were one of the jurors. Very good!

9. A THOUSAND SPLENDID SONS by Khaled Hosseini - I'm nearly finished with reading Hosseini's second book and I must say, it's as intense or perhaps even more so than his previous effort, "The Kite Runner". The story is about the tragic love story of two women in Afghanistan and covers the years from 1974 through the Soviet invasion and withdrawal, to the bitter fighting of the mujaheddin, to the rise of the Taliban and their incomprehensible edicts. Their lives will tear at your heartstrings and upset you over the injustices done to them and the hardships and cruelty they endure. When a book brings out this much emotion in me, I know I must recommend it to others (and I haven't even finished it yet!)

10. KABUL BEAUTY SCHOOL: AN AMERICAN WOMAN GOES BEHIND THE VEIL by Deborah Rodriguez - After reading the fictitious and tragic but somewhat hopeful love story set in Afghanistan, I now find myself reading about a woman who desperately wanted to help the women of said country and after the fall of the Taliban, wheedles her way into an NGO as a volunteer , although the only skill she possesses is as a hairdresser. But as she gets settled in Kabul and makes friends, a light bulb pops up in the air above her head. She will use her skill as a hair dresser to start the only beauty school in Kabul. As an idea, it may sound simplistic, but Rodriguez has determination. If you think Japan is chauvinistic society, you only need to read about plight of women in Afghanistan. Just because the Taliban was ousted doesn't mean that they are free to do as they please. When it comes to women's rights, Afghanistan is near the bottom of the pile. This is country where women are beaten and put in jail just for running away with a boyfriend or running away from an abusive husband. A woman is practically worth less than a slave. But a beauty school is one place where men don't venture. And from a shaky start, Rodriguez hooks up with a larger NGO and finds funding for the school. She also marries an Afghan man and really does take us behind the burqas of how Afghani women struggle to survive. Highly worth reading, and maybe it will be a reminder to Americans that we still have troops there and no, the war there hasn't ended and that we haven't forgotten them.

11. BAD BOY: A MEMOIR by Walter Dean Myers - I so enjoyed Myer's "Monster" that I wanted to read more of his material. This is the story of his life from living in West Virginia, then moving to New York's Harlem where he finds that he has an affinity for books and reading. But he must overcome his speech impediment which causes him to become violent against people who make fun of him. He's also black and being black in Harlem with his nose stuck in a book, leads to more teasing and fights. But somehow he manages - by playing basketball and acting macho on the surface and hiding his poetry and book loving persona on the inside. It's almost surprising that he managed to survive his childhood before enlisting in the army when he was seventeen. I may have to read some more of his books, even if they were mostly written for young adults.

12. AA GILL IS AWAY by A. A. Gill – I just can’t stay away from my favorite genre of travel writing. I love Gill’s approach, this is a quote from him, “My editor asked me what I wanted from journalism and I said the first thing that came into my mind – I’d like to interview places. To treat a place as if it were a person, to go and listen to it, ask it questions, observe it the way you would interview a politician or a pop star.” One of the first things you need to know about A. A. Gill is that he’s a Scotsman who is the tv and restaurant critic for the London Sunday Times and is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair. He has divided his book of travels into the four corners of the world – south, east, west, north. In the South section Gill will take you to a refugee camp in Sudan, vacationing in the Kalahari desert, a walking safari through Tanzania, helping to cure sleeping sickness in Uganda, and to take part in a funeral for a nearly forgotten emperor of Ethiopia. In the east, he will be our guide through Bethlehem (the one in the Middle East, not Pennsylvania), the virtually vanished Aral Sea in a place called Kara –Kalpakstan (an autonomous region of Uzbekistan), some forgotten town in Russia, praises the Taj Mahal in India, and is a little bit harsh with his impressions of Japan which I can’t agree with, (then again, I’m quite biased when it comes to Japan as this is my adopted country for the past 13 years now). For the west, he isn’t kind with Los Angeles, also writes and directs a porno film in the U.S., gets to do what most Americans still aren’t allowed to do – visit Cuba as a tourist, and takes us to Buenos Aires and Patagonia for a taste of South America. Northward bound is a fashion show in Milan, Italy, Berlin and a small village that was home to Buchenwald in Germany, the excess of Monaco, a return to his native Scotland, sniper school in Wales, and back to jolly old England with an agricultural show and finally on owning a little something called a Rolls Royce. Sorry, it seems I just gave away the entire book but I just didn’t want to leave out any of the places that talked to him.

13. CHINESE WHISPERS: THE TRUE STORY BEHIND BRITAIN’S ARMY OF LABOUR by Hsiao-Hung Pai – When you think of Chinese laborers, the first thought to come into your head is probably 1800s America and the building of the railways. But as you can see from the subtitle, this isn’t about America. This is about Britain. And it’s not about the late 19th century, it’s about the current state of affairs of undocumented migrant laborers and their lives. You may say, but they’re illegal immigrants. That may be true, but to treat them like something below animals or slaves is unforgivable. I recently watched a movie about migrant laborers in the Middle East – “James’ Journey to Jerusalem” which gave me a small idea of how migrant laborers are used and exploited. Reading this book gave me a better understanding of why so many people protest the G8 Summits and how rich countries and big businesses are trying to decide the economy of the world. This is also unforgivable. The author wanted to give a voice to these people, without which, the big businesses would lose some of their profit. What really motivated her though was the tragedy of Morcambe Bay in 2004 where 20 undocumented Chinese laborers lost their lives. These people had no health insurance, are paid far below Britain’s minimum wage, and work extremely long hours without any sort of training and no warnings about the dangers of working in the bay. The domestic workers are in high risk situation for rape and assault and prostitution. Four years after the Morecambe Bay tragedy, the lives of undocumented workers haven’t improved much. Britain’s immigration policy has become more Draconian, and the Chinese people who are already in Britain are having a harder and harder time making ends meet. Reading this book should really piss you off. It makes me sad that I own a Samsung VCR who’s business policies use this hidden army of labor (not that they would openly admit it). They go through a labor provider who usually charge anywhere from 50 to 200lbs. to the migrants who are usually dismissed from their jobs after a month or two and must pay a new fee to find another job. It’s sickening and unethical. And just when Britain was about to vote on a pro-worker initiative giving the migrant workers a small improvement, who should put pressure on Britain not to pass it? U.S. Corporations and investors led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in China (and backed by who else but the Bush administration!). So once again, it’s really our country and the current administration meddling in other countries affairs leading to more poverty in third world countries. Oh, when companies dismiss these workers without notice, citing the new immigration laws as a reason yet they make no complaints about working them nearly to death for pennies, it makes you wonder at the state of the world. A line in an old Ted Nugent song says it all, “They couldn’t see pass the billfold.” In this case, the “they” being big business and international corporations.

14. J-ROCK GROUPIES: 200 PHOTOGRAPHS OF UNIQUE JAPANESE GIRLS - This can be another companion volume to "Fruits", "Fresh Fruits", and "Gothic and Lolita" featuring more Japanese women and they're outrageous fashion although this particular book was not released by the same publishers as the previously mentioned titles. "Fruits" and "Fresh Fruits" put the spotlight on Harajuku - the neighborhood Gwen Stefani sings about in her song "Harujuku Girls". If you've seen the movie "Kamikaze Girls" (Shimotsuma Monogatari - Japanese title), then you'll be familiar with the Lolita fashion - the Gothic fashion isn't all that different excet for the excessive use of black. This book features the fans and fashions of visual-kei bands. Bands that emphasize more on their looks then their music (although some may disagree with me on that) or glam-rock on acid might be a better description. The title of the book may be somewhat misleading as J-Rock groupies are not the same as the American counterparts who just want to bone the band members. These girls want to dress like their favorite band members or at least dress outrageously so the band members would notice them. The featured girls are fans of these not yet major visual-kei band - Atelier, Undead, Sinner, Rutira, Maverick, lilyspider, and cinema-s' trip (I'm sure you've never heard of any one of them). Seeing a visual-kei band in concert is like being transported to another planet - it's like a cult where the ecstatic fans all move to the music in synch and sometimes they are dressed more radically than the bands they're seeing. How do I know this? I've been to one major visual-kei band's concert (Malice Mizer) and I have a friend who plays guitar for a visual-kei band which I've seen many times (Celestial Gate). It really is an entirely different world!

15. FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER by E. L. Konigsburg - This is the Newbery Award winning novel for 1968. It's the story of 12 year old Claudia and 9 year old Jamie who run away from home and hide out in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art. While hiding in the museum, they find themselves trying to solve the mystery of a newly acquired art piece which has been the subject of a controversy on its authenticity. For Claudia, what started out as an act of punishment against her parents and siblings for the injustices she feels she's suffered, her adventure becomes a journey of self discovery. Damn, I just love kid's books. I can never get enough of them.

16. FROM THE DUST RETURNED by Ray Bradbury - This book was expanded from a short story called "The Homecoming" that was published in Mademoiselle magazine in 1946 and the jacket features art work by Charles Addams. Mademoiselle loved the story so they created their October Halloween issue around the story. "The Homecoming" was also published as part of Collins Design WISP series (Wonderfully Illustrated Short Pieces) with artwork by Dave McKean in September of 2006. The story centers around an unusual family of ghouls, vampires, mummies, and others with special talents who all gather at a mysterious house located in upper Illinois for the "Homecoming". However, A Thousand Times Great Grandmere senses that change is about to take place and the mood after the Homecoming is one of foreboding. I've always had a fondness for Bradbury, ever since I had to read "The Martian Chronicles" for a class in school.

17. WALTER THE FARTING DOG: TROUBLE AT THE YARD SALE by William Kotzwinkle - Being a kid at heart, how can I not love a farting dog. Kids will be kids and we know they will all laugh if someone says "fart", "poo", or "booger". And now we have Walter. In this adventure, the family is having a yard sale and while their neighbors tables are full of people, nobody has come to the table where Walter sits and farts away. The kids having nothing to do, go out to buy ice-cream. While they're away, one man comes and offers money to buy Walter. Father gladly sells him and as he's counting the money the kids come back and ask where Walter is. Well, it seems the man who bought Walter was going to use Walter's farts and rob a bank. He gets away with it to but leave it to Walter to save the day!

Until next month,


Friday, June 27, 2008

Office Welcome・Farewell Party / 会社の歓送会

Wednesday night after work, our office was having a welcome/farewell party. We were welcoming two new staff members to our section, and a farewell to two others. One was a temp worker who's contract was up and the other is going to become an elementary school teacher. The party was held at a 24hr. cafe called the Plate of Pie.Pop. As you can surmise from the name of the cafe, their main selling point is home-made pies. I may have to take my father here when he comes to visit. I checked the pie menu and saw that there was apple pie, cherry pie, caramel-banana-chocolate pie, raspberry-cream cheese pie, blueberry-cream cheese pie - is that enough to make you salivate already? Anyway, the pies were not part of the party menu. The party plan is for two hours and here's what onight's menu featured: a mixed appetizer plate, today's salad (which was a delicious shrimp salad), Plate of Pie's assorted fry plate (which consisted of french fries, fried cheese balls, and chicken nuggets), pizza, today's pasta, and a huge meat platter. Also included in the party menu is an all you can drink menu (and yes, that includes beer and spirits).

水曜日の夜、仕事が終わってから近くのカフェで歓送会がありました。うちの部署に新しいスタッフが入りました。他に二人が退社、一人の派遣スタッフの契約が終了して、もう一人はこれから小学校の先生で頑張るんです。歓送会の会場はPlate of Pie.Popの24時間営業のカフェです。名前通り、メインはパイです。僕はパイのメニューを見て、いつかパイを食べに来ようと思いました。種類が凄い‐アップルパイ、チェリーパイ、キャラメルバナナチョコパイ、ラズベリークリームチーズ、ブルベリークリームチーズ、もうヨダレ出てますか?でもパイはパーティーメニューに含まれていませんでした。パーティープランは二時間の飲み放題で今夜の料理は「本日の前菜盛り合わせ」、「本日のきまぐれサラダ」‐今日は海老サラダでした、「Popなフライ盛り合わせ」、「あつあつピザ」、「おまけせパスタ」、と「もりもり! お肉料理」。

The party room is on the second floor of the cafe and can sit about 20 to 30 people. The food wasn't so bad but it would have been better if they served the food in an orderly manner. As it was, the appetizer plate of ham and salmon was only placed at one table and the pasta and meat platter was served when everybody was full from drinking. At least the salad, which was very delicious and the fried cheese balls and chicken nuggets were served when everybody was still hungry and not yet full of alcohol.

The salad was delicious and so was the beer. I didn't bother taking pictures of the nuggets or cheese balls. One of my co-workers wanted to drink a shot of tequila but he wasn't finding any takers so I told him I would join him for one.


Today's pasta


Today's meat platter


I joined my co-worker for three more shots of tequila in the evening but apparently he wasn't aware of his limit and this is how he was looking by the end of the event. (I got permission from my co-worker to post the pictures below).


And so ended this evening's event.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Rock Goods / ロックグッズ

It's a big KISS magnet. I can't even remember where I got it from. But hey, I thought I would start posting my assorted rock goods starting with this one. KISS - my first ever concert - "Love Gun" tour, Seattle Center Coliseum - 1977. Cheap Trick opened the show. I was 14yrs old. This show was the start of my concert going years.


Above is the ticket stub for the second time I saw KISS. Check out the stadium? I saw the in New York City at Madison Square Garden. I spent the summer of '79 in New York, staying in my uncle's 34th floor apartment on 10th Ave and 51st Street.


I then saw KISS eleven years later - the years without their make-up. I believe the opening bands of this show was Winger and Slaughter. Out of the three bands, I thought Winger gave the best performance. KISS was past their peak and Slaughter lost their sound in the middle of their set. But still, I love concerts!


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My favorite windbreaker / お気に入りの上着

The kanji is read as "saikyo" which means very tough or ultimate or something similar.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Introducing Hama-chan / 友達紹介

This is our friend Hama-chan. She works as a care giver for the elderly and lives a hop, skip, and a jump away from our apartment. I've known her for about six or seven years now and am always entertained with her with and charm. And when it comes to beer, she would put a lot of my friends to shame.


Having fun at karaoke.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Pizzaria Tonino / ピッゼリアトニーノ

Last week when it was nice and sunny outside, we decided to walk around the neighborhood of Shimo Takaido. It's the last station on the Setagaya Line. There really isn't much to see there except for the shopping street, where there's an excellent Indian curry restaurant called "Taste of India". It's also a transfer station for the Keio Odakyu Line which runs from Shinjuku to Odawara. We were going to go to "Taste of India" for lunch but we had curry rice for breakfast. Instead, we opted to have lunch at an Italian pizzaria called "Tonino" which also has a location in Bologna, Italy.

先週天気の良い日に下高井戸で散歩しました。世田谷線の終点駅と京王小田急線の乗り換え駅もある。商店街以外に見どころはあんまりないと思いすが、結構楽しい場所です。美味しいインドカレーの料理店、「Taste of India」があります。でもその日、朝食はカレーだったもんで、そこでランチ食べるのは却下しました。変わりに、イタリアのピザ店「Tonino」に行きました。

It's not often that we go out for pizza, so I was pretty stoked. We also ordered a pasta dish as well. My mother will be happy to know that I decided to pass on ordering a beer with lunch today. Today's choice for pizza was a Margherita proscuitto crudo e rughetta I (a Margherita being a tomato based pizza with mozzarella cheese and basil), the one we ordered also had the added topping of prosciutto (that's ham you know) and arugula and was cooked in a wood-fired oven. Our choice of pasta was Linguine all' Ischitana, a seafood pasta filled with mussels, clams, octopus, and shrimp.


Margherita with prosciutto and arugula / 生ハムとルッコラのマルゲリータ

Ischia style seafood linguine / イスキア風業界のリングイネ

Bon Appetit!


Sunday, June 22, 2008



I didn't think I watched enough films to write another movie review essay but as I look at my recently watched flicks, it seems there's more than enough material to do so. There really hasn't been any film that I feel I just must see at the theater (except for "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" which we will go see eventually) and I was getting a little bored with Hollywood so I started renting films from the Mini Movie Theater corner of my local DVD rental store. Unlike the States, where I found my local rental store (Movies To Go) to have a rather small foreign film section, I think I have a wider variety to choose from. And for those of you who will say, "But Ern, there's Scarecrow Video" in Seattle. Um, did you see the sentence that says "local"? which would be Lakewood for me, but I digress. Unfortunately, all the foreign films I rent in Japan are subtitled in Japanese (or I can choose the Japanese dubbed option as well) but dubbed movies just don't sit right with me (unless they're really bad Chinese kung-fu flicks). I have also been finding myself more interested in seeing more Japanese films aside from Kurosawa and Juzo Itami. There's a whole untapped world of entertainment I have yet to indulge in. I have rented quite a few in the past, and let's face it, they are just not up to Hollywood standards. I've had more misses and plain God awful when it comes to renting Japanese films. Even my Japanese friends hardly ever watch Japanese movies - that must tell you something about the state of the industry here. Anyway, for all you film lovers, as with my choice of reading materials, I have an eclectic taste in movies as well. I don't mind watching a rom-com flick right after an action packed shoot 'em up, but that's just me. You might even find yourself wanting to check out some of the lesser known marvels I've managed to come across. And now for the films:

1. 裸の大将:宮崎の鬼が笑うので 「Hadaka no Taisho:Miyazaki no Oni ga Warauno de」 (2007) - As you can surmise from the title, this is a Japanese movie. But I must give you a little more background. The movie has the English title of "The Naked General" and was originally made in 1957. The story is based on the life of an artist named Kioshi Yamashita. However, when things get difficult for Kioshi, he then travels without any destination in mind. "Hadako no Taisho" was also a television drama that started in 1980 and lasted for 17 years. The first made-for-television remake was titled "Hadaka no Taisho: Horou no Mushi ga Ugoki Dashita no de" which translates to something like "The Naked General: The Wandering Bug has Awakened". This is the second made-for-television movie where once again Kioshi gets the itch to go a wandering and finds himself in Miyazaki Prefecture. Here, he befriends a little boy who seems to be an orphan but turns out, the kid is searching for his mother. His grandfather made his father divorce the mother while retaining the custody of the boy so the boy will learn to take over Grandpa's sake making business when he gets older. The father has no desire to stay in the family business. Oh, the translation of this features title? It would be something like "The Naked General: The Devil of Miyazaki will Laugh". Cute family entertainment.

2. SALVADOR (2006) - Mikako had been wanting to watch this film for a while and we finally got around to renting it. This is one of those non-Hollywood films we've been watching. This is based on the true story of Salvador Puig Antich who was a bank robber and anarchist who was condemned to death in 1974 during the Francisco Franco years in Spain. This won many awards and accolades in it's native Spain, but I must be honest, it had dull beginning and Mikako nearly lost all interest in it. Fortunately, she managed to watch it till the end. This is one of those films where the last thirty minutes are the most intense and makes you glad that you watched it the movie all the way through. If you want me to put it in really simple terms though, this would be the Spanish version of "Dead Man Walking". But if you want the flick to be more worthwhile, I recommend studying up a bit on Franco and the Anarchists in Catalonia.

3. THE BRIDGE (2006) - Such a non-threatening title for a film until you realize that the subject is suicide and the bridge is none other than the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. This is a documentary on people jumping off the bridge. Director Eric Steel had a crew focus on the bridge during the daylight hours for the entire year of 2004. Those are real people jumping to their deaths, no stuntman, no wires, and no joke. He interviews friends and families of the victims and gets people to debate about a delicate subject most people would rather avoid. Although the Golden Gate Bridge may be one of the most popular destinations for ending one's life, I had to disagree with it being labeled as the most popular suicide destination in the world. Granted, there were over a dozen suicides in the year between 2004 and 2005 and we may never know the exact count, but as of May of this year, there has already been over 100 suicides accounted for in Japan's notorious Aokigahara Jukai located near the bottom of Mount Fuji. The word jukai is written with the kanji characters for “tree” and “ocean” and the area is truly an “ocean of trees”. If you leave the nature paths, you definitely would not be able to find your way back without a guide. We were watching a special on Aokigahara Jukai when the reporter saw a man standing in the distance. When the crew took a closer look, the man had hung himself but the with the pull of gravity, his body was standing on the earth, but he was no longer alive.

5. ANYTHING ELSE (2003) – Ugh, I should have known better than to watch one of the later Woody Allen flicks. For me, he hasn’t made anything worthwhile since “Sleeper” – does that give away my age? This movie was so bad I wished I was watching “anything else” or rather “anything else” would have been better than this Godawful waste of time.

6. FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER (2007) – One of the few Hollywood blockbusters we did watch. Mr. Fantastic is still a dork. The Human Torch is still a narcissistic misogynist, the Invisible Woman is still virtually invisible to Mr. Fantastic even though they’re engage to be married and The Thing retains his sense of humor. But this time they must pull together to save the world from a world devouring thingy that’s being led to Earth by the mysterious Silver Surfer. Lots of cool effects and stuff. Nothing you haven’t seen before. I can’t wait to rent “Iron Man”!

7. SUKIYAKI WESTERN: DJANGO (2007) – I almost went to see this at the theater because I liked the premise of it (and I love the old Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone with Clint Eastwood – oh, the Japanese call them Macaroni Westerns) and even Quentin Tarantino makes an appearance in it. Aside from him, the stars are all popular Japanese actors who’s dialogue are all in English and because English isn’t their native language, the dialogue is a little drawn out and slow and very thickly accented (not that I had a problem with that, my mother being Japanese and all). The story? A “High Plains Drifter” like character comes into town that’s separated by the red Heike clan and the white Genji clan and both clans try to get the drifter to join them to help them find some legendary buried treasure. How can you not enjoy a samurai who loves Shakespeare and wants everyone to call him Henry. The film has its moment, but overall, I’m glad I didn’t pay the full fee to see it on the silver screen.

8. MURDER BALL (2005) – I had a sample of the DVD and thought it would be some B grade action movie with pathetic effects. The sample copy didn’t have a package so I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was a documentary about the sport of wheelchair rugby. One of the players said it was originally called “Murder Ball” but you couldn’t really market a name like that. This film features the U.S. para-Olympic team’s road to Athens along with their rivals, Team Canada, which is coached by a former U.S. team member. A pleasant surprise.

9. BRIDE FROM HANOI (2007?) – A Korean drama that was shortened into a 110 minute movie. The story flew by so fast that you really couldn’t get to know the characters. I’m sure the drama itself would have been a joy to watch (especially for Mikako as she’s hooked on Korean dramas as much as my mother). The extremely short version – Korean doctor working in Hanoi falls in love with his Vietnamese interpreter. But she doesn’t return his love at first until she finds that he has to go back to Korea for some reason or another. She says don’t leave. He leaves and thinks she didn’t see him off at the airport on purpose. It turns out, older sister never passes along his message about his flight, because she had a bad experience with a Korean man and doesn’t want her sister to suffer the same fate. Then, Vietnamese woman decides to take part in one of those “find a bride” services and finds herself in Korea engaged to…the doctor’s older brother. I think you can guess the rest and for once, there is a happy ending. Doesn’t really work as a feature-length film though.

10. THE BRAVE ONE (2007) – One more Hollywood film (not sure if it was a blockbuster or not). Jodie Foster stars as a popular radio personality who’s about to get married. When the happy couple take their dog for a walk in Central Park, they are victimized by a gang of hoodlums. Jodie’s fiancée buys the farm and Jodie herself falls into a coma, all this while one of the scumbags films the entire incident. Jodie wakes up from her coma and becomes a changed person. She becomes a reluctant vigilante but finds that she can’t stop herself and wonders why nobody, including the law hasn’t stopped her either. This film reminds me of 1980’s “The Exterminator” that had a similar plot. There also was “The Exterminator 2” in 1984 but I doubt that there will be “The Brave One: Part 2” – Thank God for small miracles.

11. 自虐の詩「Jigyaku no Uta」(2007) – This flick has the international English title of [HAPPILY EVER AFTER]. I found the English title on the IMDb website and couldn’t agree more with the person who left their personal view of the movie.

「This movie is like 3 different films mixed in one. The first half is hard, wacky comedy. Nakatani Miki and Abe Hiroshi's chemistry was great, and I was laughing the whole time. Most of the second half, however, is straight up drama. It was a long reminiscence sequence that I found to be a bit too draggy. The last 15 minutes of this film is inspirational tear-jerker.Although the ending really moved me, I wish they just stuck with comedy for this manga-based film. They tried to make it a bit too deep for a comedy with the drama section, and it just ruined the whole film. The ending features an epiphany scene that I personally love seeing in Japanese films, but it just wasn't enough to save this film.I was once again impressed with Abe Hiroshi's versatility though, he just seems so natural in every single role he takes on. Nakatani Miki also did a very fine job in her rare leading role. Not great, but still a film worth watching.」

This person was right on the money, although I wasn’t really moved by the ending. The movie starts great, loses momentum, then falls flat on its face. This seems to be a problem with many of the Japanese films I’ve been watching lately. But I’m sure I’ll keep renting them because there’s bound to be a treasure amongst the mountain of mediocrity.

12. JAMES’ JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM (2003) – This is an Israeli film with the original title of 「MASSA’OT JAMES BE’ERETZ HAKODESH」. Another pleasant surprise. James is a young Zulu man who was chosen by his village to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. However, when he reaches the border, the customs and immigration official don’t believe and arrest him, thinking that he’s trying to illegally enter the country to work. As he sits in jail, he prays to God for guidance, and lo and behold, some man bails him out, but his bail comes at a price – he is forced to work as an undocumented laborer. But the guy who bails him out takes a like to James who finds it more and more difficult to complete his journey. Will he make it to the Promised Land? Well, I don’t about the availability in the States, but it’s a most entertaining film.

13. KUKUSHKA (2002) – Here’s another little gem I came across. It’s a Finnish movie with the International English title of 「CUCKOO」. It’s September 1944, Finland is about to bail out of World War II. Veikko, a Finnish sniper who no longer wants to kill anybody so is chained to a rock and left to rot. Ivan, a captain in the Russian army is caught by the Front Secret Police and is sentenced to die but the jeep he’s being transported in is attacked and he makes a narrow escape. A Sami woman named Annie gives them both shelter in her native Lappland. The men may be enemy soldiers but for Annie, they are a Godsend, as she’s been alone for the past four years. The only problem is the Finn speaks Finnish, the Russian speaks Russian, and Annie speaks some Lapp dialect. What they say and how they respond to one another is hilarious.

And those were the films I rented. I also watched a couple of movies that were broadcast on television – “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, “Total Recall”, and “Matrix: Reloaded”. But I’ve decided not to review the flicks I’ve seen before. But now that I’ve watched a few mini theater productions, I’m ready to indulge in a heavy dose of Hollywood fare. I can’t believe I still haven’t watched “Rush Hour 3” or “Rocky Balboa”. “Juno” is just about to hit the theaters (hey, this is Japan – they’re always late when it comes to most Hollywood films). We just went to Tsutaya (our local DVD/Game/CD rental/sale shop) and rented “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” and “ゲゲゲの鬼太郎”, that would be “Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro”. But I also saw another few titles that I want to rent from the Mini Theater section. And I know you all may want to slap me upside the head, but I want to watch “National Treasure 2”. And there looks like a really bad Thai action movie called “Rocket Man” which I may have to check out too. Until next time!!