Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ern's Monthly Visual Victuals (January 2011)

A new year has started, which means it’s a new year for watching films as well. (Yes, I know it's almost May but I did originally write this in January).  I found myself watching a lot of foreign and independent films for the end of last year so I thought I would start this year by watching a few Hollywood blockbusters. My first three films were big budget productions with big name stars! We’re talking DiCaprio, Robert Downey, Jr. and Matt Damon. Yes, I am not one of those people who complains about Hollywood flicks being all commercial and that the only decent films are artsy independents. I enjoy Hollywood blockbusters as much as I like the independents. I can do without those movie snobs who look down on Hollywood productions saying it’s all glitter with no substance. So what, as long as it’s entertaining who cares.

INCEPTION (2010) – Okay, okay, while I admit the effects were spectacular, but as to be completely original, I have to disagree just a tad. Do any of you remember the 1984 movie “Dreamscape”? I felt this flick was “Dreamscape Deluxe”. What? You need a little reminder. “Dreamscape” was about a government funded project that used psychics to enter people’s dreams. So, “Inception” didn’t use psychics but the plot is pretty similar, don’t you think? Okay, so they didn’t enter people’s dreams, but entered the unconscious to plant an idea which in turn makes the plantee think it was his/her idea. It would probably help to watch this movie two or three times though.

IRON MAN 2 (2010) – Yep, I finally got around to watching the sequel. I don’t know, why did Hollywood have to make Robert Downey Jr.’s character so arrogant and conceited? At least that makes him interesting but not very likable. And you just gotta love all the hints for future Marvel hero movies – Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D and Thor of course. Hey, it’s a Marvel Hero Action movie. No explanation necessary. Good vs. Evil, Good wins!

GREEN ZONE (2010) – Matt Damon flick that reminds us of how incompetent our government was as they had no plans on how to rebuild Iraq after the fall of Saddam. What a joke the Coalition Provisional Authority was. Not only did they put the military at risk, they also made it unsafe for Americans abroad and yet all the Bush Administration could think of was how to get a hold of Iraq’s oil (although they don’t mention this but everyone knows it to be true). Oh the movie, sorry about that, it’s about a group of soldiers who go in search of weapons of mass destruction and can’t find them. Damon suspects that they are being given faulty intelligence, but higher ups keep telling him it’s from a reliable source. We all know the truth about that one eh?

WHEN DO WE EAT? (2005) – I imagine this would be even more entertaining if you were actually Jewish. I’m not and it still had me laughing. Gotta love the subtitle on the DVD package – “Sex, Drugs, & Matzo Ball Soup”. It’s about tradition as a Jewish family celebrates Passover and something called a Seder. Dad is pretty old school but one of the son’s decides to give Dad a bit of an edge this year and slips him some Ecstasy. Mom brings a stranger home and it’s just one wacky night as Dad becomes like Moses and tries to continue the Seder. But things just don’t seem to go right, which leaves everybody hungry and asking, “When do we eat?”

SUBPOP VIDEO NETWORK PROGRAM 1 (1991) – A while back, my place of employ was having a bargain sale and there were quite a few DVDs to choose from. I knew I had to purchase this and relive a bit of my life BT (before Tokyo). Reliving the ‘90s with the advent of Grunge! Yeah baby! Love the package, love the sub-title : “One world, one network, one program”. So what aural ecstasy can you expect? 13 tracks of Sub Pop heaven – Nirvana, Mudhoney, Tad, Seaweed, Mark Lanegan, Afghan Whigs, Fluid, Walkabouts, Beat Happening, Dwarves, and Thee Headcoats. I’m still bummed I missed out on seeing the Nirvana/Mudhoney show all those years ago. The only grunge king missing on this DVD though is Soundgarden. I would have enjoyed some Blood Circus too. Oh well, still a great compilation.

TOY STORY 3 (2010) – Yes, yes, yes, I finally got around to watching Part 3. Andy is grown up and heading for college. What will become of Woody, Buzz and the others. Well, Andy was going to take Woody with him and throws the rest of his toys into a bag which he was gone to store in the attic.. However, Mom mistakes it for a trash and leaves it out for recycling. Of course Woody must save the day. But the others think Andy has thrown them away. They refuse to believe Woody. And they’re even looking forward to finding a new home at a day care center. However, there joy is short-lived as they are given to kids who are not yet age appropriate for them. Will Woody be able to save the day?

リンダ リンダ リンダ [Linda Linda Linda] (2005) – I figured this was going to be a punk version of “Swing Girls” which was an excellent movie. Unfortunately, this doesn’t live up to that standard. It’s about a group of high school girls in a music circle at school (that would be like after-school club) and decides to form a punk band and play tunes by The Blue Hearts at their school festival. Better off watching “Swing Girls” instead.

KEUROSING [Crossing] (2008) – It may only be January (yes, I know it’s now April but put that aside for the moment) and I guarantee that his will be one of my top ten films of year (never mind the release date, as I watched it this year). This is a Korean tear jerker. But unlike most Korean movies which pull at your heartstring as one of the main characters suffers from some terminal disease or whatnot, this is not one of those! This is about love, but it’s about familial love. The movie centers around a hard-working North Korean family. The father used to be a star soccer player. Wife is ill and they do not have enough money to buy medicine. Father makes a drastic and dangerous decision. To sneak into China to find and buy medicine for his wife. He tells his young son who’s about ten or twelve that he must be the man of the house and to take care of Mother. While father tries to make more money working illegally. He gets caught but then gets help from a humanitarian Christian. The next thing he knows, an escape is planned and he ends up at a German embassy. All he wants to do is get the needed medicine and go home to his wife and son. But instead of being sent back to North Korea, he is sent to South Korea! Back at home, Mother’s health suffers and she dies, leaving son alone and without anybody to watch over him. Son decides to search for Father by walking to China as well. Will the family ever be reunited? I cannot answer that one for you but I can tell you that you must watch this and have a box of tissues nearby as you will need it!

CHAI LAI [Mach! Angels] (2006) – After watching “Ong Bak” and “Tom Yum Goong” and becoming a big fan of Tony Jaa and Thai action films such as “Chocolate Fighter” and I couldn’t help but rent a few more. As you can tell from the English language title, this is what you would expect to be – “Charlie’s Angels” – Thai style! Very silly but fun to watch. And I suppose it wouldn’t be Thai without one villain being a “lady boy”. Goofy plot and cheap effects, but then again, it is a parody of its Hollywood counterpart.

サマータイムマシンブルース [Summer Time Machine Blues] (2005) – Cute little Japanese teen flick starring Eita and Juri Ueno before they became the huge stars they are now. The plot centers around a group of college guys who belong to a sci-fi club however they aren’t really into science-fiction, it just gives them a place to hang out to play cards, talk and just goof off. One day a mysterious object is found in their club house with a sign that says it’s a time machine. At first they think someone’s playing a joke on them but then they discover that it really is a time machine. And on one hot summer day, one of the guys spills coke on the air-conditioner remote control and the heat becomes unbearable. One guy has the bright idea to travel back to the day before, get the remote before coke gets spilled on it, bring it back, and hot boiling summer room problem solved! Sounds simple, but is it? I always enjoy renting movies that I have absolutely no expectations of and they turn out to be quite entertaining. Fun film.

SIK-GAEK [Best Chef] (2007) – You know I can’t resist food-related movies. Unfortunately, not being as funny as I thought it would be, I shall borrow the review of one Robert Guillemette for Fantasia Film Festival who had this to say about it : [A young, incredibly talented chef quits the profession after a contest to head a world-class restaurant ends in tragedy. Retiring to a small rural town with his grandfather, he finds a new and more peaceful existence, working as a farmer and selling vegetables at the local market. Even though content in his new life, when a nationwide cooking competition offers him the chance to take on his long-time rival, Seong-Chan embarks on a journey that will forever change his view of the world and lead him to the most startling revelations. Surrounding himself with a ragtag crew of misfits, each with his own poignant story to tell, he is soon in the media spotlight, facing stiff competition from the other contestants while dealing with his grandfather's diminishing faculties and a long buried family secret. Seong-Chan can only struggle to overcome every adversity with a quiet dignity] I know that a Part 2 is available but I’m still debating about renting it or not.

AHGIWA NA [Baby and Me] (2008) – My wife had been wanting to watch this for quite a while but every time we went to our local DVD rental store, it was always checked out. So you’re wondering why. The answer is simple – because it stars Korean heart throb Geun-seok Jang who became a major idol to Japanese fans with his role in a drama called “You’re Beautiful”. Okay, but back to the movie. A very simple story. Geun-seok is still a slacker high school student. His parents have given up on him and tells him to sort things out himself while they go away. While his parents are away, a present is left at his doorstep. A baby with a small note that says the baby is his. As he was kind of a playboy who hung out with a lot of girls, he cannot be sure who the mother is. Anway, he also cannot just ignore the kid. Of course this is a big, scandalous news for his high school. But kid becomes more important than school and Geun-seok learns responsibility and being mature….but is the baby really his???

GOOD BYE LENIN! (2003) – I’ve been wanting to rent this film for a quite a while. It had such great reviews but I was weary of trying to watch a German film with Japanese subtitles as I dislike watching movies which are dubbed. Anyway, being more confident in my Japanese reading abilities, I finally decided to check it out. And it was worth it. What a great film. A young man whose mother is a committed Party member in East Germany sees her son taking part in a demonstration for democracy which triggers a heart attack and becomes comatose. However, when Mom comes out of her coma, all she had known has changed. There is no longer a country called East Germany. However, the doctors tell the son that his mother must not get excited or it could result in another heart attack. So being the diligent and loving son, he tries to hide the fact the East Germany no longer exists by setting up his mother’s room as if nothing at all had changed. Very entertaining.

FLICKAN SOM LEKTE MED ELDEN [The Girl Who Played with Fire] (2010) – Swedish adaption of the second volume of Steig Laarson’s bestselling “Millennium” trilogy. It’s the return of genius computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and Millennium magazine publisher Mikael Blomkvist. In this storyline, Lisbeth is wanted for three murders and finds herself on the run while Mikael exposes a sex-trafficking ring linked to people in high places in government. He also believes that Lisbeth is innocent and tries to help clear her name as well. I quite enjoyed the first book of the series but hadn’t gotten around to reading the next two so I cannot give you any fair comparisons of the film to the book. But this one was just as entertaining as the first. And you all know that Hollywood has remade the first film right? I have fears of how poorly Hollywood will adapt it even if they did do a good job on “The Departed”, but that was based on a Hong Kong film.

FROM PARIS WITH LOVE (2010) – Silly, mindless action film where John Travolta gets to overact as a baddie named Charlie Wax (actually he’s a good guy that just acts as a bad ass) who is paired up with a wannabe spy, James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who currently works as an aide to the U.S. ambassador to France. On the day Reece gets engaged to his girlfriend, he is told to pick up Wax from Orly airport. When he gets there he discovers a bald, loud-mouthed troublemaker who then takes him on a rampage as Wax systematically takes out a bunch of drug running thugs. But it isn’t until a little later that Wax tells Reece their real assignment – to stop terrorists. It just happens to start with the money from drugs. Goofy but fun, great entertainment for a rainy day or night.

I LOVE YOU, BETH COOPER (2009) – Damn, I love these teen comedies! Especially the ones about the last year of high school (“The Sure Thing”, “Ferris Beuler’s Day Off”, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, “Ten Things I Hate About You”, even “Weird Science”). This is another one to add to that list. Class Valedictorian is to give a speech at his graduation and instead of something inspiring, he adlibs and spurts out his love for Beth Cooper, even though she’s never spoken a word to him. As with most teen flicks like these, Beth Cooper has a boyfriend who’s already out of high school, is in the military and is your stereotypical testosterone-charged bully who also has a mean streak and is possessive of his girlfriend, blah blah blah. Anyway, class nerd asks Beth if she would come to his graduation party (even though he only has one friend), but guess what, Beth and two of her friends show up. And that isn’t to the liking of G.I. Joe. The cheerleader from “Heroes” is Beth Cooper. Still, damn funny.

KILLER TATTOO (2001) – And yet another goofy Thai comedy action film. Thai action movies without Tony Jaa are just plain funny. But there is quite of action in this as well. This starts off with a hitman missing his target because of a couple of other bumbling hitmen. And how can you not love a character who calls himself Elvis, dresses as Elvis, and won’t answer if you don’t speak to him in English (even though he only speaks Thai), but since Elvis is American, that means English only! Oh yeah, and he carries an M-16 in his guitar case! However, I doubt that you will find this in your foreign film section – well perhaps Scarecrow Video in Seattle might have it. Do yourselves a favor and experience some action-comedy, Thai style!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Gorilla Ramen / ゴリララーメン

Before we headed off to the Parasite Museum, we decided to eat lunch first.  And Meguro is a popular spot for ramen.  Heck, there's about ten different ramen shops all along this one road.  We decided on a place that served miso ramen called [Gorilla Ramen].


Tokusei Miso Ramen / 特製味噌ラーメン

This shop features a lunch time service where you can choose from three different items - a small bowl of rice or extra vegetables or you can choose to have your ramen just a tad spicier. You can guess which service me and my wife chose. A nice thick and flavorful miso-based soup. Medium sized noodles. A couple of slices of char-shu. The noodles are also topped with a poached egg, green onions, bean sprouts, corn and a slice of seaweed.

ここにランチタイムサービスがあります。次の三つの中から一つのアイテムが選ばれます。①小ライス ②野菜増 と ③ラーメンをスパイシーにする。私と私の妻はもちろんラーメンをもっとスパイシーを選んだ。スープは濃く見えれかもしりませんですが凄いこってりではない。麺は中太麺でラーメンのトッピングに柔らかいチャーシュー、半熟たまご、ねぎ、もやし、コーンと海苔。

Bon Appetit!


Friday, April 22, 2011

Revisiting the Meguro Parasitological Museum / 二回目の目黒寄生虫館

Okay, this post may not be for the squeamish.  Some of you may remember that I took my brother-in-law here when he was in town.  And we also checked out the pachinko museum as well.  I imagine you're all wondering why?  Why would I go to the Parasite Museum again.  This time, it was my friend's girlfriend who wanted to go so it became a double-date.  Of course we went out for lunch before checking out said parasites!



Okay, you can still breathe easy as the above pictures are only of the sign and the building.  The museum covers only two floors and you can probably see the entire collection in about 30 minutes.  You may think that the place would be empty because of its subject but you would be mistaken.  This place is always quite crowded.  Families with children, couples out on a date (hey, that would include us, what d'ya know) and people who just like the bizarre and strange.  This is the only museum of its kind in Japan, in fact, it may be the only museum of its kind in the world.  And admission is free! Now, beware!


Not sure what kind of parasites those are but they were found on the skin of a whale, eeewwww!


Anasakis parasites found in a dolphin's stomach.


It's not just animals that must beware of parasites, as humans can be hosts too and can cause blindness or swollen legs (depending on the parasite of course)



You might find yourself with legs with skin like an elephant.

But by far, the star attraction of the creepy little museum would have to be this 8.8 meter tapeworm (that would be well over 20 feet) that came out of the body of a man who ate some bad sushi!


And another tapeworm that came out of some poor soul's body.

Lovely critters aren't they?  NOT!!


Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Walk around Atagoyama & Surroundings (Part 3) / 愛宕山とその周辺の散歩 (パート3)

Continuing my walk after checking out the NHK Museum of Broadcasting and having had my fill of cheesecake, making a few other stops as I checked out other temples and shrines I was unaware of, I found myself at one of the most popular temples in Tokyo - Zojoji Temple.  Not only is it a very large temple, it is also located next to the Tokyo Tower.


Gotta love the old and new as you can see Zojoji Temple and Tokyo Tower from this viewpoint.


Just trying to give you an idea of how large Zojoji Temple is.


Cherry Blossoms still in bloom on the temple grounds.


My wife considers it bad luck to take a picture of all the tiny statues, called Ojizo-sama, but its so Japanese I had to share.  I also wanted to explain the meaning of the Ojizo-sama as well.  They are considered the guardian of children, of those who passed away before their parents. 


Its very somber when you see the number of Ojizo-sama here at Zojoji Temple.  Just thinking of all the children each statue represents pulls at your heartstrings.


Why just a picture of a gate? I wasn't aware the first time I visited Zojoji Temple that it houses the tomb of Japan's first Shogun, Ieyasu Tokugawa.  It is also currently opened to the public, but closes at 4:00pm. It was 5:00pm when I got there.  I will have to try to check it out another time.


Next stop - Tokyo Tower of course!

次の目的地 ‐ もちろん東京タワーだ!

The Tokyo Sky Tree may be taller when it's completed (actually it's already surpassed the height of Tokyo Tower), this is still one of my favorite places to go.


The day I went, a charity event was being held for the earthquake/tsunami disaster in northern Japan.  And so concludes another neighborhood walk.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Walk around Atagoyama & Surroundings (Part 2) / 愛宕山とその周辺の散歩 (パート2)

As I was walking up Atagoyama, I couldn't help but notice these bright yellow vans.  On closer inspection, these vans were part of the shop that's hidden.  It was a specialty cheese shop called [Fermier].  I thought I would check it out on my way back down.  But first, after checking out Atago Jinja, it started to rain and since I didn't bring an umbrella with me, I decided to find safety in the building next door which was the NHK Museum of Broadcasting and admission was free!


I wasn't sure if pictures were allowed but found it to be quite an interesting place.  All four floors are part of the museum.  The first floor houses the first television set in Japan and covers the birth of broadcasting.  The second floor has an Experience Room where you can sit at a news desk and be a newscaster.  It also covers the history of broadcasting from radio to digital.  The third floor covers the progress of broadcasting for the 80 years.  You can see and hear old news pieces such as the Tokyo Firebombing, the Emperor's speech ending World War II, and the wedding of the Emperor's son.  The fourth floor houses the reference library and memorials for broadcasting cultural awards.  The day I went, they also had on display, autographs and pictures of performers from the last Kohaku Utagassen (the annual New Year's Eve music program) and the costumes from the current Taiga (historical) drama on NHK, "Koh" starring Juri Ueno.  You can check out the NHK Museum of Broadcasting site at  You can choose to check out the site in a variety of languages.


As I mentioned earlier, Atagoyama is located near the Tokyo Tower.  I figured I would walk there as well, but before that, I decided to take a short break at [Fermier] where I ordered a season dessert - Cherry Blossom flavored rare cheesecake.  And since this is mainly a specialty cheese shop, what goes well with cheese?  Wine, of course.  I decided on the house white.



Cherry Blossom Rare Cheesecake / 桜のレアチーズケーキ

With a glass of white wine no less / 白ワインと一緒

Atago Shrine is located at the top of the hill, which is Atagoyama.


As I was walking towards Tokyo Tower, I came across some other temples and shrines.


View of the Tokyo Tower / 東京タワーが見える

Seishoji Temple / 青松寺 (せいしょうじ)

Seishoji Temple / 青松寺

Looking back at the entrance gate to Seishoji Temple / 青松寺の門

I just love finding new places to check out.  As I head towards Tokyo Tower, I decided to verge off the path once again and headed to Zozoji Temple first.  My walk continues.