Monday, April 30, 2007

Portrait of a Badass: Sadako

Character: Sadako
Actor:Inou Rie / Shirai Chihiro
Film: Ring (1998)
Badass Moment: Sadako is ready for her close-up, Mr. DeMille (pictured).

For a high-contrast example of the difference between Japanese and American horror films, all you have to do is watch Ring (1998) and its American counterpart THE Ring (2002). Each film lays out, in unambiguous terms, the devices of choice for its respective genre: Ring (sometimes romanized as Ringu) creeps you out with uncertainty and indecipherable imagery, while The Ring prefers to make you jump out of your seat with jolting music cues and sudden shots of disfigured corpses.

What most Japanese moviegoers cite, however, as Ring's number one agent of cinematic trepidation is not the creepy business of dead people with contorted facial expressions. That is, unless you count the contorted facial expression pictured above, which belongs to the super-scary killer ghost known as Sadako.

I won't pick one version of this horror story as "better," as both have their strong points. But I will say this: Samara, Sadako's equivalent in the American remake, cannot even approach Sadako's badass factor...mostly because, in a bizarre decision by the makers of the American version, Samara was given dialog. And not good dialog, either. Stupid, bad, un-scary dialog.

Even in a market that is increasingly polluted with movies that use "creepy kids" in their failed attempts to be scary, Sadako stands out (crawls out?) as a shining example of what a great ghost should be: Quiet, lurching and tragically hirsute.

Sadako, you are a silent badass. We salute you.

Technorati: Ringu / The Ring / リング / ghosts / bad dialog

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Not counting the Virginia Tech shootings, the death of Boris Yeltsin, the shooting of Nagasaki's governor by a jilted yakuza, the firing of Don Imus, the discovery of "Super-Earth" and a day-long police standoff in Machida (which happened on a day when I happened to be teaching in Machida), it's been a slow news month.

Until now, that is.

Japanese Wendy's restaurants have unveiled something that should have remained veiled: A sweet bean burger. Called the "Anburger" (using the Japanese word "an" which means "sweet bean paste"), this culinary monstrosity defies food logic with its unholy trinity of sweet red beans, cheese and -- dear God, is that mayonnaise?

Something I learned very early in my Japan experience was that I don't care for anything an. It's a shame because the sticky purple paste, sometimes called azuki, is a staple ingredient in traditional Japanese sweets. It's everywhere. You can find it in donuts, cookies, pastries and cake. And burgers.

To make an already unusual story even more so, when I first saw the advertisement for the Anburger, I misread it. In the image above, the purple heading says "ANBURGER" and beneath that it says, "Oniku no kawari ni AN wo iretemimashita" (translation: "We tried using AN instead of meat"). But because of the font used in the ad, the word an very much looks like the word are, which means "that." In the sentence beneath the heading, the word an is in Japanese quotation marks to give it emphasis...but when you put emphasis on the word are, it sounds like a euphemism for something nasty or dirty or sexual. So the sentence could be misread as "We tried using you-know-what instead of meat."

Technorati: anburger

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Big Walk Bonus

A few minutes shy of midnight, we cut our celebration short. And not at all too soon; I manage to catch the very last train to Shinjuku, as well as the last train from Shinjuku to my home. As I'm waiting for the Yamanote Line at Ueno Station, I see a pair of young couples with identical fashion sense on the platform opposite me, drunkenly stumbling around and making out with each other. In this picture, the guy on the left has a girl underneath him.

Big Walk 2007: Results

Start time: 11:00 AM

Finish time: 6:00 PM

Total time: 7 hours

Distance travelled: 16 km

Average speed: 2.3 km/hr

Wards traversed:

David Brent impersonations: 36

Video arcades visited: 1

Money spent on UFO catcher: ¥100

Prizes won from UFO catcher: none

Winding Down

With daylight running out in a hurry, we go southeast from Sakuradamon toward Hibiya Park, which turns out to be a much nicer park than I thought, albeit crawling with stray cats. Unfortunately, I don't have any good photos of Hibiya Park to post here; this one is from the outside of the palace grounds' southeast corner.

Since it will soon be too dark to take photos of anything without a tripod or a flash, we decide that Big Walk 2007 will end in Ginza, several blocks east of Hibiya Park. The Big Walk ends at 6:00 at Hub in Ginza. Then we realize that we are in serious need of food and drink, and that Ginza is not the best place to get it. So it's back to Ueno by train for some izakaya-style nourishment. Big Walk 2007 is over!


The southernmost entrance to the palace grounds is called Sakuradamon, which means "cherry blossom field gate." An observant student of the Japanese language could make a joke about the name, as the Japanese sentence "Sakura da mon!" sounds like a childish whine to the effect of, "But Mom, they're cherry blossoms!"

And hey, what do you know? They are cherry blossoms.

Live At Budokan

One of this year's prime targets is Kudanshita in Chiyoda Ward, on the northwest side of the vast Imperial Palace grounds. On the first Big Walk, Kudanshita and Chidorigafuchi proved to be the most photogenic hanami locations of all. In the background is the Nihon Budokan, home of martial arts exhibitions and Cheap Trick concerts. It must be convenient for the Emperor to live so close to Tokyo's best-known rock concert venue. I bet he knows the words to "Surrender."

From here, we walk south towards Hanzomon. On Big Walk 2005, this area was by far the most congested with picnickers. This year, however, there must be a new sheriff in town because there are no picnic sheets to be seen today.


That tree we've been trying so hard to photograph is resposible for heavily sprinkling the river with a fractal pattern of pink petals.

Kanda Riverside

After exiting Ueno Park through the south gate, we make our way south to Akihabara (where, this time, we do not waste an hour playing video games) and then west from there to Ochanomizu. We stop to take photos at the Kanda Riverside opposite Ochanomizu Station, but this idiot in a minivan parks right in front of the tree we are trying to photograph. I guess his wife can sense our rage, because she convinces him to pull forward a few meters so we can shoot the tree. Then she hands him divorce papers and throws herself into the river, never to be seen again. Everybody wins.

This is Madness; This is UENO!

All of a sudden we're in Ueno, fighting through throngs of people carrying beer and frankfurters and takoyaki and yakisoba, stepping over blue plastic picnic sheets and apologizing to the guy who's lunch I just stepped on. Drunkenness is in the air and it's only 1:12 in the afternoon. This is what hanami is really all about.

The best part of Ueno Park: This dude sleeping on the ground in a goofy costume.

The Calm Before the Park

We pass Minowa and Iriya Stations and then start to get a little lost just before we reach Ueno. We decide to let the cherry blossoms guide us, and guide us they do. They guide us down this picturesque sidestreet that runs between Highway 4 and the many parallel train tracks that enter Ueno Station from the north. These will be the last moments of quiet before we reach Tokyo's noisiest, most crowded, most popular and perhaps most over-rated cherry blossom viewing zone of all: Ueno Park. (You might recall that I made a point of visiting Ueno Park on my first Big Walk and was subsequently disappointed. We are, however, determined to give it a chance to redeem itself.)


This is really dorky.

As we approach the subway entrance to Minowa Station, I make a fascinating discovery. At my feet there is a utility cover bearing the old Eidan Subway logo. Eidan Subway became Tokyo Metro less than a year after I moved to Japan. Since then, I have only seen the old Eidan mark twice: this occasion, and at a Quruli concert in Odaiba two years ago, when the lead singer was wearing a t-shirt with the same logo, which I decided was just about the coolest t-shirt I had ever seen. This is, therefore, the coolest utility cover I have ever seen.

The fact that I recognize this logo makes me a nerd. And now that you've seen this photo and read this story, you are a nerd, too.

Festive Minamisenju

At 11:45 we cross the Sumida River and set foot in the only area I've been hesitant about including in this year's route: Minamisenju. I remember looking out the window of the Hibiya Line train years ago and seeing the area surrounding Minamisenju Station and thinking, "Wow, this place is poetically crappy." It was like an endless sea of transition tracks, boxcars and warehouses. And one time this old man with shit on his face -- literally, shit on his face -- got on the train at Minamisenju Station and tried to start a conversation with me. I was too polite to run away screaming and breathed a huge sign of relief when he got off the train at Iriya.

Luckily, we are a block or two west of that bleak, shit-faced part of town and so avoid most of Minamisenju's unpleasantness. And we happen upon a delightful little temple having a delightful little spring festival which provides us with our first photo fodder of the day.

Big Walk 2007: START!

All right, kids! It's Sunday, April 1 -- the peak of the 2007 cherry blossom season in central Tokyo -- which means it's time for the Third Annual Chorus, Isolate, Confirm Big Walk! This year's route differs slightly from years past, taking a north-to-south path rather than west-to-east. I take the Chiyoda Subway Line to Kitasenju Station in Adachi Ward, where I am met by my friend, co-worker and ex-housemate Craig at 11:00 AM.

We are ready to rock. We are ready to WALK.

Why Kitasenju? Because it's just across the Arakawa River from Gotanno, where both of us spent our first months in Tokyo. When I tell Japanese people that I used to live in Gotanno, they always say, "You mean Gotanda." And I say, "No. Gotanno, stupid!" Gotanda is another station, located at about the seven o'clock position on the Yamanote loop. Gotanda Station is famous for the many seedy mahjong, escort and cosplay establishments that surround it. Gotanno is famous for nothing.