Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2014

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25th Tokyo International Film Festival

This year’s Tokyo Film Festival kicked-off the Saturday just gone and so with the first weekend over I’ve decided to post about some of the things I’m liking about the eight day event centred around Roppongi Hills. First off, it’s good that the Tokyo film festival goes some way to differentiate itself from the other famous film festivals – Cannes, Venice and Berlin – by adopting a theme of ‘ecology’. The red carpet at the event is therefore a green carpet, made from recycled PET bottles and that already puts it at arms length from the vulgar excesses of the likes of Cannes in particular. The film offering this year includes a few movies that have caught my eye, the first one being The Black Square, directed by Hiroshi Okuhara but shot completely in Chinese and on location in Beijing.

The ominous shape mentioned in the title is actually a rectangle, and reminds me a lot of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or even the one from the Carlos Casteneda book The Journey to Ixtlan where a giant black rectangle appears spontaneously in several locations in the Sonoran Desert. The thing which most compels me to watch this movie is its mystique as there is no synopsis of what it’s really about other than that it’s a romance with sci-fi fantasy overtones. I’ll be catching it on the 24th (Wed) with any luck.

The other movie that I really liked the look of was Yellow by American director Nick Cassavetes. This surreal movie features some great acting by the lead actress and also includes an appearance by Ray Liotta. The synopsis describes it as “A drama about a drug-dependent substitute teacher who takes control of her life by confronting her estranged family”.

Beyond this, I can’t see me having time to enjoy any other movies or events unfortunately, however, a few other honourable mentions must go to: Japan In a Day which includes footage of real Japanese people reeling from the events of last year’s earthquake and tsunami, and I don’t see why it would be a crime to check out the new 007 Skyfall for some pure cinematic entertainment. One to avoid: The Woman In Black with Daniel Radcliffe in his first lead role since Harry Potter. I saw it on the plane on one of my recent trips home to the UK and it has mediocre plot and mediocre acting, so I don’t recommend it.


SonarSound Tokyo 2012′s Superb Lineup

This year’s SonarSound Tokyo 2012 sports the most unmissable lineup ever: Squarepusher, Clark, Global Communication, The Cinematic Orchestra, Vincent Gallo, Mount Kimbie, Rustie, Hudson Mohawke and way more(!). It takes place on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd of April and a one day ticket will set you back ¥7,750 in advance and ¥8,500 on the day and the two day ticket costs ¥14,500. Regardless of cost, this is surely a must-go-to event for any electronic music fan. I’ll certainly be there as it’s my birthday on the 24th! I’ll be here both days, and then off to relax in the hot springs of Izu the following day! It’s going to be a great weekend – let me know if you’re going.


Hanabi 2011

Hanabi 2011

As has become customary for us, we attended the Sumida Fireworks Festival this year for the 4th time I think, since I came to Japan. It was spectacular as usual and crowded as usual also. Thanks to the British and Irish pub, The Warrior Celt, in Ueno we had one of the best spots. Actually, some trees did kind of get in the way but the fact is we had an enormous private space, whereas most other people were standing room only, squashed into the public areas often with nowhere to sit or with completely obscured views of the fireworks. In that sense we were really lucky, so thanks to the organisers Andy and Miwa for securing the spot.

Hanabi 2011

I also took my new Canon EOS Kiss X4, also known as the 550D/Rebel T2i. It was the first time for me to shoot fireworks so it took me a while to set it up to get some OK pictures. Also, the wind was blowing straight towards us so the smoke was drifting and obscuring the fireworks and this was much more noticeable in the camera which was using a slow shutter speed and a tripod. Still, I was pretty pleased with the results as a ‘first attempt’ and it was good learning experience. Also, I have to say thanks to Yasuo-San who was on-hand to give me tips and advice on how to best set up the camera for fireworks.

Hanabi 2011

This year, 50% of fireworks displays in the greater Tokyo area were cancelled in respect to those affected by the earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region. There was also a set of loud ‘bangers’ kind of like a military salute halfway through the display. Tokyo is virtually back to normal, but people haven’t forgotten about those who died or those without homes in the north of Japan.


Hanabi, Summer 2010


It’s the height of summer in Tokyo and all over the city firework displays are being held, as is the tradition all over Japan at this time of year. The Japanese word for fireworks is hanabi 花火, literally: ‘fire flowers’, and this theme influences the way they are designed and appreciated in Japan.

For example, this year, I went to Koto-ku firework display where a commentator introduces each section of the one-and-a-half hour display, explaining which flower the fireworks are supposed to resemble (Japan’s national flower, the chrysanthemum, is pretty common), and sometimes which animal or symbol. I even heard there is a Doraemon head firework at some festivals. As usual, Japan outdoes every other country I know of in these events with huge displays using domestically produced fireworks. Also, there isn’t just one display in Tokyo, but over twenty each attracting thousands of people. As well as Koto-ku, I also made it to a prime spot for downtown Asakusa’s display held on the banks of the Sumida river.

Film fans will recognise the picture that introduces this post as Takeshi Kitano’s painting which was featured in his movie of the same name, Hanabi. If you’re in Tokyo right now, I seriously recommend catching the big one at Tokyo Bay (Aug 14th) and the one in my own neck of the woods, Edogawa-ku (Aug 7th).

UPDATE: Taken with my iPhone, so a bit blurry, but it gives you an idea of size:

Hanabi Firework


My Asakusa Hanabi Matsuri Videos

Finally, I’ve uploaded the videos of the Asakusa Hanabi Matsuri (Fireworks Festival). I had forgotten about them and left them languishing in iPhoto. These should give folks a good idea of what it’s like at the Summer festivals in Tokyo. Really enjoyable. You can still check out the photoset at flickr too, if you haven’t already.

I’ll embed the vids here too, so it’s easier for everyone.

Asakusa Hanabi Matsuri from Stephen Smith on Vimeo.

Asakusa Hanabi Matsuri from Stephen Smith on Vimeo.


Hanabi in Asakusa at flickr

Hanabi in Asakusa at flickr

Finally they’re up. Head over to my flickr for a look at what the annual Hanabi in Asakusa was like this year. High points for me were the beautiful Kimonos and cool traditional outfits being sported by the locals, the choatic atmosphere, and the hugely spectacular hour-and-a-half long firework display.


Kanda Matsuri & Naka Meguro at flickr

Kanda Matsuri

I’ve just put some more photos up on flickr, this time of the recent festival that took place in the streets in and around Taito ward (where my neighbourhood is), Tokyo. There are also a few of Naka Meguro from when I visited a week or so ago. Naka Meguro is famous for being a trendy neighbourhood, but I didn’t find much during my visit. It struck me as being a little bit difficult to penetrate, and probably the cool places are hard to find, so I’ll head back there at some point with a bit more info.