Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2018

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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.


Deep Topography

In a connected chain of events which began with me spending time in London last week, coming back to Tokyo and watching a documentary on the England’s capital city called The London Perambulator I discovered Deep Topography, also known as Psychogeography or Cryptoforestry. The documentary follows an eccentric English writer and researcher called Nick Papadimitriou as he goes on a series of what he refers to as his ‘Long Walks’. These can last anywhere between one hour and a full day, and often take place in one of Nick’s preferred locales, almost always on the suburbs, fringes and hinterlands of London. The preoccupation of deep topography is not with finding conventional beauty in and around our built environments but with deriving stimulation from appreciating the overlooked and anonymous corners of our cities and examining the functional areas where mankind, nature, and necessity overlap.

It was through this documentary that I came to understand why I find Tokyo to be so stimulating and rewarding as a place to live and explore. For those who have become deluded with the beaten track of the world’s maintream heritage sites and historical architecture, Tokyo provides a veritable goldmine of deep topographical rapture, providing you are prepared to get lost in its streets.

If you have the opportunity, I seriously recommend seeing the documentary as it also features Will Self and Iain Sinclair. Next time you’re out with your camera taking pictures of bleak industrial landscapes, water treatment works or unremarkable suburban vistas you might feel vindicated.


Norwegian Wood Movie

Norwegian Wood Movie

Currently showing in cinemas throughout Japan is the movie adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s literary masterpiece, Norwegian Wood. The story is set in 1960’s Tokyo where the main character, Toru Watanabe, is a university student. In the book he develops relationships with two very different women – Naoko, who suffers from depression and Midori who is lively and outgoing. I read the book shortly after I came to Japan and I remember one of the cover notes read something like:

“Such is the exquisite, gossamer construction of Murakami’s writing that everything he chooses to describe trembles with symbolic possibility.”

The book was brilliant, but I haven’t seen the movie yet. What reviews I have heard seem to rave about it, so those in Japan should make every effort to catch it before it closes. Those outside Japan, watch out for it when it comes to DVD this year.


Enter The Void – Opening Credits

Although the actual film itself is horribly acted, farcical and depicts Tokyo in such a way as to miss the point entirely, the opening credits of Gaspar Noe’s new movie Enter The Void are worth the price of entry by themselves.


Karigurashi no Arrietty

Karigurashi no Arrietty

There’s a new Studio Ghibli movie coming out and it looks to be loosely based on the classic, British children’s book The Borrowers. This isn’t the first time a Ghibli movie has been based on children’s books written in the UK either; Howl’s Moving Castle was based on a book written by Diana Wynne Jones.

The title of the movie is going to be 借りぐらしのアリエッティ (Karigurashi no Arrietty) which translates as Arrietty the Borrower – the official website is here, for what it’s worth. It will be directed by Hiroaki Yonebayashi, and not by the great Hayao Miyazaki, although Miyazaki will be responsible for writing the script. Apparently, the idea for the movie has been discussed before a long time ago by Miyazaki and his team, but only now is it being put into production. Miyazaki stepping back from the directing duties is interesting, as he has already retired once before and looked to be trying to appoint individuals capable of carrying his legacy forward, most famous of which being his son, Goro Miyazaki who took directorial duties on the movie Gedo Senki – Tales from Earthsea (which was also loosely based on a series of books by American author, Ursula K. Le Guin). As he relinquishes control on Karigurashi no Arietty it will be interesting to see if he will be able to keep his hands off the drawings and animation all the way through production, without seizing control of at least one of these aspects as he has been alledged to have done on past features (where he was supposedly not going to be involved in either).

Finally, the story (in a nutshell) is going to be about a boy living in a house in Koganei, Tokyo (the real-life location of Studio Ghibli) who has a tiny girl called Arrietty living under the floorboards of his house, and presumably she ‘borrows’ stuff.


The Google Story

It’s pretty amazing what Google has done in a relatively short time, and Nick Scott Studio’s animated story of the companies rise to ubiquity is a great way to visualise it for yourself. What next indeed?


Tron Legacy

Tron Legacy

There’s a new Tron movie coming out from Disney Pictures and I can’t wait to see it. It’s going to be released at ‘selected cinemas’ – which probably means iMax. Whatever, I want to see it, not least because Jeff Bridges is back, but also because the bikes are back. Check out this teaser scene. My only gripe so far is that the bikes don’t turn at right angles any more and the filmmakers missed out on a golden opportunity to bring together modern special effects and a retro aesthetic. Instead, it’s all smooth and shiny and reflective with no repeated geometric patterns to mention. Via Motionographer




I watched Okuribito last night. I don’t know why I hadn’t watched it before really considering all the hype – and I love Japanese cinema. It’s actually a hugely satisfying movie with a score by Joe Hisaishi, for which he delivers his masterpiece. I’m not going to go on at length about the poetic, philosophical and uniquely Japanese qualities of the movie, but just recommend it to everyone as a film you have got to see (before you die).


High Kick Girl!

I saw the first of these trailers for this new Japanese B-movie featuring Rina Takeda but never posted about it, but since then, several new promos have surfaced – this one being my personal favourite! Enjoy, and then be sure to catch the movie when it comes out!


Wim Wenders’ Tokyo Ga (1985)

This 1985 documentary by the writer, photographer and filmmaker, Wim Wenders is particularly relevant I think. My blog is named after the seminal 1953 movie, Tokyo Story by Ozu Yasujiro. In this documentary Wim Wenders goes in search of Ozu’s past collaborators, friends and family and tries to trace the cultural meanings of his films in what was then modern Tokyo at the beginning of the Japanese economic bubble in 1983. Despite the film being almost 25 years old, I can still identify with some of the experiences and, other than the urban landscape, little seems to have changed in Tokyo: Rockabillies still dance in the park on Sundays, salarymen still load balls into pachinko machines and Japanese customs and traditions continue to pervade society. It also struck me that the age of the film only seemed to increase the poignancy of the subject matter. What you see above is only a short excerpt of this masterpiece documentary, but the full version can still be found in places other than YouTube for those determined enough to seek it out. I thoroughly recommend doing so.


The Praying Machine

The Praying Machine

There’s been some new output from Tokyo Plastic recently, in the form of two short animations. I wasn’t keen on The Electric Koi, but there was something satisfyingly 90’s about their other offering The Praying Machine. It’s a piece of animation set to decidedly Photek-inspired music. There isn’t much meat to the plot, but it’s good visual nourishment in the Tokyo Plastic style rendered in a mix of cell-shaded 3D and illustrations. Have a look.


Big Dreams Little Tokyo

Big Dreams Little TokyoIt’s been out since July 22nd on DVD, but I still haven’t seen it, and yes, it’s yet another film about Tokyo! I have no idea how good the film is, but it seems to have received a few positive reviews and the clips I’ve seen look promising. Now I’m living in Tokyo, I have less of an urge to watch films about the city. Before, I used to scour the TV guide in the UK for anything relating to Tokyo, Japanese design, etc., and I’d always enjoy watching movies featuring Tokyo. Lost in Translation is the obvious example, but I love watching Kitano or Miike flicks too, because they were often set in Tokyo.

UPDATE: As andersdu points out below, this film is not set in Tokyo at all, but set in Japantown in San Jose! Still wanna watch it though.




Tokyo! is a new film recently released about, well, Tokyo.

I don’t know why I didn’t post about it before. I’ve known about it for a while, forgotten about it, and was reminded of it when it launched in cinemas across Japan recently. A friend of mine went to see it, but struggled with the fact that there were no English subs. Our Japanese is OK, but not good enough to understand dialogue in a Japanese film. I’ve yet to see it. I might wait until it comes to DVD so I can get the English subs.

To whet your interest though: the film consists of 3, half-hour segments, each one directed by a different director. The three being Bong Joon-Ho, Michel Gondry and Leos Carax. I won’t go into the individual storylines. Instead, I will direct you to PingMag’s excellent article on the film.


Sukiyaki Western Django

Sukiyaki Western Django

I watched Sukiyaki Western by Takashi Miike the other day. It was typically Miike in that the film was highly original, really well shot, and charismatic, but there was something about the plot line that didn’t quite work. Also, Tarantino was pretty awful in his side-role. Despite the film’s weaknesses, I was totally engrossed. This always happens when I watch Miike films. One of his previous films called ‘Gozu’ was really good too.


A Chance Encounter with Kuchisake Onna

Kuchisake Onna

Before I entered the corrugated iron construction in the sinister bric-a-brac section of an old shopping mall in Odaiba, I didn’t know about the legend of Kuchisake Onna (Slit-Mouth Woman). The legend is of a woman a long time ago, who was the wife or lover of a Samurai. She was very beautiful, but also very vain. Her Samurai husband suspected her of cheating, so slit the corners of her mouth from ear to ear, screaming “Who will think you are beautiful now?!”

Urban legend has it that a woman roams around at night, especially on foggy evenings (Odaiba was fogged-out today), with her face covered by a surgical mask, her weapon of choice: a pair of blunt scissors. If she comes across somebody, she will ask them “Am I beautiful?”, before stabbing them to death.

So the man handed me a torch with a red gel over the lens and an amber coloured children’s lollipop, and I opened the sliding door into a pitch black corridor. Mutilated bodies and human hair hung from ropes and children’s toys could be found slumped in the corners of the passageways through which I was cautiously moving. I had already been warned “If you see the woman with the scissors – run”, and yet the sign on the outside had clearly said “Don’t run”! I had also been told to place the candy on a table where a pair of scissors could be found.

So I was trying to stay smug as I walked further into the maze of the building, having previously seen schoolgirls coming out of the exit of the structure screaming in terror, some crawling, some crying. I turned a corner and pointed my torch. There were sheets of black rubber hanging from the ceiling, partially blocking the way ahead. I could see there were more further down, staggered so that the gap between the wall and the sheet was on a different side of the corridor each time, creating large blind spots my feeble torchlight couldn’t penetrate. I prepared myself for something and nonchalantly swept aside the first sheet so I could pass, but recoiled involuntarily. I can’t properly remember what I saw but I think it was a large doll’s head, detached from the body, dirtied and with a missing eye, at my eye level. I was back a little from the sheet which was rippling from my initial attempt to pass, and had not controlled the aim of my torch, so bought it back down to point towards the corridor, and the sheet.

I was laughing to myself. I was trying my hardest not to get shaken at any point, reminding myself that it was like a fairground attraction. So I moved the black sheet again, but there was nothing this time, so I knew that there was at least one person who was inside with me, waiting for me up ahead. I pressed on through the ‘house’, sometimes entering small rooms, often getting hit in the face by objects that had been strung up but got missed by the torchlight as they were too high. Many more tricks were carried out, and noises were activated, whereby turning in the direction of the source would result in pointing your torch into the bloodstained faces of past ‘victims’, scissors protruding from eye sockets. I was looking for a table. A surface where there was a pair of scissors maybe. So I’d slowed down even more when the corridor opened out again. I’d seen what I thought to be a table, the only one so far that looked like it might be the right place to put the lollipop. I headed over and was almost at the table when I heard a movement to my right. I already knew what to expect, but still managed to forget to properly inspect the table before I turned my torch in the direction of the noise. I didn’t hit anything with the beam of my torch and was about to pan when a girl, tall by Japanese standards, wearing a surgical mask and brandishing a long pair of scissors lurched into the red light of the torch. I knew I was supposed to run, so I did! I slammed the lolly down on the table and pegged it!

I went around some piled up wood and course canvas material and tried to look where I was going assisted by the torch. For the first time there was another light source apart from mine in this room, on a table. Next to the naked bulb there was a pair of scissors plunged into the felting on top of the table with congealed blood heaped around the base. I stopped and thought about my lollipop, misplaced further back. I didn’t know what you got if you put it in the right place, and was feeling slightly embarrassed that I’d put it down on the wrong table, so I turned back to see if there was a way for me to go back without bumping into Kuchisake Onna again. I hadn’t even taken more than two steps when I found myself running towards a light at the end of a corridor pursued by two guys in leather masks and Kuchisake Onna dragging one foot behind her and pointing forward with the shears. One final eardrum-bursting hiss of air hit me in the face as I came out of the doorway and back into a shopping centre in Odaiba. I stopped as soon as I got outside and tried to appear more composed. And then thought that if I hadn’t watched Japanese horror films like ‘The Grudge’ and ‘ The Ring’ before, I might have got the lolly correctly placed and won a prize.

As I was leaving a guy handed me a flyer for the new movie coming out soon: Kuchisake Onna 2. Cool marketting ploy, I thought.