Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2018

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Thermae Romae

This is a new anime that I’ve been watching recently, and it’s hilarious. It’s about a guy in ancient Rome called Lucius who is an architect responsible for designing the empire’s public hot spa baths. He gets criticized by the emperor for having ran out of ideas and inspiration for how to develop the bathing culture further and reflects on this during a hot bath when suddenly he’s pulled underwater by a mysterious force. When he resurfaces he finds he has warped to present-day Japan and finds himself either in a Sento (public bath) or an Onsen (natural hot spring) or some other location particular to the Japanese bathing culture, depending on the episode.

During his short time there he picks up ideas and is routinely astounded at the technological advancements he sees. After warping back to Rome he employs the ideas in Roman baths and becomes the toast of the empire. For each episode, rinse and repeat!

NOTE: As of writing this post, you can watch episodes on



Recently I was introduced to this animation which airs on MTV Japan called USAVICH. As soon as I saw it I was addicted and I’m now in the process of watching all the episodes on the MTVJ website before they disappear. The name comes from the Japanese word usagi meaning rabbit (anyone remember Usagi Yojimbo?) plus the Russian family name suffix vich. So basically the story is about two rabbits Putin and Kirenenko who are trapped in a soviet prison in some other twisted parallel reality. Each episode is 10 minutes long and deals with their daily goings-on in their prison cell, and eventually their time on the run after escaping. No more spoilers, get watching.

Usavich is made by the talented Satoshi Tomioka of Kanaban Graphics.


New Studio Ghibli Movie, Kokuriko-Zaka Kara

Kokuriko Zaka Kara

When I was at the cinema this week, I saw the trailer for the new Studio Ghibli movie Kokuriko-Zaka Kara (From Kokuriko Hill), due out in Japan this summer (2011). Unfortunately UK, US and the rest of the world probably won’t get to see it until much later – as much as a year judging by what’s gone on with The Borrower Arrietty, which has now finally got a cinema release date for 29th July 2011 in the UK.

It would seem that this new movie is about the life of a girl living in Yokohama, the large port city conjoined with Tokyo. In the story, based in the 60’s, her father had gone missing at sea and her mother often worked abroad as a photographer so she spends her time hanging out with friends in the many school clubs and after school activities common for students in Japan. When the time comes for the school clubhouse to be demolished to make way for preparations for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the friends unite to defend it from the wrecking ball.

There’s absolutely no way of passing judgement on this until it comes out this summer, but I’m disappointed by the lack of supernatural themes, wizards, giant beasts, airships, robots, ghosts and so on, and there’s more than an outside chance that this could be a schmaltzy and overly sentimental offering from the once great studio.

EDIT: I’m just messing around because actually, I was a big fan of Mimi wo Sumaseba and Omohide Poro-Poro.


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.


Space Battleship Yamato

Space Battleship Yamato

If you hurry to the cinema in Tokyo now, you can still catch the live action version of the original animation series Space Battleship Yamato. It was released in cinemas around December 1st but will continue throughout January. I’d actually meant to post something about it before Christmas, but forgot, what with the mayhem of celebrations. Not that it’s a big deal though, as I’ve heard negative reviews and, looking at the trailer, it seems like it’s going to be one hell of a cheesy movie! On the other hand though, the design of the Yamato stays roughly the same, adhering the uniquely Japanese tendency in sci-fi to give existing or traditional technology futuristic capabilities. On the bridge of the Yamato is the captain compete with naval uniform and hat, after all, the Yamato was based on the real World War II battleship of the same name. And if you take a look at Galaxy Express 999, you can see an intergalactic steam train. You can also see blimps and propeller planes from a parallel universe in some of the works of Studio Ghibli. This is something I really like about Japanese anime and sci-fi, although I probably won’t be going to see this live action version of Space Battleship Yamato. Steven Tyler has done the soundtrack and it’s full of cheesy rock ballads, which is an immediate fail. Here’s the trailer:


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


Uniqlo Calendar

Uniqlo Calendar

Uniqlo’s continuing viral campaign perpetrated through lots of great Flash mini-sites never ceases to be awesome. The latest one to launch, called Uniqlo Calendar, features time-lapse photography of various locations in Japan given the tilt-shift photography treatment also known as miniature-faking, where a very shallow depth of field often found in macro photography is simulated thus giving pictures of life-size subject matter the appearance of a tiny model. Flawlessly executed as usual with characteristically quirky and hip background music, I’m left eagerly anticipating the screensaver (the link on the site says ‘coming soon’, unfortunately).

This newest viral joins a raft of others: Uniqlock, Uniqlo Paper, Uniqlo Grid, Uniqlo Mixplay and Uniqlo Try. I may have missed some, there’s that many.


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.


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.