Tokyo Comedy Bar Opens In Shibuya

Tokyo Comedy Bar launches in Shibuya by Phoebe Amoroso

After the past couple of years, we could all do with more laughs. Yet when Ben “BJ” Fox proposed opening a comedy venue in the middle of a pandemic, many people thought he was having a laugh – and not the right kind. It’s a fact he acknowledged at the venue’s opening night last Friday, describing the project self-deprecatingly as a midlife crisis. 

There’s nothing sexier than a hard tall and thick hot mike.

The audience, however, was gleeful and, as comedy-lovers, presumably grateful too. Tokyo Comedy Bar becomes the city’s only stand-up comedy club, bringing shows nightly to the heart of Shibuya. From roast battles and improv to hosting international comedians, the venue has big ambitions, impressively offering shows in both English and Japanese. As the name cunningly suggests, it’s also a bar, boasting craft beers on tap, and there’s no obligation to stay for a show.

We caught the late show of Tokyo Comedy Bar’s English two-part opening event, with BJ Fox MC-ing a line-up of six comedians. Admittedly, we were a little sceptical whether they could all deliver, but we were proved wrong; the laugh-a-minute from the audience was evidence enough that these performers knew their crowd, tackling everything from politics to sexuality, and especially life in Japan. 

Jon Sabay kicked off the evening, riffing on expats versus immigrants drawing on his own family history, and then educating us on the true signs of whether someone is a gaijin. Up next, Bill Miller began his set by taking on Japanese apartment sizes in some near-the-bone humour that definitely wouldn’t make it onto NHK. A shout-out must also go to the musically talented Ruben VM for highlighting the most endangered species in the world in his song “Extinction,” and getting us all to sing a truly heart-warming song about nationalism. 

Good beer, good cheer

With both opening shows sold out, it’s going to be exciting to see how Tokyo Comedy Bar will develop the city’s stand-up scene and whether it’ll bring fresh comedic talent to the stage. One thing, however, is for certain: after two years of almost all events being cancelled in the city, the venture couldn’t be further from a midlife crisis. It’s post-pandemic therapy, and long may it continue. 
For the full event schedule, check Tokyo Comedy Bar’s website or Instagram.

BJ Fox Welcomes you!

Response to The Hollywood Reporter Article

The Hollywood Reporter recently published an article written by a reporter named Gavin Blair, about Tokyo Vice and my career. It contains numerous inaccuracies. Roughly one fourth of Mr. Blair’s article relates to a 2011 lawsuit involving a film director, Philip Day. In 2011, I was hired to work with Mr. Day on a documentary about the yakuza. In the course of filming, Mr. Day breached his agreement to protect sources and this resulted in a lawsuit that I am not free to comment about.  My lawyer’s statement is here for your reference. 

In my book, Tokyo Vice, I have taken great pains to explain why events were altered to protect people who confided in me, especially from retaliation by organized crime. 

Standard Practices in Japan 

In his article, Mr. Blair brings up the fact that I use anonymous sources in my work as an issue. Any competent journalist here knows that the civil servant laws here (公務員法) and the State Secrets Law make it a crime for government officials to divulge confidential information to third parties. He seems to have seized on my refusal to disclose the identity of my sources, especially to him, as a basis to attack my character and reputation. 

In other words, there is nothing unusual about the fact that I keep the identity of my sources carefully concealed.  This is standard practice in this country. To the contrary, the fact that I have been good about respecting the confidentiality of my sources is one of the reasons that I have been able to work in Japan for so long.  

In Japan, the law forbids public officials from disclosing confidential information to third-parties, including journalists. The media therefore must keep many sources anonymous to protect them. A US special agent who has worked with Japan’s National Police Agency told The Hollywood Reporter, “There’s one very different thing about Japan that you should know. When government officials and police leak information, that’s a crime. Their names do not appear as sources in a story about a case in progress because that is against the law.” With the yakuza, a source who speaks out of turn risks losing a finger or much more. Any long-term reporter in Japan who does not know this is ignorant or can’t read a Japanese newspaper.

Sins Of Omission

In writing his article, Mr. Blair deliberately left out or ignored correspondences testifying to my credibility or verifying my reporting.  My colleague and friend, Naoki Tsujii, who is incorrectly quoted in the article, contacted Mr. Blair after their interview because he had concerns he had been misunderstood because of the language barrier, but his efforts to clarify were completely ignored. He disputes Mr. Blair’s version of their conversation. He feels his words were taken out of context and maliciously used to generate a click-bait headline.

Decide For Yourself 

I have posted a folder of source materials I’ve used to write Tokyo Vice, taking care to redact materials to protect sources. It’s been nearly 14 years since the book was finished—some of my sources have died. Some were friends who I miss.  Some were reprehensible people but still sources I had to protect. 

Generally speaking, when a source dies, so does the confidentiality agreement—and so I have revealed some of my sources in the folder. I have done this reluctantly, but I also feel that when possible it is best to share information about my work to deepen public understanding. 

In the last ten years, my book has been fact-checked and examined by The Washington Post, The LA Times, 60 Minutes and The New Yorker. In that process, while no harm was intended by the fact-checkers, sources have almost been compromised or fired. I will not put them at risk again.

I have no further statement to make. I would like to say thank you to everyone who has read the book and would like to say an additional thank you to everyone who has given me their support. 感謝しております。以上

Jake Adelstein

May 5th 2022

May the Force Be With You (May 4th) Zen Wisdom From Star Wars! The Dao of Jedi

May 4th has become an iconic day for Star Wars fans across the universe.  “May The 4th Be With You” becomes “May The Force Be With You” quite nicely.  (If you already knew this, stifle that groan young Jedi, some of us didn’t know). And on this day, what better time to introduce one of the stranger and more delightful books to come out this year in Japan: Zen Wisdom From Star Wars (スター・ウォーズ 禅の教え エピソード4・5・6). It’s written by noted Soto Zen Buddhist priest, Shunmyo Masuno (枡野 俊明) and takes scenes and dialogue from the good episodes of the series to illustrate Zen Buddhist sayings and wisdom. (A full review will come later this month).

Zen Wisdom From Star Wars
Zen Wisdom From Star Wars

The book is well-written, with just enough English sprinkled in to make the book semi-accessible to those who can’t read Japanese or are still struggling to do so.  The books works better than you might imagine.

Zen Buddhism, was heavily influenced by Taoism, and George Lucas freely admits to having borrowed heavily from Taoism, Zen Buddhism, and Japanese culture in the creation of the Star Wars mythos.

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The book includes such pearls of wisdom as:

山川草木悉皆成仏 (Sansen Somuku Shikkai Jobutsu)/Everything is filled with the light of life (Everything has Buddha-nature).

安閑無事 (Ankan Buji)/Feel gratitude for everything no matter how small. Or rather: appreciate peace and quiet, health and safety. Because that won’t last forever. For example, affordable health care in America? Gone. (安閑無事が懐かしい)

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閑古錘 (Kankonsui)/Maturation and calm come as you accrue diverse experience.

Well, remember that Star Wars is just fiction, but good science fiction, and the words of wisdom in the movie were not said by Taoist sages or Jedi masters but written by screenwriters. However, if you want to know the philosophy and sayings that inspired the film, this book is a good place to start.

Or better yet, buy yourself a copy of The Tao Te Ching, and substitute the word “Force” everytime it mentions “Tao”.  According to the Star Wars English Japanese Dictionary, the Force (フォース) is all the energy derived from every living thing. The Tao, which is often described as being indescribable, is close to the same thing.

So for your further education, here are few words from The Force Te Ching

Force Te Ching

by Yoda- chapter 81

Truthful words are not beautiful.
Beautiful words are not truthful.
Good men do not argue.
Those who argue are not good.
Those who know are not learned.
The learned do not know.

The Jedi never tries to store things up.
The more he/she does for others, the more he/she has.
The more he/she gives to others, the greater his/her abundance.
The Force of The Light Side is pointed but does no harm.
The Force of the Jedi is work without effort.
(adapted from the Tao Te Ching translation by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English)

So until next year, May the Force Be With you!

フォースと共にあれ!

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Tokyo Private Eye (東京探偵) the sequel to Tokyo Vice coming in Spring of 2023, with Marchialy (France)

photo by Reylia Slaby

TOKYO PRIVATE EYE:

Investigation, Damnation, and Salvation In The Land Of The Setting Sun

Coming in Spring of 2023, published by Marchialy (France) 

The book opens on one of the most devastating days in Japan’s history, March 11, 2011, which left thousands dead and missing—and culminated in a triple nuclear meltdown. Our protagonist and narrator Jake Adelstein, seasoned American journalist turned private eye, who has brought back bags of supplies from the US to be taken to the disaster area by yakuza friends–discovers he’s having a meltdown of his own: liver cancer. 

Join Jake as he takes us back on a journey and recounts the events leading up to the disaster, the 2009 publication of his memoir TOKYO VICE: An American Reporter On The Police Beat in Japan, and how he became a corporate gumshoe. He picks up where he left off,  chronicling his other career, battling the yakuza and criminals as a due diligence investigator while battling his own worst enemy: himself.  Previously the only American journalist to have been admitted to the insular Tokyo Metropolitan Police Press Club, Jake covered extortion, murder, and human trafficking–fighting to make Japan recognize the problem. No longer a reporter but still trying to be a knight in dingy armor, he realizes that even a paladin has to earn a living. And instead of having 10 million readers now he’s writing reports that will only be read by three corporate executives.

This sequel to TOKYO VICE is written as a stand-alone volume and provides an in-depth history of the inner-workings of crime in Japan, and not just the gangsters. With each job assignment Jake learns more about industries rife with financial fraud, anti-social forces, corruption, and fraudulent bookkeeping–and how to spot a business that no client should engage with. 

The book is divided into three parts coinciding with the breakdown of Jake’s personal life in parallel with Japan’s meltdown and an in depth analysis of how the Yakuza operate: UNUSUAL EVENTS, MELTDOWN, and THE FALLOUT.

UNUSUAL EVENTS sets the stage for the state of Japan leading up to the meltdown. The yakuza, like many criminal organizations, were not born out of thin air. Their ranks have come from members of society who do not feel like they have a place.  Those marginalized by society such as the Korean-Japanese and burakumin, among others, were not given many opportunities by society, and were drawn into a life of crime.  

But it’s a high level of crime now. In fact, one day Japan’s equivalent of Classmates.com is taken over by a Yakuza front company. Information is king. 

Jake transitions into a career as a detective introducing a team of characters ranging from fight-til’-the-death former prosecutor Toshiro Igari to brave right-hand researcher and human trafficking victim advocate, Michiel Brandt. He makes new friends and enemies along the way–while dealing with the PTSD from the events that took place in Tokyo Vice by self-medicating with sleeping pills, booze, casual sex and clove cigarettes.

Learn how gangsters were gradually ousted from the financial markets by the due diligence of  dedicated investigators, rebel cops, and new laws.

Meanwhile, TOKYO VICE  is published but an old foe resurges — the ruthless yakuza Tadamasa Goto.  If Tokyo Vice was Jake’s attempt to ruin and get his nemesis ‘erased’– Goto outdoes him with the publication of his autobiography, Habakarinagara, loaded with veiled threats.  When Jake asks his mentor, Igari Toshiro, to help him take Goto to court, Igari bravely agrees but….. 

MELTDOWN lands us in a disrupted Japanese society. Jake learns he has liver cancer while Japan is in the midst of a nuclear meltdown. His “best friend forever” Michiel is diagnosed with leukemia for the fourth time while the corruption of the Japanese nuclear industry comes to light. 

Jake, hired to find out whether Tokyo Electric Power Company is responsible for the accident and what that would mean for investors, returns to his investigator roots with a renewed attitude to not give up and seeks out a new enemy to vanquish.

In chapters from the  FALLOUT like The Nine Digit Economy: How The Yakuza Turned Japan’s Stock Market Into Their Casino, he shows how and why the authorities felt that anti-social forces threatened the very foundations of Japan’s economy. 

Jake gets ahold of the most dangerous photo in Japan, showing the Vice President of Japan’s Olympic Committee with the head of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest yakuza group, but can he break the story before his own knees get broken? And in the process of reporting on the Olympics discovers that the biggest gang of all in Japan may be a political party, founded by war criminals including former Prime Minister Abe’s grandfather, yakuza, ultra-nationalists and funded by the CIA.

What’s the difference between the Liberal Democratic Party politicians and the much-feared Yamaguchi-gumi thugs? It may only really be the badges they wear on their lapel. 

While the book can be an enriching companion and sequel to TOKYO VICE: An American Reporter On The Police Beat in Japan, TOKYO PRIVATE EYE: Investigation, Damnation, and Salvation In The Land Of The Setting Sun is a memoir that can stand alone recounting the years 2007 to 2014 through the eyes of an intrepid reporter and gumshoe with three decades spent covering the dark side of the sun. 

Not only is it a riveting memoir about the life junctions we all face, including grief and career changes, but it also provides a working knowledge of Japanese organized crime, political corruption, the process of corporate investigations and shows the collusion between mafia, state, and business that led to a nuclear disaster.  It also shows that Japan’s biggest problems are not necessarily the fading yakuza. 

TOKYO VICE has been adapted for television into an eight episode straight-to-series on HBO Max starring Ansel Elgort playing Jake Adelstein. The series also stars Ken Watanabe and is written and executive produced by Tony Award-winning playwright J. T. Rogers (Jake’s high school senpai)  with Endeavor Content serving as the studio. Michael Mann directed the pilot episode and served as executive producer. 

Jake Adelstein is one of few experts on Japanese organized crime and the underworld. A former special correspondent for the LA Times, he has written for the Times, the Washington Post, the Japan Times and Vice. His other two books, Le Dernier Des Yakuzas (2017) J’ai Vendu Mon âme En Bitcoins (2019) with Nathalie Stucky, have both been published by Marchialy in France, his “third home.” He currently writes for the Daily Beast, the Asia Times, Tempura in France, and ZAITEN.

Jake Adelstein has published three books with Marchialy in France. They’re not just his publishers, they’re family.

     *Press release cover photo by Reylia Slaby 

Intimate Strangers: Mothers Without Sons—new suspense film explores the depths of human connection

By Kaori Shoji

UPDATE

“Intimate Stranger” will be screened with English subtitles at 6:50 pm on March 17, and at 4:15 pm on March 21 at Shibuya Eurospace. On March 21, there will be a post-screening talk with Jake Adelstein, the journalist and author of “Tokyo Vice.” https://www.cine.co.jp/shinmitunatanin/eng/

In Intimate Stranger a razor blade – the old fashioned kind that you see barbers wielding in movies, with an open blade that folds into a scabbard – makes a frequent appearance. So often in fact, that its significance shifts from symbolic to menacing, and the film starts to feel like a horror story. It’s pretty sharp, this blade, enough to slash open the face of a yakuza but with the right pressure, will leave a photogenic wound on a young man’s face. One of the questions that came up during the Q&A session after the screening of Intimate Stranger held at the FCCJ, was whether the writer/director Mayu Nakamura went around with a razor blade stashed in her bag. To which Nakamura replied breezily, in English: “I keep a razor blade in my heart.”

Director Mayu Nakamura discusses the deeper meanings of her film and motherhood in Japan.
Photo by Satoko Kawasaki

Intimate Stranger is about a woman with a missing son, who connects with a 17-year old boy during a mask-clad, pandemic stricken winter in Tokyo. The woman works in a high-end shops that sells baby clothes, and at night she trawls the Net in search of a son who, in his photo that sits on her desk, looks incredibly unhappy. The teenager whom she takes under her wing (though the story reveals the circumstances are far less benevolent) is missing a family who cares about him. They strike up a relationship of sorts, each enabling the other to be what they want: a devoted mother, an adored and adoring son. Only the older woman is aware that this charade has a payoff. 


The woman is Megumi, and she’s Nakamura’s creation as well as a bit of her altar ego. Megumi has no qualms about keeping a razor blade on her person: she uses it as much for self-defense as a source of sensual pleasure. An attractive, fiftyish woman played by veteran Asuka Kurosawa, Megumi is first seen as a lonely single mother looking for 17-year old Shimpei, who one day left their little home and never returned. The young scammer she befriends is Yuji (Fuji Kamio) who shows up to claim the reward cash promised for ‘any information’ about Shimpei. 
Yuji is one of the runners for a phone scam operation but he’s not very good. His boss is abusive and violent and Yuji sticks around because he has nowhere else to go. When he meets Megumi, he cadges a cafe meal and 5000 yen in return for fabricated information. “I met your son in an Internet Cafe. We played some video games together, and then he left.” He’ll probably feed her enough lies to string her along, and at the right moment another runner will call her up, pretending to be Shimpei, and ask for money. 

Megumi however, surprises Yuji by inviting him into her apartment “just until Shimpei comes home.” And Yuji can’t resist the prospect of home-cooked meals and a warm bed, plus a maternal figure who scolds him for throwing his dirty jockeys under the bed. She promptly picks them up, launders them, hangs them out to dry and irons them out. 
Megumi is a great launderer as well as cook, cleaner and knitter of baby clothes. She revels in doing what other women may consider domestic drudgery, with a repressed, almost secret joy. This trait may be particular to Japanese women – they grow up expecting and expected, to spend their adult lives running a household, bearing and raising children and receding into a hard shell of domesticity. After years of doing that, a kind of demon may take up residence in her mind. “I feel like I’m in a pressure cooker,” says Megumi at one point. “The pressure mounts and mounts and one day, I snap.” 


Sparse and minimal on the surface, Intimate…ispacked with a roiling, murky weirdness Nakamura feels is unique to Japan. In one scene, Megumi airs her views to Yuji: “Did you know that phone scamming happens only in Japan? Grown men calling up their mothers and grandmothers for money and expecting to get it…this would be unthinkable in the West. Why does this society pamper their males so much?” And Yuji, who earlier had scammed an old woman out of 200,000 yen by pretending to be her Covid-infected grandson, has no answer. 

Intimate…is Nakamura’s second fiction feature, since 2006 when she made her debut with “The Summer of Stickleback.” Nakamura is not your ordinary Japanese filmmaker, meaning, she didn’t apprentice (read: slave labor) under an older, established male director or work in Japan’s tradition-entrenched, labor intensive studio system. Nakamura got her filmmaking experience and eye for frame composition in London, first as an undergrad at the University of London’s film society, and later in the graduate program of NYU film school. She made her first film at the age of 18, “on a Super 8” and 2 years prior to that, had quit high school in Tokyo to enroll in a London boarding school. “My father was a poet and my mother was a journalist,” Nakamura told me in a separate, private interview. “They never said ‘no’ to my plans. I’ve always been independent and competitive and I hate to lose.” 
You could say Nakamura benefitted from this upbringing but she also made paid a hefty price to be the person she is today. Her parents were so wrapped up in work that they left their 6-year old daughter to live with her grandparents in Kyoto, where she subsequently spent the rest of her childhood. “Kyoto is heavily conservative. They don’t take kindly to outsiders and since I was from Tokyo and couldn’t speak the local dialect, I was bullied.” It was the kind of intense and destructive bullying designed to break her spirit – everyone in school ignored her totally and pretend she didn’t exist. “As a result, I became very strong,” laughed Nakamura adding that whatever hardships came her way, they couldn’t match what she suffered through in Kyoto. 

As soon as she could, Nakamura got herself out of Japan and spent the next 14 years of her life abroad. She even got a green card in the US (“I won it in a lottery”) indicating that there could be a god out there who evens up past misfortunes with a destiny jackpot. 

That god, in the scheme of Intimate Stranger, is definitely female. Nakamura, who had waited a decade to make Intimate…, says that after her years abroad, she was floored by many aspects of Japanese womanhood and felt the need to unleash her bewilderment and rage. “I had a very tough time getting funding. I was told by male investors that it was disgusting for an older woman to be in a semi-erotic relationship with a teenage boy. I am sure that they wouldn’t have said that if the genders were reversed. In Japan, women past 30 are no longer women, they’re expected to become mothers and morph into asexual beings.” 
Megumi, for all her allure, clings to her identity as a mother. The apartment she shares with Yuji is a metaphor for her uterus, explained Nakamura, which account’s for the feeling of deep security, coupled with unbearable claustrophobia. They say that few people ever survive their mothers but my guess is that even fewer women survive the experience of being a mother. 

Driving In Winter With Haruki Murakami… and Why We Still Need Him

by Kaori Shoji 

Drive My Car which opened last August 2021, was one of the best things to hit Japanese theaters in years. Yet many Japanese cinephiles or people who footed it to theaters in spite of the pandemic, quietly gave it a miss. Two weeks later audiences were willing to sit through the new 007 movie with masks on throughout the nearly 3 hour duration, refused to pay the same tribute to what is effectively the first successful cinema adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story by a fellow Japanese. Shame on us. Drive My Car bagged three awards at Cannes including Best Screenplay, (the first such feat for a Japanese filmmaker) and won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. It’s now firmly placed on track for an Oscar. 

From 村上春樹語辞典 (Dictionary Of Haruki Murakami Words) There must always be something that vanishes, a mysterious girl (woman), jazz and coffee.

So never mind the box office beating. The careers of director/writer Ryusuke Hamaguchi and lead actor Hidetoshi Nishijima went on a meteoric ascent as Hamaguchi picked up the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for Wheels Of Fortune And Fantasy months before Drive My Car and is now being inundated with offers from Hollywood and Netflix. Veteran lead actor Hidetoshi Nishijima was all over the media in TV and film last year before giving his best performance yet in Drive...He was named Best Actor by the US Films Critics Award, the first for an Asian actor. 

Through it all, the 43-year old Hamaguchi appeared unfazed. In interviews he has stated that Japan isn’t his only playing field though he has professed a love for its cinema industry and in early 2020, he crowdfunded over 330 million yen to save arthouse theaters from Covid bankruptcy. Hamaguchi discipled under Kiyoshi Kurosawa, another auteur whose international reputation has come to overshadow his Japanese notoriety. Under Kurosawa, Hamaguchi learned the ropes of competing in the film fest circuit, dealing with foreign distributors and grooming his stories for global appeal. Otherwise, Hamaguchi is a visionary filmmaker with a special flair for intricate and nuanced storytelling, which comes to the fore in Drive My Car. He took a 40-page Murakami short story and leavened it up to a running time of 3.5 hours, adding Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, Korean actors and the Hiroshima City backdrop in the mix. Through Hamaguchi’s careful doctoring, Murakami’s original story was reborn with much more weight and muscle, able to grapple with emotions that have both urgency and relevance. This is some serious cinema alchemy we’re looking at here. 

On the other hand, Hamaguchi is respectful of Murakami and makes sure the film has the author’s logo stamped all over it. There’s no mistaking the elegant lassitude permeating the storyline, the finicky intellectualism and inherent narcissism of the characters. The only factor that strikes a non-Murakami chord is the presence of Toko Miura, who plays a woman named Misaki. She’s a chauffer with a skeleton or two in the closet of her mind and she’s at once fragile and tough, capable and vulnerable. In Murakami’s story, Misaki serves as a young, female sounding board for the protagonist’s inner musings. In Hamaguchi’s film, her importance goes up several notches and she’s recreated into a women with her own agenda and personal demons, who’s not there to be sexually objectified or soothe anyone. Miura, who used to work part-time at a Tokyo gas stand when she wasn’t working as an actress, is now one of the most watchable performers in the Japanese film industry and Drive My Car owes a huge chunk of its success to her prowess. 

Still, being a Murakami story, Drive My Car ultimately comes off as tale of male ego, or more to the point, the taming of it. Nishijima plays a slender, 50-ish man named Kafuku (an obvious play on the name ‘Kafuka’ from the Murakami bestseller “Kafka By the Sea”), a stage actor who discovers that his wife Oto (played by a splendid Reika Kirishima) has been sleeping around. Kafuku has been semi-aware of Oto’s infidelity but when confronted with the scene of her having sex with another man, his mind shuts down. That night, Oto is found dead from a brain hemorrhage and Kafuku retreats into a shell of wordless grief.

From 村上春樹語辞典 (Dictionary Of Haruki Murakami Words)

Two years later, Kafuku accepts a residency position in Hiroshima and he’s introduced to Misaki, who has been hired to drive him to and from the theater in his car (a Saab 900, of course). Through their brief conversations finds himself able to face Oto again, not as a wife who betrayed him but a woman in her own right. In the meantime he collaborates with Korean actors for the stage production of Uncle Vanya and builds a rapport with Takatsuki (Masaki Okada), who had been Oto’s last lover. 

Murakami’s story is part of a compilation titled Men Without Women, a fate which, in the Murakami scheme of things is akin to death by torture. Men cannot exist without women or their fantasies and much of Murakami’s words are devoted to describing the subtleties of their allure. In his fiction the female is never objectified outright but she’s not to allowed to exist outside the confines of the male ego, either. Murakami always hands over the reigns of power to his women characters, making sure they will never abuse it. If she gets too much for the man to handle, she tends to make a fast exit. Like Oto. Or Naoko from his trademark novel Norwegian Wood. 

This Murakami penchant is in perfect keeping with the Japanese literary tradition and reveals, that for all the Americanisms and western-liberal icons/props scattered across the pages of each and every one of Murakami’s works, the master is in fact, a traditionalist. The combination was dazzling and exotic back in the 20th century. Personally I likened a Murakami novel to a cool, fizzy drink ordered in a bar in an American military base, not that I could set foot in such a place. But two decades plus into the 21st century, the magic of Murakami’s words come off as nostalgic and quaint. It took an alchemist like Ryusuke Hamaguchi to filter out the antiquated grunge of the original short story and upcycle it into a masterpiece. 

For all that, many of us who grew up on Murakami are not ready to cancel him altogether. Generations of Japanese owe him for showing us a world outside the archipelago, for writing about jazz and beer and summer afternoons spent swimming laps at the pool, for dedicating an entire book to marathon running as a pleasurable hobby, for girls who enjoy sex and own up to their sexuality, for boys who are clumsy about relationships but bafflingly knowledgeable about coffee. We owe him for being easily translatable and comprehensible to an international audience that would otherwise equate Japan with anime and karoshi (death by overwork). 
Maybe Haruki Murakami can’t carry the brand on his own anymore but that happens to every established business with a recognizable logo. And now that Ryusuke Hamaguchi has set the precedent, more Murakami adaptations are sure to follow. If you’ll excuse the slightly nationalistic tone, it’s a good time to be Japanese.

Editor’s note: If you’re a fan of Haruki Murakami, with a sense of humor, be sure to avail yourself of a copy of 村上春樹語辞典 (Dictionary of Haruki Murakami Words) which is tongue in cheek tribute and guide to his writings. Even if you don’t read Japanese, the great illustrations, the haiku-like use of English, and the pin-pointing of his common themes and motifs is a delight to read.

From 村上春樹語辞典 (Dictionary Of Haruki Murakami Words)

Back To The Matrix: The 4th Time Is The Charm. ★★★★

#MatrixResurrections Matrix Resurrections opened in Tokyo on December 17.

ALMOST SPOILER FREE REVIEW:

Matrix Resurrections opened on December 17 (Friday) in Tokyo. I went to the 9:20 am showing, giving up the chance to watch the 4D version, which is dubbed into Japanese. It’s a rare thing to see a US movie first in Japan. And that is the only justification I can find for posting a review here, on this Japan centered-blog.

If you loved The Matrix but the original Matrix trilogy left you feeling vaguely unsatisfied and lacking closure, then Matrix Resurrections is just the cure.  It’s not a reboot of the series, but a sequel with loving homage to the original. “The Resurrections” in the title is a big hint.

Neo is not dead but still somehow alive in a new configuration of the Matrix, once again as Thomas A. Anderson. Except this time, he’s a legendary computer game designer, whose claim to fame is having created the sprawling, highly interactive game, The Matrix, which made a generation of humans question their own reality. 

Yet, Anderson is plagued by visions of a past that he never had and imagines he is not in the real world but a construct, much like the game he designed. His benevolent psychotherapist tries to keep the suicidal Anderson on the straight and narrow path, with compassion, understanding and a ceaseless prescription of blue pills. 

Maybe those blue pills are also jumbo Viagra. Thomas Anderson seems perpetually depressed, like John Wick, after his wife died and a Russian gangster killed his dog. He also has the same shabby facial hair as John Wick, except Anderson is not a ninja assassin. A woman who may have been the model for Trinity in his game frequents the same coffee shop close to his office, but she seems more like a motorcycle riding soccer Mom, or computer geek idea of a MILF, than a world saving heroine.

From the very start of the film, we know that Anderson is not crazy. Anderson/Neo has not been forgotten. In a dark corner of the video game world he designed, someone or something  is trying to free him—or so he believes. He’s not incorrect. 

Of course, Agent Smith is also not dead, but he’s not the same program he was before. 

The gradual reappearance of heroes, heroines, and villains from the previous films is handled with grace, wit and subtle foreshadowing. The Oracle and The Architect are conspicuously absent. Morpheus also returns but not the way you remember him. The movie is well-written with delicious doses of dark humor and wonderfully choreographed action sequences.

One the best action sequences takes place on a Shinkansen in Japan. However, despite being set on a bullet-train there is no slow-motion “bullet-time” action on the train.

BTW, there is only a smattering of the “bullet-time” effects that made the first film so ground-breaking, but for good reasons. It’s two and a half hours of B+ grade sci-fi suspense with an ending that won’t leave you wishing you were dead. It did make me hope they don’t do another sequel.

It’s a fine open-ended conclusion. Let’s leave it at that.

Yes, it’s a love story, as every reviewer will tell you, but specifically about “the power of love” (pun intended). It’s also a story about making hard choices when the path of least resistance seems the most comfortable. 

Open your mind, lower your expectations, and you’ll find the trip back to the Matrix a worthwhile journey. 

International Idol Supergroup “KUROFUNECHAN” To Perform First and Final Concert On December 14

Alice, the founder of almost legendary international idol group, Maidoremi (2019-2020), former maid cafe meister, irreverent Twitterdachi, stealth commentator on Japanese culture is leaving Japan—-but not before she and four other idols, the gang of five, unite for their first and last concert together on December 14th as KUROFUNECHAN.  Yes, it’s the international idol community equivalent of the supergroup, CREAM, or for those in a younger generation, NKOTBSB (An American pop supergroup consisting of the members of American boy bands New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys). 

International Idols Assemble! 空前絶後の黒船チャン Kurofunechan will perform their first and last show December 14 in Shinkoenji.

Meet the other girls:

Riria, from Mexico. She’s lived in Japan for 3 years. She originally came because she wanted to be an idol but now she’s more interested in cosplay 

Yuriko, who’s Italian, but one of the most famous foreign cosplayers in Japan. She came here to be an idol. 

Heidi, an American, who graduated from a seiyu (voice actor) school in Tokyo and does voice work. She is currently producing her own idol group where she performs as three different characters and sings in three voices 

Raaya: she’s half Japanese, half—british, and 100% otaku. She used to be an idol but quit earlier this year, and now works at a cosplay bar. She considering getting back into the idol world so stay tuned 

Join Alice and crew for an epic twenty-minute set as they do newly choreographed covers of J-Pop classics. Alice assembled this super-team, much like Nick Fury assembling the Avengers. They hope to bring a little light to the gaijin stranded in Japan while the entry rules make leaving or entering this country a colossal gamble but also are there to support Alice perform her swan song.. It’s also Alice’s bittersweet farewell to a country that in the last two years has made everyone who feel like they belonged here uncertain of whether they are really welcome at all. 

Alice, who was born in England, speaks Creole, English, German and Japanese. She became interested in Japan as a pre-teen when she was making maze boxes in wood-working class. She was planning to decorate her wooden box with Egyptian hieroglyphics but evil classmate Olivia stole her idea. Alice decided to paint her box with kanji, but after noticing the character on the cover of a book about Chinese looked like a centipede (and she hates centipedes), Alice decided to use Japanese characters instead. That was beginning of her descent into the labyrinth of the Japanese language. 

In her teens, she became a huge fan of Hello Project associated idols like Morning Musume and Buono! (Buono! was initially formed as an idol project group to perform theme songs for the Shugo Chara! anime series, which ran from 2007 to 2010).  After studying Japanese intensively, she was able to come to Japan on a Lion’s Club fellowship, staying with several Japanese families and falling in love with this island country, even climbing Mt. Fuji. The following year, after writing to a talent agency, she was flown to Japan for auditions, turning 18 in the land of the rising sun. 

Unfortunately, the demanding talent agency told her to lose 13 kilograms if she wanted to perform in Japan. She told them to fuck off. Undaunted she returned to Japan for a working holiday and after some severe ups and downs, including an abusive Japanese boyfriend from Nagasaki, she managed to begin building a career for herself as a talento, appearing on Japanese TV, modeling, dancing and working odd jobs. Of course, she ran into trouble because she was told “your Japanese is too good and that’s boring” thus failing to fall into the desired stereotype of the hapless Japan-loving gaijin who can offend no one. 

Eventually, in 2019, Alice formed her own idol group, Maidoremi, which started small and grew to become a serious idol powerhouse. “At our early concerts, sometimes we performed for only one or two people. But that was all right.” They gradually developed a following and were filling live houses. Unfortunately, when the group was signed by a major production firm, things fell apart quickly as the girls lost autonomy and the overbearing push of the management became too much to bear. Since the group’s official dissolution in December of 2020, Alice has only performed a few times. Now she’s ready to hang up her idol shoes and head home. 

What did she like about being an idol? 

“I love dancing, singing and acting and as an idol you get to do all three. You become a different character with every song you sing. I had quite a good range of songs and that meant playing people in the same set. When people tell you that your performance made them happy—that’s a great feeling. The costumes, the singing, the adoration and the satisfaction from performing well made me really happy. And I also get tremendous happiness from watching other idol groups. It energizes me as well. There’s a wonderful synergy between the performers and the fans that I’ll miss.”

So let Alice and company share there joy with you one more time. The doors open at 6pm at Shinkoenji Loft X (新高円寺LOFT X) and Kurofunechan will take the stage sometime between 6:30 and 7:30. Yes, it’s a weeknight but what else do you have going on, anyway? Like the lunar eclipse we had several weeks ago in Japan, there will probably never be another event like this in your lifetime. 

Idol International ライブ詳細:

日付/Date:12/14

場所/Place:新高円寺LOFT X

18:00開演、19:20出演

Starts 18:00, Kurofune-chan performs at 19:20 

チケット料金:2500円+ドリンク

Tickets are ¥2500 + drink fee

Live from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Closing Ceremony

By Chihiro Kai

(This article was completed 22:06)

As I sit here in the Tokyo Olympic Stadium press section, the seats are vibrating from the music and bass blasting out of the speakers. Even before the opening ceremony began, all the Paralympians seated on the stadium field were celebrating.

The United Kingdom and Peruvian teams were ecstatically encouraging their international peers to take advantage of their circular seating arrangement to complete a whole wave. The wave would make it through 2/3 of the Paralympians before losing momentum in the last 1/3 section adjacent to the flag poles. After each attempt would die out on its final leg, the particularly invested athletes from Peru and the U.K. would stand up and urgently “gesture” to the responsible section.

Finally, when the wave accomplished a full lap “around the globe,” so to speak, you could hear the whole stadium, including those of us in the press booths which have been following the wave’s progress, cheer and clap at this spontaneous game. The wave’s informal and collective nature lent it an intimacy that elevated our joy at its success.

Now, it has been early 30 minutes since the wave experienced a natural death. And yet, despite the pageantry and impressive stage production of the closing ceremony, I don’t believe anything that has transpired on the field has made me and my fellow reporters laugh and smile as it did. At least, that was the case with the two Japanese reporters flanking me at my table.

20:51
Representatives from each participating Paralympic team have been adding circular mirrors to a miniature figure of Tokyo Skytree, the world’s tallest free-standing tower. Just now, the final paralympic deputy for the Japanese team attached the last piece to complete the model. The mirrors represent the windows and natural skeletal gaps on the tower.

Upon its completion, the current focal point of the Tokyo skyline was raised, “Flags of Our Fathers” style by the ceremony’s performers. Who knew relations between the United States and Japan were so tight? (Indulge me in my humor readers. I am both Japanese and American, and that gives me permission to make such dry jokes.)

21:00
The first Paralympic I’mPossible Awards are being presented to the first five recipients of the recognition. For further information on the I’mPossible Award, click here.

  • Best host country School: Kizarazu Municipal Kiyomidai Elementary School in Chiba, Japan
  • Best overseas school: Lilongwe LEA School, Malawi
  • Excellence host country school: Chiba Prefectural Togane (I could not catch the end. I believe it was Chiba Prefectural Togane Special Education School)
  • Best (Male) I’mPossible Paralympian Award: Lassam Katongo from Zambia. He is a track and race Paralympian and secondary school teacher.
  • Best (Female) I’mPossible Paralympian Award: Katarzyna Rogowiec from Poland. A three-time Paralympian and two-time Paralympic gold medalist in cross-country skiing. She is also a former ITC anti-doping committee member.
  • The awards for the two Paralympians were accepted by their respective national Paralympic Committees on their behalf.

21:23
The Tokyo Skytree “miniature,” which must be roughly five meters tall, accompanies other notable architecture that shapes the city’s skyline, including Rainbow Bridge. You guessed it, the “Rainbow” Bridge is not actually colored in seven distinct shades. However, after numerous complaints that the bridge’s namesake made little sense, a night-time illuminating feature was added.

The closing ceremony’s similarity to a Disneyland parade is as prominent as the August 24 opening ceremony. The fluorescent animal costumes adorned by dancing performers and the musical production remind me of the Mermaid Lagoon Theatre from The Litte Little Mermaid area at Tokyo DisneySea.

22:03

“The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games have not just been historic. They have been fantastic,” Andrew Parsons, the president of the International Paralympic Committee, said in his closing speech. He said that despite the games’ accomplishments, the world has flaws with accessibility that no mask can cover.

“As we build back better, 15% of the world’s population cannot be left behind,” Parsons said. “People with disabilities should not have to do exceptional things to be accepted.”

Following a WeThe15 campaign commercial, a Japanese singer seated in his wheelchair sang “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong with a powerful voice would have made the raspy icon proud. The song’s second half was sung by a female singer with a visual impairment. The two voices converged in the final part of the ballad accompanied by a children’s choir.

As a piano player in the center of the stadium played the last notes of the iconic song, the egg-like encasing of the Olympic and Paralympic flame closed, extinguishing the fire that has burned since July 23.

And with that, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games had ended.

Thank you for following me and Jake Adelstein throughout our coverage of the Olympic and Paralympic Games! It has been a true privilege and honor.

In the shadows of Hiroshima: Director Kurosaki takes on the story of Japan’s own WWII top-secret nuclear arms plan

Editor note: Japan had two different military programs working on developing an atomic bomb. The movie reviewed here only discusses one of the programs. Japan’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons was much more successful than imagined, click here and read What If Japan Had the Atomic Bomb First? For more details.

Review by Kaori Shoji

Gift of Fire (Japanese original title: Taiyo no Ko)” proffers an unsettling view from an old and familiar window. Directed by Hiroshi Kurosaki, the gist of this story set in the summer of 1945, is this: just weeks before Japan’s surrender in WWII, a team of graduate students at Kyoto University were hard at work on the creation of a nuclear bomb. While this piece of information may not be news to many western historians, the majority of the Japanese are bound to feel baffled. For generations, the Japanese were conditioned – by our elders, by the media, by the education system and history itself, to feel that we were the victims of a war that very few in the populace ever wanted to fight. And now a Japanese movie is saying we could have been the perpetrators of the world’s first nuclear bomb attack? That’s an incredibly heavy load to process, and still more to confront. 

After all, Japan had banked the struggle of the postwar years and the rapid growth era that followed it, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The horrors that happened on August 6th, 1945 in Hiroshima and then, a mere 72 hours later in Nagasaki, were recounted through generations and revived in the media more times than anyone could count. It was a legacy of suffering, a collective mantle of unspeakable sadness under which the Japanese toiled and labored for decades to come. 
At the same time, the two bombs exonerated the Japanese from having to explain and face up to wartime atrocities – the crimes committed in Korea, China, Singapore and pretty much the entire Asian Pacific Rim. Call it the a-bomb card, pulled out when the Koreans or Chinese got noisy about acknowledgement and reparations for war crimes. And whenever the Japanese people protested against the econo-centric measures of the government that irredeemably polluted oceans and mountains and quashed the livelihoods of  millions of traditional workers. For seventy plus years, the a-bomb card served Japanese politicians, their politics and the national conscience. We suffered enough, now leave us alone. 

But “Gift of Fire” says it may be about time to turn in that card. 

The Kyoto University lab was under close scrutiny by the Imperial Army and the scientists were pressed for results. If and when they succeeded in splitting the atom, the plan was to drop the bomb on San Francisco. The students were plagued by doubts and filled with anxiety, and who can blame them. Nightly air raids, frequent power outages and utter lack of resources prevented their experiments from moving forward when all the while, they were listening to American news on a hand-crafted short wave radio. The Americans were closing in on the Japanese Imperial Army though the propaganda reports from the frontlines said otherwise. “Should we even be doing this, in the comfort of a laboratory? Shouldn’t we be fighting and giving our lives to this country?” says one anguished student, who eventually quits the project to enlist in the Imperial Army. 

The truth was, the Kyoto University team lacked everything to build anything, let alone a weapon of mass destruction. Still, they forge on, fueled by a blind hope that an atomic bomb will change the course of the war or even end it. Besides, says Professor Arakatsu, the helmer of the project: “if we don’t build it the Americans will. And if the Americans don’t get there first the Soviets will. Why do you think this war started in the first place? It’s because the world is in a race to procure energy resources. Whoever gets control of the energy, gains control over the world.”  

By saying that, Arakatsu has shifted the concept of war from ideology and nationalism to science and technology. Fittingly, “Gift of Fire” is mostly devoid of sentiment and righteousness, preferring instead to sanctify the scientist and all that he stands for. In Arakatsu’s laboratory, scientific advancement is a religion, and the god at the altar is Albert Einstein. The highest prayer of course, is E=mc2. The film marks the first time a Japanese film has addressed the atomic bomb from a scientific standpoint, and bringing in an American voice to the proceedings. Kurosaki persuaded Peter Stormare to appear in a voice-only role that defends, honors and ultimately glorifies the scientific mission. 

Perhaps that voice belongs to Shu (Yuya Yagira) who is the most committed member in Arakatsu’s lab. Shu is responsible for procuring the much-needed uranium for their experiments, and turns to a local potter for his meager supply. The potter used to make beautiful things, but now he only makes funeral urns. “A lot of people dying,” says the potter matter-of-factly to Shu, pointing to the rows and rows of small white urns turned out in his kiln that day. Shu can only nod, bow and make his exit with the uranium powder stashed in his rucksack. Shu knows that Japan will hurtle toward a terrible defeat unless they can build the bomb before the Americans. At the same time he knows their chances of making that happen are practically zilch. Yet the thought of giving up never crosses his mind. A stubborn work-ethic and an obsessive regard for science dictates Shu’s actions and his MO, like the rest of his team, is to ‘ganbaru (do the best they can)’ until they drop. 

Director/writer Hiroshi Kurosaki is a seasoned television director, best known for his work on the NHK morning drama series “Hiyokko, (2017)” which means ‘youngster.’ Kurosaki has a flair for portraying youth and innocence under duress. “Hiyokko” was set in the post war years, with a young female protagonist (Kasumi Arimura) searching for her missing father in Tokyo. Arimura teams up with Kurosaki again for “Gift of Fire” as she plays Setsu, who is Shu’s possible love interest. Setsu, perhaps as a nod to our times, is not the typical docile young woman of wartime Japan. In one scene she lectures Shu and his brother Hiroyuki (played by the late Haruma Miura who committed suicide last summer. The film marks his final screen appearance) about their tunnel vision, exhorting them to look beyond the war and envision a future without violence. In the post-screening press conference Kurosaki said: “I wanted to portray what a young woman must have felt in the final days before the surrender. She’s young and has an intense desire to live and experience life, but death is always there.” 

Gift of Fire” is not without redemption. What permeates the otherwise dark and spartan narrative is the sheer innocence of the characters, especially Shu and Hiroyuki. In their separate ways, the brothers seek closure to a war that had come to define their identifites – Shu by creating the atomic bomb, and Hiroyuki by flying a plane right into an American warship. Defeat may be imminent but neither of them are about to surrender peacefully. “They made mistakes, they’re not heroes,” said Kurosaki. “They are ordinary young men, blundering on and doing the best they can.” Sadly that’s never enough to right a ship gone horribly awry. 
END