Haiku reflections on Japan

The Samurai way … or not

Dramas about food – yum

yet not so eager about 

diners in this one

I guess because I wasn’t overly impressed with it that I didn’t mention sooner a drama series called Samurai Gourmet which I watched lately.  I had a lot to say about the recent films I watched (I really hope you haven’t watched A taxing woman returns!).

A newly retired salary man, a nice guy too (unlike the obnoxious image of salary men you often get which is of course unfair to most of them), who finds himself with not a lot to do in his retirement but eat out everyday finds his behaviour somewhat influenced by the presence, which only he can see, of a samurai who is not shy about acting the way he wants.  This is mostly good – he learns to relax and not pay so much attention to what people might think of him – and sometimes ‘bad’ – he still backs down from a ‘good’ confrontation or gets intimidated too easily when he tries to ask someone to shut it as he’s annoying other customers.  If you summon up the courage to start to tell someone to shut it you should follow it through.

As an aside, I still think you should never slurp your pasta in Japan even if you’re taught that it’s ok with noodles.   Even if everyone else is doing it.   And I was not impressed with the way the pasta was cooked in the second or third episode I think it was.

An extra quirk is that in the scenes with the samurai, the actors present, bar the retiree, suddenly change from their modern attire to the style of dress from the particular era the samurai comes from and when he disappears they’re seen again in their modern attire.  The retired salary man is played by an actor I might have mentioned here before, Naoto Takenaka.  He’s a good actor for this kind of role.

It’s a real slow-moving casual kind of drama, sometimes charming, often funny, about an ordinary guy (re-)discovering himself in a Japan he hardly recognises (he’s been so busy working and has never had the time to relax and observe what’s going on around him) and in some ways it looks at family ties as well.  His wife seems to live her own life completely and his niece acts like he should be happy with her company even if she’s ignoring him and engaging more with her phone. Though I wouldn’t compare it quality wise to Cafe Lumiere, it did remind me of that film, only with humour.   I guess it’s a good one after all!  Midnight Diner, with its raggle taggle of different customers and a very taciturn diner owner, another nice guy, is similar but also without as much humour.

Speaking of Cafe Lumiere, Huo Hsiao-Hsien is 70 today (the 8th of April) – happy birthday!

Haiku reflections on Japan

Ninja family ties

Ninjas knew many

fighting methods and their

descendants stay proud.


I’ve found another place to add to my list of future Japanese destinations, 甲賀市・滋賀県 (Koka City, Shiga Prefecture), ancestral home of the ninja warrior.  I was just doing a translation (for my own interest) of a news article today on how Koka City government officials, in a bid to locate any descendants of these warriors, carried out a survey among its residents and 88 households claim to be descendants of ninjas, some providing proof in either old makimono scrolls, pedigree records (I imagine these must have been well hidden given the nature of ninja work) or various weapons used and attire worn by these ninjas. Though they’re popular and feature in many movies, they probably don’t have the same fame as Samurai warriors but their role was just as important.  Koka city is known for the Koga school of Ninjas.    So sometimes Koka is written in English as Koga.  The city officials are naturally chuffed to have confirmation of this ninja link to their city.  A picture accompanying the article showed some of the civil servants wearing ninja outfits to promote the research.

Another drama I watched from South Korea lately was about a team of elite cops who use hidden identities to track a bunch of criminals with closer links to them than they think.   Quite gripping.  It starred the same actor I was admiring from a previous drama but he doesn’t really do well in this, acting wise.   He’s beyond gorgeous (though with a different look this time) but his acting skills seem a bit dull throughout the series.    A bit Keanu Reeves you know?  As in a bit hit and miss acting wise but still great-looking (50 years of age he is this year – KR that is). What they call a ‘daikon’ in Japan.  Some of the fighting skills these cops have are amazing and reminded me of what you see in ninja movies though of course Korea is where tae- kwan-do comes from and that was probably one of the martial art methods used here so I hope Koreans reading this aren’t offended by the comparison.  It is hard to tell sometimes which martial art they are using in films if you don’t practice one yourself.  I watched a martial arts film called Heroes of the East a good few months ago which is a sort of a mickey take on the differences between Chinese and Japanese martial arts (not that much at all) and general customs.  It was a bit hammy but fun to watch and made little of the sometimes pompous attitude taken towards some martial arts.  It’s not always noble ye know. I can’t think of the pair of directors who directed it but they’re famous in kung fu film circles.  Anyhow, look it up and watch it.  It’s fun.


Post-script: The Shaw brothers were the two I was looking for.










Haiku reflections on Japan

Kurosawa, Ozu, Imamura – show time once again

Seven Samurai

protecting village farmers

beset by bandits


I finally got around to watching the Seven Samurai.  Right I know.  How could I have waited so long?  Over 3 hours long but worth every second.  I can finally add it to my list of films over on the film page (I only add them once I have actually watched them). I`d love to see Ikiru which stars Takashi Shimura, the leader of the group of samurai protecting the village in The Seven Samurai but have yet to find it online. It is on YT but it`s one of those cases where the person who posted the film instructs you to click on a link in the description of the film and I find that a bit suspicious. I prefer straightforward ways of viewing films on YT. Click on the film you like and up it comes straight away. Otherwise I won`t bother no matter how much I want to see it.  Takashi Shimura also has a role in another of Akira Kurosawa`s famous pics – Rashomon.  As does another of the samurai group who plays the jovial `woodcutter` samurai in the Seven Samurai but the priest in Rashomon.  And of course Toshiro Mifune stars in both the Seven Samurai and Rashamon as well (and other films by AK). He and Shimura were Kurosawa`s two regular male stars. Mifune ultimately fell out with Kurosawa (basically over the contractual obligations of having to grow and maintain a beard for his role in Red Beard, another one I want to see, but no doubt there was something more to it than that, could be they were just sick of each other!!)
I also watched a film from 2001 by Shohei Imamura who directed the Eel  (うなぎ) with Koji Yakusho. He also stars in this one and I am pretty sure the female lead stars in the Eel as well but I can`t remember.  It`s a very, ahem, unusual film shall we say but it has a similar plot in Koji Yakusho`s down on his luck character finding a new life for himself – this time when he goes to seek a treasure a tramp tells him about and finds you could say a different treasure, in this new life and the woman he ends up meeting and sharing it with. In The Eel as we know he comes out of prison and starts a new life as a barber. Both films have a surreal element to them.

Going back further in time, I watched yet another Yasujiro Ozu film The Flavour of Green Tea over rice (お茶漬けの味) where a young woman seeing how unhappy her aunt is with her marriage, refuses to attend arranged marriage meetings and would prefer to meet a man of her own choice.  The aunt is unhappy with her husband who she thinks dull when all he wants is to be allowed to appreciate the simple things in life like green tea poured over rice.   They eventually make up after a tiff and bond over this.  Interesting thing I read about this film is that, Ozu was initially planning the film during the days of the might of the Japanese military who tried to make Uzo change the title of the film to mention red rice (Rice mixed with red beans) to promote their military power abroad and especially in China.   Ozu put the project aside for a while and eventually made it with the title he wanted, and it came out in 1952, well after the war.    Interesting that red rice is what was also traditionally given to young women having their period for the first time and so becoming a woman.      Ozu also had his regular actors as I have mentioned before and Ryu Chizu appears in this two years earlier to his old man role in Tokyo Story.  His character reminisces back to the time he was in the army in Singapore (with the Uncle) so the military by chance gets a mention anyway.  But in those days men of that character`s age were probably nostalgic about being in the war so there was not much wrong in one of his characters reminiscing about it.  Anyway, the young man who the niece befriends and, it appears, gets together with (a younger friend of her green-tea-over-rice fan of an uncle) looked really familiar to me I thought but I had not seen him in any of Ozu`s other films or any others, an actor by the name of Koji Tsuruta.  Then I realized he looked like the 1950s embodiment of Eita (Nagayama), the modern day actor who starred in that series I liked called Saikou no Rikon and many other Japanese dramas (Last Friends being another good drama he was in).  I saw him in something else recently, a pretty hammy film on-line about two long-lost brothers uniting as adults which made me think of him.

Anyway, pouring green tea over rice is a great way of using up left-over rice isn`t it?