Thursday, January 28, 2010

こめ の アート The Art in the Rice Fields

Every now and then I get some good stuff sent to me in my email and often from the most unlikely sources. Well this morning I discovered this curious forward from my dad. It's unusual to receive something of this nature largely due to the fact we do not have the best relations but none the less in a gesture of good will he sent me this forward. I thought this was cool so I thought I would share it with you. What we have here is a series of amazing photos taken in the Inakadate area of Japan featuring art work created by cleaverly planted rice crops using no paints or dyes. The villagers and farmers of Inakadate have worked together using different color rice plants precisely and strategically arranged and grown  to create large works covering some 15,000 square meters of rice paddys. Rice paddy art started there in 1993 as a local revitalization project and have continued ever since. Such works are also done in Yonezawa, Yamagata prefecture. They are quite large in scale and something to behold. Enjoy!

The Great Wave.

Miss Osen and Naoe Kanetsugu from the 2009 NHK Taiga DramaTenchijin


Deer Dancers as seen from the air.

As quoted from the email forward:

The farmers create the murals by planting little purple and yellow-leafed Kodaimai rice along with their local green-leafed Tsugaru, a Roman variety, to create the colored patterns in the time between planting and harvesting in September.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

とらのとし The Year of the Tiger So Far…

It’s been an interesting Ichi-Gatsu of 2010. I started this year as I do every year in Little Tokyo. Every year I run into this same girl who wears a light green kimono who sells fortunes out of a wooden box. I dreaded her appearance this year given that I received a bad fortune from her last year. 2009 was a terrible year for me. I should have known given that the girl did not smile as she moved around Little Tokyo until she was selling fortunes. That’s a red flag I should have paid attention to last year. This year I was on guard. I received a good Omikuji fortune at the Koyasan Temple so I was not about to press my luck. It’s hard to say where I am at with it so early in the year so I thought I would reflect on that for a moment. I’m not sleeping very much which has played havoc on my Shinkendo training and progress writing my book. Despite my participation in all of the New Years events I’m still living on the edge since losing my unemployment last December. But all is not lost. For the first time in months my phone has been ringing with potential work prospects things are starting to pick up. Computer work is not what I really want to do but until I can get back into the film industry and write books and screenplays, this will have to do to help me back on my feet so one day I can live by my creativity.

The Year of the Tiger is supposed to be one of intense creative energies and so far But before I celebrate my lucky arrows I will remain cautious and continue to hunt for work while I continue to write my book. My book has undergone some major revisions since its initial thirty page screen play first printed last June of 2009. It has gone from screen play to full blow historical novel with close to eighty characters to which some are actual historical figures from Japan’s history of the late Bakumatsu Period. Where I am at right now is where my protagonist William Merrick has boarded the Japanese Warship Kaiten with the Elder Superintendant Okuda. They have set sail steaming out of Hakodate and on through the Tsugaru Straits to open seas heading South by Southwest to their clandestine rendezvous in Shimoda before the Kaiten will sail off to join the 2nd Choshu Expedition. My selected quote for this chapter comes from Captain Ikunosuke; “Today we fight for the Shogun. Tomorrow we may fight for our very lives.” It is a scene I could easily envision. I will reveal more of my story later for there is much writing ahead. This has proved to be a daunting challenge. Not only must I take care when my fictional characters interact with historical figures the story must also follow a degree of respect towards those figures as well as their logistical disposition corresponding with their recorded whereabouts of the time. So much to consider knowing that anyone who would be remotely interested in my work will be well versed in history so there is no margin for error because I know they will call me on it. So to avoid having my novel being panned as a literary suppository careful attention to detail and above all historical plausibility is a must.

So there we go. Ni-Gatsu is coming and I will hopefully gain some worthwhile employment. Juggling the time between work, Shinkendo, writing, and my relationship will be task. I am not sure how I will do it considering the slow progress I have made with my story. Up until now, the stress of unemployment and now the added stress of the Shinkendo Honbu Dojo’s potential move out of Little Tokyo has me on edge. The new Korean owners are forcing the Obata’s out of their dojo to make way for one more restaurant in the Little Tokyo Galleria. Not knowing where we will relocate has stressed me out. We have until mid February to find a new location. This is no good. Especially, when you are trying to write. That feeling of being constricted comes into mind. That makes it impossible to write with such distractions. My work search alone has eaten away at my writing time which only applies when I am motivated to write. The story has to flow and come alive for me in order to tell it. I just can’t set aside a narrow time slot in my day to churn out pages. I can do that with a screen play but not with a novel. It just doesn’t work that way for me.

There is just so much to consider when writing historical fiction. I not only have to go back in time but to a place and a culture that no longer exists. It would help if I could magically pull a rabbit out of my hat and fly to the West Izu peninsula but this is not possible. This adds to the complexity of writing a novel set in a country that I have never set foot in. However I will remain optimistic and hopefully find a way to complete this project and get it published. It will likely take place after I copy write and register my “Little Tokyo” comedy screen play with the WGA. Meanwhile I will continue to train and write until I can live off my creativity and make my way to the Land of the Rising Sun. Japan will be there for me. At least that’s what I have to tell myself. One way or another I will get there. And the girl in the green kimono? Well just like the year before she did not smile until she sold her fortunes. This time I smiled and walked away. I’m really superstitious about these things. I got my good fortune at the Temple and I enjoyed the good fortune of being around my Japanese friends and those I am close to. In that sense I did have some good fortune and perhaps there is more to come. I think this Tora no Toshi has some potential. We’ll see what comes next. We're only getting started!

Monday, January 25, 2010

No Mishima No Future - 切腹ピストルズ

The Seppuku Pistols

The Seppuku Pistols - No Mishima No Future

Finally! An alternative Japanese band I can halfway relate to! I mean seriously, I literally pain myself to like some of the Visual Kei & Goth bands that come out of Japan. With the exception of the Yoshida Brothers, I am left with bands that look amazing but sound too techno or too deathmetal. My years of Goth Culture and early Punk Rock have me demanding much more from Japan. These guys on the other hand break from the usual J-mold of having too much talent and no set direction.  Luckily, I discovered The Seppuku Pistols on line almost by accident. I was like なに?? すごいい!!! I had grown up on Punk Rock and The Sex Pistols when I was younger so this was a natural winner for me. This has got to be the best use of Yukio Mishima footage since Paul Schraeder's film of Mishima - Life in Four Chapters. As a fan of Yukio Mishima I found this quite amusing. This is more or less a noise remix of the Pistols with Yukio Mishima mixed in. The Seppuku Pistols bring out angst in an artistic way reminiscent of what Laibach did in Europe in the early 1990's mixing industrial noize with war time imagery. In general, I do like their use of old Johnny Rotten samples mixed in with images from the Showa Era. So love it, hate it, or just be punk rock and drink sake to it - either way it's The Seppuku Pistols!

The Seppuku Pistols - Nanking Boogie

Saturday, January 23, 2010

一日の画像 - きょのしゃしん - Picture for Today

Nagoya Samurai + Nisei Week + Little Tokyo

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Repercussions is the latest short film by director Michael Shu who last directed the Samurai feature short War of the Wolves Reunion. This Yakuza genre film is shot entirely on location in Los Angeles and features Yoshi Ando and Sonny Saito who both appeared in Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima. This film also features new comer Alvin Lam in the lead role of “Ken” and also stars Kazumi Zatkin who had previously costarred with Yoshi Ando in War of The Wolves Reunion. This is a short violent film with a mesmerizing score and memorable performances by the cast. Awkwardly enough, we didn’t know about the screening until director Mike Shu had asked me if I had received the evite. So just for prosperity, Mike sent it again and all was well in the land. Well almost. This came to us at the last minute. We had previously been engaged to attend a function at the Koyasan Temple in Little Tokyo at 5PM that night. Oh Boy! I hate double booking but sometimes as the Japanese say Shigata ga nai - it can not be helped. And sometimes it is worth it. This occassion was no exception.

Well after doing some creative time micromanagement we managed to attend the Koyasan Temple long enough to enjoy the wonderful Taiko performance by Asahi Sensei and members of the Temple Taiko troupe but had to leave early to make it on time to the 7PM screening across town at USC. We had told them that this was for a film that we had worked on. We also told them that this was a Yakuza film and that if we failed to make it on time to the screening we might lose a finger! Ok, so we exaggerated a little and got a few laughs with gimmick but luckily for us we didn’t lose any fingers and made it on time to the screening over at the Robert Zemeckis Center for the Digital Arts – Ron Howard Screening Room at USC.

Up until last year it had been close to a decade since I last worked on any film. I didn’t think I would ever get to work on a film again until Mike Sensei from the Shinkendo Honbu Dojo had asked me for some technical advice during his preproduction phase. I had previously mentioned to him my history working on small films as both a art director and set dresser. I then offered my services to the aspiring director. Mike Shu gave me an opportunity to work behind the scenes as a set dresser for the Yakuza Office set. Many of the props in the scene were from my own home including one of my antique Japanese wall scrolls. We even snuck in a portrait of our Sensei Toshihiro Obata in one of the main shots. The Obata’s kids couldn’t help but ask if they were seeing a picture of their parents up there. We filmed this feature short last May of 2009 while I was in hiding. Being back on a film set was a very healthy diversion during the most stressful of time of my life. I plan to write about filming of Repercussions in my future novel Gulagula. What can I say other than it was good to see my name up on the credits after being cheated out of so many film credits during my brief acting career. It was a lot of fun to work again and to see the finished results up on the big screen.

I look forward to future collaborations with Michael Shu and many other members of the cast and crew of Repercussions. Great Job everyone!

Left Sonny Saito & Kazumi Zatkin
Right Kizumi & Yours Truely

Left Louis Rosas & Yoshi Ando
Right Yoshi Ando & Director Mike Shu on Set

Group photo from left to right:

Kazumi Zatkin


Louis Rosas

Sonny Saito

しゃしいんのきょ- Picture of the Day

Taiko Drumming at the Koyasan Buddhist Temple, Little Tokyo 01.16.2010.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Dare mo mamotte kurenai – Nobody to Watch Over Me

Last night I was invited as a member of the Screen Actors Guild Film Society to a last minute screening of the 2009 Japanese film Dare mo mamotte kurenai – Nobody to Watch Over Me.
I had not heard of this latest film from Toho Studios but when I learned that it had been Oscar nominated to represent Japan in the category for best foreign film, I instantly jumped on this. As an added bonus, Director Ryoichi Kimizuka, and lead actress Mirai Shida would be there for a pre-film meet and greet session. To use my favorite Pulp Fiction quote- “Shit! – Well that’s all you had to say!

Shot entirely on location in Tokyo and the West Izu Peninsula, Nobody to Watch Over Me deals with the impact and cries for retribution from the family members of an accused murderer. In this film an eighteen year old school boy is accused of killing two grade school age sisters. No sooner than the Tokyo Police is on the scene the Japanese media is all over it with unrelentless pursuit of the accused family members. The young Mirai Shida plays Saori Funamura who is whisked away from school by the police and brought home to the media frenzy that takes place outside her home. Her entire world is instantly turned upside down as the Funamura household is overwhelmed with police detectives and special detachments from the courts and the schools.
Everything happens in such a fast pace that there is no opportunity for 15 year old Saori to absorb what is happening to her family. No sooner than her brother is whisked away by the police his name and picture is all over the internet and the Tokyo media as well as the identities and whereabouts of the accused family. The police and courts force their parents to instantly divorce and remarry under Saori’s mother’s maiden name as the police outside cover the Funamura name with packing tape. The decision is made to pull Saori out of school and separate the family. Saori has no choice in the matter and has no time to understand what is happening to her family as cries for vengeance to be exacted on the Funamura family flash all over the internet and Japanese Media.
Koichi Sato plays Takumi Katsuura, A Tokyo  detective assigned to protect young Saori. Together with his partner played by Ryuhei Matsuda of Gahatto (Taboo) fame, they race across Tokyo while being hunted down by the media in high speed chase scenes that makes you think of Princess Diana’s last car ride. There is nowhere Katsuura can take Saori who is now marked for death by vicious internet bulletin boards run by evil nerd techno geeks inciting calls for death to all the surviving Funamura family members.

The issue here is the girl has done nothing wrong yet people are blaming her and her family for the twin sisters murders her older disturbed brother is accused of committing. It is the Police who enact measures to assist the families and ensure that the families to not attempt suicide. This of course does not always work out as planned for even within the police there is predjudice and outright conviction in the court of public opinion.

The fast pace of the first 24 hours in this four day ordeal proves too much as Saori finds out via her teenage boyfriend that her mother committed suicide no sooner than the family was separated. It seems like there is no one she can trust as public outcries call her death. The only person she can rely on is Detective Katsuura who has been assigned this task of protecting Saori at the expense of a planned vacation trip planned by his own 15 year old daughter to save his own family from an impending divorce. The timing of this assignment could not be any worse as now internet and media are revealing the home address of detective Katsuura whose family is now recieving death threats of thier own. Katsuura has no easy choices as the vicious Japanese media airs out old accusations against the detective for failing to stop a child murder he was tailing three years earlier. He is accused of protecting murderers at public tax expense. This of course is an unfair call and Katsuura has to face his own demons that has all but destroyed his own family to save the life of Saori’s.

(Left photo) Me With Mira Shida                
(Right photo) Mira Shida with Director Ryoichi Kimizuka

I won’t give away any more of this film for you. The stand out performances by Koichi Sato and Mirai Shida are both memorable and Oscar worth. What struck me as my own sign of good luck was that they film the second half of the film on the West Izu Peninsula which is the area where my fictional historical novel takes place. I couldn’t help but literally leap out of my chair to see on the big screen a land I am writing about come to life. The screening took place at Raleigh Studios’s Chaplain Theater. This was preceeded by the most awkward moment when the Director Ryoichi Kimizuka and actress Mirai Shida’s van was denied entrance by a determined Security guard who I swear had it not been some black rap star showing up he would have denied entry to Al Pacino & Robert De Niro even if they came in character with Joe Pesci in tow. Inevitably, both the stars and producers were finally let on the Raleigh lot. I swear I have snuck into bigger studios with less hassle. Baka!

Once we were all up in the lot the producers and cast were there to individually meet and greet the selected guests. Naturally, they were not expecting me or anyone else who spoke Japanese. As you could imagine they were quite happy to meet me & the Tinahime.

We introduced ourselves and customarily bowed as they happily did the same. We wished them all a Happy New Years and great success with the film. Mirai Shida was nice enough to pose for a picture with me and later tried to give a prewritten speech to the non-Japanese speaking audience in English. She was very delightful and I wish her great success. Dare mo mamotte kurenai is both a controversial film and deals with the difficult subject in Japanese culture. This has all the drama and heart you would expect from a Toho Studios film. This film may already be available in DVD. See this however you can. You will not be disappointed!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!

Kotoshimo Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu! Happy New Years! It is now Heisei 22 and the Year of the Tiger. I hope that everyone had a safe and wonderful New Years celebration. We sure did in the heart of LA's Little Tokyo. This was our first year attending both the year end service and the New Years Day service at the Koyasan Buddhist Temple as well as a day marking one year of continuious attendance there. I had volunteered to arrive early to help out and as difficult as it was to negotiate my hangover from the previous night out with friends it was well worth the effort. I had never seen so many people at the Temple before. The energy was like nothing else. People participated in celebrating those born in the Year of the Tiger including the mother of one of the senior members of the Temple board who turned 100 that day. Imagine that! To have been born in Taisho's time and being witness to so much change. I personally wished her a happy new years and the wish for many more. Everyone applauded her longevity and celebrated with the traditional sake toast and the very joyous Bonzai cheers. It was truly the most memorable time I have had there despite being so sick from drinking kamikaze's & champagne. Afterwards we were treated to a sushi lunch for helping out. There were still many people pouring into the Koyasan Temple to make offerings. Many of which were also seeking New Years Blessings and lucky arrows to dispell misfortune. After the year I had in 2009, I take no chances!

I am happy to have participated in this event after which we stuck around in Japanese Plaza just to absorb all the positive energy from the multitude of people enjoying the outdoor Japanese performances. The vibe in the air was truly electric if not magical. New years is definately my favorite holiday. Halloween has too much preassure to have fun, christmas conjures up bad memories, but New Years for me is like nothing else. I can only imagine as my friend Ikeda says I have to really experience this in Japan. Well until that can happen Little Tokyo is where it's at. It was great to see so many people in Kimono as well as the few brave Americans who did went in traditional Japanese attire. I am kicking myself for not going that extra mile but at least I can say I was there. We'll make sure to go all out next year. I gurantee!

Halfway around the world in Japan, Emperor Akihito offered his new years greetings. He acknowledged that for many like myself that 2009 had been difficult year due to the deep economic crisis. He wished the world happiness and peace and that this year be good for all of us. I certainly will do my best. I hope to aquire some work so I can continue to write and one day have my books published as well as a screen play or two. I look forward to another year training under the Obata Sensei's in Shinkendo, Continued correspondence with the Tsubaki Grand Shrine, and continued comunity with the people in both the Koyasan Temple and Little Tokyo. I will do my best to continue learning Japanese and become friends to many both old and new. Japan is still a world away but for now my heart lies in Little Tokyo. May everyone have a happy, safe, and prosperous New Year!