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Shohei Imamura's "Vengeance is Mine"

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, December 13, 2016 01:22pm | Post a Comment

Vengeance Is MineBy Nazeeh Alghazawneh

At least once a month an elderly woman approaches me and tells me that I remind her of her son, either in the way that I look or because of my demeanor or simply because of my age. They’re very sweet and a little bit sad but most of all, full of nostalgia, which is always more sweet than sad until you think about it too much. They love to tell me about them. These mothers love to tell me about the love they have for their sons - an unconditional, boundless love that’s familiar and intimate at the same time but mostly uncomfortable. However, I nod my head and I listen because a heart is speaking to me and that’s the best thing about mothers: they always speak with their hearts.

It’s 1979 and Japanese New Wave director Shohei Imamura releases his first feature-length fiction film, Vengeance is Mine (available on DVD and Blu-ray), after a decade of making documentaries. For 140 minutes we’re introduced to Iwao Enokizu (played by Ken Ogata), a textbook sociopath with a penchant for murdering innocent people for reasons he couldn’t explain. Based on the real life serial killer Akira Nishiguchi, the film depicts the 78-day killing spree with faithful objectivity; Enokizu’s exploits aren’t glorified or celebrated, but they are fully realized. Imamura’s camera hangs low and aloof behind our protagonist, following him with that lecherous sense of dread and paranoia that a hunted murderer on the run probably feels. Ogata’s performance finesses a presence on the screen that is volatile, dripping with an anxiety that ultimately makes you feel uneasy, but dedicated to him nonetheless. The worst part is just how charming he is. It’s a concoction of Kit’s (Martin Sheen) aimless nonchalance from Terrence Malick’s Badlands and Bronson’s (Tom Hardy) gleeful desire for violence from Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson. Enokizu lacks any regard for anyone in his life, including himself, which appears to fuel his desire to kill; he seems to be angry that he’s even alive.

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Japan Film Festival Los Angeles

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 8, 2011 03:33pm | Post a Comment

The Japan Film Festival Los Angeles gets underway today with screenings in Hollywood, Irvine and Little Tokyo and goes until April 17th. Directors Kinshiro Ogino, Katsuhito Kobayashi, Kenji Kobayashi, Lisa Takeba, Hidetaka Inazuka and producer Shoichi Kawahara are scheduled to appear at various events. Click here to check out the website for scheduling, tickets and plot descriptions.

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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Gardena, the South Bay's City of Opportunity

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 8, 2010 01:00pm | Post a Comment

A typical street in Gardena with strong Japanese character

This here entry’s about Gardena. To vote for other Los Angeles County communities to be the subject of future entries, click here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, click here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.

 

Gardena (in Japanese, ガーデナ; in Korean, 가데나 ) is located in the South Bay or South LA region, depending on your definition. It's a bit odd to consider it South Bay, since it's not on the water. However, there's a perception that it's unlike the rest of South LA, which is erroneously thought of as being much more homogenous than it is.



Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Gardena

surrounded by the slender Harbor Gateway to the east and south, Torrance to the southwest, Hawthorne to the northwest, West Athens to the north, and Alondra Park to the west. In recognition of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (and on account of it being voted for by readers), I took the CARDIS on a trip, joined by first time traveling companions Matt and Cheryl. We got some eats (‘n’ drinks) at Azuma and Furaibo, some groceries and goods at Marukai, and deeply inhaled the strawberry scented (and hot) air in Sanrio Surprises.

  
                                    Rancho San Pedro                                                          William Starke Rosecrans

In 1784, a Spaniard, Juan José Dominguez, was given a portion of land in reward for his military service which was named Rancho San Pedro in what was formerly a Tongva hunting and fishing area. Anyway, it passed into the hands of the Mexicans afterward, and ultimately was taken by the US. The first Anglo settler was mostly a Civil War veteran, Ohioan William Starke Rosecrans, who established Rosecrans Rancho there in 1869. In 1887, he was followed by another veteran, Kentuckian Spencer R. Thorpe. The name "Gardena" is said to have been proposed by Thorpe's daugher, Nettie.

  

That year, a railway line to Gardena was established and over the next couple of years, many more Anglos came to ranch and farm in the area.


Los Angeles and Redondo Railway

In 1904, Englishman John Bodger established Sweet Pea Farm in the town, then home to 1,000 residents. Another large portion of the farmers and gardeners were Japanese who'd mostly arrived from Hawaii.


Due to the acres of berry farms, the city was nicknamed "Berryland" and there used to be an annual Strawberry Day Festival and Parade. Although the Laguna Dominguez slough and channel fed the area and gave it its green character, it was filled in in the 1920s. Nonetheless, Gardena today still boasts several nurseries and parks that reflect its past. Gardena [along with the neighboring communities of Strawberry Park (to the northwest) and Moneta (to the south)] was incorporated into the City of Gardena in 1930.


Japanese-Americans have long been integral to the fabric of Los Angeles. J-Towns have sprung up around the Southland in Torrance, Boyle Heights, Monterey ParkPasadena, San Pedro, Terminal Island, Compton, Long Beach and Sawtelle, and Gardena (although, as far as I know, only two have acquired nicknames that reflect their Japanese-ness, Little Tokyo and Little Ōsaka).


Gardena Buddhist Church

In 1911, the Japanese Association founded the Moneta Japanese Institute. After the end of Japanese internment, many J-towns disappeared, but in Gardena, many Japanese-Americans returned to their former home after regaining their freedom. In the 1970s and '80s, Gardena saw a massive influx of even more Japanese. Today, at over 60,000 residents, Gardena still has a strong Japanese and Pacific Islander presence, making up roughly 27% of the population. Gardena is also approximately 25% black, 12% white and 32% Latino. Mexican and Japanese are the main ethnicities.


Tozai Shopping Center

Gardena is widely known for its Japanese food but, as this list of Gardena eateries suggests, there is a variety to be found at joints and there are a lot of Korean eateries, Hawaiian joints and BBQ places. Some of the better known restaurants and other food-related places include Azuma, Hakata Ramen Shinsengumi, Ahsah, Ana's La Gran Fonda, California Fish Grill, Jay-Bee's House of Fine Bar-B-Que, Kanpachi, Rascals Teriyaki Grill, Kau Kau Korner, Sushi Boy, Kiraku Ramen, El Rocoto, California 90, Pho Gardena, Pho So 1, Pho Long, Sakuraya, Meiji Tofu, Chikara Mochi, Giuliano's, Sakae Sushi, Polla a la Brasa, MamMoth Bakery, Jade's Bakery, La Villa, Bruddah's, Spoonhouse Bakery, Otafuku, Sea Empress, California Rice Center, Umemura, Daruma Izakaya, Akane Chaya, Kotohira, Classic Burger, Old Time Noodle House, Furaibo, Burnt Tortilla, Rainbow Donuts, A Taste of Jamaica, Fish City, Big Star Cafe, Tokyo Grill, Tottino's, La Perla and the Murakai Supermarket.


Pacific Garden Mall  


...and yes, the Pacific Garden Hotel for the overnight shopper

Today, much of Gardena's character remains, not surprisingly, green and Japanese, as evinced by Sanrio Surprise, Hide's Shiatsu, Pacific Square Shopping Center, Tozai Shopping Center, Masfukai Park and the Gardena Buddhist Church (established in 1926).

Nightlife in evidence takes place mostly at bars like Club Momo, Gaku, Moa, Wild Card, Yes, The Desert Room, Club Diva, The Aloha Room, Celeb, Ray's Place, Marty's and A Sung. Of course, there's karaoke at 501 Music Studio, Suzuran, Donna's, Fantasia, Daruma Izakaya and Sing Sing, for those interested in checking out the local music scene.


The most famous musician born in Gardena is not an aspiring karaoke singer, but rather noted jazz saxophonist Art Pepper. In other Jazz-in-Gardena news, in August the city hosts The Gardena Jazz Festival. The only rock band that I know of from Gardena is The Pretty Kittens, an all-girl rock band in the 1960s.


And although Bookoff is mostly about books (with a huge Manga section), they also had a pretty impressive selection of Japanese Dramas and film, as well as a bafflingly organized music selection. Even Matt, a librarian by trade, could not figure out the system, but we did eventually find the Judy and Mary CD we were looking for. As Cheryl was rung up, the cashier put her money in bowl and said something in Japanese. Cheryl nodded although none of us understood what was going on.






Amoeba Hollywood boasts a pretty impressive collection of Japanese Cinema but nothing compared to the rental store Video Japan. As Cheryl perused the horror films (note to Cheryl: High School Killer), Matt waxed philosophical about Japanese actress Sora Aoi.


Gardena’s been a shooting location for several films. For the years it existed, The Ascot Park Speedway was featured in films quite often, appearing in Roar of the Crowd; the Bowery Boys film, Jalopy; the Elvis film, Spinout; as well as the Jack Hill film, Pit Stop; Gone in 60 Seconds; A Very Brady Christmas; and an episode of CHiPs. Ascot was also the site of the annual USAC Turkey Night Grand Prix midget race on Thanksgiving. It was closed in the 1990s and fewer films have been shot in Gardena ever since.


Gardena Boulevard back in the day

Other film locations include the Marine/Redondo Green Line station, which was seen in Heat, and The Pet Haven Cemetary & Crematory served as The Happier Hunting Grounds in The Loved One. H.B. Halicki was obviously a fan of Gardena. He premiered Gone in 60 Seconds and also filmed portions of The Junkman there. Gardena was also featured in Ed Wood, Mulholland Dr., Run if You Can, Money to Burn, The Abominable..., Fragments (aka Winged Creatures), the Deborah Gibson vehicle Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, The Grind, Flossin and Palmer Chandler's Kitchen Catastrophes. Actor Toby Holguin was born in Gardena. Gardena has been featured on TV a couple of times, once an episode of Hot Rod TV and once on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, which featured Jay-Bee's in the episode "Real Deal BBQ." One of the radio station call-ins in CB4 was from a listener in Gardena too.



*****


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Films and Video Games

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 16, 2010 12:34pm | Post a Comment

With Tron – Legacy, the sequel to a movie about video games, scheduled to open in theaters this coming December and Tron – Evolution, a video game based on a sequel of a movie about a video game scheduled for release in November, now seems like a perfect time to look at the Ouroboros-like nature of film and video games and film.

     

In the early 1980s, Hollywood still sometimes made films that weren’t re-makes, adaptations or sequels and before there were movies adapted from video and computer games, there were movies about video and computer games. Tron (1982) was the granddaddy of them all. The Wizard (1989), WarGames (1983), Joysticks (1983), Cloak and Dagger (1984) and The Last Starfighter (1984) soon followed. 

In a culture where toys (Rubik the Amazing Cube anyone?) and sugar cereal are fleshed out into serialized children’s narratives (Cap'n Crunch - available on DVD), it was perhaps inevitable that video games would be adapted into cartoons. About the only thing memorable from Saturday Supercade (with segments including Donkey Kong, Frogger, Q*Bert, Donkey Kong Jr, Pitfall Harry, Space Ace and Kangaroo) was the excellent theme song. I have little memory of Pac-Man (1984) but was a big fan of Pole Position (1984), a show that really fleshed out the narrative of the game, which just featured a race car… racing. A couple of years later, the first film based on a video game appeared – in Japan - Super Mario Bros. - Peach-Hime Kyushutsu Dai Sakusen! (1986).

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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Little Osaka, the Westside's J-Town

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 10, 2009 11:09pm | Post a Comment



This Los Angeles neighborhood blog entry is about Little Osaka. To vote for another neighborhood(s) to be covered here on the blog, click here. To vote for a Los Angeles County community(ies) to be covered, vote here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.



Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of the Westside

Japanese-Americans
have long been integral to the fabric of Los Angeles. J-Towns have sprung up around the Southland in Gardena, Torrance, Boyle Heights, Pasadena, San Pedro, Terminal Island, Compton, Long Beach, Monterey Park and Sawtelle. As far as I know, only two have acquired nicknames that reflect their Japanese-ness, Little Tokyo and Little Ōsaka. The former is a well known spot downtown.


Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Little Osaka

The latter is a small district along Sawtelle Boulevard between Nebraska and Tennessee in the Sawtelle neighborhood (and former municipality) favored by Nisei, foodies, otaku, hentai, nipponophiles. With the rainy season just beginning, my ex-roomie Shimbles and I set out to explore the neighborhood.

From around 400 BCE till the arrival of the Spanish, the area around what's today Little Osaka was known to the Tongva as Kuruvunga. In 1896, a neighborhood sprang up known as Barrett. The US postal service objected to the name, on account of its similarity to Bassett. In 1899, the name was changed to Sawtelle. In 1918, Sawtelle became part of Los Angeles. By the '10s, the area was largely populated by Japanese-Americans and the neighborhood was often referred to as "Soteru." From 1920 to '25, the population of Sawtelle grew rapidly, from 3,500 to 10,700.





In the 1920s and 30s, what's now Little Osaka (小大阪) was dominated by Nikkei-run nurseries which mostly served wealthy, white westsiders, although Sawtelle homes themselves often display more thoughtful landscaping than those in average neighborhoods. In 1931, a group of Japanese planted a Japanese garden (designed by Koichi Kawana) in Sawtelle's Stoner Park "for the promotion of better understanding." By 1941, there were 26 nurseries in the area. When Japanese-Americans were unjustly interred during World War II, the neighborhood went into decline. Today there are three nurseries remaining in Little Osaka; The Jungle, Hashimoto and Yamaguchi Bonsai.


Lianne Lin's I <3 Sawtelle

In the '20s, the large Kobayakawa Boarding House was built by Riichi Ishioka on Sawtelle Blvd, housing up to 60 people at a time. It remained in operation until the 1970s. When Japanese-Americans returned to the neighborhood after the war, Sawtelle Gakuin's auditorium was converted to a hostel. In 1946, Toshikazu "Tom" and Midori Yamaguchi opened the store Yamaguchi, a beloved institution in the neighborhood. Yamas remained in business until 2006, when their sons, Henry and Jack, sold it. In the late '80s, many of the existing buildings were destroyed to make way for strip malls and offices. In the '90s, the area began to bustle again, perhaps initially because authenticity-oriented foodies discovered the neighborhood's Japanese-American restaurants. Although most of the pre-war character of the neighborhood was by then erased, the JA character remained and the area began to be referred to as Little Osaka.



There are still multiple sushi, curry and noodle joints -- among others. I suspect the neighborhood may've acquired its nickname (instead of, say, Little Yokohama) because of how densely populated with eateries it is. Big Ōsaka, after all, is the city of kuidaore ("to become poor as a result of one's extravagance in eating and drinking"). Being a cold, rainy day, I had some extra hot curry and sake to warm myself from the inside out. Afterward we stopped by Beard Papa's, a chain founded in the original Ōsaka. I ate the brand new Cookie Crunch Puff. Although my sweet tooth is dwarfed by my bitter, salty, sour, spicy and umami teeth, it was delicious.


There haven't been any films shot in Little Osaka that I know of, except for a couple of short youtube docs, the area does have a connection to Japanese film. First it should be said that Amoeba has a very large selection of Japanese films -- one of the best in the city. However, if you can't find a Japanese movie at Amoeba, there's a good chance they have it at Video Addict, although probably without English subtitles.




Giant Robot
was started in 1994 by Eric Nakamura and Martin Wong as a magazine covering Asian and Asian-American pop culture. It not only filled a void in the publishing world, but its subject matter, its humor, attitude, observation and insight also made it one of the greatest magazines, period. They opened their first store in 2001, in Little Osaka. A few years later, they opened the art gallery, G2. We checked out the Post-It Show.

 


There are a lot of clothing joints in the neighborhood. As with the world outside of Milan, there are many more options for the ladies than the gents. And for the gents, most of the choices are kawaii t-shirts and outfits you'd see on kids in a jerk video.




As we left Little Osaka, we crossed Nebraska and saw this creepy Brujeria omen...



*****

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