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Monday, March 25, 2019

Exploring Japan Vol. 21 - SUMO!!

So you're probably asking yourself why it took so long for me to write about Sumo.  To be honest, there are two reasons. First, it was something we did as part of a tour group the on our initial visit to Tokyo.  We're not big on tours and this was one of only two that we took.  While I'm glad we did it, it still felt like we were kind of sheltered and not really a part of the action and vibe.




Second (and maybe because of that sheltered feeling), the whole thing kind of came off as a one dimensional experience.  Allow me to explain the whole concept though because I really feel like if I lived there, attended on my own and followed it for even one season, I'd be hooked.

Sumo is Japan's national sport.  They take this very, very seriously.  There are six tournaments per year, three of which take place in Tokyo.  Each tournament lasts only 15 days but over that time, the newspapers and television are covered with stories about each day's results.  




The sport started as part of a religious ritual and the matches were thought to be entertaining to the Shinto deities.  As you watch a match, you'll still see components of this.  The matches take place on a raised platform made of clay and covered with sand.  A Shinto priest will start each match by chanting to purify the ring.  Then each wrestler will do his own ritual, tossing salt to further purify it and get into the proper mindset.  Eventually, they will get into position mere inches from each other.  There is no whistle or anything to start.  One will just suddenly make a move and in a few seconds the match is over.




The rules are simple.  If you exit the ring or if any part of your body other than the soles of your feet touch the floor, you lose.

Wrestlers are split into hierarchies based on their performance.  They can move up or down within those depending how well they do in each tournament with one exception.  The winner of the tournament is crowned Yokozuna (Grand Champion).  Once that happens, you're a Yokozuna for life.  However, if your performance begins to slip, you are expected to retire.




Winning brings with it some fantastic rewards.  Aside from fame, you also get prizes from different sponsors that include giant casks of sake, chesnuts, etc.  You also win money and there's always the occasional sponsorship.




The matches themselves are fun to watch, but they end so quickly you need to make sure you don't blink.  The real fun for us though was watching the people with the ringside seats.  You may have realized from the picture below that there are no ropes to keep a wrestler from falling into the crowd.  This happens quite a bit.  In fact, if you sit close to the ring itself you're not allowed to bring food or drinks.  Seeing 350 pound giants fall on a family of four can be relatively entertaining if you're in the right mindset.




When the day's matches are over, there's a closing ceremony where all the high ranked wrestlers perform a final ritual.  Then everyone heads home.

All that said, if you've never attended then going for a day is worth doing.  Matches begin early (8:30 a.m. most days) and go until after 6:00 p.m.  The better wrestlers get the later matches so the stadium tends to fill up as the day goes on.  Bring some yen so you can buy snacks and beer and allow a few hours to get the full effect.  Also, we found that there was an English radio broadcast of the event, so bring a portable radio with headphones if you have one and you can hear the call in real time.

Next week, we'll explore some of Tokyo's public parks and hang out with some cats.  Be sure to join me!




Thursday, March 21, 2019

Forgotten Horror Gems Vol 8 - The Kindred (1987)

Two!  Two in a row!  


So last week, I wrote about the awesomeness that is I Drink Your Blood (1971).  It was definitely a fun time but in a sleazy, exploitative way. This week, we dipped out toes into the 1980’s and checked out a nasty little flick called The Kindred (1987).  I didn’t expect much but the poster (once again) was just awesome. From that alone, I was thinking that this probably had something to do with aliens.





Imagine my surprise when this turned out to be something entirely different and my favorite of all of the movies we’ve watched so far! Sure, it’s got some plot holes and yeah, it’s got issues with dialogue, etc. but despite all that, this movie is a ton of fun!


The Kindred follows a young research scientist who goes back to his childhood home to collect his mother’s notes and disassemble her laboratory. You see, researching runs in the family and in this case, his mother was working with a substance found in marine life called “hemocynan”. Apparently it’s very toxic but also has properties which seem to be able to offer some benefit to society (even though this is never fully explained).




What his mother has really done though is create a human, squid monster hybrid and boy is it pissed off!  What makes this better is that there is another scientist who was also researching in the same field. He’s evil and has his own menagerie of mutants kept in a cellar.  




Obviously, if you do the math (2 mad scientists + pissed off mutants + tentacles + unassuming research scientists + a bit of Lovecraftian horror) you end up with a real winner!  The effects are solid and full of slimy, gross, tentacally goodness!


But wait!  What do the girls give it?  


The “Not-So-Old” Movie Rubric:  The Kindred (1987)


  1. Someone being related:  +2
  2. A baby in the movie: +1
  3. A reptile in the movie:  0
  4. Synthesizer musical score:  0
  5. A legitimate plot:  +1
  6. Decent acting:  +0.5
  7. Clueless female character:  0
  8. Story progresses:  +1
  9. Educational short:  -2
  10. Expert in a ridiculous field: +1
  11. Sexist joke or comment:  0
  12. Love story:  0
  13. Music is not repetitive:  -1
  14. Shoulder pads/Flashdance fashion:  +1
  15. Neon: 0
  16. Crimped Hair:  0
  17. Is actually scary:  +0.5


Total:  5




Karen did say that she liked this one.  It was just scary and crazy enough that it felt original to her.  Lil was more bummed at the lack of 80’s crimped hair and neon, but did say it wasn’t horrible.

That sounds like an endorsement to me!  You can check out the trailer for The Kindred here:






Monday, March 18, 2019

Exploring Japan Vol. 20 - Miyajima

This week we'll wrap up the part of our trip that took us south of Tokyo.  When I lived in Iwakuni, there were two places easily accessible by train.  The best was Hiroshima, with its modern ginza and professional baseball team.  The other was no slouch though.  It was the island of Itsukushima and the small town of Miyajima.




Funny enough, Miyajima technically doesn't exist anymore.  It was annexed by the city of Hatsukaichi in 2005, however people still refer to it by the old name.  It sits 20 minutes outside of Hiroshima by train, however that only gets you to the ferry station.  A ten minute ferry ride puts you at the dock and immediately you're beset by roving deer.




At first, you'll think they're fantastic but if you sit back and watch them awhile, you'll see their mercenary tactics at work.  They travel in packs of two or three and while one distracts people by acting cute, the others start eating anything they can get hold of. In this case, even Karen's shirt.




One of my favorite things about this trip was watching a woman get ambushed from behind by a deer who walked away with most of an ice cream cone.  She had her attention on the one in front of her and before she knew it, the one in back of her had bitten the top off her cone.

The town of Miyajima is known for a few things beside aggressive deer.  First, and most impressive, is their giant torii.  




It sits in the water at high tide, but when the water moves out, you can walk right down to the base.  In fact, you'll find locals digging for clams, crabs and other fresh seafood.  




It's a truly amazing structure and once you get close to it, the sheer size of the trees the builders used will floor you.  


  

The second awesome sight is the floating Buddhist temple.  It doesn't really float, however when the tide is in, it sits directly over the water.  




The third thing they're known for is not a sight at all.  It's a taste.  Miyajima is the place to get the best bean cakes in all of Japan (in my humble opinion).  These are fresh sponge cakes that are filled with sweet red bean paste. 




If you don't like red bean paste, don't worry.  There are at least ten different flavors that range from chocolate and vanilla to banana and berry flavors.  There are multiple stores along the route that all make these fresh and many have their own proprietary flavors so be sure to shop around.  They are well worth your yen.  You can even pick up special Kit Kat flavors that are specific to Miyajima.




If you follow the main path through town, you'll find yourself walking in a beautiful wooded area.  It will take you over bridges and by Shinto shrines that are nestled back among the trees.  




It makes for a gorgeous hike but if you're not in the mood, you can catch a bus up to the cable car at the end of the path. 


For a small fee, you can take that up to a point on Mt. Misen where you'll get fabulous views of the inland sea and the small islands that dot it.  





It's from this point you can also find the trail up to the temple that houses the eternal flame I wrote about in the second post of this series.  If you're really ambitious, you can continue on from there and hike all the way to the top of the mountain.  




The only thing you need to be aware of is that the ferry does stop running relatively early, so if you're not off the mountain on time, you'll be finding a place to stay on the island.



Karen and Lil had a mixed response to visiting Miyajima.  While they liked the town and the deer, they didn't like hiking in the heat and humidity.  The selfie above was taken to show me just how much they hated trying to get to the eternal fire temple.  They turned back about a quarter mile from the temple itself and snapped this about ten minutes after they left me.  They snapped another that included a hand gesture but I'm trying to keep this blog semi-PC.  

Still, I can't help but recommend visiting the island AND making the hike.  It's one of my favorite places in all of Japan and ranks a solid number two in my top three most beautiful and peaceful places to visit. Number one would be the mountain trail I wrote about in the Iwakuni post and number three would be Meiji Shrine in Tokyo.

Next week, we'll finally talk about sumo, because I feel obligated and a few people have asked about it.  

See you then!






Thursday, March 14, 2019

Forgotten Horror Gems Vol. 7 - I Drink Your Blood (1971)

We are seven films into a list of movies that I have somehow managed to miss over my 50 years on this planet.  We've seen some okay ones and some terrible ones, but I have to tell you that nothing prepared me for the absolute awesomeness of this one.


I Drink Your Blood (1971) is exploitation horror at its finest.  We'll get to that in a moment.  First, I have to tell you that Lilith sat this one out.  To be perfectly frank, I know she's not a fan of gore so Karen and I watched it while she was out of the house.  That said, the first scene alone was almost enough for us to wait for her to get back.  There is nothing I'd love to hear more than a 16-year-old making snarky comments about a bunch of naked hippy devil worshipers reciting dialogue so pretentious that suppressing giggles was nigh impossible.

That said, I took the responsible adult route and Karen and I soldiered on alone.

So, what makes this movie so good?  Let me count the ways!

The story involves a bunch of Satan worshipers who descend on a small town.  First, they brutalize a local teen girl.  When her grandfather goes to get revenge, they beat him up and force feed him acid.  Now, here's where you expect some Billy Jack character to come in and kick ass, right? 



Wrong!  Instead, a twelve-year-old boy, the grandson of the man who got dosed, decides to take  revenge.  He kills a rabid dog and then extracts blood from the animal and puts it in the Satan worshipers' food.  



They, of course, go insane and start killing each other and anyone else they come across.  Body parts are lopped off, blood flies everywhere, organs fall out of wounds... it's just awesome!  Soon the sickness begins to spread beyond the devil cult and into the people of the surrounding area.



Why is this "exploitation"?  Well, this movie rode into theaters as the Manson murder trial had captured American imaginations.  Nothing was scarier than hippies.  Sure they'd smile to your face and talk about peace and love, but then they'd take those mind altering drugs and who knows what they'd do.  Right?  Seen through the eyes of the time, this movie is definitely frightening.

Now, the acting isn't the best.  I'd say everyone is trying hard but only about half of them are really pulling it off.  Lucky for us, those who do pull their acting weight include most of the devil worshipers, the boy, his grandfather and his sister.  

Acting aside, there's one huge thing I have to complain about.




The soundtrack.

It is almost entirely made up of obnoxious, irritating noises.  Karen described it as taking a recording of a battery operated toy ray gun, looping that on itself and cranking it higher and higher depending on the amount of tension they were trying to portray.

It's pretty wretched.  Still, it's not worth skipping this one over.  You could do a lot worse than spending an hour and a half watching a bunch of rabid hippies lay waste to a small town.

I highly recommend this one and consider it the first movie of this whole experiment that is a clear-cut winner!  It's gross and low budget, but still... a winner.  You can actually find the entire movie for free on YouTube:




Next week, we'll delve into something a bit more classy... not a lot more though.  We have an image to keep around here.



Monday, March 11, 2019

Exploring Japan Vol. 19 - Hiroshima

As I mentioned last week, our first trip to Japan as a family involved a four day excursion down to my old stomping grounds in Iwakuni.  Iwakuni itself is a small city and there’s not a lot there for tourists besides the Kikkou Park area. That’s one of the reasons we opted to stay in Hiroshima and branch out from there.




The other reason is that Hiroshima has, as you probably know, a remarkable and tragic history of its own.  If you are going to travel to this part of Japan, you owe it to yourself to visit even though it will be a sobering experience in some respects.  When I lived in Iwakuni, I would make the trip down to Hiroshima about twice a year. Once was always to attend a Hiroshima Carps game (especially when ex-Atlanta Brave Bob Horner would come to town with the Yakult Swallows) and again around Christmas time in order to shop at some of the stores in the local ginza.





The main draw for most visitors though is Peace Park.  This is ground zero for the first atomic bomb detonated in a wartime engagement. The park itself houses The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It’s an amazing journey that takes you through pre-war Hiroshima, the dropping of the bomb, the aftermath and the eventual recovery.  This is the kind of place that puts everything into a perspective that you may not have heard before, while at the same time goes to great pains to be fair in the telling. You’ll see artifacts that will haunt you for the rest of your life, but I still say it’s important that you go.  It’s the kind of thing that puts an abstract idea like “atomic explosion” into a very real and tangible thing that you can easily wrap your mind around.


I did not take any photos inside the museum as it just didn’t feel right.  
After the visit, we walked around the park on a fittingly gray and rainy day.  There are markers showing exactly where ground zero was. There is the eternal flame which (if you recall from an earlier post) was lit from the fire that’s been burning for 1,200 years on Mt. Misen. There are memorials to the children who lost their lives here. These have large chains of paper cranes on display.




One of the most fascinating, and again sobering, things in Peace Park is the A-Bomb Dome.




It's the remains of what used to be a government building and is the only structure still left standing from the time of the atomic blast. At the time, it was one of the few buildings in the area with a metal framework and it sat very close to the center of the blast.



It was kept intact as a memorial to the 70,000 people who lost their lives in the detonation as well as the tens of thousands who died from radiation related illnesses after.

After touring the museum and spending a couple of hours wandering the area, we were ready to lighten things up a bit. Here’s where I decided to try to find my way back to the ginza I used to frequent thirty years ago. To my wife and daughter’s surprise, I led us right to it.  




To be honest, I was kind of surprised myself. There wasn’t much to point out here, other than it’s a fine place to grab a quick meal.  There is also a department store on one end that has a Tower Records at the top if you’re into that sort of thing.  I am but I'm more inclined to hit up the second hand stores than a Tower.

The locals absolutely love their baseball team, and I used to love watching them also, so I was happy to see that Vans has struck a deal with the Hiroshima Carps to provide Carps branded shoes. Of course, even their largest size wouldn't fit my giant feet.  

I also passed on buying the Carps branded katsu mix.




I just grabbed a hat instead.


For the next two days, we found ourselves coming back to the ginza each night to eat after our day excursions.  We searched every nook and cranny of it for things to do, but to be honest, there wasn’t a lot except for people watching.  

If you’re into that sort of thing, then head to the McDonald’s, get something small (to justify your seat) and go upstairs to the window. There you’ll get a view of everyone wandering the ginza and your daughter can start obsessing over strange Japanese boys who seem to be cosplaying.


Next week, I’ll wrap up the southern jaunt by showing you a little more of Miyajima.  


See you then!


Thursday, March 7, 2019

FEST!!!

For those of you who don’t know me personally or are newcomers to the blog,
this will be the first time you’re hearing about the mysterious thing
called Fest.  For those who have heard of it, bear with me while I recap
some things. Approximately 28 years ago, a group of friends in Boston
got together on a cold winter day to watch some movies.  It wasn’t just
any get together though. Two members of the group, Mike Carvalho and
Lynn Mason were (and are) movie hounds. They love seeking out the old,
the strange, the foreign and sometimes the forgotten when it comes to
cinema and they curated a list of films to show that would stretch an
entire 24 hours.


I’m not sure of the size of the first crowd but I have heard at least five
people say they were there. By all accounts it was interesting, but didn’t
go exactly the way they wanted it to go. In fact, that would have been
the only time they held it if not for Lynn bugging the absolute shit out
of Mike two years later saying that they HAD to try it again.  This time
they made some rule changes. The starting time was moved to early evening
on Friday. They scheduled breaks a little better and figured out ideal
running times for the movies they showed.


That was the beginning of the yearly tradition that is the 24 Hour Film
Fest.  I’ve had the pleasure of attending nine of them and when I say
pleasure, that’s not me being sarcastic.  I absolutely love “Fest”.


Last weekend, I attended number Fest 27.  It was one of (if not the) best
I’ve attended.  This year’s line up included an early talkie, an Indian
horror/fantasy film, a Japanese zombie film/comedy that was one of the
most creative things I’ve ever seen and nine more that I would recommend
to almost anyone.  Since we tend to talk about movies on this blog a bit,
I thought I’d run down some of my favorites from this year’s lineup. You
could do a lot worse than to seek these out!





First up, the crowd favorite, was the Japanese produced One Cut For The
Dead.  This one is going to be a bit hard to find due to a screwup by
Amazon who illegally listed it as a streaming title for a short period
before pulling it down.  This brought up massive piracy issues and a true
authorized U.S. release is not currently in the works. However, you can
find a UK release and it’s well worth getting.  The premise is a director
is tasked with shooting a livestream zombie film in one take. I don’t
want to explain things further because half the fun of this film is seeing
exactly what they’ve done.  Let’s just say that the zombie parts are scary
and the comedy parts are laugh out loud funny.


Another favorite of mine was the 1930 production of Moby Dick starring
John Barrymore. Now, if you are an author or just a well read lover of the
classics, I feel you need to see this one.  The writers and director had
no intention of making a true adaptation of Moby Dick. Instead, they made
a love story where Captain Ahab is a loveable drunk who falls in love with
a woman in port and does his best to clean up and woo her.  Sure, there’s
a white whale (well, a black whale with a white patch on its back).
There’s also Ahab himself and Queequeg. Other than that though, there’s
not another reference from the source material that I could spot. It’s
well made for the time, but just hilarious to watch for the way they
butchered the novel. There isn't any YouTube link to this one. Sorry.





If you want to see a majestic, insanely cool fantasy story, then check
out Tumbaad.  This is streaming on Amazon Prime and tells the story of a
cursed treasure in the heart of a castle in India and the young boy who
figures out the secret of how to get it.  The film then follows him through
his life as he exploits the source of the treasure again and again with
semi-disastrous consequences. It’s got old witches, demons, adventure
and lots and lots of rain.  I highly, highly recommend this one.




Speaking of witches and demons and foreign films, you should definitely
check out Livid.  It’s a beautifully creepy French film that tells the
story of a young hospice nurse who is learning her new route. She finds
that a wealthy old woman on her deathbed is on her route, she and her
boyfriend decide to rip off the mansion.  Obviously, things don’t go as
planned. It’s a fantastic film and will be one of the first that I watch
a second time.






The last one that I want to recommend was one I didn’t expect to love as
much as I do.  It’s a comedy from the 1980’s called Nice Girls Don’t
Explode. It’s about a young girl who’s special fire starting powers seem
to come forward only when she’s excited.  This becomes a problem as she’s
hit puberty and wants to start dating. There are some great laugh out
loud moments throughout and it’s a shame this didn’t get a bigger
following at the time.  


The full lineup is below and to be honest, except for Rock and Roll
Nightmare which is fun to watch with a crowd just so you can make fun of
it, all of the rest I would recommend in a heartbeat.  

Rock and Roll Nightmare
One Cut for the Dead
Moby Dick
Tumbaad
Deadly Eyes
Dark House
Tourist Trap
Would You Rather?
The Evil Within
Livide
Race With The Devil
Nice Girls Don't Explode


Fest is truly one of the highlights to my year and it’s because everyone
who attends is just so damn fun to watch movies with.  Thanks again to
Mike and Lynn for putting this on every year and special thanks to Karen
Mike’s longsuffering wife) for allowing this insanity to go on.  She
leaves for the weekend each year, but is sure to call us midway through to
loudly call us all “idiots” via speaker phone.


Next week, we’ll get back to the Forgotten Gems columns on Thursdays and
you can look forward to some book updates coming soon.  I can promise you
now, 2019 is going to be a fun, fun year!