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    No reason / Just seems so pleasin’

    We’ve finally made the decisive transition to fall. The rain is chilly rather than just cool, and the sky is slate grey without that warmth around the edges that says it’s going to heat up again in a day or two. I’m glad Atsushi was here this weekend; it sucks when there’s a major seasonal change and I don’t get to go through it with him. Talking about it on the phone isn’t the same.

    I made another big transition this weekend: we finally rented Lost in Translation , so now, when the googolplexth person asks, “Tokyo, huh? So, have you seen Lost in Translation?” I can say, “Uh-huh.” It was good. Sofia Coppola has a nice feel for actors. Bill Murray was very convincing as a venturesome soul who’d been tired out by decades of routine. Scarlett Johansson’s one of the few starlets now operating who know how to be luminous without twinkling at the bleeding camera. That chick who was supposedly an old girlfriend of Giovanni Ribisi’s was hilarious (though, sad to say, plenty of Yale grads do talk that way).

    As far as the Tokyo setting goes, there’s no way I could have experienced it the way people who don’t live here do. My Japanese isn’t perfect, but I never felt disoriented by the words on the signs or the dialogue. Sometimes, the Japanese was frankly distracting: the shot that establishes Murray’s character as a star, when you first see the Suntory billboard with his picture? Right below it is an ad for hair removal. I guffawed, which I don’t believe was the reaction sought. (At least, nothing in the movie looked like an in-joke with Japanese speakers.) The cab driver also seemed to be taking a strange route to get from Narita Airport to the Park Hyatt–who would go through Shibuya? I mean, who would go through Hachiko?

    That part was kind of fun, actually: Shibuya and Shinjuku are the neighborhoods in which I spend a good 90% of my time. The other neighborhood mentioned by name, Daikanyama, is on my train line; I sometimes walk there to pick up lunch because it’s only seven minutes or so from the office. My chiropractor is in Omotesando, where Johansson is shown on the subway platform. The gigantic Shibuya intersection that Murray and Johansson cross as if they were playing Frogger is five minutes from my office in a different direction. In fact, until Atsushi was transferred and I moved my stuff conclusively into our apartment, I lived right in that neighborhood, in one of a very few apartment buildings surrounded by the Pachinko parlors and bars and stuff. Loved every minute of it.

    Actually, one of the cool things–movies are good at this–was the way Tokyo looked like Tokyo but without the dinginess. The Park Hyatt isn’t dingy, of course; the interiors and views looked exactly as they do in real life. But the outdoor scenes–you could see the jumble of incongruous grey buildings and power lines and pylons and stuff, but it always moved by fast enough that the grit and crud weren’t visible. Not that Tokyo’s a dirty city by any stretch, but it is dusty and frequently tired-looking. Coppola and the actors saw only the jittery vitality. In that sense, I guess, I was able to see the place as non-Tokyo-dwellers do. (Some of the idealization strained reality to breaking point, though–just try finding a Tokyo karaoke bar that has “Brass in Pocket” and “More than This”!)

    The movie wasn’t, in any case, a disappointment, as one always fears when a gajillion people have said, “Oh, you absolutely have to see it!” Just in case, though, I did that thing where you rent a hyped-up movie you haven’t seen and an old favorite you know you’ll enjoy so the night won’t be a total wash, you know? Atsushi hadn’t seen Cruel Intentions , so it was kind of fun to watch him react to the adult-free, idealized Manhattan, let alone Sarah Michelle Gellar as a sociopath. Ryan Phillippe was okay, as always, except when he had to talk–or, more precisely, when he had to evolve as a character. One emotion per movie seems to be about his limit.

    The funny part of the night was that after watching all this stuff about mopey, lost people who come this close to having an affair, and then about unsupervised teenagers engaged in elaborate revenge-screw plots, it was time to call my beyond-wholesome parents to wish them a happy 34th anniversary. (Did I mention that we’d also gone to the Moreau exhibit earlier in the day? When will Japanese museums learn about such obscure concepts as proper lighting, one is moved to wonder? Anyway, that was another hour and a half spent contemplating studies for paintings of Helen and Salome and the like.) It’s probably a good thing the ‘rents weren’t home; I could hear how strange my tone sounded when I was talking to the answering machine. When we got up this morning, Atsushi, who devotes a good deal of energy to nudging me out of my lapses in filial piety, pointed out that there was still time to call them again before they went to bed and the day ended on the East Coast. By then, my mood had returned to normal somewhat.

    Of course, I had to send him off an hour or so ago. At least this weekend I was able to feed him for three days. He says he’s eating fine in Kyushu, but I don’t buy a word of it. What do the old bags in his company’s dining hall know about taking care of Atsushi? And let’s not talk about the reheated food from 7-Eleven. Just three more years of this separation crap to go.

    5 Responses to “No reason / Just seems so pleasin’”

    1. John says:

      Ah, yes 7-11 haute cuisine. Yaki soba on a bun. Mayonnaise on bamboo shoots. Kewpie is the devil’s spawn, I tell you.

    2. Toren says:

      You comment on Japanese museums reminds me of the time I went to an exhibition of ukiyo-e at the Tokyo Station Gallery with a couple of manga-ka friends of mine. It was relatively well presented, but the best part was when one of the attendants came over to shush us for laughing.

      Hello? Many ukiyo-e are supposed to be funny, lady!

      Talk about unclear on the subject. Although we were the only people I noticed laughing in the entire time we were there.

    3. Sean Kinsell says:

      7-Eleven has, to its credit, gotten much better just over the last five years, John. The bento are basically as good as the better-known ekiben. I think Atsushi usually goes for those, though they’re still not like having real food made for you. You’re right that they still carry the who-would-buy-that-to-put-in-his-mouth? stuff, though.

      Toren, I’m a big museum person, and I will never get the museums here. Some of them are like Macy’s on White Sale day, with people practically trampling each other; some of them are eerily quiet; they all have bad curating. At first I thought I was just reacting that way because it was a new country. Then I went back to New York and Philadelphia and realized that, no, the atmosphere genuinely is kind of weird here.

    4. John says:

      Actually, the food at the company caf in our manufacturing plant was pretty good. But the 7-11 at the Shinkansen station (nowhere near Tokyo) had very little selection of bento, but was pretty heavy on food of the potato-salad-in-a-bun variety. Which just about beats the three week old tea eggs in Taiwanese 7-11s, but not by much. Just thinking about that stuff gives me heartburn.

      If I had time, the Depaato food courts were great. The yakitori and the unagi at the Odakyu food court below Shinjuku station were awesome.

      But often I was winging my way to the train to get back to the wife on time. Which is why I know that Yakisoba does indeed come in hot dog buns (sometimes with potato salad hidden below the yakisoba).

      Despite the mess, I would have preferred to eat squid-on-a-stick on the train, it was my food of choice at Japanese matsuri (along with hotdog bun-free yakisoba).

    5. Sean Kinsell says:

      The five-kinds-of-starch-together thing I will never get. Potatoes on pizza is possibly my favorite instance, though mayonnaise-drenched yakisoba in a steamed bun is another justly infamous example. 7-Eleven has really come a long way in just the last five or six years, though; you see business/econ articles about it all the time. It fine-tuned its production and distribution systems so that it delivers fresh bento and various kinds of don several times a day (at least to its busiest outlets). The quality of most stuff really is about as good as what you’d pack for yourself, and it’s perceptibly superior to that of what you get at the other chains.

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