Saturday, July 31, 2010

It's all falling into Pratze

So yesterday I went to the "Dance ga mitai" ("I want to see dance/try dance") festival at popular Tokyo performance site Die Pratze (a Japanese pronunciation of the German "die Platz," meaning place, square, etc.) Die Pratze is like Highways or Electric Lodge in LA, or Links Hall in Chicago: an intimate black box space for non-mainstream dance and performance. Dance ga mitai is a festival of new butoh-based works that extends over 2 months and 2 theaters.

I was taken to the performance by a Japanese dance scholar with whom I'd been corresponding for a while via email. On our way there, he was mentioning all the people he would introduce me to, including dancers and dance critics. Low and behold, in the theater who should sit down next to me but none other than the legendary butoh critic Goda Nario! My intrepid scholar-friend introduced me and by the end of the night I had an invitation to an upcoming lecture and tentative plans for an interview.

The performance featured two extended solos. The first, "Dear" by Shizu Araki of Dance Group KANEOKAMISHIN, opened with the compelling image of a figure sitting on a stool arched forward unrolling mounds and mounds of toilet tissue from between her legs. (This image is muted when a toilet tissue roll rigged to the underside of the stool is later visible.) Not afraid to stay with repetition until the movement coalesces into a meaning all its own, Shizu is at her best here. Accompanied by sounds of older technology (keyboarding, dot matrix printer, adding machine) over an atmospheric score, the toilet paper reads as adding machine ribbon and the dance seems to posit a struggle between humanity and technology (however outdated), especially when the dancer wrestles the paper mound into the air and a strobe light gives a blow-by-blow account of their skirmish. Soon, however, the technology arc seems superceded by a return to childhood, the theme of the rest of the approximately 30 minute piece, despite the continued presence of the tech-soundscore. During the artist talk balk, Shizu explained that this piece represents her recent work to move from an improv-based performance model to one of choreography. I think it was this aspect that made the second half of the piece seem, well, safe. In between the two sections was the curious image of a kewpie-type doll hanging spread-eagle in a doorway, twisting in what passed for a breeze in the stifling July heat. The grinning doll was captivating, especially when Shizu's disembodied arm reached out and halted the dolls merry rotations by grabbing its crotch. No movement in the second half of the piece lived up to the promise of that moment.  Shizu's piece also suffered from too-pretty costumes that did not, to my eye, match the tone of her dance. Still, Shizu is a strong dancer and someone I would want to continue to watch.

The second piece, by Tanabe Tomomi's, "July Goldfish Bowl," opens with Tanabe on her back on the floor, upstage left, with her feet resting at a low angle on the wall. Thus begins her minimalist journey across the stage, which remains fully lit until near the end. She is accompanied by faint tapping sounds that were at first for me too reminiscent of the previous soundscore. This aural reference is soon sublimated, however, through a focus on her body's molecular movements that sometimes result in visible twitches or shifts. Her costume is a curiously (too?) lovely white lacy dress in the front, that in the back fastens with ties like those on a hospital gown, revealing a beige shift below. She wears a skin-color wrap around her ankle that looks perhaps too much like a brace, and a matching sleeve on her right forearm. As her micro progress continues, she is joined by a faint recording of Bob Dylan singing "Mr. Tambourine Man," as if the song were wafting into Tanabe's dream space from an apartment below, or perhaps from some other time. The juxtaposition of her butoh repose and the folk classic somehow works beautifully, making me hear the song in a completely new light. (Can you actually hear in light? Hmmm.) I decide then and there that any covers of Mr. Tambourine Man are woefully inadequate copies of the original. As Tanabe reaches center stage after what feels like 30 minutes, I begin to wonder what will happen. Will the dance just continue until she reaches the facing wall? The lights that cover the entire stage seem to suggest so. Just then, however, she begins to struggle to stand up. But unlike the classic Hijikata "can't stand up" movement that evokes broken and deformed bodies, Tanabe's movement more reflects a deep desire to not resist the luscious pull of gravity. She wants to stay low to the ground, and yet something draws her up. Interestingly, a critic I met after the performance told me that this is the first time he's seen Tanabe stand up in a piece in perhaps 10 years; no wonder she was so physically conflicted. Upright at long last, she props herself against a pole that interrupts the downstage space of Die Pratze's stage, and with her back to the audience hums a few bars of the Dylan melody. Black out. ...Cue inner monologue: "Huh? Why aren't people applauding? This is kind of a long black out. Huh? Oh, here comes a spotlight...which finds Tanabe still standing, but now flush against the backdrop, left hand raised over her shoulder and slightly caressing the wall. Backing away from the wall, the dancer tentatively, softly raises one foot, then the other, in a movement that grows into a shifting back and forth that draws in her arms, torso, neck. Dylan joins her again, this time fully present in the space, and her shifting and rocking continues: never vigorous, always gentle, purposeful nonetheless. She is in her own world: rocking, shifting, rocking, shifting, rocking...until suddenly she's not. Owari. End. Tanabe's movement aesthetic matches my own, and I found myself reflecting on similar pieces I've made as I watched her.

On a side note, watching these pieces I had the feeling of actually being in a black box for the first time. No emergency lights cutting through the dark here, no "places" lights. Until the dances started, it was really pitch black. It was kinda nice.

Afterwards, I went with a group of dancers and critics to a pub where we drank beer (delicious in this impossibly muggy weather), and ate yummy things like ume and natto maki rolls and egg cakes. All in all, a lovely evening! I look forward to checking out more of Dance ga mitai.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Let the research begin!

I spent the last two days at the Hijikata Archives (土方アーカイヴ), run by the very helpful Morishita-san, who began archiving items when Hijikata Tatsumi, the man credited with founding butoh, died in 1986.

My dissertation is about Eiko & Koma, who began their dance training with Hijikata in the early 1970s, before going to train with Ohno Kazuo. Some people see Ohno as a co-founder of butoh, others see him as its most visible proponent. He just passed away earlier this summer at the age of 103. I'm not going to try to define butoh for you here - that's a dissertation in itself.

There just aren't very good clips of Hijikata's choreography online, so I'll just include some pictures of him here. Use your imagination!

From the Kamaitachi by Hosoe Eikoh:

Still from History of Smallpox (1972)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


It's a three umbrella day in Tokyo (東京). At least it's a little cooler.

Tokyo: The View from Here

First full day in Tokyo. Once I managed to pull myself together in the heat and humidity, I made my way a few Metro stops east from where I'm staying to Shinjuku to run some errands.

I stopped by the Tokyo Municipal Government Building to visit the Observation decks of both the north and south towers.

LA has nothing on Tokyo when it comes to sprawl (looking east from the south tower):

Fuji-san, lost in the haze (looking west from the south tower):

The Tochō from the ground:

Cool skyscrapers (looking northeast from the north tower):

I also made a lot of random observations today:

  • Japanese women don't wear dangling earrings.
  • Almost no one wears sunglasses.
  • Since the Japanese drive on the left, there are a lot of other side-orientations that are switched, for example on escalators one stands on the left and walks on the right. I keep having to remind myself.
  • Almost no one locks up their bicycles.
  • Biggest fashion trend: black stirrup tights worn with flats or sandals so that the stirrup shows.
After the sun went down, I ventured back out to explore my neighborhood (Nakano-Sakaue) a bit. There was quite a gusty wind blowing, which helped with the heat. I was excited to find a Mos Burger (purveyors of a yummy rice and seaweed burger that I discovered in Taiwan) nearby, as well as a huge 100 yen store that has everything I could possibly need, not to mention four "konbini," including a 7-11 and a Family Mart.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Half-ass movie review: airplane edition

There are movies you pay to see in the movie theater, movies you pay to rent, and then there are movies you watch on airplanes.

I have some rules about movies on planes.
1) The movie must not make me cry.*
2) Pretty much anything else goes.

Flying internationally, especially on nice airlines, means that you will be greeted with a smorgasbord of films to choose from. Gone are the days of being subjected to Karate Kid 4.

I started my films on my LAX-NAR flight with Zombieland. I’d been itching to watch it since I saw Adventureland, (Jesse Eisenberg is the new king of the nerd boys, in a totally real way) and I was not disappointed. Rules projected on the screen (e.g., #4 always wear your seatbelt), a twinkie search, and an awesome cameo by Bill Murray. See this movie!

Next, I thought I’d give Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland a chance. I refuse to see his movies in the theater anymore – I am always disappointed. But still, I thought it would be airplane-worthy. Guess what? It’s not. In fact, it SUCKED, and I turned it off halfway through. I repeat: I stopped an airplane movie. This has never happened before. I sat through all of Australia. I sat through all of Mamma Mia. I even sat through all of The Next Karate Kid all those years ago. I could not sit through Alice in Wonderland, and so I am officially dubbing it the worst movie ever. Do not see this movie! In fact I'm not even going to bother to link to it!

After that debacle, I went for Neal Jordan’s recent Ondine. It stars Colin Farrell, who I think is getting better with age (you MUST see In Bruges), and co-stars Stephen Rea. Ok, it’s not the best movie ever, but it’s a sweet Irish mermaid tale, and is certainly a fine way to while away the hours.

Less than four hours to go – what shall I watch now? Ah, I know: The Ghost Writer, a political thriller about the thinly veiled US-British political entanglements that authorized extraordinary rendition and torture. Perfect timing with the Wikileaks release of all those documents that are raising serious doubts about the war in Afghanistan. Plus, bonus: Ewan McGregor. Perhaps the fact that Roman Polanski directed this film led to its tepid reception, despite good reviews. I hope you won’t let his asshole-ishness prevent you from seeing a good movie.

*This rule has been broken on occasion, most notably by Rachel Getting Married. It was totally worth it, though.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Half-ass Movie Review: The Runaways

This movie was not as bad as I expected it to be. I was mostly impressed that Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning were able to rise above themselves to inhabit Joan Jett and Cherie Currie. Kudos to Stella Maeve as the adorable Sandy West and Scout Taylor-Compton as the strutting Lita Ford. And Michael Shannon was great as the "think with your dick" Kim Fowley. Best cameo: Robert Romanus (Damone from Fast Times at Ridgemont High) as the guitar teacher who tries to teach Joan Jett "On Top of Old Smokey" and tells her that girls don't plug in, although Tatum O'Neil as Cherie's mom was also a  surprise. Likely because it's based on Currie's book and was executive produced by Jett, the movie unfairly gives Lita Ford short shrift, and oddly jumps from the moment Currie left the band to Jett's solo success with The Blackhearts, skipping a couple of years' worth of Runaways success without Currie.

The best thing about the movie was that it made me think back to my own initial exposure to girl rock bands. I wasn't really allowed to listen to rock until I was 10 in 1980, so the Go-Go's were really the first time I realized that girls could play all instruments. And I specifically remember that I was mightily intimidated by Joan Jett in her "I Love Rock n' Roll" video. I definitely didn't know any girls like her, and it would be years before I would learn about The Runaways. The movie also made me check out Suzi Quatro, a rockin' babe from Michigan!

Is the movie worth seeing? Sure. Is the music worth rocking out to? Hell yes!

The Runaways: "Cherry Bomb": The classic, performed live in Japan

Suzi Quatro "48 Crash": Look at that hair blow!

Joan Jett "Do You Wanna Touch Me": Yes, please.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Flashback: Little Darlings

Little Darlings (1980) was one of those movies that my friends and I as pre-adolescents were just desperate to see, probably because we weren't supposed to. Along with other R-rated movies like 1982's Porky's (a throw-away) and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (an absolute classic) released the same year, Little Darlings tempted us with its promise of teen sex and rebellion. I really loved Kristy McNichol at the time; I think I mostly envied her perfectly feathered hair, but I was also attracted to her toughness and independence.

I recently saw the movie again, and was pleasantly surprised with the story. A group of girls randomly thrown together at summer camp front on their sexual experiences until the two main characters - Tatum O'Neal as rich-girl Ferris and McNichol as smokin', tough-talkin',  Angel ("don't let the name fool you") from the Projects - admit their own status as virgins. A bet is made as to who will bed a guy first, and all the campers line up behind one or the other (largely along class lines), putting their summer allowances on the line. Talk about peer pressure! So far so cheezy. What actually makes this a girl's coming of age story worth watching is McNichol and her character's struggle with having sex for the first time with Matt Dillon's Randy (randy? really? why didn't they just call him Likes to Shag?) Together, they manage to convey the awkwardness, bravado, confusion, hurt, and occasional genuine tenderness of teen sex. By the end of the movie, all the lies have been revealed, some with relief (surprise! almost everyone's a virgin!), some with chagrin, and others with hurt feelings that foreclose further relationships.

Sure there's more than a tinge of silly 70s soft porn to this film, but if you can get past the surface you'll find a film that deals honestly with first sexual experiences that could not be made with major stars by a major studio today.

Bonus: Matt Dillon and Kristy McNichol as the most delicious androgynous couple ever! Oh the hair!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Covers, covers, everywhere

The Swell Season opened their amazing set at the Hollywood Bowl tonight with a cover of the Tim Buckley song, "Buzzin' Fly," seen here at a live set at KEXP in Seattle last fall. The also did a stellar version of Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" and they ended with Bruce Springsteen's "Drive All Night." Quite spectacular. I was there to see She & Him (who contributed their own share of covers, including a surprisingly great finale of "I Put a Spell on You"), but The Swell Season completely won me over. I am now a big fan.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


I've often written about my love of a good cover song. But I found myself this week discovering the original of not one, but two cover songs. I've already mentioned the Lovin Spoonful's "Darling Be Home Soon." Today it's John Cale's "Andalucia." I've long been a fan of Mary Lou Lord's version (on her 1993 tape Real) but somehow never heard Cale's original before. Shame on me.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I'm probably thinking about this too deeply, but that's how it goes when you're trying to write/avoid writing a dissertation...

I was just reading Victor Bascara's excellent 2003 article "Cultural Politics of Redress: Reassessing the Meaning of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 After 9/11" about the Japanese American Redress Movement. Reading the name of the organization the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) made me think immediately (sad, I know) of the AVL, or American Vampire League on True Blood. They even have their own website, complete with intolerance watch, a section for supporters, and even a listing of vampire-friendly brands! This supports my earlier contention that the show is self-consciously rooted in American cultural and social politics.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What's that word doing in a rock song? Joe Cocker edition

Now, Joe Cocker is a singer, not a song writer, so he's not entirely to blame for today's word: dawdled. 
I've actually only just learned that "Darling Be Home Soon" was originally a Lovin' Spoonful song, written by John Sebastian. 

It's actually really beautiful, and the line "for the great relief of having you to talk to" makes this song to me one of the paragons of love songs. But still, the interjection of "dawdled," rhymed a few lines later with "toddled" is giggle-worthy.

Here's the whole chorus:
So darling be home soon
I couldn't bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling be home soon
It's not just these few hours but I've been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to

Here's a portion of a live version by Joe Cocker, valuable for the fantastic footage. But do check out the recorded version on his Greatest Hits album - just gorgeous.

And here's a live version by John Sebastian at Woodstock.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bull Black Nova

I hate driving and dislike riding in cars in general, but I love a good movie car chase scene, am really into muscle cars, and have a fascination with 60s car songs. (Please invite me on your next road trip.) 

My favorite car is the early 70s Chevy Nova. The great thing about living in southern California is that old cars are quite well preserved here - no snow = no salt/sand/rust issues, so I get to see my car quite regularly.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Selections from Today's Random Playlist

"In the Cold, Cold Night" - The White Stripes: How I wish to be Meg White.

"Up in Heaven (Not Only Here) - The Clash: The Clash are a revelation and a revolution. They make me want to dance rapturously, hands raised above my head.

"Empty Shell" - Catpower: One of my favorite instruments is the pedal steel guitar; Chan Marshall is the vocal equivalent of this instrument. Pure bliss.

"Get on Top" - Red Hot Chili Peppers: Dirty funk, thank you very much.

"Sweetness" - Jimmy Eat World: "with a little sweet and simple numbing me"

Sex and the Sookie: Still True?

Snoop Dogg's delightful "Oh Sookie," a bizarre but spot-on example of officially sanctioned fanboy-ism, hones in on what is best about True Blood: good sex. Playful, kinky, drug-fuelled, first-time-ever, first-time-today, fantasy-only, fantasy-made-flesh, divine, dirty, orgiastic, orgasmic, beastial...the list goes on and on. What the first two seasons of the show had in common was unabashed pleasures of the body. Creator Alan Ball referred to it as popcorn for intellectuals, but anyone who's watched the show knows it was more like porn than popcorn.

Yes, there was violence, too. But the violence of the first two seasons was directly connected to a social commentary that parallels the collective vampiric "coming out of the coffin," with the LGBT quest for social acceptance. Vampires seek marriage rights (legal in Vermont!), battle Christian conservatives (the "God hates fangs" marquee is a brilliant reference to Fred Phelps' hate-filled "God hates fags" crusade that undermines the hate by highlighting its utter ridiculousness), and are targeted for hate crimes, along with those they love (killer attacks women who sleep with vampires - Boys Don't Cry, anyone?).

This season, however, seems to be taking a disturbing turn towards misogynistic violence for its own sake. On last night's episode "9 Crimes" alone,
  • Tara was trapped, bitten, tied up (on the toilet?!), gagged, and kidnapped,
  • Pam was suspended spread-eagle on some device and tortured with a hot poker,
  • Alcide's ex, Debbie, is (willingly? She is on V...) stripped, man/wolf-handled in the form of crowd surfing, and branded in an atmosphere that feels like a lead up to gang rape, and
  • Ann, a stripper, is glamoured by Bill (a procurer?) and violently devoured by Lorena, Russell, and Bill.
This of course is not to mention the final scene of the previous episode, "It Hurts Me Too" (how many people have been beaten to this refrain?), in which Bill "kills my love for Sookie" by viciously fucking Lorena (his mother, for all intents and purposes). I am not making an argument against rough sex here. If that's all that scene was, it probably would have been very hot. Instead, it's an act of hatred, in which Bill literally makes Lorena a faceless object by twisting her head 180 degrees so that all he can see is the back of her head. Of course, at this point, Bill already has quite a history of domestic violence. He's bashed in Lorena's head with a tv and set her on fire in the space of a few weeks. Yes, Lorena seems to enjoy whatever Bill throws her way, but is she a masochist, or a woman trapped in a cycle of domestic violence? Whatever dark history of his this season uncovers, it's already clear that Bill is not the sensitive mainstreamer that he's made Sookie believe he is.

And on a side note, the Sookie Stackhouse novels may have been written before the Twilight Saga, but the storyline of the human young woman coldly abandoned by the vampire she loves - ostensibly to protect her from all the suffering he's brought into her life - being warmly comforted by a shirtless werewolf seemed eyerollingly derivative. 

Don't get me wrong - I'll keep watching in the hopes that the show will return to the social and sexual brilliance it's shown in the past. In the meantime, I'll leave you with Snoop's ode. Might as well get some pleasure out of this blog post!


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