Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Band Four offers up much music, and love -- including for Hong Kong (Film review)

The poster for Band Four which 
features the Lion Rock on it
Band Four (Hong Kong, 2023)
- Mo Lai Yan-chi, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Kay Tse, Teddy Robin Kwan, Anna HissbuR, Rondi Chan
More than 10 Hong Kong movies were screened at the 2023 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival (which opened on October 13th).  Despite having local distributors with the connections to the fest's co-presenters, Band Four was not among the HKAFF's offerings.  This can be seen as a sign that the film was not considered fest worthy.  Coupled with its theatrical release date taking place in the first week that the fest was taking place, I think it got deprived of a good percentage of its potential audience!
For my part, I only turned my attention to this movie after the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival officially concluded (on November 12th).  By this time, Band Four had ended its run in one of the cinemas I usually like to go to -- but, fortunately, was still playing in some other venues around town.  I say "fortunately" because: yes, having finally done so, I genuinely am glad that I caught this cinematic offering that its co-producer (and leading man), Teddy Robin Kwan, revealed had been eight years in the making due to difficulties in finding investors willing to take a chance on a musical drama.    
Band Four stars Cantopop singer Kay Tse as Kat, a singer, composer, band leader and parental figure to a drums obsessed preteen named Riley (played by Rondi Chan).  Early on in the film, she loses her beloved mother to cancer.  And it's only after her funeral that her father, King (portrayed by entertainment veteran Teddy Robin Kwan), turns up -- late -- and with a step-sister (Matilda; played by indie music singer Anna HissbuR, making her film debut) that Kat didn't know that she had.           
Gradually, the story of the fractured family gets revealed; and involves King having abandoned Kat and her mother, his band, music, and Hong Kong years before -- and moved across the Hong Kong-Mainland China border for a life as a cook that didn't seem all that happy either.  Now he's back in Hong Kong though -- and also determined to be back in Kat's life.  And thanks to Kat never having changed the lock of their apartment, he's moved back in -- with Matilda in tow -- and over Kat's objection. (Riley seemed sanguine about it though!)
Family drama is just one thing that Kat has to deal with.  Another is her band falling apart.  And then's the matter hinted at early on: of her having inherited a certain delibitating disease from her mother.  Clearly, fortune has not smiled much on Kat.    

Still, she not only soldiers on but also has been blessed in certain ways: with a love of music and talent for making it.  And Riley, who shares her love of music and talent for making it in spades.  (Rondi Chan, another individual making his feature film debut, holds his own among the established likes of Kay Tse and Teddy Robin Kwan.  And Anna HissbuR is quietly charismatic in a role that is the least showy of Band Four's main quartet.)
Speaking of love: this is a movie whose makers clearly really f**king love Hong Kong (and clearly express it in the film's theme song, If You Don't Remember).  And while you don't have to be a lover of the local music scene to love Band Four, you'll not only be able to enjoy its musical component more but, also, the presence in its cast of such as record producer-singer-songwriter Hanjin Tan, singer-songwriter Manson Cheung (AKA Mansonvibes), theatre actor-composer-musician Chu Pak-him  and violinist Choi Tsz-ching if you do!

My rating for this film: 7.5

Monday, November 27, 2023

Red leaves and more in Morioka, the first stop in Tohoku on my most recent Japan trip (Photo-essay)

I walked by a few trees in Victoria Park this afternoon with red leaves on them.  This being Hong Kong though, it's possible that the leaves were red because they were young rather than because it's a sign that autumn is here.  And even while there are places in Hong Kong where one can see seasonal red leaves, the ratio of humans to red leaves can leave me cold -- unlike when I was over in Morioka last month!

The prefectural capital of Iwate was where the shinkansen (on which I had had the amazing 30 ingredient ekiben!) took me.  Being some 3.5 hours up north from Tokyo even on the super fast train, I found the temperatures noticeably cooler there than in the Japanese capital, never mind Hong Kong -- and the red leaves of autumn evident in many parts of the town/city, including from my hotel room window as well at the old castle grounds in Morioka which has been conveted into a public park known both as Iwate Park and Morioka Castle Ruins Park.

All this made for some nice visuals -- and quite the change from the previous time I had been up in Tohoku: back in May 2019, when I was pleasantly surprised to come across still blossoming sakura (in Sendai and Hiraizumi).  And while I know there are people who go gaga over sakura, I must say that I adore the sight of koyo (autumn leaves) -- and catching sight of some of them on this recent Japan visit was a nice bonus; something which I didn't really expect to do in view of the leaves of the trees at Shinjuku Gyoen that I viewed on the same trip (and, in fact, just the day before!) having been pretty green for the most part! :)      

View of red leaves (and pink sky courtesy of a sunrise)  
from my Morioka hotel window :)

Red leaves at Tawazako (teaser for a future blog post!)
Puppet Ponyo and some trees 
with a few red leaves at Iwate Park
A nice mix of red and green leaves
What a sight this tree would be at the height of the
koya season!
Some red leaves and really high castle walls!
What look to be old castle stones -- 
laid out for a rebuilding project?
A stream ran through the old castle/current park grounds
-- and this was one of a two ducks I spotted paddling in it :)

Saturday, November 25, 2023

The English translation of the lyrics of If You Don't Remember (the theme song of Band Four)

Band Four's Facebook profile photo
Earlier this week, I viewed a Hong Kong movie entitled Band Four.  I liked it quite a bit and plan to write a review for it (and In Broad Daylight, another Hong Kong film currently playing in local cinemas) at some point in the near future.  
For now though, I'd like to draw your attention to the music video (available to view and listen to over on Youtube) of its theme song, If You Don't Remember (sung by Kay Tse), and its lyrics -- which I think will resonate for people who really f**king love Hong Kong; and whose English translation (by the film's English subtitlers, Joanna Lee and Ken Smith) I'm sharing here:  

This most beloved place, every inch is filled with memories.

The vibrant and the peaceful nights have left countless trails.

Your image that fills my eye shall etch into my memory.

You and I are here. Our song will play indefinitely.

As thinking halts, memory cannot help but fade.

Melody carries meaning.

Music pays tribute.

My mind will have a place.

This place will have a key.

Like a cryptic dialogue.

Even if all memories are lost,

Bits of you cannot be forgotten.

Even if beats are lost, harmonies will continue to resonate.

Traverse every road,

every coast, every daybreak.

Even for an insignificant speck in the crowd,

every second is wondrous. I will treasure the present.

My growing love for you shines like the sun and the moon.

Neon lights are vibrant. Nathan Road is splendid.

Sunrise in a wild country. Midnight in a bustling city.

Cherish every morning. Savour every tune.

Smiling wherever you go

is profound wisdom.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

An amazing ekiben with 30 different ingredients!

An ekiben with 30 different ingredients!
Healthy, and yummy! :b
Before this recent trip to Japan -- my first ever in the pandemic era -- I wondered if I should eat when on a train.  This even though not doing so would deprive me of something I get quite a bit of pleasure out of: eating on a train while watching the world passing by through the train window; with the pleasure quotient exponentially increasing when one's got a delicious ekiben (station bento) to eat.
I didn't eat anything (besides a couple of gummy candies) on the Narita Express from Narita airport into Tokyo.  But that train ride reminded me that the train compartments have about the same amount, if not fewer, people in them as a fairly small restaurant.  So on the next train ride I took -- the first of a number that I'd take on a shinkansen on this trip -- I got an ekiben to eat on it from a specialty ekiben shop with quite the variety of options.
Speaking of variety: the ekiben I chose was one that trumpeted its having 30 different ingredients!  The Japanese are taught to eat 30 different foods a day in order to have a thoroughly balanced diet.  I'm not sure how many Japanese people actually do this (regularly) these days though.  All in all, it seems quite the effort to do so -- and I'm meaning eat, never mind make, such meals!  And to have a single meal be made up of 30 different ingredients seems pretty amazing to me; all the more so when I can confirm that the ekiben I had was actually pretty tasty as well as felt healthy too!

Among the ingredients that I could make out are the following: rice (of course); seaweed; shisho (perilla leaf); ume (pickled plum); egg; potato; corn; at least one kind of fish (cod?); fishcake (made of another kind of fish?); shrimp; carrot; radish; corn; chicken; konnyaku (devil's tongue); pumpkin; a number of varieties of green vegetables; and a number of different beans (including edamame, peas and chickpeas)!  And flavour-wise, there were bits that were sweet; others salty; others sour; others umami; and something a little bitter by way of one of the green vegetables -- that was not a bad thing at all, actually!

All in all, a wonderful moveable feast.  And for the bargain price of 1000 Yen -- which, at the current exchange rate, works out to just HK$52 or so.  Would you be surprised to learn that I wish I could eat this regularly?  And I bet I'd feel -- and be -- a lot healthier if I did so too! :)

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Fun times at my favourite (sake) bar in Tokyo/Japan/the world! :)

A brand of sake I've drank far more in Japan than Hong Kong
A Taste of Autumn is the name of this dish! :)

Some eleven years ago now, I went to a specialist sake bar for the first time in my lifeSasagin was recommended to me by a friend then living in Hong Kong who had previously lived in Tokyo.  And despite not being a sake lover then, I went with another friend -- who was a Tokyo resident -- when visiting the Japanese capital city -- and had such a great night there that it's become a "must go to" for me on every subsequent visit to Tokyo since!

For one thing, the sake on offer there is very good indeed (with brands like Juyondai, Eiko Fuji, Tengumai, Hiraizumi and Kankiku (AKA Kangiku) among the offerings I enjoyed on this recent Japan trip).  For another, the food there's pretty tasty too.  (Among the dishes I had there on this visit: a refreshing persimmon and spinash salad with a creamy tofu dressing; healthy tasting simmered seasonal vegetables; other seasonal items, including cod shirako, chestnut, gingko nuts and sweet potatoes; and fried cheese dumplings!)  
And then there's the convivial "feel" of the place; particularly if one sits at the counter -- where other customers are likely to strike up a conversation with you, a total stranger, as well as being nearer to where Narita-san, the owner, holds court -- rather than at individual tables -- though that's perfectly fine too if you're happy to hang out with friends you already know (as opposed to make new ones!). 
On this recent Japan trip, I ended up going to Sasagin not just once but twice!  The first time was on the evening of my first full day back in Tokyo for some four and half years -- and I ended up drinking six glasses of sake (the majority of which were the Sasagin standard size of 150 ml)!  Amazingly, I managed to make it back to my hotel room afterwards, and didn't have a hangover the next morning.  I think it's because I drank all that over the course of some four hours and had plenty to eat as well as drink while there!
The next time I walked into Sasagin, Narita-san and the wait staff greeted me with big grins on their face.  I think it's partly because they were surprised that I had remembered that I had made a reservation for another evening there in the middle of that first evening of carousing there!  But it also felt like we were now old friends!  (While I did feel that already about Narita-san, the wait staff had only just started working at Sasagin less than a year ago -- and, in the case of one of them, just a few weeks ago, in fact!)
Speaking of old friends: On my first night there on this trip, I had met up with a Japanese friend who used to live in Hong Kong.  And before the end of the night, I had made new friends there -- one of whom decided to join me there the second time I went to Sasagin on this trip! 

This new friend lives in the area and Sasagin is a "local" for her.  (Envy, envy!)  She's Japanese but went to school and university in England.  By the way, my Japanese friend who I met in Hong Kong had gone to university in Australia.  Also, Narita-san actually lived and worked for a time in England.  So there may be more internationally experienced Japanese around than may be realised!  Including by other Japanese!

By the way, after I was seated at the counter on my first visit this trip, I spoke to Narita-san in English straightaway -- and when Narita-san replied in English, hearing his doing so startled the (Japanese) customer seated a couple of seats away from me!  Even funnier was when my Japanese friend who had lived in Hong Kong came in.  
I think by that point, that customer figured out I was not Japanese.  But he also assumed that my friend (who speaks English with a very American accent -- despite having gone to university in Australia, not the US; something he ascribes to having watched lots of American TV shows as a kid in Japan!) was not Japanese too.  So when said friend then started speaking to Narita-san and the wait staff in (fluent) Japanese, that other customer looked at my friend in amazement and enquired: "Are YOU Japanese?"  And I think you could have knocked him down with a feather when he received an answer in the affirmative! 
For the record: on my second visit to Sasagin of this recent Japan trip, I had fewer glasses of sake than the first time: specifically, "just" four.  As I said to the folks at Sasagin, I felt calmer since this second time, only a few days had passed since my previous visit there -- in contrast to the previous time, where I had waited some four and half years to drink and dine there again!  (Thanks for that, Covid!)

Saturday, November 18, 2023

The 4k restored The Drummer delivers a barrel of fun 40 years after it was first released in Hong Kong cinemas! (Film review)

The Drummer display area ahead of a special screening
of the 1983 Hong Kong movie that's been given a 4k restoration
The Drummer (Hong Kong, 1983)
- Richard Yuen, director and co-scriptwriter (along with Ching Kit-yan and Wan Siu-kuen)
- Starring: Leslie Cheung, Elaine Chow, Paul Chung, David Lo, Ng Wui, Fernando Carpio
Two years ago this month, a biopic of the late Anita Mui opened in cinemas.  Anita went on to become a big box office hit, and I must admit to wondering if some Hong Kong filmmakers would consider making a biopic of another Hong Kong superstar singer-actor who also passed away in 2003.  Two years on though, I've not heard of any plans for a Leslie Cheung biopic.  On the other hand, this month sees the (limited) release in local cinemas of a 4k restored version of a 1983 film starring the Hong Kong superstar who was shown this past April 1st to still be loved as well as missed.
The Drummer has a then already 26-year-old Leslie Cheung convincingly playing a secondary schoolboy.  Tommy aspires to be a professional drummer, and works hard at it by having regular and intense practice sessions before school and sometimes also late at night.  (And yes, I must be honest and admit that until I saw this movie, I had not realised that Leslie Cheung also played the drums as well as sang and acted!)
His drum sessions often threaten to drive his scriptwriter father (essayed by David Lo) mad and also angers their neighbors.  We're talking after all of Tommy and his family living in an apartment block -- and from personal experience, I can tell you that many Hong Kong apartments are less soundproof than its residents would like!
On the other hand, Tommy's drumming passion has the support of his grandfather (portrayed by Ng Wui), younger brother (played by David Wu Dai Wai), his best friend (the saxophone playing Paul Chung) and understanding girlfriend (played by Elaine Chow).  And although he initially is reluctant to take him on, his drumming "sifu" (who is essayed by real life drum master, Fernando Carpio).
More than incidentally, among the more interesting and amusing sections of The Drummer have Fernando Carpio in it.  On the cultural front: it's to the film's credit that his character is not only an admirable one but also shown to be the subject of unfair racial discrimination.  He's also one of two individuals (with the other being Tommy's grandfather) who delivers the most important life lessons to the young man; with Carpio doing his part in an unorthodox fashion -- involving taking Tommy to a mental institution to show him that a passion drumming can make people go mad!
Still, there's no doubt who is the star of The Drummer -- and Leslie Cheung comes across as very charismatic, physically attractive and eminently watchable!  On a Leslie history note: this musical drama was the Leslie Cheung movie vehicle that followed Nomad (1982), for which he received his first of eight Hong Kong Film Awards Best Actor nominations (the final one of them in 2003).  And it's one I reckon is deserved.
And for those who are wondering: yes, Leslie Cheung also sings in The Drummer -- sometimes while he's playing the drums too!  Also, yes, the music in this movie is pretty enjoyable; as is to be expected of an offering whose music is handled by the legendary Joseph Koo!
All in all, I get the sense that The Drummer will make even those who weren't alive or living in Hong Kong back in the early 1980s nostalgic to some extent for the Hong Kong of that now long gone era.  One thing I have to say though: my goodness, the boys and men of 50 years sure were way skinnier than most Hong Kong boys and men of the current era; something that I really couldn't help notice thanks to such as the movie also featuring scenes of a bunch of them having fun at the beach and in the sea while clad in skimpy swim trunks! :D   
My rating for this film: 7.5

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Once in a Blue Moon revolves around a family that's far from perfect but also distinctly Hong Kong (Film review)

The main cast of Once in a Blue Moon at the world premiere
of their film at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival
Once in a Blue Moon (Hong Kong, 2023)
- Andy Lo, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Gladys Li, Peter Chan Charm-man, Loletta Lee, Sumling Li
In recent years, Hong Kong films have tended to have political content without being explicitly political.  Once in a Blue Moon -- produced by a company, Emperor Motion Pictures, that many would mark as being pro-Beijing - may well be the first one I've seen that is not like this.  At least, I hope so -- since its general message is about how people should let go of the past in order to move on and be happier -- something that, frankly, I'm still loath to do as far as political things go with regards to this city -- would otherwise be interpreted as being pro-Beijing.  
So if I'm supposed to take that message and apply it that way, I'd have a problem right there with this cinematic offering.  Thus it is that I'm going to not do so -- and, instead, discuss and analyze the film in a non-political way (for a change?!).  Instead, I'll look at Once a Blue Moon as presenting a portrait of a Hong Kong family -- one that, for me, rings more true than a film with precisely that title that I viewed around 11 months ago!         

Interestingly, both Once in a Blue Moon and Hong Kong Family revolve around families that are far from perfect and, in fact, are broken.  In the case of this Andy Lo film, the family consists of a mother (essayed by Loletta Lee) whose husband left her back when her children were very young -- so much so that the daughter, Mei-chen (played by Gladys Li), had no idea why he did so, and her elder brother (portrayed by Peter Chan Charm-man) was traumatised enough that he didn't really want to talk or think about it for years.
In the present day, the mother -- who, these days, is a tailor by trade -- seems to have adjusted fairly well to having had to raise a family on her own.  At the very least, she comes across as a stoic sort who's not wont to complain about her lot as well as doesn't ask much of life in general and, also, her children who she clearly loves -- and who clearly love her back.
The problem though for her son -- who works with aquariums for a living -- is that, while he also loves his wife (played by Collar band member, Sumling Li), she no longer loves him.  And, in fact, it soon is revealed in Once in a Blue Moon that they have already been separated -- only he can't bring himself to tell his mother and sister about this, and, actually, has not fully accepted that his marriage is over.
Then there's Mei-chen, who's biggest problem appears to be that she does not love herself enough.  She also is in a dead-end job, in a convenience store ,with an awful boss.  (By the way, I liked that, in this pandemic era film, he is the one person in it who consistently wears his mask under his nose (and also -- hmmm, is this a political dig?! -- wears a "Carrie Lam underwear" mask)!)  Also, her continuing to think about, even pine for, her father is a low level issue that ends up causing a lot of pain after an unexpected discovery on her part.
If Once in a Blue Moon fixated on the sad parts of life, it'd have been hard to get through.  Fortunately, Alan Lo throws in some lighter, comedic moments -- many courtesy of a character played by The Sparring Partner's Alan Yeung, who would have stolen the show if not for the main cast of this film showing themselves to be watchable actors capable of generating sympathy and even empathy for their feeling-hard-done-by characters.  
More than incidentally, he, too, has not been dealt the best of hand by Lady Luck -- professionally as well as in terms of family arrangements.  But his more, well, ga yau attitude is impressive -- and invests his story with hope.  As does Mei-chen and her brother finally being able to let go of certain of their preoccupations and learning to value the love that does exist in their lives.  

My rating for this film: 7.0

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Visiting the flagship Kiddy Land for the Funassyiland within it once more! :)

One of my favorite stores in Tokyo :)
The "land" within Kiddy Land that was my main reason to visit :)
Even before I became aware of the existence of Funassyi, I had already considered visits to the flagship Kiddy Land over in Harajuku to be a "must do" on my visits to Tokyo.  But now that I am very much aware of the existence of Funassyi and the fact that that Kiddy Land is home to a Funassyiland, it has become even more of a "must not" miss; this even though there is a larger Funassyiland not too far over in the Pear (Fairy)'s hometown of Funabashi -- which technically is in Chiba Prefecture but which still counts for many as being part of the Greater Tokyo area! 
So it should be no surprise that I went there once more on this recent Japan trip -- and on the first full day of the trip too!  Indeed, the only reason why it was not the very first place that I went to that day is because Kiddy Land only opens at 11am; two hours later than Shinjuku Gyoen!        
When I finally got over there, I found that the Funassyiland there is now on the second floor of the building rather than the first floor, as was previously the case.  (A note: the Japanese use the same method of counting building floors as the Americans -- so that the first floor is what the British would call the ground floor, the second floor what the British would call the first floor, etc.)  Also, it's smaller in size now than it was on my previous visits.    

At the same time, the part of the Harajuku Kiddy Land that has been designated as a Funassyiland still is crammed with Funassyi merch (that includes -- but is no means confined to -- cute plushies of various sizes; instead, there are such as chopstick holders, kitchenware, smartphone covers, fans, various types of staionary, bags, t-shirts, Hawaiian shirts, caps, hats, slippers, etc. with Funassyi's face on them!) -- and brought a smile to my face; and this especially as the merch included the one thing I absolutely wanted to get on this trip: i.e., next year's Funassyi calendar!  
So 2024 will be the seventh year in a row that I will have a Funassyi calendar in my possession.  For yes, I got Funassyi calendars for 2021, 2022 and 2023 (as well as 2018, 2019 and 2020).  How, you might want to know, since I didn't make trips to Japan -- or, for that matter, anywhere outside of Hong Kong -- in 2020, 2021 and 2022?  In short: with a little help from friends who live in Japan!
Here's the thing: While there is an online Funassyiland (i.e., the Funassyiland webs shop), it doesn't ship outside of Japan.  So I've had to get Japan-based friends to place orders for me and then, after receiving my order, send them over to me.  Most times, this kind of thing isn't too difficult -- but there was one year when air mail service between Hong Kong and Japan was suspended for a time. (Thanks, Covid -- not!)  And so my Funassyi Calendar had to be sent by sea mail; prompting me to worry that it wouldn't arrive in time for the start of the new year and my friend to ask, "What's next?  We use pigeon post?!"   

That joke wasn't as funny then as it is now that regular postal services have resumed -- and I myself, not just my Funassyiland order, can fly between Hong Kong and Japan!  And I also have to say that while it was nice that I wasn't completely cut off from my Funassyi merch supply between 2020 and 2022, it really is so much nicer to be able to visit a Funassyiland in person and be able to look around, and see what else there is in the shop to entice me! :D

Friday, November 10, 2023

A delectable lunch feast at a Shinjuku branch of Tsunahachi, a 100-year-old Tokyo tempura restaurant (Photo-essay)

Until I discovered the wonders of sushi, my favorite Japanese dish was tendon: a bowl of rice tooped with tempura.  But it's only in Japan that I go to tempura restaurants -- because eating tempura in Japan ruined things for me with regards to eating it elsewhere in the world, even Hong Kong where it's often been said (including by Japanese friends) that you can get sushi and yakitori as good as in Japan, only for about three times the price(!), but not such as tempura.  

So when I serendipitously walked by a branch of the verenable Tsunahachi, a specialist tempura chain whose original branch was founded back in 1923 (i.e., a century ago!), after spending the morning of my first full day back in Japan over at Shinjuku Gyoen,  I decided to have lunch there.
Disclaimer: I've eaten at a Tsunahachi (over in Takashimaya Times Square) on a previous trip.  But that time, I sat at a table where, at this place, I sat at the counter and was served my lunch course by course rather than all at once.  Coupled with the chef telling me what to eat with the tempura (with just salt for X, with wasabi powder for Y, with sauce for Z, etc.), this took things up several notches!  And while it felt intimidating at first (not least because I couldn't figure out what the appetizer actually consisted of), I ended up enjoying the lunch very much -- and, indeed, would say that this was the best tempura meal I've had in my life, at least to date! :D  

A mystery appetizer that consists of some kind of fish and 
something else (honestly, I don't know -- but it was yummy!)
Kuruma ebi (Japanese tiger prawn) tempura 
-- and yes, you DO eat the head! :b
Hotate (scallop) tempura on the left (eaten with salt); 
ika (squid) tempura on the right (eaten with wasabi powder)
-- lemon optional for both 
Beni imo (
AKA murasaki imo; purple sweet potato) tempura 
on the left; maitake mushroom tempura on the right
Leaf salad (with tomato) from -- this was specified 
on the menu! -- Ebihara Farm
Anago (salt water eel) tempura -- and yes,
the bone's included (see the thing at the top) is a delicacy!
The last savory course:
ebi (prawn) kakiage (tempura fritter?)
served with rice, pickles and miso soup
Even the dessert -- featuring chestnut,
matcha (powdered green tea) 
flavored warabi mochi, red beans and vanilla ice cream -- 
was a delight! What a (lunchtime) feast it all was! :)

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Japan and movies help me to keep the blues away (touch wood!)

120 years ago, master filmmaker Yazujiro Ozu was born
Puppet Ponyo at a "photo spot" which allowed people
to pretend they were on a set of Tokyo Story :)

Japan has been on my mind in recent months as well as Hong Kong.  It's not only because I was over in the Land of the Rising Sun a few weeks ago and was planning -- and thus thinking about -- it for a couple of months beforehand.  Rather, it's also I've been viewing a number of Japanese films courtesy of the Summer International Film Festival (at which I ended up viewing six Japanese films and zero ones from Hong Kong!) and still ongoing Hong Kong Asian Film Festival (at which I'll again be viewing more Japanese than Hong Kong movies -- though with this fest, I at least managed to get tickets for two Hong Kong offerings!).
Of the six Japanese films I viewed at this past Summer International Film Festival, four were works by Yazujiro Ozu -- one of my favorite Japanese filmmakers.  Actually, heck, I'd say he's one of my favorite filmmakers.  Period!  I mean: I've happily viewed his Late Autumn twice on a big screen now, and would quite happily go watch it again on a big screen should the chance to do so come up again!   

So imagine my delight when I happened upon a Yasujiro Ozu 120th Anniversary exhibition going on in a shop in Shinjuku on my recent Japan trip!  (Beams appears to be a popular, international brand -- but I must admit that I hadn't previously known about it and it was very much Ozu's name that enticed me into the shop rather than Beams itself!)

Something that I do very much enjoy is when my movie world and "real" world come together.  I've previously blogged about how part of my love for Hong Kong is that I often feel like I'm on/living in a giant movie set.  (And by the way, a place I frequent featured in a Hong Kong movie I viewed just last night!)  But there have been times now in Japan too where I've -- sometimes inadvertently -- ended up in locales that have featured in Japanese movies I've seen (including Akira Kurosawa's Dreams and Ran)!   

Also, let's face it, I can look at the world through cinematic lenses -- or make/find associations with movies -- more so than others.  As an example: earlier in the day, I had spotted water spiders on one of the ponds of Shinjuku Gyoen and got to thinking of Mon Mon The Water Spider, a short film I had viewed when I visited the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka back in 2006!

In any case: you know the saying "An apple a day keeps the doctor away"?  Sometimes, for me, it can be a case of "A movie a day keeps the blues away".  And I must say that the combination of film festing here in Hong Kong as well as the recent Japan trip has helped me be to be in a better mood -- touch wood! -- than one would think given what Hong Kong has become in recent years. :)

Friday, November 3, 2023

Sharing memories of Shinjuku Gyoen on a day when confirmation came that Hong Kongers aren't completely safe even when in Japan (Photo-essay)

On my recent visit to Japan, I met with Japanese friends who lived for a time in Hong Kong.  One of them told me he doubted he would ever return; because news like the arrest of a Hong Konger arrested for social media posts she made in Japan (where she had been studying) as well as Hong Kong had got him spooked.  After the news today that Yuen Ching-ting was sentenced to two months in prison for Facebook and Instagram posts with messages such as “I am a Hongkonger; I advocate for Hong Kong independence,” and “as long as the Chinese Communist Party exists, how can there be a home?”, I'm sure his resolve to stay away from Hong Kong has strengthened. 
And so, as he stated, it would seem that our best bet to meet up again involves my visiting Japan again.  Something which I definitely hope to do again before too long.  Because, frankly, this recent Japan trip was like a breath of fresh air; not just because the air was indeed fresh and weather wonderful for much of my trip but because I very much enjoyed the feeling of not being in a police state for a time. 
With this in mind, I'm determined to post about my Japan trip over the next few weeks... to keep the good mood that being in Japan engendered and the memories of the trip help to keep alive.  With this in mind,  here's sharing the following photos of a visit to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden; a locale that I had actually intended to spend time in on the last day of my previous visit to Tokyo back in 2019; only for rain to lay waste to my plans!  Maybe the visit being delayed for some 4 and a half years made me appreciate the place more.  In any case, yes, I really did love this former imperial garden that has a French Formal Garden and English Traditional Garden as well as Japanese Traditional Garden components!
Shinjuku Gyoen is a veritable oasis in the concrete jungle
Of course Puppet Ponyo went with me to Japan again! :)
Nature, including the cultivated kind, really can be so very beautiful
I was not the only one walking around 
taking pictures with a camera in the park :)
Can you sense how relaxed people were (in this photo
in particular and the garden in general)?
Humans weren't the only critters out for a stroll in Shinjuku Gyoen ;b
In Shinjuku Gyoen, I learnt that there are roses named
after a now defunct American newspaper!
All in all, I spent some 2 and half hours in this gorgeous garden
-- and consider that time well spent indeed :)