Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Learning How to Slide/Nagisa Oshima

Tuesday January 15, 10:15 p.m.

Well, it's been about a couple of days since the big snow hit the Kanto Region. And the consequences are starting to befall commuters. Yup, the traffic on the major highways has been snarled up....kinda like looks like the Gardiner Expressway here on a bad day...which is usually everyday. But the NHK report also told of over 1,500 incidents of people falling over on the sidewalks or floors since Sunday. Looks like it's not just cars that need the chains....and yep, tires in Japan often get the chains for snow driving. I haven't seen chains here on car tires since the 1960s....and that was through ancient Canadian Tire catalogs. Anyways, I'm not laughing....we may be getting some of the white stuff as well in a few days. It would be appropriate, though....NHL season is coming back on Saturday.

As soon as I entered the living room this morning, I caught the news on NHK that director Nagisa Oshima had passed away from pneumonia at the age of 80. His name is not particularly a household one on this side of the Pacific. But for some of the veteran cineasts out there, he was the auteur who had directed the controversial "In the Realm of the Senses" back in the 1970s and "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" with David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto in 1983. Never saw the latter one, but I remember it making news for the fact that Bowie was in it, and at the time, he was hitting another peak in his career in his incarnation as MTV-friendly pop star. Sakamoto was also cruising fine as one-third of the Yellow Magic Orchestra back in Japan. Actually for me, the theme song, also created and performed by Sakamoto, is the most well-known part of the movie for me.

Not sure how long this video will stay up on YouTube, but here is a series of commercials that the director actually appeared in. Some of them match the image of zaniness that Japanese commercials have cultivated. But that was the thing about Oshima. As one of his friends pointed out today on the news, Oshima had no taboos about anything. He showed that in his movies, his interviews (his friend also remarked that Oshima would fight with anybody anywhere anytime), and even the commercials. He may have been an intimidating high-level director but his ego wasn't so big that he would pooh-pooh the idea of appearing in a TV ad.

I used to see him in my early years in Japan on TV shows regularly. At the time, I hadn't even known it was Nagisa Oshima. I saw this cheerful, talkative old guy as a panelist on a number of game shows, not realizing that this was THE Nagisa Oshima. Still, when I finally did see him at work in some documentary footage, he was the scariest sumbitch. He probably had the power to reduce yakuza to tears if they didn't act like he ordered. People did not cross this man intentionally.

There was a Saturday night program called "Hammer Price" which was hosted by the comedy duo, Tunnels (one of whom is Takaaki Ishibashi, who had his brief 15 minutes of Hollywood by playing the insane baseball import in the last few movies of the "Major League"franchise). It was an auction comedy game show of sorts where the studio audience could bid on some crazed piece of pop culture whether it be a sample of bathwater that a buxom actress had sat in or Robert DeNiro's attempt at calligraphy (both true). Well, one night, someone bid and won the opportunity for his child's graduation ceremony to be filmed by Oshima himself. And Oshima actually did it....with crane shots and all of the energy and anger that he brought to all of his other projects. It was quite the scene...no pun intended.

Anyways, I leave you with the theme from "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" which is one of the de rigueur Xmas tunes heard everywhere in Japan during the Holidays.

And this is "Ai no Corrida", the Quincy Jones disco tune from "The Dude". It's one of my favourite songs from that era of R&B, and the original version was written by Chaz Jankel and Kenny Young. "Ai no Corrida"was the original Japanese title from Oshima's "In The Realm of the Senses", and according to Jankel in his first album, he decided to adopt the title for the song.