Feb 19: kitano, streetwalking

Here is today’s lesson in kinetics, from Violent Cop. The wobbling gait of rogue cop Azuma as he ambles through Tokyo, played by sometime comedian, sometime deadpan actor, Kitano Takeshi.

All week long I have been doing research for a radio piece which will air on NPR in mid-March. It concerns gangster films, horror, teenagers, and fans of genre fiction and film, with a twist of reality TV. This has all resulted in a mad rush of viewing yakuza films, a genre I have only really dabbled in viewing, with my knowledge very much skewed to freestyle elements like Suzuki Seijun and Yanagimachi Mitsuo. Yanagimachi’s 1976 verité work Godspeed You Black Emperor! not only documented the grainy lives of budding chinpira gateway gangsters…

but inspired quite a good avant-gardeish Montreal band.

Nor was I familiar with the work of Kume Daisaku, the guy who converted Satie’s wistful piano piece, “Gnossienne #1,” into the more aggro and less pensive electronic score for Kitano’s walk across the bridges and catwalks of Tokyo. This is how the original piano version sounds.

This piece is remarkably apt for adaptation to Kitano’s notoriously expressive body because it has no time signature and no bar lines. It’s kind of the musical equivalent of free verse, the poetic movement pioneered by Wordsworth (among others) in which the rhythms of vernacular speech banished the formal constraints of tight rhymed verse. Kitano’s gait does just that, as does his persona in the film, and others it traverses, establishing its own internal rhythm, whose relentlessness and lack of self-reflection is beautifully established in Kume’s re-write, above.

Live, with seagulls

In between bouts of reading up on MacArthur’s rice policy, and the beginnings of the rice classification system by old-hand Orientalists in the 1890s, it’s been a good week for music. A trifecta of new music (Steve Reich), Fela! (the musical), and Robyn Hitchcock, in McCabe’s, a 200-seat venue decked out like a church basement (folding chairs, dishwater coffee and cookies for sale) crossed with a state park cabin, if all the walls were lined with guitars.

Robyn played to the crowd with the charming conceit that we were all aloft in a giddy kind of airplane, and that the “flight attendant” would be circulating (essentially, the management) throughout the show. He took requests, and wore an alarming paisley shirt. He is one of the best audience-patterers I have seen for a while, and his trademark lyrical goofyness carried on quite astoundingly through improvised tales and shaggy dog jokes.

His kind of yo-yo-ing back and forth between absurdist imagery and tight lyrical threadline, while catching highs and lows of both pitch and emotion is at the skill and scale, and elegance, of a very few others I have heard–I’m thinking Andy Partridge and Arthur Lee in the realm of perfect pop song.

Odd that I was thinking of Arthur Lee, or perhaps not, as we are in LA, after all, with a singer of a certain age, with a certain near-miss relation to folk song. Robyn has a song called “The Wreck of the Arthur Lee”–which recalls either the “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” or other rock-n-roll sea shanties he does. But then he did a cover of this lovely Love song, “Andmoreagain,” from the classic Forever Changes. This is from a Glastonbury performance in 2003.

And this is Arthur Lee’s own cover, a tense and condensed cover of a Burt Bachrach song, “My Little Red Book,” which picks up the Mao-ness of S LA-style revolution–“there’s just no getting over you”–in addition to the louche insinuations of the original. Check the glasses, useful for screening the jovial insipid-ness of Dick Clark interviewing them about life in their “castle” near Griffith Park.

Song: “The Queen Of Eyes,” from Underwater Moonlight

(But this Love song, another Bachrach riff, is really my favorite, for the precision, the energy, the rawness that walks a super tight rope with its story and its ensemble, dusting most of the other music it recalls. Check the solos). watch?v=qInF7WKOz4c&feature=related

Yeye fashion from Japan

There is a lovely, saucy retort contained in this dancey jingle for the Renown clothing manufacturer. The company was named after the battleship that brought Prince Edward to Japan in 1923. With a little less pomp, the company made knits that were popular for their clean look in the 1970s. The gallivanting girls here are known as the “Renown musume,” or daughters/girls. The pop-art graphics spell out “ie ie,” which means “no no” (take that, Serge!), while yéyé, taken from “yeah! yeah!,” sounds affirmatively on the off-beat.

Yéyé was pioneered in France, and had an afterlife in Québec when I lived there. It featured insouciant girl singers like Françoise Hardy, whose lyrics were scripted by considerably more knowing lyricists. I like this CM for its delirious duel of “yes” and “no,” as well as for the graphics.

There is a hilarious–and maybe terrifying–later Renown CM which features 30″ tall women clad in Renown knits leaping across the world’s great monuments and skyscrapers. Here, the seven-league boots, flip-hairdos and giant knit socks stride across the highways, bridges, and public works projects of our national infrastructure…interlocking knits to the rescue!

And look out for the incredible clothes-changing gun!…more fetishy than feisty, though…

I want to eat ramen

Yano Akako, doing “Ramen tabetai,” or “I want to eat ramen.” With feeling!

Ramen tabetai (I want to eat ramen)
Hitori de tabetai (I want to eat it by myself)
Atsui no tabetai (I want to eat the hot one)

Ramen tabetai (I want to eat ramen)
Umai no tabetai (I want to eat the good one)
Imasugu tabetai (I want to eat it right now)

Cha-shu wa iranai (I don’t need cha-shu pork)
Naruto mo iranai (I don’t need naruto either)
Zeitaku iwanai (I am not picky)
Kedo (but)
Negi wa iretene (please put the scallions)
Ninniku mo irete (put garlic also)
Yamamori irete (put heaps of it)

translation courtesy of Stomachs on legs.

From fukushima, “you want to move, but you can’t”

Condition of ‘Now’: I Want to Move, But I Can’t

One of the best ways to get to-the-minute info on current events in Japan outside of official media channels is mini-komi–or “mini-communications,” defined as an alternative to mass communications, while still using its powers for good. This summer I went to several gatherings where people shared stories about post-Fukushima impacts, futures, activities, and hopes. This is a handout from an event that took place at Chika daigaku/Underground university, which is part of a coalition of recycle shops and other stores in the neighborhood of Kōenji. The “talk show” was organized by Hirai Gen, a music critic long engaged in both official JCP activities and street music scenes that experiment with genres,  spaces and festival music, including klezmer, ching-dong music, kids’ kenban harmonica music, and noise.

This is a mini-communication, put together in June by a coalition of people who banded together to “support local areas with high radiation levels” by conveying information, forming support groups, and channeling contributions. The first inner page outlines some general survival strategies…and sets up the large folio page, which responds to the rhetorical question, “why don’t you want to evacuate?,” based on fieldwork (actual and internet) with people residing in Tōhoku).

A flow-chart-y series of bubbles representing voices and questions (with a few answers), in the wake of the Fukushima blowup

The top headline reads: Important things to keep in mind to support high radiation zones

Left column: demands to make to the government

  • Re-assess standards for radiation in food
  • Re-assess the limits of radiation exposure for nuclear workers
  • Remediate environmental issues that make it impossible to work in Fukushima
  • Request that local authorities in each region take in internal refugees
  • Request that central bureaucracies be put on alert and respond
  • Put TEPCO’s response under strict scrutiny
  • Provide care for children thrown into poverty
  • Effect this through…
    • petition drives
    • demos
    • directly confronting authorities
    • taking it to the courts

Center column: ways to reduce radiation exposure as much as possible

  • messages for the “outside”
    • request information from the media
    • give on-the-ground descriptions to the world
    • use pressure from outside Japan (gaiatsu) to pressure people
    • heighten awareness of actual dangers
  •  when you evacuate
    • school evacuations v. independent evacuations
    • short stay (advantage during summer break)
    • request that local authorities in each region take in internal refugees
    • make alliances with support groups in western Japan (Kansai)
    • request that companies work on job creation

Right column: for volunteers

  • create a realistic map of where radiation damage/contamination  has occurred
  • form focus groups for children and talk to them
  • support legal action
  • provide food with minimal radiation (especially school lunches)
  • decontaminate schools and local communities
  • bring school and exchange groups to Fukushima and other hard-hit places
  • make flyers and sponsor events (for publicity)
    • when necessary help support evacuation
    • and make financial contributions

Ten reasons people may choose to remain in Tōhoku

large folio page: black bubbles read “listening / why don’t you evacuate?”

Song: Soul Flower Mononoke Summit, “Kamata March,” with song based on Rudolf Friml’s “The Vagabond King,” featuring Ōkuma Wataru on clarinet. I thought Ōkuma’s band name, Cicala mvta/mute cicada, was fitting…


Music on the lawn, folding-chair style

The traditional 19th c. way of amusing yourself on a lawn. Clearly, "No Child Left Behind" has tampered with this model.

Yesterday I went out of my building at the ill-advised hour of 2:30pm, when the middle school is letting out. There was the usual 43-car (SUV, really) line-up idling down the street, protected by orange traffic cones. Silver and off-white SUVs with windows rolled up, humming and exhausting in line, for the kids to come out.

But then there were three strange orange-flagged figures on the lawn–who were these creatures, and what were they doing on MY lawn?!? Two adults and one child, sitting in flourescent orange stadium chairs, facing the NASA-affiliated middle school, like they were having a picnic, or waiting for fireworks. Feet stretched out, one of them–the 8-year-old–was playing a recorder, off-tune and wonky, but goofing his way around, while the parents fanned themselves, on the second hottest day of the year.

I went to the post office and came back 10 minutes later and they were gone. Chairs and recorder packed up, and all. Lawn back to normal. But now I’m looking forward to the rest of the commute, and hearing how kid X’s scales improve, while lounging on the lawn.