Friday, June 30, 2006

Wall, Edogawabashi

To nonreaders of kanji these appear to be typical campaign posters... except, perhaps, for one. This is one reason it's good foreigners can't vote; some might opt for the dog.   Posted by Picasa

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Zojoji Temple (3)

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Zojoji Temple (2)

With a heavy heart, Ikasumi belatedly notes the recent passing of director Imamura Shohei, maker of innumerable classic films. Virtually every review or article on Imamura includes his famous statement, "I am interested in the relationship of the lower part of the human body and the lower part of the social structure." In a way focusing on this line underplays the breadth of his work and its attention to all human feeling, but certainly he was an admirer of those unencumbered by the proprieties of the so-called respectable Japanese social strata. He also showed a deep affection for quirky and outcast characters, which is rather unique in Japanese cinema. His talents garnered him much acclaim outside his home country, and he was the only Japanese director to win the Palme d'or at Cannes twice (with the haunting "Ballad of Narayama" in 1982, and "The Eel (Unagi)" in 1997). Both are highly recommended. He made many other notable films, but a short list would include "Pigs and Battleships", "Black Rain" (certainly not to be confused with the Ridley Scott/Michael Douglas action film, which is of a different category altogether, but instead based on Ibuse Masuji's novel), and the wonderful, "Dr. Akagi", his penultimate full-length feature. The last one could perhaps be seen as a tribute to Imamura's own physician father, as it seems to draw some parallels between the crusading doctor character and the artist, each pursuing their vision in the face of society's disapproval. His talent and spirit will be sorely missed in Japanese cinema.   Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Zojoji Temple (1)

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Tunnel to Subway Platform, Iidabashi

The Japanese, admirably, seem not to recognize a hierarchy between "art" and "fine art". In fact, there seems to be a smooth continuum encompassing all craft and art. People in Japan are historically practical; they recognize skilled and creative potters, kimono makers, and flower arrangers as artists the same as painters, for example. Meanwhile many such artists see themselves as craftspeople.

The contrast renders even more questionable the trend in America for some photographers to refer to themselves as "fine art" photographers. The pretension seems special to photographers; one does not hear of "fine art painters." No doubt it arises from the fact that anyone can take a photograph and nearly everyone does, but the designation is laughably self-conscious and defensive. One is reminded of certain Pentagon operation names, as though anyone who might suspect, for example, that the invasion of Panama was not a "Just Cause" would be persuaded by naming it that. A recent parallel from politicians is the "Defense of Marriage Act," in case anyone might not imagine that marriage needs to be defended from more people wanting to enjoy it.

A photograph is a photograph. Whether it could also be "art" or "fine art" ought to be left to the beholder to judge. Meanwhile, the artist in Japan rarely confers the term on his or her self. The great filmmaker Akira Kurosawa said, upon receiving an honorary Oscar in 1990, "I feel there's so much I don't know about film." The man seen by so many worldwide as a great artist saw himself as a craftsman, just trying to continue learning how to get it right.   Posted by Picasa

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Ryokan Garden, Shuzenji Onsen, Shizuoka

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. Frequently they are located in hot spring spa (onsen) towns, such as this one in Shuzenji Onsen, on the Izu peninsula in Shizuoka prefecture about two hours by train from Tokyo.

A night at a good ryokan is the height of sophisticated relaxation. After soaking in the hot spring bath you can be served a gourmet dinner (with plenty of fine sake) in your tatami room. After a walk through the village to watch fireflies dancing over a stream, a blissful slumber awaits.   Posted by Picasa