Revisiting THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971)

24 May

I recently picked up a used 2-disc set containing THE FRENCH CONNECTION and various extras, including two documentaries on the film, deleted scenes, and separate audio commentaries by stars Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider and director William Friedkin. First, I re-watched the film for the first time since seeing it on cable sometime in the 1990s. I then went through all the extras. But before I get to my reevaluation, a little history is in order.

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Japan Journal, Part 6: Toei Kyoto Studio Park

15 May

One of the absolute highlights of my trip to Japan was the visit to Toei Kyoto Studio Park, in Kyoto, on Wed. March 30, 2016. This is a combination theme park, museum, and studio run by the Toei Company, one of the leading film, TV and animation studios in Japan. Since 1950, Toei has been turning out a steady array of Japanese pop culture staples, including samurai and yakuza movies, martial arts films, superhero TV shows, animated sci-fi and all sorts of other time-honored Japanese genres. The Toei Kyoto Studio Park offers a samurai village backlot that visitors can explore to their heart’s desire, as well as a visitors center filled with galleries devoted to Toei’s 60-year animation output, live-action tokusatsu and sentai TV series, Japanese film history in general, and the singer Hibari Misora. The backlot is in active use as a set for Toei TV shows, plenty of which I’ve seen, and I will share images from shows that were filmed there. It was an immersion in Japanese pop culture history like I’ve never experienced anywhere else.

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Japan Journal, Part 5: Gundam, Ghibli and Pokémon

5 May

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In my last Japan Journal (Part 4, April 28, 2016), I concentrated on the Suginami Animation Museum in Ogikubo, Tokyo and said I would save the other animation museums for another entry. Here I’m going to recount my trips to the Gundam Front Museum in Odaiba, Tokyo, the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, and the Pokémon Center and J-World Tokyo in Sunshine City in the Ikebukuro section of Tokyo, more proof of Tokyo’s status as anime heaven.

The Gundam Front Museum doesn’t have as many different exhibits and attractions as the Suginami Museum, but what it does have is pretty spectacular, starting with the giant model of the original Mobile Suit Gundam outside the shopping center where the museum is located.

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Glenn Ford Centennial

1 May

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I’m taking a break from my Japan Journal in order to pay tribute to Glenn Ford, who would have turned 100 today, May 1, 2016. He was a movie star who may not have created as lasting a film legacy as many of his contemporaries, but still had a remarkable 54-year career in Hollywood. He died ten years ago, in 2006, at the age of 90. He had a pretty good 20-year run as a top-ranked studio movie star from the late 1940s to the late ’60s before turning to television and character work, which he did steadily up to 1981, working intermittently after that until his final screen and TV work in 1991, closing out a career that had begun in 1937. He’s probably best-remembered by film buffs today for three films: GILDA (1946), in which he played opposite a sultry, satin-clad Rita Hayworth; the film noir cop thriller, THE BIG HEAT (1953), directed by Fritz Lang; and the western 3:10 TO YUMA (1957), directed by Delmer Daves, in which he served as the film’s antagonist, one of the few times he played an outlaw in his career.

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Japan Journal, Part 4: Animation Museums in Tokyo: Suginami

28 Apr

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While I was in Japan, I visited three museums in Tokyo devoted to animation as well as various stores that catered to anime fans. When I was in Kyoto, I visited the Toei Studio’s theme park, Toei Kyoto Studio Park, which had an animation gallery devoted to the output of Toei Animation. The three museums in Tokyo were the Ghibli Museum, located in Mitaka and devoted to Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli; the Gundam Front Museum in Odaiba devoted to the Mobile Suit Gundam anime franchise; and the Suginami Animation Museum in Ogikubo, which offered a full panoply of anime history, covering Japanese animation from the early 20th century on. Of these, the most rewarding was the Suginami Animation Museum in Ogikubo, Tokyo, which took up a whole afternoon and offered enough interesting material to justify its own blog entry.

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Japan Journal, Part 3: Townsend Harris and Okichi

18 Apr

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At the end of my previous entry, I was checking out of the Shimoda Tokyu Hotel  on the morning of Wednesday, March 23, when I found a brochure describing other sites in Shimoda that I was now determined to visit. So, after checking out, I headed back into town to seek out Gokusenji Temple, where Townsend Harris had set up the first American consulate in Japan in 1856, from which he labored to effect a treaty with the Shogun, and Hofukuji Temple, which housed the Okichi Memorial Museum and gravesite, devoted to Okichi, the Shimoda woman who had lived with and worked with Harris during his stay. The closest site was Hofukuji Temple, which wasn’t easy to reach, given the vagueness of the map I’d gotten from the tourist center, but I did find the Shimoda History Museum and went in to ask directions. I had hoped to see this museum also, but was eager to get to the other sites and I was somewhat put off by the 1200 yen admission fee, almost three times as much as the norm for the other places. I probably missed some interesting things, judging from their awkwardly-worded brochure.

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Japan Journal, Part 2: Commodore Perry, the Izu Dancer and the Black Ships

14 Apr

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One of the key things I wanted to do while in Japan was visit the Izu Peninsula to see sites connected to Yasunari Kawabata’s famous story, “The Izu Dancer,” which has frequently been adapted for films and TV programs in Japan. In researching sites for the trip, I discovered Shimoda, which also happens to have a number of sites connected to Commodore Matthew Perry and the arrival of the famous American squadron of “Black Ships” in Perry’s second Japanese expedition in 1854 and the one that yielded the first treaty between the two countries. So I booked a hotel room in Shimoda for the night of March 22, a one-night stay away from Tokyo, with the intention of visiting assorted spots in the area connected to both Commodore Perry and “The Izu Dancer.”

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