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.
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.
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.
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.”
My last blog entry, covering ESCAPADE IN JAPAN, was designed to be something of a hint as to why I’d go a month without a new entry. This week I returned from four weeks in Japan, a trip I’d long been planning to take after my retirement in September 2015. I spent three weeks in Tokyo and one week in Osaka, from which I visited Kyoto and Nara. There were a number of film-related sightseeing trips during that time, although my blog entries on the trip won’t be limited to those. I have a steady stream of thoughts, impressions and photos to share and I’m finding that the effort to process and sort through everything is slow and painstaking. I packed a lot of activity into four weeks and took thousands of photos and it will take some time and numerous entries to chronicle the key events. But I wanted to start with a short account of one of the first things I did on the trip, something that was important for me to do and an early emotional high point of the trip.
Around ten years after the end of World War II, Hollywood made a number of films that aimed to rehabilitate Japan’s image in American pop culture and give our new ally and onetime enemy a kinder, gentler makeover in the eyes of a public once stirred up to see Japan as barbarism incarnate. While there had been earlier Hollywood films shot in postwar Japan, beginning with the Humphrey Bogart vehicle, TOKYO JOE (1949) and the low-budget thriller TOKYO FILE 212 (1951), the years 1955-58 saw quite a wave of Hollywood productions filmed partly or entirely in Japan, all involving significant interaction between Americans and Japanese, including HOUSE OF BAMBOO, THREE STRIPES IN THE SUN, TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON, SAYONARA, STOPOVER TOKYO, JOE BUTTERFLY, THE BARBARIAN AND THE GEISHA, and the film I’m covering today, ESCAPADE IN JAPAN.
MOKEY (1942) is a family drama made at MGM in 1942, a film I first heard of when I came across an entry for it in Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, where it was described with this short two-sentence summary: “Reed has problems with her stepson, who almost winds up in reform school. Typical of genre.” “Reed” refers to one of the film’s stars, Donna Reed. What intrigued me at the time was the inclusion of three black performers in the cast list for the film: William “Buckwheat” Thomas (as he’s billed in the film’s credits), Cordell Hickman, and Etta McDaniel. If they were just playing walk-on servant roles, they wouldn’t have been listed so prominently. I determined, correctly, that Buckwheat and Hickman played Blake’s companions in it. Both Blake and Buckwheat were co-starring in MGM’s “Our Gang” series at the time, which would make this a rare opportunity for two actors from that series to share dramatic roles onscreen. (“Our Gang” would, of course, become much more famous when it ran on TV in later decades as “The Little Rascals.”)