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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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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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Jim Shaw: Art Inspired by Pop Culture

11 Nov

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The above picture recreates a scene of Vincent Price at the end of the tale, “The Case of M. Valdemar,” from Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe anthology, TALES OF TERROR (1962). It was done by artist Jim Shaw and is on display right now at the New Museum at 235 Bowery in Manhattan. I remember seeing work by Shaw at the 1991 Whitney Biennial and being really impressed and wanting to see more. I don’t remember the exact works that were featured but they were big, sprawling paintings incorporating lots of pop culture references and conspiracy lore. Right up my alley, I thought. Shaw then dropped off my radar for 24 years until a recent New York Times article  and a subsequent review by Ken Johnson alerted me to a show of Shaw’s works, titled “The End Is Here,” at the New Museum, his first American retrospective, so off I went.

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Scorsese Collects: Film Posters at MOMA

11 Oct

On Friday, June 12, 2015, I paid a trip to the Museum of Modern Art to see a 35mm showing of the 1929 two-color Technicolor silent film, REDSKIN. I was pleasantly surprised to see some spectacular film posters adorning the walls of the lobby area outside the theater and in other spaces in the museum. These posters were all from Martin Scorsese’s collection and were on display as part of an exhibit entitled, “Scorsese Collects.” The exhibit remains on display until October 25, 2015 and I urge interested parties in the New York area to visit the Museum (preferably on a Friday night when film screenings are free) and see them up close.

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