Thursday, 7 October 2010

Japanese Days - Arrival in Tokyo

Arrived yesterday in Tokyo. Still warm and a little humid even at this time of the year. Settled quickly into our apartment which is in the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo. Some dissappointments. The furniture in the photographs does not correspond to the furniture in the apartment. In particular there is no divan so literally there is nowhere to sit apart from the chairs around an enormous round table which dominates the entire apartment. No amount of discussion or remonstration will get the furniture we wanted. The only answer we get is "that furniture is too big for the apartment". The question arises why was it advertised with those pieces of furniture. I have been informed that it is not entirely uncommon. Lisa, the Japanese woman who works in the real estate office and speaks English with a perfect American accent, just smiles and tells me we will be very comfortable there. As I organised everything over the internet there was no way of checking anything before hand. However the apartment is very comfortable. Divided into two halves it is relatively roomy for an apartment in Japan. It is situated in a region called Suitengumae which is close to the Sumida River and seems to be closed off from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. That is if you dont count the overhead highway which rumbles away all day and night almost beside our window. However I'm not complaining. We are in Tokyo at last and have three months of filming and getting to know Japan in front of us.

The apartment itself is very well situated. You walk out the door and straight into the metro. Its literally fifteen seconds from our own front door. In some ways that is quite normal for Tokyo. Wherever you are in Tokyo you can look up and there will be a metro somewhere close by. Its the beginning of autumn here and the leaves are turning golden red and brown. This is a beautiful time to be in Japan especially from a film makers point of view.

Still feeling jet lagged but we already managed to get to the Sogetsu Ikebana exhibition at the Takishimaya Dept store on Nihonbashi not far from where our apartment is located. Japan has a long tradition of  putting on art exhibitions in department stores or commercial organisations. Its an incredible exhibition, jsut the scale of it is extraordinary as well as a very high level of art. Today we went to the exhibition again after lunch  on Ginza and met up with Natasha's friend, Fujimoto san and some of her students who were exhibiting there. Natasha took photographs of many of the compositions. I was especially struck by the composition of Akane Teshigahara which had a central place in the exhibition it measured several square metres and was constructed with large branches  and set inside where golden orange flowers - Hibiscus I think. The whole effect vibrated and pulsated with energy and life. The branches had been painted with what seemed like two types of ochre paint (dark brown and Red) mixed with  dust or powder so that the  surfaces were matte and gave off an effect of volume. The effect was vaguely like surrealistic paintings, although this was a sculpture.
Have sent off e-mails to our friends Paul, Akira san and Sumida san to let them know we have arrived in Japan. Maybe we will meet up with them sometime soon.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Japanese days - Following in the footsteps of Basho ?

11/11/2007  Sun
Received answers to our e-mails form Akira Suzuki and Paul Cunningham. Akira san lives about 15 minutes walk away from where we are living in Suitengumae. I was just looking at the map and we are right in the area where Basho lived during the 17th century across the river from us almost directly opposite. Last time we were here Akira san took us all around the area and I remember looking across the river at a row of cherry trees which were about to start blossoming and thinking how good it would be to live around this area. By accident that is exactly where we have ended up, following in Basho's footsteps so to speak. Basho was a poet who made journeys all over Japan writing about what he saw and felt on the way in the form of Haiku (three lined verse).Basho was interested in the spirit of place. He visited various places to commune  with the memory of those with whom he shared the same attitude to life. Though they were dead the surroundings were infused with their presence and would give inspiration to the visitor who was sensitive to their presence. Places, were specific historical events had taken place either religious military or artistic, were of special significance to Basho as a means of reestablishing a spiritual and temporal link with the past.

Basho says of a great teacher from the south. Do not follow the ancients but search for that which they searched for. It is true for Poetry. In other words in order to make poetry like the ancients there is no need to to copy them or imitate them but follow the same path as them, see what they saw, enrich oneself with there creative worries but write your own way, find a fresh way of expressing something which may have been expressed thousands of times over by other poets. Basho struggles to do this himself. Whereas many Japanese poets wrote of nature and had almost exhausted its capacity for expression, for Basho nature takes second place often allegorically showing people and life. Many poems by Basho are honed from legends and folk tales, his understanding of beauty had deep roots in folklore. For Basho there was an indissoluble link between nature and people and on the shoulders of the people of his time he always felt a breath stretching far back into the centuries. In this breath he found the durable source of art. In the epoch of Basho many people both in the towns and country endured severe hardships which Basho witnessed at first hand in his travels and which he included in his poetry.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Japanese days - Tokyo Exhibitions and meeting with Akira suzuki

12/11/2007 Monday
Settling in a bit more although its still difficult to aclimitise. Its not like we are here on holiday. There is a lot to organise: finding places to buy food, places to eat and organising our schedule. Went to the second part of the Sogetsu exhibition at Takashimaya Department store. Natasha took more photographs. Earlier we were at the Sogetsu headquarters on Asakusa where Natasha had some business to complete for herself and for her students. We went into the cafe there and had lunch. Brilliantly designed building. Very contemporary even though it was built at the end of the fifties. The 12 or 15 stories high the design  is as modern now as it was then. I like the exhibition hall in the lobby with its exhibition space and "waterfall".The building serves as the international headquarters for the Sogetsu organisation. The adminstration of the branches from all over the world is dealt with here.
This evening met up with Akira san and he took us to a restaurant and we had a meal together. Very inexpensive and and tasty. We will go there again. Nice to know that there are some reasonable places to eat even in the centre. We talked a lot about David Burliuk and the film I am going to make during this trip to Japan and about art in general.(Themes as yet not dtermined) He explained to us how he was invited to the David Burliuk 125 year anniversary in the Ukraine this year by the Governor of Sumy no less where David Burliuk was born, with all expenses paid. Unfortunately he didn't go. It was good to meet with him again he is such good company and easy to talk to and is always ready to answer our questions about Japan. I hope we can spend some more time together.
Its getting late and the Tokyo night feels fresh and warm despite it being early autumn. Natasha is sleeping as I write. I'll finish off a few things and then also get some sleep and try and regulate my time patterns to Tokyo time. 

Monday, 4 October 2010

Japanese days - Getting ready for Kyoto

16/11/2007 Friday
Gradually getting some kind of rhythm into our stay here and settling into the rhythm of life in Tokyo.
Already visited the National Museum of Japan in Ueno Park. Excellent  exhibition of art from the Tokugawa period - special exhibition. The whole place was packed with long queues to get in. Splendid exhibits from this period. Yesterday we met with Paul Cunningham at the Dubliners Pub in Ikibukara and had a meal together. Not very Japanese but good company. We met Paul on my first visit to Japan. We were travelling to Ogasawara, the island 1000 kiliomtres south of Tokyo out into the Pacific. I was making a film about Burliuk and we got to know him on the island itself. Before that walked around the Imperial Palace Garden complex in stunning  autumn sunlit weather. Incredible garden laid out in between the fortifications and moats which make up the perimeter of the Palace. Finding our way around the metro much easier now. Today met with Madam Fujimoto who took us to a shop where they sell dry floral material and then went for a meal at a small traditional Japanese restaurant nearby. Natasha and Fujimoto san had the fish dishes and I as usual stuck to the meat dishes. Very tasty all the same. Changed money at Tokyo station and then went to pay the rent at Koyibashi. Came back home and called into the Royal Park hotel for coffee and cakes in the lobby cafe. The Royal park is directly opposite our apartment, again less than 20 seconds from our front door. I have a feeling we will be going there a great deal. Very relaxing and we stayed about an hour.
We've got our tickets to Kyoto for tomorrow. Getting everything ready this evening.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Japanese days - In Kyoto

20/11/2007 Monday,
Arrived in Kyoto  on Saturday in the afternoon by train. Saw mount Fuji in the distance from the train window, although it looked quite close due to its immense size and height.
Yesterday kept the day fairly simple and went around the nearby museums not far from the hotel. The Kyoto National Museum and the Museum of contemporary Art. Also we visited the Heian Shrine, the huge Shinto shrine. Behind it and attached to the shrine is a widespread garden with long walks and a bridge with balconies which along each of its sections is framed unique views of the gardens as if framed in a picture or painting. Another example of how Japanese use nature to create art ie using the materials of nature itself to create art.
Finding our way around the restaurants and cafes so that we can eat relatively economically.
Today we went to the the temples and shrines close to our hotel. Nanzenji Temple and the nearby Garden, Eikando Temple complex and the Silver Pavilion. Beautiful autumn colours of the trees makes the whole scene come alive with greens yellows and reds. After translating Natasha`s article which I helped her with I understand a great deal more now seeing the gardens themselves and knowing their history.  Had pork noodle soup in a Japanese  cafe. The owners were so pleased to see us they gave us a free desert. Very nice people and we will go back there. Weather is spectacular and sunny even if a bit cold. Long walks good for our health as well in the mountain air.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Japanese days - Nijo Castle - Early Warning Squeaky Floorboards

Yesterday was a long day. Started early in the morning at Nijo Castle. Large complex with palace inside the castle perimeter and gardens. Inside the palace is a large building which has walkways inside which squeak like birds singing or geese honking. This is apparently was a security warning. However it occured to me that it also had an artistic dimension in that it completely complimented the pictures of geese and other birds on the walls and doors which adorned the palace. Reminded me of some of the things that Eisenstein said about Japanese theatre and cinema. Also Mazurik talks about this as well, the idea that japanese art was cinematic.
Had  tea ceremony in a raised building overlooking one of the zen gardens which we looked at for about half an hour mediating on its beauty and refinement. The Russian tour group who arrived at the same time as us and even travelled on the metro with us by coincidence looked at us with envy. In the far distance a swan glided along the side of the castle wall in the moat. 
After this we walked to the centre did some shopping and called into the Ikenbono building which is on the site of the first temple which was built in Kyoto and is still standing. The Ikenobo building is even more impressive and modern than the Sogetsu building. Swans and carp swim in the ponds which border the building. More swans.
We got back to the Hiean shrine and bought tickets for a Gagaku concert with the ensemble from Tenri which we had filmed ona previous trip organised by the Conservatory in Moscow. Remarkable performance of Hiean court music and Gaguku dance set to a medieval novel called The story of Ginju - about court life  from a female point of view. Met with Mr Sati who we met when we stayed in Tenri before. Afterwards had a Japanese meal and came home.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Japanese days - Temple Songs

22/11/2007 Thurs
Terribly cold today but all the same we braved the weather and visited several temples.  At one temple the Abbott was on duty and he signed a copy of the guide book we bought. Lovely middle aged man with a totally unaggressive nature. He would find out what nationality you were and sing a song from that country. For me he sang its A long way to Tipperary. Even for his age he had the most youthful of hands, like a youth of 15 or 16. He couldn't` remember his Russian but as we were going out the door  he came out after us to say "spasibo". Such a gentle and genuinely kind man.  Managed to film a bit and got some quite good footage which also may prove useful. Spent a long time riding on buses to get there but we managed to figure out the system. Also we booked a visit at the Imperial villa which Natasha says is well worth a visit.
Yesterday we visited Movie World - the Japanese film studio entertainment complex. There is a complete Japanese town from the medieval period which they have built and make samurai and historical films there. I filmed some of the sets more for practice than anything else but maybe there will be some useful material at some point.