Thursday, 24 March 2011

Japanese Cinema..... Part One

While mention of Akira Kurosawa brings to mind The Seven Samurai and his feudal-Shakesperean epics Throne of Blood, Kagemusha and Ran, and if you are a serious fan Yojimbo and Sanjuro, I want to discuss one of his first movies Stray Dog (1949). (The first copy of this dvd I purchased was not without its problems: Great visual b/w values, but the subtitles were done by a Mandarin native translating Japanese to English. When in dialogue doubt, fake it.)

"When homicide detective Murakami's {played by Toshiro Mifume) pistol is stolen, a rash of murderous crimes begins. Plagued with the knowledge that his own weapon is causing the harm, Murakami is driven to extreme lengths to track down the killer and recover his gun. But the closer Murakami gets to the killer, the more he realizes how much they have in common. This is a great film filled with early Kurosawa social commentary on the condition of postwar Japan".

While the rest of the review can be found here, Murakami's frantic search for clues across Tokyo's cityscape - police labs, upmarket venues, shattered buildings, neighbourhood food markets, back alleys with their pickpockets, hookers and pawnshops - is overlaid by a stinking hot, humid summer atmospheric. You can feel the heat, the perspiration and grime forming on shirt collars. Go to the link provided, scroll to the stills at the bottom and get my point. Also, Yankee cultural imperialism in the form of baseball and bikini babe cabaret.

And like The Seven Samurai, the final denouement takes place during the mother of all storms if I recall correctly. Stylish stuff, especially in the wardrobe department, and also shares a similar noir plotline to Pick Up On South Street starring the incomparable Richard Widmark.

To be continued: Battles without Honour and Humanity - Kinji Fukasaku 1973

In 1967, stalwart director Yasuharu Hasebe directed the high production value yakuza tale Bloody Territories. One can view Territories, even through all the blood splatters, as a very conventional take on J-mob culture: uncompromising vertical feudal loyal to the boss as well a horizontal allegience to fellow mob colleagues, as we follow the trials of the Onogi clan which was first ordered to dissolve itself by the governing Kansai Association and then subsequently bankrupted by their bosses bad gambling fortune. Loyalty is the narrative trigger in the ensuing turf battles. TBC

Post WW11 Ground Zero. Many horsemen of the apocalypse stalked the land. Epidemic diseases. Psychological trauma. Widespread starvation. Wholesale corruption by govt officials and industrialists. Millions of now despised ex-soldiers and former colonists returned to the mother country with zero prospects. Women sold their bodies for a couple of rice balls ("That is when I sank into the despised profession of being a 'a woman of the night'".[i]) And, as in all Hobbesian societies, the blackmarket ruled what was left of a devastated economy. Some 20,000 of what were termed Blue Sky markets sprang up across Japan to meet every social need. Not surprisingly, all this offered great advancement opportunities for Yakuza gangs.

Now to Battles Without........ which opens with a savage sequence of events: two large US military police beat a GI rapist into submission, a stall holder has his arm dispatched with a sword, a pretty uncouth piss-up by the yakuza perps followed by a murder. Blood, anarchy, steady cam camera techniques and a lurid colour palette. The narrative {there is no plot) then proceeds to follow ex-soldier Hironi as two crime families fight an episodic turf war in Hirsohima over a 10 year period, stitched together by a Jack Webb The Naked City-type voice over.

Betrayal and retribution in spades, so there is not a lot of honour or loyality in this J-mob flic, except for that displayed by Hironi, and even he comes to that existential truth in the final funeral scene. A serious review here and a silly one here.Fukasaku made four sequels and then the 2000 cult teenage rebellion payback flic Battle Royale.

[1] McClain. J. L. 2002 Japan: A Modern History Norton New York p.553

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

BEING A FACE in the 21st Century...

Quite by accident I came across a copy of FACEHUNTER by Yvan Rodic recently. Thames and Hudson, 2010. A contemporary porfolio of 326 global fashion photos, and after a diet of serious reads, flicking thru this is plain fun.
a man out and about in london and beyond: eye candy for the style hungry

It also puts paid to the notion that the world is heading towards an homogenised clothing wardrobe, courtesy of your nearest transnational with their sweat shops across Asia and Central America. Overstating the case here, but big deal.

Rodic cruises the world - from Reykjavik to London, Instanbul to Tbilisi - and has also snapped his way across the exotic Orient, both as a freelancer and as fashion editor for The Observer.

Since I've spruiked the book, I will take liberties with copyright law and reproduce two photos.

London - shoichi- 2010

Chose this due to my love of Japanese Yakuza movies. Now, if I was the the HR boss for the Yamaguchi-gumi in Tokyo, and was vetting CVs for management material for my Panchiko Parlour franchise, this guy would go to the top of the list.

I simply chose this stylish photo because of the fake Gaudi background, which is the pretty tacky Cultural Centre opposite Flinders Street Station in Melbourne. Walked past this 'cultural pile' many times, and even met the pigeons when lunching close by.

Note: click on purple text for links.

Monday, 21 March 2011

BEING A FACE in 1964...

In 1979 Franc Roddan directed a cinematic version of Quadrophenia which was loosely based on The Who's 1973 rock opera of the same name.

Post World War 11 austerity and British working class poverty did not really abate until the early 1960s. Essentially, life for the great majority was grey, wet and joyless until Merseybeat, The Who and the Small Faces.

The latter two bands focus our attention on the Mods, so due diligence involves a Wiki definition, and here it is in long, totally soulless, footnoted detail.

Dick Hedbidge defines the Mods within the new context "of a dialogue between Black and white youth" thru their supposed music affiliations - ska and rocksteady, plus 'Italianate (fashion) style'.

Anne Marie Long disagrees, stating that "first hand accounts and contemporary theorists point to the Jewish upper-working or middle-class of London’s East End and suburbs."[9] Sociologist Simon Frith asserts that the mod subculture had its roots in the 1950s beatnik coffee bar culture, which catered to art school students in the radical bohemian scene in London.[10]

Steve Sparks, who claims to be one of the original mods, agrees that before mod became commercialised, it was essentially an extension of the beatnik culture: "It comes from ‘modernist’, it was to do with modern jazz and to do with Sartre" and existentialism.[9] Sparks argues that "Mod has been much misunderstood... as this working-class, scooter-riding precursor of skinheads."

Ms Long and Simon Frith are off the reservation, while Hedbidge (who should know better) and Spark commit to very little.

To be precise, Mod culture was a new Youth culture arising out of the relative new affluence now enjoyed by the Working Class in the early 1960s.

And importantly, it was male-centred around clothes,Italian scooters and amphetimines. The Gaze and being a Face/Identity. The quality of the cashmere, the width of a lapel and the placement of a pocket.

Frank Roddan's movie captures all of the above perfectly in this extremely well directed ensemble piece (see photo above). And how do we know that it was a working class movie? Simple. The protagonists fucking swear at every fucking opportunity whatever the fucking circumstances. To read more about this flic, click here and and particularly here.

While the centre piece is the Brighton Beach Mod-Rocker-Police rumble, which used some truly innovative crowd direction techniques (cf accompanying dvd with an extended interview with Roddan), I go for the dance scene with Louie Louie pounding out of the speakers. At this juncture, I became quite orgasmic.

Louie Louie is unquestionably the greatest song ever committed to vinyl. Not only was Richard Berry's adaption of a Jamaican ditty recorded by over 2,000 'artists', but it was the only song in the popular canon to ever be investigated by the FBI. You can read about its illustrious history here, and if you a seeking PhD levels of Louie Louie knowledge click here.

Three great chords, seventeen great songs, but I opt for The Sonics version.

Sunday, 20 March 2011


The first serious international concert I ever attended was a triple bill - The Who, The Small Faces and mod moppet Sandy Shaw - at that venerable, but now defunct venue Festival Hall in 1968. Big moment involving major life-style decisions. What to wear - corduroy hipsters, best Westminster Boutique shirt, Italian loafers plus an extra workout with the hair brush.

I never saved that concert ticket, but recently found most of my tickets from the '70s, some of which are framed below.{Hit the magnification button) Now there are some pretty good musical memories here when combined with their corresponding back stories of serious excess.

However, one of these concert moments stands out as both extemely embarrassing and Monty Pythonesque. We are referring to probably the worst example of English prog-rock excess, a band which went far beyond the pretensions of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Focus and Super Tramp combined and all that inflated seriousness which characterised the '70s, until the the Sex Pistols vomited on the whole edifice.

Q. Scan pic below, recall all those guitarists of the period who fell prey to the fashion of the twin necked guitar, and you have the culprits.

A. It was YES and they still stalk the memory lane circuit to this day after minor repair work at the fat farm and botox clinic.

And the Pythonesque dimension. Well, the promoters didn't read the fine print and forgot to book a local warm up act as required by law. The whole gig was delayed while they raced over to the seedy D'Brazil night club, and seconded a third rate comedian in a safari suit with his repetoire of tasteless 'boom boom' jokes.

A collective What the Fuck is Happening!
I don't feel very comfortable in this Parallel Universe?
Finally, reasoning kicked in with "I knew there there was something wrong with that bloody acid".

Friday, 18 March 2011


A few months ago I attended a pro-Wikileaks rally in the city. Basically, it was poorly attended by about 200-250 people, and was hijacked by the very inconsequential Social Alliance who worked the crowd for new foot soldiers to no avail. Basically a case of the usual suspects on the microphone and some attractive girls in the audience.

Cutting to the chase, returned home and fired off a few libellous emails to a number of traitorous scum in the Federal Labor Party - Arbid (now retired), Shorten and Damby - all of whom have disgustingly close relationships with the US Embassy. No doubt also sharing domestic intelligence information about Assange and his Wikileak confreres in Australia. Pls note, these three are not the only identifiable vermin in the Federal Labor Government.

Dramatic downward mood swing: so little support for the Wikileaks project(and no, I don't want to hear any counter arguments about Assange's personal problems, and yes, I like his clothes sense). Then, subsequent feelings of extreme euphoria after reading about the ping attacks undertaken by that loose shadowy, lurking federation of white hats, Anonymous, who took down the servers of a number of global corporations who have us in their thrall. Visa in my particular case.

Well, these dudes are back and with a vengeance.

Al Jazeera, which provides essential news reporting for individuals tired of Murdock and the NYT, published this article today by Haroon Meer - Lessons from Anonymous on cyberwar - about how Anonymous outfoxed HB Gary Federal, a cyber contractor tasked by the US Government with infiltrating Anonymous. Its long, its detailed and comes with numerous supporting links, and appropiately ends with a quote from William Gibson.

"The future is already here - it's just not very evenly distributed."

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

DEPARTMENT OF IF YOU CAN REMEMBER, you probably weren't there ...

I was watching the Japanese nucleur reactor drama unfold on the box  when the following text message scrolled by. Sixties psychedelic icon dies in Qld road accident. I immediately thought of Sam Cutler, former tour manager for the Grateful Dead, since he lives a couple of suburbs away. But no, it was Owsley "Bear" Stanley, confidant of Jerry Garcia, sound technologist and the chemist responsible for the LSD revolution of da mind.

Strawberry Fields, Purple Haze, Blue Cheer and similar chemical catalysts, which friends assured me really improved their surfing skills when they ducked off from school to catch a wave. This obit  is reasonably comprehensive, except that it fails to mention the fact that Owsley Stanley was also a member of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters.

The Big Daddy of them all, Dr Albert Hofmann, exemplary Swiss citizen, staunch Catholic, head of the Sandoz Laboratory and accidental inventor of LSD, passed away in 2008 at the serious age of 102.

End result. Meltdowns like Syd Barrett and Roky Erickson (the tres fabulous Thirteenth Floor Elevators) and a really rotten song by Eric Burdon (A Girl called Sandoz).

I would throw in a couple of Furry Freak Brothers cartoons, but have yet to surf that particular learning curve.

So you will have to settle for this. News clipping from The Brisbane Telegraph March 1973. Found in my first passport, the one containing the rubber stamp warning Not Valid For North Vietnam.