March 9, 2012

Otaru Fish Market

The fish market for locals in Otaru, about an hour's drive away from Sapporo. Whereas the main street contains shops selling fresh seafood, they are clearly for tourists (at tourist prices).

I went here at closing time, so most of the booths were closed for the day. Here, a man covers vegetables with damp newspaper.

This character was featured prominently in every stand. I gather it's some sort of mascot for the market, but a bit dated now.

A whole wall of the girls.

Decoration -- perhaps a grandson's discarded toys?

A kamaboko (processed fish meat molded into a half-moon shape) maker.

The fish on the right is hokke (Arabesque greenling). It's very easily attainable in Hokkaido, but not nearly as well known in the rest of Japan. Apparently, it's commonly eaten fried.

Frozen salmon.

Kids Gambolling Down a Snowy Mountain

As stated in an earlier post, Mount Racey didn't have that many skiers. Most of the traffic in fact seemed to come from schoolkids who were visiting on a school trip.

They seemed more interested in playing around in the snow than actually skiing.

Shut up in a room about 100 meters away, they were an incredibly entertaining (if chaotic) sight.

I actually couldn't tell they were children until they started spontaneously rolling down the mountain.

Rolling down necessitates climbing back up.

Slowly but surely defacing the mountain.

A Japanese Take on Taxidermy

Taxidermied animals go with the territory in a snowy, wintry place like Hokkaido.

But the dressing up and human-like posing seems uniquely Japanese.

Skiing Down Mount Racey

Mount Racey, the ski resort immediately visible from Yubari Station. (The building in the photo is the hotel 20 steps from the station.)

When I was there in late February, snow conditions were great and despite the Yubari Fantastic Film Festival going on, there were hardly any skiers. The plus was that you could have a practically private skiing session. For such a spontaneous decision (so spontaneous I went skiing in corduroy jeans), it was a remarkably easy experience.

The slopes were lit in three different light tints, making each and every groove in the snow more visible.

March 7, 2012

The Runaways (2010)

 (Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie and Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett in The Runaways.)

In an early scene in The Runaways, a stuffy, balding guitar teacher tells a teenage Joan Jett, “Girls can't play guitars." It's a line that’s begging to be refuted, and The Runaways proceeds to do so in irreverent fashion. Charting the formation of the band, their career highs, and their dissolution, writer and director Flora Sigismondi's defiant film seems to answer the unspoken comment, "A woman can't direct a (rock and roll) film". But who else but a woman could tell the sordid story of The Runaways, the first all-girl teenage rock band, and do it justice?

(Michael Shannon as their shady producer Kim Fowley.)

From the first shot in the film, in which we see a drop of blood drop on pavement, Sigismondi, in her film directing debut, shows grit and perceptiveness in equal measure. This is no simpleminded ode to girl power, or a celebration of hedonistic excesses. The film never forgets that despite the attention and the success The Runaways had, it was never their world to claim. From their opportunistic manager (Michael Shannon, whose ill-suited glam-rock gear only serves to heighten how shady he is), the derisive male bands they encounter on the road, and the media, who can't help salivating over the five teenage girls, they were forever being cut down to size. The girls didn't respond by bonding together and bucking the odds. Instead, they imploded in a haze of sex, drugs, and jealousy. 

(Dakota Fanning in an Alice in Wonderland-like shot.)

Fanning is essentially miscast as 16-year-old lead singer Cherie Currie, the supposedly inimitable Cherry Bomb. I wasn’t around when The Runaways were big, but one look at their live Cherry Bomb video and you see the unavoidable truth: Fanning can never be that girl. The real Cherie Currie looks mean, hard, and tough. While no great singer, she commands the stage as she bellows out her lines, forcing you to pay attention. Fanning is too pretty, too slight, too obviously loved to provide the scrappy authority that Currie had. 15 years old when the film was shot, she was technically the right age for the role, but then again Currie looks like she skipped being a teenager altogether. With the nymph-like Fanning at the center, the band in the film looks more palatable, more easily salable than the real Runaways.

(Kristen Stewart, perfectly cast as Joan Jett.)

As ill a choice as is Fanning for Currie, Kristen Stewart on the other hand is a perfect fit as Joan Jett. It's a rare role in which her tomboy, too-cool-for-school tics mesh naturally with the character. Androgynous and insouciant, she swaggers through the film with authority. Though the film is based on Currie's autobiography, Jett is portrayed positively as the one who is in it for the music. (Her flings with other teenage girls are treated nonchalantly.) When the shit hits the fan and the band threatens to fall apart, Jett keeps her head down and continues to play her guitar. We end up cheering on Jett (authentic musician) as Currie (manufactured star) fades into obscurity. 

(LA as a wasteland: Cherie walks through a supermarket parking lot overgrown with weeds.)

The Runaways has a certain looseness, eschewing the standard "track all your highs and lows" biopic format. We get the overall picture through stray scenes: Joan Jett dumping all her change onto a counter to buy a man's leather jacket, the band being pelted with debris by neighborhood boys as they practice in their trailer, Cherie talking to her twin sister Marie (Riley Keough) as her father takes a drink in the background. Late 70s southern California, rendered through garish primary colors, looks like a grimy wasteland, betraying the vulnerable environment the girls were in. 

The film doesn't purport to tell the whole story -- Jackie Fox, The Runaways' bassist, refused to be portrayed, resulting in an indistinct character played by Alia Shawkat. (Stella Maeve plays the drummer Sandy West, Scout-Taylor Compton plays lead guitarist Lita Ford. Both leave a strong impression despite their lack of screen time.) Meanwhile, the real-life members were the focus of Edgeplay, a 2004 documentary, sans Jett, who refused to participate. The Runaways didn't necessarily make me want to discover their music, but it did make me want to learn about what these fearless women went on to do in their lives. 

March 1, 2012

The Ferris Wheels of Hokkaido

For some reason, there are a lot of Ferris wheels in Hokkaido. Perhaps this shouldn't be as surprising as it was to me, but considering that the two major Ferris wheels in Tokyo overlook different areas of Tokyo Bay and have amazing views, it was harder to justify the existence of Ferris wheels in random areas in Hokkaido.

This one was in Sapporo. Perhaps it affords a nice night view?

This was in Asari, along the coast. You can supposedly get a view of the ocean, but unfortunately the wheel was closed during winter.

Another one on the outskirts of Asari. I'd be worried about the damage that the snow does to these constructions.

Yubari Station

This is Yubari Station. About 30 steps from the station is a ski resort hotel. I took this photo from the hotel corridor, and until I saw a train pull up, I had no idea it was a real station. It's so small, it seems more like an idea of a train station than the real thing.

About 15 steps from the station is a building that houses about eight izakaya bars. During the recent Yubari Fantastic Film Festival, it was the hangout in town. (Though quite literally, it really is the only hangout in town.)

In case you didn't know what tissues were for.

Seen from the other side of the train station: Mount Racey Ski Resort. With fresh snow every day, minimal visitors, and fairly cheap prices, it's an absolute shame that the resort isn't more popular.