April 20, 2013

Up and Down the Park Hyatt Tokyo

At the Park Hyatt Tokyo in Shinjuku, several minutes' walk from the west exit of Shinjuku Station. This room leading to the elevators had an odd motif; all the sculptures on the wall feature some sort of weather.

The staircase on the 41st floor

 Walking away from the Peak Bar.

The women's bathroom has vanity tables that look more like they belong in a coffeeshop.

Looking down at the second-floor level food shops.

Macarons with a lily pad theme.

The entrance of the Shinjuku Park Tower, which houses three buildings (including the Park Hyatt Tokyo).

Walking out of the main entrance.

April 19, 2013

Panoramic Views from the Park Hyatt Tokyo

Taken from the 41st floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo hotel in Shinjuku, otherwise known as the hotel where Sofia Coppola's 2003 film Lost in Translation took place.

While scenes for that film were shot in the 52nd-floor New York Bar, the photos here were taken at the 41st-floor Peak Bar.

Not surprisingly, the hotel is a major destination for non-Japanese tourists and residents. When I rode up the elevator to the bar, I was the only Japanese person among six other people.

I will go as far to say that it is a destination more well-known by non-Japanese than Japanese residents. Not one of my Japanese friends have ever mentioned the hotel; meanwhile, my non-Japanese friends have information on which bar is best in the hotel (the Peak Bar, because the New York Bar has a 2,200 yen cover charge after 8 pm from Monday to Saturday, and 7 pm on Sunday.)

I was at the bar just after sunset, and it was surprisingly not too crowded. You would think that seeing the sunset would be a major coup, but the overseas in particular clientele were well-mannered, perhaps too used to visiting beautiful places in beautiful countries to be too visibly excited.

The same location, after the sun has gone down completely.

The bamboo trees greet you when you get off the elevator.

Little etchings on the columns.

Though you cannot tell from this photo, both Tokyo Tower and Sky Tree were visible in the far distance.

April 13, 2013

Fashion Cues in Last Night (2010)

In writer-director Missy Tadjedin's 2010 film Last Night, Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington play a married couple whose relationship is tested when, on a night apart, they are each tempted to stray by a former lover (Guillaume Canet) and new colleague (Eva Mendes), respectively. Despite the solid quartet of actors, the film performed horribly on limited release, relegating it to the "forgotten films" pile.

Part of the reason for the film's lack of success could be the low-key manner in which the story unfolds. Despite the heat promised by the actors and the premise, this is no pot-boiling thriller or suspenseful drama; Tandejin is more interested in mining the characters' romantic backstories and presenting a level-headed portrait of all the motivations that people have to cheat. Upon its release, the film was criticized for presenting gorgeous people living in affluent Manhattan in spacious apartments and asking the viewer to feel something was at stake. (It's called escapism, no?) However, from the beautifully-shot scenes (the majority of scenes are set at night, cloaking the actors in velvety darkness) to said apartments, the beauty on display serves as a visual reminder of all the temptations abound in the characters' lives.

As a female viewer watching a film written and directed by a woman, though, I found myself reacting most to the fashion -- specifically the way the clothes worn by Knightley and Mendes so precisely signaled the psychology of their characters. Obviously, this is the exact role that costuming plays in cinema. But in the same way that it takes a female director such as Andrea Arnold to depict a fresh take on female sensuality, the visual cues provided through clothing in Last Night felt specifically guided by the vision of a female director (and costume designer Ann Roth).

Take, for example, one of the first scenes in the film, where Joanna (Knightley) and Michael (Worthington) head to one of Michael's work parties. She's running late and also couldn't care less, so she dresses in simple black pants and a black sweater with no bra to boot. Even in a crowd that is dressed mostly in dark colors, she still stands out for the casualness of her outfit.

Later, on the verge of making up after a fight with Michael, her willingness to reconcile is indicated by the hoodie she wears, which is too obviously large to be her own.

In contrast, when she agrees to meet former lover and fellow writer Alex (Canet) for dinner on the night her husband is away on business, she makes a specific point of dressing up.

The beautiful black dress that she opts to wear is a wrap dress, the implication being that it is easy to take on and off.

Meanwhile, Michael and Laura (Mendes) are on a business trip in Philadelphia. In this parallel storyline, it is Laura who wears the wrap dress, which also happens to be a staple of work wear for women. In the end, one dress will come off, and the other will not.

It's fitting that at the end of the film, the future of Joanna and Michael is also signaled by fashion. In one of the last shots, the camera rests for a beat on Joanna's shoes: a beautiful satin pair obviously only worn on important occasions, begging the question: what were you up to the night before?

A Cloudy Day Walk in Shimo-Ochiai

Hippy-dippy building several minutes' walk from Shimo-Ochiai Station.

A public elementary school that was obviously built recently. Interesting architectural details are the giveaway.

The terraced concrete blocks are not merely so flowers can receive ample sunlight; each step is actually a mini-pond that houses lily pads and medaka (Japanese rice fish)!

Random bronzed baby in the corner of an apartment building.

Otomeyama Park, one of Tokyo's nicer public parks. The park has two sections, one on either side of a street. It has recently expanded its reach, and the renovated park was unveiled just today.

Believe it or not, there are two inchworms in this picture. I only noticed because the paler one was crawling up my leg.


The stray cat, a staple of Japanese parks.

It was excited to no end by the remnants of fallen cherry blossoms.

It was the most tiger-like cat I'd ever seen.

The Kanda River, still pink from all the fallen cherry blossoms.

April 6, 2013

It's Snowing Cherry Blossoms

A quiet little shrine in a commercial area of Hachobori.

It's not exactly a loss if you chance upon a tree that has started to shed its petals. I rather like the snow effect.

Taken a couple of days after.

Coming out of a random pipe.

I like it when sakura try and pretend they belong to other plants.

It isn't easily visible, but there is a lone flower caught in a spider's web. You can spot it if you look hard enough; the flower looks much larger than the others seemingly surrounding it.