Metropolis 553

This week’s issue of city guide METROPOLIS has quite a few interesting articles in it, which I’ll rundown in one post instead of multiple entries. After a week, look in their sidebar archives for issue 553.

The cover feature is a short story — “Watercolors,” taken from his DARK WATER collection — by RINGU author Suzuki Koji. Most of his novels are being published in English by Vertical.

If you’re looking for English books in Tokyo (your cheapest option is still to order from Amazon Japan), you can check out the recently opened Maruzen store in the Oazo shopping complex.

More than 130 years after the first Maruzen opened in Nihonbashi, the shop that has saved many an expat in Tokyo will shut down and undergo a huge renovation. Although the new Nihonbashi Maruzen will not re-open until 2007, the venerable bookseller has moved into the Oazo shopping and dining complex next to Tokyo station with no less than 200,000 foreign books, the largest selection of its kind in Japan.

In addition to four bilingual book advisors, the new Maruzen has a touch-screen computer system that allows you to search in English for your favorite classic. When we tested it, for instance, Maruzen didn’t have the 2004 BBC Books edition of Agatha Christie’s Caribbean Mystery, but the system did print out an order form to take to the counter. If a book is in stock, the computer can print a map of where it is in the store. Maruzen has an extensive selection of the latest English books, including fiction, academic titles and books on Japan. They also have a limited collection of German and French fiction and nonfiction, and some French audio books.

I’d like to have a look at their French book selection. Ordering French books from Canada or France is still just too expensive (the shipping costs equal the price of the books).

Then there’s this mention of the “Emerging Generation” architectural exhibition taking place at GA Gallery (until November 3), that I’d really like to check out.

GA, or Global Architecture, is the preeminent name for architecture aficionados throughout Japan. Predominantly known for its various magazines and journals, the GA organization also operates a gallery space near Yoyogi station. The refined, modern but simple building houses two floors of exhibition space and one of the most extensive architecture bookstores in Tokyo.

“Emerging Generation,” the latest of this exhibition space’s informative and extensive investigations into the contemporary architecture scene, is exactly what the title describes. Nine emerging forty-something architects from around the world are represented in a series of designs, conceptual drawings, and computer-generated prints of 3D models all modestly displayed on color-coded posters that hang around the smooth concrete interior of the gallery.

The next show, “GA Japan 2004” (until December 26), looks like another add-on to my must-see list.

And then there’s Hillary Raphael’s new novel, I (HEART) LORD BUDDHA, published by Creation Books, which I think could make for a fun read.

Tokyo has been the grist for many a first novel, but few have been as leftfield as Hillary Raphael’s. The author of last year’s butoh photography book Outcast Samurai Dancer, Raphael has woven her experiences as a Tokyo hostess and runway model together with real-life events such as the Aum Shinrikyo subway gassing, and used her own febrile imagination to create a rollicking novel of cyber-age esthetics. Set in late-’90s Tokyo, I Lord Buddha recounts the history of the Neo-Geisha Organization, a sex-and-death cult with an anti-consumerist, pro-hedonist ideology. The cult is led by leggy Westerner Hiyoko, and her followers are the young women “whose curiosity and perfect bodies have taken them thousands of miles from home to work in Tokyo’s neon-lit network of hostess bars.”

Another must-see exhibition is Maywa Denki’s “The Nonsense Machines” happening at the NTT ICC, until December 26.

Blurring the line between art and industry, Masamichi and Nobumichi Tosa are better known by their pseudonym Maywa Denki, or Maywa Electric. In their 11 years of existence they have beguiled the world with whimsical interactive machines that double as musical instruments, calling their concerts “product demonstrations” and dressing in the faceless uniforms of Japan’s industrial workers. “The Nonsense Machines” is a retrospective that brings together their collected inventions, and also features a new Edelweiss series, a consideration in interactive mechanical forms of various aspects of female identity. A free concert is scheduled for December 6 in the adjacent Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall.

I hope I can make it to that free show.

And looking for some wacky otaku-flavoured Japanese cinema? KOI NO MON would seem to fit the bill.

Recently, there has been a rash of Japanese films based on manga, but Koi no Mon goes one step further. Not only does it stem from the adult comic of Jun Hanyunyuu, but the piece centers around a bizarre, down-and-out manga-ka (manga artist) named Mon (Ryuhei Matsuda), who draws his cartoons on little stones, and a female counterpart, Koino (Wakana Sakai), whose passion is cosu-pure (“costume play”). Thus we get the title, which also means “gate of love.” It should come as no surprise then that the tone of the piece is “cartoonish” in a surreal, frenetic and often silly way. A lot of the action takes place in the protagonists’ imagination, leading to some interesting computer graphics and visuals. The offbeat love story between the two is only mildly engaging but you have to like any film in which the female lead squeals “tanoshi neeee” and the male lead promptly pukes his guts out.

TOKYO Q also has this review:

Theater actor and director Suzuki Matsuo makes his feature film debut with this wacky tale of lovesick manga artists in Tokyo. For a first film, it’s an assured performance: a riot of sight gags, colorful characters, quick-cutting, rock-tempo silliness. Mon (Ryuhei Matsuda) is a scuzzy, furry “manga artisan,” a hopeless failure who draws comics on stones. He meets and falls in love with cute Koino (Wakana Sakai), an OL with a “cos-play” fetish and a secret manga artist to boot. Koino and Mon’s love affair is complicated by the involvement of an older man, manga coffee shop owner (Matsuo), with claims on Koino’s art and heart. While exploring a similar world to the low-budget film “Ai suru Yochu” (which also featured Matsuo as an older lover), this is altogether more satisfying. A complete guide to the workings of the obsessive otaku mind. A few cult directors show up in fun cameos: Takashi Miike as a brothel keeper and Shinya Tsukamoto as a soon-dead customer at the manga coffeeshop. Tokyo geek love.

I’ll wait until I can get my hands on a version with English subs.

Lastly, I haven’t really found anything interesting in the recent bar reviews they’ve featured, but this one (follow the link for the full review), for Aoyama’s Ratia, looks like it might right up my alley.

Ratia is exactly the kind of place that comes to mind when people ask us about cool Tokyo lounges. Dimly lit, multi-level, and filled with enticing nooks, this bar is a sure bet for couples or groups looking to chill out with an inventive cocktail and some good food.

Located a short walk from the sparkling Prada Building, Ratia sits on a quiet side street surrounded by stylish design studios, restaurants and shops. The exterior holds its own against these oshare outposts; even from the outside looking in, the bar emanates an inviting aura. A porch area runs up to large front windows that give a glimpse of a small bar area that’s somewhat mysteriously suffused with a green glow. Once inside, the narrow space has a row of small white tables lining one wall, while farther back is a semi-private seating area.

It seems that I’ve been recently criticized for my superficial thirst for stylish environments. This is not something that I feel the need to defend: I think my site is pretty much a shrine to all that is pretty and stylish in this city, and I make no excuse for it. That’s what I like, and that’s where I want to hang out.