20 Years Ago

My friend Kyle tweeted out that today marks 20 years since the release of the film The End of Evangelion (July 19, 1997). I actually got to see it in theaters in Tokyo that summer, as part of my first visit to Japan, and this made me think back at how much my life changed that year.

It was at the start of May 1997 that I went to the city of Tianjin, China as part of a 10-week program to study Chinese at Nankai University — along with a group of students from McGill University and the Université de Montréal (where I was studying in their East Asian Studies program). The first day I was in China, I would meet the Japanese woman who is now my wife (it took a few weeks before we actually got together though). At the end of the 10 weeks, the entire group returned to Montreal, but I decided to stay — yeah, because of the girl — and so enrolled at the university there to continue my Chinese studies.

During that summer, my wife had returned to Japan (it was the university’s summer break) and I decided to go visit her for two weeks. That would be my first visit to Japan, a place I would later call home for over 15 years.

My wife is originally from Kobe, and so that’s where I went. By boat. It was a two-day journey from the port of Tianjin to the port of Kobe, and it was an amazing way to slowly take in Japan, small island by small island, until we reached the port. I still have vivid memories of listening to Fugazi’s Repeater on my walkman, while taking in the sight of Kobe as we approached.

I stayed a couple of days in Kobe, but for the majority of the trip we were in Tokyo, staying at one of my wife’s friends. It’s during that trip that I got to go see The End of Evangelion, which was my introduction to the series — I knew zero Japanese, and considering how, ahem, narratively adventurous that movie is (especially the ending), you can imagine what a trip it was to take in. That July also marked the release of Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke, which I also went to see at the theater (and as I mentioned recently, it may have been my first taste of Ghibli).

I still have quite a few vivid memories from that trip — like the first time I watched Mecha Mecha Iketeru, a comedy series on TV starring the comedy duo of 99, who I’ve continued to love for 20 years. I also bought a PlayStation while I was there to bring back with me to China, and the first words of Japanese I really learned where while playing Tomb Raider and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in Japanese.

After the trip, we both returned together to Tianjin by boat (this time taking 4 days because of a tsunami), and would end up staying in China until the end of that year — at which point we went to Montreal for one semester so I could get the missing credits I needed for the program I was doing, before moving to Tokyo at the start of May 1998.

I’m certainly thankful for the interesting journey my life has taken, as well as for all of the unexpected swerves I’ve decided to take a chance on and follow.

Lupin the Third: Goemon Ishikawa’s Spray of Blood

I watched this fantastic Lupin the Third film over the weekend, Goemon Ishikawa’s Spray of Blood (Chikemuri no Ishikawa Goemon) that tells the tale of how Lupin and his crew met up with Goemon. It’s a more adult take on the series, and features much tenser action than I’m used to seeing in Lupin stuff — think more along the lines of the animated sequence in Kill Bill — and I absolutely loved it. Great action, great character moments, and what made me even happier is that I later realized that it follows a Jigen movie from a few years ago, which itself is a follow-up to The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna) series that I remember hearing about when it came out, but never saw — I watched the first episode and it was killer.

Our Little Sister

Earlier today I got to talking about the films of Hirokazu Koreeda with a friend at work, and it’s only after looking him up that I realized he had directed Maboroshi, which not only was his first feature film, but also one of the first proper Japanese films I remember watching at a theater — this would have been back in 1996-98, while I was student in Montreal. That movie marked me quite a bit, but I hadn’t watched any of his other films, so tonight I decided to watch Our Little Sister, which I absolutely loved. Sure, it doesn’t hurt that it stars beautiful girls as the sisters, but I thought the story was quite touching, and the performances were really outstanding. Think I’m going to need to start making my way through Koreeda’s filmography.

Like It’s 1967

After I finished my recent 1985 movie marathon, I wanted to do another one, but for a year of film that would feel very different. I picked 1967 for the simple reason that it marks a 50 year jump, and I thought it would be interesting to revisit movies of that era that I watched when I was younger, as well as discover some I had never seen.

What I found especially interesting with the selection I ended up making — I figured I was going to go for a dozen or so, and ended up capping it at 10 — was that most of what I wanted to watch was French. I’m not sure if it’s a sign that French cinema was so strong at that time, or if it’s just that I would have watched a lot of these because of my French-Canadian background, and so they were part of my upbringing. Yet, of the 30 movies I watched for 1985, none of them were French, so I do think that French cinema was on a more equal (if not higher) footing with Hollywood at the time, and that it tended to reach a more global audience than we see with French films these days (which I admittedly do not follow at all).

All in all, it was another fun exercise, offering me a satisfying snapshot at the state of film — and culture in general — at that time. Here’s the full list of films I watched — which you’ll also find under the “1967” tag.

  1. Belle de Jour
  2. Bonnie and Clyde
  3. Casino Royale
  4. Fantomas Contre Scotland Yard
  5. In Like Flint
  6. Le Samourai
  7. Les Demoiselles de Rochefort
  8. Playtime
  9. Point Blank
  10. The Graduate