HESO Magazine

Photography, Music, Film, Hitchhiking, Craft Beer – Cultural Pugilist

Category: Featured (Page 3 of 12)

Deerhoof Live In Tokyo

Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita

“We neither had it all nor shall we…We are just fine without your promises.”

Satomi Matsuzaki on ‘Black Pitch’

The Beard – EP 91 – Deerhoof by Beard Radio on Mixcloud

Deerhoof is the quintessential gateway band. Like the Velvet Underground and Pixies before them, they have spawned 1000 other bands, some of whom have gone on to sell lots of records. Not publicly so-well-known for their multi-directional syncopation and almost Hellenistic melody chugging out their intense maximal sound from a few strings and percussives, but to the indie-girl / -boy fanclubs their sound has slowly become part of industry vernacular: St. Vincent, Flaming Lips, Tune-Yards and Dirty Projectors are just a few of the bands to owe debts of gratitude to the foursome of Satomi, Ed, John and Greg.

Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita

But who is Deerhoof? (Read the HESO Interview from their 2008 Japan tour) Why have they lasted? How are they so influential, yet still relatively unknown? They put out a notably good album just a couple months ago. So why have they never become rich and famous but still have managed to have stuck around for over two decades — having celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. According to the press release from this past November’s release of La Isla Bonita, drummer Greg Saunier stated:

No band is an island. Felt like one sometimes, in those budgetless and obscure early days, Satomi [Matsuzaki] and me locked in the basement trying to figure out how our clashing personalities and ideas could turn into a band. If we hadn’t had that crazed mid-’90s Bay Area punk scene to call home, I doubt we’d still be here to chat about a 20th anniversary. We don’t set out to create masterpieces. The Deerhoof fan is a thrill-seeker. This is the latest volley in an ongoing conversation we’ve been honored to hold for 20 years.

That their 13th studio album was not recorded in a studio, but demo tracks were recorded for a week at guitarist Ed Rodriguez’s basement and sent to Godmode Records guy Nick Sylvester, an early Deerhoof supporter back from his days as a music critic for Pitchfork, who eventually produced the album. Drawing on key influences Radiohead, The Flaming Lips, Lou Reed, Sonic Youth, Beck, the Roots, Ric Ocasek and David Byrne, La Isla Bonita is, above all a Ramone-y groove album, with repeating riffs and their trademark nonlinear yet efficient arrangements. It swings to and fro with approachable and yet still disjunctively “weird” melody and rhythm patterns, enough to be true to past form while still as explorative as a car speeding down a darkened highway lit by only the moon and driven by the odd and beautiful music within. See photos from a live show in Tokyo.

Deerhoof - La Isla Bonita

Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita

Upcoming Dates

  • Jan 31 Indigo Fest Santa Ana, CA
  • Feb 14 Dzik Warsaw, Poland
  • Feb 16 Lido Berlin, Germany
  • Feb 17 Conne Island Leipzig, Germany
  • Feb 18 Zoom Frankfurt, Germany
  • Feb 19 Petit Bain Paris, France
  • Feb 20 La Maison Folie Mons, Belgium
  • Feb 21 Melkweg Oude Zaal Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Feb 23 Marble Factory Bristol, United Kingdom
  • Feb 24 Stereo Glasgow, United Kingdom
  • Feb 25 Brudenell Social Club Leeds, United Kingdom
  • Feb 26 Oval Space London, United Kingdom
  • Feb 28 La Route Du Rock Festival (Winter Edition) Saint-Malo, France
  • Mar 09 Toad’s New Haven, CT
  • Mar 10 Paradise w/ of Montreal Boston, MA
  • Mar 12 Beachland Ballroom w/ of Montreal Cleveland, OH
  • Mar 13 The Metro w/ of Montreal Chicago, IL
  • Mar 14 Turner Hall w/ of Montreal Milwaukee, WI
  • Mar 15 First Avenue w/ of Montreal Minneapolis, MN
  • Mar 16 The Waiting Room w/ of Montreal Omaha, NE
  • Mar 17 ACM – UCO Performance Lab w/ of Montreal Oklahoma City, OK
  • Mar 18 Walter’s Downtown w/ of Montreal Houston, TX
  • Mar 19 SXSW Austin, TX
  • Mar 20 SXSW Austin, TX
  • Mar 21 Thirsty Hippo w/ Fred Thomas Hattiesburg, MS
  • Mar 23 The Earl w/ Fred Thomas Atlanta, GA
  • Mar 24 Mercy Lounge w/ Fred Thomas Nashville, TN
  • Mar 25 Duke Coffeehouse Durham, NC
  • Mar 26 Ottobar Baltimore, MD
  • Mar 27 Pearl Street Northampton, MA
  • Mar 28 Marlin Room at Webster Hall New York, NY
The Charlatans - Modern Nature

The Charlatans Release ‘Modern Nature’

The Charlatans Release ‘Modern Nature’

The Charlatans have been unfortunately plagued by a double-sided curse. Unfortunate in the fact that they have lost multiple members to various causes of death, both natural an un-, double-sided in that they inevitably muster on, producing genuinely good albums every few years since the late 80s. Their new release, Modern Nature, is their 12th in 25 years. Having released two previous albums in the wake of band member deaths, this being the third, their first since the death of drummer Jon Brookes – who left the band in 2010 with the brain tumor that eventually took his life. The album comes after five brutal years for the band, though keyboardist Tony Rogers was quoted as saying that they were determined to carry on to honor Brookes’ memory, “Jon was adamant that there was going to be another Charlatans record, and you have to put that into your own thoughts.”

The Charlatans - Modern Nature

The Charlatans – Modern Nature

The eleven new tracks, running about 47 minutes, were produced by The Charlatans and Jim Spencer and mixed by Craig Silvey (Arcade Fire, Portishead), and features a number of contributors, including Pete Salisbury of The Verve, Stephen Morris of New Order, Gabriel Gurnsey of Factory Floor, Kate Bush’s backing singers Melanie Marshall and Sandra Marvin, Sean O’ Hagan on strings and Dexys’ Big Jim Paterson on brass. Despite being a conglomeration of sound, it remains grounded in the basic keyboard-guitar sound that has become the Charlatans’ pedigree over the past quarter century.

Well known for soul-tinted R&B Britpop, Modern Nature is tinged with the melancholic keyboards and shiny guitar splurges like most Charlatan albums, but possesses a pacing that mellows and satisfies the thirsty listener lacking any lately potable Britpop. This is not a gateway album for anyone new to 90s Britpop, but remains one of their most tautly wound, with well written songs and the intricate instrument (rhythm section) backing that has defined them since their inception. Beginning strong yet imbued with nostalgic tones and melodies in “Talking in Tones” and “Come Home Baby”, there is an obvious gist here, one of fatality and vitality. Yet despite all that there is a notable lack of fodder here, specifically what you would expect to find from an outfit 25 years gone in the UK scene. Finishing off both musically and lyrically strongly with “Lean In”, “Trouble Understanding”, and “Lot to Say”, The Charlatans look to tour with the same grueling schedule as normal, one of the few “old” bands to populate set lists with actually decent new songs and the classics you spent the $50 for. A year from start to release, the band went into their studio Big Mushroom in January 2014 and lead vocalist Tim Burgess remembers, “We were aching for the summer when we wrote it. It was freezing and we were trying to write songs that made us happy.” Like all of us, the band should be happy it’s still around, doing what they love, and getting to see thew world while they do it.

The Charlatans play in Japan and Taiwan in March:
03/19 – O – East, Tokyo
03/22 – Neo Studio, Taipei
03/25 – Club Quattro, Osaka

Craft Beer - What's On Tap for 2015

Craft Beer – What’s On Tap for 2015

Craft Beer – What’s On Tap for 2015

2014 was a blur of craft beer. It feels as if I was finally awakened to all of life’s infinite malt possibilities, but I know that it’s just the beginning. 2015 promises to be equally exciting and full of new and delicious surprises. The big ABV boys were out at play in the barley fields of the lord. Sierra Nevada, Boston Beer, and New Belgium led the way for the craft beer industry, but limited run ales, as well as multiple hopped IPAs from Lagunitas, Rogue Ales, Brooklyn Brewery, Stone, Dogfish Head, Boulevard, Harpoon, Deschutes sold out regularly throughout the US and the Double IPA saw a large showing as well. Stronger beer seemed to be what was on the menu. But in order to grow beyond the roughly 5% market share they currently possess in the domestic market, smaller craft breweries will have to diversify. It looks like we could be in for a wave of lighter, flavored and session brews running anywhere from a demure 4%- to a slightly less timid 6% ABV. 2015 will be the year of the Wheat Shandy and the Milk Stout. Here’s the rundown of what 2014 tasted like. And cheers to the new year!

Rent-To-Own - Best Music of 2014

Rent-To-Own – Best Music of 2014

Like every great religion of the past we seek to find the divinity within and to express this revelation in a life of glorification and the worship of God. These ancient goals we define in the metaphor of the present — turn on, tune in, drop out.

— Timothy Leary, at a press conference in 1966

The Beard – EP 100 – Best Music of 2014 by Beard Radio on Mixcloud

Rent-To-Own – Best Music of 2014

There are more ways to entertain yourself than ever before. There were more than 600 major motion films produced in 2014. Television offers more choice and range of viewing options for any type of fan out there, and it’s better than ever. Thousands of albums came out in 2014. In no time prior has there been more music being produced than now. Yet all of the Big Three Media have become subservient to the Gaming Industry, or the New World Order. You can access any of the Big Four across multiple platforms: Public Arena (theaters, concerts), home theater (Blu-ray, On demand), as well as mobile devices (Phone, Mp3, Cloud). The truth is, it is easier to see and hear whatever you wish in whatever format suits you, even without advertising, if you are willing to pay. But there are two issues at stake here:

1) How much access do you have to the content you really want? The music that is out there, but out of range of the content delivery systems: the big Movie Studios, Record Labels, Mass Media Corporations, which more and more are bundled into one of 7 companies: Comcast, 21st Century Fox, Walt Disney Co., CBS Corp., Viacom, Time Warner, and Sony.

2) The Cloud connects you to the digital grid, letting you upload / download “your” music, movies and books, but it’s more like a perpetual rent-to-own–you never own the thing, you just use it based on your location. Which is what we want, societally speaking anyway, at least it seems to be what we vote for with our wallets. We ask and we receive. Or as DEVO puts it:

Freedom of choice
Is what you got
Freedom from choice
Is what you want

All for you to be more secluded than ever before. Timothy Leary’s counterculture ethos of Turn on, tune in, drop out has never seemed so perverse. The electronic world has been digitized and is pocket portable, yet is more consolidated than ever, and is offering surprisingly fewer choices for your self-eroticizing desires. You have the ability to chose between a thing and another thing, unless you don’t know there is another thing. Mass Media and Madison Avenue would have you be herded into comfortable demographics of listeners, viewers, consumers who don’t struggle with confusing choices. The medium is the massage, as Marshall McLuhan (he whom originally coined Leary’s Tune In… phrase) wrote, and the message is “Accept your fate, asshole!” and listen to what we tell you. The music is sending us another set of messages however. It is telling us that it is the clash, the turmoil and the endeavor which define our ability to move forward and make positive and present choices for the betterment of humans everywhere. In order to get down, you got to get on up. So instead of dropping out and plugging in the wireless Beats earbuds you got for Christmas, why not tune in to the street as you walk to work. Who knows what you may actually turn on?

Under The Skin - Jonathan Glazer

You Won’t Believe What Sensationalist Best Of Bullshit End Of The Year List Lose Twenty Pounds Now

Under The Skin - Jonathan Glazer

The Stars In Her Eyes – Under The Skin – Jonathan Glazer

Hi Folks,

Sick of the End-of-the-Year hype? Over the Best-Of List? Done with being told how to feel about what is the interneteratti insiders say is Good and what is Bad? Exhausted by the feeling that you need to validate your interests by “liking” a thing? Tired of the need to feel that pinning a bunch of lists to the passage of December 31st into January 1st means anything more than March 31st to April Fools Day? Blame it on Amazon. Or the (sigh) NSA. Or better yet, God (who had so many bad movies put out about him that even L. Ron Hubbard is turning in his grave on Xenu), so why not click here and learn how to lose twenty pounds now!

The truth is that despite my own pretense to the contrary, this is a Best of the End of the Year List of Things That I Learned About on the Internet. How else does anyone learn about anything these days otherwise? TV is so last century. As the Buddha said, “Accept your fate, asshole.” or as another wise man once put it, “Don’t worry, be happy.” I will try not to repeat what Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes say with a whole lot better web design (sorry folks, my intern coders just quit!) and will attempt to be sincere about what 2014 threw in front of my cow eyes before the year spun so quickly past it resembled a Tornado in L.A. (yes that happened).

Read any other Year In Review pieces and you become instantly depressed at all of the shootings, beheadings, superstorms, diseases, institutionalized racists, police violence, poor voter turnout for U.S. elections, congressional gridlocks, bipartisanship, anything celebrity-oriented, and other entertainment-related “news”. Which is probably a large contributor to why gaming is the biggest global industry ever – escapism is justifiable when the world goes to shit. Look at the film industry, no top ten grossing film, except Maleficent or Interstellar, is not a sequel, part of a series based on a comic book, and all of them are easily Science Fiction, and most of them absurdly Freak Hero driven narratives (the eccentric in the room knows how to save us all from ourselves). Tolstoy apocryphally said, “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” And while these may more or less hold true to that axiom in wobbly general terms, there are stronger issues at play here – escaping from a reality which inundates you with mindless crap by escaping to more mindless crap.

  1. Transformers: Age of Extinction – Paramount Pictures $1,087,404,499
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy – Marvel Studios $772,152,345
  3. Maleficent – Walt Disney Pictures $757,752,378
  4. X-Men: Days of Future Past – 20th Century Fox $746,045,700
  5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Marvel Studios $714,083,572
  6. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – Columbia Pictures $708,982,323
  7. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – 20th Century Fox $708,279,489
  8. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 – Lionsgate Films $639,727,000
  9. Interstellar – Paramount Pictures / Warner Bros. $635,433,000
  10. How to Train Your Dragon 2 – 20th Century Fox / DreamWorks Animation $618,909,935

Interstellar - Christopher Nolan

Interstellar – Christopher Nolan

Let me be clear, I have seen many of these films (and others like them, but not as financially “good” as these), for two reasons: 1) because I feel the need to be up to date in modern day lexicon of non-stop references, i.e. I want to get the joke, and 2) In a weird way, I kind of like them (except the Transformers series which is just absolute shit). Which does not mean that they are actual great films. It means that I am a monkey in terms of the very Kubrickian-based Doug Liman form of Bourne Identity editing–hand held camera, quick cut, disjunctive, point of view, with a very large (albeit somewhat fogged) window for self-interpretation (“What just happened?” “He killed him with the Sears Catalog.”). Which has two effects: 1) to desensitize viewers to the unwieldy and awkward feel that comes with long takes in well-thought out character-driven storylines (like Birdman) and 2) makes everything that came before unwatchable due to our collective digital-ADHD. These films are a bare minimum of on location shoots with most of the work in studio in front of a green screen and lots of post production.

Singular to this list is Interstellar which is a taut cerebral thriller set in space (a la Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris) that takes advantage of modern day viewers addiction to dis-reality in order to propagate very real issues at the heart of next generation global dilemmas. Christopher Nolan’s ability to maintain the suspension of disbelief in terms of the reality of his special effects (using as little CGI as possible) is paramount to the storytelling. And paramount to me believing that all character-driven drama has not been totally Michael Bay-ed into crap wannabe sentimental robot-based bullshit. But at this point Bay himself must be so robotic in his technique as to at least be able to transform into some sort of auto-felatio infinite machine…

Frank - Lenny Abrahamson

Frank – Lenny Abrahamson

I digress…into films that I actually liked. Here are 11 films from this year worth spending your time and money on that combined made way less than the last movie on the top-ten grossing list (recognize any of the production companies that made them?). And many of the are Science Fiction! I know, what a hypocrite, right, but at least we are seeing major Hollywood stars step out of the Cut & Paste Superhero money-machine for the sake of making movies that actually move you.

Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, Film4 / BFI) – More than a decade since its inception, Glazer pairs reality television with haunting images of Scarlett Johansson as naïve and devastating alien being in search of a (human) meal, and perhaps a soul. Multiple breathtaking shots (both with and without nude Johansson), but the scene on the beach is particularly devastating in its reality.

Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho, Moho Films) Writer / Director of The Host and the excellent Memories of Murder, it is refreshing to see this French Graphic novel get billed as an international release rather than for the South Korean domestic market (and then remade into a shitty thing no one remembers). Bong delivers his very unique stylized production, and creates a gory comment on society / touching tale of redemption all in one big weird Sci-fi thriller package.

Frank (Lenny Abrahamson, Film4 / Irish Film Board) Jon Ronson wrote about his experience playing with Michael Fassbender’s Frank in the fictionalized version of one small part of the life of Christopher Mark Sievey (1955 – 2010) the English musician and comedian who fronted The Freshies in the 70s and early 80s as Frank Sidebottom.

A Most Wanted Man (Anton Corbijn, Demarest Films) – The director of Control segued from music video to espionage with The American and continues down the muted noir path with Philip Seymour Hoffman as a German Intelligence Agent in John le Carré’s spy novel of the same name. Following the opposite fork of the Bourne Universe sacrifices dollars for realistic portrayal of the small choices people in the middle of modern problems face maintaining and manufacturing war and peace.

Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund, Plattform Produktion) – This film puts Swedish director Ruben Östlund in his comfort zone: directing a ski film about societal mores. Taking on big topics like nuclear family, gender roles, and avalanches makes for a comedy of errors reminiscent of Woody Allen & Roman Polanksi.

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes Anderson

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, American Empirical Pictures) – Perhaps Anderson’s finest collection of story-telling with the usual brightly colored diorama mise-en-scene surrounding a closet community’s private war against Fascism. Great acting by an ensemble cast of beautiful misfits.

Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, Recorded Picture Company / Pandora Film) – Jim Jarmusch’s droll sense of humor is only matched by his ability to so slowly stoke the fire of narrative as to make the viewer think about his films for weeks after first watching them. So it goes in Lovers, a vampire story for literary vampires.

Venus In Fur (Roman Polanski, R.P. Productions / Monolith Films) – A retelling of David Ives’ revision of the novella by the infamous Leopold von Sacher-Masoch updated to modern day Paris, this film epitomizes Polanski’s recent obsession with cinematizing interesting bits of his own life–and everyone else’s– within the scope of popular Broadway plays. His wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, aptly stars.

The Rover (David Michôd, Porchlight Films / Lava Bear Films / Screen Australia) – David Michôd’s follow up to Animal Kingdom, The Rover spins a futuristic tale of Guy Pearce’s Eric, a man set on a path of death and destruction, but for what? Some purpose that is unclear, perhaps even to himself. Balanced and encumbered by Robert Pattinson’s simple Reynolds, this is a post-apocalyptic Of Mice and Men.

Coherence- James Byrkit

Coherence- James Byrkit

Coherence (James Ward Byrkit, Bellanova Films / Ugly Duckling Films) – Better known for Rango, James Byrkit has created a wonderfully nasty dinner party film for the dinner party gone to hell…in another dimension. It raises more questions than time allows to answer, so it’s best to sit back and relax with your wine while pondering who–or rather which–protagonist you’re following now.

Boyhood (Richard Linklater, IFC Films) – If you haven’t seen it, or at least heard of it, Richard Linklater’s epic work, that spanned more than a decade, charts the course of a boy’s winding journey through adolescence into young adulthood. It is spectacularly mundane in only the way Linklater ear for dialogue can deliver. Great performances make it more than watchable, but memorable and more importantly, relatable.

While the Hollywood media machine would have you believe that only superheroes (or God) can rescue humanity from the mounting problems we persist to whine about yet actively leave largely unsolved, the truth of these 11 films prove that the answers to all of life’s problems lie in interpersonal relationships–in talking it out. While the world may seem like Nicolas Cage’s acting in Left Behind, but, according to Our World In Data, the world is actually getting safer: Since 1950, Murder is down, Health and Education is up, Economic well-being (other than in the U.S.) is more widespread, and Political Freedom is gaining traction all over the world. There is reason to be optimistic and no better reason to believe that humanity–and film–can be rescued from the brink of destruction, or death by fascist film industry.

Homeless Makeover of Miyashita Park

Homeless Makeover of Miyashita Park

Miyashita Park, depending on your point of view, is an emerald oasis in the midst of a concrete desert blooming in the most crowded mile in the human world, Shibuya Crossing. One of the few green spaces within the city center, Miyashita is a microcosm of the larger setting of Tokyo. Built in the 30s as a ground level park lined with trees and actual green grass, it follows the Saikyo and Yamanote train lines in a narrow strip along Meiji Dori. The current incarnation of the “park” was a prototypical example of Futuristic Tokyo remodeling a city for the 1964 Olympic games, with little input from the public. In one fell swoop the city ok’d turning Shibuya River into a drainage conduit, and the park was redeveloped on man-made land above a new parking lot just behind the infamous Nonbeiyokocho, Drunkard’s Alley. Removed from ground level and public sightline, once the 90s recession hit, the disenfranchised real estate speculators turned homeless who couldn’t pay back the usurious rates the yakuza offered loans at moved into their own penthouse walkup. Talk about prime location.

But it started well before that. Even as early as the late 60s, activists on both the left and the right used the park as a starting point for marches and protests, while locals who frequented Miyashita said that undesirables were beginning to occupy its steps and bathrooms, leaving them feeling unsafe in their own neighborhood. Once the park became the crux of a superficial battle for old Tokyo to keep its traditional ways versus the new age of Times Square-like remodeling in Japanese society, the larger question of what is public space left the public out of picture. To some, who would say that with Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine just north, and picturesque Shinjuku Gyoen Garden and the manicured grounds of Akasaka palace beyond that, there is plenty of “green space” available, what does the public want with a relatively unimportant little strip of land filled with rats, roaches and homeless drunks on top of a parking lot?

Homeless Makeover of Miyashita Park

Homeless Makeover of Miyashita Park

STOP: Opposition to the Nikization of Miyashita Park (from Irregular Rhythm Asylum)

Others might counter that since the Meiji-dori entrance to this green space has long been the gathering point for local protests and grass roots activists, and that the park belongs to everyone–including the j-pop dance teams rehearsing choreography, embarrassed rockabilly greasers not ready for the Yoyogi spotlight, as well as scores of Rojousha or “road people” that populate its narrow boundary–not just whomever can pay the 200 yen to skate or climb the rock wall that local council members helped facilitate through their neighborhood beautification program sponsored by Nike Japan. Peter Shimokawa from The Coalition to Protect Miyashita Park from Becoming Nike Park wrote in Open Letter: Park Development Threatens Local Community that, “though Miyashita Park is publicly owned by the Shibuya Ward, local residents were not involved in the negotiations of this project. Rather, only the head of the Shibuya Ward and a few local congressional members made the deal with NIKE Japan, without consultation with either residents or the local congressional assembly. The project will transform Miyashita Park from a public space, available to all, to a private, consumer-oriented space.”

The public space was co-opted by Shibuya Ward at the behest of greater Tokyo Prefecture during the preparation for the 1964 Olympics. It was transformed from a public to consumer-oriented space at that time. If you consider that everyone has not only the right, but the duty to defend it from private takeover, isn’t it a bit late? Unless, consumer-oriented space is exactly what most everyone wants. Looking at the layout of Miyashita Park, it could be said that it finally conceptually matches Tokyo as the vast urban sea of concrete and glass built during this formative period. The romantic notion of cherry trees decorating simple pastures of green alongside any number of tiny waterway veins lining the greater Tokyo basin is a delusion, as that too is a mere false construction of an imaginary past. Now–beyond the rock wall–there is a futsal pitch and a skate park over which elms shade the multitudes of both young and old who come here to play, exercise and escape the megalopolis surrounding them.

Similar to other public works projects ostensibly meant to benefit the citizenry–the covering of Tokyo’s waterways as well as a designation of no-homeless zone–converting Miyashita from a public to a commercial site would seem to benefit a only relatively small percentage of the population: those interested in activities Nike deems shoe-worthy: footballing, rock-climbing and skating. The question is, is that good or bad? And according to and for whom? It is undeniable that since the renovation, the park is more crowded, the Futsal pitch lined with professionally clad players and spectators, the rockwall seething with anxious queuers, and the skatepark brimming with both young and old skaters. The park has become a gathering place for youth to partake in activities not related to sliding, swinging, or spinning. People have returned. It seems the park is, once again, in bloom. Even if it is a bit contrived and covered in bits of day-glo colored plastic.

*

Homeless Makeover of Miyashita Park

Miyashita Park Bike Tunnel circa 2007

Personally, I have history here. The first time I came to Tokyo in 2000 a group of pale-faced graduates and I walked from Shibuya station to Shinjuku through Harajuku’s Neko-dori, and never have I been so inundated with garish signage and obnoxious visual noise as in these few miles. After finally finding an okonomiyaki place and navigating the menu, we walked back the same route and as we approached the intersection where Neko-dori meets Meiji-dori and the train tracks cross the road, I saw a man lying on a piece of cardboard on the sidewalk near some stairs that led up to the overcross, and just beyond were a grove of trees. Noticing the stairs I led the pack of us up to the park and as we walked through the dimly lit grounds, our clamorous voices quieted to whispers. The interior was dark, a shadowy shanty town of cardboard houses covered in blue tarps, both small and large with locking doors and curtained windows, even space for their shoes just outside. These, along with two-man dome tents and other more coffin-like creations, lined the various nooks of the park, the luckier of the squatters filling them out with patio areas complete with plastic chairs, tables covered in beer and sake one-cups, and even gas powered barbeques. We passed piles of garbage loosely collected in plastic convenience store bags overflowing from the unattended trash cans, where ravens and rats openly competed for bits of instant noodle and old onigiri. Noticing the perimeter of the park was cordoned off with fencing, our crew grew silent as we shuffled through what seemed more and more like a kind of prison. One girl approached a clothesline with hundreds of translucent plastic umbrellas hanging and touching one, made a joke that if we were ever caught in the rain…when suddenly a machinegun of angry Japanese emanated from some dark corner of the bushes, saying roughly, “Get the fuck away from my umbrellas you stupid foreigner!” Smiles faded into fearful looks as the neon glow from adjacent restaurants glittered in our eyes. We quickly and quietly exited the park, coming out into Nonbeiyokochou, the tiny conglomeration of old-Edo style restaurants and bars populated with a contrasting cast of well-heeled salarymen and stylish young people eating and drinking, shouting and laughing, smoking and putting the night cap on yet another day. Just steps from the one another, two distinctive worlds co-existing, both pretending the other wasn’t there.

Homeless Makeover of Miyashita Park

Salarymen Tippling in Shibuya’s Nonbeiyokocho

Years later, I moved to Tokyo and Nonbeiyokocho became my second home. I worked as bartender in one of the same tiny establishments for more than a year and became one of the home crew, so to speak. It didn’t take long before I grew immune to the “neighbors upstairs” and came to understand how the locals view them as invisible. “Shogganai ne…” everyone would agree if it ever happened to be brought up. As a member of the itinerant “Tokyo Beats” joke photo crew, I used the park as an ad-hoc photo studio background on numerous occasions, after which we would drink numerous cans of Asahi Super Dry whilst fixing the world’s problems in its comforting environs. I came to find it as cozy, and despite the wafting odor of the accumulated garbage piles on especially humid days, I would stroll end to end in a comfortable escape from the manic and vapid consumerism of Shibuya whenever I could.

I myself have always had moments of inner dilemma with homelessness, the intractable problems created by modern society and the detritus of super-capitalism. Despite the luxury lavished on the few, some make it and some don’t, while most just struggle to make it day to day. That pragmatic, socializing voice in my head, warned me, “If you don’t keep up, that’ll be you screaming at some young lady about your umbrella collection from your cardboard condo!” Scary as that may sound, I have courted the thought as well, foolishly romantic as it may be, to chuck it all–the job, the apartment, the rent, the clothes, the bank account, the iPhone, the social security card, the internet, the media, TV, movies, marriage, kids, vacation, school, doctors–all of it, to go and be Rip Van Winkle somewhere in the unpopulated foothills and forget the absurd nonsense of modern life. But I don’t. Not many do. Certainly not by choice. Mostly because it wouldn’t be all that romantic–what with police persecution, social stigma, and the ever-shrinking area of land that is free, or public, space. Taking that final step scares me. Mostly because I don’t feel I have the specific strength of character to look into the faces of most everyone without self-pity, or shame, or not being able to hold eye contact. A thing which is not as inherently important, and my even be insulting, in Asia, but after sitting down with some of the same guys living in Miyashita park, and having some beers together, when they want to hammer something home–to be understood–they do it, they hold your eye. That, and they almost all say the same thing: they’re not from Tokyo.

“I’m not from Kanto, none that I know here are.” says one man, ashing his Mild 7 smoke into the park’s dirt floor. Kyushu, Kansai, and Tohoku-bred sons (and to a lesser extent, daughters) line the narrow lane where they are allowed to sleep. Which is no longer in the park itself, but below in the thin strip of land between the concrete exterior of the parking garage and the railing demarcating the uncovered motorcycle/bicycle parking in the alley behind Meiji-Dori. “Things happen. Time passes. I was unlucky. I have money now, but I choose to live here. Why not?” Some nod, others merely me, distrusting me for my interest in them, and my foreignness. They are at heart, still Japanese, and nurse a healthy skepticism of all things outsider. And being from a country of roughly 90% homogeneity, they could easily blend in to the monotonous crowd of black- and grey-clad salary-folk daily scurrying throughout the Shibuya station tableau. In some respect, this homelessness–or antagonism toward being easily labeled–is a more longterm form than the other more straightforward form of public protest, a modern kind of civil disobedience, for a society that disdains full frontal confrontation.

*

Homeless Makeover of Miyashita Park

Old & New – Miyashita Nike Park Triptych

The headline reads: Politician Creates Commercial Venture On Public Site With Major Corporation – Does Not Consult Public. That in itself does not seem very new or controversial, to Japan or any other Super-Capitalistic Society. The fact is that space is limited in a market-based world economy, and as the homeless are seen as non-economic contributors to society (they don’t have much in the way of lobbyists, advocates-excepting the excellent Sanya-based NPO Sanyukai, or marketing campaigns), they get pushed to the red edges of the ledger, a fact with which we have all learned to live. But on an island whose capital city fringe grows ever more crowded, as the distinction between the legislative branch and the corporate world becomes more and more blurry, the deep pulse of humanity’s desire to benefit all becomes clouded over by fiscal goals to benefit the ultra-rich corporate minority and bury the mistakes of the past. So Miyashita Park becomes Miyashita Nike Park (although the change never officially took place, it remains the de facto name) and the blue tarp cardboard dwellers get moved to a neat row along the bike park below. For now. What happens to them when the municipality begins work on renovating the nearby Yoyogi National Stadium in preparation for the Handball Finals at the 2020 Olympics? Pass legislation funding the expansion of train lines, stations, expressways and stadium compounds. Attach discretionary funding to hire more police. Begin food program to round up homeless and ship to Gunkanshima. Produce Reality TV Show where homeless people battle for stash of Sake One Cups titled: Road People Battle Royale. In a mechanical commercial society of spiritless automatons where building Babel TV Towers (Skytree) and Olympic handball courts take precedence over providing sustenance to its totality of citizens, the question remains, is that what we want?

The Wildest Dream – Beautiful Documentary Of Death On Everest

The Wildest Dream – Beautiful Documentary Of Death On Everest

The central question to The Wildest Dream (Anthony Geffen, 2010), the story of Conrad Anker going back to Everest 8 years after discovering George Mallory’s body in 1999, to revisit the 1924 expedition undertaken by Mallory and his climbing partner Sandy Irvine: was George Mallory the first to summit Mt. Everest? Anker is a compelling protagonist and an expert mountaineer, who drags a youthful and adept climber Leo Houlding along with him to retrace the steps of the infamous pair—often employing the same clothing, shoes and equipment—in their trailblazing ascent.

The Wildest Dream – Beautiful Documentary Of Death On Everest

The Wildest Dream - Film Cover

The Wildest Dream (Anthony Geffen, 2010)

Much like anyone who has realized aspirations as high and as dangerous as Everest, both Anker and his wife have known tragedy. In his mountaineering career, he has lost close friends who were experts of their craft. Which begs the question – why do it? The infamous answer by the film’s phantom protagonist, George Mallory—Because it’s there—seems less likely than, because NatGeo’s backing it. Despite gorgeous visuals and good editing, the film lacks the gravitas necessary to get the weight of the issue across, and too lightly attempts to portray the decision-making difficulty of daring the potential death of the Sherpa team as well as himself, between Anker and his wife waiting at base camp.

Mallory’s wife Ruth was waiting patiently in England for her husband to conquer the mountain and come home to her. That never happened. What did happen is up for supposition. We learn that when Anker found Mallory’s body he did not find the picture of his wife Mallory had promised to place atop the summit should he make it. It was also not among his papers in his breast pocket, yet a recently penned letter to Ruth was. So where did it go? Did Mallory achieve summit and place the photo where he reported he would, or did the well-known absent-minded mountaineer merely lose it while shuffling last-minute through his papers?

Using voiceover narration of well-known Liam Neeson to guide the viewer through Anker’s attempt and the story of Mallory and the 1924 expedition, Geffen interweaves archival footage amid the correspondence of Mallory and his wife Ruth (read excellently by Ralph Fiennes and Natasha Richardson) with stunning footage from cinematographers Ken Sauls and Chris Openshaw of the approach to Everest from Tibet, the approach that Mallory picked out from sight in 1919. Adding CG maps and illustrations fashion the film into the tech-savvy docu-drama so coveted by modern day couch potato adrenaline junkies.

The Wildest Dream - Mallory & Irvine Redux

The Wildest Dream – Mallory & Irvine Redux

Mallory and Irvine disappeared from the visibility of John Noel’s cameras a mere 800 feet from the summit. A sudden storm rolled in and they were never seen alive again. Could they have made summit—exhausted and with little oxygen left—in the whipping wind and stinging snow? Separating them from the peak at a height of 8,610 meters (28,250 ft) was the Second Step, a prominent upwelling of rock jutting 40 meters into the air. Since a Chinese climbing team attached a ladder in 1975 this step has not had the significance it would have had to a team climbing without modern technology in the midst of a sudden storm, such as Mallory would have faced. When Anker climbed it on the expedition where Mallory’s body was found in 1999, he did not judge that a climber without modern technology could have free climbed it. After having the ladder removed in 2007 and successfully mounting the great step, would he change his mind?

If mostly left unanswered, these questions are at least all brought to the table. A more detailed account of all of the British expeditions can be found in Wade Davis’ Into The Silence – The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest reviewed here. If the stunning visuals of Everest alone aren’t sufficient, the reemergence of Mallory from the ashes of obscurity should be more than enough to prod any arm chair mountaineer to procure the blu-ray for a video session before the next big climb.

Daily Life Hums Along in Tokyo

Street Photography Examined

“What happens when you interrogate yourself? What happens when you begin to call into question the tacit assumptions and unarticulated presuppositions and begin then to become a different kind of person?”

–Dr. Cornell West

I have long tried to get at the underlying philosophy of Street Photography. What is it exactly that makes a normal and decent human being (wait, I’m talking about photographers, i.e. not normal, decent, nor probably human) strap on a camera and and carry ten to twenty pounds of lenses, film (or ahem…memory cards) and other essentials around in a bag to take pictures of perfect strangers on the streets of anytown, anycountry, earth?

Because it’s expensive, it’s intrusive, and well, there is something there that bothers me. Is street photography an ethic, a lifestyle, or merely a moment? Is it exploitative to photograph people without explicit permission? What do you do when people say NO! What if means a paycheck? Do it anyway? Or figure out a work-around?

  • Expense

Unless you are a Paparazzi trying to get a Lindsay Lohan nipslip, hack Scarlett Johansson’s phone, or you are on the ground with MSF in Mogadishu, your brand of Street Photography probably doesn’t pay all that well. Sure you may get a lot of attention on Flickr and Facebook and your Google analytics is off the chart for your hardcore, gritty, high contrast portrayal of Seoul, New York or Sydney, but how many jobs have you gotten from it? So, it’s a very expensive hobby and more likely a way to bond with other street photographers in the area. Either way, you’re in the red. And if you shoot digital, doubly so. Why? because digital photography costs more. A lot more. Ask your Macbook.

  • Intrusion

Most photographers worth their salt know that within the public domain anything goes. Almost. In the United States, legally you can take a photo of anything happening anywhere outside. Basically. Unless it happens to be a potential terrorist target. Like a building. Or a bridge. That would make New York–and in the You-Are-Either-With-Us-Or-Against-Us modern age, most modern cities–a photography-free zone. In Japan, shooting with a tripod requires a similar permit as that of a commercial shoot and will be vigorously challenged by any and all senior citizen security guards with no real authority. Police across the globe can be vague about legalities, insulting, and even violent toward photographers who are demonstrating their right to record. And the average citizens you turn your lens on can all too quickly turn very ugly. Why is taking a photograph of people in public illegal in certain countries? Why is it that some people tend to hide or become aggressive when their pictures are taken? Is it the paranoid thought that this could end up making them look bad on the internet somewhere? The primitive fear that it may capture a part of their soul, never to be returned? Or something altogether different? Rather is it a moral question? Or a civil liberties issue? What about Google Earth? Satellites in general?

  • The Kernel of Doubt

Photojournalists help us see the world while reporting the news. War photographers risk their lives in the understanding that they can take a bullet for being in the middle of the action. Artists help us make sense of the chaos that clashes all around us. What is the legacy of the street photographer? What does he or she get from loitering in crowded public spaces in countries with low crime rates reeling off frame after frame of girls holding umbrellas? Chain-smoking touts with Bowie hair? Homeless in parks? What is the impetus for standing around holding a machine to your eye and clicking a button to record a fraction of the present, only to go home, unload the camera in the dark, develop, fix, water bath, hang, dry, cut and sleeve the negatives, to eventually hold them up to the light and print one, two or maybe five images? What process is served? What do we get from recording one particular moment in a sea of infinite times? Is this system an analog memory backup? Or do we merely seek kudos from peers and fans? Is the world so big and flush with memorable scenes that in order to grasp at understanding it we need to try to catalog its chaos?

Or is it capturing a specific scene? For many westerners, the neon lights and bleached blonde kewpie-doll gyaru’s of Shibuya seems to possess some kind of neo-modern allure. What Koichi Iwabuchi, says of “western observers of Japan…shared ontological assumptions about the West and the exotic but inferior Other, Japan. They were fascinated with some exotic parts of Japan, and lamented the loss of ‘authentic’ Japanese tradition in the process of modernisation.” Are we post-racist or is this still relevant?

  • Street Photography Examined

Can you define it? Or define what it isn’t? Is it color? Or black and white? Grain or noise? Sex? Exoticism? And why am I so addicted to it? Why does it make me feel guilty? And similarly so satisfied?

Ultimately if I am not hurting anyone, does it matter?

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