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Hello Japan! is swinging into 2010. January’s topic is ‘Music to my ears’. I found it really hard to decide what musical subject to concentrate on, so I am presenting a 5 part series of ‘Music Lessons’ on Fridays. Welcome to #2! And enjoy your weekend :)

After last week’s New Year’s post I’d like to stay just a little longer within the Holiday theme and talk about the extremely melancholic song Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto. Here’s the short version, called Father Christmas.

Quite a contrast to the ‘happy’ popgroup Pizzicato Five that I presented you with on January 1st, eh?

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is the theme song from the 1983 cult movie Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, for which the great musician Ryuichi Sakomoto composed the complete score. Nagisa Oshima’s film might be best known for its starring actor, pop star David Bowie playing a Japanese prisoner of war on Java in World War II. Ryuichi Sakamoto is Bowie’s opponent as a young camp commandant.

I was hugely impressed when I saw Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence as a teenager. It’s a dramatic history of the Second World War, parts of which still get denied in Japan today. It is amazingly well performed and directed (as far as I can remember). A very powerful movie that should be compulsory for anyone interested in history and Japan. There, I’ve said it.

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence album coverOf course that my father lived in Japanese internment in Indonesia as a child might have a lot to do with it. His aversion of all things Japanese never left him and I don’t think he would have appreciated my current interest in this country and its culture if he had been alive today.

But I’m getting sidetracked. The vocal version of Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence has lyrics by David Sylvian and is called Forbidden Colours. This song has helped spread the movie’s fame as well. And as I’m sitting in the confessional already, I might as well tell you Forbidden Colours was one of the tracks on the goodbye tape of my first boyfriend when he left for the US… Need I say more?

The title of the song is derived from Yukio Mishima’s novel Forbidden Colors. Both film and book explore homosexual themes, but that’s the end of their relation; the movie was based on some memoirs by Laurens van der Post.

Because of his soundtracks (and his influence in developing the technopop style in Japan), kyoju Ryuichi Sakamoto is internationally probably the best known Japanese musician.

For those of you who don’t know yet: I’m a real fan of movie soundtracks. I guess it’s because film music is supposed to be evocative and plays at people’s emotions. I’m a sucker for that ;) Of course it might help that I LOVE movies too!

Both favs of newly discovered music in 2009 were film scores: Nick Cave’s soundtrack of — the best movie of 2008 — The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Max Richter’s music for one of two best movies of 2009, Waltz with Bashir. Both pretty melancholic as well — and that tells you something more about me, doesn’t it? ;)

Subtitle: What on earth would we do without podcasts??? :)

iPodcast Simon Mayo
What a coincidence: the day after I had recommended some podcasts to my online book group, Weekly Geeks 2009-42 asked about our favourite book podcasts as well! It must be in the air ;)

Podcasts anyone? Share with us a podcast you love, preferably book related, but not necessarily so.

The top 3 bookcasts on Hopi (my purple iPod nano) are:

  1. Book Reviews with Simon Mayo
    Simon Mayo A weekly show on BBC radio 5 Live in which three book reviewers talk about 2 books in the company of the authors. A fun feature is that the book analysis usually starts with a description of the book cover: it really gives an extra dimension to the review, especially on ‘radio’, read: podcast ;) It sometimes happens that the author believes the evaluation ends here… and (s)he is not amused. Most times it is pretty nerve wrecking for them to be present as it is ;)
    It is nice that the authors often have read each other’s books as well. And we’re not talking only debutantes here, but established writers like Margaret Atwood, Nick Hornby, Patricia Cornwell, Will Self and Fay Weldon as well. I actually get some great tips from this program, like The Crossroads by the Italian writer Niccolò Ammaniti or The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. I would have picked up The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam anyway (because I loved his book Maps for Lost Lovers), Cover Transitionbut it was great to hear him reviewed by the Mayo Book Panel as well :)
  2. Number 2 will only be a favourite for a while, since it is going to end at some point: the latest book by Iain Banks, Transition, is available as a free podcast in the UK iTunes store. No link, since you’ll have to go find it via your iTunes application. And you know what? I heard of this podcast in an extra edition of Simon’s book show :)
  3. At the moment I am also enjoying the — to my ears very American — Books on the Nightstandpodcast of the Books on the Nightstand blog. Two Random House employees talking about books (on their own accord), usually themed around a topic like graphic novels, YA (Young Adult), cookbooks or challenges. This podcast is like a little snack ;) I especially like the presenters’ personal book ecommendations at the end.

A podcast that doesn’t please me is the Guardian Books Podcast; somehow I have a hard time keeping up with that — I’m not sure what the problem is. Also I am sorry that the BBC Radio 4 Book Club archive is not available as podcast, since I would love to listen to the episodes about David Mitchell, Barbara Kingsolver and Jonathan Franzen, but I don’t seem to get to that when I’m sitting behind my computer… I have other things to do then, like blog ;)

Other favourite podcasts

Film ~ Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews
Entertainment (including literature) ~ R4 Frontrow Highlights, Kunststof (Dutch), R3 Arts & Ideas
History ~ OVT (Dutch)

Go check them out!

The Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, where they blog about bookish things of the past week, visit each others weblogs, oh — and read ;)

Wat een mazzel! Bij het maken van de woensdagse Mexicaanse maaltijd (met natuurlijk knof en ui in de salsa picante en avocadomousse), kwam ik erachter dat ons voorraadje peterselie op was. En wát zat er in de nieuwe groententas..? Phew, dat scheelt weer knoflookwalm ;)

Aardvlo veggiebag week 45En ook met de stoofpeertjes zijn we superblij — misschien maak ik daar wel een toetje van voor het loekavondje van a.s. zaterdag: Revolutionary Road staat op het programma, nadat het boek van Richard Yates vorige maand is gelezen door de boekgrrls. Het boek van november is In Cold Blood van Truman Capote, dus zit er nóg zo’n avondje in het verschiet :) Maar ik dwaal af…

De tas van deze week:

  • stoofpeertjes
  • platte peterselie
  • prei
  • bospeen
  • winterpostelein
  • groene kool

Wie weet een lekker — niet te ingewikkeld — dessert met stoofpeertjes??

The Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, where they blog about bookish things of the past week, visit each others weblogs, oh — and read ;)

I just got back from the movie Fish Tank and we have some catching up to do on Day 7 of the television series 24 before we got to leave for tonight’s Nouvelle Vague concert. So I’m keeping this short ;)

I finally managed to write my review of To Kill a Mockingbird and send the bookcrossing book off to its next reader. Now I’m 1 review down for my Classics Challenge! I even learned something new: there’s a subgenre in American literature called Southern Gothic..!

Cover Be With YouI’m currently reading Be With You, by Takuji Ichikawa. I haven’t gotten very far yet but I really love it. I feel like writing down whole pages because the passages are so beautiful! You might be surprised to know this book is part of no challenge or book group read whatsoever ;) The story, but also my mini-chillenge for October’s Hello Japan!, has made me think of Strangers by Taichi Yamada a lot, so I recycled a review I sent to my virtual book group in 2005. It is mostly in Dutch but I plan to translate that sometime soon.

That’s all folks. Next weekend: the 24 hour read-a-thon! You can read all about that in last week’s salon post.

The task this month is to read or watch something scary, spooky, or suspenseful, and Japanese of course!

Immediately after I had read about this 1st Hello Japan! mini-challenge on October 2nd, I ran to to the video store and rented the dvd of Dark Water, a horror movie directed by Hideo Nakata. It has been on my wish list for a long time — I guess ever since I saw Nakata’s 4 movie cycle of Ringu (or Ring). Ringu posterNow, you need to know I am not really a scary-movie-grrl… I can manage maybe 3 of ‘em a year ;) But I was fascinated by Ringu, especially compared to the not-so-impressive The Ring, an American remake by ‘Pirate of the Caribbean’ Gore Verbinski. I found the Japanese original really chilling. I still shudder when I think back  — without spoiling anything — to a certain scene in a well, or how  ‘the girl’ moved… Even though many years have passed since I saw it!

The American version did absolutely nothing to me. I guess Japanese film language is much more frightening! ;)

But I am getting sidetracked… It wasn’t Ringu I watched for the mini challenge, but Dark Water, or Honogurai mizu no soko kara (I love the sound of those Japanese titles ;)

Dark Water got rehashed in the US as well, by Walter Salles. I thought the main character was played by Jodie Foster, but it appears I’m confusing her with Jennifer Connelly — what on earth made that happen? A while ago I started watching the remake on tv, until I remembered my experiences with The Ring — and decided I should wait until I had seen the Japanese original.

A woman and her young daughter move to an eerie, run-down apartment building pending the decision of guardianship after a divorce. The ceiling of their ‘new’ flat has an active, dark leak. In the upstairs apartment, which appears to be the source of the leakage, used to live another young girl that went missing more than a year before…

Dark Water posterI enjoyed watching Dark Water. It find it an entertaining movie, even though I was never terrified during the film, just a little tensed sometimes. The story is more… gross, and above all SAD. Because of that it made me think of a book I like a lot: Strangers, by Taichi Yamada. I didn’t find that ghost story horrifying either — and it moved me to tears. I figure there’s a certain distinction between Japanese ghost movies and horror, in which tragedy plays a main part!

I really love the idea of these Japan related mini missions and plan to do all of them. When do you think our host tanabata will challenge us to go to Japan?? :))

Hirokazu Kore-eda is one of my favourite film directors. I discovered him around 1998-1999 when I saw Afterlife, or: Wandaafuru Raifu in Japanese (‘Wonderful Life’).

The movie is about a place in between life and the afterlife. Once you’ve departed and arrived here, you are being guided in choosing one memory to take with you to heaven (on film). You will forget everything else. Not easy, eh?

This wonderful story made us reminisce for hours afterwards. I love(d) it!

And so does music composer Michel van der Aa, it seems. In 2006 he made an opera based on the movie (libretto by Kore-eda) and it became a big international success. Now, with some adaptations, After Life the opera will premiere again next Monday! It will play for a short week in Het Muziektheater in Amsterdam. And… you could be there! After that it will go on a world tour again.

So, would you like to go see it? I have 2 tickets available for Monday’s premiere as a giveaway!!! To enter the contest, just leave a comment on this post.* You’ll have to do so before next Sunday, September 27th at 21:00 Amsterdam time. Then random.org will pick a winner!

Good luck!

* Make sure I know how to contact you by leaving a correct e-mail address in the comment form (it won’t be displayed here).


In preparation of the 24 hour read-a-thon that will take place in one day (!) on October 24th, I have joined the September read-a-thon at Bookcrossing, where you have to read 24 hours in one week. To be honest I don’t know what I find more difficult… Especially since I am having a busy schedule this week, and there’s the Dutch Film Festival going on as well… Lets see how far I will get.

I started fresh in a new book this morning: Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates. I’ve read 25 pages while commuting for 48 minutes. Yes, when you have to tick off 24 hours = 1440 minutes, almost every second counts! Revolutionary Road is not an easy read to start the day with — getting me a little depressed! Good thing it’ll be weekend soon :)

Now I’m at work (there’s other stuff to do here LOL), but the autumn weather is quite nice so I might go outside during my lunchbreak and get some reading done!

Todays song might not become a classic, but in light of the events of last week(s) it seems appropriate to present you with this Mighty Mike Patrick Swayze vs. Michael Jackson mash-up: Beat the Wind.

I wish I was geeky enough to make my own mash-up, so I could add China in Your Hand by T’pau — because I keep hearing that song in my head while listening to the Swayze – Jackson duet. Of course she isn’t dead yet ;)

Anyone out there who would like to give it a try? Then RIP-it maestro!

I feel like I’ve been on a long (and sometimes arduous) expedition. I started reading The Mapmaker’s Wife on Quatorze Juillet, the French national holiday, and it took me more than f i v e weeks to finish those 350 pages of non-fiction by Robert Whitaker! I could have lost a lot of weight during this undertaking, but thankfully I didn’t (according to a fact on page 261):

Because women have a higher percentage of body fat, they tend to outlast men in starvation situations.

Isabel Godin GramesónThat information might come in handy ;) So, who is the mapmaker’s wife? Isabel Gramesón, a Peruvian girl who married Jean Godin (geographer in a 18th century scientific expedition at the equator), when she was thirteen years old. The title suggests the book is all about her — but it isn’t. For the most part it’s the story of the French-Spanish quest that meant to solve the Newtonian – Cartesian dispute about the shape of the earth: flattened at the poles or elongated, with a ‘waist’ at the equator. More details about this mission can be found in Monalisa(a)’s journal entry of the book — her enthusiasm made me participate in this Bookcrossing bookring (that is almost at the end of its journey).

Even though the main subject is not what you expect beforehand, The Mapmaker’s Wife is an interesting read. Scientists of the Enlightment still had lots to discover! Jean Godin and his group were the first foreigners allowed by the Spanish rulers to explore the New World in 1735. So their curiosity went way beyond their main objective: measuring a degree of latitude at the equator. Their expedition took 9 years — and even (much) longer for those members of the team that couldn’t return home immediately.

Cover The Mapmaker's WifeI sometimes felt that the author identified too much with the ‘scientific omnivores’ of that time. There were soooo many details holding up the story. In example: a long way into the history I really didn’t feel the need to hear extensively about Riobamba city. I wanted to learn more about the characters (some of whom I didn’t get to know very well at all). Let’s say that in his enthusiasm, Whitaker was very thorough ;)

This might also be the cause of why Isabel’s story only really starts somewhere in the second half of the book. And that is when it all gets very exciting. After having been separated from her husband for about 20 years, Isabel has to conquer the Amazon rain forest by herself to be able to join Jean in French Guyana and move to France with him. At times her journey left me in complete horror. And pretty astonished in the end! It is a moving tale, well worth reading.

Maybe I would have finished the book quicker had I read it in my native tongue (Dutch) — and maybe then I would have been less bored occasionally because of the scientific descriptions that I didn’t all ‘get’ but couldn’t find worth looking up? It did trigger associations with some favorite cinema though: Longitude, a tv-series about the 18th century quest to find the key to determining longitude, and one of my most cherished movies about a repenting slave trader in South America: The Mission. Attentive readers may notice that Jeremy Irons plays a main part in both ;) I will definitely watch The Mission again on a rainy day this autumn! I advise you to do the same :)

But for now: if you want to get a feeling of the adventures in The Mapmaker’s Wife, you can explore the book’s website where you’ll find reproductions of prints made by the expedition members, a copy of Jean Godin’s letter in which he takes 7000 words to describe his wife’s perils and, last but not least, a slide show of the author, Robert Whitaker, retracing Isabel’s steps in 2002.

Myself, I am going on another journey with a female traveler in the New World: next I will be reading Away, by Amy Bloom.

Het is schandalig: ik heb nog steeds niet geschreven over de laatste 2 films die we zagen op de Parool Oscardag: Waltz with Bashir en Frost/Nixon. En dat terwijl ik Waltz with Bashir van Ari Folman de beste film van de dag vond — die eindigt vast hoog in mijn favorietenlijstje van dit jaar!

Waltzing in Bashir

Een vriend vertelde aan regisseur Ari over zijn terugkerende nachtmerrie waarin hij wordt achtervolgd door (exact) 26 razende honden. Deze droom hangt samen met een missie in de Libanon-oorlog, waarin ook Folman heeft gediend. Hij bleek zich echter nauwelijks iets van de oorlog te kunnen herinneren. Om zijn geheugen op te frissen en de werkelijkheid te achterhalen, interviewde hij zijn over de wereld verspreide vroegere wapenbroeders. Langzamerhand kwamen de verdrongen beelden zo weer aan de oppervlakte.

Waltz with Bashir is een bijzondere film omdat hij tegelijkertijd animatiefilm en documentaire is. De interviews zijn ‘gewoon’ gefilmd en daarna geanimeerd. Soms zie je dat, bijvoorbeeld in de Hollandse bollenvelden wanneer Ari een vriend bezoekt die in Nederland een falafel-keten is begonnen, en dat geeft een bijzonder effect. De geïnterviewden zijn hierdoor relatief anoniem, hoewel je hun werkelijke stemmen bij de getekende personages hoort. Ik neem wel aan dat Ari’s herinneringen direct zijn getekend en niet eerst zijn nagespeeld. Maar of dat klopt?

Ik vond het een indrukwekkende film, boeiend en humaan. Ik heb geleerd over de Libanon-oorlog (die voor mij niet meer dan een jeugdherinnering was met de naam ‘Beiroet’), en een idee gekregen van wat het betekent om jong te zijn in Israel en omgeving. Maar het is ook gewoon een mooie film met sterke beelden. De afbeeldingssequentie bij deze blog is een scene waarin een soldaat in de stad Bashir al schietend ‘walst’ — nu je het weet, zie je toch de draaiende beweging? De afbeelding is overigens een link naar TomDispatch, waar je de de sequentie in zijn context kunt zien.

Terwijl ik deze blogpost schrijf, luister ik naar de prachtig melancholische soundtrack van de film. Die roept de sfeer van de film sterk op — ik zou hem zo weer willen zien! Terwijl ik zelden (snel) een film opnieuw bekijk. Als je dan ook nog eens bedenkt dat ik eigenlijk geen ‘animatieliefhebber’ ben… Het was bovendien een nostalgische verrassing dat een van mijn all time favourites in de film te horen is: Enola Gay van OMD. Nieuwsgierigen kunnen de muziek downloaden van het (spaanstalige) El Blog de Shock. Mooi vind ik hoe, naarmate het onderwerp steeds serieuzer wordt, ook de theme tune van de film meer zwaarte krijgt. Complimenten voor Max Richter, die nu op mijn lijstje ‘in de gaten houden’ gaat ;)

Waltz with Bashir gaat de boeken in als eerste animatiefilm die werd genomineerd voor de Oscar voor Best Foreign Language Film. Jammer dat hij die moest afstaan aan Departures, een film waarover ik nog nauwelijks iets heb gehoord… Van mij had ‘Waltz’ mogen winnen, en dan zelfs als Beste Film! Dus als je de kans krijgt: ga deze film zien. Misschien kom ik je wel tegen ;)

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