Sunday, January 23, 2011
After having watched the first episode of the prequel to SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND, I realized that I had never blogged about it, and am now correcting my oversight; indeed oversight is the correct word, as I think a number of people unfairly overlook this show, which is has been called, a little unfairly in my mind, a 'guilty pleasure.'
I understand the impulse to label STARZ original series, SPARTACUS, as a 'guilty pleasure', as it's very uncompromising in it's vision and it's commitment to it's extreme content; quite frankly, SPARTACUS is not for the prudish or the weak kneed. The the only thing more graphic than the sex is the violence, as blood gushes forth, thick and viscus, like something from a the most graphic of graphic novels. Heads are severed, stomachs are disemboweled, limbs are rendered from body, all to cheers. Similarly, pelvises thrust, breasts are bared, and penises are erect and eager. Not for the faint of heart indeed. But that's what makes it so good.
SPARTACUS isn't there to coddle you; this is an explicitly adult show for a mature audience; so why should it be afraid to feature adult content? While not historically accurate, SPARTACUS is set during the one of the most decadent, hedonistic, era's of recorded history, where society endulged in visceral pleasures of blood and sex without taboo or judgment. SPARTACUS' goal, as a series, isn't to be historically accurate, but more to give you an idea of what it was like to be experience such tactile, forbidden, pleasures. To live vicariously through the spectacle of combat, and the pleasures of guilt free, anonymous, sex. And that inevitably, in our stuck up, prudish, society with it's weird, buttoned up, relationship with sex and violence (strangely more with sex than violence), makes people feel guilty. Thus, the show is labeled a guilty pleasure, as critics gloss over what makes the show compelling; character and drama.
SPARTACUS is a very character driven show, populated by a colorful cast of complex and memorable characters, played to great effect with obvious pleasure and gusto by a skilled cast of actors. Spartacus, a noble warrior betrayed and enslaved, lives with the tragic loss of his wife, and finds release and purpose in the deadly Gladitorial games, which brings great fortune to the scheming, ambitious, owner of his Ludus, Batiatus, who has designs on rising above his station and seizing political power, spurred on by his duplicitous wife, Lucretia, who is torn by her love of her husband, and her lust for his current champion, Crixus. Crixus, for this part, has an contentious relationship with Spartacus, who he resents for his designs on taking his place as champion. And that's just the core cast.
Among the supporting players are equally compelling characters; Spartacus best friend, Varro, a thrill seeking gambler who paid his way INTO the Ludus, Ashur, a former Gladiator who becomes the scheming right hand of Batiatus (he's actually my favorite character, because he reminds me of Starscream; a remarkably intelligent coward with a cockroach like knack for survival, and an eye for opportunity), Doctore, former champion turned maker of champions, and steadfast ally of Crixis, and finally, and most interestingly, Ilithyia, the wife of Spartacus sworn enemy, the Roman soldier that sold out his people to slavery and genocide, Claudius Glaber; Ilithyia is a spoiled rotten temptress who lurks around the Ludus as a guest of Lucretia, engineering horrific tortures for the hated Spartacus, while none to subtly taking catty digs at Lucretia, who plays her like a violin, manipulating the ignorant and hateful young socialite.
SPARTACUS is equal parts comic book action and operatic drama; an action soap opera for adults. Characters scheme, betray, back stab, manipulate, threaten, and sometimes literally fuck with, each other, in a tornado of drama, all framed by some of the most over the top, beautiful and horrifyingly violent action you've seen this side of 300. In one particularly bitchy scheme, Lucretia, to protect her vested interest in the horse-like cock of Crixus, tricks Ilithyia into sating her burning lust with her hated enemy, Spartacus, as they make sensual love while wearing masks and covered in gold, only to have Ilithyia's social rival walk in on them, threatening to tell all of Rome about her illicit activities. In a fit of insane rage and embarrassment, Ilithyia snaps, and beats her rivals brains out against the hard marble edge of the pool, spilling blood and grey matter all over the floor as she caves her skull in. And that's not even the WORST thing that happens in the show... but it is the most shocking, as you never see it coming.
And that's really SPARTACUS greatest strength; it's unpredictability! It's a show that keeps you on the edge of your seat with surprise revelations and plot twists, as secrets are slowly revealed. Nothing is sacred and the stakes are high; every character is at risk of losing his life at any time; and it all comes to a head in a final kill crazy rampage at the end, in which every subplot is neatly tied up, and everyone gets their rightful comeuppance.
After strong first season, I'm entirely excited by the prospect of the prequel show SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA, which goes aback about five years to show the rise of Batiatus (portrayed by the shockingly excellent John Hannah) to control of his father's Ludus, building on the mythology hinted at in the first season of BLOOD AND SAND. The prequel promises to show the training and rise of Crixis as champion of the Ludus, the transition of Doctore from champion to trainer of champions, and the fall of Ashur, who had ambitions to become a Gladiator and instead is rendered lame by fate. All of this revolves around the current champion, the humble yet charming Gadicus, who is unaware of the terrible fate that hangs over his head, like the Sword of Damocles.
I expect great things, and I'm sure I won't be disappointed.
SPARTACUS is a pleasure yes, but hardly a guilty one. It's not high art, but neither does it aspire to be, instead embracing it's crass, visceral, nature and providing shout inducing thrills (I cry out "OH SHIT!" at never beheading or disemboweling), and compelling drama, all supported by a colorful cast of complex and compelling characters. It's not high art, but it does promise to show you something you've ever seen on TV before... an unapologetically, uncompromisingly, adult show.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
So lets see what's on the deck for 2011...
EVANGELION 2.0: YOU CAN [not] ADVANCE
The first movie of 2011 I've stepped into a theater for... I'll probably do an actual review later, though I'm hesitant to write anything until I've watched it again, so I may wait until the Blu Ray comes out in... Feb/March? Either way, the so called REBUILD OF EVANGELION slowly trickles out in both Japan and North America, and is worth the wait... if you're going to go back and fuck around with your source material, it should be with the intent of making it better, and that's where Hideki Anno succeeds and George Lucas fails. Now, I can't really definitively say that the REBUILDs are better than the original in every respect (I'm not too happy with the changes made to what is my favorite moment of the original series... but, again, I'll bring that up in a later review), but in MOST respects the REBUILDs are far superior; the animation is leaps and bounds, the overall production is as groundbreaking as the original and has an even greater depth and more expansive worldbuilding, and the story is much tighter and more focused and on point. Also, it's just interesting to see how a guys worldview can change in 20 years... while most of the story elements remain unchanged, the REBUILDs are FAR less bleak then the original series, and far less concerned with torturing and isolating the characters. This may turn off fans for the original, who identified with the themes of teenage isolation and the overall intense pre-2000 Emo-ness, but I, personally, prefer the idea of Shinji as becoming a stronger, more resilient and mature, adult over the course of the series, rather than being brow beaten and psychologically tortured into catatonic insanity... though I guess there's still time for that to happen.
At any rate, as you can see from the trailer, EVANGELION delivers on the visuals with spectacular animation and outrageous actions set pieces; to put it short, EVANGELION 2.0 redefines EPIC for a new generation... other movies seem so much SMALLER by comparison to me now... no one does it big like Gainax!
THE GREEN HORNET
Already in theaters, I'll admit that I'm curious, but I have not heard good things, and quite frankly, the trailer has never really sold me... the movie looks schizophrenic; is this supposed to be a comedy, a superhero movie, both? I like Seth Rogan, but do I really want to see him as a bumbling superhero? And if he's not supposed to be bumbling, can I take him seriously as a superhero? It looks all over the place, a confusing mish-mash of various conflicting genres. Still... I am curious. I just wouldn't see it in theaters.
Based on a Korean Manwhua that I've never read, but the art looks LOVELY, this looks equal parts pure BAD ASS and stupid as fuck. I imagine it'll be somewhere between ULTRAVIOLET and UNDERWORLD... a Post-Apocalypse monster filled psuedo-religious dystopia filled with cool visuals and hammy acting. Christopher Plumber being in it sort of makes me a little hopeful, but he's only got a very small part. Still, it's got awesome looking monsters, martial arts, and a cool Future/Western motif... there's no way I'm NOT going to watch this. My fear, though, is that it's going to be boring and self righteous, the way all Pseudo-Religious movies are... those both critical and non-critical of religion. At least it's not LEGION...
RED RIDING HOOD
Ok, this looks fucking BULLSHIT... which is why I'm assuming that it will become the biggest movie of 2011. It's a lot of stiff, stilted, performances from impossibly beautiful guys, and an "Look at me! I'm an Auteur!" production design (seriously, the first shot of the trailer with the red cape billowing against the bleak white landscape? What this someones student film?). You can totally tell that this was directed by the chick that did TWILIGHT, because it has all the same bullcrap, replacing acting with smoldering, plot with drama, and a strong female lead with a girl surrounded by guys fighting over her. This movie looks BALL SHRIVELLINGLY TERRIBLE. I'm sure it'll make a billion dollars.
BATTLE: LOS ANGELOS
Wow, they got that sequel to SKYLINE made pretty fast... No, seriously, I'll never understand how Hollywood can make the same movie almost concurrently. Still, is it wrong that I want to see this movie because it's got explosions, monsters, and Michelle Rodriguez, who I will watch in ANY movie? I didn't think so... so, despite the TERRIBLE title, I will see this at some point.
I have a soft spot for boxing movies... I actually don't really care to watch the actual sport of boxing that much, but I love boxing movies... there's something so compelling about the human drama behind a boxer combined with the actual visceral combat element. I'm not a huge fan of Drama... I have little patience for watching just straight biopics because I need a little action in everything I see; boxing movies allow you to have the human drama and the action at the same time. Plus, Mark Wallberg is an actor I trust. He's not a great actor, and that isn't a diss because very few of today's actors are truly great, but he is a GOOD actor, and one of the only guys in Hollywood that seems to actually READ a script. He's made very few movies that I either didn't want to watch, or found to be shitty, so I'll generally see anything Mark Wallberg is in, because I'm assured that it'll probably be good. This actually looks excellent.
I don't think I've ever wanted to see a movie MORE than this... this looks fucking AMAZING! James Franco always surprises me with his ability to be funny... there's a stigmatism against the super-handsome having a sense of humor, but James Franco defies expectations by being both super-handsome and super-funny. My favorite line, "... with MAGIC... Motherfucker!" Excellent. I am so excited about this!
I AM NUMBER 4
Ugh... what the fuck is this supposed to be about? The reason why movies where people try to make their own superhero franchise don't work, is because they're all inevitably crappy... like JUMPER for example. This movie looks almost BEAT for BEAT like JUMPER. Another 20-something playing a teenager, looking at his hands like, "Woah... I have powers!" Why are they always surprised they have powers? The worst part about this movie will be the shitty comic tie-in's that I'm predicting either IDW, BOOM, or DYNAMITE will inevitably publish now that WILDSTORM isn't around to do it. I'll probably see this turd eventually, because it has a guy with superpowers and I can't stop my compulsion to watch movies about guys with super powers (I'm in a group... it's being worked out), but I'm pretty sure that I'm going to get angry watching it. Michael Bay's involvement in a movie is never a good sign.
This actually looks sort of cool... it's almost like anime. A damaged kid alone against an enemy only he can see, killing cool looking monsters on the streets of London. If it wasn't for the whole "Selling His Soul For Good Looks" beat, I'd be totally on board for this. I really hate that beat... it's cheesy and compromises an otherwise cool character. I really like unconventional heroes; dudes who aren't the handsome, perfect, pretty boys. I like the knarled, scarred, dudes fighting at a deficit against impossible odds. Plus, really? A Birthmark makes him societies outcast? How shallow is London? That is the least hideous birthmark I've ever seen... I had a teacher with a birthmark that covered almost the whole side of his face so that he looked like the Phantom of the Opera, and he still managed to marry a rather attractive woman, and this kid is all like, "I will sell my SOUL to get rid of this minor imperfection!" That's a little far fetched.
JASON STATHAM DELIVERS! This looks awesome... bad ass stunts, big explosions, and Jason Statham being a fucking bad ass. I'll watch just about any movie with Jason Statham in it, because he is Hollywoods last true action star, and unlike most action stars, he can actually sort of act. He's, like... the sensitive bad ass. Plus, I like Ben Foster. He's great at playing creepy guys, and has a cool voice. This movie looks cool, and I'll totally see it.
It's embarrassing to admit that I sort of want to see this movie... Zack Snyder is one of those directors who is all surface; polished visuals, admittedly spectacular, with no substance underneath. The problem with that, though, is that he THINKS he's being really deep, much like James Cameron thought that AVATAR was really deep, and that's condescending. This movie REEKS of that... he's trying to present it like there's a deep philosophy here, when there really isn't... it's just an awesome looking psuedo-anime looking ALICE IN WONDERLAND action fetish film. And I wouldn't mind that if he wasn't acting like it was deep. Also... PLEASE get over the slow motion! Slow motion can look very cool when properly used, but he just uses it fucking EVERYWHERE. Dial it back, jackass, and then you'll have a very cool action-porno.
YES! Sorry... I have an unapologetic lust for the FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise... but only the ones with Vin Diesel. I like Vin Diesel... like, as a person. He seems like he'd be a great guy to hang out with, plus he always delivers. This movie looks stupid and over the top, but I can accept that because Vin Diesel somehow manages to ground it. I'm SO fucking on board for this movie... my only complaint is NO MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ! You cannot believe how pissed off I was when they killed her in the last movie. I love you Michelle! ;_; On the other side; Vin Diesel? Paul Walker? THE FUCKING ROCK? If I was gay, I'd be blowing my load right now; that's some handome, burly, guys all in the same movie. ^_-
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 4: ON STRANGER TIDES
I'm actually excited about this. Although it had it's problems, taken together the first three movies make a decent trilogy, and I just enjoy Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow... it's great to watch a guy who's obviously having a great time acting. Plus... Geoffory Rush? Ian McShane? It's like an ACT OFF between my three favorite actors! Super excited about this.
THOR actually looks pretty sick. This trailer has been out for awhile, and there's been a lot of debate, but I'm pretty happy with what I'm seeing. The movie looks solid as fuck, hits all the right character points, and... that dude looks like you want Thor to look! Look at his fucking SUPERHERO ARMS! I haven't seen a single superhero movie where the guy actually had a He-Man chest and Superhero arms. Plus; Anthony Hopkins is always great, and he's always having a great time in movies like these. He'll make a good Odin. Overall, I'm excited. Can't say the same about...
I'll obviously watch this... I can't NOT watch it. I'm a huge nerd. But this trailer makes me worry. The colors are garish, the sets look fake, and, as much as I love Ryan Reynolds, I think he was woefully miscast... this sort of looks like GREEN HORNET (weird that the two GREEN movies would be so similar in their ball dropping...) in that it's a weird mish-mash of comic send-up of the genre, and serious superhero movie. It's a awkward, lumbering, looking affair... and seriously? Hector Hammond is the best villain they could find for the first movie? A creepy looking nerd with a huge head? I will say this though... Mark Strong looks AWESOME as Sinestro, who is also a much better villain. I'm not to excited about this...
ALIENS VS COWBOYS
I liked this movie when it was called OUTLANDER, and the cowboys were vikings. I have no idea what to think of this...
I've already ordered the Blu Ray from AMAZON. It sort of looks like they took the plot to the second part of the DIGIMON movie and turned it into a full movie. I think it looks pretty sick. I'm looking forward to it.
Ok, that's it for now... we'll see what the rest of the year holds sometime in the summer!
Monday, January 3, 2011
When Blu-Ray was initially announced, I read the specs and articles about the new format war; HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray; and thought, "Oh, God, again? Didn't we just go through all of this with VHS vs DVD?" Every article arguing the merits of HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray also read like a thinly veiled obituary for the DVD format, to which I thought, "Ok, seriously, how much better could it be?"
When I got my first DVD player, during my second or third year of college, I was initially skeptical over whether DVD was even worth it, though I was more influenced by price point and the daunting task of having to replace my collection (I collect... EVERYTHING. It's part of why I have stopped playing video game, because it's just another thing for me to collect. I have very little impulse control and a collector mentality; these things do not mix well) of VHS movies on DVD than the technical aspects; it wasn't hard to convince me that DVD was indeed better, with it's digital picture, no longer vulnerable to wear and tear or cel-dirt, the ability to skip ahead or backward faster rather than awkwardly rewinding you tapes, and the inclusion of supplemental features such as making of featurettes and audio commentary tracks (I LOVE commentary tracks... when done right. Some people, like Robert Rodriguez, Guillermo Del Toro, or Kevin Smith know how to do commentary right, others not so much).
DVD was an easy sell, because it was inarguably better. They took up less room, looked better, and had added entertainment value to round out your entertainment experience; in short VHS just couldn't compete. The jump from VHS to DVD was a drastic step forward in terms of entertainment value. But DVD to HD-DVD or Blu-Ray? I just didn't see how they could significantly improve on what was already pretty much perfect.
In the end, HD-DVD was quickly subdued and then dismissed, much like the Beta-Deck from the long gone Beta/VHS wars of the first home video format wars of decades past, and Blu-Ray proved triumphant; but DVD still lingered. Once again, price point played a factor in creating a bias in me against Blu-Ray; it felt like I had only just made the jump to DVD, and invested a lot of time and money hunting for the best value on DVD (one of my favorite past times is hitting used CD/DVD stores looking for bargains, and I had gotten quite good at it), and now was expected to jump on yet ANOTHER new technology?
It had taken almost 20 years for DVD to slay the VHS dragon, but in less than a decade yet another new technology and format had come to replace DVD, and both the hardware and the discs were quite significantly more expensive. Not only that, but what did Blu-Ray actually offer, as a stop up from DVD? Slightly better picture quality? A questionable increase in supplemental content? I was skeptical.
Driving my skepticism further was what I'd seen of Blu-Ray on display in various electronic boutiques; I didn't like what I saw. Yes the picture was clearer, but something about it didn't look right to me. Blu-Ray seemed to expose all the imperfections of a film as much as enhance it; foreground elements looked separated from the background elements, like they had been matted in badly against a badly painted backdrop. Movement looked awkward and unnatural; things seemed to move to fast. The slightest jerk of the camera seemed grossly exaggerated and nausea inducing. This was especially pronounced in 3D-Animated movies, which looked like ham handed claymation to my discerning eyes.
"I don't like it," I told myself, "And I don't need it."
And that was the position I took for the past few years; much to the frustration of my media-buddy Jerry, who was one of the first converts. We'd argue back and forth, both siting the pros and cons as we saw them, trying to convince the other that his position was wrong, and finally agreeing to disagree, neither able to convert the other, and both too pig headed to concede the others point.
Until this Christmas that is.
I suppose you can actually owe my decision to get a Blu-Ray player to SCOTT PILGRIM; a movie that I already knew I'd want to get, but upon seeing how much more desirable the supplemental material that would grace the Blu-Ray release was, and having a hook-up from my good friend Kai Boysen, I bought the SCOTT PILGRIM Blu-Ray before even buying a Blu-Ray player. My reasoning was that I'd eventually have to get a Blu-Ray anyways, given that the studio's seemed to be working hard to phase DVD out of the market by making the DVD less desirable through the exclusion of certain features which are being made increasingly more exclusive to the Blu-Ray release; features such as commentary, or in the case of SCOTT PILGRIM, the coveted ADULT SWIM animated special.
With all that in mind, I decided that this would be the year to jump on; provided I could get a good enough boxing day deal. While prices have dropped, Blu-Ray players are still as overpriced as the actual Blu-Ray's, especially compared to the price point of their DVD predecessor. The average Blu-Ray, upon first release, is $29.99, as compared to the average $18.99-$19.99 DVD release; and sometimes even less than that, depending on the size of the movies Box Office. Admittedly, the best bang for your buck is to just buy a PS3, but I didn't have the money for that, and rumor has it that they are no longer backwards compatible with PS2 games; the only games I own.
The decision was taken out of my hand at any rate; my parents bought me one for Christmas; lovely people that they are, and tough son I am to shop for.
So, finally equipped with a Blu Ray player, and Boxing Day deals impending, I watched my first Blu Ray, SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD... and it was... gorgeous.
Apparently, the reason why Blu-Ray's look so choppy and unnatural in stores is because Electronic Stores boost the frame rate on the display TV's up to showcase HD-Sports, which is filmed at a higher frame rate. This causes the picture to look awkward and unnaturally jerky. On my own home theater set-up, set to factory standards, I didn't have this problem.
The image was crisp and clear; the colors vibrant, the blacks deep, the detail sharp, the audio thunderous. Even the theater print didn't look as good as what was playing on my 46" Sony Bravia. I was... enraptured.
Now convinced of just how much better Blu-Ray looked as compared to DVD, I did other tests; how did DVD look on my Blu-Ray player? Depending on the source, DVD looks much better on the Blu-Ray player, which automatically up-converts the digital information to 1080p. If it's a crappy encode; it looks crappier on Blu-Ray; if it's a solid encode, it looks almost indistinguishable from a distance... the aliasing is only noticeable if you get close to your screen, or look at it from an extreme angle. Some movies look noticeably better on Blu-Ray as compared to it'd DVD counterpart... others not so much.
I, personally, have found that 3D animate films look infinitely better on Blu-Ray, especially the newer films, which are made with HD in mind, and animated films look infinitely crisper and more vibrant on Blu-Ray, though this also depends on their age; older films still suffer from cel-dirt that would require a massive digital enhancement process to get rid of.
I find that Blu-Ray only really serves a purpose for movies that are about visual spectacle; dramas and comedies aren't really shot with an eye for visual stimulation. Action movies, science fiction/fantasy, and special effects blockbusters, all benefit immensely from the improved picture and sound.
The only sticking point with me is the supplementals. While most newer Blu-Rays have more and better or at least exclusive supplemental content, a lot of the earlier releases had next to none; and in some cases the DVD release was actually better than the Blu-Ray (the first two SPIDER-MAN movies, the entire BLADE Trilogy, and the FIFTH ELEMENT, to name a few), which seems to pretty much defeat the purpose of converting to Blu-Ray if you can't even get rid of your bulky, outdated, DVD's.
So, throughout this Boxing Week, I've been making tough decisions on what DVD's are actually worth replacing on Blu-Ray. The fact that most of the Boxing Day sales were so insanely cheap this year made those decisions a little easier, but I could play that game aaaaaaaaaall day really, which is a dangerous thing to me. At this point, I've managed to replace the majority of my comic based movies (SPIDER-MAN, IRON MAN, BATMAN BEGINS and DARK KNIGHT, etc), and some of my favorite big franchise movies (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, MATRIX, RESIDENT EVIL, LORD OF THE RINGS, and UNDERWORLD), as well as some personal favorites (DARK CITY, DONNIE DARKO, DISTRICT 9, SHERLOCK HOLMES). But, like I said... I could play that game all day. My intent is try turn my focus, now,to new releases that I deem worthwhile to own on Blu-Ray (TRON LEGACY and TRUE GRIT for example; both gorgeous movies in their own, much different, ways).
So, in the end, is Blu-Ray better? Yes, but not significantly in a lot of cases. DVD still looks pretty good, and only newer Blu-Rays actually have better supplemental material. The other sticky wicket is that Blu-Rays are already set to be replaced by... well nothing; by which I mean, that physical media is already set to go the way of the Dinosaurs within the next few years at the very least as digital content is looming on the horizon, set to take it's place. Within less time than it took for Blu-Ray to replace DVD, digital media will replace Blu-Ray, and instead of filling bookcases with discs, you'll be filling hard drives or streaming media.
I suggest that if you don't own a PS3, you not just wait it out a few years and skip Blu-Ray all together. While Blu-Ray is definitely better than DVD, it will not last nearly as long before it is in turn replaced.
I'm hoping it'll be the last thing I have to collect. -_-
Sunday, January 2, 2011
I went to Japan for the first time this year, and suffered from some minor culture crash and depression about 4 or 5 days in. My problem was that I couldn’t engage anyone; people could have given less of a fuck about me in Japan than anywhere else I’ve ever been in the world. Not even just because I was white, but as a human being in general. No eye contact, if someone bumped into me, I’d get the stink eye, even though it was them who bumped into me, and even though I’d apologize. I’ve never felt smaller and more insignificant and less a part of the human race than that fourth day in Japan, alone in Akihabara. Everyone and everything seemed dense and impenetrable, and that dealing with me was a chore no one wanted.
Then, one night, I went out with some friends to another district to drink. We were staying in Shinjuku but went somewhere else… I can’t remember where, but it was a few stops on the JR Line, at the behest of our host, my friend Jim's business acquaintance who had been living and working in Japan for awhile and was basically fluent. We went to an Izakaya, then a bar, and had a few drinks. I’m not a big drinker, so I didn’t get so wasted as to have my judgment impaired.
My two friends and I made our way back to the JR Line, hoping to catch the last train, which pulled up just as we got on the platform. Now, at this point, we’d only ever used the JR Line during the day, and mostly during business hours or after rush hour, so we’d become comfortable with being able to get on the trains; the horror stories we’d heard about overcrowding were a myth to us at that point. This was our first encounter with the terrifying lack of personal space that the Japanese put up with on a daily basis.
The doors opened, and no one got out. A Thousand thousand eyes peered back suspicious and full of contempt. My one friend, Wheeler, had no patience for 'Last Train Shenanigans' that night, just jumped on like some kind of rabid rugby player, pushing his way into the packed in crowd of late night commuters. My other friend, Jim, usually pretty reserved, just shrugged, mumbled, “Holy shit…” and followed. When both of them had been swallowed up by the displeased mass of the crowd, I hesitated and panicked; people were shaking their heads at me. This was the first time anyone had made any effort to communicate with me, in any small way, and it was, “You are not welcome here.”
I had been self conscious about being overbearing and what I assumed the Japanese would consider to be ‘Typically North American’ while in Japan, and overcompensated by trying to be more polite than my tragically Canadian sensibilities usually made me. So I ran. I ran as fast as I could down the platform, looking for an ‘In.” Every train was full, and every door had people looking at me with that same mix of suspicion and content, shaking their heads. The chime sounded, and the doors began to close. I made my decision to stop being polite too late, and jumped, only to bounce off the door.
“FUCK!” I shouted as the train left, a little panicked and unsure of what I could do. The cell phone I’d rented had lost it’s charge, as I’d made no phone calls up to this point and the battery seemed to hold a charge longer than I was used too, so I’d forgotten to check it before I left. A $200 dollar taxi ride to a location I wasn’t sure of the exact address of, was not how I’d hoped to spend my night. I began making plans to keep myself awake until the trains started running again, whenever that was, or possible attempt to walk it, having made sure to bring a map and compass with me wherever I went, though that seemed unrealistic and dangerous.
“That was the last express train. Why don’t you take the regular line? That’s what I’m going to do,” came a small, obviously female voice.
At first I wasn’t really sure that I’d actually heard that; I had been drinking, but I was in complete control of my facilities, so, though shocked, I turned around and confirmed that it was indeed someone speaking to me, which I was now unused too at this point… at least when I wasn’t around my friends.
Somehow I had managed to be stuck on this platform with the only English speaking native I’d encountered up to this point in Japan; a cute, slight, fashionable girl, somewhere in her twenties, but probably younger than I was (being a few months from turning 30 myself), who had responded to my universal cry for help.
Things blur a bit after that; we talked a bit, while making our way to the other platform, and waiting for the train, and I may have been a little to enthusiastic about having a conversation… not just with an attractive woman, but with ANYONE. I think I mostly spun some bullshit about the differences in the TTC (Toronto’s frankly horrible public transit) and the clean efficiency of the JR, my loneliness and the inaccessibility of the Japanese people, my surprise to meet someone who could speak fluent English. She listened politely, and tried to reassure me that Japanese people weren’t as cold and inaccessible as I thought, without presenting any evidence to the contrary other than herself.
Eventually the train arrived, and I took point, no longer concerned with being polite. People shook their heads again, and I just nodded back, “Oh, YES,” and jump on, making room for my Platform Savior. We became separated by a few people, but were still close enough to talk, though it was awkward with so many people around. We parted ways at Shinjuku, as she was going much further than I was. I bid her farewell, and thanked her again, as the doors closed.
Standing there on the more familiar Shinjuku platform as the train sped away, I was suddenly struck by what a stupid fuck I was, as I’d never gotten her name, nor given mine, nor made the point of asking for her number or e-mail, as it had seemed gauche at the time. In retrospect, it was probably the stupidest moment of my life.
My Japan Game is WHACK, dawg.