Once I had a disasatrous conversation with an aged Japanese colleague of my father’s. He had shown us great kindness and hospitality in Japan when we were there in 1978. He was retiring and traveling around the world to say good bye to colleagues. He expressed that the world had changed and that the old culture of Japan was dead, making it impossible for him to communicate with modern Japanese students.

I was horrified, because I had made a special effort to show him that my exposure to Japanese culture had in some way improved my life and that I had hoped that my culture would learn from the japanese as well (i give you: SUSHI! yum). So then I cited Kurosawa as a transmitter of traditional Japanese culture to the world. END OF CONVERSATION. He totally shut me down. It was, literally, tragic. We had utterly divergent views of the appropriateness and content of Kurosawa’s films.

]]>One interesting thing I learned from the PBS biopic I mentioned in part one was that Kurosawa’s peculiar and charming film “Dodeskaden”, which I happened upon several years ago, was a great disappointment in his professional life. He and three other notable Japanese directors had created an independent production house, much like United Artists in the United States, and the production was the first – and as it turned out, last – associated with the company.

“Dodeskaden” shows the everyday life of postwar urban Japanese in the rubble-strewn wreckage of the poorer parts of Tokyo. It’s not the first image that comes to mind in considering Japan since 1945. What I particularly liked about the film was the way it showed things that happen off the stage of the preferred, polished culture of Japan; what’s behind that 8-foot weathered fence at the edge of town.

This depiction resonated with me. As a child my family’s extended visit to Japan impressed me in many ways. One such moment began with my father, who loves to “get lost”, leading our family away from (I think) the well-known shopping and entertainment district of Tokyo referred to as “The Ginza”, and into a distinctly sketchy part of town.

I remember night, and a spitting rain on rusting tin roofs, shacks, slouching wooden fences – the effect, in my memory, is the Hoovervilles from the movie version of “Grapes of Wrath”.

Then, my brilliant and quite insane parent led us all into a tiny, very-low-roofed bar, which was absolutely PACKED with very, very drunk Japanese men, smoking and drinking and eating yakitori and sushi. I can still smell the woodsmoke of the yakitori grill.

As you can imagine, this Gaijin family was a source of tremendous merriment. A great shout went up, of welcome and astonishment. We ate a bunch of delicious food (including my first-ever octopus sashimi) in that cramped, smoky space, and some really drunk college-age men appeared and acted as translators while we were there.

Then, we were getting up to go, and from out of the darkened recesses of the bar emerged a wizened little man, white hair pointing in all directions, missing nearly all of his teeth, slovenly in appearance, and with a good five day stubble. He seemed in fairly good spirits, smiling in a very friendly fashion, and, like everyone in the bar, he seemed wildly intoxicated.

I remember staring in fascination at the drool and spittle flowing over his chin.

At any rate, it was tremendously important to him that he approach my father, and he pushed though the little knot of well wishers (who had, I kid you not, just wished us a good journey with a triple cheer of “Banzai!”), and held my father by his forearm.

He then began to speak, in what was clearly a blurred voice suffering the triple efects of alcohol, toothlessness, and age. As he mumbled, flinging spittle, the people close to us became more and more uncomfortable, eventually all their high spirits draining away. The young translators, suddenly uncomfortable, pled ignorance, stating that what the old man was saying was very difficult to translate and that in the end, he couldn’t say it in English.

The old man realized that his words weren’t being translated, and he accepted this with good grace and a shrug, patted my father in a kindly fashion on the arm, and turned to go. We completed our departure, and once we were outside I immediately began to pester my dad about what the old man had been talking about. Naturally, he did not know, really, but he guessed that the old man was speaking to him concerning the War.