Archive for May, 2013

Blue Sky Markets: Final Part Four

May 31, 2013

If I don’t finish this series on Japanese black markets during the years of the US occupation, I can see the site ending up in some sort of digital limbo, the place where all vanity scribblers go to live out their final years in a mix of anguish and regret. To be sure, different volunteering activities cut into one’s time, but that’s no excuse for a lack of personal discipline and general sloth, plus a few of the other cardinal sins. (Not too sure of the Christian characterisation however, since I view some of the Seven Deadlies as prime virtues of the first order.)

Focussing on the BLue Sky Market theme with some very colourful wicki background previously mentioned, lets go to the movies with Master Directors Seijun Suzuki, Akira Kurosawa, Kinji Fukasadu and Shohei Imamura. And if Japanese film is big in your cultural universe, the internet now provides a wealth of high quality dedicated sites and other resources.

A couple of other points. Japanese cinema was technically superior to a most Western productions of the Post World War 11 period. The quality exhibited by the Criterion Collection is beyond measure. In those movies which come with additional Commentary, fans will note that Australian academics dominate this specialised field for reasons which I can’t explain. Finally, this post has no pretensions of originality, except the manner in which the four parts have been organised.

Stray Dog (1949) was Kurosawa’s last and ninth film – a mix of noir and neo-realism – before he achieved international recognition with Rashomon. At one level it is very much a standard police procedural, and at another a comment on the general desperation of Japanese society Post 1945 during a truly stinking hot Tokyo summer. Recently badged Det. Murakani loses his pistol to a pickpocket while on a tram, and his efforts to retrieve his firearm now used in murders, takes us through the layers of Japanese society. A very nice compilation of comments HERE, and there is another ton of excellent cine-comment on the film.

Murakani (Toshiro Mifume) a Dapper Dan in white suit and shoes literally wilts in the summer humidity. Everybody is seeking relief, finding shade, fanning themselves, drinking beer or in the case of the detective division repositioning their electric fans as they move round the bull pen. Kurosawa ‘s camera techniques are discussed HERE, plus the continuous 8 minute sequence in a Tokyo black market shot by a camera hidden in a box which captured all the elements of Blue Sky society.

As we follow the rookie cop, we see the street markets, flophouses, shop houses, amusement parlors, brothels, dancehalls, bars, and nightclubs. It’s crowded and claustrophobic, a chaotic swirling atmosphere. We encounter yakuza, street hawkers, drifters, the unemployed, the destitute, ex-service men, street kids, gangs, hustlers, mama-sans and prostitutes. We hear chugging trains, train whistles, the hustle and bustle of street life, postwar Japanese pop songs, and newly imported American big band swing drifting from the bars and nightclubs. In a surreal scene, we see Murakami’s searching eyeballs superimposed on frames of crowds in the market. The entire black market sequence introduces us to a distressed society. It is on-location social commentary, a realistic backdrop, which sets up the main theme. Citation here.

In contrast, the other fabulous scene is the baseball game – the new Japan rising out of the ashes.

Finally, a relationship. Mifume might be the actor most associated with Kurosawa, but Takashi Shimura (Murakani’s mentor Det. Sato) is mesmerising, and none more so than where he takes a break from interrogating the hard bitten fallen angel to enjoy a popsicle together. Heat, desperation and the task at hand. All are suspended in a scene exuding sensual enjoyment and simple pleasures. Shimura and Mifume replicated the same father-son relationship a few years later in The Seven Samurai.

Suspended in time

Suspended in time

And fittingly, Takashi Shimura was the descendent of a samurai family.

To be continued.

Rockabilly Redux.

May 10, 2013

I’m presently enjoying a sabbatical in the big city, but still can’t get this song out of my head, so am scratching the itch and getting it on record, especially since youtube is introducing some sort of pay wall in the near future.

Country music pioneers the Delmore Brothers wrote Blues Stay Away from Me in 1949.

The Delmore Brothers
Their original version – which has a very traditional country slant – with some great biographical notes from various commenters.

Blues stay away from me
Blues why don’t you let me be
Don’t know why
You keep on haunting me

Love was never meant for me
True love was never meant for me
Seems somehow
We never can agree

Life is full of misery
Dreams are like a memory
Bringing back
Your love that used to be

Tears so many I can’t see
Years don’t mean a thing to me
Time goes by
And I still can’t be free

Blues/jazz great Lonnie Johnson also did a version, but it’s not available on youtube, so here is his version of Broken Levee Blues where Johnson’s vocals could easily be mistaken for Blind Willie McTell, while backed by Black American string quartet instrumentation so popular on the medicine show circuit from an earlier epoch. That was a time when rural rubes could watch dancing chickens, jeer at the geek and then purchase a patent medicine which, at a minimum, provided a jolly good alcohol/narcotic habit.

Anyway, back to our main theme.
There are just so many versions of Blues Stay Away from Me.
Sleepy La Beef giving it a blues reading and, not surprising, given his baritone vocal range.

Johnny Burnette with a version which combines country, blues and rockabilly elements.

Gene Vincent’s version where he nails the lyrics in perfect rockabilly mode, and with just the right amount of added studio echo.

Finally, The Band’s version with some tasty organ by Garth.

Obviously, like any holiday, this post is well and truly on the slippery path to self-indulgence and excess.

Chains of Love written by Big Joe Turner.
Chains of love
Has tied my heart to you
Chains of love
Have made me feel so blue
Well, now I’m your prisoner
Tell me what you’re gonna do

Are you gonna leave me
Are you gonna make me cry
Are you gonna love me
Are you gonna make me cry
These chains of blues gonna haunt me
Until the day I die

Well, if you’re gonna leave me
Please won’t you set me free
Well, if you’re gonna leave me
Please won’t you set me free
I can’t stay here with these chains
Less’n you stay on here with me

Well, three ‘o clock in the morning
Baby the moon is shining bright
Yeah, three ‘o clock in the morning
The moon is shining bright
I’m just sitting here wondering
Where can you be tonight

Blues/deep soul version by Bobby Bland.

Johnny Burnette (like his confrere Gene Vincent) was equally at home in the blues idiom.

Finally, everyone needs a country sweetheart.

What can I say. Holiday lite!

Girls Go Wild in NK.

May 3, 2013

If you are serious regarding developments in North Korea, you would be reading Adam Cathcart’s Sino-NK site, and if you are you would be listening to the Moranbong Band, North Korea’s late entry in the K-Pop phenomena. Here are some samples of Kim Jong Un’s latest addition to his Military Industrial Theatre Complex (DPRK- MITC).

While Adam and his Sino-NK colleagues provide academic analyses of the band and their place in the Great Chain of Hangul NK-Being, I would like to go down market a bit and provide some style advice.

To borrow a metaphor from the world of musical journalism, the Sino-NK staff are similar to heavy weights like Greil Marcus, Robert Christgau and Pete Guralnick enjoying their annual sabbatical. Some mild gluttony and lots of sparkling conversation on reified gender relations, the male power gaze and other heavy duty concepts from …… yikes….. various post-Marxist discourses. In contrast, I’m taking a Lester Bangs approach when writing for something like Creem or Tiger Beat for your basic teenage male who focusses on the lowest common demoninators.

This audience had real issues with the name. The Moranbong Band. Hardly a name capable of conjuring up images of hotness, North Asian teenage vixens and the like. Just look at the Japanese competition here. Anyway, I leave it to you think of a new band name, since that is the least of our worries in this Malcolm McLaren makeover. And there was a man concerned about his post-mortal legacy. I’m quite sure McLaren had some intern scrub the internet of any mention of his grand Oriental failures – Jungk – an Asian girl group with Spice ambitions.



McLaren also managed forgotten groups such as the Chinese punk-rock band Wild Strawberries. The Guardian
McClaren @ Wild Strawberries

Chinese punk band Wild Strawberries, plus some further reading on McLaren HERE.

With that background in place, lets get on with the task. A band consisting of a dozen members. It goes against the evidence. Four to seven members at the most, three chords and seventeen songs. Next step is a wet T shirt contest and we can get rid of five in the band, probably marry them off to deserving members of Kin Jong Un’s Praetorian Guard.

The engine house of any band is the drummer and this girl just doesn’t cut it. Looks like someone who is handing out small helpings of food in some workers canteen. What is required is some dervish with wild hair, bee sting lips and Keith Moon’s attitude and kick ass drum technique.

Then there is the choice of other instruments. Let’s get rid of the bloody piano and that piano harpsichord thingy as well as all those fucking violins. They belong to old dead European culture and have no place in this Asian century. Three of the girl should be armed with Strats or SG’s and the piano should be deep-sixed for a Farfisa or Vox Continental organ. Finally, the absolutely hottest of the dozen should take on the central singing role. She must have Deborah Harry’s stage presence and Tina Turners microphone technique.

Finally, the wardrobe mistress should be reassigned to the Gulag. Those demure nurses outfits, chaste, but ass-hugging military uniforms and not to forget the spangly irredescent dresses and heels right out of a Thai go go bar are 80s clichés. They should be raiding PSYs Kim Hyuna’s dressing room and also work on their dance routines while they are at it.
kim 2
You get the picture of the type of band I’m envisioning, so you can google Ms Kim’s photos later, and in your own time.
Maybe something like The 5,6,7, 8s.

Truly a band which has compacted all the great influences in the America Garage repetoire.

In lieu of my usual Japanese surfer girl update, a quick boarding expedition along the Korean peninsula.

Busan, South Korea

Busan, South Korea

Read the background story HERE and thanks to BusanHaps.
Looking for something more challenging? How about The Hidden Surfing Paradise of North Korea which includes satellite photos of what probably are truly pristine beaches with juche characteristics.
Finally, I thoroughly recommend Shannon Aston’s Surfing the 38th Parallel, Photo Essay Series: Winter HERE.
One from Shannon Aston's slide show with thanks

One from Shannon Aston’s slide show with thanks

Oh well, back to the final of the Blue Sky series.