Saturday, May 21, 2005

Sunday May 22, 8:51 a.m.

Last time we were here, we were talking about me and my buddies finally catching the most eagerly anticipated movie in history in Shinjuku. Well, we finally did on that hot midnight in 1999. After that momentary annoying blip of seeing DiCaprio's mug for "The Beach", the show began. John Williams' theme graced the sound system for the first time in 16 years, my heart started pumping as forcefully as the brass section, and we were off. We saw a true Jedi lightsaber fight for the first time, we met a young Obi-Wan and an even younger Anakin Skywalker, we saw a podrace, we saw tons of CG, we met an even wiser mentor in the form of Qui-Gon Jinn (at least, initially...after all, he was the one who started this entire mess in the first place with this Chosen One garbage), and we were introduced to one of the most reviled characters in ANY movie.

Well, what happened after that was, after having time to think about it in the years since, rather weird. I mean, we left the theatre with applause being generously given to each of the prinicpal actors, the director and the music guy. However, as soon as we got out of the theatre, the five of us started using that unusually high-pitched tone of voice...the tone of voice that's used when one feels the need to rationalize something. Yup, we actually rationalized "The Phantom Menace". My definition of rationalize is to try to find something good in something that really wasn't....the Vader/Anakin analogy is purely coincidental. We all said that it was OK...really loved the final lightsaber battle, Qui-Gonn gave some great gravitas, and boy, how about that podrace? But I'll get back to that rationalization bit later.

It was 2:30 in the morning when all of us disgorged. The one thing I remember very well when we re-entered the heat and humidity was that the sky wasn't totally black. I'm not sure if it had been the combined effects of the neon lighting and the photochemical smog but the sky seemed a hazy purple. Paddy's girl had to take off...I gather that she didn't think it would be too good for her to stay out that late in Shinjuku. The menfolk decided to walk around a bit and then we ended far from the lights of Shinjuku and had a very late-night snack at a ramen shop. Afterwards, we made our way back to Shinjuku. By that time, the sun was starting to break through the haze...we weren't actually out walking all that long. The sun pops up at about 4 a.m. here in the summer. The debauchery of the past several hours was finally taking its toll on us, and at least one of us was looking for an all-night manga cafe to sleep it off. A few attempts were made but I guess a lot of the other Star Wars fans had gotten the idea sooner than we did and the places were packed. But by that time, the subways and trains had already gotten started so the group finally broke up thankfully to get some well-deserved shuteye. I, on the other hand, couldn't resist the hoopla and had to take the train down to Yurakucho, that other centre of movie theatres in Tokyo. It was about 6 a.m., and the day would represent the official day for the premiere of the movie. Sure enough, there was already a huge lineup from the elevators leading to the top floors where the theatres were all the way around two corners. Memories of my wait for "The Empire Strikes Back" flooded back to me at the sight. The lineup was truly a long one since the actual lines started from those top floors. I was wondering if the media would be there like they were at Shinjuku the previous night, but nada. I guess even the most intrepid of reporters need their beauty...or cynic's sleep. Well, I didn't bother waiting up for the press to come on down...sleep was just tugging at me too hard so I slogged my way back home and got several hours of sleep.

Now, back to that rationalization bit. I didn't come to the conclusion that "The Phantom Menace" was a mediocre movie overnight (insert slight contextual snicker here), but it was over a matter of months. I finally came to the realization that the critics weren't throwing sour grapes. The movie actually didn't deliver all the goods....just some bits here and there. In retrospect, the movie just seemed like one long road movie, one long film of political machinations and a film of an annoyingly cheery "Yippee!" kid. This was the boy who became one of the most iconic movie villains? Mind you, I saw this as a guy in his mid-thirties. There were probably kids Jake Lloyd's age who must have been positively charmed by young Anakin, and the movie in general. What kid wouldn't identify with a slave boy who suddenly became known as the Chosen One by an elite group of superpowered knights, who could become the first human to win a podrace, and who just blew up a massive Neimoidian cruiser with just one blast from his fighter. Pretty heady stuff for a 9-year-old.

However, I wasn't 9 years old when I caught TPM. I was a pretty jaded 34-year-old and what I saw didn't match the magic that I remember from the first two films. But perhaps Lucas had a point when he said that the Star Wars series was essentially made for kids. Kids, as far as I know, don't watch straight dramas, don't watch Ingmar Bergmann films and they don't rate the value of a movie on how good the acting is. But that doesn't explain how the first trilogy became such a huge success worldwide. Children may be our future but adults were also needed to push Star Wars into the movie legend that it is today. The adults of the late 70s and early 80s must've also seen some good in the original movies...some kinda magic. And TPM didn't quite show it despite the grand attempts by Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor. The first prequel was actually...boring. As one critic said, it lacked a heart. If the original Star Wars was Dorothy Gale, then TPM was the Tinman before his redemption. And next, we'll go into The Scarecrow of the series.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Saturday May 21, 11:48 a.m.

Some 16 years passed between "Return of the Jedi" and "The Phantom Menace"...enough time for me to graduate from high school but barely graduate from university, do my first stint as an English teacher in Japan and come back to get my certificate in TESL, and then end up well into my second and current stint in Tokyo. Quite a long time for a person to develop from a callow youth to a cynical adult.

And yet, when Lucas had his first film for the new prequel set with a trailer to tantalize all those ol' fanboys back in late 1998, I used my newfound ability to download and spent a very long time (I was in my dialup days) trying to see this amazing trailer that had folks all over the US driving hours to theatres ONLY to see the trailer for the first Star Wars movie in more than a decade and a half and then leave the place without watching the main feature. Mind you, I can't remember what the features were but my impressions were that I couldn't blame them for the mass desertion. But indeed, Star Wars still had a major pull on these teens-turned-cogs of society. And the trailer indeed looked promising: those opening scenes of Naboo before the greatest movie theme in history blared out to the scene of Anakin's podracer flying by to a background of the new CG. And then some more fast and furious images before we got to see the villain of the year, Darth Maul and his double-lightsaber. I was so there!

Of course, the fall from grace was that much harder to believe when the movie came out to mixed reviews. This time, I would be watching Star Wars in Japan for the very first time, and for some reason, Star Wars would always be shown some 6 weeks after its premiere Stateside. I saw the hoards on the East Coast going nuts as they marched themselves into the theatres for the very first midnight showing, and then the reviews came out: apparently, the new film's title wasn't the only problem with the film. Reviewers started coming out with comments like "It was too kiddy" or "It had no heart" or "It's a lousy flick". It was difficult to take considering that there were some pretty high-powered actors cast such as Liam Neeson (Schindler's List), Natalie Portman (The Professional), Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting) and Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction).

But the word was out on the street...this new Star Wars didn't make the cut.

About a month later, there was a sneak preview for Episode I at the Tokyo International Forum, that huge architectural monstrosity that looked vaguely like the skeleton of a whale. I was pretty jealous to see all these invitees stream into one of the big theatres to catch it, despite what I'd heard...I still couldn't quite believe the bad reviews. George Lucas was spinning the stuff by saying that there had always been a sizable group of people who lambasted the previous series. That was news to me! Couldn't really find anyone matching that description in my youth.

Then, on a steamy Friday night in July1999, I went with Paddy, his girlfriend, The Scarecrow and a corporate student of mine and did the crazy thing of actually lining up 4 hours at the Shinjuku Koma Theatre for the very first midnight showing of "The Phantom Menace". I realized that the years had gone past since "Return of the Jedi" as all of us in our motely group were dressed up in suits and ties since we were coming after work. I was just dressed in my T-shirt and jeans as any Canadian high schooler would when I caught "Jedi". We still felt like freaks, though, since everyone else decided it was costume night and dressed up like their favourite Star Wars characters. There was a huge assortment of Jedi, a smattering of Sith, including those who did the brave and complicated thing of emulating the new Sith Lord on the block, Darth Maul. The theatre was on the 3rd floor of the building; we had to go all the way up to the roof which was 5 floors up. The lineup continued to snake around the graveled area like a centipede. It was still very warm although the sun was coming down but the folks didn't care; they were just happily engaging in lightsaber battles and taking pics as was I. The media certainly enhanced the circus atmosphere. There were choppers in the sky taking aerial shots of the mayhem down below, reporters and camera crews from all the major networks were doing spot interviews all over the place. None of them approached us in what I would deem a case of fashion bias.

Finally around 11:30 when the neon of Shinjuku was actually lighting everthing from below, the line started moving to a chorus of cheers. As usual, I was fretting that we wouldn't be able to fit and the line looked rather daunting as we went down the staircase. It almost looked like a surreal Hitchcock movie. Then, miraculously, we not only actually saw the doors to the theatre appear but we actually got in. Off to the side, there were some geeks with laptops on the benches typing furiously over the Net. I could only imagine what the messages were like:

11:35 - We've actually made it to the third floor where the theatre is. We're gonna go in!
11:37 - It's a circus atmosphere. You gotta be here, man! It's the dream of my life!
11:39 - I just puked in my Jawa cap! Awright!

I'll withhold any more imagined messages in deference to good taste.

Anyways, as the sartorial freaks we were, we got seated on StageLeft of the large theatre up several rows from the front. It was a bit too left of centre for my liking, but it isn't as if we had much of a say in the matter. I saw a couple of young ladies in Jedi robes having a mock duel which got me thinking those immortal words of William Shatner when he was in that classic "Saturday Night Live" sketch: GET A LIFE! However, it seemed like the entire Tokyo population of Jedi filled the seats. Anyone falling from the ceiling would've been sure to have been impaled on the fake sabers being waved about. Of course, the media followed the hordes in and the interviews were going on ad infinitum just right up to show time.

And when the lights finally went down, there was a huge chorus of cheers....a rather surprising thing for me since Japanese audiences very rarely get worked up for anything on the screen. But in any case...the lights went down, the curtains parted and the screen flickered on and the panting crowd and I finally got to see....Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Beach"?! Ahhh...I guess theatres have their bills to pay so the trailers had to come on. Of course, there was a lusty round of boos for Jack Dawson. "Hey, you turned down the role of evil actor!" was probably in the minds of every SW fan.

But luckily, it was only that trailer. Then, the Fox fanfare came up and the result was mayhem.

To be continued....
Saturday May 21, 8:12 a.m.

"Revenge of the Sith" nets $50 million in 24 hours. Yup, I can say that it pretty much smashed the record.

Well, anyways, I've gone through my reminiscing over the first two Star Wars pictures. I guess I can go on to Episode VI. "Return of the Jedi" back in 1983 seemed to hit the trailers a bit quietly in my opinion. The reports that I'd gotten from classmates was that there were a lot of forests....hmmmm, didn't particularly hit me as being too exciting. The Star Wars environments were all about extremes: deserts cold and hot, gas and hard metal. But a forest? People picnic in them. Still, I made my way out once again to the University Theatre early one Saturday morning with two of my high school buddies. I don't recall much about the waiting process. And I guess we were all pretty happy with the end result initially. And certainly, the Toronto Star hailed the movie as "Magnificent!"

In retrospect, though, I rather find "Return of the Jedi" as a somewhat inferior wrap-up to the series up to that point. Unlike the previous sequel where I could list several high points, I really could only come up with two for this one: the scene where Luke and R2 execute their plan to rescue everyone on the Sail Barge, and the scene where Lando and the Rebel fleet fall into the Imperial trap. I'd heard rumours that Lucas at that point was burning out badly and just wanted to get Star Wars out of the way which may explain the crushing of three plotlines at the end of the movie: the exterior space battle, the interior lightsaber battle and...the Ewoks. They should've just jettisoned the Ewoks or had the Emperor blast the Endor moon away as the second Death Star's practice target..just like the first Death Star did with Alderaan.

There were a few more things that I had to gripe about "Jedi". One was the writing. Now, I'm not talking about the dialogue. I'm at peace with the fact that Star Wars dialogue can always fulfill my yearly requirements for cellulose...nahhh, that wasn't the problem. My problem was with how the writers concocted the plot. Time was either clumsily compressed or the crash Jedi training course was even "faster...more intense" than I'd thought. In either case, the story just wasn't very plausible for me. Even with the miracle Skywalker bloodline, I could not believe that a hotheaded farmboy from Tatooine who once had a thing for power converters could become a full-fledged well-adjusted Jedi in the time that it took for Leia and Lando to start their mission to rescue Han. Also, I'm sure Alec Guinness' eventual hatred for all things Star Wars was further aggravated by what he had to utter from his mouth about the "Jedi point of view". He looked rather haggard in his brief ghostly cameo...the script scared him that much, probably.

The final showdown was also a bit of a letdown. Though the Emperor scenes and the final lightsaber battle between Luke and Vader had their moments, the space battle over Endor seemed to pale, strangely enough considering the improved special effects, to the original Death Star battle. There wasn't all that much of a convincing patter amongst the different pilots and the fighters from both sides seemed to explode with just a blip. But then again, smashing three plotlines in 20 minutes can limit things somewhat.

Even the fateful decision by Vader to come back into the light came off as a bit hollow. I didn't even think that the John Williams score really supported that pivotal scene; I couldn't even remember if anyone in the audience had actually clapped. And then there was the ending with that annoying Yub Nub song. Sorry, a celebration on Endor just didn't do it for me although I'm sure that the Rebels had one bitchin' kegger up in those trees. It would've meant repeating the coronation scene from "A New Hope" but I would've preferred a similar thing on Coruscant. The 1997 re-issue of "Jedi" had the music changed but it wasn't very much of an improvement. However, it was nice to see Ben, Yoda and the reformed Anakin appear.

So, from a certain point of view, my viewing of good Star Wars movies ended in 1980. Hopefully, the dry spell may be over this year.
Friday May 20, 10:44 p.m.

Another workweek closes. Pretty tired after getting that second workout at the gym this week. I'm starting to get recognized as a regular at that family restaurant, CASA, underneath the gym. The waitress smiled when I came in and immediately showed me to a table in the non-smoking area without asking me. I guess that'll make it the third place where I've been treated as a slightly elevated person, next to that one Starbucks I teach The OL at and of course, The Tea Room.

My workout at the gym started off a bit badly. I guess I'd been picking up the fat during the 48-hour period between outings. I apparently gained a kilo over Thursday much to my dismay. I also had to wade my way through a bunch of middle-aged women as they were waiting in front of the scale and blood pressure machine to enter the studio for their aerobics class. However, on the good side, I've noticed that the current weights I've been working at are starting to get easier. So I'll probably start hefting heavier weights from next week. So there is some progress.

Since I did have several hours to kill before the OL, I went over to Maruzen once again to see if I could pick up a new crossword puzzle book. Man, I've been flying through this issue. I picked that up and I came across the latest Playboy issue...this time with semi-celeb Bai Ling as the famous centrefold of the month. And she's in "Revenge of the Sith", too. Gotta be a first. Not too bad...although, obviously she was either quite cold or excited during the photo shoot (ahem!). Still, it's nice to see an Asian celeb grace the pages of Hef's magnum opus.

Speaking of the movie of the week, I picked up this week's issue of Entertainment Weekly with good ol' Torontonian, Hayden Christensen, right on the cover with his lightsaber. I take it that this will be the last mag I read to cover Star Wars. So, journalastically speaking, the hype is over. All that's left is just the waiting for July 9th, the premiere date of Episode III in Japan. It's too bad that this country couldn't get the simulataneous release treatment, but then again, I not only could get the vicarious thrills of watching the excitement over the media for May 19th, but I'll be able to do it all over again in 6 weeks. I kinda wonder if I'll do the same thing I did for "The Phantom Menace" and actually wait for the midnight showing. Not quite sure if I have the stamina for that anymore.

Fridays at the OL's Starbucks isn't too different from the Wednesdays. Pretty darn quiet..perhaps even a bit more quieter. The OL came had been an entire month since I saw her last, a fact which surprised the both of us. I got a souvenir from her trip to Rhode Island in the form of a huge bag of mini-chocolate bars. I'm refraining from eating any of it at this late hour, instead going for a boring but healthier banana. The OL enjoyed her trip, her first by herself, but she realized that she still needs a lot of practice, especially in the listening department. She forlornly admitted that the only person she could understand in her 5 days there was her host mother. Come to think of it, she was pretty darn rusty today because of the layover; I had to use some kid gloves. At the end of our first regular Friday session, we got into the talk about heading out with Betty Boop for Tony Romas for a much better sparerib experience. Perhaps next Saturday may be the ticket.

Got home to find out that Paddy had sent over that information about my chances of getting permanent residency here. Hmmm...already a few snags to untangle, if they can...and that's a big IF. However, I've already sent him some of the information he wanted so the ball is rolling.

Well, I was gonna do some ironing but with all of the sudden info gathering for Paddy, I've decided to hold off until Sunday evening. I'm gonna get that rubdown at the clinic and pay off some bills. I'm halfway through the training for that examiner qualification for BULATS. I'll probably be tackling the writing stuff tomorrow night.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Thursday May 19, 10:47 p.m.

Had a couple of experiences with red tape today. The one just now was a 30-minute odyssey through VISA card international phone rates. I had received my re-issue card and so decided to call up VISA Central to activate the darn thing. It's not as if I use the card all that's just an emergency measure. I called up Central and ended up getting passed to four different people. One guy, in the Security branch, was rather mystified as to why I'd been passed along to his section. The first two ladies said that they had trouble verifying my identity...probably due to my rather unique living arrangements. In any case, I kept remarkably calm despite knowing that KDD was enjoying the yen rack up on my bill for next month. However, I did get a taste of what monolithic buck passing is like.

The second brush with bureaucracy was of the homegrown variety. The tax office called up today to point that there was yet another error on my return. And here I thought our little visit to the office 2 weeks ago cleared everything up...NOT. I knew the old guy was trying his darndest to explain my situation in Japanese, but I could only understand a fraction of his mumbo-jumbo. I could get that he is going to send me something, and once I got that from him, I just thought, "OK, whatever". I'll figure it out later. Most likely with my luck, my wonderful rebate is gonna turn into a hefty payment after all.

Ah...the hell with it. I'm not even gonna bother doing any more training tonight. I'm just a little too wired after my long phone call. I'm gonna clean up, take a shower and then hit the hay with my 6 million little buddies in the mattresses.
Thursday May 19, 9:36 p.m.

Succumbed to the Dark Side, he has. The Doctor did make that midnight showing. He was not sorry he did....a happy camper he was. In fact, he's gonna try for a second viewing in the near future (read: today) to get some more details. And I got word from the Egg. In his capacity as one of the regional managers for a theatre chain, he told me that his complex had to add two more theatres to the other three he'd originally slated to cope with the demand for "Revenge of the Sith"....for a midnight showing. He hadn't even put on midnight showings for the previous two due to bad word-of-mouth. This may be the beginning as well as the ending of something big.

In more mundane news, I had MK for her regular lesson tonight. She's progressng steadily, and I was flattered that she remembered about my Star Wars mania.

Heard Anderson Cooper's report on the dust mites that inhabit mattresses in the millions. This probably means that I have the equivalent of the population of Toronto wriggling about underneath me every night. I did kinda wonder how I always felt like I was on a waterbed. Well, I guess something was creating waves after all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Thursday May 19, 9:10 a.m.

Well, in a few hours, the Force will be here supposedly for the final time. I'm wondering if my good friend, The Doctor, will succumb to the Dark Side and attend the midnight showing in Washington D.C. Taking on the role of Palpatine, I gently nudged him that I would if I could. I read Entertainment Weekly's review on it; not surprisingly, it didn't get a rave...just a B-. I think after all of the initial gushing reports, cooler and saner heads are prevailing and reviewers are re-discovering the hokey dialogue and wooden acting. Still, even the EW reviewer had to admit that it was great summer entertainment, which in a way then signifies that "Revenge of the Sith" has brought the saga full circle to the heady days of 1977 when "A New Hope" premiered. After all, that was what George Lucas had originally envisioned for his space opus: a modern love letter to the Flash Gordon serials of his youth with all of its cardboard characters and pithy scripts. I'm reminded of what Roger Ebert had said in his commentary over "Casablanca". He pointed out several plotholes in that classic, but then said that those weren't the point...the point was to tell a romantic story during wartime. And perhaps so it should go with Episode III. But (and I say this with a pretty heavy sigh), why did George feel so hellbent on writing such cringeworthy dialogue?

Well, continuing on with my reminisces of Star Wars, last time you were here you were reading up on my first encounter with "A New Hope". Now, let's get on with Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. The first I'd heard about this new Star Wars was during the last of my five or seven times that I'd seen ANH. Everyone had known that at the end of the movie, there would be a sneak preview for the new flick so of course everyone stayed. We got to see Darth Vader come out of his meditation chamber, the snowspeeders take on the Imperial Walkers, and then that notorious scene of Luke and Leia getting close to sample some forbidden love (which does make me wonder if Lucas had really truly mapped out the whole saga by that point). However, the winning scene was the one in which the Millenium Falcon swooped through the asteroid field leaving wrecked TIE fighters in its of the best scenes of the whole saga. Once the trailer was over, all the kids flew out in joy and started acting out their lightsaber battles with siblings or buddies. It was truly a happy moment.

Then , some months later came the hoopla as the premiere approached. There was an entertainment interview show called "City Lights" in Toronto which was hosted by the late Brian Linehan. Linehan was an entertainment journalist that comedian Martin Short satirized wickedly well as Brock Linehan (years before he discovered Jiminy Glick) due to his victim's informative but overextended questioning techniques. "City Lights" had a special on the upcoming Episode V, so you can imagine a lot of kids decided to stay indoors that Sunday evening. And suddenly, the Star Wars hype machine actually kicked in for the very first time. Obviously, there was nothing quite like that when ANH had first opened since it was an unknown commodity. Not anymore...lots of interviews with Mark, Carrie and Harrison.

And then, D-Day arrived. My brother and I took the subway and bus down from North York to downtown Toronto where the grand University theatre once stood and tried to get in to see the most awaited sequel in movie history up to that point on only its second day. Now, remember that this was the day before anything approaching DVD and Internet technology was available to the masses. There was none of this "Ach...I'll wait for it when it comes out on (name your format)". If you had decided not to see it for some insane reason, well, then you would've had to wait for literally years. And of course, teens and young folks with raging hormones couldn't wait. Anyways, we went down there, naively, in the early afternoon (some of you folks of my generation must now be laughing: " the early afternoon?! Idiots, they are!"). Well, we got our education pretty fast when we saw a scene of pandemonium to match any battle scene over the Death Star. Hundreds of people were waiting in a line which spiraled around the block like a broken Slinky. Theatre staff and police officers were out en masse with megaphones ordering the masses to be orderly as well as risking their lives by telling the stragglers that they would have to come back the next day since the entirety of the day's shows were all sold out. Well, my brother and I took a look for a bit and decided to abort the mission.

We made another attempt the next day, although I'm sure my mother wasn't too thrilled about that. However, we learned our lesson and got there in the morning although Mom drew the line at 10 a.m. I was quite nervous that our Mom's reverse curfew would once again mean another defeat. However, we actually did get in after a 2-hour wait in line. Strangely enough, the two of us were pretty patient...certainly, Yoda would've been proud. And in retrospect, I think the wait amongst fellow Star Wars fans enhanced the already-messianic anticipation. And when we finally got into our seats, and the lights came down...once again, the pandemonium erupted like Mt. Vesuvius. I was telling Shard a couple of nights ago that I haven't been to a movie since "Empire" that had so much audience participation: cheering, yelling and clapping. My moments of clarity were the opening credits, the reappearance of Vader, the Hoth battle, the asteroid field, Yoda's Force-assisted tow of Luke's X-wing fighter and of course, that great revelation by Darth Vader to the broken Luke. It would certainly go down as one of my most treasured cinematic experiences.

Before I finish up this segment of my Star Wars memories, I do have to mention about that notorious ABC Star Wars TV special based on the Wookie's holiday celebration of Life Day. Yup, I'm one of the very few who got to see it in its apparently one and only showing on TV. In retrospect, it was intriguing to watch Harrison Ford, a person who has hardly appeared on TV since his guest appearances on shows like "Love, American Style" or "Ironside", running around in his Han Solo outfit with Chewie. But I remember the special for two things, the debut of Boba Fett as an animated character, and Carrie Fisher's "rendition" of the Star Wars theme (!)...oh, my golly! I think that the original master must be lying deep in the vaults of the US government along side the Ark of the Covenant and an alien embryo.
Wednesday May 18, 11:04 p.m.

Feeling rather sore all over after the workout at the gym. At least, I got one in this week. Maybe I'll be able to get one more in on Friday between lessons. The Hawaiian was fun as usual. We focused on intonation and pronunciation. She's still rather hung up on that little misunderstanding years ago when some waitress in Australia couldn't understand her order. And yet, I can't fault for her aspirations to linguistic perfection. Her lessons with me are now numbered since she's confirmed to go to Oz from late June. She may be away for anything from 1 to 3 months.

We had a bit of a mini-typhoon in Tokyo today. The winds were really blowing like crazy in Speedy's neighbourhood although the tall skyscrapers helped out in creating wind tunnels. Student 001 and I were able to smoothen out the lesson today so I can consider tonight's class as our first big success.

Speaking of storms, it feels like the calm before one in terms of the cinema. I'm in between the end of Star Trek (there's none of that SAVE ENTERPRISE stuff anymore...the site looks deserted now) and the explosion that will be the final Star Wars film tomorrow. Looks like Chip Guy will indeed be heading for the movie on opening day. Just couldn't resist, could he? Mind you, I'd join him if I were back in Canada. Shard and I had a brisk, informative talk on the Star Wars phenomenon.

I got a message from my friend up in Karuizawa. She was wondering if I were still interested in coming out to visit the family one May weekend. Well, it won't be this weekend since I'm already committed but I did propose the final weekend. Speaking of new families, I do have to make plans to visit the Chipmunk and her new son.

The winds are still whistling out there. I just chowed down on a Haagen-Dazs Berry Berry Parfait as a bit of a treat for getting two classes done. Well, I still have to get that training done for my certification as a test examiner tomorrow. I was hoping to get a massage in but I almost forgot that I do have to wait for that certified letter to come in.

Almost on the scale of the Oscar nomnation announcements, the annual tax reports of celebrities made themselves known this week all over the channels. There seems to be this nearly rabid desire to know how much money these actors and singers give each year. Well, the top tax-paying singer is Hikaru Utada which strikes me a bit strange since she's been pretty much a non-entity for the past couple of years aside from a recent PSX game commercial. Even stranger, the biggest taxpayer of all in Japan this year is a salaryman...just one of the cogs, albeit a gold-plated one. Apparently, the drone is in a performance-based job in an investment company which explains his rather surprising wealth.

I just heard that Kelsey "Frasier" Grammer is slated to become The Beast in the next X-Men. I guess it must've been that pompous vocabulary his character used since The Beast is also well known as a very erudite mutant. Now, we're gonna have three stentoriously voiced leads.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Wednesday May 18, 8:00 a.m.

Had a talk with Shard. Looks like our current topic du jour is appropriately the Star Wars saga since the two of us had grown up in the shiny era of the first trilogy. Our conversation brought out some reminiscences in me about my experiences with the movies. My first encounter with "A New Hope" came from a small bit by gossip columnist Rona Barrett on "Good Morning America". She reported in that nasal twang of hers about this sci-fi motion picture which according to the clip had a walking carpet, a gold-plated robot and a pretty woman with a cinnabon bun for a hairstyle. The scene was the Millenium Falcon going up against the TIE fighters as it was escaping the Death Star.

I guess the scene, or the movie in general, didn't really impact on me. It would be years before movies became part of my social ritual, and I was a child of people who were really not into the theatre scene. Star Wars incredibly didn't draw me into its world for a good 2 years after its premiere. Between then and the time that I finally did catch it, I saw the iconic opening scene of the Imperial Star Destroyer going after the Tantive IV over Tatooine, the various appearances of Darth Vader and the droids on shows such as Donny & Marie, and of course there was the disco theme to Star Wars by Meco; actually, that was my first exposure to the theme song. I remember hearing the original John Williams version and thinking that "Wow! They actually came out with a classical version of the disco song!" And oh yes, Star Wars actually got nominated for 7 Oscars including Best Movie. It was so popular that the usually conservative Academy panel overlooked the bad acting. Well, I certainly did.

Well, I guess the hints over the 24 months finally got to me and I managed to drag my reluctant Dad to take me to the theater in a Toronto mall to see this movie. I think it still hadn't been re-titled "A New Hope" at that time. The theater boasted that the flick had been playing Star Wars for 2 years straight. And yet when we got there, there was a huge lineup snaking all around the floor. On these two observations, allow me a point. This was 1979, a time in which VCRs were still relatively rare and were about the size of coffee tables. There were no Blockbuster Video outlets, no Internet (even Al Gore was too young) and Lucas had a tight clamp about having his magnum opus out on the TV. It was no wonder that the theaters back then could play a movie that long. Nowadays, if a movie plays for even 2 months straight, it's considered a megahit.

I saw the movie and I was treated not only to a great visual fest but also to the wonders of audience participation. Everyone laughed and cheered like crazy. To this day, those last 20 minutes still get my heart rate up. Star Wars as a media-implanted endorphin. Gotta figure. Dad, on the other hand, wasn't particularly all that impressed. As I said, he was never a movie guy. Plus, he couldn't get past the sci-fi vocabulary. I guess being a parent can be a hellish experience.

Since then, I'd seen "A New Hope" about 5 times at the theater. There's something about watching it on the big screen that will always beat watching it even on the largest home theater screen. Still, I'm grateful for the DVDs that I have now.
Tuesday May 17, 11:24 p.m.

Another long day comes to an end. I'm lucky in that the rest of my week won't be as crammed. After my usual stint at the juku, I sometimes wonder if I'm like the Wizard of Oz in that my teaching is just a lot of smoke and mirrors with my combination of sense of humour and actual education. For each of my classes, I have to rely on that combo to get through the night. The boss and I had a little talk about my last student, The Bohemian. As I've said before, I think the lad is a good kid but he's also a bit of a space cadet. The boss concurred with my assessment about him not being the most decisive of fellows. I found out tonight that he's planned a trip to Australia, his very first outside of this country. Good thing for him...hopefully, it'll be a major turning point in his life.

Looks like some of the gang back at home is getting revved up for the big Star Wars premiere on Thursday. The Entrepreneur, Chip Guy and the Egg will be heading for a viewing this weekend. Apparently, Chip may not be able to hold on even that long. Hmmm....I'm not sure what his wife will say about that.

The Satyr just contacted me by chat to talk about the Sunday movie with Movie Buddy and myself. I'll have to get in contact with MB to confirm things up.

Would like to get some work done but I'm just getting tired. I'll just write the lesson reports and then hit the shower.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Tuesday May 17, 8:11 a.m.

Kinda rushing right now so the probability of spelling errors wil be rather high. Just thought I'd warn you...

Got word from across the Pacific that The Doctor is mulling an invitation to join his buddies Stateside to catch the very first midnight showing of "Revenge of the Sith" on Thursday morning. He's mulling it over?!

Had a nice little chat with The Entrepreneur about the last tape of "Enterprise" he'd sent me. He's just sent me another one with the series finale; apparently, it's quite awful...not a particularly great way to end up the Star Trek canon. But then again, look at the downers that wrapped up "Seinfeld" and "X-Files".

Will be leaving the mattresses to air out this morning since it seems that the rest of the week will be rather wet.
Monday May 16, 9:41 p.m.

My computer has been acting up again. I'm kinda wondering if its days are numbered. I've defragged it, put Ad-Aware on it, had it go through the Symantec, and checked for viruses. Still, I've got that periodic crash that makes me have to reboot thereby costing me an extra 5 minutes. May not be much time but when one deals with the Internet...

It was pretty much the same-ol, same-ol today although I almost strangled that lone student at The Company for his slowness. I may be sounding a bit harsh here but it's been 18 months now. I should be getting performance than I did today.

I received a message from Kei. Looks like she came across my changepurse in her car last night. I noticed that my little pocket full of coins went missing when I was at Urayasu Station fumbling for some loose change for the trip home. Since it was just loose change and the pocket itself wasn't worth all that much, I wasn't too put out that I'd lost it. However, I appreciate that it's still safe and sound.

Well, gotta prep for tomorrow's lessons.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Monday May 16, 7:40 a.m.

Well, caught that two-parter episode from "Enterprise", one of the last shows before the Star Trek franchise before it finally becomes one with history. There must be that extra oomph that cancellation brings which makes a Star Trek producer pull out all the stops to pull off a fun episode. All I can say is that I think Linda Park got compensated for her character's relative inaction this season from "In a Mirror, Darkly". And I'm sure all those basement-ridden Trekkies like us have a new goddess (Empress?) to pray to, so move aside Seven of Nine. Some rather interesting trivia concerning the actress on Wikipedia...she's dating the actor who played the villain, Shinzon, from Star Trek: Nemesis.

Seeing that Star Trek had its final episode last Friday, and noting that Star Wars will be having its supposed final chapter on the screen from this Thursday, it's interesting to note the parallels between the two soon-to-be retired franchises. Both started out...Star Trek all the way back in 1966, Star Wars in these shiny new entities full of hope for the future. And the love was reciprocated in full measure by ravenous fans over the decades. Now, the two rather limp back home. Although the final Star Wars movie is getting some unexpected kudos and a nice slap on the back, this prequel trilogy has hardly been a success. Meanwhile, Star Trek, aside from an extremely devoted core group, has largely been ignored at the box office and in the Nielsens for a number of years. It looks like the baton has been passed to the likes of Babylon 5 and the rejuvenated Battlestar Galactica...not a bad thing. In the meantime, we can wait a while before Trek and Wars come back from hibernation.
Sunday May 15, 9:24 p.m.

Well, today was pretty much all for Tokyo Disney Sea. The Beauty Pair picked me and Mr. Eccentric up at Urayasu Station this morning and we drove over to the south of the city where Disneyland, some major hotels and this relatively new complex called Disney Sea were located. To lift one line from a song that was playing all day in the amusement park, the area was definitely "a whole new world". It's interesting that within a proverbial stone's throw away from my motley neighbourhood, one of the largest and most famous playgrounds in the world exists with a huge amount of tourist infrastructure as backup.

Disney Sea was certainly not a cheap trip, though. I paid out 5500 yen for a one-day passport, about the same as the one to get into Disneyland. What is the difference between the two places? Well, they're within close proximity of each other but they're separate entities. However, don't let the "Sea" in the title fool you into thinking that this is the Marineland version of The Magic Kingdom. There are no Willies or Flippers to be found anywhere there. Basically, it is just a more adult version of the original which means that there are fewer roller coasters and more shows and classier food fare. Still, I saw a lot of families along with the couples traversing within its gates. And some of the Disney characters were still ever present gladhanding the customers, although some of the little ones were traumatized by the sights of these overgrown animals greeting them.

The theme park has based its raison d'etre on the recent musical Disney productions such as "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin". However, apparently Paramount was allowed to get its "Indiana Jones" ride squeezed in. Despite the relative dearth of rides, all four of us, as a first experience, tried "Stormrider", a virtual ride similar but better than the creaky ol' Star Wars ride that used to be the big hit at Tokyo Disneyland so many years ago. Basically, it's us in a fuselage of a Spruce Goose flying through a massive hurricane with a Han Solo at the controls. During the thrilling ride, we even had water sprayed in through the supposed cracks in the hull.

Then, we tried the "Indiana Jones" ride. For a guy who hasn't been on a roller coaster in many, many years, the speed and the twists and turns definitely got my blood running. Luckily, the final drop wasn't much of one so I didn't have to show everyone what I'd had at McDonalds for breakfast. The Pair and Eccentric did try it a second time later on in the day, but I wisely demurred. However, after that first attempt, we did go on a kiddy roller coaster. I still majorly clenched for the 30 seconds I was on it.

After that, it was all gravy though. We went out to lunch at what was basically an overdressed cafeteria called "Vulcania". However, the food was surprisingly good and not too badly priced considering what amusement park food usually goes for. All four of us had the course set of stir-fry chicken and veggies, shrimp in chili sauce, spicy sesame chicken salad and a chocolate roll cake. During lunch, I told them about the food museums in Ikebukuro; looks like we may have another excursion there in the not-so-distant future.

The afternoon was spent looking at shows. First off, we saw a small musical performance based on "The Little Mermaid"...a lot of cool puppets and trapeze artists flying around to the tunes from the famous movie. Then, we went to see a 3-D magic show based on "Aladdin"combining live action with an evil magician (who closely resembled Orson Welles at his most bombastic) and a quite convincing show with the Robin Williams-inspired Genie on the screen. The 3-D effects were quite spectacular.

After that show, all four of us hitched a ride on the merry-go-round. Eccentric and I had another thing in common aside from the fact that we're both confirmed bachelors. Neither of us had ridden on a carousel before. Very pleasant, and safe, ride.

We did some more walking around and took a breather inside a cafe. It was just as well since a thundersquall brought things to a halt for about an hour. When we got the all-clear from the P.A., we made our way to the "Indy" ride again where as I'd said previously, the Pair and Eccentric decided to give the mine shaft another try. When they came out surprisingly early, we walked all the way back near the entrance and into the Jazz Age zone...which was done up as a mockup of ol' 30s Broadway. The rest of the group was getting pretty tuckered out by then; I was also a bit tired but I seemed to have been better...probably because I walk like this almost every day as part of my job.

We caught the final show, "Encore" at a mockup of a musical theatre. This was the show that impressed me the most. I was at first a little mystified that this show was just 30 minutes with 60-minute breaks in between. However, after watching it, I can understand why the cast needs the longer down time. You know those musical segments in the Oscars where all of the nominees for Best Song are interpreted through dance and music? Well, that usually takes about 10 minutes at most and looks pretty darn difficult even watching from TV. Now, just mulitiply that by 3 and you've got "Encore". You have 20 hoofers and crooners on the stage singing their lungs out and dancing their legs off as they pay tribute to just about every musical hit from Broadway for 30 minutes non-stop. It was a whirlwind history of the musical from the 20s to the 70s as sets changed rapidly but as smoothly as silk. They had homages to "Oklahoma", "42nd Street", "Crazy for You" and "West Side Story" among others. It was a great incentive to try and catch these musicals in their entirety after what these guys managed to pull off. I was almost disappointed that the show ended but I think if any of these guys had continued any longer, there would have been need for ambulances and a cardiac unit.

Well, after 6 hours on our feet, we made our way back to the car and drove off to the nearest Denny's for what turned out to be a pretty full dinner considering that we'd quite a bit to eat for lunch. Still, it was a very pleasant two hours of talk. The Denny's was in a strip mall....a strip mall. I'd never seen one of those places here in Japan. It just looked like someone had pulled one from Toronto and threw it down near Disneyland. Only one teen gangs to worry about.

Got home tonight. Mom contacted me and complained slightly that I haven't been home. What else is new? Apparently, I'm getting three...count 'em, three...boxes of Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix. Mom always liked to send three when one would do. Plus, I'm getting a dress shirt. I also got a phone message from the juku boss...she just acknowledged that she'd gotten my response to her request but she'd like me to call her back. It probably won't be tonight so I'll just send her a message. And then, I got another message from The Coffeemaker thanking me for coming last night. And finally, I got my first message from The Satryr; it was addressed to both me and Movie Buddy. Hopefully, he can tag along for the next movie outing.

Well, got me some lesson planning to do...