Saturday, December 3, 2011

Gobsmacked in Translation

The movie "Lost in Translation" served Tokyo up as a backdrop, a minor character at best.  Sofia Coppola, the film's director, appeared to want to downplay Tokyo's innate charm, its indefatigable attitude, and instead allow her protagonists to shine, albeit in a hugely understated way.  The fact that she succeeded, in my view, is both an accomplishment and a shame.

Tokyo should not be seen as a backdrop or canvas in any visitor's eyes, but instead celebrated as the painter, the artist of the experience.

The city slaps you in the face, then draws you in and plants a conciliatory, open mouthed kiss.  Like Hong Kong, the sheer volume of its main centres commands your attention, but unlike Hong Kong, there is a grace with which it does so.  The simple act of turning down a side street leads you to another world, often steeped in tradition and hallmarked by tranquility – in architecture, in attitude.

The explosive randomness of the city appears in many ways to be a stark contrast to the nature of its inhabitants.  The Japanese remain stoically courteous, though never obsequious – polite, though not necessarily sincere. They have harnessed zen and use it well.  However, dig a little bit and the hallmarks of dissension become apparent.  In some of the more colourful neighbourhoods – famous Harujuku for example – graffiti'd walls, the ubiquitous billboards of the disenfranchised in cities around the world, make an appearance.  Shibuya, with its world renowned 5+ way intersection, adds an edginess to Tokyo's gleaming skyscrapers, as does the Rappongi Red Light District.

It's a city which deserves your undivided attention, and compels you to deliver it.  This is my fourth trip and I can't say I've scratched the surface – I do feel like I may have made a little scuff mark though.  I'll be back soon to dig a little deeper.

Love, Me

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