Japan 2010: 2 - Where Things Get Back on Track

Though I had not managed to sleep so well due to baggage worries, I had set my new little travel alarm for 6.30 as a dry run for tomorrows' flight to Okinawa. I would have to take the private train to Haneda airport and get there for 7.45am to fly out an hour later. Fortunately, its little battery-powered beep woke me instantly, although jetlag made me immediately doze off again.

At half past ten I got dressed and headed to reception. I rang the airport and thankfully they had located my wayward backpack and it would be delivered sometime that evening. Not wanting to leave the hotel staff out of the loop I drew a little diagram for them with a backpack on a van heading from a badly drawn aeroplane to a badly drawn hotel, with an approximate time above it. They smiled and appreciated my art effort, and politely waited for me to go away.

It was raining steadily outside, and one thing I hadn't brought with me was an umbrella, since mine gave up the ghost some time ago and I couldn't be arsed getting another. I skipped through the rain to the coffee shop at the end of the street and got myself a bit of toast and what I believe was an apple tart. I mused on what to do on a rainy autumn day; my mind turned to the Tokyo Film Festival, which hadn't yet started, but would be in full swing by the time I had returned to Tokyo in 3 weeks time. Heading to Ueno station, I asked at the information booth what was the best way to get to the Roppongi Hills Toho cinemas where it was being held; the patient lady said that Ehime is the best of the JR stations, although the Keitsu subway would be better because it will take you straight there. Having spent about 10 minutes in the rain and that being enough to get pretty drippy, I decided that I should maybe trace this route in preparation for the next time I was here.

I got partway round the Yamanote loop again and got off at Yurakucho on a whim. Partly because this was the place I went to first of all on my first trip and the familiar sights and sounds were making me feel nostalgic, and partly because I recalled the nearby Toho cinema just across the road from the station; they might be still showing the new Studio Ghibli film, The Borrower Arrietty, which had been released back in July. It was a long shot but I was determined to see it on the big screen while I was there if I possibly could. The chances of seeing it at a UK film festival in 2010 were zero, and unlikely for 2011.

After spending a little time searching for all the landmarks I remembered last time, I headed to what I recalled to be a fecking huge cinema complex a block or so away. However once I had paid a little more attention to the setup, it was clear that the large building with the film posters on was mostly department stores, with the cinema on the 9th floor. Worse still, none of the posters were Arrietty shaped.

There was a massive queue of people at the ground floor ticket booth, so I decided to cheat a little and go straight up in the lift. The shiny opulence of the ground floor atrium was repeated upstairs, with plush carpets and shiny metal plating on the walls reflecting the lighting in all directions. Fortunately there was an information booth with a single person stood at it. It was a long shot, but maybe they showed Arrietty on certain days only. To my relief, the info lady got out a map of the local area, showing several Toho cinemas within a few blocks of each other. She circled one not too far away that was still showing it. I left with some purpose in my stride.

10 more minutes of rain later and I was there. An Arrietty poster was up in the Now Showing glass case at the front alongside Night and Day, and the next showing was in a half hour. I got my ticket (1000 yen) and then strolled around for a little while, no longer caring so much about the drops coming off my nose. I ended up at the mercy of an elderly but skilled owner of a Kimono and silks shop in the 'International Arcade' underneath the railway, who was passing me Kimono's and dresses and sashes and silks under the assumption that my passing interest in the pretty patterns was due to subversive transvestite leanings, or I had a wife back home who would get dressed up in one for me. I made my excuses and left after some time, although not before making a mental note to maybe come back later for.. souvineers.

The Borrower Arrietty (Jpn) (site)

Even though I saw this without English subtitles, I was able to follow the plot quite closely and couldn't help but love it. Following the plot of the Borrowers tales quite closely, Arrietty was storyboarded by Miyazaki and directed by an up and coming protige Hiromasa Yonebayashi. A family of borrowers (human-like beings about 6 inches tall) of which Arrietty is the young daughter make a comfortable home beneath the house of an old woman. Occasionally, the father travels mouse-like between walls and floorboards pinching the odd sugarlump to feed the family. One day, he decides to let his daughter come with him as she will eventually need to forage for herself. It's during this initial trail that they come face to face with Sho, a young boy staying at the house, weakened through a heart defect and there to recover. Scared and untrusting, Sho and Arrietty slowly bond, especially as the Aunt realises her long held suspicions of having little people under her house and decides to get rid.

Arrietty falls into the category of Ghibli film occupied by Whisper of the Heart and Only Yesterday. Largely devoid of action and instead reliant on the strength of the character development and story, this does me just fine; the aforementioned are two of my favourite Ghibli films. It's gentle, well paced and has a good, solid ending, something that if you were to hold any criticism up to certain Ghibli films (*cough*Howl*cough*) is an area where they sometimes fall down a bit. I loved the film and could happily watch again, and will when it eventually makes it out over the pond. 8.5/10

Leaving the screening, my eyes fell on a great deal of tie-in merchandise where you would normally expect to see the popcorn and hot dogs. They had every tie-in imaginable from diaries to paperweights, soundtracks to oversized hair pegs. What caught my eye though was the Art Of book, which always accompanies a Ghibli release. I left with a happy glow, and scouring the leaflets section, I came away with a copy of the Tokyo Film Festival brochure, thankfully dual Japanese-English, which would come in handy later.

I left the cinema. My contentedness was shortlived, as the rain was now coming down heavily. I waited for a while in the shelter of the cinema and then made a break for it to an Italian (yes, again) that I noticed under the railway on the way there. To be a little more daring I had Cod Roe and Cuttlefish pasta. The cuttlefish was unusual; a rubbery fish with a knobbly side and a smooth side, and I've since learned that Cod Roe are the ovaries of the fish, which I am glad I didn't know about at the time.

I returned to the hotel about 5.30 and mused a bit on my next move as I dripped in the reception. It made sense to do something indoors, and my mind turned to the Leeds Film Festival, which I needed to sort out while over there and email in my ticket request before the good stuff all sold out. I checked the site and sure enough, the new film festival section had gone live. Unfortunately they had decided to go with that bloody awful Issuu viewer rather than a simple PDF file. It ran like a dog, and after some time waiting for it to stream the pages over from Blighty I gave up; for a new desire had taken hold as the bits trickled to the computer; to return to Super Potato.

I was going to leave it 'til I returned at the end of my holiday, but the temptation was too great now that any proper sightseeing was out of the window. I hurried through the rain back again to the station and headed to Akihabara. By now the rain was pretty bad, but I had made my choice and so on I went. My memory hadn't completely failed me and I happened upon the modest entrance pretty quickly. I made a mental note of the prices of N64 (2000yen) and GameCube (3000yen) reconditioned controllers (that friends back home had requested if they were a decent price), and then perused through the many rows of games at my leisure. In particular, several copies of Dracula X, one of the many Castlevania games, and one which I never managed to find released outside Japan, although the wiki says that it was at some point. An unboxed copy was going for 2500yen. I made a note and moved on.

Super Potato had changed a little since I was there last; they had decided to move more things onto their first floor shop, meaning that the two aisles of Famicom games had now been reduced to one. No matter, there was still two full sides and hundreds of games to choose from. The same could not be said of the N64 stands upstairs. The poor machine had been reduced to a half-wall, no more than 6 feet and a few rows of unboxed games, a sad sight compared to last time. A whole slew of unsold copies of Wonder Project J2 for 1000yen (whose main character Josette reminded me of Arrietty with the giant hair clips), and pile of mint Pilotwings 64 carts (in their boxes!) going for a frankly criminal 50yen each.

After a while I got bored of looking but not buying (I had resolved not to buy any souvineers to take back until near the end of the holiday so I wasn't lugging them round). I skipped between various other stores to avoid the rain until 8pm, which is when things start to close up. I then ambled back, and only when I was caught in the largest drenching yet on the long Asakusa-dori road back to the hotel did I remember about the missing baggage. Picking up speed and slip-sliding about on the wet manhole covers, I burst through the doors to see a familiar package behind the reception wrapped in a large plastic sheet.

I was so relieved. Though the rain had reduced the choice of what I could do today, it was not the biggest cloud in the sky; the thought of having to sort out the baggage from Okinawa (and maybe replace it if they couldn't get it to me) had weighed heavily on my mind all day. It was now finally out of the way and sorted. After a little bit of blogging and chatting online, I headed upstairs and this time got a decent nights sleep.

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