19 May Turning Japanese
Our family’s take on Japanese curry
Just discovered (thanks to my lovely wife) the Netflix series Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories … 20 minute “appetizers”, where (as described by the producers) “patrons of an otherwise mundane Japanese diner find simple yet profound connections with one another based on the shared love of a particular dish”. The 12-seat Izakaya is the setting for the anthology (now in its fifth season), based on a manga by the same name, with each episode named after a unique Japanese entree (its preparation part of the story). It feels perfect for our times.
I’m not sure it started with Japanese curry (a comfort food “staple” for my family – my son Max in particular), and my friend Will Olson (who can speak to this better…partially because he can speak Japanese!) – but I realized that as I struggled to deal with the pandemic, and the notion of being ALONE, versus LONELY, that I found myself drawn to many things Japanese.
Will gifted me all the films of Hayao Miyazaki many years ago; I have had a number of conversations recently with my students about the work of the master animator, and those that dealt with loneliness (My Neighbor Totoro), as well as those – like many of his films – that examine our impact on the environment and relationship with nature (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind). Miyazaki’s often fantastical, surreal and magical films are definitely a world of their own; but they still, uniquely, connect to many of us in this world.
A writer who does that in a literary sense, for me, is Haruki Murakami. Currently working my way through 600-page The Wind Up Bird Chronicle (his Kafka on the Shore is a favorite); I also want to read his take on the “Great American Novel”, in this case, The Great Gatsby, in his most recent work (Killing Commendatore).
Murakami is known for his surreal/magical narratives, incorporation of cats, and musical references (one novel he entitled Norwegian Wood). So it came as no surprise that a Murakami essay was included in my recently purchased vinyl copy of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s BTTB (Back to the Basics…originally released in 1998), which was reissued in 2018.
I’ve turned to this particular album (like Murakami, finding it particularly rewarding on rainy spring days, with a cup of coffee) – but could easily lose myself in any of Sakamoto’s quite varied works. Arguably my favorite artist, he is a stylistic chameleon (in the best sense of the word – did anyone draw more from the brilliance of Kraftwerk, whose Florian Schneider passed away recently, than Yellow Magic Orchestra?), he is a master collaborator, having worked with so many different artists (from Caetano Veloso to P.I.L.), it would be ridiculous to list them.
But here, on BTTB, it’s the artist returning to where he started – just he and his piano, basically.
That being said, here’s a playlist of Sakamoto’s music to appreciate his adventurous spirit:
“Some Small Hope” – Virginia Astley/David Sylvian (vocals), from Hope in a Darkened Heart
“Risky” – Iggy Pop (vocal), from NEO GEO
“Forbidden Colors” – David Sylvian (vocal), from Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (film soundtrack)
“The Last Emperor (theme)” – David Byrne, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Cong Su (film soundtrack)
“Whirlwind” – Arto Lindsay (vocal), from Noon Chill
“World Citizen” – David Sylvian (vocal), from Chasm
“Riot in Lagos” – Sakamoto/Andy Partridge (producer), from B-2 Unit
“Diabaram” – Youssou N’Dour (vocal), from Beauty
“The Revenant (main theme)” – Ryuichi Sakamoto/Alva Noto (film soundtrack)
“A Message to Austin/Praise the Lord/Enter the Void” – Thundercat (vocal), from Apocalypse (music from Sakamoto’s 1992 Barcelona Olympics score)