(990222) On Wednesday (the 20th), after leaving a contract job in Nihonbashi, I headed towards Sumida River, walking past the dark hulk of the empty Yamaichi Building, and over to the river, by the large IBM building. The river used to run between concrete walls in such a way that you couldn't even see the water even if you were standing right by it, but they built a walkway over the concrete dike, and built a kind of park - a narrow strip that runs near the river on the water side of the barrier. It's quite an improvement; now you can walk over the wall, down to the strip, and walk (or jog) along the river.
99/01/20 Sumida-Gawa Terrace 18:49 The steel bridge arch's blue illumination reflecting on the river... the sound of passing motorboats echoes off of the concrete buildings... beyond the bridge, expensive high rise apartment towers rise optimistically into the cold clear night... just behind where I stand by the river, a sea of lit square windows in the IBM Building. Ahead and to my right, the empty, dark Yamaichi Building, with its exterior red lights flashing an echo of a former pride into the night... as though the building itself doesn't believe the end has come, and calls out to the former inhabitants... not understanding why they don't return.
19:25 In front of the "Terminal Hotel"... a spooky name to be sure, but no doubt taken from "Bus Terminal", as in the express bus terminal (somewhere not far away), for the buses to the airport. No one is visible in the front lobby... nor are there any customers in the first floor coffee shop/restaurant. The cook(?) sits at a table in the empty room, reading a newspaper. I'm standing behind an idling truck, breathing its diesel exhaust fumes, getting dizzy.
Time to move on!
In front of the truck now, which has "Orix Rent-a-Car" on the door. The driver sleeps. Ah... the front desk guy, now standing behind the front desk, looking "stand-fatigued" and curious... eying the back-packed foreigner outside taking notes.
A helicopter flies by over the large rainbow colored CASIO sign on the top of a building on the opposite side of the street. Traffic noise... always traffic noise. Standing here by a main road and near an overhead expressway, breathing exhaust laden air, the world seems truly ruled by the internal combustion engine. Times like now, I can only think that the city would be infinitely nicer without cars. There would be more plants, cleaner air, less noise... and I myself love to drive....
"Drama on the Bridge..."
19:45 Standing over the water in the middle of a bridge (Kiyosu-bashi), breathing marginally better air. There's a camera crew of about twenty people who are moving lights, cables, and cameras around.
Something just occurred to me... I've often enjoyed watching Japanese television dramas just to watch the visual entertainment they provide; whether the dialog makes much sense or not. The outside shots! Much more interesting to watch than things filmed indoors, and so difficult for the video (film?) crew! All these people! One of the actors poses in the bright lights... looking cool... a bicycle approaches... a crew member calls out "Bicycle coming through!" and everything is on hold while they wait for the bicycle rider to pass through the set-up on this public walkway on the bridge.
They've put a phone booth right in the center of the bridge, looking almost like it belongs there... or is there really one there? I don't think so... they keep polishing the glass to make it transparent for the camera... I've never seen such a squeaky clean phone booth before. (It's an old style phone, but so clean!)
They're filming now... the trench coated actor is in the phone booth. I can hear a little from the monitor that several of the crew are clustered around... he's saying something about meeting someone tomorrow.
They shoot the same scene over and over, polishing up the phone booth between each take.
Ah! I never finished what I started to say. Overtime!! It's 8:00 p.m.... almost all the lights are still on in the IBM Building, and the crew works away... how long have they been here? How long will they be here still? All for what will edit down to only a minute or two in the final version broadcast out to the waiting antennas (cable is here, but not everywhere, and is the exception rather than the rule).
Another take... "Tomorrow at ten o'clock..." the actor is saying into his cell phone in the booth. Hmm, so much for reality folks! The cool actor walks up the dramatically back-lit walkway on the bridge, steps into the sparkling phone booth that isn't really here... not on any night but tonight that is... and coolly whips out his cell phone to ask someone (wife?, girlfriend?, mistress?...) if they can meet him. (From watching the monitor, it doesn't seem possible to tell that the scene is taking place on a bridge... maybe they're just shooting here because it's convenient?)
Pen and paper! There's no other way I could record this. If I had a camera, they'd ask me not to take pictures I'm sure. As it is, they eye the back-packed stranger here from the nineteen-eighties door of a trans-Pacific 747....
Take after take... I'm beginning to piece the conversation together. The man rushes into the booth now (a variation on a more purposeful entrance earlier), pulls out the cell phone... dials... a seductive sounding female voice answers... the man says "Can we meet tomorrow?"... the seductive-sounding voice says something about her schedule being open and that "Anytime is okay"... so the man says "Let's meet at ten o'clock".
I talked to three of the crew for a little... They tell me (I'll believe it when I see it) that it's for a television drama titled "Kenji-tachi no Natsu" [or maybe that's "Keiji-tachi-no-Natsu"], and that it will likely be broadcast in April on channel four (Nihon Television). I confirmed that they did indeed set up the phone booth themselves, and as the oldest of the three told me "It's preposterous to have a phone on the bridge here... but it's a drama after all".
They asked me what I do for a living - if I was involved with "mass media"; I said no, but explained about the LL Letters... or tried to explain I should say! They didn't seem to see the picture I tried to paint, but I gave all three of them my card anyway, and offered to send them a copy of what I was writing... blank stares... so I asked if they had e-mail. They looked at each other and asked back and forth:
"Do you?" "No..."
"Do you?" "No..."
"Do you?" "No..." ............
So much for everyone having e-mail.....
They're still working on the bridge phone booth shot, and I'm on my way! I think... it's more fun to watch dramas than it is to make them!
20:40 Standing in a playground under an expressway, with the internal combustion machines making booming noises as they zoom by overhead. This playground, in theory, is a great idea - the expressway acts as a roof, so even in bad weather, it can be used, but the feeling here, standing on asphalt, with the sky shut out by the steel and concrete expressway overhead, and buildings close by on both sides forming a kind of wall... it feels so... sterile - or I guess "lacking life" would be a better term.
(99/01/23) After writing the above, I put away my notebook and spent another hour and a half walking around, taking in the area, feeling that "Where has the life gone?" feeling engendered by standing on asphalt streets among concrete buildings... the area mostly devoid of either plant, insect, animal, or human life. Of course there are people in the buildings, and I find myself thinking once again "This is a city to enjoy indoors - the streets are just to get from one indoor place to another".
After a solid hour of that, I was very happy to stumble into a park which contained a shrine, trees, bushes, and dirt. The difference may seem small, but a street with plants, walking people, and clean air is a completely different world from the same street stripped of it's plants, with most people traveling it enclosed in steel and glass contraptions spewing poisonous gases. As the area becomes a kind of wasteland, there is no pleasure in walking on it, so people spend as little time on it as possible... further strengthening the wasteland feel of the place.
The thing is, I love cars! But they really reduce the quality of life in this city. We look back now to coal burning days and wonder how people could live with that smoke... no doubt future generations will shake their heads at how we are now living in the poison of our beloved automobiles. Of course it depends on where you are! For someone living far away from shopping and other essential things, having a car makes life livable, but for a mega-city like Tokyo, it might not be a bad idea to ban fire-breathing vehicles altogether (other than fire engines, police cars, ambulances, etc.), and only allow electric cars within city limits.
Copyright 1999 and 2012 by Lyle H Saxon
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon