Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Saving the Past

Triggered by a BBC article about plans to demolish a landmark Kabuki theater, a rare piece of pre-war architecture that survived the fire-bombing of Tokyo.

The most stunning thing in the article was a lack of any "historic" designation for buildings other than temples. That is sad, because architecture can be part of the soul of a society. Creative people can find a way to integrate the new in with the old, like buying that piece of crap building in the background and using it's site for the desired complex, connected to the old building to provide the needed amenities for a modern audience. (More toilets.) Right. They need to tear it down so they can have more toilets.

There is another threatened area, called "Omoide Yokocho" or "Memory Lane", that they want to tear down - but plan to keep in a sanitized version in a museum. Probably will be a cross between Henry Ford's "Greenfield Village" and Walt Disney's "Epcot Center". That's like replacing hot dog vendors on the streets of NYC with a single robotic one in a museum. Not. The. Same. Thing. The name of that place, along with the observation that "Japanese culture does treasure nostalgia: a yearning for things lost - childhood, school friends, a way of life - is a frequently voiced emotion. But the quest for modernity arguably runs deeper." triggered a quick search for a movie with that word in its Japanese title.

"Omohide poro poro" (titled "Only Yesterday" in English) is a feature-length anime by Isao Takahata. I saw it once, late at night on TCM, in Japanese with subtitles. If you look at the TCM info about this movie, you will see it is #12 on their list of "movies not yet on DVD". It is at the top of my list. It is an amazingly well-told story of a young woman looking back at memories of her childhood, and all of the events that put her where she is today - which is on a train heading from the city into the countryside for a vacation.

I was hooked as much by the background as by the story. The fragments of home and school life provide an interesting insight into Japanese life and culture. It also conveys a nostalgia for a simpler life, away from the hectic life of a modern city.

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