Categories
Japan Wrestling

Farewell Tomoka: A fan’s personal look back on a great career

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Tomoka Nakagawa and Aja Kong after Nakagawa’s penultimate match.

Although she was nearly a six year veteran at the time, Tomoka Nakagawa’s Shimmer debut on Volume 29 (in April 2010) was the first exposure I had to her work. Joining Nakagawa in the first appearance of joshi talent in Shimmer were Ayumi Kurihara, Misaki Ohata, and Hiroyo Matsumoto. She was impressive in a losing effort against Kurihara in her debut, and stood out a bit extra due to being the only heel of the four.

Nakagawa would become a familiar and important cornerstone in Shimmer, missing only one weekend of tapings from her debut until her retirement. The first three years continued to feature her heel persona, with her general mannerisms and penchant for spitting water in her opponent’s eyes antagonizing the crowd at every opportunity. It was highlighted by a short tag-title reign with partner Daizee Haze in 2011.

On April 6, 2013 Shimmer came to New Jersey during Wrestlemania weekend for Volume 53. It was my first live Shimmer show, and first opportunity to see Nakagawa (and many others) in person. Even more luckily for me, something that would prove very important happened at the last show of the previous tapings: Tomoka Nakagawa and Kellie Skater formed a tag-team, the Global Green Gangsters (3G).

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3G t-shirt by ShuperCousin Designs and signed by Nakagawa and Skater.

Skater was recently “reformed” and constantly trying to show her new partner that they didn’t need to resort to cheating to win. The dynamic was incredible and 3G immediately had the crowd on board cheering for Nakagawa to “change her ways.” The four way tag-title match from Volume 53 only gave a glimpse of what they were capable of, but the end made it clear we’d be seeing more of 3G in the title picture. One week later 3G would win the titles at the end of the tapings in a wild no-DQ match against cowardly reigning champions the Canadian Ninjas.

I attended my first set of Shimmer tapings in Berwyn the following spring, and the love for 3G as conquering heroes was off the charts. Their struggle, along with Skater and Nakagawa’s fantastic chemistry and charisma, made them two of the most beloved wrestlers on the roster, and their matches were generally highlights of every card. The support for Nakagawa was particularly apparent during her singles match against Saraya Knight on Volume 63, where the crowd’s cheers for her were deafening.  Another amazing live experience was the end of the fall 2014 tapings, featuring 3G, Madison Eagles and Jessica Havok against the Canadian Ninjas and the Kimber Bombs in a no-DQ, no-countout war that spilled through the crowd and all over the venue.

Nakagawa announced her retirement in late 2014, and wrestled her final match in Japan on December 4, 2014. Given the success she enjoyed abroad and what Shimmer meant to her, she chose to do one last US tour and have the last matches of her career in Berwyn the following April.

Being there live was an honor I can’t properly describe. From the surprise appearances of Aja Kong and Dynamite Kansai to Dave Prazak handling the introductions for one last 3G vs Canadian Ninjas match to the closing retirement celebration the weekend was a bittersweet roller coaster ride of emotions and excitement.

On June 7 at an Oz Academy show in Tokyo Tomoka Nakagawa received a ten bell salute, official ending her ten year wrestling career.

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Thanks for the incredible matches and all those years spent entertaining us. Best of luck in your retirement. You will be missed.

Categories
Film Japan

Japan Cuts 2015 Retrospective part 3

Earlier this week I shared thoughts on the 6 movies I saw during Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2015. For this last entry about the festival I’m focusing on the other event I attended: the Experimental Spotlight.

Mono No Aware x [+]

This event was interesting in that in some sense it began several weeks before the festival started. On June 21 Mono No Aware and the Japan Society presented a workshop in which 20 participants created (very) short films using direct filmmaking techniques to manipulate 16mm “found footage” of documentaries about Japan. The films produced in this workshop opened the program, and were interesting in their variety and approaches despite using the same techniques, and in showing what can be done in such a short period of time.

The remainder of the program was even more fascinating in its diversity. RELAY presented an incredibly unique moving image view of an even more unique subject in the form of artist Ei Wada playing music on repurposed television sets. The imaginative Koropokkuru used puppetry and other techniques to convey Japanese folklore through manipulation of inanimate objects. Emblem manipulated the conversion of video to film to create a narrative out out of research footage. Louis Armstrong Obon played with pacing and atmosphere rather than visuals or technique, presenting almost a documentary style feature with great atmosphere and impact. sound of a million insects, light of a thousand stars was mesmerizing to watch, and became even more intriguing when the method behind the film was revealed at the end.

Varying manipulations of light were featured in the remaining 3 films. Stella Nova conveyed the life of a star through constant colorful manipulations and explosions, Emaki/Light was a dance of abstract black and white images produced by direct drawing on film pairing with harsh sporadic piano notes, and UB HOUSE Experience in Material No.52 was a brilliant and creepy presentation of moving shadows and bursts of light.

While I’ll admit some of the pieces seemed longer than they needed to be, everything was interesting and at least in some part captivating. The contrast of all the chosen shorts and topics covered really made this shine. This spotlight is a welcome addition to Japan Cuts and I hope we’ll see more of it next year.

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And that concludes my experience at Japan Cuts 2015. I had a wonderful time and hope to attend even more of it next year. I encourage anyone who’s even remotely interested to check it out in 2016 as well as the other events Japan Society’s Film Program has in between.

Categories
Film Japan

Japan Cuts 2015 Retrospective part 2

Yesterday I shared thoughts on 3 of the movies I saw during Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2015: Makeup Room, Strayer’s Chronicle, and 100 Yen Love. Here’s a look at the other 3.

The Voice of Water

This movie has haunted me for days and I still don’t know quite what I think of it. A charismatic charlatan acting as head priestess of a manufactured, business-like cult starts to crack from the pressure of continued success, and things get worse from there despite her attempts to be more genuine. The carefully constructed plot progression and pacing build tension and an increasingly desperate atmosphere masterfully, but I found some of the story choices unsettling beyond what I think was needed. There’s a lot to process in every layer of the movie: the characters’ actions and their results, the motivations behind those actions, and the thematic statements and criticisms the story is making about society. Strong performances from the central cast and key supporting characters keep it all anchored. I can’t say for certain I liked it, but The Voice of Water is a powerful film that’s well worth watching for all it has to say, whether you end up agreeing or not.

The Light Shines Only There

This was my second favorite film in a festival packed with fantastic movies (just a tiny bit behind Makeup Room). It’s a love story about two thoroughly broken people reeling from unfortunate and disturbing events out of their control. All of the characters are struggling with some sort of personal demons, with varying levels of success. It’s the pitch perfect performances of everyone in the cast that keeps it all relatable and engrossing. Themes and events get quite dark and are hard to watch in parts, but it all fit the story and nothing felt out of place or gratuitous (no matter how much I wanted to yell at the screen sometimes). A unique, phenomenal film overall.

Sanchu Uprising: Voices at Dawn

The closing film of this year’s festival had been highly recommended to me, but I didn’t really know anything about it going into the screening. It centers on a farmer uprising in 1726 in the face of impossible taxes. It turns into the bloodiest such uprising in history. But the focus of the movie is more on the pressure and difficult choices of the individuals caught up in the uprising, particularly a coward who isn’t sure it’s worth the risk. Besides the interesting choice of scope and subject within the premise, Sanchu Uprising distinguishes itself with several stylistic choices unusual for its genre, including jazz touches to the soundtrack and an animated sequence.

It’s an interesting movie and while I had some doubts along the way I think it came together extremely well by the end. It wasn’t an unanimous opinion though, as several audience members had rather pointed (but valid) questions for the director during the q&a after the film about his choices. The director was thoughtful with his answers and open to criticism, which made the discussion fascinating. A perfect way to end the festival.

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So this completes my thoughts on the 6 films I saw during Japan Cuts. I will have one more blog entry on the festival, covering the other event I attended – the Experimental Shorts Showcase.

Categories
Film Japan

Japan Cuts 2015 Retrospective part 1

Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2015 ran from July 9th to July 19th. It featured a wide variety of engrossing movies and was a great event overall. I attended 7 of the 29 showings, including US premiers and spotlight screenings with directors, actresses, etc as special guests to introduce their movies and participate in q&as afterwards.

Here’s a look at a few of them.

Makeup Room

An amazingly funny low budget movie about the making of a low budget movie. Set entirely in a single room, the makeup room for a porn shoot, Kei Morikawa’s minimalist endeavor takes full advantage of his experience in the industry, actual adult video actresses, and a brilliant performance from non-AV actress Aki Morita as the makeup artist to create a unique comedy with touches of authenticity and drama. The sex is always just off-screen, but the consequences of each scene bounce hilariously back to the room we’re stuck in. It’s a close call, but this was my favorite of the festival.

Strayer’s Chronicle

One of the few films this year to venture into science fiction, Strayer’s Chronicle features two groups of young adults who were experimented on as children resulting in special powers with dangerous side-effects. The premise itself isn’t terribly original, but I found the execution refreshingly different. This was not the full blown action movie a lot of the audience seemed to expect, and opinions seemed very mixed as the theater emptied. However I enjoyed it for what it was and found the foreboding atmosphere, conflicted characters and moral questions raised made up for the plot not being as tight as it could have been. This was another win for me.

100 Yen Love

Sakura Ando received the festival’s Cut Above Award for Outstanding Performance in Film directly before this screening, and it’s easy to see why. Her startling yet logical transformation from unmotivated slob to driven boxer was amazing to watch and 100% believable. There were small pieces of the plot that bothered me, but overall the movie worked wonderfully and Ando’s powerful performance more than compensated for any small missteps. The q&a after the movie with Ando was both informative and fun, as she was clearly excited to be there and her energy was contagious.

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I’ll continue with the rest of the films I saw later this week.

Categories
Food Japan Mystery Boxes Reviews

Japan Crate: July 2015

The mystery box phenomenon is in full swing, and one of the most intriguing ones I’ve heard of is Japan Crate, packed with an assortment of candy and snacks from Japan. I decided to try their “Premium” crate, and my first delivery was the July 2015 edition.

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As advertised, the crate is certainly packed with unique and varied edibles from Japan. It also includes a mini-manga that explains what each item is and has instructions for the DIY kit (both EXTREMELY useful) as well as some additional context, pictures and promotion. Cute and helpful.

July’s crate came with 12 items. I haven’t done the DIY kit, so here’s a look at the other 11:

The Excellent

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The big difference between the Original and Premium crates is the inclusion of a drink and a bonus item. This month had a “Kid’s Beer” (apple soda) and Corn Potage Chips. The drink was perhaps the most normal item in the box, and tasted as expected for apple soda. The “chips” were akin to cheese puffs in texture and actually did taste like corn soup, which still kind of boggles my mind. The other Premium exclusives were a cola-flavored taffy called Kajiri Chew and some extremely Sour Lemon Gum. These were all among my favorites in the box, so the $5 upgrade from Original was well worth it.

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The other things that wowed me were Choco Bar Z Kinako and Potekoro Cubes. The description said the Choco Bar Z was back by popular demand, and I can see why. It’s a wafer bar infused with chocolate flavor and tasted divine. Best of the box. The Potekoro Cubes are a savory snack flavored with black pepper. Like the corn soup puffs, I was beyond skeptical when trying these. I was wrong – they were surprisingly fantastic.

The Decent

Maken Gummy is a firm gummy candy shaped like rock, paper, or scissors. Fairly generic. Lifeguard Paste is a semi-liquid sticky candy apparently based on a soda. Tasted like mountain dew to me and the texture took getting used to. Chameleon Candy are standard hard candies that change color. The one with the red interior is supposed to be good luck.

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The Meh

I think I’m discovering that Japanese jelly candies aren’t for me. The Chu Grape Jelly and Adzuki Mizu Yokan (red bean snack with a gel texture) weren’t bad in quality, but neither taste nor texture were to my liking in either.

Conclusion

I didn’t like everything here, but the quality of the things I did and the overall variety gave me my money’s worth. And even the things I didn’t care for were interesting to try. Going to call this month’s Japan Crate a success and am looking forward to the next one.