Thursday, December 09, 2004

A beautiful and a sad day

Yesterday was a gorgeous day weather-wise. Sunny and bright, crisp and cool without being too cold. I love weather like we had yesterday. Unfortunately I couldn't really enjoy it. I had to do something in Japan yesterday that I've never had to do before - I had to attend a funeral and mourn the passing of a friend.

I wasn't planning on reprinting my monthly column that I write for the Shimane JET publication "The Black Taxi." But I'll reprint this one since the end few paragraphs detail the events of yesterday and I can't muster the emotional energy to write about it again.

There have been funerals for people I care about, but they've always taken place in England, as every relative I have is English. So I've never attended any of those - my Mom or Dad would go instead. And everyone close to me in America is still alive, so I've been lucky. I don't even own a black suit, which was the cause of some concern Tuesday, as Japanese men dress for funerals in black pants, black shoes, black tie, white shirt and black jacket. I was able to borrow a jacket, so that part was taken care of. The Japanese also give a gift of money in a specially designed envelope featuring intertwined black and white coarse ribbons, but my supervisor helped me out with this detail as well. I had to memorize a short saying in Japanese to say instead of the Japanese for sorry ("gomen nasai"), which they don't say at funerals. It was a somber and sad occasion that really did little for me to abate the shock of the unexpected loss, but a sure sign that life will go on was the behavior of the 9th grade class of students I walked to the ceremony with. They were quiet and sad, but not morose and we chatted a little as we walked, and that cheered me up somewhat.

So please read to the end of the following column for the details. Sorry that the paragraphs preceeding the funeral details are rather frivolous and innocuous - I'm usually a happy-go-lucky kind of guy but this week has been cause for pause and reflection.

Be well.



The Hitchhiker’s Guide...

Birth and death. It’s a never ending cycle and so it goes that this month I have news of another big-deal celebrity birth and, unfortunately, news of another passing to tell you about.

First up, actress and star of two holiday films hitting U.S. theaters this month (“Closer” & “Ocean’s 12”), Julia Roberts, gave birth to twins on Sunday, November 28th. Roberts, who is married to cinematographer Daniel Moder, delivered Hazel Patricia Moder and Phinnaeus Walter Moder at a hospital in Southern California. Roberts, 37, has been married to Moder for two years after high profile relationships with Keifer Sutherland and Benjamin Bratt and a marriage to Lyle Lovett, that did not produce children. OK - Hazel is a pretty decent name, but “Phinnaeus”? And “Walter” as a backup? To paraphrase “The Sure Thing,” whatever happened to simple and direct names like Nick? Nick’s your buddy, Nick’s your pal. This trend in funky names for celebrity offspring isn’t a recent phenomenon, but it certainly seems to have been embraced by modern movie stars looking to forever saddle their kids with clunky and taunt-inducing sobriquets.

In movie news, there are a bunch of good ones and much-anticipated ones coming out this holiday season, but we won’t be seeing any of them until the new year in Japan. So if you’re heading home and see some good flicks over the holidays, post on the BT web site or send me an e-mail and let me know what was worth checking out and what to avoid. I’ll be staying in Japan for the holidays, so no new movies for me, although I did make it out to the amazing Movix complex in Yonago the other night to see Pixar’s latest offering, “The Incredibles.” I’ll be trite and simply say it was indeed incredible. Another great animated film from Pixar (“Finding Nemo”) and the director responsible for 1999’s underrated “The Iron Giant.”

In DVD news I have more anniversary special editions to comment on. Two more terrible names to add to the list of all-time bad monikers would be Ren and Ariel. If you’re an 80s movie fan then you know that those two names belong to the lead characters in “Footloose” - a film celebrating its 20-year anniversary with a special edition DVD. “Footloose” was huge hit in my Texas town when it came out in 1984 and the soundtrack was everywhere. It’s total cheese, but enjoyable cheese. And Kevin Bacon, as witnessed on a recent “Will & Grace” where, playing himself, he dances to the title track with Will, obviously has a healthy sense of humor about the film that made him a star. Bacon provides a commentary track on this DVD, which also features an interesting documentary about the making of the film and includes contemporary interviews with many of the stars of the film. Another of my favorite films enjoying an anniversary this year is the delightful family film, “Mary Poppins.” Dick Van Dyke’s dodgy cockney accent aside, this Disney classic from 1964 is still an entertaining and funny and thoughtful film that gets the special treatment it deserves in this two-disc edition. Many Disney fans consider “Mary Poppins” to be Walt’s crowning achievement and it was the only one of his features to be nominated for a best picture Academy Award until Beauty and the Beast in 1991.
The big release on DVD this week is the expanded, 4-disc Platinum edition of the concluding chapter in the LOTR trilogy, “The Return of the King.” If you have the other two Platinum extended versions of “Fellowship of the Ring” and “The Two Towers” then this is a must buy. The amazing amount of detail and care that went into these superlative DVD editions has set the bar for future special version DVDs of epic films like the LOTR films.

Another DVD that was just released to coincide with an anniversary is the first official release of the Live Aid concert from July of 1985. It’s the 20th anniversary of the release of the first Band Aid charity single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” which topped the charts in December of 1984 and raised money for victims of the famine in Ethiopia. A new crop of British pop stars has just released a remake of the 1984 chart-topper and it debuted at the top of the U.K. singles chart last week. Although the Band Aid 20 track came nowhere near the first-week sales of its 1984 predecessor, it sold 292,000 copies, including two purchased by Prime Minister Tony Blair at an HMV store in Edinburgh on Friday. The original Bob Geldof-led single sold nearly 800,000 in its first week and went on to sell a reported 3 million copies in the United Kingdom alone. The project led to the global fundraising phenomenon Live Aid the following year.
The 2004 version features Paul McCartney. Coldplay's Chris Martin, Travis' Fran Healy, the Darkness, Keane, Robbie Williams, Dido, Snow Patrol and Natasha Bedingfield, among others. U2 singer Bono, who was a member of the 1984 Band Aid chorus, also participates in the new recording. Like the original, proceeds will provide aid for Africa, particularly Sudan's Darfur region.
The DVD of the Live Aid concert is a four-disc package that offers 10 hours of footage from the two simultaneous concerts that took place in Wembley and Philadelphia on July 13, 1985. Even though I know many of my fellow JETs were too young to remember that historic day, I vividly recall where I was that day - at work at a summer job at a toy store in a mall in Dallas. I annoyed my boss by running into the back room every few minutes to listen to the radio simulcast. I didn’t have MTV at the time, which was the only station showing the entire concert, so after I got home from work I had to settle for the ABC broadcast, which showed highlights of the first part of the concert and then showed the last three hours live. Many of my heroes performed that day and two of my favorite bands, U2 and Queen, turned in triumphant sets. Curiously absent from the concert, considering how big they were in 1985, were Prince, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen. The simultaneous Wembley/Philadelphia broadcast lasted 16 hours. The 4-disc DVD set is 10 hours, plus extras. They’ve cut out some of the backstage stuff and a few of the songs too. Extras include the documentary “Food and Trucks and Rock N Roll,” which features the original Michael Buerk news report that stirred Geldof into action and charts the genesis of Band Aid, Live Aid and how the money raised helped alleviate, if not eradicate, the suffering.

No room this month to talk books, but I’ll be back next month with reviews of the new Greg Rucka thriller and Garth Ennis’ run on the Vertigo comic “Hellblazer.”

Finally, I yet again have to end the Guide this month on a somber note. I’ve experienced many firsts since moving to Japan this year, but today, Wednesay, December 8th, I had to experience something I never imagined I would have to take part in - a Japanese funeral. On Monday morning, one of my JTEs at Taisha Jr. High was found dead at his home. Turns out he had a hemorrhage in his brain and died in his sleep on Friday night after school. Ishitobi sensei was my only male JTE and the kendo coach at Taisha Chu, my base school. We had become friends in the short 4 months I’ve been here and we enjoyed nights out drinking and singing karaoke with the kendo parents. He had a great singing voice and often entertained us with his deep-bass renditions of traditional Japanese songs. His English was really good, so I relied on him at school to help me understand what was going on from day-to-day. He was my liaison to all the teachers at my 5 elementary schools and he was the one who urged me to join the kendo team and take part in some unique aspect of Japanese culture. Ishitobi sensei was 48 and a bachelor, so much of his free time was devoted to the kids at Taisha Chuugakkoo. It might seem odd that I feel such loss for a person who I’ve only known for such a short period of time; heck, I didn’t even know his first name until today. But Ishitobi sensei had become my mentor, and I will miss his easy laugh and his enthusiasm for our classes and his stern but fair teaching presence. At the funeral today, which took place in a building located on the grounds of IzumoTaisha shrine, I understood little of the speeches or ceremony, and it occurred to me as I walked back to school that it would have been Ishitobi sensei that I would have asked to explain what I’d witnessed. More than just a mentor, Ishitobi-san was my friend, and I will miss him.

OK - so that wraps up another edition of the Hitchhiker’s Guide. I’d like to extend my warmest holiday wishes to all the Shimane JETs. Please be safe if you’re traveling this holiday season and I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year. Take a moment to tell the ones you love how much they mean to you.



K said...

Holy crap!! That is so sad. I feel really bad for you and your school. What a shock. Wow, I really don't even know what to say..

Emily Watkins said...

Your JTE?!
Jason... I'm so sorry.

Anonymous said...

Jason, my name is Ken Witton (Shimane JET 94-97)teaching in Shimane 92-94 another program. I too knew Ishitobi(Tobi as he liked to be called)sinsei and he was my dear friend. We worked together for over 6 years, he got me into Kendo, took my parents arround when I was married in Japan (Taisha), and he and his daughter came to America and stayed with us. Between Karaoke (Mary-Jane on my mind, his favorite), Kendo, fishing, drinking, speech contests buying things for his lizards we became very good friends. Jason I'm happy you got to know this man and that he became your friend too.I know that all who got to know him will always remember him as a good friend, wonderful teacher and loving father. RIP Tobi.

Jason H. said...

Ken - thank you for your comments. It's good to know that other people know about how cool Tobi was. Wish I could have known him more.