Moonstruck on Easter

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Happy Easter from Japan!  Things have been quite hectic here (as always), but we managed to get in Easter Dinner with a few friends.  And what Easter could truly be complete without a good dose of none other than Cher and Nicholas Cage?

I am most definitely NOT a lover of romantic comedies.  I love horror (NOT gore!), thriller, or dramas.  Romantic comedies rank pretty low on the list of movies I usually want to see, but Moonstruck is, without doubt, one of my favorite movies.  It won three Academy Awards in 1987, with Cher winning best actress.  I had never seen the movie until last year, but had heard that it had taken a few awards.

The plot is not overly-complicated.  It is not a grandiose piece.  It is a portrayal of an Italian-American family living in Brooklyn.  The first time I watched the movie, I was not completely moved.  It took me a second time to really begin to take things in; the beauty in this movie lies in its subtleties.  The basic story is as follows: Cher is a 37-year old widow named Loretta Castorini living with her parents in their Brooklyn townhouse.  Her father is a plumber and makes good money.  Loretta is proposed to by a respectable, albeit spineless, gentleman by the name of Johnny Cammareri.  Loretta isn’t head over heels for Johnny, but he is a respectable man with a job.  He says his mother (in Palermo, Italy) is dying, and he must tend to her before he can fully commit to Loretta and their relationship.  He also asks her to invite his brother, Ronnie, to their wedding.  Loretta agrees and telephones the bakery where Ronnie works.  She goes and finds that Ronnie is eccentric with a few screws loose; years earlier he was talking to his brother and became distracted while slicing bread, his hand subsequently getting sliced off.  He says his fiance at the time left him because he was then maimed, and he fully blames Johnny for the pain he incurred in his life afterward.  I would venture to say that the scene in the bakery is undoubtedly Nicholas Cage at the height of playing Nicholas Cage–it is absolutely fantastic.  It is so over-the-top, but it’s absolutely perfect!  

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Loretta and Ronnie end up creating this passionate connection and the rest of the movie deals with the relationships among the different characters.  Loretta’s mother finds out her husband, Cosmo, is having an affair and proceeds to ask various men throughout the film, “Why do men chase women?”  Johnny gives her the answer she seeks, “Because they fear death.”  Again, this film is not monumental in its cinematography or by way of some epic story; it is a simple portrayal of human beings, but it is done so well that it forces you to go back and take a second, third look.  It’s a love story about people who find love in each other’s imperfections, and acceptance of those imperfections.  Ronnie says to Loretta after they go to the opera:

Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is,
and I didnt know this either, but love dont make things nice – it
ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We
arent here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The
stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves
and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.

Oh yeah, and it’s got a bit of opera in it too (and may be a modern-day opera of sorts).  You will definitely get a good laugh out of this one.  My personal favorite line is when Nicholas Cage picks up Cher and just screams, “SONOFABITCH!”  Definitely recommend Moonstruck for anyone looking for some laughs and a good story!

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Kamakura Again and Return to Shizuoka

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These past two weeks have been quite busy at work, but definitely not busy enough to stop us from enjoying the good weather and traveling a bit.  To catch up, last weekend we traveled to Kita-Kamakura to visit some famous Zen sites.  We started the day at Engaku-ji, one of the most important Zen Buddhist complexes in Japan, and ranked 2nd among Kamakura’s “Five Mountains,” or state-sponsored Zen complexes.

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This temple was founded in 1282 by a Zen priest at the request of the Regent Tokimune Hojo.  It was built to honor those killed in battles against the Mongolian Invasion between 1274 and 1281, obviously as well as to spread Zen thought.  There are 18 temples on the complex, and it is home to 2 national treasures: the Shari-den (the Reliquary Hall built in the sixteenth century Chinese style, said to house the tooth of Buddha), and the Great Bell (said to be the largest in Kamakura).  You can read more about Engaku-ji here.

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After walking around Engaku-ji we made our way over to Tokei-ji, founded in 1285 by the wife of Hojo Tokimune, who then became a nun after his death.  In memory of her husband’s death, she opened the temple, also making it a place for battered women to take refuge.  If a women stayed at Tokei-ji for 3 years, the state recognized her as officially divorced.  It is estimated that 2000 women took refuge there.

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This weekend I visited my favorite place in Japan: Shizuoka.  A few weeks ago my friend S. came up from Shizuoka to visit me.  We were classmates in Shizuoka Johoku Girls High School (now co-ed).  We met up with a few of our other friends and went to Muse Cafe, which is full of stuffed pandas, chandeliers, and American pop music playing in the background.  For 3000 yen per person you can do free time, with quite a good deal of food and unlimited drinks.  The only caveat: sorry, gentlemen, men are not allowed to enter.  I’m not completely sure why; I think it’s to provide women with an atmosphere to chat and eat together in without the noisiness of men.  In Japan, genders are more segregated than in the United States, so it isn’t that unusual.

Quite a few of our classmates are getting married; we made a video for our friend, wishing her luck and happiness.  Mostly everyone is busy working, buying apartments, and the like.  Some of our teachers are still at Johoku; we reminisced about our English teacher’s class, having to memorize idioms (they memorized the English, I memorized the Japanese).  Everyone seems to be doing well, and it was lovely being able to see them all.  I love Shizuoka City, too, walking down all the old familiar streets I used to ride my bicycle to school on.  Things have changed but somehow still remain the same.

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The Secret is Conviction

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I wrote a post awhile back on the way we attract things to ourselves; not only people but jobs, money, etc.  On success in general, a few things stick out from my childhood in particular.  One was a saying my grandfather used on me quite often:

“You can’t just WISH to play the piano well; you have to spend the time practicing every day.”

The other is a line from the book, Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, which is a novel about two sisters who mirror the relationship between Jacob and Esau.  Caroline is beautiful and talented while Sara Louise is awkward and unsure of her place in the world.  When a family friend leaves a large sum of money to Caroline instead of Sara Louise (who was under the impression that she would inherit said money), the gentleman says:

”Your sister knew what she wanted,” said the Captain, ”so when the chance came she could take it. Do not tell me no one ever gave you a chance, Sara Louise. You can make your own chances. But first you have to know what you are after, my dear.”

I have not read Rhonda Byrne’s book, The Secret, because I’m on the fence with regard to her intentions in publishing it.  I think the “law of attraction” is nonsense; the universe is composed of a series of random occurrences and trying to make up silly ideas like that kind of puts me off; there really is no secret behind what she’s talking about.  When people REALLY want something they go after it, and that goes for a type of career, all types of relationships with people, etc.  Success without or with just limited connections is achieved through sheer will, discipline, and desire.  It goes back to the piano saying; it’s not just enough to “wish” to play it well, in order to do so a good deal of time must be invested in practice.  And with regard to people, a relationship (family, friendship, romantic) is only as solid as what both parties invest; it is up to us to determine what we want to put in and get out of a relationship.

I think the reason I have been relatively successful so far in my life is because I live with the conviction that I’m working toward a specific end goal, and I fully believe that I can make a difference with regard to that goal.  I’ve had a vision of what I’ve wanted to do with my life for about 10 years now, and while I don’t believe in any magical abilities we have to make things suddenly happen because we “thought about them,” I DO believe that a driving vision is a fully rational way of paving the way for personal success.

This is not my Story.

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Photo: from CNN.com

Today is March 11th, 2013.  Two years ago I was granted a job in Japan.  My career in diplomacy was beginning to blossom by the promising connections I was making, and the points in my life that had brought me to that place were beginning to align like ducks in a row.  And then one early morning as I readied to board a flight to Seoul, I saw pictures of Yokohama on fire and one of my Japanese friends had written on facebook, “My grandmother’s house was wrecked from the waves of the tsunami.  I can’t stop crying.”  Suddenly we were all in limbo; I frantically tried to contact all my friends and family in Japan.  Most of them live in the central portion of the island and some live even further South, so they had been spared.  The earthquake had been strongest in the Northeast; and consequently the tsunami as well.  One of my good friends who had gone on the same exchange program as I in high school was living and working up North and had not fared so well; her town was devastated by the disaster.  Months later after I had arrived, we sat in a cafe in Shibuya and she recounted her story to me, and it seemed incredible, with so much death and destruction, no heat, no water, no electricity.  She was contacted by various press sources looking for a “Story of an American girl living through the destruction,” and she said it was kind of disgusting, how they were trying to sell it on some angle.  She said, “I lived through it just like everyone else did.  I’m not special.  I was getting by just like all the rest.”  

The Great East Japanese Earthquake both is and is not my story.  I was not here, I did not live through the death and destruction like my friend, or like my Japanese friends and family.  I was in a 5-star hotel overlooking the city lights of Seoul on spring break with my college choir.  I don’t claim it as my own, but is it possible to be so removed and so attached at once?  Suddenly everything changed in a time span of 2 minutes or so.  Suddenly the world took on a new shade of colors and a new sensation of unease; and I can’t get Murakami’s words out of my mind:

“And after you do something like that, the everyday look of things might seem to change a little.          Things may look different to you than they did before.”

I was in Lisbon just months earlier listening to Fado music floating in and out of the alleyways of the Bairro Alto and I sat with a young officer who flew helicopters and I dreamed of this life that I had carved for myself up until that point.  Somehow Portugal and Japan were intertwined and there was an illusion I had and at 3 A.M. on March 11th, 2011 it shattered  completely.  I don’t know how to explain it; I don’t know how it all fits together, but it was there and then it was changed.  I don’t claim any of it as my own, only that I knew of it somehow and in a distant way it was connected to me, I suppose in the same way that an observer of a crime is both tied and separated from the events simultaneously.

We sat in the tea room at school and I remember we were having a luncheon; my mentor was sitting with us and I remember her saying, “I wouldn’t be surprised if things are completely changed by this.  The manner in which we do business over there is going to change.  It’s going to be unprecedented.”

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1Q84

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I finally bought 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.  When I was younger, I swore off existentialism of any sort.  I was vehemently opposed to it (probably because I had no idea what it even was, at that time I just automatically associated it with Nietzsche, who I assumed was just an overinflated pessimist).  Now, not only do I find myself reading books of that genre, but also writing in that genre.  I think some of the ideas that make up existentialism are just understandings that we reach with the passage of time.  The meanings that we assign things are arbitrary; we have been conditioned to believe that there are patterns or things happen for a reason, when in reality, things just happen.  What we know as “reality” is subjective and we live through what we know (Matrix, anyone?).

1Q84 is Murakami’s modern take on George Orwell’s 1984  (in Japanese, “9” is pronounced the way English speakers say “Q”).  It is a sweeping work with numerous themes; one in particular which interests me.  One of the major characters starts noticing small, subtle changes in the world around her and the question is raised: What is reality?  I remember coming home one afternoon walking up my driveway and seeing my neighbors front porch; it was exactly as it had been, except all the furniture had been shifted to the opposite side.  When I saw this reflected in 1Q84, it was strangely comforting to know that others have thought of this possible “other reality.”  This story is also about connections we make in life; sometimes small and fleeting but strong enough to tie us to something in some way or another.

As I continue reading, I will write a more in-depth review.  Happy reading!