Jul 27

JQ Magazine: Four Cups of Sake, ‘Three☆Points,’ Two Beers, and One Night with Sora Aoi

Sora Aoi at New York's Japan Society for the ‘Three☆Points’ premiere, July 15, 2011. (Justin Tedaldi)


By Rick Ambrosio (Ibaraki-ken, 2006-08) for JQ magazine. Rick manages the JET Alumni Association of New York (JETAANY)’s Twitter page and is the creator of the JETwit column Tadaima!

So I’m here to give you my ThreePoints review. I’m sure you’ll find it somewhere down there. I mean I could just write you about the movie. but that would be unfair, it would be out of context, it would be devoid of what makes this process fun. You see, New York’s Japan Society once again pulled out all the stops for their JAPAN CUTS film festival, and tonight was its apex; the American Premiere of ThreePoints, with a Q&A from actress Sora Aoi and director Blah Blah something Japanese. Not to mention an after party with a DJ, food, and all the beer you can drink. Reviewing things has its perks. If for some reason you don’t know who Sora Aoi is, please, by all means, look her up, Google her. Try doing it at work, under unfiltered pictures. Have your boss and co-workers gather around.  It’ll be totally appropriate.

But anyways, there I am at Megu, the uber-fancy restaurant in the Trump World Tower next door to Japan Society. It was Restaurant Week in NYC, so two friends of mine and my girlfriend accompanied me there for a pre-show meal. Little did I know the dinner would be so light on “meal” and heavy on sake-tasting. It was supposed to only be three sakes but they messed up and gave us four. Not so much a problem, but at a place where a single person can easily drop $200 on a meal, going for Restaurant Week and only paying $35 a person results in a curtailed dining experience, no matter how delicious.

So after demolishing a breaded asparagus, a smattering of fresh sushi and a fantastic green tea crepe, I stumbled over to Japan Society ready for my date with destiny. Of course, that would need a moment, since four sakes meant I needed to use the men’s room. The line was out the door, though. People had come out en masse to see Ms. Aoi. I waved to a couple of the volunteers I knew as I jogged down the stairs towards the bathroom. My girlfriend was along for the fun as well, and she darted into the women’s room.

On exiting I lingered, waiting for my girlfriend. I watched where the serpentine line ended; at the opening to the 300-plus seat, meticulously clean theater in Japan Society. I knew both the ticket takers. I debated in my head as to if I should attempt to cut all the eager people in line with a high five to score good seats and impress my girlfriend. My “don’t be a douche” motto rendered this plan a bad idea, and instead just patiently, drunkenly waited for the poor girl who got stuck dating me.

Of course, this is when I met HIM. HE was about twice as wide as I was, and double as deep too. This moving, African American mountain in a suit (obviously custom, since the back panel was adjusted to fit his massive frame) stood next to me, across from the women’s room, near the stage entrance to the theater. The door he was near is where the talent enters the stage for introductions. Instantly, this guy smelt of security. Feeling bold from my realization of this and possibly alcohol, I decided it would be fun to talk him up.

“Waiting for your girlfriend, too?” I said as I nodded towards the women’s room. HE turned towards me, and let out a relaxed chuckle.

“Nah, man, girlfriends? Not anymore, no way, too much trouble.” We both laughed a bit at this, and started to make small talk on the randomness that is dating, all the while in my mind calculating as to whether HE was waiting for Sora to come out of the bathroom or if she was on stage already. I drunkenly debated what my chances were of Sora somehow bumping into my girlfriend in the bathroom. I then tried to calculate the odds of them deciding to make out. I felt sort of like the guy who has to do the math on as to whether there could be life on other planets. In the end there was a lot of numbers being crunched, but the results were very, very small. It didn’t matter much, though, because the next ten seconds would be full of interesting action.

First off, what I didn’t know. There was a door behind me, where people who work at Japan Society could enter to access the stage without having to walk through the entire bottom floor lobby. At the time, the film’s director and Sora Aoi where using that door to access the stage. I didn’t see this; I was busy watching my girlfriend exit the bathroom saying, “Ready!”  It was then that HE swung into action. From affable to professional in a second, HE extended his arm (easily the size of my leg) and politely but firmly moved me aside while Ms. Aoi and company entered the theater. So I saw my girlfriend, then a giant arm, then as I spun around, some guy (the director I assumed) and the walking sex goddess herself. She was in black, and had a peacock-looking thing coming out of her head. Before I could work out why women prefer feathers of a male bird on their head, I was being pulled by my girlfriend back up the stairs to get in line with our friends. I gave HIM a smiling nod, waved to the ticket holders I would be seeing eventually, and went upstairs.

We were quite lucky when we got into the theater. There was a row of seats at the back that could fit all four of us. This, you see, is where you need experience at Japan Society events to really fully understand why this is a boon. The amateurs post up as close as they can to the front so they can either get a decent picture of Sora with their camera phones or to, I dunno, hope she breathes on them? Hurt their neck once the movie starts? Sure. The smart ones? You post to the back. Once the movie and Q&A are over, the next stop is the after party; free beer and food. Which doors are closest to that action? You got it, the ones in the back to the right. Remember that one at your next Japan Society Film event; you’ll see me up there if there’s an after party.

So the theater swells and the JAPAN CUTS trailer runs. Expertly done, and made me wish I had caught more of the movies during the festival. Then it begins, ThreePoints. Then it kinda ends. Nope, wait—it’s still going. Ends? Wait, no, okay, it’s starting again. Then, later, yeah, it really ends.

Confused? So was I. You see, ThreePoints takes you on three trips; one to Kyoto’s beat-dropping hip-hop culture, another to Okinawa’s conflicted community, and finally, to Tokyo for a nice sexy story about crazy people. To be honest, I was sort of expecting a story with interchanging characters set in different places interwoven into a plot that struck a uniting cord that is humanity. I was way off. Instead I feel like I was shown the director’s (fine, his name is Masashi Yamamoto) half-baked ideas in varying stages of completion. As if right before things started to coalesce, it was on to the next one.

The Kyoto arc was interesting. We open with a drug-using rapper chasing what feels like former glory. With the addition of some idiot friends and an annoying girlfriend, he digs himself in deeper and deeper in a web of drug-related entrapment. In all honesty, I was pretty into it. I have always been fascinated by Japan’s hip-hop culture, and this was an interesting take on it. But just as it was getting cool, just as I started cheering for our rapping antihero, we switched gears to Okinawa.

Here we find a very different “Point.”  This was a documentary (or mockumentary, depending on how you view it) of the way some Okinawans live and coexist with the American G.I.s stationed there. This felt like a home movie that randomly turned serious. Yamamoto starts to deconstruct the history and relationship between the people, the strains and the ways they’ve worked around it. It’s obvious he’s building a house against the American military, as each G.I. is used as a careless brick and the disgruntled Okinawans interviewed make for a good mortar. But there is something here—it starts to creep on you when watching the old man’s interview outside an izakaya. It’s starting to make sense; the bricks and mortar start to set and he’s building something. Granted, it’s a one way story, but you start to feel the co-dependency that both have for one another on the island, you start to get the confusion, the anger, you start to think that maybe there is something we can….oh wait, sorry, next movie.

Yep, just when you think you’re getting somewhere, it’s on to the next Point.

This of course, is the one we’ve all been waiting for; Saki (Sora Aoi), an office worker in Tokyo and her unhealthy relationships with her boy toys. This is the most developed, complete product that Yamamoto gives us. I also think it was the most fun. Saki’s hero (who saves her from a bunch of thugs while out on a date) starts off a hilarious drifter, but slowly finds himself caught in her, well, obviously sexy net. The movie then goes on to creep the crap out of me: their relationship starts taking on an unhealthy, awkward turn as Saki starts to mimic our drifter hero’s dead wife.

As messed up as it gets, it at least gives us an outstanding sex scene. I mean, Sora Aoi’s in the film, why not, right?  It did a good job mixing sex, humor and creepy shit into a single shot. It should be mentioned however, that I was going through something familiar at this point, though totally out of context for a crowded movie theater. There was Sora Aoi, on a bed, on a screen in front of me, doing things that young men imagine women would do to them if they looked like Sora Aoi. The only thing was, in this case, I was not in my apartment alone at two in the morning, but was seated next to my girlfriend and 300 other guests. So I guess that was an awkward break in tradition. I can’t help feeling that the other dudes in the theater felt the same way.

Part of me was waiting for this whole movie to be a play off Inception. I was waiting for Sora to fall down and hit her head during her lovemaking scene, kicking back up a level to the people in Okinawa, as the old man yells at a G.I., then falls, kicking it up to the Kyoto rappers, who get into a shootout, resulting in us being on a plane with Ken Watanabe trying to manipulate someone’s dream in time to land in Narita and meet up with his family. Somewhat expectedly, this was not the case. But I have odd thoughts when I am drunk and trying to make my own sense of a very confusing movie.

All and all the ThreePoints, as disjointed and random as they seemed, did strike a chord for me. I’ve known some rapping hip-hop dudes in Japan. I’ve talked with conflicted folks in Okinawa. I’ve dated some certifiable crazy girls in Tokyo. It reminded me that as homogenous as Japan may seem at times, there are a lot of different ways people are getting by, and a lot of stories to be told. If Yamamoto wanted me to dive deeper into Japanese subcultures, if he wanted me to look a bit closer, his indie movie certainly succeeded. If he was trying to cohesively convey something in an organized fashion, well, that certainly didn’t happen. While I don’t think they will be tapping him for Transformers 4, I think he succeeded in pushing the audience out of its comfort zone and into really thinking about what we saw.

After the movie came the Q&A, and to be honest, I was excited. I crafted what I felt would be the perfect question directed at the director (because all the fanboys would of course just ask Sora what her favorite type of cake is, and I *ahem* was interested in just the film coughbullshitcough). Samuel Jamier, the man responsible for organizing the JAPAN CUTS festival, seemed to see this all coming, though, and instead of going to the audience for questions, he brought his own. To Jamier’s credit, his questions were a lot better than mine, so I could not be upset.

After some insightful questions, the Q&A started to wind down. I looked at my companions; it was time. I hopped over the back of my seat and headed for the door to the after party. I raced up the stairs into the beautiful main lobby of Japan Society. I could see DJs setting up in the back room, trays of food being prepared, and a red carpet. I had other things in mind, though.  I was, of course, one of the first five people in line for beer.

This deserves some explaining. Last year, during the festival’s showing of Oh, My Buddha! starring Daichi Watanabe (who was in ThreePoints, interestingly enough), I was the first one on the beer line. Pouring the beer was Sapporo’s very own “Sapporo Beer Guy.” He might have a real name, but I just call him Sapporo Beer Guy. If you frequent any Japanese themed-izakayas or bars here in NYC, you’ve seen his poster plastered on the walls; he’s smiling, sitting in a chair in front of a piano, enjoying a Sapporo. He was also a really cool guy, and didn’t mind posing for pictures once he had a break in pouring duties. He even gave me a signed copy of his poster.

So you can only imagine my excitement to see him a year later at this event. He even remembered us from last year (probably due to our level of intoxication) and asked if we would be taking pictures again.  Oh, yes, we would. When he had a break, we grabbed him, hopped over the velvet ropes put up for Sora, and took our own runway shots with The Sapporo Guy. Fun times.

Part of the fun with the after parties is actually getting to mingle with the actors and directors in a casual setting. Last year I shot the shit with Daichi Watanabe and complimented Tomorowo Taguchi on his suit jacket. So I was hoping to at least ask Sora about the feathers in her hair, and maybe get a peace sign picture with her so I can show up my JET alumni bud Eric B. (For that reference, kids, you’ll need to read my last story involving a porn star.)

So you can imagine my disappointment when Sora only “mingled” for a couple minutes, with what seemed to be pre-determined people, and then only took pictures on the red carpet with a handful of people, all the while surrounded by the polite but intimidating Moving Mountain and his friend, whom I’ll dub Little Mountain. Hence, no cool splash image of me and Sora. But then again, I tend to set my expectations a little high. I thought by midnight I’d be karaoke-ing with my group of friends, Sora, The Mountain, and heck, Hikaru Utada for good measure

At one point, I actually though I was going to get into a picture. I was quite close to the velvet roped red-carpet area after hanging out with Sapporo Guy, so when Sora was escorted there, I was kind of standing just to the right, where people were entering to get pictures with her. People were being grabbed and thrown into a picture, then escorted out at what seemed like Sam’s discretion. At one point, we sort of made eye contact. He looked at me, sort of smiled. I saw his hand, it seemed to be lifting, maybe, could it be, was he about to signal me to come over? Because I was a great volunteer last week? Because I was dressed nice? Because I ended up on the “Diversity” page of last year’s Japan Society publication?  Would this be the moment I could stand over all my JET alum buddies and type out “HAHA!” as I uploaded the pic to Facebook and tagged my old crew in? Alas, it would not be.

Yes, in that moment Sam and I made eye contact, Sora’s translator yelled out, “One more, that’s it.” Sam then turned and got his picture with Sora, and she was off. I can’t blame him; I certainly would have done the same thing. Still, it was nothing a few more beers from The Sapporo Guy couldn’t fix. Did I mention the food selection was lovely, and the DJs were good? They were.

After jamming out to the DJ, grabbing some more grub and saying goodbye to Sapporo Guy (see you next year, dude!), the group was ready to call it a night. Walking back to Grand Central, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed the night didn’t totally go my way.  But looking back at my slightly inebriated crew and the fun we got to have, I figured I was a lot better off than most of the characters in ThreePoints, whose problems were certainly a lot worse than mine. I guess an Utada/Aoi karaoke trio could wait till next year.

For upcoming events at Japan Society, visit www.japansociety.org.

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