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The Engineer

The Life and Times of Donald F. Simmons

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Japan Foundation

I've been to a couple of events at the Japan Foundation recently. They've been doing a lot this year to celebrate 75 years of diplomatic relations between Japan and Canada.

The first was a exhibition of Akira Kurosawa film posters with a lecture Men with Swords, Men with Suits, the Films of Akira Kurosawa. The lecture actually concentrated much more on Kurosawa's contemporary films than his samurai epics, as the author of the talk felt they were generally overlooked. The talk was a bit dry for my tastes, and while it was livened up with film clips, I though the clips were pretty randomly chosen and didn't integrate well into what she was talking about.

However, the posters and the commentary posted with them were great. There were French ones, Italian ones with strange spellings of the names, some rare ones from the forties, and even posters of remakes such as Fistful of Dollars (a remake of Yojimbo) and Magnificent Seven (a remake of Seven Samurai). They even had a Star Wars poster with a comment from Lucas that he based the movie on Hidden Fortress, but my brother, who has seen Fortress, says Lucas is full of it.

Another neat thing was that the Foundation put the chair in the back half of the presentation room on a raised platform, so the people in the back could see the subtitles over everyone else's heads.

The second presentation was a Kyogen demo, which is Japanese Medieval Comedy. It consists of actors on a small stage and is very formalized and stylized. Everything is done and said just so. The Kyogen master only spoke Japanese and had a translator, but you could tell that there were a lot of Japanese speakers there that night, as half the room would laugh first, and then we round eyes laugh later.

The first part I didn't think much of, as it consisted of the master getting two people out of the audience and trying to teach them how to walk properly, drink properly, etc, while we laugh at the three of them, and I just don't react well to that. I'd much rather see the professional do his stuff. Bringing people out of the audience has always seemed a lazy out to me. The second part did consist of the master doing his stuff, recreating an old folk story (we'd been given handouts of what it was about), and teaching us to sing an old work song properly. I enjoyed that a lot more.

One thing the Japan Foundation has always done right is the food. For the film posters they had good coffee and tea and snacks, including those round chocolate brownies you get in a bag that are just too good. For the Kyogen presentation they had not only coffee, but wine and saki, vegetable platters and bread, and some really good sushi.