Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Eulogy For A Living Thing

As I write this, KTRU-FM - 91.7 FM, Houston, Texas, USA - is 70 minutes away from going off the airwaves, after 40 years online.

I DJ'd at KTRU regularly from 1992 to 1995, and then intermittently afterwards until I moved from Houston in 1998. It was the student radio station at Rice University, and in a peculiar twist of fate, it had one of the most powerful transmitters around - 50,000 watts - despite not having a broadcasting school. (Basically, it was toddling along at 600 watts, until a neighboring frequency wanted to up to 50,000 watts; in order not to drown KTRU off the air, they were required to up KTRU to 50,000 as well.)

The "not having a broadcasting school" meant that nobody, absolutely nobody, volunteered at KTRU for anything resembling professional reasons. It instead attracted a group of people who were in love with the spirit of the station - a freeform, eclectic, unprofessional mess of noise and beauty, where smooth segues were rarer than the sound of a record being played at the wrong speed for 20 seconds, and the most common word uttered by DJs, by far, was "um".

What the 50,000 watts meant was something else entirely.

One example: in 1992, for some kids at the edge of Houston, it meant a lifeline. In the post-Pandora era, the idea that a radio station would be literally the only way you could hear a band that you were curious about is as quaint as a rotary phone, but it was true and it was real and I took the calls to prove it. Many of those listeners later became students at Rice, solely because they wanted to DJ there.

Another example: radio stations get given free music in proportion to their strength, because college music charts weight things on the basis of how many listeners. And as such, KTRU was in a prime position to build an amazing collection of music from virtually all the significant labels at the time, and share them with people and ourselves.

Another another example: One night, some of us drove to Austin for South By Southwest, back when a "big show" at SXSW meant Helmet or Cracker. I remember getting in the car at the end of the night, and through some magic, we received KTRU quite clearly, three hours away, driving home in the wee hours and feeling somehow the world was big and small and magical all at once.

There were the interviews we were able to get. I talked to G. Love, Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Sooyoung Park of Seam, Trenchmouth ... I'm sure I'm forgetting lots.

I'm just going to free associate for a bit here, so bear with me. (Or don't. It's a free country.) Here are some things I got from KTRU.

- Lifetime friends. I recently got back from Japan, where I saw fellow DJ Trent, who lives there. I got an email this morning from a DJ who is coming to visit New Zealand in December. I'm catching up with another DJ in June in Australia. These are three examples; I could go on and on. I'm being semi-deliberately vague here, but I have no qualms about saying the bonds I made via KTRU were by far my strongest during my university years and have been the most enduring in the years since.

- New Zealand. I had never really thought one way or another about New Zealand until coming to KTRU, and it was hearing artists like Alastair Galbraith and This Kind of Punishment and compilations like KILLING CAPITALISM WITH KINDNESS and MAKING LOSERS HAPPY that woke me up to the place. It seemed interesting, and led to my first visit in 1997, which in turn led to me moving here in 2004.

- My career. It was through a fellow DJ that I did my very first editing project - Spike of Astrogenic Hallucinauting, who I met through the station (we had back-to-back shifts) decided he wanted a video for every song on his album, and so I decided to give it a go, not knowing the first thing about anything. Now, it's what I do for a living, and without that experience, I don't know if it would have occurred to me to give it a try.

- Confidence. One of the wonderful things about KTRU is you can fail, and it doesn't really matter, other than being slightly embarrassed. You play things at the wrong speed, you stumble and say stupid things on the air, and it's radio, and you move on, and it's forgotten, there's a next week. I was a pretty shy guy at the time, and 3 1/2 years of talking on the air certainly helped get me over that.

- Bands. My first band, Dyn@mutt, was with fellow DJs. As was my second, Ultra Hummus. I also did a stint in Buddha on the Moon (and its short-lived alter-ego, Sailplane), again a KTRU connection.

But then, there's something more. KTRU is where my somewhat vague passion for music turned into a set of tastes that I feel comfortable calling my musical DNA. It opened my ears. In the last hour or two of listening I've heard Husker Du, Beirut, The Mountain Goats, Talking Heads, Old 97's, Mission of Burma, Yo La Tengo, Dinosaur jr, Otis Redding, Roky Erickson & the 13th Floor Elevators, Johnny Cash: this is what I mean. And more. There's a long psych track playing right now that's fucking gorgeous and I have no idea what it is. But it fits the mold, and even if I'm less likely to listen to, say, Japanese noise bands than I used to, I still feel at home with this kind of music.

Because, I really think, music says a lot about who we are. There's so many things in life we can't choose. We can't choose who our parents were, or where we grew up, or where we went to school, or how much money our parents made, or who we grow up next to, and these things shape us for life. But music is one of the first things we can choose, and that choice in turn shapes us. I can't talk to much about it without getting incoherent, but I can say this: when I hear a song I love, or see a band I love, there are few things in the world that make me feel more alive, more happy, more connected to the world.

Ultimately, I believe that quite a lot of who I am as a human being was shaped by my time at KTRU. It could have happened elsewhere, but it didn't. It's part of my blood, my neurological programming, my heart. And my first act every time I visit Houston is to turn on KTRU.

Well, until now.

For those of you that don't know, the reason that KTRU is going off the air is that Rice University, without consultation with the students, decided to sell the frequency and transmitter under the veil of secrecy.

Whether this was a wise decision, and whether radio has a future, is beside the point. The student organization may well have reached the decision in the not-too-distant future that its place was no longer on the standard broadcast frequency, and that would have been its choice to make. But the university decided otherwise.

And that is why I say, in no uncertain terms, that Rice University is dead to me, and will never get a cent of my money, or even the faintest endorsement, and if you have come here through a random Googling and are a prospective student, let me make it absolutely crystal clear that this school has no interest in you as a human being and you should attend somewhere that does.

But then, there's the station. The station will continue broadcasting at 90.1 HD-2, for the dozens with HD radios. And you can stream it on the Internet. And hopefully it will keep alive.

KTRU, in eighteen minutes now, is dead. Long live KTRU.

My sincere and heartfelt gratitude to the students, fellow alumni, and other parties who have spent the last eight months fighting for the future of the station. You have done amazing work, and I hope the silver lining to this particularly ghastly cloud is that the bonds that have been formed through this fighting last a lifetime.

Outgoing station manager Joey Yang dedicated this song to the alumni, who requested it, and it's both perfect and appropriate. Thanks, Joey.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Now Playing: 21 April

Some stuff I'm listening to as of this writing.

Parts and Labor, CONSTANT FUTURE: These guys have refined their sound into something distinctive, primal, messy, precise, heavy, and joyful all at once. I would love to see them live and get lost in this sound, loud and gorgeous. One of America's most overlooked bands also makes great stop-motion videos, like this one, for "Echo Chamber". Bought from Amazon, MP3.

Various Artists, THESE SHOCKING SHAKING DAYS. 3 LPs worth of Indonesia's long-hidden psychedelic and funk movement. Which probably sounds like obscurantist bullshit to most of you, but honestly, for those who have worn out on 70's psychedelic music but used to love it, you'll find some great twists on old sounds to captivate you here, and it's a beautiful (if slightly unwieldy) package. Bought at the glorious Conch Records in Auckland.

Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm, A BLACK MAN'S SOUL. If, like me until recently, you only know Ike Turner for his domestic abuse, you'll be in for a real surprise with this record. I'm still new to the worlds of R&B, soul, and funk, so I'm unclear on the precise demarcation that should be reserved for this glorious collection of sliding, ass-shaking instrumentals. Recommended to anyone with a pulse. Reissue also bought at Conch.

Yuck, YUCK. I am still having trouble believing that this record didn't fall behind a couch in 1994 and only now get unveiled to the world. From the recording to the hooks, everything sounds dated in a way that perversely makes it much more refreshing than most records produced with modern sounds. RIYL: Sebadoh, Yo La Tengo, and Moviola. (If you've ever even HEARD of Moviola, this will probably tickle nerves you long thought dead.) Amazon, MP3.

J. Mascis, SEVERAL SHADES OF WHY. Mascis, of course, is the frontman of Dinosaur Jr, whose late-breaking resurgence (also making records that sounded like they fell behind a couch in the early 90's, oddly enough) is one of the happier stories of the last few years of music. So it's quite meaningful that, at least in my early impression, this acoustic record - which I had no particular optimism for going in, for some reason - is probably my favorite album by him in a dog's age. Lots of great guest stars on this, from Kurt Vile to Pall Jenkins, but it'd be nothing without some of J's most textured, thoughtful songs ever. Record Store Day pickup from Auckland's Real Groovy.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cannes 2011, and my reactions.

Announcements are literally coming out as I post this. Some quick thoughts on films in Competition:

Paolo Sorrentino's THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, yay! But ... I can't think of another upcoming film made by a filmmaker I love I'm so nervous about. Some of the stills of Sean Penn as an aging rocker have a faint air of ludicrousness about them, and there's always danger in my opinion when a filmmaker dives into English for the first time. (One thing about being a fan of foreign cinema: you often can't tell just how bad, say, line delivery or dialogue is, at least not with my tin ear.) But: Sorrentino made THE CONSEQUENCES OF LOVE, which is something close to a freaking masterpiece, and his last film IL DIVO is a stunningly propulsive film that might also be a masterpiece, albeit not as accessible for those of us for whom Italian politics is not in the foreground of our mind. He also made THE FAMILY FRIEND, striking and odd in equal measure. Also: shot in my hometown of Detroit. Also: named after a gorgeous Talking Heads song. All up? I'm there when it's here, and hoping for the best.

Takashi Miike is remaking HARAKIRI in 3-D. I REALLY don't know how I feel about this. HARAKIRI may be my favorite samurai film - yes, including all the Kurosawa - but so much of that comes down to his impeccable photography. I'm sure this Miike film will be a totally different beast. Whether that's a good thing? Who knows. I run hot and cold with Miike - given the sheer volume of films he produces, I don't even feel like I have a basic handle on what to expect from him these days. OTOH, being in Competition is a big deal - I think this may be Miike's first time there. Also, is this the first 3-D film in competition ever?

Lynne Ramsay's WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. Wow, this will be the world's most depressing afterparty. The book is amazing, despite or because of the fact that I almost choked on the bile of it. Ramsay's a filmmaker who I've admired more than love, but her elliptical nature and impeccable eye combined with this intense material could make this an unforgettable, scarring film.

Terrence Malick. THE TREE OF LIFE. I can't see this soon enough. It seems almost unfair for it to be in competition. Unless it's a disaster, if it doesn't win, the film that wins will almost surely be burdened with "I can't believe THAT beat the Malick film". Weirdly, it's opening (at least in England) before Cannes, so I guess there will be at least some consensus going in as to its worth. So that last sentence may not be true after all.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan has made it with ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA. He's a filmmaker that I haven't seen as much of as I liked, but CLIMATES was an understated but searing drama that reminded me of Bergman in the best possible ways, and I suspect I'm a weekend of rentals away from considering him one of my favorite filmmakers.

Pedro Almodovar, THE SKIN I LIVE IN. I find it impossible to pre-judge films by Pedro Almodovar, as I'm almost always wrong. I haven't loved many recently, but TALK TO HER - which I had no expectations of - was one of my favorite cinematic experiences of all time. I can't think of many of his films being especially bloody (I'm sure I'm forgetting something obvious), but with this involving rape-revenge and a plastic surgeon, I don't see how it couldn't. Which is interesting.

Aki Kaurismaki, LE HAVRE. Kaurismaki is a guy who's drifted off my personal map lately, but I've loved a few of this deadpan Finn's films, most recently THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST.

Lars Von Trier's MELANCHOLIA, big surprise: but after the gratuitous freakshowoffery of ANTICHRIST and the ludicrous trailer for this, I'm just not in the mood for another provocation with characters who aren't recognizable as humans. Sorry. Will the director of THE BOSS OF IT ALL return, please?

Most of the rest of the competition entries are by directors I'm only vaguely familiar with, if at all. (The linked list, as of this moment, includes Woody Allen, but there seem to be conflicting reports as to whether he's in competition or not.) The exception is the Dardennes Brothers, Belgian realists, whose films I tend not to look forward to but then often wind up enjoying, if not in whole then at least for certain breathtaking sequences.

For me, the biggest news is the absence of the new film by Yorgos Lanthimos, the director of my favorite movie of 2009, DOGTOOTH. ALPS had been hotly tipped, and would easily be my most anticipated title (yes, even more than THE TREE OF LIFE or THIS MUST BE THE PLACE.) Supposedly there are more upcoming announcements, so I'll have my chance. I've only seen one film by Nicholas Winding Refn, and I'm not clear that VALHALLA RISING is remotely representative of what he'll have on offer.

As for Un Certain Regard:
- Hong Sang-Soo! He probably deserves a blog post all his own.
- Bruno Dumont, I've only seen one film by, but FLANDRES knocked me for a loop, though I don't get the impression my opinion is shared. I'm still hoping to see his highly regarded HADEWIJCH this year.
- I saw Ivan Sen's short films at Telluride in 2000 and loved them, but didn't gel with his first feature; here's hoping TOOMELAH realizes his potential.
- MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE by freshman director Sean Durkin (but produced by the director of the masterful, caustic AFTERSCHOOL, Antonio Campos) played to knockout reviews at Sundance, and I've been crossing my fingers for its inclusion in the NZFF for months.
- I've lost track of Kim Ki-Duk (3-IRON, SPRING SUMMER FALL WINTER AND SPRING) recently, but have heard some positive reviews of his recent, largely undistributed films. Hopefully this one's great and hopefully I get to see it.
- It took me a minute (well, and following a link) to place the name of Hong Jin-Na - he directed THE CHASER, a bloody, bleak, and very very good South Korean serial killer film. He appears to be returning to killer/action territory with this one, but if it lives up to THE CHASER, I'm fine with that.
- I feel negligent not having seen any films by Joachim Trier. I think I've had three chances to see REPRISE on the big screen, even.
- And who knows what Gus Van Sant is up to this time? He's UCR's Von Trier - equally likely to make a film I love or hate. Based on this trailer, I'm suspecting the latter.

(Also, as an aside: for lazy purposes, I've assigned these films to directors. I believe firmly in crediting screenwriters as well, but I haven't had time to research them all, since I'm just knocking this out before I collapse. No offense is intended.)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

On The Road: Tokyo, Part 1.

To say that Tokyo isn't atop many travel lists today is an understatement. On the first leg of my flight, from Sydney to Hong Kong, I had three seats to myself; on the second leg, the steward who was seated in front of me and had reclined his seat during the flight informed me that I could spread out elsewhere if I like, because the plane was so empty. Um, thanks, three seats is fine.

I could have cancelled my flight, as my travel companion did, and as so many others have; I'm sure I could have found no shortage of government authorities to cite in advising me not to travel to Tokyo, to say nothing of the countless suggestions that I might wind up "glowing" or somesuch if I so much as drank the water or ate spinach.

But it was important for me to go, and not just because I needed a vacation, and not just because I was seeing friends I hadn't seen in ages, and not just because cherry blossoms were in season. A few weeks prior to the tsunami hitting Japan and its resulting devastation, New Zealand had its own disaster, the Christchurch earthquake, and in the face of it, I told my friends overseas that, by far, the best thing they could do is to book their trips to New Zealand, to come see this country, to give it money at a time when there was such a heavy hit to its economy.

To then turn my back on Japan in a similar situation seemed worse than hypocritical. Also, cherry blossoms.


A few boring practical things that will be essential for some and tedious for others.

I wasn't sure how to handle telephony in the country, other than having a deep and abiding fear of using my New Zealand SIM and acquiring ludicrous roaming charges. As it turns out, it couldn't be easier; outside the train station at the airport, I rented a SIM card for my phone for a trivial amount (slightly over 100 yen a day, plus usage fees). Easy.

Train services are still touch and go. The disaster has sharply hit Tokyo's power production, and both rolling and spontaneous blackouts occur. The Narita Express, upon my landing, hadn't run since the earthquake. The backup route, provided by my ryokan (more on that in the moment), wasn't running the night I landed, either. Ultimately, my route to Ikebukuro, the district of Tokyo I was saying in, was over two hours.

I stayed in Kimi Ryokan in Ikebukuro, which I recommend for the easily sated minimalist traveller. No one will mistake it for luxury, but for 4000 yen it's fantastic. It's traditional, with shoes left at the door, tatami and Japanese beds (read: a not very thick mattress on the floor) in the room, shared bathrooms and showers, very helpful friendly staff.

(A ryokan, by the way, is a traditional Japanese lodging. They vary widely from the budget to the incredibly fancy, apparently; I wouldn't know anything about the latter. You can get cheaper, like backpacker lodging, or capsule hotels, but I explored neither seriously.)

I bought a Lonely Planet Tokyo Kindle edition before I left. On the plane, I realized it was impractical beyond belief. Someday, someone will invent a way to navigate electronic information that is truly as convenient as a book. In the meantime, just pick up a paper version of LP Tokyo. Or, you know, your favorite version, I'm hardly dogmatic. But LP Tokyo has a tear-away map of the trains in it, which will prove very useful.

(I am cynical, as you might be, about travellers who rely overly on Lonely Planet, at the expense of what is in front of their very own faces. But in a country where English is not prevalent and the 3 sets of characters used as alphabets are all unreadable by me, it's quite helpful to have a guide to some place where you can hope for, say, an English-language menu.)

Those travelling to Tokyo soon should note that, at least in the short term, many businesses are practicing austerity in various forms; while some tourists may be disappointed by the lack of stunningly bright lights and TVs at famous locations such as Shibuya, the more practical concern is shortened hours and/or closed attractions. Double-check hours for any museum you want to visit before you go. It's hard to say how long this will go on for; my friends suggest that, as summer comes up and air conditioning use skyrockets, rolling blackouts may continue and/or accidental blackouts will rise. That said, at the moment, the actual impact was relatively minor for me. Trust me: even if a museum here or there is closed, you will not run out of things to do in Tokyo.


Saturday night, arriving at Kimi Ryokan at 9:30 PM after waking up in Sydney at 3:30 AM to catch my flight, was hardly the big night I hoped for. I had received work of garage rock shows I wanted to attend, but: exhausted, and much ahead.

Instead, I got yakitori at Akiyoshi (thanks, Lonely Planet!), then, having noted a intriguing bar on the way, returned to investigate further. The sign for Bar Memory Record said in clear English "Old Music Bar Plays Records Only". This sounded promising.

Bar Memory Record is small - maybe four barstools and a couple small tables. Two eager bartenders, one who insisted on taking my jacket. Being in Japan, I tried to order shochu; this was met with abject disapproval. The menu being in all Japanese, I cast an eye on the small collection of bottles, and went for the Caol Ila 12 year.

And so began an hour of sitting in a wonderfully dark bar, listening to great old jazz records on vinyl, drinking single malt scotches. More shelves in the bar are devoted to records than are devoted to scotch, and while there, I heard three sides; the first may have been Rose Garland (I thought I'd remember the name, then forgot, so that may have been invented), but the second was certainly Wes Montgomery, and the third was, most definitely, KIND OF BLUE by Miles Davis. By the time it hit, I had switched to what appeared to be the bar's conventional serving of single malt scotches - with a giant sphere of ice, almost the circumference of the glass, punctured a few times by an icepick. That might have been a Talisker.

It was heavenly, and it was time to collapse.


The next morning, and eliding a failed attempt to find an entrance to a park in Shinjuku that promised cherry blossoms, I met my friend Trent and his 3 year-old daughter Sweelyn for one of my few must-see attractions on the trip: the Ghibli Museum.

For those who don't know: Studio Ghibli is the Japanese animation studio responsible for such works as SPIRITED AWAY, PRINCESS MONONOKE, PONYO, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE, and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, the latter being one of my most treasured films ever.

Those films are directed by Hayao Miyazaki; Ghibli has also released films by others, most notably Isao Takahata, who's responsible for POM POKO and MY NEIGHBORS THE YAMADAS, but it's Miyazaki-San who looms most large at the Ghibli Museum.

You can't take pictures inside the Ghibli Museum, and thus its exact contents were unclear to me prior to arriving. I don't want to spoil too many of said contents, and I expect many of them change on a regular basis; suffice it to say, that if you are a Ghibli fan, your attendance is essential, and within five minutes I'd already gotten my money's worth. Much of the signage is in Japanese only, but don't worry, you'll get the idea.

One very special thing that is worth noting - in addition to the original cels and the small films and the custom Nausicaa-labeled beer and the real-life catbus (for elementary school students and younger only; Sweelyn rode it three times, nestled amongst the soot sprites) - is that your admission includes one screening of a film, specially created for the Ghibli Museum. So far, eight of these films have been created. Like most TOTORO fans, I was hoping for a chance to see the Totoro semi-sequel, MEI AND THE KITTENBUS, but I knew going in that wouldn't be the case. (You can find out what's screening on the Ghibli site.) Having said that, the opening trailer to the film showed brief snippets from every Ghibli short to date, and the chance to see a few brief moments of Mei hugging a spastic Kittenbus, followed by her ride in said Kittenbus - there are no words.

(The film that was showing, about an evil witch, an egg-shaped hero, his living dough friend, and lots of breadmaking, was merely wonderful by comparison. It had no language, so subtitles or lack thereof weren't an issue.)


There's a lot I'll elide in this blog, in part because I forget things and in part because I'm not sure who cares to read it all.

One problem of travel writing, though, is that it boils down to a checklist of things that were done, attractions that were visited, and that is how the trip is measured. Maybe because these things are easily quantifiable.

But the truth of it is that, for me, the moments that often come back as memories, months and years later, are the moments between attractions, the moments walking through an unlikely part of a foreign country and experiencing something that won't acquit to language, but that gives you a true sense of the place that feels much more real than any of the attractions you find yourself in.

All of which is to say that the walk back to the Mitaka train station, through a park, and all the digressions endemic to travelling with a three-year old, was a pretty special trip. But perhaps everything feels fresh and new after hours looking through the eyes of Miyazaki.


Dinner in Shibuya at Gyubei - yakiniku, a course meal that was probably more truly Korean than Japanese but still wonderfully tasty, albeit smoky as we cook our own meat, then farewell to Trent and Sweelyn, off to Ikebukuro Station and hello to Scout and Jarrett, who have just returned from out west, and, after delivering a parcel of New Zealand snack foods (pineapple lumps! sunday roast flavoured potato chips!), we catch up at Jonathan's, a Denny's-esque restaurant apparently proximate to most train stations.


The next day I am alone, and my first destination is Ueno Park, to check out this cherry blossom business.

(Quick vocab lesson: "sakura" refers to cherry blossoms, and "hanami" refers to the activity of going to see cherry blossoms with friends. My secondhand information indicates that this mostly involves going to the park to drink.)

Ueno Park is considered to be one of the best locations for hanami in Tokyo, and it's simultaneously both clear and surprising once I arrive. A wide pavement lane is lined with cherry blossom trees for a great length; simultaneously beautiful for a long wander and uncomfortable as a place to sit, though that hasn't stopped many.

The blossoms themselves are still in the process of emerging; while some seem fully formed, many have yet to open. And while there are many people viewing the sakura, and camera crews shooting the blossoms swaying (or making them sway to improve the shots), the truly big crowds in Ueno are reserved for the zoo, where two new pandas have arrived.

(Overheard in English: "We're going to be in China in five days, and you want to wait in line to go see the pandas?")

Blossomed all I can blossom, a wander through the streets of Ueno and lots of panda-related signage, a long train ride, and lo! Roppongi. I arrive in Tokyo Midtown, a fancy, gigantic development that sprawls without outside air for ages; it feels like something out of a J.G. Ballard novel, waiting for some paroxysm of violence, except it doesn't really feel that way, it's far too soothing.

Roppongi is home of the National Art Center, Tokyo, which is worth visiting even if you don't see a visit because it's an absolutely crazy building; stunning. The charges are by exhibition, and I've prioritized an exhibition on Surrealism, apparently the first to visit Japan. The signage is in Japanese and French (the latter, I believe, because the exhibit originated in France) and I pass on the audio guides, instead having a pleasant stumble through the work of artists both familiar (Max Ernst, Rene Magritte, Joseph Cornell, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy) and un- (Raoul Ubac, Victor Brauner, Andre Misson, Judit Reigl). Thanks to the shortened hours, I don't have a chance to visit any of the other exhibits, and instead head to Mori Tower.

Mori Tower, again Ballardian but also a brilliant place to see Tokyo in all its glory. The Mori Art Museum is on the 52nd floor, and is renowned for its emphasis on contemporary art. A ticket also garners admission to Tokyo Sky View, a chance to see the skyline from all directions. There's juice bars and regular bars here, and I realized I've arrived a short bit before sunset, so I wait around, drinking first some kind of peach-carrot juice and then a Ginger Highball, as sun sets in the distance, and then I go upstairs.

It turns out the main exhibition at the Mori Art Museum is also about French art - specifically, Marcel Duchamp and the recent winners of the Duchamp Prize in France. (I don't have the information directly in front of me; I may have the name wrong.) As with most contemporary art, I find a good 50 percent of it of negligible interest, 40 percent of mild interest, and 10 percent between very interesting and stunning. I'll write more about it at some point, when I have the exhibition book (which I purchased) at hand. Suffice it to say that I consider it well worth the visit, and English guides were, at least at my visit, complementary. Also, a supplementary exhibition showcases the stopmotion work of Japanese Taguchi Yukihiro; clever and engaging, and thus far my only look at a Japanese artst.

As I leave, I have mild regret that I've used my admission to Tokyo Sky View before nightfall, thus missing my view of Tokyo at night. Heading to Shibuya, I head to the Cerulean Hotel, and its 40th floor bar. The drinks are overpriced, but you're not playing for the alcohol; you're paying for the atmosphere, and it's stunning, all hardwoods and quietude and a view of lights extending impossibly into the distance. One of my most pleasant hours ever.

And I could say more, but the shinkansen is arriving in Kyoto. Will explain later.