Before ascending the foothills to visit my friend Bill Korn in his Altadena mountain fastness, Martine and I stopped in Little Tokyo for lunch. As usual, we ate at the Suehiro Cafe on First Street. Both of us had bento box lunches (the Okonomi Plate) with miso soup and a choice of optional mains and sides as shown on the menu. Then we walked over to the Kinokuniya Bookstore on Weller Court where—miraculously—I didn’t buy any books or samurai films on DVD. Then, we went over to the Yamazaki Bakery at the Japanese Village Plaza. As a diabetic, I was only able to watch as Martine bought some tiramisu for herself and strawberry cream puffs for Bill and Kathy Korn.
Had we the time and inclination, we could also have visited several other adjacent Japanese shopping centers, two Buddhist temples, dozens of gift shops and food stores, and the Japanese-American National Museum. There is also the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, where one delirious day I once saw four consecutive Raizo Ichikawa films, including one of the now hard-to-see Kyoshiro Nemuri samurai films directed by Kazuho Ikehiro.
Immersing ourselves in another culture is one of the most fun things to do in Los Angeles. My interest in the Southern California Japanese began early, in 1967, when I lived in a little Japanese neighborhood off Sawtelle Boulevard in West Los Angeles. Around the same time, I started going by bus to the Toho La Brea Theater to see Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai trilogy and all the latest films from Akira Kurosawa. As I made more friends in the film department at UCLA, I discovered four other Japanese cinemas in the area: the Kokusai and Sho Tokyo (both running films exclusively from Daiei Studios), the Kabuki (Shochiku Studios), and the Linda Lea (Tohei). We used to eat at the old Ichiban Cafe at the corner of First Street and San Pedro Street.
There are a number of other ethnic neighborhood concentrations in Southern California. The largest are probably the Mexican neighborhood in “East Los” (East Los Angeles) and Boyle Heights; the sprawling Koreatown along Olympic Boulevard as it approaches downtown; and Little Saigon in Orange County. Then there are the Central Americans in Pico-Union, the Armenians in Glendale, and the Russians in Hollywood and West Hollywood. And those are just the ones I’ve visited!
I’ve seen a great number of films directed by Kurosawa, but none that I remember by the others you mentioned, although I briefly confused Raizo Ichikawa with Kon Ichikawa. I hadn’t seen anything so far by Raizo Ichikawa, while I’ve seen two by Ron Ichikawa: The Burmese Harp and Fires on the Plain, both of which were excellent. I so liked The Burmese Harp that I bought the novel it was based on– The Harp of Burma by Michio Takeyama.
Raizo was a Daiei Studio actor who died young and who was in some of my favorite samurai films, usually directed by Kazuho Ikehiro or Issei Mori. Both Kon Ichikawa films you mention are classics, though it’s been a long time since I’ve seen them.