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My Japanese Years

Mifune Toshiro in Hiroshi Inagaki’s Duel at Ichijoji Temple

Toshiro Mifune in Hiroshi Inagaki’s Duel at Ichijoji Temple

It all came back to me while I had a Japanese meal with Martine at the Aki Restaurant in West Los Angeles. When I first came to Los Angeles in late 1966 I quickly became a Nipponophile. I lived for a while on Mississippi Avenue in the middle of the Sawtelle neighborhood, the old Japanese plant nursery district. Even before I started my explorations of Mexican food, I started becoming a Japanese foodie. I even thought the little tofu cubes in my miso soup were shark’s fin. (I marveled at my sophistication in eating “shark’s fin” soup.)

Since i was a graduate student in film at UCLA, I made a point of seeing as many Japanese films as I could. I remember taking the MTA #81 bus down Wilshire Boulevard to La Brea and walking a couple blocks south to the old Toho La Brea theater. The first films I saw there were Hiroshi Inagaki’s Miyamato Musashi (based on Eiji Yoshikawa’s novel) trilogy: Samurai (1954), Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955), and Duel at Ganryu Island (1956). I fancied myself falling love with the sweet Kaoru Yachigusa, who played the part of Otsu; and of course I hero-worshipped Toshiro Mifune as the hero of he saga.

The Toho La Brea theater had a clock over the left emergency exit that was illuminated with the words Sumitomo Bank. All features were preceded by an Asahi Shimbun newsreel in Japanese without subtitles. Although I couldn’t understand a word, I looked forward to the newsreels.

A few years later, I joined with my film freak friends in visiting the other Japanese theaters in town: the Kokusai and Sho Tokyo (both Daiei studio), Kabuki (Shochiku), and the Linda Lea (Tohei). Today all five Japanese theaters are gone.

By the way, ever wonder why I call this website Tarnmoor? That was a pseudonym I used along with two of my friends in a UCLA Daily Bruin column entitled “The Exotic Filmgoer,” which was mostly about these Japanese theaters.

3 thoughts on “My Japanese Years

  1. I’m not really a Nipponophile, but I do especially like the films of Akira Kurosawa, whom I consider to be one of the best directors ever. I lived for a short time in the north side of Chicago and found an “art” film house in the neighborhood. I saw a number of foreign films there, but only one remained with me: Ikiru.

    When I finally got around to seeing it again, many decades later, I discovered it was directed by Kurosawa and then went on to search out his other films. That was when I discovered Rashomon, which is now one of the very few DVDs in my collection.

  2. Fortunately, a lot of the early Kurosawas are now available in Criterion Collection editions. Did you ever see THE HIDDEN FORTRESS? Supposedly, STAR WARS was based on it.

  3. Yes, I saw it. I thought the two peasants were the basis for the robots. I think most of the Kurosawa films I’ve seen were from the Criterion Collection.

    I liked Yojimbo, which spawned two Hollywood remakes and was loosely based on Hammett’s novel, Red Harvest, even though I’ve read comments that it was based on another of Hammett’s novels.

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