Posters for The Seven Samurai (1954) and Harakiri (1962)
When I first came to Los Angeles in 1967, it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with everything Japanese. That included Japanese films, Japanese food, Japanese literature, and Japanese women. My first long RTD (Rapid Transit District) ride was on the old #83 Wilshire Boulevard route from West L.A. to La Brea Boulevard, where the Toho LaBrea theater was located a couple blocks south. I even remember the film: It was Part One of Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai trilogy.
Here I was, a Hungarian kid from Cleveland, finding a kind of home in the Japanese community of L.A. I even moved to Mississippi Avenue in the Sawtelle Japanese district, where there were two Japanese restaurants, the O-Sho and the Futaba Café. They were my first introduction to the cuisine. I was pretty raw at the time: When I had my first cubes of tofu in miso soup, I thought, “I’ll bet these are cut-up shark fins!”
I used to hate seafood. I thought the fish there was picked up from floating debris atop polluted Lake Erie. Now on my own in Southern California, I found myself trying (and loving) sushi after five short years.
What I loved most, however, were Japanese jidaigeki (period films), particularly those set in the samurai era. My friends Alain Silver and Jim Ursini (who collaborated on the first book on samurai films to be published in the U.S.) and I would regularly go to one of the five Japanese movie theaters then existing in Los Angeles:
- The Toho LaBrea screened films from the Toho Studio
- The Kokusai and Sho Tokyo theaters played Daiei films—probably my favorite
- The Kabuki played films from Shochiku
- The Linda Lea (my least favorite) played films from Tohei
They are all gone now. It’s all part of the growing Americanization of Japanese-Americans.
The Kokusai Theater on Crenshaw South of Adams
In fact, Alain, Jim, an I wrote a column for the UCLA Daily Bruin called “The Exotic Filmgoer.” The articles were all signed Tarnmoor (which, curiously, is the name I go under for this blog). We wrote about the Japanese and other ethnic cinemas that existed back around 1970.
I still love jidaigeki, though they’re not usually to be found around town playing in movie theaters. I have a large collection of DVDs of samurai films, and watch the Japanese films on the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) channel when they are playing.
And I still love Japanese food, though sushi is getting to be priced beyond my means.
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