Monday, July 30, 2018

I Interviewed Johnny Rotten - the True Story.

"The saying goes ‘you should never meet your heroes’ because inevitably this person you’ve built up to be larger than life in your mind is going to let you down, and reality is going to punch you square across the jaw." - Cass Anderson

I just spent almost two weeks in London at the world famous "Raindance Film Festival." I was there promoting our movie, "Ghostroads - a Japanese Rock n Roll Ghost Story (Trailer here). Raindance is one of the most prestigious film festivals in the entire world and the film festival with the most Street Cred. I had the time of my life there. I will write about the wonderful experiences I had there, but for now, I want to write about one of the biggest disappointments in my life at that festival; meeting and interviewing one of the heroes of my youth, John Lydon (AKA: Johnny Rotten formerly singer of the Sex Pistols).

L>R: Mike Rogers interviewing Tabbert Fiiler (Director of "The Public Image is Rotten") and Johnny Lydon (Formerly Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols)

Our film did very well at Raindance. The World Premiere there was sold out! I was thankful. I guess we did so well that I made such a good impression on the festival staff and management that on the last Friday of the event, one of the organizers asked me to host the Question and Answer period for the movie about the history of the Post-Punk band, Public Image (AKA: P.I.L.) entitled, "The Public Image is Rotten." She added that John Lydon would be there for the interview. 

When I was 19 ~ 20, the Sex Pistols changed my life. If it weren't for the Sex Pistols, I'd have never made my own punk band or gotten into radio and the mass media as my job. I idolized them. To this very day, I even collect original Sex Pistols items, some of them costing me hundreds of dollars.

If it weren't for the Sex Pistols, I may have never come to Japan nor made the movie.

The day when I saw in the newspapers that Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious had died, I cried. For me, that was the end of punk at the time (little would I imagine that Green Day would take punk to the Top 40). The Sex Pistols changed my life. They were heroes to me in my youth.

So when I was asked to host the Q&A with the director, Tabbert Fiiler, of the film, "The Public Image is Rotten" and John Lydon, of course, I jumped at the chance. It was a dream come true.

The day of the interview, I spent 4 or 5 hours preparing for what was scheduled to be only a 15-minute post-screening interview.

When 7 pm, the appointed time arrived, I was in the designated meeting place with the staff of the festival. One by one, members and staff with Public Image arrived at the theater. I had studied them so I knew their names and what they looked like, so when they arrived, I quickly introduced myself and became friendly with the band (Scott, the bassist, and Lu, the guitarist, are cool guys)... The other folks, management and entourage (read: paid friends?) Not so much... The others seemed aloof... Or, probably they'd already started partying and drinking before they arrived?

Probably? No way. They had been drinking... Some of them more than drinking!

John Lydon was very late to the pre-party, of course. We all anxiously awaited the arrival of the king. The movie was scheduled to start at 8:15 pm, and he was scheduled for publicity photos, press and a brief meeting with me beforehand to fix the interview questions. 

Finally, more than an hour late, John Lydon arrived. Most of the riff-raff (like me) could not really get close to him as he was surrounded by his handlers and related members. As someone who doesn't follow rules, I jumped the barrier, and went closeby Lydon and tried to introduce myself (I wanted to do a professional interview) but couldn't really get close at first. John was soon rushed off to a to take promo photos on the red carpet.

I was allowed into the photo area and, since time was short, and I wanted a good interview, I forced myself closeby as I just wanted to ask him if there were any questions he wanted asking, or if there were any questions he wanted to avoid... Pretty standard stuff to ask for an interview. But, it was nearly impossible to get near him.

Finally, when I did get close to Lydon, I introduced myself as the host of the event that night and asked the question, he blurted out some one-word grunting sound and then ignored me. 

The members of P.I.L. had asked me to ask John whether they all wanted to sit in the front of the theater or the back of the theater (I should have been suspicious when the band asked me to ask him instead of asking themselves). After he mumbled something incoherent, he stumbled off. I then asked his wife, Nora, if they wanted to sit in the front or the back of the theater. She smiled at me and her reply, also, was merely a grunt. 

How charming. How intelligent. But, it's OK, I live in Japan, I speak Grunt Language too. No problem.

I told Scott and Lu, the P.I.L. band members, about this grunting reply from John and Nora and they both laughed and said, "Welcome to the club."

I assumed that Nora's grunting meant "near the front of the theater" and told the theater staff.

Me and Tony the event director/manager. This guy was great the entire festival. Polite, smart and professional all the way. Later he'd tell me all sorts of wild stories about how many big stars were total children and assholes. I figure he'll be assassinated before they make a movie about his GREAT and unbelievable stories. Thanks Tony. You are tops!

Just before the film started, the theater director, named Tony (not his real name) walked up to Lydon and said, "Hi, I think we need to get down to the theater in about 5 minutes. Is that OK with you?"

To that, for some inexplicable reason, Lydon sneered at him and scowled like my paraplegic 3rd-grade sister and pointed and said, "I don't like you. I'm not talking to you. If you want to talk to me, you have to talk to my manager."

John Lydon's manager, a questionably slimy guy named John Rambo (who seemed more an Amway or used car salesman than a professional artist manager), was standing right there besides Lydon and, as if nothing was amiss, repeated exactly what Tony had said to Lydon and back and forth. It was like a Monty Python episode: Three guys having a conversation and the guy in the middle saying exactly the same thing the village idiot and the professional (Tony) were saying; astounding behavior for a 61-year-old man... Typical behavior for a spoiled, bratty 6 or 7-year-old at grammar school.

This absurd nonsense went on for a few minutes; Tony asking the questions he needs to ask as a professional and manager; John Lydon acting like a child, and his dim-wit manager, John Rambo (whose name isn't Rambo, but he insists everyone call him that), talking between them as if this was normal behavior for a 61-year-old man.

John Rambo, being an ass kisser, and a useless manager who could never say to Lydon something like, "What the hell? Knock it off and stop acting like a little kid. Goddammit!" 

He couldn't say that like a professional manager would.

I realized that John Lydon is completely surrounded by "Yes Men" and ass kissers. It was a depressing realization, actually. I reckon everyone around him (I mean the ones who aren't stoned) realize that he is scatological, often incoherent, and hypocritical. He has surrounded himself with people who will never tell him when he is wrong or saying something extremely stupid. 

He says stupid stuff with regularity (at least he did that night.) 

Finally, an hour late, we went to the screening and watched the film, "The Public Image is Rotten" which was a film that continued the ass-kissing and glossed over all the problems of the Sex Pistols as well as John Lydon's own ideological as well as illogical inconsistencies and, well, self-serving rationalization and excuses.

I do have to add here that I can't blame Lydon for wanting respect. I get it totally. I have the same desire in Japan where I live and work. One must walk a mile in a man's shoes before judging him and I totally understand wanting respect and status. I desire the same, so I can't fault him for that. 

But I can fault him for being unprofessional, drunk, and incoherent at his own film premiere in the UK. It is the premiere; the first. One only gets one chance at a first impression. So I think blowing it is not acceptable and a source of regret.

L>R: Mike Rogers in interview with Fiiler, Lydon, Edmunds, First of P.I.L.

During the screening, a bunch of the people surrounding him were doing some sort of chemicals by alighting something on aluminum foil (I don't know if John was doing that or not, but he was really drunk at the least.) The stoners were shouting nonsense during the screening like, "Johnny be good" or some other crap. 

After the film, we had the interview and Lydon was talking mostly nonsense... But it seems he thinks it is some sort of genius philosophy, but it was just nonsense..... He continually jumped up and yelled, "Don't be a robot!" "Don't follow the system or the rules." 

Yet he praised the collective of the government-run health insurance scheme.

Right, John... Don't be a robot; don't follow the rules, but join the government-run system just like all the other sheep and slaves?

I rolled my eyes. Is this guy so messed up he doesn't realize the hypocrisy of what he just spouted out?

Many people in the audience were taking videos on their cameras but, after Lydon began talking for a minute or two, many of them stopped and dropped their cameras down. He was spouting incoherent nonsense. It really was very sad.

I tried my best to control the interview for the allotted 15 minute time-slot (but, as a robot too, I tried to follow the schedule for the convenience of the audience - as opposed to Johnny who was an hour late and the screening was an hour late, and people had to get home as it was after 11 pm... But we shouldn't follow the rules yet we should be joining the collective???)

At one point, when Lydon was rambling about something or another, the floor director of the event signaled to me to cut it off, so I interrupted Lydon and went to a question to the audience. At that point, his manager, Rambo said to me, "Oh no, now you've done it... You've interrupted him!"

If looks could kill, Rambo would be dead as I shot him a look like, "Shut the F-up! I'm doing him a favor by interrupting his stupid crap!"

There were a few questions from the audience with Lydon giving his self-serving answers (just like the film) but the interview was drunk rambling. 

At the end of the interview, as time was short and late, I said, "We have time for one more question..." To which John's manager said to me, "No. No one kicks John out of a place!"

Oh really? 

Lowly underpaid bouncers wouldn't even allow John into his own after-party as he was so stumbling drunk. Even the famous UK newspaper, the Sun, wrote about it: ROTTEN LUCK Sex Pistols star Johnny Rotten got barred from his own party — after security refused him entry for being too drunk (

Photo from the UK newspaper, The Sun, claiming, "Johnny Rotten looked pretty glum after not being allowed into his own party." (

Finally, Lydon stood in front of the entire audience, waved his arms wide and said something like, "I want you all to know that I love you all and want you to come down here to the front and take photos with me."

Of course, the only people who could get close to Lydon were his team and invited fans, so that statement was bullshit too. 

If he really wanted to meet the regular fans, he'd have shaken their hands as they came into the theater. But he didn't. It was all bullshit.

I did that for my movie; I met and shook hands with everyone who came to the film. I also gave them guitar picks or badges and said, "Thanks."....But, then again, I am working class riff-raff and not royalty.

A few people from the audience came down to the front, but they couldn't get really close to Lydon. He was surrounded by his posse.... Most of the audience sat in bewildered silence. I grabbed the mic and said, "It's OK, folks, it's late so if you want to go home now, please do."

The king and savior of the working classes had spoken; all animals were equal but some were more equal than others.

After the interview was over, P.I.L. members were really apologetic to me for Lydon's behavior (I figured he delivered what everyone expected so I wasn't mad) and they invited me to the after-party. I agreed to go.... But after all the nonsense and standing in the rain, I went home. 

The Sun article is not exactly true that he wasn't allowed into his own party. He was after fifteen or twenty minutes of arguments and being rejected several times.... But it was packed and the members of P.I.L. and I left immediately and they asked me to go drinking with them someplace else. We went to several clubs but they were all packed. After walking a long time, I said "Goodbye" and I went home.

Like they say, "you should never meet your heroes’ because inevitably this person you’ve built up to be larger than life in your mind is going to let you down."

Here's a video of the interview. He insulted me before and during this interview...It was cool. He was a total asshole... Did any of us expect any less?

But... It was sad...


Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Three Signs of True Stardom! A True Story about Elvis Presley, Donald Trump, Pamela DesBarres, Rodney Bingenheimer, Arnold Schwartzenegger & Stephen David Brooks

Today I have a (hopefully) humorous story about how one can know if they REALLY are famous! What is "Famous"? There's lots of definitions... But here's a simple three-step test to see if you have become REALLY famous.

You need to fulfill all three qualifications to be truly famous.

The First Qualification of Stardom!

You start getting people who bash you and/or threaten your life.

Sure, you have a hit song or you are a Hollywood in-crowd or starlet. But are you really famous? Well, you ain't famous unless some people hate you and begin to obsess over you. 

People diss you on Social Media? Meh... People disparage you in articles or on TV? Well, that's getting there. People stalk you or threaten your life? That's it! You must be famous if some nutcase cares about you so much to obsess over you like that!

Now, you can be famous and live in fear for the rest of your life! Well done!

I remember many years ago, Pamela DesBarres came to Japan to promote her best selling book "I'm With the Band" (the true stories of the life of a groupie superstar). World famous DJ, Rodney Bingenheimer (Rodney on the Roq), asked me to take care of her in Japan, so I did... Rodney had only told me her name was "Miss Pamela." I picked her up at the airport. 

Being an idiot, I didn't know that her last name was pronounced, "De-bar" I thought it was pronounced "Des-Bar-res." So, while we were riding back to Tokyo in my car, she started telling me about what she did and why she was in Japan. As I drove, I started thinking, "Wait a minute! I've heard of you!" (This confusion about famous Hollywood people used to happen with me a lot when I was hanging around Rodney). Then she handed me the book, I looked at the cover, and I knew exactly who she was!

Pamela Des Barres' Bestselling Book, "I'm With the Band"

About that same time, the comedy and satire magazine, "National Lampoon" had done a satire of "I'm With The Band" and had a hilarious article lampooning Miss Pamela's book. The article, with funny photos and story, was entitled something like, "I'm With the Brass Quartet" (or something like that). This was really coincidental because I just so happened to have that particular magazine with me in the car and I showed it to her.

She didn't like it at all. But I told her, "No! This great! When you get made fun of or people bash you, that means you've 'made it!' It means you've become so famous that everyone knows who you are and so people can make fun of you. This is a real status symbol!"

It's true. People don't publicly bash people who aren't famous, there's no point in that. People publicly bash famous people; because then everyone gets the joke. It's one of the three qualifications for true stardom. 

The Second Qualification of Stardom!

People walk up to you at restaurants and say, "Are you somebody?" 

They say, "If you wanna be professional, act professional." If you wanna be a star, look and act like one.

A long time ago, I was with that same famous DJ, Rodney Bingenheimer, at Canters restaurant in Hollywood. It was in the daytime before his show. 

Rodney was being visited by many musicians who wanted to sit with him and chat... I felt it was my duty to be a sort of adjutant for Rodney and so, as people walked up to our (his) table, I would stand up and block them (politely) and ask them, "Can I help you?" 

Later, Rodney was sitting there with somebody super famous (I think it was Phil Spector but can't remember well) when some lady walked up (I think she was a tourist). I stood up and did my duty and asked how I can be of assistance to her. She pointed at Rodney and said, "Is he somebody?" 

I was surprised and said, "Uh, yeah. Everybody is somebody!" 

She then said, "No, I mean is he famous?" 

I replied, "He is the most famous disc jockey in the world." The lady then scowled and quickly turned and walked away uninterested. 

I should have told her "That's David Bowie!" 

Rodney Bingenheimer has that "look of 'somebody.'" He has two of the qualifications of true stardom.

Rodney Bingenheimer (Left) Phil Spector (Right)

The Third Rail is the Ultimate Sign of Fame

Forget the Academy Awards, Grammys, Oscars, MTV Music Awards, Tony's, Peabody & Sherman's! The true pinnacle of success, the peak of the summit, the plastic pickles on the cheeseburger, is when a Chinese company makes a Halloween costume of your likeness for sale to the public. 

Laugh if you will, but it is truly the ultimate honor... Lots of people have won Oscars or Grammies or whatever. Few. Very few have been made into Halloween costumes.

Every year, I see these costumes on sale here in Japan. Of course, there's the usual: Donald Trump, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley... But also in this year's Top 100 selling costumes, there's Heather Chandler, Severus Snape, Ziggy Bowie and, surprisingly, Uncle Fester from the Addams Family... 

But this morning, I saw something that dropped my jaw! My dear friend, movie director, Stephen David Brooks is now a Halloween Costume! Wow! Move over Sylvester Stallone and Arnie Schwarzenegger! I haven't seen you two loser's costumes in a long time. 

Now, you might be saying to yourself, "Who is Stephen David Brooks?" and that might be a fair question. But, it doesn't matter what you or I think, when a billion Chinese think he's famous enough for a Halloween mask, then he's famous enough for a Halloween mask, OK?

There's a new kid on the block! All hail the new king! Movie director, Stephen David Brooks! 

Here is his costume on sale:

Really. What an honor, eh?

So, now, Stephen David Brooks enters that same hallowed Hall of Fame of where few have walked: there is a plastic costume of him on sale in Asia! 

Well done, Stephen! I hope that Hong Kong company is paying you good royalties!

NOTE: Stephen David Brooks is a multi award winning director of the movie Flytrap. You can read all about him here: SMC Spotlight Series No.1 | Stephen David Brooks 'Flytrap' Director & Writer Exclusive Interview

Friday, July 13, 2018

Raindance Film Festival: Confessions of a Sandwich Sign Man

I was hoping my parents never found out about this... But I can't live like this anymore; I can't live with hiding who I really am. I am coming out now for the entire world to see. 

I will admit it... I was a sandwich sign man.

In front of the Vue Theater at Raindance Film Festival Sept. 21, 2017, London, England. (Photo by Vertic Arts Gallery)

Sure, you've seen us before. You know, you consider all of us losers, those near homeless guys who stand on the street sandwiched between two cardboard signs selling this or that... 

We are thought of as the deepest depths of a loser class; a job with a pay minimum lower than the minimum paying job. The lowest of the low. The worst of the worst.

But that was my job; sandwich sign man, and I am damned proud of it and this is my story.

I did it my way.

By some miracle of God (or most probably a clerical error) a film I made with friends was selected by one of the most famous film festivals in the world; the 25th Raindance Film Festival in London. Sure, you've heard of it. Who hasn't?

The festival ran from Sept. 20 ~ Oct. 1, 2017, at a venue called The Vue Theater in Leicester Square (the British spell things in a strange way, so let's just call it "Lester Square.")

I kissed the wife, kid and dog, goodbye then packed my bags and was on a jet airliner, on my way to England, the land of many giants of world history: Churchill, Cromwell, Isambard Kingdom Brunel,.... Eric Idle. 

I arrived at the theater hoping to promote my film by pasting posters all over the place. I had been in a punk band in the late seventies so I was used to ripping down other bands posters and putting up my own. I figured I'd do the same thing at Raindance.

But, it wasn't 1977 anymore. The theater had those new-fangled electronic posters on the walls; they didn't use paper posters anymore. Paper posters were verboten.

Gee! I had arrived a few days early to promote and then was told I can't promote as I had planned... Dejected, I hung around the festival and tried to get free food and drinks.

While I was floating around the venue, I made several good new friends. They were there for the festival with their films too. I asked them how they were promoting and they all told me that they weren't. Not at all. I thought this was odd. It wasn't what I was told by my movie sensei, Stephen David Brooks director and filmmaker (whose most recent work, Flytrap, has won a dozen awards at some famous film festivals such as Chelsea in New York!) 

Let me rewind here a second. When I found out we had been selected for Raindance, I called "Stephen sensei" and asked him what I should do. Since Stephen has won more awards than my mom has Tupperware, and has been to many festivals, I figured he'd have a tip or two. He did! He was the one who told me to take posters to hang in the theater. He was the one who gave me all the good advice for little promotional goodies to bring. He was the one who told me, "It is the filmmakers' duty to get butts into seats to view the films." 

I didn't realize that. I thought the film festival would fill the seats! But no! It was the duty of the filmmakers to sell tickets!

Anyway, while I stood around in London at the theater, wondering what to do for promotion, some of my new friends told me shocking news: they had been to some film screenings and, in a theater that seats 200 people, there would only be three to eight people in paid attendance!!!!

What?! Only three people? Only eight people?! I was shocked... Well, no... Not so much shocked, but scared!

My life flashed in front of my face. I thought about my wife. She's a smart woman. What would she say if I had spent three years of my life making a movie, spent $2000 going 6000 kilometers to the other side of the earth only to have it viewed by four people (including me?) 

By the way, the number four also means "death" in Japanese. I could see my death. If only three people came to see my film after all this rigamarole I'd have to kill myself by hanging from the London Tower! (Say! That's a good promotional idea!)

So, with that, I decided that's what my mission was: I had decided to sell out our screenings or, if I couldn't, to at least give it the good old samurai try. 

I think that is the attitude of a professional.

I decided that since we couldn't hang posters, I'd take my biggest poster and make a sandwich sign. Then I'd stand in front of the theater wearing the sign every day. 

I went to an art shop and bought the supplies for making the sandwich sign. I then went home and constructed it with more loving care than mom making Christmas dinner. The next morning, I went back to the theater with my sign and put it on and I stood there; in the heat and the sun... 

I hadn't decided how long I was going to stand there in my sandwich sign, but across the way, I noticed another guy hawking tickets for a discount ticket store. This guy was standing there like a statue with the tickets in one hand held way above his head. I tried that for a while with my small sign, but after just a few minutes, my arm was exhausted. This guy across the way was doing it for hours on end and he barely moved. I began calling him, "Ironman."

My legs hurt after a little while, so I began fidgeting around; I also had to take a break every two hours. Not Ironman, though. He took no breaks that I saw. Ironman stood like Nelson's statue at Trafalgar Square; tall and stoic. Nelson, as you might know is the famous British admiral who is known for winning the Battle of Trafalgar Square... (snicker!)

From that day on, Ironman was my inspiration. Because of him, I would stand in front of the theater with my sign for five or six hours every day. Ironman, on the other hand, was out there for at least 8 or 9 hours. He was a real pro. A real inspiration to all of us who had to stand there advertising the old fashioned way; the way of real men.

With Ironman (not his real name). Sept. 23, 2017

There were several things I learned from being a sandwich sign man; first off, we are faceless and considered a curiosity by most passersby. Think about it, no one looks at our faces, they see some guy standing there with a sign. It's like the view of a time machine into a better time in the past. So I wondered why other filmmakers are so self-conscious and embarrassed that they refuse to promote their own films in this way? Nobody really cares what we do. Nobody watches us as much as we like to think they do.

There really is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Also, people think sandwich sign man is an expert of the local geography and knows where everything is located. I was approached by literally dozens of people every day asking for directions. Of course, when the beautiful girls all approached, I tried to help but, yeah, I was basically useless... I didn't even know my way back to the subway station.

With beauty queen and dancer/filmmaker Tim Lo. 

With Kosia Sawicka. See? I told you all the hot women wanted to know sandwich sign man! (Photo by Hendrik Frentrup.)

I was, though, a curiosity to the other people at the film festival. Some said sandwich sign man inspired them, some laughed; others ridiculed me (really). One time two young filmmakers walked past me, pointed at me, and one said, "That's what we should be doing. I wonder how much that costs?"

Being an old punk from the late 1970s early days of punk, I thought, "It doesn't cost anything. It's free. Have you guys never heard of D.I.Y.?" Even Joe Strummer of the Clash never forgot his D.I.Y. roots and often made the pin badges and items for the band by hand - even after they were really famous.

On the day that I was informed that the World Premiere of my movie, "Ghostroads - a Japanese Rock n Roll Ghost Story" was sold out. I felt redeemed. 

Ours was one of the few that sold out. In fact, both our regular screenings were doing so well (thanks to sandwich man?) that a third screening was added. I was told that the third screening being added was only the sixth time that's happened in the 25 year history of the Raindance Film Festival.

Maybe Sandwich sign man is an embarrassing job. Maybe it is low class... But there also is an old saying, "He who laughs last, laughs best." When I found out we sold out opening night, I had a hearty laugh.

Sandwich sign man caught on video Sept 22, 2017

A lot of people think sandwich sign man is a pretty easy job, but it isn't what it seems. It is quite difficult to stand outside in one place for several hours. A sandwich sign man has a sort of unspoken agreement with the public so beautiful women are often approaching us and asking for directions. Our sandwich sign is a sort of mark or sign of trust: It says, I'm here. I'm me. Go to the restaurant I'm advertising or "Go see the movie that I am hawking"... 

It also shows the mark of someone who just might not be what he seems.

Thanks, Raindance Film Festival. I can truly say that I have done something that very few people will ever experience in their entire lives: I was a sandwich sign man in London's Leicester Square.... And it was a fab experience I will never forget.

Ghostroads - a Japanese Rock n Roll Ghost Story (trailer): (


I Interviewed Johnny Rotten - the True Story.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Japan? Samurai, Ninja, Geisha and Benshi...

In the old days (1908 ~ the 1930s)、during the heyday of Silent Films, there was no such thing as subtitling of movies in countries like Japan (that loved western culture). 

Also, as in the west, pianists or string quartets would accompany the Silent Films (Until the music started recording those soundtracks in 1923). So, how did, say, Charles Chaplin or Rudolph Valentino, become worldwide stars when people couldn't understand the silent movies? Or the cards that were inserted into the films to explain situation or dialogue? 

There's no way the average Japanese could read this back then... 
Heck, it would be troublesome today!... Wait a sec... You guys all read English...
Imagine if the cards said this:
Get it? They could be on the screen for 2 minutes and it wouldn't matter! Chuckle!

Outside of English speaking countries, the films were narrated and explained by what is called, "rhetorician." The Merriam Webster dictionary defines, "rhetorician," as a: "master or teacher of rhetoric; an orator." Or "an eloquent or grandiloquent writer or speaker."

In Japan, these orators were called, "Benshi." 

Benshi (stage left)

The Benshi would stand on the stage to the side of the screen and explain the situations in the movies and even add in character dialogue... 

Some of these benshi were incredible at what they did; many became superstars in their own right. In fact, these benshi were responsible for people like Chaplin or Valentino becoming famous in Japan. Many fans came to see the Benshi, not so much to see the Hollywood stars! Chaplin or Valentino or the rest were the side acts... Many people came to be entertained by the oratory of the legendary Benshi...

For many people in Japan, it was the Benshi, not the Hollywood stars in the movie that was the main reason for attending the theaters back in old Japan in those days. 

I believe, as far as cinema and the mass media, the rhetoricians, the Benshi, were the very first in the evolution of today's voice actors. 

Thirty years ago, in Tokyo's Asakusa district, there was a theater called, "Kaminari Theater" (Lightning Theater) and they used to have performances just as they were held during of the heyday of silent films: They would have evenings set up to recreate the exact experience and event of Benshi and Silent Films from the 1920s. 

In the old days, in Japan, going to the cinema and seeing a Benshi was a premium experience for the high-class; people would have dinner and champagne or sake while watching the Silent Films.

I went often to those recreations in the 1980s.

Kaminari Theater used to show these Silent Films with quartet & Benshi. When the films were over, I was so impressed, moved and inspired, I had tears in my eyes. 

Benshi: Sawato Midori

If this is difficult for you to comprehend, about the Benshi, here's an example: It might be difficult to understand because it's in Japanese, but watch this lady, Sawato Midori, she is awesome. At the very start, she does the voices, of the daughter, mother, sister; then she goes on to do the voices of the samurai men who are fighting... And then flawlessly back to the narrator.

Here is Sawato Midori who is probably Japan's top Benshi.... Even today! She's an incredible talent, :

I met some executives at a silent movie company in Tokyo the other day and am attempting to arrange a showing of, perhaps, a Chaplin movie (and an old samurai movie) with a string quartet accompaniment and a Benshi for our Mt. Fuji - Atami Film & VR Festival and other Japan film festivals planned. 

The events will be promoted just like the above explanation. They will be promoted as something like, "A time trip back to Japan of the 1920s." 

The shows might include a dinner (like the food they ate back in those days) and drinks.. Drinks from the 1920s: Salty Dog, champagne, rice wine.

After everyone is served, the main event starts: A Harold Lloyd, Chaplin or Samurai Silent film with quartet and Benshi... 

Everyone can experience the past and even foreigners will like it as the Samurai movies even have English subtitles in most cases movies and the Chaplin films have the dialogue and situation card inserted. 

I think this would be the most fantastic theatrical experience! 

Time trip back to the days of the Silent Movie stars, dinner, the show featuring a string quartet and the Benshi!

A once in a lifetime trip to a better time and an age long gone by.

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This post is dedicated to Stephen David Brooks, Koji Kamibayashi, Sawato Midori, My wife, Candice Anne Marshall, Scott Hillier, Giedre Bumbulyte and Elliot Grove.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Japanese Have No Holes in Their Socks

By Mike in Tokyo Rogers

My mom was Japanese. I was raised with the idea that it is unquestionably taboo to wear shoes in the house. There is absolutelynothing in the entire world that you could do that is worse than wearing shoes in a Japanese person's house. Nothing. The dog craps on the living room floor, set the house on fire, earthquakes, tsunamis, whatever – they do not compare with walking into the house with your shoes on. It is the unwritten law of the land for Japanese people.

It is so forbidden that it doesn't even matter if no one is home, you cannot enter a house with your shoes on. I have heard stories on TV news where they talk about burglars entering someone's home to rip them off and yet the burglars remove their shoes when entering the houses. I'm not making this up. This shows just how engrained in the Japanese psyche removing your shoes, as a sign of respect, is in Japan. Entering someone's home with your shoes on is just not done here. Period.

Because I was raised in a house with a Japanese mom, I believed that everyone thought this way. That is, until I got into high school in Southern California – and made friends with some typical Southern California kids.

Southern California people are a strange breed. The typical Southern Californian will wear their shoes indoors, but go running around outdoors barefoot. Isn't it supposed to be the other way around? I remember inviting a friend over to my house one time and I told him that he had to take his shoes off before entering. He didn't want to.

"But my feet are dirtier than my shoes." He insisted. Well, maybe in his case that was so. One time when I visited his house it was so filthy that I didn't want to take my shoes off. He opened the fridge and took a big swig straight out of a carton of milk. He wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve, then as an after-thought, he held the milk carton towards me and asked, "Oh? Do you want some milk too?"

"Uh, no thanks." I said. Not only did I not want any milk, I didn't want to touch anything at that house. The grime in that place gave me the willies.

What a pig sty! I took a shower as soon as I got home.

I had always felt strange when I would be visiting someone's house and they insisted that I keep my shoes on when I walked inside. Frankly speaking, I find that a bit disgusting. When you are walking around in your shoes outside, you are stepping in all sorts of dirt and debris. And when you stop to think about it, you are also stepping in all sorts of specks of animal excrement, human spittle, gum – Lord knows what else.

So why in the world do people wear their shoes into their homes? Aren't shoes to protect your feet when walking outside? I never understood this kind of thinking when I lived in the USA and I even understand it less after being in Japan for so long.

You would be surprised at the look of complete horror on a Japanese person's face were you to step into their house with your shoes on. That is an absolute no-no. But, really folks, if you had one iota of common sense, you'd understand. Only savages, barbarians, and the French, wear their shoes inside the house.
Recently, I've been wondering how is it that the Japanese became this way? Certainly Japanese dwellings had dirt floors a few 1,000 years ago. Did they take their shoes off then?

Nearby by my house is a traditional Tatami maker's home and business. Tatami is the traditional, uniquely Japanese, flooring that you can find in any Japanese home or apartment. Tatami is a flooring mat made of woven rice straw and covered with woven rushes, and they are used to cover the floors of Japanese houses.

I found it interesting that there would be a tatami maker so close to my apartment here in Tokyo in this day and age so I went over and asked about business. The shop is called, "Ishii Tatami Ten" (which translates into "Ishii Tatami Store"). There I found the father, Ken Ishii, with his son, Takuya, hand-weaving tatami like they do everyday, like their family has done everyday – at the same location – for over 90 years. The business was first started by the father's great grandfather and passed down through the generations. Both father and son seemed to take great pride in their work – as they should. They showed me how tatami is made and, after watching for a while, I now consider tatami as a kind of art.
Business seems good for the Ishii family. Even though modern Japan has wooden floors in most new homes and apartments, there is always at least one room with tatami flooring. My home has both Western style rooms, called "Yo-shitsu" and Japanese style rooms called, "Wa-shitsu."

Tatami has been used by the Japanese for more than 1,000 years. At first, only warlords and kings used it as an ancient king in Western civilization would use a special chair. In ancient times, in Japan, the person sitting on the tatami was sitting on the throne. The nobility would use the tatami to receive guests. All would understand that the person sitting on the tatami was a king, prince, or leader of a powerful samurai group. Whereas in the west all would bow down in front of a pompous fat jerk sitting on a throne, in Japan they'd have to touch their knees on the dirt in front of a pompous skinny jerk sitting on a tatami.
In the 16th century, tatami, became widely used by the samurai and the merchant classes. Rooms with tatami were considered rooms to be used for important meetings and ceremonies. The rise of the popularity of the very spiritual Tea Ceremony also gave a boost to the wide-spread use of tatami.

Also, since tatami rooms were used for ceremonial purposes, these were the rooms were the samurai would commit "seppuku" (uh, hari-kiri) whenever they screwed up something big-time. Think about it: You go into the clean room to kill yourself – spilling your innards all over the tatami floor – That's okay. But don't you be wearing your shoes when you do it. And it is true, when Japanese commit suicide, they will always remove their shoes first. Go figure.

By the 19th century, tatami was used in all Japanese homes and became an integral part of the fabric of Japanese culture. It is still, to this day, the room to be used for important family discussions.

Tatami is perfectly suited to Japan's climate and to the idea of not wearing shoes inside the home. Tatami is soft and retains heat in the winter, while being cool in the summer. I especially enjoy the fragrance of tatami. It reminds me of the smell of freshly cut hay.

Also, since Japanese apartments and homes are small, tatami is better suited for various uses. A tatami room, with a futon rolled out, may serve as a bedroom at night. In the morning the futon is rolled up and the room may be used for many purposes. This couldn't be done if there were a bed in the room.

The father of the tatami shop, Ken Ishii, told me that there will always be a future for tatami in Japan as it cannot be manufactured by machines. Each one must be hand made to fit the various special sizes and requirements for certain rooms. No two tatami are alike.

Not only that, but tatami are relatively inexpensive. Depending on quality of materials, one tatami mat cost anywhere between $100 to $500 per piece. Most rooms in an average apartment in Japan are about six tatami.

So tatami fits perfectly with the Japanese temperate weather, and is woven into the culture. It is unthinkable to wear shoes in a Japanese home and especially in a tatami room. This is also why you will never see a Japanese person who is wearing socks that have holes in them. The Japanese consider it quite embarrassing to have to remove their shoes in front of a host only to have holes in their socks. The only person I have ever seen in Japan wearing socks with holes in them was me.

This leads me to ask, in Japan, which came first: The tatami or the socks?

By the way, the son tells me that the Japanese did indeed take their shoes off inside the house more than a thousand years ago when the floors were dirt. He said, "The dirt inside the homes and the dirt outside the homes was different." I'm sure that is probably true – and how perfectly Japanese

(This article first appeared on Lew Rockwell)

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