Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Twin Peaks in Japan in 1990s

I lived in Japan from 1989 to 1992 working for the Japanese government as a teacher just outside Tokyo. It was a time when Japan was flexing its economic muscle and Japanese businesses were acquiring U.S. and international companies and real estate with a soaring yen. Several movies from Hollywood reflected the fears Americans had about country such a Gung-Ho with Michael Keaton in 1986, Black Rain starring Michael Douglas in 1989 and Rising Sun starring Sean Connery in 1993. Sony acquired Paramount Studios in 1989 and Panasonic acquired MCA, owner of Universal Studios in 1990 which only added to the Paranoia that Japan was taking over the world.

It was into this maelstrom that I was dropped and it was rather exciting times. I was the first foreigner based where I was even though I was about 90 minutes by bus from Tokyo. It didn't take me long to discover that the hunger for cultural exchange had exploded and Japanese people were consuming anything and everything they could from outside their borders. The trade imbalance weighed heavy on the government as manufactured goods like cars and steel piled up in the ports to be sent to America.

One thing that Japan did start to buy in quantity was western entertainment. Tokyo Disneyland and Hard Rock Cafe had opened only six years before I arrived. McDonald's and Coca cola were everywhere. Hollywood movies were huge and Star Trek was dubbed into Japanese on TV.  As exotic as Japan was, all the touchstones of North American life abounded including 7/Eleven (also owned by the Japanese).

My furnished apartment had most things but among other things lacked curtains, alarm clock, TV and a ghetto blaster (or as Japanese said CDCasseteRadio). The curtains came in handy as there was no daylight saving and the sun already bright at 4:30 AM. My radio was generally tuned into the Far East Netwok (FEN) of the Armed Forces Radio. Nearly 50,000 U.S. military were and still based in the country. I was able to pick the signal from nearby Camp Fuji where the Marines were based.

In retrospect I should have bought a bilingual TV and then could have watched some TV series and Hollywood movies with the flip of a button that shut down Japanese dubbing. It forced me to learn the Japanese language though. In a pinch, the TV English signal ran on an FM frequency and I would turn the TV sound down and the radio up to watch movies. Not that I needed to do that much, however.

Rental video and audio jobs were in abundance just as they were in North America in mom and pop shops and large format stores as well. I did not lack for anything in Hollywood movies. It was shortly after I arrived in Japan that the international version of what was to be a TV series from the States was released. Strangely enough, it was packaged as a stand alone movie with an 20 extra minutes featured never seen in the U.S. or Canada. This special release became a cause celebre since despite rabid interest in the unseen footage, it was not made available in North America until 2007.

One of the things I bought in addition to my TV was a VCR and I quickly got to know where three or four video stores were. I believe the business was peaking just as it had been in North America. In 1980, you could find few video rental stores in Winnipeg but by 1982, it was the gift to get at Christmas despite being pricey at around $600 plus. The release of Star Wars in 1982 opened the floodgates.

And so it was in 1989 in Japan. There were a few mom and pop stores near my home high above Tsuru University. I'd rent at least one movie a day after my work day. At the time I walked everywhere and would get dinner at the store or a variety of the restaurants around the college. Hoka Hoka Tei was a fave for box dinners.

Movies were in English with subtitles. Like in North America, fresh material was coming in all the time. It was tough for small stores. I found I went through their cassettes quickly and moved on to other stores. In the years I was there, a few of the smaller stores closed and bigger ones opened. I got a scooter and was soon going to J-Mart about 20 minutes down the road driving.

I don't recall any TV series being released for VCR. It wasn't even a thing in North America until a show like Seinfeld came out. However, the release of David Lynch's pilot as a movie with 20 minutes extra footage in 1990 was something I rented as soon as I saw it.

My reaction to the special edition pilot was sheer joy as well as horror. My reaction *every* single time to the alternate closed ending is shivers down my spine. Essentially, everything from the pilot remains the same except Laura Palmer's mother remember seeing the the killer at the foot of Laura's bed hiding! The scene repeats a few times and it is only as she is absently scanning the room that we see Bob, the long haired killer!

Agent Cooper staying at the hotel is awakened by Mike, the one armed man who tells him to meet him at hospital. The next call comes tell him of the news that the Sarah Palmer saw Laura's killer. The Sheriff and Cooper head to the hospital where they find Mike who tells the pair where to find Bob.

I don't want to give away too much for anyone who has never seen the alternate ending. However, it ends with the a post-script of 25 years later when Agent Cooper as an old man sits in chair in the Red Room (Black Lodge) where a little man and Laura Palmer sit opposite. The scene end with the little man dancing after Laura kisses Agent Cooper and whispers who killer her in his ear.

Colour me gobsmacked. Those of us in Europe and Japan saw this version even before episodes stated to air in North America. For Europe, most only saw this pilot and only much, much later saw the TV series. Meanwhile in Japan, fans were frantic for more.

There was no Internet back then. Like everyone else, I read about the series in the media in Japan. I had the selection of four different daily English newspapers to read in 1989. I chose the Japan Times. I also visited Kinokuniya Bookstore in Shinjuku where an entire floor was dedicated to English books, magazines. It is where I picked up the Economist each time I was in the city. It was during a visit into city that I came across the information of the Twin Peaks series.

In one of the hundreds Japanese pop culture magazines that would line any Daily Store or Let's Kiosk stand was the bold headlines that VHS tapes would be released for rent, two episodes per take as quickly as they could have subtitles added. In other words, pretty fast. I hungrily rented each tape which would come to number 14 when all was said in done.

Like many in Japan I was stunned by the pilot and second episode. Everything was good till second episode and then I was asking: But what about Mike? What about Bob? I was confused. So were many Japanese but it didn't stop people from viewing the series with anticipation. I didn't fully appreciate what the extra 20 minutes of footage meant until I bought the pilot tape and brought it home on holiday. People went nuts. Some hated it and thought it was a fraud. Others loved it. No one was neutral.

In 1990 the Japan Satellite Broadcasting (now Wowow) began a free preview for 12 hours a day featuring such TV series as Tour of Duty.  Wowow eventually became the home to the Twin Peaks TV series when it switched over to full pay TV in 1991. It was Japan's first pay channel and Twin Peaks helped cements its reputation.

The series was cancelled as everyone knows after two seasons but David Lynch was not done. It was off to the movies for the series and Twin Peaks: Fire walk With Me was produced in 1992. It did not premiere in the U.S. In a turn of events based on the most rabid of fanbases, Fire walk With Me was released in Japan first. It was an enormous box office success in Japan. Not so much in the U.S.

The bar scene in Fire Walk With Me was filled with loud bar music and English subtitles were replaced with Japanese ones. Let's just say that Japanese subtitles can leave you confused compared to what the actual dialogue is. It was only when I rented the movie in North America that I saw the actual dialogue of that scene. My biggest disappointment was the reduced role of Kyle MacLachlan and absence of Lara Flynn Boyle (Donna Hayward) and Sherrilyn Fenn (Audrey Horne). Moira Kelly did her best with replacing Boyle as Donna but it was a difficult casting.

In the summer of 1992, Japan was still going crazy for Twin Peaks. I was headed back home after years in Japan and like so many Japanese I decided I had to go the the state of Washington and see where they filmed the series. Armed with books and magazines of the series that I bought at Tower Records in Shubuya, I planned to meet family in Los Angeles after a layover in Hawaii (where I was hospitalized for a bite on my foot by a shark which is story for another day).

From LA (and visits to Disney, Universal, Knott's Berry farm, etc) and all the way up the Pacific Coast, we made our way to Snoqualmie, Washington and North Bend. I saw the railway bridge, the rail car, the Great Northern and the 270 foot falls and to top it off I ate at the Double R Diner.

The town on Snoqualmie knew they were onto a gold mine. Tons of Japanese toured the town and there was groups all over with guides including translated material. Everywhere you went, people were sightseeing in that August of 1992. And yes, I had cherry pie and sat in the very seats of my favourite characters and many said it was damn fine coffee.

It was quite the trip and I think I might be the only one I know of fans in Winnipeg who loved the series who actually went to the filming location that year the movie came out. In retrospect, it was something I was a little embarrassed about. However, I experienced the series as rabidly as the Japanese did and ended up doing what many of them in touring the locations.

As an addendum: As we were driving out from Redmond, Washington, I saw film crews and was hopeful more Twin peaks were being filed that 1992. Alas, it was the crews from North Exposure which started in 1990 and I'd never seen. Just down the road from Snoqualmie was Roslyn, Washington standing in for Alaska. It is where they filmed the moose wandering around town. I saw the town and how pretty it was and later saw the series and realized where it was filmed. I adored Northern Exposure as well and eventually caught up on the series that I had missed two years of.

To this day I love Twin Peaks but regret is not on network television for its return. I will wait patiently for it but a lot of the buzz for the series will be hard to get back as we consume media much differently now. It is not at same timeframe. Perhaps only Hollywood movies count as event worthy. And yet even there, so much is happening in the world that sometimes that collective reaction is "huh" to everything.

My appreciation of Twin Peaks though was largely shaped by me being a resident of Japan.

Fences Down at Assiniboine Park

Fence Posts Down Corydon Gone
If you drive down Corydon you might notice something different. The fence posts outside Assiniboine Park are gone. There had been a time when they were painted every year and rotten posts removed and chain replaced. Not anymore. The posts have all been removed all the way down to the west park entrance, it is open into the park.

Fence posts have been deteriorating all over the city and some have collapsed and nothing has been done. Assiniboine Park now has an open look to it that is quite amazing to see. Where possible it would be nice to see more fence posts removed but it is contingent on people not seeing it as an invitation to snowmobile or quad or other vehicles in the park.

 Many parks are suffering from deteriorating conditions and the first thing people see are fences. As a marquee park and with Assiniboine Conservancy as guardian, there has been moves to improve things in the park. However, the neglect elsewhere is hard to ignore. Broken fences, closed washrooms and overrun with gopher holes. Not every park can or has a protector.

And trees keep coming down every year in the park and streets of Winnipeg and fewer of them are going up.

Not sure if the removal of the fence posts signifies a change for the city but Assiniboine Park, you look good.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Movie Review: Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man Tell Tales is the fifth outing for the franchise which has been both a powerhouse of how much they cost to make as well as how much they earn. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer probably never guessed just how enduring the movies featuring Johnny Depp as pirate Jack Sparrow would be. The first movie in 2003 was a delight in story, action, acting and swashbuckling.  Directing the movie this time is the Norwegian tandem team of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Kon-Tiki). The screenplay comes via Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can).

The subsequent sequels after the first movie have been some of the most expensive movies filmed and have netted Disney over $4 billion. However, the sheer joy of the first, the clever word play and the stunts and physical humour have given way to increasing special effects. There was entertainment to be sure but the inventiveness and character acting of the first shines bright in comparison.

The newest outing of Pirates is an improvement over the last movie. This time there is the introduction of some younger blood in the form of Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites, Gods of Egypt) and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario, Maze Runner). Turner, son of Will Turner and Smyth cross paths when both seek the Trident of Poseidon for their own reasons tied to their fathers.

Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow and once again is down on his luck with his beloved Black Pearl trapped in a bottle in his pocket. He and his remaining crew call a beached wreck of a ship home. We first find Jack asleep in a bank vault full of loot with a married woman. This results in one of those incredible action set pieces which the Pirates movies are famous for.

If it feels like there is a lot of back story, there is. And at over two hours, the viewer has to sit through a lot. The introduction of a new villain with Javier Bardem playing the vengeful and dead Spanish Captain Salazar is the spark and the driving force as everyone seeks the McGuffin in the form of the Trident.

Old favourites inhabit the movie. Geoffrey Rush returns as Captain Hector Barbossa and Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are there as well playing Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. An end credit scene hints at more future adventures. A cameo by Paul McCartney in a prison cell as a pirate should be watched for.

The sense of fun is back with Dead Men Tell No Tales and Bardem has mischief with a bad guy role. The weakness is that with so many characters, the story bounces around a lot and there are many back stories. The young actors tasked with taking over the future suffer from so much happening all at once.

There will be critics who will be less than impressed with the movie but it is still an enjoyable romp. The ending fulfills fans hopes of a happy ending for some of the favourite characters in the series. It becomes easier to overlook the flaws when you are smiling and laughing. Still, it becomes harder to keep the story fresh if there is a checklist of what the movie is required to do for storyline.

The box office should decide whether Pirates continues but with billions made already, is there any doubt?

Monday, May 15, 2017

MINISO Coming to Winnipeg Soon

It is reported that MINISO is in negotiations with malls in Winnipeg to open sometime in 2017.The Japanese/Chinese sore started in 2013 is based in China and appears to be in direct competition to Asian stores UNIQLO and MUJI which are spreading across Canada.

The store is an affordably priced variety store, that sells household and consumer goods, cosmetics, stationery, toys and kitchenware. It would appears that the sore company has Dollarma clearly in their sites as well as other value retailers. They aim to open 500 stores as a long term goal. However, their short term goal is 30 to 50 and soon.

Polo Park would seem the obvious location as well as St. Vital.

It has been and up and down time in retail in Canada. Some stores have shut while many others have opened. It has been heady times. Meanwhile Amazon continues to grow to be the elephant in the room.

New mall developments are adding other components like gyms, housing and entertainment. The Outlets of Seasons has a mix of almost everything including care dealerships and hotels.

The mall has not died yet but there are challenges. However, MINISO could re-write the book on what suceeeds in the future.

Wait to hear an announcement for Winnipeg soon.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Winnipeg Goldeyes New Season

Winnipeg's sports teams might be storied but it is a long time since they were champions. That is, unless, you are talking about the Winnipeg Goldeyes. In 2016, for the second time in five years they won the American Association championship. It was an exciting season that saw Goldeyes clink a spot on the last day of the season clinched a play-off spot. In each the rounds of the play-offs, they came from behind to win. Boring, it was not.

This year's season kicks off against Winnipeg long time rival the Fargo RedHawks on Wednesday at 6 for a two game homestand. Many old favourites on the team are returning and several exciting new faces as well. A few retirements and a few call ups to the big leagues as well.

The teams in the north and central divisions remain stable this year in terms of city and owners but the south division remains a bit of a gong show. Laredo Lemurs has shut and a new team Salina Stockade will play a few games in Kansas and travel the rest of the time as a visiting home team.

Independent league baseball is colourful and entertaining and the Goldeyes play in one of the most beautiful small stadiums in North America.  It is the quality of the entertainment and food and love of sport that bring people back year after year. Some sports have been called the No Fun League and that can't be said for baseball in Winnipeg.

For those who can't come to to a game, the radio broadcast on CJNU is one of the most professional you'll find with Steve Schuster. The coaching, management and staffing are worthy of a big league franchise.

Spring training wraps up and the team takes to the field Wednesday and it seems like the return of an old friend. And indeed since 1994, the Goldeyes have become part of the Winnipeg mosaic.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Opening of Outlet Collection Winnipeg

The crowd wound around the building before 9 AM
The Food Court entrance from the back of Outlet Collection
It seemed an impossible task that the $200 million Outlet Collection Winnipeg factory mall would open on May 3rd. Construction continued all this week and into the morning. IHOP and  McDonald's are all waiting to be completed just outside the mall. The Audi, Porsche dealerships are under construction and the Hilton Hotel is nearer completion.

The mall inside minus some notable exceptions is complete and looks fantastic. Some of the biggest outlets stores are all done including DSW, Nike, Under Armour and Saks OFF FIFTH.

The Food Court was the site of a opening ceremony hosted by Ace Burpee and featured the premier, the mayor and the builders of the mall Ivanhoe Cambridge.

Entertainment, food, models and many dignitaries were in every seat and standing to every side. Nearly 60 retail executives from Ivanhoe Cambridge were there to see the opening and and attend a 2 day business conference. Politicians of every stripe and media of all kinds were in the crowd.

Performers at the ceremony
The ceremony was not long. Ace Burpee acted as host and speeches were made by Premier Brain Pallister, Mayor Brian Bowman and President of Ivanhoe Cambridge Claude Sirois. They welcomed assembled crowd and the people outside.

General Manager of the mall, Dimitrios Cotsianis, announced that the mall would be giving $10,000 to a local charity. It would be up to mall patrons to decide who. he tanked all those who helped bring the mall to fruition. Nearly 2000 workers helped in those last days before the deadline to get things ready.

Premier Brian Pallister
Mayor Brian Bowmna
President Claude Sirois, Ivanhoe Cambridge
General Manager Dimitrios Cotsianis, Outlet Collection

While the speeches were happening, a train rolled through the back and parked behind. It was just a reminder of what the Seasons of Tuxedo site was just a few short years ago: a railyard. Also visible was the huge crowds snaking around the building including a lot of kids who otherwise should have been school. Police and heavy security along Kenaston and Sterling Lyon directed people into the packed mall.  Organizers estimated that at the opening, there might have been 4000 people at the doors.

Following the speeches, media was led to the door opening and people literally ran inside.

Crowd running in
It wasn't long before all the stores were packed to the rafters and traffic reports were saying the street was filled with cars and people

Some stores and restaurants in and outside the mall will open into the fall. Expect it to be busy for the next while!

Much of the photography by Matraisa Klippenstein. Thanks for her professional work that day.