Obsession

In the weeks that followed (the events in “Preface,” that is – you did read that entry first, right?) my inexplicable interest in the Hanase minka ballooned to the point where I could barely think of anything else. While I was still able to get through my daily work and fatherly obligations, my DVD and Blu-ray reviewing for DVD Talk dropped precipitously. I, who had the habit of watching one or two movies every day could no longer concentrate on their narratives long enough to sustain much interest.

Instead, I found myself devouring every scrap of information I could find about minka such as the house in Hanase. Online I came to rely on websites like JAANUS (the Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System) to gain a better grasp of minka terminology, and the functions and histories of various components of the house. I began researching the craziest things: how to build a bear-proof trash cage, how to clean 200-year-old wooden crossbeams, the altitude and average monthly high and low temperatures in Hanase. When I wasn’t there I was often tooling around Google Maps’ street-view of the area, checking out other houses and wondering if there were any lumber stores nearby.

One particularly inspiring thing found online was Alex Kerr’s TEDxKyoto talk from 2013. Also quite wonderful is Minka: A Farmhouse in Japan, made with Kickstarter funding. If anything in this blog here interests you, be sure to take a look at these.

I began ordering books in both English and Japanese about minka, very enlightening as it turned out because several of these featured restored minka in Hanase and I learned a lot about the lost art of Japanese carpentry, of assembling entire buildings without so much as the use of a single nail. Further, I was surprised, just a little, to discover that other foreigners, usually also married to a Japanese, had likewise fallen in love with such places. Some weeks later I went to a BBQ and found that three or four of the 20 or so guests lived full- or part-time in the countryside north of Kyoto themselves. At the suggestion of several friends I contacted one who also had a house in Hanase. Talking on the phone we gradually realized his house was directly across the Katsura River from mine, 50 meters away. Further, until recently a Norwegian family lived nearby and just last Sunday we learned that an Australian (but Glasgow-born) chef and his Japanese wife had moved into a huge villa two doors down.

Finally, maybe in a nod to Richard Dreyfuss’s obsessive recreation of Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I decided to build a full-scale model of the minka in Hanase. For one thing, it gave me something constructive to busy myself with while nervously awaiting approval of our bank loan. For another in building it, it would provide me with a better understanding of just how the house was put together, and I could take it with me for meetings with the contractors to discuss the renovation-restoration work (called “reform” in Japanese). Here’s a look at the model, in progress:

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(You’ll note I’m not the world’s greatest model-builder. In my defense, there’s a long way to go and I do plan to fine-tune that terrible paint job.)

But where, I wondered, did this sudden obsession come from? Though I’ve lived in Japan nearly fifteen years, and had been visiting for years before that, I live here for mostly practical reasons. In point of fact, I’m fairly ambivalent toward most traditional Japanese culture and history. I enjoy visiting temples and shrines but not frequently, to the point of creating the term “templed-out” after my brother-in-law crammed far too many such places into my first visit to Kyoto.

While I admire things like ikebanaBunraku puppetrykendo, tea ceremonies, and maiko, I see enough of those kinds of things when escorting friends visiting from America. How, then, did I come to be so consumed by the history and architecture of this house, and a passionate desire to restore and live in it?

Part of it, I think, stems from a lifelong interest in old buildings and their all-too-rare restorations. I spent several years researching what eventually became a reference book called Motor City Marquees, about downtown movie palaces, neighborhood suburban theaters, and drive-ins in and around Detroit. And I’ve always been pretty fascinated with pre- and early postwar department stores, drive-in restaurants, gas stations and the like.

Partly too this interest in the Hanase minka derives from its similarity to the environment of the “up north” hamlets of Hessel and Cedarville, Michigan, in that state’s upper peninsula, where I spent many a summer (and occasional winter). Though my folks retired there, for various reasons I’ve rarely gone back – just twice in nearly 15 years – yet those trips left an indelible impression.

The third and perhaps most important reason has to do with wanting to provide a place for my wife, Yukiyo, to decompress after her all-consuming 75-80-hour weeks. (That’s not a typo.) Further, Sadie loves nature, getting her hands dirty and her feet wet. My vision for the house in Hanase is a getaway with no TV, where we can, for the most part, leave all the personal devices at home. There’s a lot to be said for doing very little, to sit on the engawa looking at nature, playing in the river and finding a huge nest of tadpole eggs, or sitting around the wood-burning stove in winter playing go.

 

 

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Author: stuartgalbraithiv

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian, writer, and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. He is the author of seven books, including The Emperor and the Wolf (Faber & Faber, 2002), the joint-biography of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune hailed by Martin Scorsese as "a must read." Peter Biskind, in The New York Times Book Review, called it "a rare feast for lovers of Japanese cinema [and] a monumental job of research . . . infused throughout with an affection for its subjects that is contagious. Best of all, it does what all good film books should do: returns us, with an enriched appreciation, to the movies themselves." "One of the best industrial histories of Japanese cinema available in English," adds Catherine Russell of Cineaste. And Bill Kelley, in The Sarasota Herald Tribune, had this to say: "Not many film books deserve to have the adjective 'extraordinary' applied to them, but Stuart Galbraith's The Emperor and the Wolf is nothing less than that. In fact, it's more . . . this 823-page achievement wants to be all things to all admirers of its twin subjects, and, incredibly, it succeeds. Reference work, scrupulously thorough filmography, exhaustive biography - all are here . . . A graceful, economical writer, [Galbraith] is also a first-rate critic and film historian. [The Emperor and the Wolf] is a wonder of clarity and organization, and an enormous pleasure to read . . . [a] magnificent book." Galbraith's other books include Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo: The Incredible World of Japanese Fantasy Films (Feral House, 1998), The Japanese Filmography (McFarland & Co., 1996), Motor City Marquees (McFarland, 1994), and Japanese Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films (McFarland, 1994). In 2007, Galbraith's The Toho Studios Story, was published by Scarecrow, while his latest, Japanese Cinema, was published by Taschen in 2009. From 2004-2009, Galbraith wrote a monthly column for Japan's Daily Yomiuri on Region 2/Japanese DVDs. Within the home video field, Galbraith has written essays for Criterion's three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and Blu-ray, Optimum's Rashomon, BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel and Subkultur's The Long Good Friday. He provided audio commentaries for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto - The Ultimate Samurai and Tora-san, editing the accompanying booklet for the latter. A commentary recorded (with Steve Ryfle) for Godzilla vs. Megalon but suppressed and aborted due to legal problems became an instant collector's item. In 2011, he co-produced Message from Earth, a short documentary on the making of Kinji Fukasaku's Message from Space. In 2015, Galbraith recorded an audio commentary and wrote and produced a new short documentary, Rashomon at 65, for the British Film Institute's Blu-ray of Kurosawa's 1950 classic. Concurrently, he served as an consultant on Oscar-winning director Steven Okazaki's documentary feature, Mifune - Last Samurai (2015). Also in 2015 Galbraith wrote an essay for Arrow Video's The Happiness of the Katakuris, shot interview material and provided an audio commentary for their Battles without Honor and Humanity boxed set. He was an associate producer for the DVDs of the classic poolroom drama The Hustler and Sidney Lumet's The Verdict. He provided audio commentary (with director Richard Fleischer) for the Special Edition DVD of Tora! Tora! Tora! (all for 20th Century-Fox), and interviewed Oscar-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond for his audio commentary track for The Sadist. Galbraith also contributed commentary tracks to The Horror of Hammer and Tales of Frankenstein, all for All Day Entertainment. Galbraith's audio commentary for Classic Media's Invasion of Astro-Monster was released in 2007 and nomiated for a Rondo Hatton Award. Holding a Master's Degree from the University of Southern California's prestigious School of Cinema-Television, Galbraith worked as an archivist and researcher at both Warner Bros. and M-G-M. At Warner Bros., Galbraith implemented preservation projects and procedures at both its USC-Warner Bros. Archives and the Warner Bros. Corporate Image Archives. At M-G-M, Galbraith worked as a "film detective," tracking down the original camera negatives to more than three dozen "lost" films. Born in 1965 in Detroit, Michigan, Galbraith was a film critic for the Ann Arbor News, a daily newspaper. In addition to writing film reviews and feature stories, Galbraith also wrote a weekly column, "Video View," which ran from 1990-1993. Between books, Galbraith wrote for such film magazines as Filmfax, Outre, and the French film magazine HK Orient Extreme Cinema. Since 2003 he has lived in Kyoto, Japan with his wife, Yukiyo, and their daughter, Sadie.

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