Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Welcome to the Neighborhood! (Part 1)

Wald 9 Cinemas (East Shinjuku)

A night at the movies is all about fun’iki – that is, atmosphere – especially when you’re on a date, as many of our patrons doubtless will be. So visitors to the TIL&GFF will be happy to know that this year we have two equally enchanting venues (the Wald 9 and the Spiral Hall) in two exciting Tokyo neighborhoods (Shinjuku and Aoyama), each with their own distinctive fun’iki.

In an endless city of 30 million souls, space is at a premium, which means everything in Tokyo is vertical. The Wald 9 (for some reason pronounced ‘Vald’, even though it is run by the legendary Japanse film company Toei, not any Teutonic foreign outfit!), is a towering cinema complex that sits on a slightly quieter edge of East Shinjuku. But this is no strip-mall multiplex. It boasts the soaring ceilings, panoramic screens, elegant décor, and optimum seating, viewing and listening conditions one would expect from the finest cinema – it just happens to be the case that in Japan they stack these glorious cinemas one on top of the other. Indeed, on your ride up the glass-enclosed elevator, you’ll be treated to a sweeping view of Shinjuku, with all its neon, billboards, and evening revellers.

East Shinjuku is, of course, one of Tokyo’s premier pleasure districts, where people of all persuasions go to drink, dance, and discreetly pursue – shall we say – ‘other’ hobbies. But its local reputation for being a little dangerous is seriously exaggerated (indeed, downright fictitious). No part of Tokyo – surely the safest city of its size in the world – will feel even remotely dangerous to anyone who has ventured to the seedier parts of any large North American, European or indeed Asian city (other than in Japan). The atmosphere of Shinjuku is perhaps closest to that of New York’s Times Square after Mayor Giuliani made it safe enough for Disney to open a theatre there and to lure scores of families into the city on weekend afternoons. But that’s not to say that Shinjuku lacks excitement. Far from it. It just means that you can choose, between the relatively sedate pleasures of shopping or eating along Shinjuku-Sanchome (3rd district) and its tributary side-streets, or the more visceral and carnal amusements of Kabukicho (Ichome, or 1st district), so named for its long association with Japan’s famous cross-dressing form of opera.

Most of our visitors, of course, will be heading straight for Shinjuku’s 2nd district (Nichome) after the movie. Famous throughout Japan as the place queer locals and foreigners go to play, it is conveniently located just one short block to the east of the Wald 9 Cinema. It’s home to more than 200 bars and clubs (as well as cafés, restaurants and book stores), and has a lively street scene, particularly on the corner occupied by the Advocates bar – a tiny establishment that can’t help but spill its many patrons out onto the street, making it an ideal people-watching spot. Just stroll through the area and keep your ears and eyes trained for a noisy mixed group of foreigners and Japanese lingering around an open bar and adjacent patio – you can’t miss it.

During the day, Shinjuku is another place entirely, and has a completely other set of attractions to recommend it. Shinjuku-Gyoen Park, just a block south of the action in Nichome, is an ideal spot for cherry blossom viewing in the spring, or an afternoon stroll at any time of the year. Foreigners looking for English-language or other books have not one but two multi-storey bookstores (Kinokuniya) to choose from – the older one just a short walk along the main drag outside the Shinjuku JR station's east exit (also known as the Kabukicho exit); the newer one just south of the station, in the annex building of the Takashimaya Times Square department store (parallel to the railroad tracks).

On the west side of the station, you can shop for all manner of electronics, and visit the skyscraper district, famous for its hotels and the imposing, indeed almost oppressive symmetry of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building’s twin towers. Fans of Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation will find this area strangely familiar, as it is the setting of some of the film’s most charming nightlife scenes. You can visit the same karaoke bar and do your own rendition of Elvis Costello’s ‘Peace, Love & Understanding’ or The Pretenders’ ‘Brass in Pocket’ (bubble-gum pink Bettie Paige wig not included). Or, if you want to visit the bar in which Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson first meet, it’s on one of the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Hotel ( Just don’t get so drunk or distracted that you miss your show-time back at the TIL&GFF and the Wald 9!

Part 2: Aoyama – home of the Sprial Hall!


janemansfield89 said...

Hey, sorry this is really random, but I really want to go to the film festival whilst I'm in Tokyo this summer. However, I will be all on my lonesome :( do many people turn up to these events by themselves? Would there be any kind of drinks & let's get to know each other kind of things going on in the halls? arigatou!

Guy Coco said...

Hi, 'Jane',

By all means, come on down! From my own experience at past festivals in Canada, where I am from, going alone is probably the best way to meet people!

Check out the festival website for events like the Grand Bal.
(Sorry, I am an html moron -- I can't get this to display as a hyperlink; gomen-ne!)

But I am sure droves of visitors will head straight from the Wald 9 to Nichome, so you shouldn't have any trouble attaching yourself to those groups. You might need to be a little brave to approach fellow English-speakers, but generally we're a pretty approachable bunch, no?

And don't hesitate to approach festival staff, particularly at the reception desk. Most of them speak very good English, and the rest of them know who the English speakers are! If you can find me -- I'll either be in the cinema attending and reporting on events, or hovering around the reception desk -- I can try to help too!

Hope to see you there!