Steve Mcqueen and The Tea Ceremony

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The King Of Cool.

One of the reasons I became an actor.

Japanese film directors.

One of the reasons I became a film maker.

Here I was at the pinnacle of my creative universe.  In Tokyo, a city raised from the ashes time and time again from Godzilla’s and Mothra’s constant trysts, standing across from the man who should have never been an actor and ended up a legend.

Or at least something that looked like him.  But not a bad likeness staring out at me through the Toys McCoy Window in Ebisu, Japan.  The streets here are a little rough for the uninitiated as many of the smaller ones have no names.  Just addresses.  Hard to say exactly where this store was but it was near the train station on the bank of a small river running past the street.  Inside there was a plethora of 1950 and 1960s Americana themed clothing, particularly of the raising kind.  helmets, dirt bike shirts, etc.  And then there was the Mcqueen stuff.  A window display of the out of print action figures was situated to the right as you walked in.  Detailed mini-McQueen’s of Josh Randall from Wanted Dead Or Alive, Virgil Hilts from The Great Escape, “Papa” Thorson from Mcqueen’s last film “The Hunter and Junior Bonner from, of course, Junior Bonner.

But the Mcqueen stuff got larger.  Literally.  Replica clothing, manufactured to the exact detail of his wardrobe in The Great Escape, The Hunter and The War Lover.  Jeans, sweat shirts and jackets.  But just to give you an idea of the dent in your pocket book; the blue sweat shirt worn by Virgil Hilts in the famous motorcycle chase of The Great Escape will sent you back about $160.

And that was the cheapest one.

So I walked out with a t-shirt that would have probably paid for a flight to Korea and went on my way.

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The next day the film makers were given a tour of the Skip City facility where our films were being shown.  The first stop was the amazing projection room that gave such vibrant life to all the films there.  The soda machine sized projector was controlled by a series of laptops that would control the 4K image shone on the screen.  No longer the spinning hub cap sized film reels but a sole hard drive containing each film was the source of the material.

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After this we were shown the mixing rooms, the editing rooms and the digital effects room.  All state of the art equipment used to give the final touches to the films that come through here.

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And then we were taken through the history museum.  Immediately on the left were some original storyboard drawings by Akira Kurosawa for the film he was ultimately replaced on, Tora, Tora, Tora.  Looking through the glass case I was in awe.  That kind of filmmaker-fan giddy about seeing something that was touched and created by someone you have spent years reading about and being Jap41inspired by.  Kurosawa was almost as well known for his art as for his filmmaking so it was really fricken-cool to see these.

A close second I have to admit was the original Godzilla drawings on the other side.  I grew up watching these films (I’ll always remember seeing Godzilla for the first time in Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster paired up with the short of Bambi Meets Godzilla) and there was always something about those rubber suits and sometime crude animation that you just have to keep coming back to.  Godzilla has certain Jap42grown over the years with Rodan and the rest of them, but that Hiroshima metaphor that destroyed Tokyo for the first time in 1955 was still going strong here.

The Tea Ceremony that the staff of Skip City treated us to was something else entirely.  The bus picked us up from Kawaguchi and took the 30 minute or so trek to Tokyo where behind the National Museum we were ushered into a nearly 200 year old home that had been preserved and moved here for just this purpose.

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After the filmmakers were all seated in a circle on the tatami, the host explained the history and benefits of the Japanese Tea Ceremony (Chanoyu) to the quickly fidgeting crowd.  Fidgeting because most attempted to emulate the kneeling position of the host but soon abandoned it for more comfortable jap60sitting positions.  The tea ceremony began and you soon realized it was much more an exercise in meditation than an opportunity to have something to drink.  Each movement was designed and practiced from the 9th century on.  The placement of the utensils to the actual stirring of the tea was a slow and detailed process.  No tea bags here.  It was a nearly fluorescent green powder that was mixed in with hot water.  A strong and heavy tea that is fairly different than what one gets in the states.

Then each guest was given a chance to mix it themselves.  You had to use a special tool and stir it quick enough to get bubbles at the top of the bowl.  My forearms have seen their fair share of hammer curls but they were starting to lock up trying to get the tea right.  And though my own cup wasn’t quite as good as they one they gave me, they still gave me the thumbs up for my attempt.

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As we left, the host politely implored that we express and share the benefits of their tea to the rest of the world, as it was their belief that this was part of the longevity of their countries people.  A few of us, judging by the looks on their faces after drinking it, were not going to espouse the virtues of this tea but I am sure either way, they were walking away from it pretty impressed with what went into what went into their stomachs.

The bus picked us up out front of the museum and carried us through the rush hour traffic jam back to Kawaguchi.  I had another film to catch late that afternoon.  The falling sun was framed by Tokyo passing us by in the window.   The faces in the bus around me all focused on the image.  The kind you see in the last shot of a film.  Especially an indi film with all these silent contemplative faces and the the next thing you know….

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