High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Monday, August 16, 2004

Get Rhythm

I've loved Takeshi Kitano since I saw "Kikujiro," probably the film most atypical of him up to that point. And from what I've seen since then, neither the critics nor the public (save moi) welcomed his departure from the extremely violent gangster/cop films for which he was primarily known before 1995, when he was partially paralyzed in a motorbike accident. In his review of "Kikujiro," Roger Ebert said that he couldn't help feeling sorry for the kid, as mean-spirited jokes were being made at his expense. The only time I've been that baffled was when the Reader review of "A Mighty Wind" talked about how Christopher Guest's hatred for his characters and his audience must only be rivaled by his own self-loathing.

I also love his more usual fare. "Hanabi" and "Sonatine" are brilliant, and I adore "Are You Getting Any," though it's more bizarre by a long shot than any movie ever tackled by the MST3K folks, but "Kikujiro" is just beautiful and hilarious in so many ways that it's my favorite.

Zatoichi is different still. The violence is neither routine nor so unapologetic as in his cop/gangster dramas . There's plenty of wonderful humor, but none of it so absurd as in "Kikujiro" (and certainly not as odd as in "Are You Getting Any"). With a few exceptions, it's the comedy of everyday, silly people.

The story, for all it centers around the gangs and the gang of misfits (a blind masseur, a pair of geishas, a samurai for hire and his sickly wife) that have invaded a typical agricultural village, is really about normalcy. At every turn, the extraordinary events driving the main characters take place, quite literally, against the mundane rhythms of everyday life. The cgi blood, in addition to being an homage to (or poke at, depending on your perspective) Kurosawa's trademark gore fountains, transforms the kind of death and violence that follow the visitors, moving it into a time and space outside that of village life.

The "normal" life is not idealized by any means. It is harsh, bloody, and violent in its own ways. As Zatoichi is making his way into town, he lags behind a procession carrying a straw figure (one that will later be torn down by children during their wild play) that is the centerpiece of an agricultural festival. Both the procession and Zatoichi are in the background, virtually out of focus as the foreground is dominated by a quartet of fieldworkers. The entire scene is set to the beat of their hoes as they rasp against the decidedly rocky, unkind earth.

Each and everytime the whirlwind of vengeance and corruption disrupt the lives of the villagers, the rhythm reasserts itself. The inept gambler's training scene (which takes hilarious stabs at the tropes of the genre [e.g., why is it that thugs are always too polite to attack at the same time?]), ends with a stunning bit of rhythmic visual comedy. After the carnage in the gambling house, the game is quickly reestablished with gangsters nearly indistinguishable from their dead predecessors back at the wheel, the unmistakable rattles of evens and odds once again filling the air. From the familiar crackling of a lantern after the samurai finishes some of his boss's dirty work, to the harsh music of the workmen's tools as the rebuild the farmer woman's home, to, of course, the fantastic festival dance number at the end (beautifully choreographed and shot, wonderfully edited)---routine will out.

The centrality of sound and rhythm are, of course, a bit obvious given that the title character is, as advertised, a Blind Swordsman. Zatoichi succeeds because, as a bent, blind masseur, he can insert himself into village life without comment and learn the cadance of the place. His rejection of sight as the authentic sense allows him to penetrate the facades of those with ill intentions and to pull the corruption at its root, reestablishing the new normalcy on a firmer footing. He is no way, though, the savior of the village (a welcome relief, in my opinion, from the Eastwood Western formula). His absence from the final number, as well as his final line, indicate that he is even more alien and disruptive than the geishas or the gangsters, but even he cannot permanently interrupt the indefatigable pulse of life.

I still think Kikujiro remains my favorite of his movies, but I can't recommend this highly enough.

And so that C does not combust from needing to know about the Chocolate Buffet, I cough up the details forthwith.

The movie got out shortly after 9, and we had reservations for 10:30. We had to do a bit of spelunking about to find the place (I thought from the address that it would be on the East side of Michigan, but no). The Peninsula is certainly swank, although the Superior-side lobby is fairly dinky and it has elevators that go up only one floor. Once you get up to the REAL lobby, however, it's huge and gorgeous: 40-foot ceilings with floor-to-ceiling windows on the East side, looking out over the terrace, which is in the setback of the building, a large staircase down to the ballroom and terrace, two-seater conversation areas scattered around the perimeter, and incredible exotic flowers in massive arrangements positively everywhere.

We were early and our table wasn't yet ready, so we thought to go to the bar for a drink at first. The bar, sadly, is tacky, tacky, tacky, positively teeming with yuppies, foul cigars, and really bad 80s music. We beat it out of there fairly quickly (there was nowhere to sit in any case) and, eventually, thought to go out on the terrace of the restaurant.

You know how rooftop scenes in movies (or Tosca) always look fake? Well, I suspect that's because it looks fake when you're sitting three floors up with the Hancock on your left and the Tip Top Tap on your right. I had a Peninsula Martini (champagne, orange vodka, and chambord---mmmmmmm), M had a slightly less tasty (in my opinion) wild berry mojito (mojito with muddled berries on the bottom).

Back up to claim our table, the trio, which had previously been focused on the world's longest instrumental version of Sting's "Fields of Gold" (with the lead on cello), had been joined by a pretty decent female jazz singer. There was a fifty-something couple on the dance floor, and they were quite good. However, the woman seemed to be wearing a longish suit jacket and only a suit jacket. I don't care how good you think your legs are, I don't need to see the bottoms of your asscheeks, 'kay?

I ordered a glass of Sagewood Cabernet, M a chocolate martini, and then it was time to dive in. On my first pass, I grabbed: A shortbread shell with a toffee filling, drizzled with dark chocolate; an egg cup filled with a whipped chocolate cream topped with plain whipped cream; a fantastic peanut butter cake layered with chocolate and peanut butter mousse, topped with chocolate frosting; several chocolate-covered espresso beans; a fantastic pyramidal, cocoa-dusted, mint-chocolate truffle in a raspberry sauce (flavors I'd never have thought to put together---so, SO good).

On my second pass, I got: Another shortbread shell, this one filled with milk chocolate ganache, what looked like a teensy chocolate pudding in a wee dish (it turned out to have a very strange pineapple gelatinous layer underneath which was better than it sounds, but still not a highlight); a mini brownie with a molten amaretto-flavored center, topped with almond slivers; and several of the most perfectly, deliciously sweet chocolate-dipped strawberries.

The third pass was merely to try the hot cocoa and see if I couldn't force the chocolate tapioca-like espresso-y pudding thingy down my gullet. Having retrieved those two items, I returned for one more strawberry and a chocolate-coated spoon for stirring. We got back to the table to find that the waiter had, inexplicably, cleared away the perfectly fresh items on the table, leaving the remains of the pineapple thing. He was apologetic, and it wasn't as if he'd killed the last dodo, so we replaced the items. The cocoa was a bit too cinnamony for my tastes and the tapioca wasn't as good as my first taest from M's dish had indicated. I had my sweet, sweet strawberry to console me, though.

I think the only things that M had that I didn't have my own version of were a piece of yellow cake with a surprisingly yummy white-chocolate-ish frosting and pistachios (could have been some kind of cannoli cake, now that I think of it---the topping wasn't very waxy and nasty as all white chocolate is really wont to be), another small thing that looked like a mini-cheesecake on a chocolate cracker crust, but tasted like yellow cake batter, and a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie. He also had the white chocolate and lavender cocoa, which was quite good, too, the lavender being predominant.

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