Author Archive: Bryan

「怖い絵」展 / Fear and Painting exhibition, Ueno Royal Museum

Today, my friend Mayumi and I went to Ueno for the Fear in Painting exhibition, which has been widely-advertised for the past few months with striking images of Delaroche’s Execution of Lady Jane Grey across Tokyo.

After stopping for probably the best tempura I’ve had in Japan so far, at Ueno’s 音音(Oto Oto), we headed into the park to the Ueno-no-Mori Museum, usually called the Ueno Royal Museum in English. Instantly we knew this was not going to be a simple art gallery visit – today is a national holiday so the queues rivalled the Harry Potter attractions in Universal Studios when they first opened.

One very long wait later and we were inside. I had the same frustrating experience I’ve had in Tokyo art museums with major Western artists so far – extreme overcrowding. You have to shuffle slowly past each painting, which most patrons give a cursory glance to unless their audioguide directs them to look at something, and then get elbowed and shoved by old ladies as soon as you get a good view of a painting, at which point you have to move on to the next. At least the Delaroche painting is on a grand enough scale that it hardly matters! On the other hand, I’ve seen it several times before in London, without the overcrowding, so for all its beauty, masterful use of lighting and interesting place within the theme of ‘fear’, and for all its academic style has become fashionable again, I wasn’t nearly as impressed as I might have been viewing this masterpiece for the first time in a visit from a far-off land.

Otherwise, the exhibition wasn’t really strong enough to justify the crowds or the admission price. There were some gems, from Waterhouse (Circe), Gustave Moreau (Angels of Sodom) and Henry Fuseli (The Nightmare) in particular, as well as some famous drawings/etchings from Aubrey Beardsley and Hogarth, but the overall feeling was that major artworks that the curator would have liked were missing and had to be referred to obliquely – in lieu of The Scream, several minor Munch works had to be included, for example. In place of Bosch, anonymous Netherlandish art. No Dalí, but some proto-surrealism from illustrations of Edgar Allen Poe books. No Goya paintings, only etchings. Then, too often there was a tenuous connection with fear but no actual fear being portrayed, like an image of King Solomon proclaiming the baby should be cut in two, but the only one in terror at this facing away from the viewer. Other renditions of fear were a bit clumsy, like Ford Maddox Brown’s melodramatic (but expertly-painted) rendition of Manfred. There was something to be said for fear inspired by a place in Sickert’s image of Jack the Ripper’s room, but within more of a context of actual fear portrayed, I think that would have been more successful.

Perhaps the most interesting section was a series of paintings by Charles Sims. I don’t know much about Charles Sims but I feel I should find out more. This was one of the most questionable links to the concept of fear, but in several pictures in different styles showed a creative mind tortured by trauma. As a scholar of the First World War, that was very relevant to me, and as a writer and musician who admires the ability to work in different modes and styles, seeing Sims now working as a realist, now a post-impressionist, now a kind of Modernist, was impressive to me. I think I’ll look out for his work in future.

At the end of the exhibit, the crowds and slow pace actually felt exhausting. We had to agree that this isn’t really the way to view art, and far from the relaxing experience we had been hoping for. While there were gems, and I’m happy to have been introduced to Sims, it wasn’t an overly enjoyable experience. Also for some reason the curator, Nakano Kyouko, seems to have a significant bias towards England. English painters were dominant here, or borrowed from English galleries. Or both, of course. The centrepiece may have been by a French painter, but it was an English subject and on loan from the National Gallery. With Hogarth’s Beer Street and Gin Lane, a map of the Tower of London to flesh out the Delaroche painting, Sims’ fairies, Sickert’s squalid London room, Waterhouse, Beardsley and, through an adopted homeland, Fuseli, it may have been the most English-dominated art exhibition I’ve ever been to that wasn’t a collection of a single artist’s work. Which was entirely unexpected and seems a little constraining given the multitude of artworks dealing with fear from around the world.

Overall, while the exhibition had its highlights, I didn’t feel it dealt with the subject very well and was limited by a strange narrowness of vision as well as, presumably, budget. But judging from the demand, it was an undoubted success, and was of course much better than seeing no art at all.

Book birthday! The Shanghai Incident has been published!

Thank you so much to everyone who made yesterday's launch a success!

The Shanghai Incident is now in shops across America. I'm very proud of this book and I hope everyone who enjoyed the first will have just as much fun with this one.

I'm hard at work on book 3 now, and very much looking forward to sharing it with you all.

Please click the image below for an Amazon link to The Shanghai Incident!

Travel: Bodiam Castle, Sussex

I escaped the uncomfortable humidity and summer rains of Tokyo to spend a couple of weeks in England. I’m mostly staying in London but have come down to my hometown in Sussex for a few days. I wanted to see the area afresh, like a tourist during the pleasant summer sunshine, and that’s what I’ve done today, with a visit to Bodiam Castle.

 

I have a lot of affection for Bodiam Castle. It really is an iconic construction. It’s not as old as perhaps it feels to the imaginative visitor – it was built in 1385 during the Hundred Years’ War. That means it isn’t as ancient as several of the churches in the area, nor many structures in London, Oxford or Cambridge, nor indeed the more imposing and better-preserved keep in Rochester Castle – let alone the Roman ruins in Dover, Bath or, well, Rome. Its lake isn’t as expansive or effective of that of Leeds Castle and of course it lacks the grandeur and scale of Windsor or Edinburgh castles. Internally, it remains a ruin, unlike nearby reconstructed Herstmonceux Castle.

Yet with its simple, square construction, its moat and its fine crenelated towers, it is the perfect iconic medieval castle. It aligns perfectly with what a child would draw when imagining a fortified European castle, even if it never saw real combat and wasn’t taken particularly seriously in defensive terms. It just fits the image of an old English castle so well, and I find it beautiful. Today, it’s a fun place for children to visit, with educational films to watch, carp and ducks to feed in the moat, and activities on the grounds like trying some archery or visiting some cute owls that hopefully aren’t kept awake all day every day. Well worth the trip.

It’s also just been nice to spend the day in Sussex, a beautiful part of the country, and to see it with fresh eyes. The weather was perfect, everywhere around were rolling hills, oast houses and happy-looking families – and I enjoyed a tasty meal at a pub run by a family friend. Steak and red wine pie with twice-cooked chips. Fantastic!

Fine dining: Galvin at Windows

I’m back in the UK for a few weeks – and meeting my family these days means trying out a delicious fine dining restaurant! I’ve been over-eating the whole trip, but this will be the highlight – my first trip to Galvin at Windows, high up on the 28th floor of the Hilton Hotel at Hyde Park Corner.
I’ve been to other Galvin restaurants, mostly recently Galvin la Chapelle, and my family had been here before, but it was my first time. This Michelin-starred branch is headed by South Korean chef Joo Won, and while we were led to expect South Korean influences, I can’t say I detected any. What we enjoyed was Anglo-Franco fine dining, most likely because we opted for the Sunday lunch menu.

After enjoying the view out over Baker Street and Gloucester Place, spotting familiar places and trying to figure out where certain key places were, my first course was seared foie gras on Iberico pork and brioche with tomato chutney. All the elements were excellent, and there was a very pleasant variety here, but the overall taste of the dish became peculiarly like an extremely high-quality hamburger – with foie gras. It was tasty, but I much preferred the simple, straightforward presentation of foie gras I had at Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road.

Next was a variation on beef with Yorkshire pudding – only the beef was a fillet and the gravy was peppercorn sauce. This was an excellent dish, with high-quality meat, some interesting flavours to match the very traditional Yorkshire pud, and with a little cabbage that added interest to the texture and some light flavour to an otherwise heavy dish. My one complaint was that the sauce was a little too sweet overall.

We had some cheese next. I never used to like cheese, but cheese with grapes works so well. The Roquefort was particularly tasty with it!

Dessert was an apple tarte tatin, one of my favourites. With a light Rosemary ice cream, it was a little more than I needed since we had cheese as well, but very delicious.

They also made Dad a little birthday cake! That was sweet – can’t fault the customer service today.

 

WWE Live Tokyo

I was never a big fan of wrestling when I was younger. I played some of the video games with friends, and knew the biggest stars, but I rarely if ever watched any actual matches. 

Recently, though, I've been introduced to the wrestling going on right now and started to get involved in the funny storylines of heels and faces, grudges and partnerships, and found it more and more fun. So when there was a chance to go to see a show live in the Ryougoku Kokugikan as a birthday excursion, I got the ticket and got hype!

It's a bit of a shame I'm a bit late to see the legends of the show. The Undertaker just retired and there's no chance to see the likes of The Rock, Stone Cold or Kane. Golddust was scheduled to be part of this show, but when his tag team broke up. his slot got replaced. Of the older wrestlers, there were only Chris Jericho - who put on a great opening performance against a Japanese upstart from NXT - and I guess Rhyno. But watching wrestling live isn't about nostalgia - it's probably better to see new talent, and it's the wrestlers I have never paid that much attention to, like Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Neville, who really put their all into this show. 

There were some other storyline-based disappointments. Enzo Amore and Big Cass were another tag team that just broke up, so all we saw of them was a 1-minute scene continuing that storyline that made it feel like a big waste that they came to Japan at all. While it had its moments and it was great fun to see two women's champions facing off against each other, the bi 6-woman tag team match was a bit less impressive than I'd hoped, with no big grappling throws or aerial showboating and a whole lot of Asuka's obsession with her butt spreading to the other women. In particular, Nia Jax didn't get to do enough. 

But the overall show was incredibly enjoyable. What surprised me was how exciting it was to LISTEN to the show. I expected the pumping music with fantastic bass coming through an arena sound system, but the surprise was how great the ring itself sounds, the stamping and slamming and heavy landings. Plus getting involved in all the crowd chants and claps and waving of phone lights for Bray Wyatt's entrance is undeniably fun. 

Honestly, I lost track of who's heel and who's face most of the time, and don't understand why Roman Reigns attracts such polarised reactions - the crowd was very vocal over whether they loved or hated him - and it's interesting how they seem to be building up Finn Balor as a major up-and-coming character. 

This was a great show to be caught up in, one  i never thought that I would enjoy as much as I did, but it's definitely something I'd like to do again. 

 

 

Pet Post 10: Numa frogs (and a guest)

Final pet post! And yes, it’s more froggies. Five of them, in fact!

Living together in a pretty tank with lots of hiding spaces are four numa frogs and one daruma pond frog – or possibly a dark-spotted frog. They were all herped from the wild and are all a bunch of greedy fat frogs! Unfortunately it’s too difficult to photograph them in their tank, so I had to catch ’em all and put them in a small one for pics.

This is Stripe, named for obvious reasons but establishing a theme that will probably soon become clear. He’s actually one of the smallest, now, but as feisty as the rest.

This is the daruma frog, with his big kawaiiii eyes. As he’s different from the rest and has a cute appearance, he’s called Gizmo. But he’s actually the biggest and toughest of these frogs now and pushes the others around, lol

And here you can see the rest of the gang. The other numa frogs are Daffy, Lenny and George. Not after the Of Mice and Men characters, but their derivative – these are all names from the Gremlins movies. I’d have stuck to Gremlins, the first movie, but most of them don’t have names…and I can’t call them ‘Plate-throwing Gremlin’…

 

Pet Post 9: Schlegel’s Green Tree Frogs

Almost done with these pet posts! Just one more after this. Today, our breeding pair of Schlegel’s Green Tree Frogs.

Honestly, the froggies are my housemate’s passion rather than mine, and though I come to see them as very cute – especially the silly pacman froggies – it takes me a little longer to bond with them, and these two are still very new.

They’re nice to look at, with cute feline faces and nice green skin, and have the very cute habit where the larger female carries the smaller male about during mating season. That’s how they got their names, Backpack (male) and, extrapolated, Handbag (female). Gender-role names, quite the opposite of my guppies! At first they were reluctant to eat but now it’s no problem, so I hope to enjoy their company more and more going forward.