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2 entries from August 2011

So, Taunt Me

Serge and Cole
Cole Porter and Sergei Rachmaninov, showing a resemblance.

"What's this doing here?" asked Master Right, with mild surprise.

I could see nothing doing anything anywhere in our immediate surroundings.  Except for the gentle whizz of the CD player. 

For the last several mintues, we'd been listening to the London cast recording of Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate. 

We often play this album when we're feeling a bit gay, in the homosexual sense of the word.  Porter was a notorious closet case—his wife Linda bearded him indulgently—and the show's cynical view of straight romance gives a very queer slant on affairs of the heart.  Memories of chorus boys in tights don't hurt, either. 

The record had just reached track five—the majestic, haunting So in Love.  My husband felt surprised he needed to explain.  "He stole this piece from Rachmaninov, didn't he?"

I replied more from a debater's punchiness than any knowledge of music.  "That's crazy.  It's Broadway." 

Yodogawa_nagaharu book"What about the famous recording?  Everyone knows that's Rachmaninov," he replied, and thus began a queer little quest. 

Act One, Scene One: Open on a dark movie theatre in Kobe...

From birth, Nagaharu Yodogawa (1909-1998) was destined to be a movie critic.   His mother (an ex-geisha in his father's geisha house) went into labour in a cinema—she joked that her son must have wanted to see the film.

He became Japan's official Hollywood insider.  In the course of his long career, he wrote books on Chaplin, collected Kurosawa's Oscar, and peeked in Dietrich's refrigerator.  It contained a single hard-boiled egg.  

Since we're being all gay this afternoon, it's worth noting that Yodogawa lived in the closet for decades, coming out in his late-life memoirs.  

Of course, when we say that he lived in the closet in Japan, that means everybody knew.  Master Right hails from the Kansai, and assured me that Na-kun was a fixture of the Osaka gay scene. YODOGAWA-CHAPLIN1998

Yodogawa liked his blokes with a bit of meat, and visibly swooned when he interviewed what would nowadays be known as a bear.   Rumour has it that he crushed hard on Ned Beatty in Deliverance

Arnold Schwarzenegger once made chit chat with Yodogawa in an interview.  Arnie complimented the elderly critic on his good health and energy, and asked the secret of a robust old age.  Without missing a beat, Yodogawa replied that he owed it to regular attendance at Japanese bath-houses, and would the star care to join him?

(See a few revealing moments at the 5 minute mark in this link.  It's worth it.)

Sayonara, Sayonara, Sayonara

What made Yodogawa a national treasure was the Sunday Night Western Movie Theatre on TV Asahi.   In 1962, Asahi hired Yodogawa to sandwich intelligent comment around subtitled Hollywood fluff, so they could pull a legal dodge and pass it off as educational content.

He took to his job with gusto, not missing a single show until his death 36 years later. His signature farewell—a breathy sayonara, sayonara, sayonara—signalled that the weekend was over .  This induced a certain melancholy, as one realised that the Monday grind lay only a few hours distant.   

Sazae-san (Nowadays, a sweet family show called Sazae-san performs the same function each Sunday night.  The weekly funk it lowers across Japan is known as the Sazae-san Syndrome.  You can see Mrs. Sazae's cheerful clan to your left, reminding a nation to get back to work.)

Mood Music

Thus, the end-titles for the Sunday Night Western Movie Theatre caught Japan at a wistful moment, and Yodogawa played music to match. 

His outro was a dramatic piece for piano and orchestra.  Due to the complexity of the keyboard part, every baby-boomer in Japan grew up convinced Rachmaninov penned it.  Unbeknownst to most of its listeners, it was an arrangement of So in Love. 

Act One, Scene Two.  Somewhere between Radio City and Carnegie Hall. 

A pop tune?  Impossible!  This sent Master Right into a fit of vigorous googling.

Japanese Wikipedia confirmed the news, as did other sources. The music which closed  Asahi Western Movie Theatre was Cole Porter's So in Love, arranged for orchestra and conducted by Morton Gould.  The track first appeared in 1951, on Gould's creepily-named album, Curtain Time.

There was nothing else for it.  We had to find this recording.  Where?   Stay tuned for Part Two.

All photos link to source.