The spacious residence of Italian Ambassador Gabriele Menegatti was wall-to-wall people when he and his wife Brigitte invited mostly members of the media to a press conference to open Festival de/ Cinema Italiano 2001. It was all very well planned.
In addition to actress Maya Samsa and a group of directors from Italy, the embassy had arranged for one of Japan’s most popular entertainers, Takeshi Kitano (Beat Takeshi) to be on the panel. He really kept the people there in stitches.
After the press conference and a short photo shoot, he rushed out, surrounded by more bodyguards than the prime minister. Guess that’s the price of fame or a big ego. Meanwhile, the guests moved into the dining room for a bountiful Italian buffet and the opportunity to meet and chat with Maya and the directors.
Still on the film scene, Canadian Ambassador Leonard J. Edwards and his wife Margaret hosted a screening of the opening film, “Waydowntown,” of the Canadian Film Festival. I had a kind of difficult time understanding the story but enjoyed a look at the Plus 15 maze of downtown buildings connected by 15-story high walkways in Calgary, where the film was shot.
Several years back, I had two really nice guys from Calgary working at the Lex. All they talked about was the big annual Calgary Stampede, another of the world’s exciting happenings I’d like to see.
After the film, guests were treated to a superb buffet of Canadian food. The highlight of the evening for me was a performance by two First Nation citizens of Canada, singer-drummer James Joe Starlight, and one of the best hoop dancers I’ve ever seen, Earl Charters.
I really appreciate Canadian Cultural Projects Manager Stephane Enric Beaulieu introducing me to James Joe and Earl. In talking with them, I learned we share some Native American friends. I also enjoyed talking with Japanese film director Masato Harada who told me he was working on a film in which his son Eugene ( who was with him) would act. Unfortunately, the project seems to have fallen through.
Leonard and Margaret are back in Canada now and, as I was traveling, missed their big sayonara. We here at the Weekender wish them all the best back home.
It had rained the previous day, but the clouds moved on, the sun came out, and it was a beautiful day for Mitsuo and Lilo Maruyama’s annual garden party. I rode out there with Kyoko Spector, Carole Yoshida and Nancy Erne. It was great fun, and the two hours it took us to get there flew by. Happy to Kyoko’s a good and safe driver.
As always, the Maruyamas’ sprawling California-style home, spacious gardens and poolside gazebo were full with a colorful and casual mix of interesting people.
Chichan Plessner was there with her friends, Asatake and Sakurako Kuni. I got to know Asatake, who’s related to the Imperial Family, when we were in Berlin for the opening of the Sony Center in June of last year. He’s a real gentleman.
I’ve seen this tall, super chic woman whom Lilo told me flies from Hawaii every year for her party, but I never really got to know her. This year I chatted with Helen Sinclair, and what an interesting lady.
She and her daughter Suzanne run an unusual accessories shop in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Please drop by and say hello next time you’re over that way.
Happy to see another wonderful lady, Cecelia Priz-Balon, widow of the late Uruguayan Ambassador Ramiro Priz-Balon. He died here in Japan a few years ago.
There were three generations of one fine family there – Egyptian Ambassador Mahmoud Karem and his wife Tasmina, their three daughters Myra!, Reem and Amina, and Myral’s beautiful and energetic little girl Kanzi.
Former Tokyoite Iwatari Kepper was in town, found out about the party and-guess what?-showed up. She hasn’t changed a bit.
The buffet was delicious and, I’ve said before, I’d like to go into the dessert business with Lilo. Chocolate lovers (that includes me) were in heaven.
I drove back to Tokyo with Omani Ambassador Mohammed bin Yousef AI-Zarafi and really enjoyed getting to know him better. Oman’s one of the few countries in the Gulf area I have not visited, but everyone I know who has been there really loved it.
These include Mitsuo, Lilo and their son Helge. Lilo told me, “It’s a dream destination.”
I was happy the weather was nice for South African Ambassador Karamchund Mackcrdhuj and his wife Suminthra at their mid-day reception to celebrate their country’s Freedom Day.
The many guests included Japanese government officials, diplomats, business leaders and other friends of the Mackerdhujes. Kararnchund was also happy to have several relatives visiting from South Africa.
Kararnchund and Suminthra were very busy preparing for the huge and, happy to report, very successful South African Experience, a many-faceted cultural presentation at the Hilton Tokyo. More on that later.
I knew I was cutting it close but felt my Northwest flight from Manila on the morning of July 14 would get me back in time for the big Bastille Day celebration thrown by French Ambassador Maurice Gourdault-Montagne and his wife Soline. Not!!!
The Northwest flight arrived 15 minutes early, but traffic from Narita was heavy. By the time I got home and checked out the invitation (5-7 p.m., not 6-8 p.m.), as I had thought, it was just too late.
Carole Yoshida was there and told me it was a crowded and festive event, as I know it would be. Congratulations to all our French friends on that very special occasion.
Also sorry to miss both the opening and closing parties for the exhibition of South African photographer Ais Deffense. Her invitation was a work of art and, if you see her work, you know she really knows how to combine art and photography.
The exhibition was held at one of Tokyo’s hottest new exhibition and event places, the Pink Cow near Meiji Jingumae. Long time friend and photographer Tim Porter is coordinator for the wine bar-California cuisine restaurant’s gallery events.
Really enjoyed some prime time with 13-year-old actor Haley Joel Osment and his family backstage at Budokan where Warner Brothers held a screening of the film “A.I.”
Haley just finished the seventh grade and has been doing a lot of traveling (Japan and most of Europe) to promote the film. As far as music goes, he likes REM and plans to study piano and guitar next year. He hasn’t yet decided on his next project but is busy reading scripts with his dad.
Prince and Princess Takamado were special guests at the premiere, and I suggested she bring copies of the children’s books she wrote to give to Haley and his 9-year-old sister Emily who is also into acting.
When she presented Haley with a copy of Lulie the Iceberg, he leafed through it, looked up at the princess and said, “Cool.” She and the prince both got a kick out of that.
The W.B. “A.I.” press conference earlier, in which director Steven Spielberg appeared via satellite on a huge screen and answered questions as they were asked from among 500 media people, was a stroke of marketing genius, and it really played an important part in making “A.I.” a phenomenal success here.
One of my favorite Spielberg comments in the interview was, “We have to be careful not to compete with God all the time.” Kudos to W.B.’s Bill Ireton and his staff.
To Princess Takamado on the success of the shadow puppet play of her book, Lulie the Iceberg, at the Aoyama Children’s Theater. The puppet play has gone to Canada for performances and will go to the U.S. before returning to Japan for repeat performances.
To Kumiko Hattori who celebrated her birthday on July 17. Sorry I had to miss the dinner Nancy and Helen Ma hosted in her honor at Nancy’s restaurant. Kumiko in recent years spends most of her free time on the golf course, and I hear she’s really good.
My main purpose in going to the Philippines this time was to keep a promise I had made to two families who live in the village of Pagsanjan and have been very good to me. Thanks to several generous and caring friends (Chichan Plessner, Grace Saito, Mitsuo and Lila Maruyama, Bill and Charo Ireton and Romano Mazzucco), I was able to buy a 21-inch Sony television set for each of the families.
Getting the TVs was quite an experience in itself. Three of us piled into and on to a motorized tricycle and made a 30- minute trip to Santa Cruz, the biggest city in that area. After checking out several shops and considerable bargaining, we loaded our purchases, both in huge boxes, onto the small vehicle, tied them down and headed back to Pagsanjan.
If you don’t believe in the joy of giving, you should. I can’t remember ever seeing two families so happy or more grateful. I went back to one family’s small home that evening for dinner. They had placed the TV on a tall chest in the main room, facing a window so about a dozen neighbors could sit outside and watch it. It’s nice to share.
A wealthy friend in Manila told me he thought I should buy them something more useful, suggesting a sewing machine.
“Come on,” I said. “You and I have everything. I’m going to give them something they can enjoy.” Glad I stuck to my guns.
The heads of most families in Pagsanjan average about $3 a day, and that’s when they can get work. The main source of income there is from the local boatmen (about 1,200) paddling tourists up the Pagsanjan River in long, colorful, wooden boats, visiting Pagsanjan Falls and shooting the rapids back to the village.
With tourism down, many of the boatmen don’t work for days, so I’m happy that, with the help of friends, I was able to give some good people a luxury they probably would never be able to have. Hope I can do it again.
Be sure to catch one of magician David Copperfield’s shows this month. The man’s amazing. One night not long ago, I was chatting with David at the Lex, and he asked, “What’s happening?” Then added, “The models are getting younger all the time.” Kind of interesting to hear that David, 44, is living with a 22- year-old Belgian model, Ambre Frisque.
David’s shows are at Tokyo International Forum through Aug. 13. For information, call M&l Company at 5453-8899.
As part of the Hotel Okura’s 40th anniversary events, the hotel will hold its seventh Charity Art Collection from Saturday, Aug. 4, through Sunday, the 26th. “The Great Rome Exhibition of 1930-a Retrospective” revisits an international showing of Japanese art.
If you’re into dancing, the Broadway musical “Fosse” is a must-see. The American production will run here from Aug. 3 to Sept. 4. For info, call Kyodo Tokyo at 3498-9999. Looking forward to September which will be here before you know it and when Min-On Concert Association will bring in the highly acclaimed Zambia National Troupe’s “Dance of the Earth” for a series of performances around Japan.
*First published at the Tokyo Weekender