A film buff's guide to Tokyo

A film buff's guide to Tokyo

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Text: Adibah Isa

Image: Getty Images,
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The Luxury Collection's The Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho is a central abode to explore some of the capital's cinematic spots in Shibuya, Toyosu, Ryogoku and Roppongi

from Lost In Translation (2003)

There's no mention of Tokyo without singling out Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation, the unlikely indie hit that made it big. Introducing the then teenage Scarlett Johansson to the masses, it popularised spots such as New York Bar in Park Hyatt Tokyo, the setting where Johansson's character talks to Bill Murray's for the first time. 


While most fans would flock to the 52-storey jazz bar, follow the locals to Shibuya's Karaoke-kan outlet instead. It's where the leads spent the evening with their Japanese friends as they belted out the likes of Brass in Pocket by The Pretenders, More Than This by Roxy Music, (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding by Elvis Costello and God Save The Queen by Sex Pistols. Request for room 601 or 602, where you'll sit at the exact spot and look over and out at the district's bustling activity.

Karaoke-kan is located at 30-8 Utagawacho. Tel: 03-3462-0785.

Tsukiji market
from Tsukiji Wonderland (2016) 

What a way to say goodbye. When filmmaker Naotaro Endo first heard of the plans to move the 80-year-old Tsukiji market out of its current location in Chuo, he sought out to capture the stories that exhaled out of the world's biggest wholesale fish and seafood market. In his debut feature, Endo's documentary crew spent 16 months recording over 600 hours of interviews with vendors, buyers and chefs such as Jiro Ono ("Tsukiji is Tokyo's kitchen"), Takashi Saito and Noma's Rene Redzepi in a bid to preserve the soul of this institution.

Occupying the size of 32 football fields, it houses 480 kinds of fish and seafood and is split into the inner market (where tuna auctions start as early as 5am), a vegetable market as well as the outer market, where dishes are prepared a la minute and where 1.2-metre long knives are picked up by chefs on a retail trip. 

Tsukiji fish market will close on 2 November and re-open on 7 November in Toyosu, Koto Ward. Tsukiji Wonderland is now showing at The Projector. For tickets, click here.

Ryogoku Kokugikan 
from You Only Live Twice (1967) 

You haven't really been to Japan if you've never caught a sumo match. A highly respected form of both art and sport, sumo wrestling began as a Shinto ritual, before turning into a professional sport in the 17th century and capturing the attention of the Hollywood mainstream in the fifth James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice. With a screenplay by Roald Dahl (yep, the author behind the morbid children and young adult books), the movie introduced '60s Japan as a hotbed of ninja activity, fetishising Asian women in the process. Among the numerous filming locations (Himeji castle, Hotel New Otani Tokyo), Ryogoku Kokugikan provided the setting for a pivotal moment of the film. Before meeting Aki, a female ninja played by Akiko Wakabayashi, Sean Connery's Bond heads to the warm-up room to find Sadanoyama Shinmatsu, his Japanese contact as the wrestler hands him his ticket.

Sean Connery and Akiko Wakabayashi in a scene from You Only Live Twice
The same sumo hall still stands today, housing more than 11,000 spectators. The best time to go is during three of the official sumo tournaments, which take place in January, May and September. Each match can last for as short as three seconds and as long as 15 after a four-minute ritual, which includes theatrics such as the throwing of salt onto the ground to purify it. At 78 years old, Shinmatsu is now retired, though it's known that his wife currently works at a tea place nearby. To really get you into the spirit of sumo wrestling, dine in any of the chanko-nabe hotpot restaurants along the same street. We recommend Sumo Chaya Terao, which serves the same dishes that the wrestlers eat.

Sumo wrestling

Ryogoku Kokugikan is located at 1-3-28 Yokoami, Sumida-ku. 

from Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)

It's hard to imagine Quentin Tarantino's torture court The House of Blue Leaves as anything but an omakase insitution. In his first Kill Bill movie, Uma Thurman and Chiaki Kuriyama engage in a battle that sees Thurman cough out blood and Kuriyama show off some slick moves with her chained weapon while Lucy Liu sneers from the mezzanine above. Yet as soon as you enter Gonpachi restaurant, you'll immediately recognise the tourist trap (though a very tasty one at that) as an almost replica of Tarantino's fight scene. Unabashedly marketed as "The Kill Bill restaurant", its entrance is plastered with famous faces: George Bush, Sylvester Stallone, and Tarantino himself.

While the filmmaker ended up staging the scene in a movie set in China instead of using the actual restaurant, you can spot the chillingly similar scenes from the vantage points of the mezzanine level (where you can dine on tatami mats in private rooms) as well as the ground floor, which houses the main dining room and the teppanyaki station. You can also choose to sit at the elevated booths and admire the soft glow of the lanterns as well as the promise that there will be blood. 

Gonpachi is located at 1F, 2F, 1-13-11, Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5771-017.

from Like Someone In Love (2012) 

Even the seediest of neighbourhoods can inspire art. Roppongi isn't the number one choice for revellers who'd like a classy night out — its main street's lined with bars and restaurants that have built a reputation that's far from peachy. However, it's this very same address where the late Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (who recently passed in July) found his inspiration for Like Someone In Love, his second feature filmed outside of Iran. When the Palme d'Or award-winner was in a car in Roppongi almost 20 years ago, he spotted a young girl dressed as a bride and was told that she was likely a part-time escort and student who was dressed in a costume popular at the time. In 2004, he took test shots of an elderly woman from a car as it drove through Roppongi. He also shared a fascination for the photographs of call girls pinned up in Tokyo's telephone booths. 

This scene sparked the idea for the film, which borrows its title from Ella Fitzgerald's recording of the song. Akiko (Rin Takanashi) resorts to prostitution to pay for her studies, and is sent to an elderly client Takashi (Tadashi Okuno) who unconventionally treats her "like someone in love". When Akiko's boyfriend meets Takashi, he tells her that he is Akiko's grandfather, adding to the web of lies and mistaken identities. In true Kiarostami form, most of the important scenes take place in cars, with the film beautifully showcasing the director's documentary-like penchant for drama.

Roppongi continues to be a source of inspiration with galleries and studios such as Mori Art Museum, 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT and The National Art Centre. This weekend sees the return of Roppongi Art Night with a theme of "Art Playground", enlivening the area with art installations in stores, streets and parks.  

A rendering of what to expect from Roppongi Art Night

Roppongi Art Night 2016 will take place from 21 to 23 October. For more information, click here.

The Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho

If you can't be fussed with planning your own cinephile itinerary, hand it over to the folks at The Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho. As The Luxury Collection's first entry to Tokyo, the swanky surrounds of its Rockwell Group-designed minimalist interiors boast luxuries through an extensive art collection from young Japanese talents, the in-house restaurant Washoku Souten (where we'd recommend the unagi lunch set) as well as the concierge, who will curate a tour according to your needs. We're talking "tour" in terms of the most experiential sense: A chef can tag along to help you pick out the best produce from Tsukiji fish market, a guide can be arranged to give quickie Japanese language and history lessons as you watch a sumo match, or simply set you on your own path as you explore the art galleries in Roppongi. 

Rooms in The Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho occupy the 30th to 36th floor of the Kioi Tower, a multi-purpose building that's a five-minute walk from the Akasaka-Mitsuke Station of the Tokyo Metro Ginza and Marunouchi Line. After a day of exploring, retreat to an aromatherapy massage at the hotel spa, where Japanese skincare essentials from Shiseido make for a pampering end.

To book a stay at The Prince Gallery Toyko Kioicho, click here.