New Year’s Eve at Shibuya Crossing and the Best Movie of 2015

I’ll interrupt my India report for a week to squeeze in a bit of New Year celebrations in Japan and to muse about the best movie of 2015.

For various reasons I have never attended a New Year’s Eve countdown at Shibuya Crossing – one of the most famous spots in Tokyo.
So, 31st of December 2015, I finally wanted to do that and thought it’d be a good idea to spend the hours leading up to it with something else but standing around in the cold. I found a late show of Star Wars: The Force Awakens playing at Toho Cinemas in Shibuya and thought, hey, that’s the ideal way to spend the time before the countdown.
I booked Star Wars tickets in advance (which wouldn’t have been necessary, the theater was half empty) and arrived in Shibuya around 20:30, some time before the show would start. I already noticed tons of police buses and thought, hey wow, they’re gearing up for tonight, cool!
Off I went to see Star Wars – more about that later.

The show ended at 23:45 and I was eager to get down to Shibuya Crossing, but the moment I left the theater, I was in for a shock. Four policemen guarded the road down to the crossing, shushing people away, urging them to get underground to go to the train lines. I know Shibuya very well, since my office is not far from it and thought, hey, I can probably trick the police by getting out at the Hikarie building side and sneak towards Shibuya crossing and its famed meeting place, the “Hachiko”, a statue of Japan’s most famous dog, that way.

Underground yelling youngsters, half drunk, sought to get up towards the crossing, arguing with police at every entrance. The stairs closest to the Hachiko exit, which also lead to the JR line was “open” but thirty police stood around ushering people only to the JR lines and preventing them from getting onto the square where the dog statue is.
On one pillar underground hung a poster saying stuff along the lines of “every year many people gather at Hachiko and prevent traffic flow and it’s dangerous and causes accidents” and blah…

I hurried on to the other side of the Shibuya station where the Hikarie building is and indeed they let you out there, but also on this side of the station, many police officers at every possible entrance to the Shibuya crossing. Spoilsports! From this side of the station I could see two of the many screens at Shibuya crossing – and they all said this alternating between English and Japanese.
Some hopefuls had gathered on this side of the station and it was already 23:55, I gave up and we had a mini countdown with this small group of a few hundred.
Shortly after it turned 2016, I returned home, since no party…
I don’t know why they closed off Shibuya crossing. I don’t think it’s fear of terror attacks also in Japan, I just think that the Tokyo government was fed up with uncontrolled party, fun and anarchy 😉
Too bad, but in its own way it was a fun experience.

And now to the best movie of 2015. (Spoiler alert)
No, worthy reader, I don’t think it was Star Wars: The Force Awakens. While it was “nice” and way better than the Phantom Menace crap, it completely lacked originality. It felt like a remake of “A New Hope”, down to details like X-Wings flying attacks against the new Death Star. I also found it odd that Luke Skywalker just “disappeared”, as a responsible Jedi he should’ve stayed around and prevented the First Order from gaining such ridiculous strength or died trying. Next I thought it was a mistake to kill off a certain main character in the 7th episode… Kill him off in the 9th, OK, but he was and is one of the most interesting characters in Star Wars and now he’s dead? Hm… I will be even less inclined to watch episodes 8 and 9 if he ain’t around.
Yes, it was a nice movie, but you just can’t revive “A New Hope”.

For me personally the best film I’ve seen in 2015 is Mad Max Fury Road. OMG what an awesome movie.
Also Fury Road is the next installment in a cult series and yet, they pulled it off that it’s even better than all other Mad Max movies before it. Great story, awesome characters, hair raising action. I bought the DVD and already watched it four times plus the one time at the movies. Since Lord of the Rings, it’s the first time that I’ve watched anything more than three times. Everything fits at the Fury Road. It’s set in the same world as the other Mad Max movies of course, but it pushes things further instead of rehashing old themes. There’s a new Max but the writer and director made the bold step to not center the movie around him, but a new character and what an awesome character Furiosa is. George Miller manages to let nearly non-stop action support his characters and story. In my opinion Fury Road is a master piece, more mature and way deeper than the earlier Mad Max movies.
I’m looking forward to what he’ll do next with his series, Mad Max: The Wasteland is announced. Cheers!

So, let’s see what 2016 will bring. All the best to everyone for the new year – may it be an interesting and good year 🙂

The Sad Bench

Whenever I’m working in my “main” in Shibuya, I’m passing by this bench inside Shibuya station, in the hall between the Hikarie building and the entrance to the Fukutoshin and Denentoshi lines.

Behind the bench is a “hole” to the outside but it’s still protected from rain. This bench serves more or less three purposes and they reflect some aspects of the Japanese society.
In the evening, the bench is often used by “rich” but exhausted shoppers, who are coming out of the Hikarie building with its shopping malls. They sort through their shopping and rearrange it to protect it from damage during the crowded subway ride ahead.

In the morning though, when I pass it going to the office before the shopping mall opens, it’s frequented by “the working poor” homeless people who use it as a resting point. These kind of working poor people have lost their homes and they might sleep outside or in manga cafes if they have the money and who are desperate to “look respectable”, since they have jobs or are hunting for them. You can identify them as homeless though by their amount of luggage in form of rucksacks and often used plastic bags, not the fancy paper bags you receive when you shop inside Hikarie.

Since the station is frequented by guards who shush them away, they cannot make the bench a more permanent spot of residence but wait there until the town starts with its business and they can join in on the hunt for a job and a better life.
A third “group” using that bench is the heartbroken. I have seen several young couples sitting on that bench who looked like they were breaking up with one of the two crying.

The working poor homeless people and the couples breaking up make it a quite sad bench and for me it has become a symbol for being lost and lonely in the jungle of a big city. Notice the empty cup ramen next to the bench that surely one of the working poor homeless people left behind.
If I were a poet, I’d write a poem about that bench, but so it’s become a blog entry. Either way, the contrast between rich shoppers and the working poor remains.