Still Walking

This 2008 film by Japanese director Kore-eda is a study of a family that is fractured by the loss of the favoured son.  The effect on the other son and daughter as they live up to parental expectations.  The film takes us through 24 hours of a visit by the other son and his family to the family home so that they can pay their respects at the grave of the dead son.  The fact that his wife has a young boy from her previous marriage adds an extra dimension in terms of who has a place within the family.

The father and mother of the dead son have daily arguments and the daughter’s husband and children add energy to the household that would be missing otherwise, even if the mother does express relief when they have left for home.  The step-son is a calmer prospect and observes everything with a reserve that earns him the nickname ‘the unsmiling prince’.

It is a hot summer day when they gather and the walk to the grave through the heat suggests this is a ritual that must be observed.  The dead son is a presence in the film.  The father, a retired doctor adjusting to a post work state, cannot see why anyone would have any profession outside medicine.  His surviving son has work problems of his own but cannot seek advice from his father who he believes does not understand him.

Throughout the film, the characters navigate their way past the difficult and the unspoken.  It is the strength of the film that we move towards the end without any of these problems solved.


Black Butler: the film

Next in my exploration of the world of ‘Black Butler’ was the live action film version released in 2014.  There are differences from the manga but the parallel world (part Victorian or Edwardian) is still here and the central characters of butler and his master are in place.  Yet, the biggest surprise was that the master was not Ciel Phantomhive but Earl Kiyohara Genpu and, wait for it, he was a she!

The master served by the butler is a girl at the start of the film and, like the manga, she is involved in fighting the underworld but, once rescued from the hands of villains in the film’s opening scene, she appears as a boy.  For the rest of the film s/he is the master served by the butler.  Central to this film is the need to revenge the death of his/her parents and discover which forces are behind attempts to destroy him/her.

The action sequences are good showing the super human skill of the butler as he deals with all comers.  The master- servant relationship also works well as the power play between the two provides hints that this story is not yet over.  Hiro Mizushima plays Sebastian and Ayame Gouriki plays his master.

I haven’t reached the purist stage yet so the departure from the story line of the manga did not worry me.

Black Butler

I promised myself not to get involved in another manga series and yet here I am at the start of a trek through ‘Black Butler’ by Yana Toboso.  Of course, I could step off the track before the end or even refuse to take the next step but, having read the first volume, it seems I am hooked!

As ever with my hinterland, I was on the search for something else when I came across the character of Ciel Phantomhive and this led to the discovery that there is a ‘Black Butler’ manga, musical, film and anime.

This first manga introduces us to Ciel Phantomhive and his butler who has extraordinary gifts when serving his master.  Ciel is orphaned so is head of the Phantomhive family even though he is only thirteen years old.  He runs the company but also has a crime fighting role in the London underworld as the Queen’s Guardian.  This alternative universe appears Victorian and is intriguing because it is set in London but is Japanese in origin.

Sebastian Michaelis is the butler of the title.  He serves and protects his young master using skills that seem beyond the ordinary.   There is a household of servants supporting him but it is Sebastian who anticipates and serves his master’s every wish.  The young Phantomhive is enigmatic himself.  There are references to his parents’ death and strange circumstances that led to his position at the head of a crime fighting initiative.  The set up is enough to keep me going.  I am ready to move on to volume two!

Fenner Brockway

In London so I crossed to the Holborn area on my way to the British Museum because I wanted to seek out the statue of Fenner Brockway.  It was created by Ian Walters and unveiled by Michael Foot in 1985 when the subject was still alive; he died in 1988 at the age of 99.

Throughout his life he campaigned for race equality, peace and anti-colonialism.  He was a conscientious objector in the First World War but later thought that taking up arms might be necessary.  His change of mind was influenced by the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War.

He served as a Labour MP twice but with a twenty year gap between his two periods in the House of Commons.  He lost his seat in 1964 which was surprising as it was a year of a Labour victory but he was considered to be a supporter of immigration to his constituency.  He later served in the House of Lords and he continued to be a campaigner until his death.



Migration Museum

The concept behind the Migration Museum is such a good one and is needed more than ever in our divided Brexit broken country.  This exhibition in temporary accommodation in Lambeth shows how seven major migration moments changed Britain.  The title of the exhibition is ‘No Turning Back’.

It is useful to be reminded about the history that has forged Britain especially when the version of history portrayed by many in the EU referendum is one rewritten to suit the Little Englanders currently in the ascendant.  Here we see that Britain has been connected to the world over the centuries with migrations in and out.  Seven critical moments are represented here through artefacts and artistic responses.

I was struck by how the events that formed my own political education have become ‘history’.  The Rock Against Racism movement of the 1970s was represented with magazine covers and posters that fought back against the racist comments from some musicians (ones I admired!) in an age when people thought it was okay to make such comments.  Also here, though, is the formation of the East India Company and the start of a strong connection between Britain and India as well as the expulsion of the Huguenots from Europe.  Migrations of which Britain should be proud include the refuge granted to Spanish children during their civil war of the 30s and the German Jewish children who were brought to safety to escape the Nazi regime in Germany.

The section which I liked the best was the celebration of mixed race Britain.  The 2011 census showed this to be a growing area of self-identity. It is the obvious next development of a multi-racial and multi- cultural society.

Photographs, art works, personal recollections and quotes all add up to an amazing exhibition in which to get lost on a wet afternoon.  I loved it.  As I finished, I was struck by a huge poster with a statement below it of a young man, who might be mixed race but who was not white,  who voted for Brexit.  I wanted/needed to know more.  Why did he?  What statement does it make that he is concerned about immigration in a society where he and others like him have been beneficiaries?  It troubles me still but maybe I need to be challenged in my assumptions.  In any case, there was no more from him on offer.



Living with Gods

The British Museum is something of a place of pilgrimage for me so I suppose it is fitting that, this time, my visit there was to see the exhibition ‘Living with Gods’, an exploration of how religious artefacts have helped mankind make sense of the spiritual.

As always with high profile exhibitions, the people turn out so a route around the treasures on show involves high levels of patience.  This is made more important by the fact that so many of the artefacts were quite small and laid out on table top arrangements.  There was an element of waiting before I could get close enough to read and see.

Yet, it was worth it.  The curating of exhibitions is a skill denied me but I am always grateful to the experts who seem to know what to include, how to lay it out and in what order.  Here the story of different societies and how they behave in terms of religion is set out.  What is striking is that there is little time spent on what people believe; the exhibition concentrates instead on the items related to religious practice.  Why worry what the motivation is, what do they do?

The British Museum is able to call upon its own collection for most of these treasures and they come from across the ages and across the world.  My list of favourites includes the juggernaut from India, acquired in the eighteenth century.  It is from south India where a tradition of taking deities for an outing allowed people to see them.  The scale model of a real juggernaut is in the museum.  I was also taken with the Tibetan Thangka, an illustration of the wheel of life used as both a teaching and a devotional tool.  The Lion Man from the ice age suggests that belief is universal and a human condition.  To people of faith, though, the central point must be WHAT you believe.

Leighton House Museum is a Treasure House

In London, so I went to see the Leighton House Museum in the Holland Park area.  I have long been an admirer of the work of Frederic, Lord Leighton and wanted to see the oriental influences in the decoration of the house he lived, worked and died in.  I arrived just as the museum opened so had the place to myself (apart from the people who worked there, of course) for the first hour of my visit.  Other visitors started arriving as I finished.

Frederic Leighton commissioned George Aitchison to build him a house that could be both home and studio.  Additional parts were added in later years but the central feature was the Arab Hall with tiled walls, a dome and running water into a pool in the floor.  Since I was on my own I kept stepping both ways through a doorway in and out of the drawing room since it was a contrast of East and West.  Crossing between them seemed to be a good way of capturing the spirit of the British artist inspired by the East.  A Millais painting hangs in the drawing room and Islamic inspired tiles decorate the Arab Hall; the combination is a good evocation of the man.

Queen Victoria visited the man and his house but she probably had lots of retainers with her.  I was on my own!  The works on show here are interesting but his best known paintings and sculptures are elsewhere in the big national galleries.  Interestingly, there is a colour study for the painting ‘Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna is Carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence’, a painting in the National Gallery that I have to visit every time I am passing that way!

An interesting fact I picked up on this visit was that he did not have his peerage for very long.  He was made Baron Leighton in the 1896 New Year Honours List, making him the first artist to be honoured in this way, only to die the next day!