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117_box_348x490_originalAutumn will always be associated with death. It’s the way the leaves turn red, then brown, then fall. It’s the colder winds, the longer nights. It’s the onset of winter. Look at the holidays: Samhain, All Saint’s Day, El Dia de Muertos, P’chum Ben, Famadihana, my birthday. I dreamt last night that I had an L-shaped gash on my thumb, from the tip down the knuckle, and that I could peel back my fingerprint to reveal what was underneath. And instead of flesh and muscle, there was instead what looked like the inside of a rotting, hollow branch. Thick cords of dark organic sludge, white spots of what I assumed to be mold. Something out of a Quay Brothers film. This is the inside of my body, I thought, I dreamt.

Nowadays, roadkill is more abundant. Sometimes there’s nothing left but a rusty streak that stretches from the blacktop and up onto the sidewalk, but more often, smaller carcasses line the gutters and the medians: raccoons, possums, the occasional fox. Whenever we pass one, Matthew coos, Poor thing. I no longer point out dead cats.

On the highways, deer obstruct the shoulders with their thick, dun bodies. Apparently, deer collision cause about 200 human fatalities a year. It’s unlikely that the deer walk away from these incidents unscathed. The carcasses of whitetail deer can be collected, if the gatherer files a claim with the regional game commission for a permit number. Without a permit, the gatherer is required to butcher the deer himself, rather than taking it to an official deer processing center. Delawareans donate more than 20,000 pounds of venison to charitable organizations statewide.

Hunting season has come again.

The landowner in Diary of a Chambermaid asks his son, who has been hunting, Aren’t animals more beautiful alive than dead? His son replies, Hunting… is hunting. The son then teaches his father how to hunt butterflies. As the father shoots one off of its flower, the son asks, I thought you liked butterflies? and the father replies, I do. I rather I’d have missed.

A few years before she died, Matthew’s cat, Gwinny, hunted butterflies in his backyard garden. He watched her, of course; she was 13 years old—elderly for a cat—so she never caught one, but her eyes grew wide and wild at their fluttering. She couldn’t meow, but instead squeaked, at times imploring them to come within reach of her paws, of her fangs. When Matthew moved from there, he gave the house a thorough cleaning.  In the living room, as he was vacuuming, he pulled back a curtain to discover a pile of butterfly corpses, a mass grave years in the making. There were a few intact specimens, dried and discolored, but most of them were in pieces: a wing flake; a torso; some dry, crisp antennae. Monarchs waylaid on their migratory path. Dismembered swallowtails.

Perhaps Matthew yelled at Gwinny. Perhaps he was secretly proud. Either way, I imagine her response would have been a single squeak: What did you expect? It was their season.



When my sister was in high school, she went on an Urban Experience. As a lesson about homelessness, she and her classmates were challenged to spend the night in downtown Denver with only five dollars in their pockets. They would have to sleep on heat vents or in homeless shelters; they’d have to know what it’s like to be hungry; they’d emerge from it chastened and humbled and wiser for the experience.

It was fun, my sister told me.

I suppose this was the drawback: there was nothing at stake. They only had to make it for a few hours, and by morning, they’d be back in bed, well-fed and warm. In other words, it was an early opportunity for my sister to spend an entire night out. As it was, by the time I got to high school, I had already planned how I would have spent my night, but the program didn’t exist anymore.

Years of city living has inured me to the homeless. I mistrust the men—and it’s almost always men, Caucasian—who linger on the devil’s strip near busy stoplights, where the traffic can back up a block’s length. Their clothes are dirty and sufficiently worn, though still serviceable, and they bear stubble on their face as proof of hardship. They hold cardboard squares with their lives’ misery condensed in black Magic Marker: got laid-off, Vietnam vet, foreclosed home, hungry family, God bless. They rarely speak. But they strike me the way William Powell strikes me in My Man Godfrey: There’s no way he could be homeless.

I wasn’t always so cynical. One evening when I was still in college, I was with my friend C___ and his boyfriend J___, hanging out in the gay neighborhood of Baltimore, Mount Vernon. We were all too young to go to the bars and clubs, but we were there to steep in the general atmosphere, reveling, as we were, in the then-new excitement of our community. We were at the base of the hill the rises towards the George Washington Monument, outside of The Buttery, a diner that would have been more aptly named “The Greasery.”

An African-American woman came up to us. She spun out her story—she needed milk for her baby at home, stuck in the city without bus fare. C___ and I, both still new to Baltimore, looked at each other, unsure of what to do. We could deal with homelessness when it was huddled in a corner, but never had it come up to confront us. As college students, we hardly had any money ourselves, though we must have had a few bucks between the two of us. We sputtered out our excuses, but she pressed on. My baby’s hungry, she insisted.

J____, from nearby Ellicott City, was getting more upset at us for engaging with her than with her for coming to us.

Finally, fed up, he gave her a few dollars. “Here,” he said. “Take it.”

When she left, she seemed to skip, with what might have been glee. “She seems happy,” I said.

“Why wouldn’t she be?” J___ replied. “She got her money.”

In The Lady Eve, right before Jean (Barbara Stanwyck) realizes that her beloved thinks she’s a gold digger, she tells him, regarding women: “The best ones aren’t as good as you probably think they are, and the bad ones aren’t as bad. Not nearly as bad.” Her voice is jaunty as she speaks because she doesn’t know what’s coming next, and as he reveals what he knows, Stanwyck becomes crest-fallen. Her self-confidence is rattled, and her eyes water as she pleads with him to see past what he believes. To see past what the world believes of her.

Those tears may seem like easy sentimentality in this most sentimental of film genres (the romantic comedy or, more specific, the screwball comedy), but behind those tears, Stanwyck maintains a strong will. She spends the remainder of the film proving her assertion about women, and from then on, looks at Peter Fonda as if he’s more trouble than he’s worth, but worth the pursuit anyhow.

At that moment, I finally understood why my mother loves Barbara Stanwyck. We once watched an entire season of The Colbys because Stanwyck starred as the matriarch of the family, Constance Colby. I was only eleven and had endured 10 hours of Richard Chamberlain in The Thorn Birds for two hours of Stanwyck, but at least for The Colbys, I was already a fan of Dynasty. But when Constance was killed off after the first season (a plane crash in Asia), my mother and I stopped watching, because the show was actually pretty lame. The series finale involved an alien abduction, if I’m not mistaken.

Stanwyck had never struck me as someone who was glamorous—after all, I’d only ever seen her play fiercely protective mothers—but I could say the same about my mother. She had me when she was almost forty, so I never knew her as a young woman. A black-and-white photograph of my mother hangs on the wall outside the kitchen. In it, my mother appears softer than I’ve ever seen her, looking slightly over her shoulder, hair cupping her face, luminous. My father joked: “That was taken when Mom was a radio pop star.”

I can’t tell how old my mother is in that photograph, but apparently, my paternal grandmother once called her a ‘gold digger.’ My father was, at the time, an officer in the ARVN, educated in America, slender and handsome with a copstash standard moustache. In other words: quite a catch. And my mother? She was older than my father by three years. Quite the scandal.

According to Henry Cavill, screwball comedies aren’t comedies of marriage, but of how a couple separates and reunites. Of remarriage. How long did it take my mother to convince my grandmother that good girls weren’t as good as she think they were, and bad ones weren’t as bad? Because nowadays, as I watch my mother in the kitchen, peeling vegetables, making rice, stir-frying shrimp and braising fish, I can’t help but think that my father got the better end of the deal.

On the last day of our 2010 Belgian trip, my friend R___, whose last name can either mean “fisherman” or “sin,” depending on how you mispronounce it, took us in his Fiat for a tour of the Belgian countryside.  I had told him that we wanted to see places lesser-traveled by tourists, and he suggested the medieval cities of Huy, Dinant, and Namur.  Great, I said.  We can find some lunch along the way.

After Huy, along the Chaussée de Dinant, we stopped at a farmhouse restaurant beside a brook.  As we enjoyed the sunshine, sipping tea, nibbling Speculoos, and watching the chickens wandered the grounds, the waitress informed us that we had arrived at their nether-time:  too late for breakfast, too early for lunch.  We could wait around for another hour if we wanted, but we decided to push on.  R___ said he knew a place in Dinant.

We reached Dinant in the full force of the afternoon.  The sun glinting off the River Meuse competed with the Casino de Dinant for the title of Brightest, Gaudiest, the Most Neonic.  The restaurant R___ had chosen was in a prime location:  our backs to the cliffs, tower of Notre-Dame to our left, the river before us.  And, in keeping with Walloonian Catholic tradition, it was closed on Sundays.  Matthew bought a couque de Dinant in the shape of a pig, but R___ advised against biting into it.  “Not unless you want to break your teeth,” he said.

In Namur, R___ drove us to the Citadel, at the top of a hill.  Other tourists, mostly Belgians, had lined their chairs alongside the edge of the stone wall for a view over the city.  On the tables next to them, plates of food.  It was just after five, and the river cut through Namur like a sickle.  R___ flagged down our waiter came and had an animated conversation with him.  The waiter turned to us, apologetic, and shrugged.

“If you learn any French today,” R___ said, ruefully, “it will be the phrase, Desolée, la cuisine est fermée.”

The waiter brought a condolence plate of cheese and celery salt.  And a few packets of Speculoos.

Taking the E411 back towards our hotel, the countryside browning in the fading sunlight, we could have been the titular bourgeoisie from Buñuel’s film, hungry, following an endless highway towards an unknown destination.

We stopped in Wavre, a suburb southeast of Brussels.  Outside a take-out shop, people congregated in line and around the picnic benches to the right of the shop.  “OK,” R___ said, “this place must be open.”  The other customers seemed bemused by our presence:  What are they doing here? people asked R___, as if their suburban lives were far removed from the tourist trade.  In a way, this was exactly what I had asked R___ for.  Almost everyone ordered frîtes; most of the menu board was devoted by the various frîtes sauces.  I chose one that seemed most unfamiliar—merguez—and as we settled into the warm evening with our paper boats of fries, we finally did something new and heretofore unexplored:  we began to eat.

In 1960, L’Avventura was awarded the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for its “remarkable contribution to the search for a new cinematic language.”  That language, according to Seymour Chatman, is a metonymic cinema, in which the landscapes are physical externalizations of a character’s inner emotions.  Objects in the landscape, Chatman states, “serve as metonymic signs of [the character’s] inner life.”  Thus, the barren, volcanic island which serves as the stage for the first part of the film represents the characters’ own inner barrenness.

Antonioni frames his characters such that they’re not looking at each other, or even in the same direction.  They are, in the words of numerous critics, alienated.  Even when they speak, they turn away from each other, or one character has her back to the other.  They speak to empty space, to jagged, black rock formations, to sea sprays.

When Matthew and I are angry with each other, I direct my words towards the spot just to his left or to the thinning spot on the carpet where the cats have ripped out the piling.  We look past each other, as if the weight of actually looking—seeing—each other would drag us both down to the floor.  We avoid touching, and turn our bodies going up and the down the stairs, lest our contact set off a spark the burns the whole house down.  The air, it seems, is colder.  But is the landscape a metonymic extension of myself or is it simply February, and we’ve set the thermostat to 64° because our last heating bill was nearly three hundred dollars?

He stands off to the side while I’m typing and looks at me, as if daring me to look back.  I don’t.

Have you eaten dinner?


He leaves the room.

András Kovács argues that characterizing Antonioni’s mise-en-scène as metonymic is reductive.  “If Antonioni’s landscapes are ‘empty,’” he writes, “it is not because they express by their physical aspect the characters’ mental state.  It is because the characters cannot find their lives in there however beautiful they may appear…. They wander around in it not because they want to find something that is out there, but because they have lost their human contact with that world.”

In the final scene, Claudia approaches her lover Sandro, sitting on a bench, from behind.  Sandro has just betrayed her, and he weeps into his hands.  Her hand hesitates before she places it, tremulously, on his head.  Antonioni himself offers conflicting interpretations of her gesture:  “She will stay with him and forgive him,” and “What they finally arrive at is a mutual sense of pity.”  To Sandro’s right, a solid brick wall, grey and stubborn, featureless, crumbling.  To Claudia’s left, Mount Etna in deep focus, streaked with what looks like snow.  But they don’t look at each other.

Matthew and I will reconcile.  Our lives will resume their normal course.  But before that, we have to look:  Look at my face.  Look at this piece of me that represents the whole.

Opening shot of Written on the Wind:  a sports car races across a barren Texan landscape.  Oil derricks rise out of the ground like metallic spines, upright.  The sky is a blue that exists only in the movies — a day-for-night shot — bright as electricity, deepness as evening, and the starkness of the sky makes you think that Texas is always like this:  empty, endless, illuminated.

When I was young, my father brought home magazines from his visits to our local HMO.  National Geographic for him; Reader’s Digest for my mother; Ranger Rick for me.  I asked him to buy me a subscription, but he said no, that these copies with the address label ripped off were good enough.  One issue I recall featured pictures of the decorated pumpjacks in Luling, Texas.  They struck me as odd and beautiful, how they simultaneously mimicked nature and denuded it.  One was a smiling Monarch butterfly, its wings attached to the pump arm.  Another was made up as killer whale; the third, a zebra.  My brother had just started his degree in petroleum engineering at the Colorado School of Mines.  He would, I thought, soon be working with these strange creatures.

Douglas Sirk describes the oil well as “a rather frightening symbol of American society,” a symbol of emptiness, of loss.  Rainer Fassbinder points out how the golden miniature oil rig that the scion of the family holds in his portrait “looks like a penis substitute.”  The presence of oil is ubiquitous:  after Lauren Bacall discovers she’s pregnant, she leaves via the back alley behind the doctor’s office, and, in the upper-left corner of the frame, a grasshopper-green oil pump drains the parking lot.

After graduation, my brother got a job with Atlantic Richfield Company in Midland, Texas, and, for a while, my parents only bought gas from Arco stations on the assumption that they were somehow supporting him.  One summer, the family piled into the van to pay him a visit.  I remember the long stretches of flat, empty road, where land just seemed to fall off the horizon.  From afar, the oil derricks looked like spindly saguaros, and it wasn’t until we got close that I could see their exoskeletons.  If it weren’t for them holding the state down, it seemed, Texas might have just blown away.

The final scene of Written on the Wind, as described by Fassbinder:  “Dorothy Malone, as the last remnant of the family, has this penis in her hand…. The oil empire that Dorothy now heads is her substitute for Rock Hudson.”  Oil, the film suggests, is no substitute for life.

Of the three siblings in my family, my brother is the ‘successful’ one.  He works for BP and flies to Aberdeen, Scotland, to plan where to plant off-shore oil drills off the Vietnam coast.  He owns a large house just outside of Houston (just being about an hour’s drive), where he lives with his wife and daughter.  His wife, who also went to the Colorado School of Mines, also works in petroleum.  My parents constantly (still) worry about my sister and I, but him — his life is set.

Water, in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, signifies a freedom from spiritual malaise.  For instance, in the scene where Bill Murray dives into a pool at his twin sons’ birthday party, he stays underwater, as if to escape the world outside.  All the worldly noises drown out, except for the Kinks’ “Nothing in This World Can Stop Me Worrying ‘Bout That Girl” on the soundtrack.  This, of course, mirrors Mike Nichols’ The Graduate, where Dustin Hoffman, having grown disillusioned with his affair with Mrs. Robinson, also takes a dive into a swimming pool.

Perhaps, as he’s swimming, Benjamin Braddock blocks out the word plastics.  Herman Blume, while submerged, ignores the demands of steel.  Underwater, Houston no longer thinks about oil.

Anderson filmed most of Rushmore in Houston:  the private school scenes at his alma mater, St. John’s; the public school scenes at Lamar High School.  But the movie as a whole is steeped in Houston:  Herman Blume’s neighborhood could easily be River Oaks; Miss Cross’ more modest house looks as though it’s in the Heights; and one could imagine Max Fischer living in the Third Ward, where the streets are lined with billboards that announce We Buy Ugly Houses.

No one neighborhood represents Houston.  The city emanates outward, in ever-widening concentric circles:  the Inner Loop, the Sam Houston Parkway, the Grand Parkway.  Houston is a target without a bull’s-eye.  Downtown, on the weekends, becomes awash with young urbanites, eager to impress their peers with a free-flowing flood of cash.

But, once in a while, the city holds its breath.

When Tropical Storm Allison stalled over Houston in June of 2001, almost 40 inches of rain dropped over six days.  In Montrose, where I lived, the water rose to my doorway, threatening to enter.  Cars were lifted off their tires and prowled the streets.  Amorphous rainbows of oil stretched their fingers.  Sewers overflowed.

I heard stories:  how balls of fire ants rolled along the surface of the water, how the poisonous snakes from the Bayou shimmied underneath — all the dark and dangerous things of Houston given free rein.  In the metropolitan area along, there were 21 deaths.  One woman, who had worked overnight at the Bank of America building, was told to retrieve her car from the underground garage.  When the building lost power, her elevator car was trapped three levels beneath the surface, where there was no escaping the water.

But as the rain fell, the city seemed to level out.  The drops rapped on everyone’s windows, driven by a howling fury.  Mansion and hovel alike shared the deluge — the occupants of each hunkering beneath the endless grey expanse of sky.

And, for a instant, underneath all the water, the city escaped its anomie.  My downstairs neighbor moved his stereo equipment into our apartment, a moment of connection in an otherwise strained friendship.  Outside, someone did the breast-stroke down Driscoll Street.  Traffic cameras on the Hazard Street overpass showed a kayaker along the Southwest Freeway, paddling, not to escape the water, but to become part of it.

A.O. Scott, in the New York Times, describes Charade as “a light-hearted, frivolous bauble….  It’s a work of great craft and artistry, not a great work of art, but a marvelously fun movie.”

Ignoring the fight I’m itching to have as to what constitutes a “work of art,” I admit that Charade has a special place in my heart.  My sister introduced me to it when I was nine or ten — in fact, she insisted that I watch it with her.  So I did, and after that first viewing, I was traumatized by one image:  a man, suffocated to death with a plastic bag, his feet bound to a radiator, his hands tied to a heavy piece of furniture.

Charade continued to be broadcast once every three years or so, a network stand-by to fill those long programming dead zones on Saturday afternoons, and watching it became a ritual:  at the appointed time, we convened in our mother’s bedroom (where the television was), on her waterbed, and waited for Charles Lampert to get tossed from the train.

I understand why Charade is one of her favorites:  it stars Cary Grant (one of her favorite actors) and Audrey Hepburn (one of her favorite actresses), wearing couture by Givenchy (one of her favorite designers) and being pursued by James Coburn (not one of her favorite anythings but totally freaky as the tall, sadistic Tex).

I sometimes wonder, though, if there’s something more in her affection for it.  For instance, it may be something she first saw in Vietnam before we came to the States.  (My mother, conceivably, could have introduced it to her; she loves Audrey Hepburn too, particularly in Roman Holiday.)  But, really, I suspect that it has to do with the clothes.

My sister has always been a clotheshorse, she has an unerring eye for style.  She knew an arcane language of designer names long before they had penetrated the popular consciousness:  Kamali, Versace, Gaultier.  In her room, she had an array of cosmetics in colors harvested from prehistoric insects, and she was meticulous in their application.  (Today, whenever I see a woman apply lipstick directly from the tube to her lips, I want to pull her aside and say, Meet your best new friend, the lip brush!)

She taught me the ways of fashion:  she steered me away from Z. Cavaricci when it was all the craze in high school (“Their zippers are made of tin!  They’ll rust shut.”).  She introduced me the invisible line that aligns the shirt buttons and the pants zipper.  She told me to always wear a belt if I was tucking in my shirt, unless I was wearing suspenders, and never a belt and suspenders.

Her clothes, hermetically sealed in dry-cleaning bags, still crowd the closets (including a good chunk of my closet) back in Colorado.  Many haven’t been worn in decades.  On my last visit, I thought about donating the more obviously out-of-date duds to Goodwill, but realized that it would have given her a nightmare similar to what Audrey Hepburn endures early in the film:  rushing through the house, opening the closet doors, only to find the drawers empty, the hangers swinging forlornly in the breeze.  All those beautiful clothes:  gone, gone, gone.

Orlando, from Fellini’s And the Ship Sails On, on the nature of cruises:  “This is the funny thing about sea voyages:  after a few days, you feel as if you’d been sailing forever.  You feel you’ve always known your fellow voyagers.”

David Foster Wallace, from his essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” on the same subject:  “The promise is not that you can experience great pleasure, but that you will…. That they’ll micromanage every iota of every pleasure-option so that not even the dreadful corrosive action of your adult consciousness and agency and dread can fuck up your fun.”

Frank Conroy, on his cruise, as quoted in “A Supposedly Fun Thing…”:  “We entered a new world, a sort of alternate reality to the one on shore.”  And, when asked by Wallace why he wrote that:  “I prostituted myself.”


Who hasn’t dreamed of dining with Astors and Guggenheims in gilt Grand Ballrooms?  Dancing to the orchestra; clinking champagne glasses; chewing very, very slowly as not to distort your face while eating.  I’ve suggested a gay cruises to Matthew before, but he takes one look at the brochures, fraught with glossy men who have gestated in tanning oil, and says, “Are you kidding?”  I try to convince him that every cruise will feature an opera competition in the boiler room — but no dice.  He suspects — probably rightly so — that we would most likely be roped off on deck somewhere, like Serbian refugees.

But cruises as a sign of class status have disappeared.  But the democratization of sea voyages isn’t a bad thing, per se — it’s allowed, for instance, people like my parents to travel.  And though they may be the targets of Wallace’s good-natured scorn (retired, prone to videotape and photograph every little movement), they’re still my parents.

Their first cruise they took spun them through Central America.  They retruend with a fist full of photographs and t-shirts for the whole family.  Did I want the nautical flags under the word Panama or Panama: Puente de los Americas?  I chose the former.

I looked through the pictures.  The first was of a tiger.

“That was at the lunch buffet,” my mom said.  “It’s made out of cheese and chocolate!”

The next was an Arcimboldo-style spread.

“All fruit!” she said.  “Every breakfast, you can have all the fruit you want.”

Then came pictures of the bath towels folded into origami animals:  a swan, a snake, a giraffe, a lobster, a lobster wearing my father’s glasses, my mother sitting next to a towel lobster wearing my father’s glasses.

“Never the same animal once during the whole week,” my father said.

“Where’s the Canal?” I asked.  “Where are your pictures of Belize?”

My parents looked at each other and shrugged — “Did we tell you about the midnight buffet?”

Attempt #1 to watch High and Low:  Long day at work, followed by returning to campus for Ben Yagoda‘s lecture about the “truthiness” of memoirs.  Yagoda lambastes what he terms “schtick lit,” which he traces to Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia.  These memoirs feature an author who document his attempts a certain feat for himself (for example, live according to the Bible for a year, become an environmental douchebag) over a certain time frame.  I squirm uncomfortably and later steal a wedge of brie from the reception afterward.  At home, I pop the movie into the player, get 15 minutes in, and decide to close my eyes — for a little while, I tell myself.  I wake just in time to stop a missile of drool from hitting the couch and officially go to bed.  Matthew is shocked that I come to bed before midnight.

Attempt #2:  Wake up in the afternoon, then lunch at Costco.  Hey — even Julia Child liked their hot dogs.  Pay my phone bill, walk around Christiana Mall.  Later, dinner at a friend’s house to celebrate Matthew’s tenure and promotion.  Matthew has a glass of brandy (not cognac, my friend insists, since it didn’t come from the cognac region), and I take a sip off of his.  We watch the season finale of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and, after hearing so much hype about it, I’m disappointed there aren’t more penises.  Get home, too tired to concentrate on Akira Kurosawa.  So instead, I watch Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman.  My cat head-butts my mouth.

Attempt #3:  A warm day that turns cold.  I stop into by a store for Independent Record Store Day and pick up my limited edition 4AD 12″.  I’m unable to secure, however, a copy of the Mountain Goats DVD, so I console myself by going to the Video Americain closing sale in Newark, where I pick up 4 Krzysztof Kieslowski films for myself and 4 Merchant-Ivory films for Matthew.  Then off to a pizza party with Matthew’s colleagues.  After two slices of pizza and a large piece of Carvel’s ice cream cake, I feel soporific, but still go to a beer-tasting, at which I taste no beer.  We arrive back home at 8 p.m., and I promptly and uncharacteristically go straight to sleep.

Attempt #4:  High and Low!  Its viewing remains somewhat in doubt throughout the day:  an afternoon in Philadelphia, a dinner of hand-drawn noodles in Chinatown.  At home, Matthew wants to watch Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie’s Pictures, and knowing his love of Merchant-Ivory, we do.  But I still have energy for a film about child kidnapping, heroin overdoses, seedy Yokohama alleys, and bars that cater to shore-leave sailors and dope smugglers.

If nothing else, High and Low introduces what I now call the “Mifune” test:  a pair of shoes must be “comfortable, durable, yet stylish.”  And if they don’t pass muster, Toshiro will tear them apart in with his bare hands.  The Japanese — they have that quality control thing down to a science.