The Japanese Masterpiece at the Heart of “Breaking Bad”: Akira Kurosawa’s “Ikiru”

January 26, 2014 § 2 Comments

Takashi Shimura as Kanji Watanabe in "Ikiru"/Courtesy Toho Films

Takashi Shimura as Kanji Watanabe in “Ikiru”/Courtesy Toho Films

Bryan Cranston as Walter White in "Breaking Bad"/Courtesy AMC

Bryan Cranston as Walter White in “Breaking Bad”/Courtesy AMC

From mid-October to mid-December of last year, I did little else in the evenings but watch “Breaking Bad”–all sixty-two episodes in two electrifying months. During that time, I stopped reading books and rarely went out, the better to devote myself to the sprawling splendor of Vince Gilligan’s epic. To say that it was a compelling experience doesn’t do it justice: “Breaking Bad” dominated my thoughts, conversations and dreams. I loved it, although every so often I’d have to take a night or two off in order to get some sleep.

I wasn’t far into the first episode when I experienced the shock of recognition for an earlier work that I know very well. “Ikiru,” (“To Live”) is a 1952 Kurosawa classic about a colorless bureaucrat’s effort to redeem his life in the face of a brick wall diagnosis of stomach cancer. The film’s echoes are everywhere in “Breaking Bad,” not only in the two protagonists’ existential struggles, but in their relationships with disapproving, uncomprehending families and their formation of new and unlikely alliances with strangers. Kanji Watanabe and Walter White even signal their inner transformations in the same outward manner: by purchasing and wearing surprising new hats.

Despite the film and TV program’s very different cultures and time periods (post-Occupation Tokyo versus contemporary Albuquerque), the similarities between them are too close and numerous to be coincidental. So I wasn’t surprised to learn that Vince Gilligan, the creator of “Breaking Bad,” confirmed the “Ikiru” connection in an interview: http://www.npr.org/2011/09/19/140111200/breaking-bad-vince-gilligan-on-meth-and-morals?utm_medium=Email&utm_source=share&utm_campaign=

My exploration of “Ikiru,” “Breaking Bad,” and their protagonists can be found in Pages:
https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/awakened-by-impending-death-the-transformational-heroes-of-ikiru-and-breaking-bad/

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How Jeep’s “I Love You California” Ad is Worsening Hollywoodland’s Already Horrendous Traffic

January 20, 2014 § 1 Comment

Frame from Jeep Cherokee's "I Love You California Ad/Courtesy YouTube

Frame from Jeep Cherokee’s “I Love You California Ad/Courtesy YouTube


Several months ago, Jeep Grand Cherokee started running a commercial set to California’s State Song. I wrote about it and the song’s origins in this post https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/i-love-you-california-the-song-the-era-and-the-ad/

Lately I’ve noticed that increasing numbers of visitors to Beachwood Canyon expect to be able to drive to the Hollywood Sign–not to its vicinity or to a lookout, but all the way up to it. Over the weekend it finally occurred to me that the Jeep ad, still in heavy rotation, might have something to do with this idea, so I watched it a few times.

Six seconds in, we see a Grand Cherokee ascending a hill that appears to be directly beneath the Sign; from the trajectory, it seems clear the Jeep is heading straight up to it. But it’s not, and it can’t. The hill in question is the so-called Millennium Plateau* which lies not directly under the Sign but east and far south of it. Although Jeep filmed at the Plateau, you can’t drive there: the road is closed except to police and fire vehicles, and to cars on official business. (Disclosure: I have been permitted to drive up the road to an area above the Sign for filming purposes on two occasions.) You could walk to the Plateau, but even if you’re up for a considerable hike, it’s nowhere near spitting distance to the Hollywood Sign. It’s not even the best view.

As long as we’re on the subject of tourist traffic in Hollywoodland, this weekend saw some of the worst traffic ever–and it’s only January. Saturday brought total gridlock on the streets leading to Lake Hollywood Park. On several blocks of Beachwood Drive north of the Gates, there was no street parking at all. The merchants in Beachwood Village have opposed parking restrictions near the stores on the grounds that restrictions would affect their businesses, but as far as I could see everyone who parked on my block was heading in the opposite direction, toward the Sign. Most of these sightseers were gone for hours, and the car with out-of-state plates blocking my garage sat there all day.

The influx of cars has become so severe that one elderly resident apparently died while waiting for paramedics who couldn’t get through a the traffic jam at the north end of Beachwood Drive. As a result of constant gridlock, many of our streets–including upper Beachwood Drive–will soon get permit parking. While I’m happy for those residents, my neighbors and I can forget about ever having friends or family over during daylight hours: all the spaces outside our houses will be taken up by tourists’ cars.

Those who say “You knew the Sign was there when you moved in,” should realize that this wasn’t the situation when we moved in; it dates to when GPS became ubiquitous on phones and has become a crisis only in the past two years. The tourist season is now year-round and affects us daily, and rarely in a good way. So here’s some advice for visitors: if you must come to Hollywoodland, please use public transportation to the Village and prepare to walk. Buy something more than bottled water from the Market and Cafe, especially if you expect to use the restrooms. And don’t smoke anywhere, including in your car. In a bone-dry canyon during the worst drought in memory, one spark equals catastrophe.

*The Plateau is where camera crews filmed the light show at the Hollywood Sign on New Year’s Eve of 1999. The lighted Sign drew such a stampede of cars into the Canyon that all access, including that of emergency vehicles, was completely blocked. It’s a nightmare that haunts residents to this day.

Hollyridge Trailhead To Be Closed for 180 Days

January 10, 2014 § 7 Comments

The Sign from the Hollyridge Trail/Hope Anderson Productions

The Sign from the Hollyridge Trail/Hope Anderson Productions

After much petitioning from neighborhood groups, the trailhead at the dead end of Beachwood Drive will be closed temporarily, according to the office of Councilman Tom LaBonge.

Because of the challenges surrounding access to the Hollyridge Trail, Sunset Ranch, the Mt. Lee communications center and the Hollywood Sign, I feel it is important to close the trailhead for a 180 day period. Ultimately, a determination will require the guidance and cooperation of many other City departments. The neighborhood is being overwhelmed by the influx of vehicle [sic], substandard streets, no sidewalks, and we want to insure that in the event of an emergency, that [sic] there can be access.”

Update, April 13, 2017: The Beachwood Drive gate is now closed to pedestrian access

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