It was third time lucky with Osaka. The first time we were there was in refuge: shell shocked after the earthquake, cold, dazed and confused, and neither of us can remember a great deal about it. The second, I was not well still, post-operation, and we kept fighting.
Neither of these times had really let us have a true glimpse of what makes this fierce, vast, throbbing hub of neon and energy thrive and tick – its deservedly famous food ( people live to eat here, and we had some truly delicious Japanese dishes that satisfied at a deep level ); the catacombs and highrises of thousands and thousands upon mile upon mile of bars, restaurants, theatres, cabarets, sex joints, boxing gyms, old wooden houses, teeming department stores, apartment blocks, street markets, cafes, crowds of animated people, Asian tourists – milling along on the streets…. there was an ease, and a flow to the place that makes you understand the Osakans’occasional resistance to the more removed, aloof Tokyo lording grandly over the country in the north.
This time we had taken the shinkansen down to Osaka for a curious reason : I had decided that I wanted to make a pop video for my birthday. Not something I had ever considered doing before, but since having found an original vinyl copy of The Art Of Falling Apart by Soft Cell at a shop in Yokohama, with its limited edition secret ‘Martin’ 12” single concealed in the sleeve, this had brought memories flooding back from my obsessive teenage years and I wanted to consecrate them : that dark time when this terrifying, ten and half minute demon disco masterpiece of goth horror schlock about a psychologically disturbed suburban teenage vampire – both melodramatically comical, and yet in its relentlessness and sheer levels of histrionically ramped up paranoia and hysteria, exhilarating, and disturbing (to a twelve year old boy locked in his own world of clandestine terrors, taping it on the late night radio after the regular Top 40 chart show on a Sunday, it offered both a glimpse into a world I was terrified I might be part of, yet also a chance of release, escape : a friend of mine in fact told me the other day told me that this was the song that ‘saved his soul’) – invading my willfully impressionable psyche with its power.
This is the dichotomy with Soft Cell :the operatics, the seediness, but also the very original, melodic refrains that led to their undeniable mass appeal – both mainstream and yet so underground and art school at the same time::: the genius synth pop electro duo of David Ball and the torridly frenetic torch singer Marc Almond, who scored a gargantuan international hit in 1981 with Tainted Love but were simultaneously like dark saviours to outsiders and freaks, young gay kids – anyone oppressed by the crushing boredom of conformity : a chink of light in the draylon sofa darkness,: yet were also embraced by the mainstream pop culture, scoring five top 5 singles in the UK. Say Hello, Wave Goodbye, one of their most seminal singles is a tawdry (“ Standing at the doors of the Pink Flamingo crying in the rain “) yet impossibly moving song with a chorus that makes me cry ( and my father too : strangely ;this March, when was in England, I took a picture of him watching the video on YouTube – it is one of his all time favourite songs….)
Not having planned what exactly what we were going to do at the studio our photographer and filmmaker friend Michael had booked for us, we simply stuffed various (some) bizarre items from around our house and took two big suitcases with us down to the fascinating Namba area of Osaka that we were staying in ( D had somehow also picked up, and was wearing, a perfume called Improv – a precise blend of Calvin Klein’s two classics for men, Eternity and Obsession
(gratuitous picture of our cat with Soft Cell records )
– which smelled amazing, and formed the weekend’s olfactory soundtrack ( recently I myself have just been wearing pure vetiver essential oil).
Martin, naturally played by me in the video, is plagued by voices, visions, hallucinations; and we acted out this paralyzing fear with a series of monsters and gargoyles played by Duncan – as the blond – and other friends who joined us in Osaka : Michael will juxtapose them and multilayer them with other images later to create a chaotic mayhem of German expressionist monochrome fear
For me, as well as just being a creatively hilarious way to spend a birthday it is also a real exorcising of ghosts : despite the delight I often felt as a child, those times, in my heart, were not easy, and my pop records were my salvation : this track is a visceral explosion of everything at once – and I want our presentation of it to be beautiful, but also unhinge.
While the first part of the film will be in black and white, suddenly half way through we will plunge into colour.
Transformed into Burning Bush, the ramifications of which I don’t quite understand fully but wanted as a complete switch – a parallel world – Michael followed this serene night creature through the streets, down alleyways, over bridges, filmed in front of the glittering city at the top of tall buildings.
I was wearing – no was DRENCHED in – the 2019 version of L’Interdit ( ‘The Forbidden’), a brand new iteration of a Givenchy Classic ( which I never liked ) that bears no resemblance to its soft woody powdered predecessor. No, this smells like grape bubblegum : tuberose, jasmine sambac, a fruit Poison that while vapid, in profusion emanated a cloud of blase laissez faire that suited the contrast between our nocturnal wanderings, noxious, yet tempting :::seizing the eyes and the noses of passers by ( Chinese children : staring ) as I glided through the streets like a bloodsucking, nonchalant marquis….
The next day, the Monday, was my actual birthday, and we returned to normality and the land of the living.
Lunch at a wonderful old place just next to our hotel
and a fantastic afternoon of trawling around record shops.
The following day was then back to work – shorn and delivered, in the classroom, compressed ::: the song still raging, and echoing, through my head ….
20 responses to “THE FORBIDDEN : OSAKA AT NIGHT; ‘MARTIN’ BY SOFT CELL (1983), + L’INTERDIT by GIVENCHY (2019)”
Won der full!!
I was right with you in that dark raging ride all through the night
Still shaking (me)
Too terified and too caught up to smell anything
Murnau and Miss Havisham(just now listening to the audiobook) eclipsing in The fearless Vampire Killers and The Hour of the Wolf …
Tou must have been exhausted and exhilirated beyond belief!
What a way to celebrate a birthday
It was quite fantastic, actually.
Looking forward to putting the video up when Michael has finished it
( ( so much for keeping things more private ))
So glad you did not !
Thank you for sharing the experience.
I hope the video comes out well:
the glimpses and the telling promised a lot.
Wonderful post. Good luck with the video
I mean it is so frivolous in a way – all that expense : bullet trains, hotels, studio costs… it is kind of ridiculous.
But I loved it.
Wish I had more time to write, but can I just say. Those. Photos. My god. Some of your best. (And Duncan’s: I take it he was behind the lens a few times.) And you are beautiful as your alter ego, which seems as real, as authentic, to me as the Neil I’m more familiar with.
Can’t wait to see the finished product.
Me neither – and thanks for the compliment, although Michael ( the black and white ) is the reason the photos look so good.
I learned some interesting things, actually. Although the idea for the video was mine as it sprung from my own intense pubescent experience, when it came to actually filming it I soon realized that to a large extent I had to cede my own impulses and yield to his vision: he insisted on certain things – the gaunt makeup, that the other characters wear masks, both of which I wasn’t sure about but he was absolutely right: the man has brilliant light control – particularly filming in cities at night, which is why I really wanted to do it.
I mean I suppose it is just a vanity project really: as I approach my sixth decade I wanted to preserve something on celluloid, but as you will have realized from what I wrote in the piece it was also quite a visceral want to validate that teenage fear and conquer it with a big beautiful fuck you to the world. For me it was fascinating and really gratifying to be able to do so.
Will I make a fool of myself posting up the whole video ? Could it jeopardize me in some way? What do you think ? I value all your opinions.
Maybe a vanity project in one sense, but liberating and cathartic too, so most practical. Worth it. Cheaper than therapy.
Depends on the content. I mean, are you doing things that are outrageous to the point of criminality? Otherwise, I’d imagine you’d be fine. You could always have two versions. One with everything in it, for limited viewing, and the other edited so that you wouldn’t have to be concerned if the school principal watched it.
Nothing untoward – just very GOTHIC. Have I gradually been getting darker?
True to a Black Narcissus?
I think you’re a lot lighter now than when you had your knees done, that’s for sure!
Semi-kidding aside, I like how your darkness varies from post to post, or even within a post. (I’d hate to see you very dark for very long. I would worry!) You usually lighten up when you talk about your friends, which is nice to see. Never thought of you as a misanthrope anyway, but it is reassuring. Dark and light seem well-balanced in your life. I do like it whenever your writing takes a turn for the darker. You do it well.
Oh, by the way, what’s this about you not liking l’Interdit? I distinctly recall you describing how you had come around to it.
Ooh – I don’t know – what was your take again? I never knew if I had a good vintage, if it was just too DOWDY somehow….a powdered dear trapped in an oak trunk
A sandalwood trunk, which might be part of the problem for you!
I find it stately more than dowdy. I do have a couple of bottles of vintage partum. The rather old ounce is magnificent, a mile deep, as intellectual as an ancient Patou; the newer is softer and more shallow and yes, come to think, a tad bland, if I were to be in a critical mood.
Let me try to find what you’d said about it post-enlightenment.
Got it! You and Catherine were out together fragrance sleuthing:
“C had spotted an unopened Givenchy Interdit, a scent I had never really liked for some reason, not entirely, until we later retired to a coffee shop and she prized open the wax top of the bottle and the most gorgeous ylang, rose, jasmine and iris top notes wafted out and I was in heaven, finally appreciating this perfume for the first time in its beautiful, pristine edition.”
You see, Neil?!! You love it like I do!
Oh god yes – now I remember. Really quite something. I think until then I had only smelled degraded dregs, or halfway to.
But in any case, grape flavor on the Osaka nice was perfect- and will now be forever connected with that insane weekend,
Audrey DOES spin in her grave though, somewhere in Switzerland
Yes, I’m certain of it.
“grape flavor on the Osaka nice was perfect” Autocorrect was working overtime.
ps. the perceived lighterness is partially true but mainly the black cheekbones I was compelled to don
interesting post! would love if you could check my blog out! Were based in Osaka!