In Japan, where they have long respected actors, it’s a bit of an event when an overseas import dares to step on Japanese soil. So, when Robert Pattinson made a brief appearance at Tokyo’s historic Kabuki-cho theatre last week, it was both an honour and a thrill for those who had the pleasure of seeing him. With his wild shock of red hair and pale, vulnerable eyes, Pattinson is an image whose very nature invites comparison to the beautiful yet dangerous women of Japanese folklore. And what woman could compare to the kami, the goddesses of Japanese culture who are often represented as having 16 arms?
Pattinson’s fleeting visit to Japan—he had just filmed the latest installment of the “Twilight” series in the country—was only a taste of his extensive world tour this year. After wrapping filming on the massive, dystopian “Pacific Rim”, he jetted off to Switzerland to shoot the “Mystery Project”, a highly-anticipated sequel to “Venice”, with a budget of over $100 million. Just last week, he travelled to Abu Dhabi for the finale of the “Twilight” franchise, breaking several cultural traditions along the way. He’s also set to headline the 2022 edition of the Franco-German “Colbert” festival in Düsseldorf—the first German-speaking film festival to do so.
Pattinson is one of the world’s biggest movie stars. Since debuting in 2007’s “Good Luck Chuck”, he’s been a movie staple, appearing in some of the most iconic films of our time. As well as “Twilight” and its sequels, he’s been in “Toy Story”, “Logan”, and “Welcome to Marwen”. And though he mostly plays serious or brooding characters, his presence still manages to provoke laughter from casual movie fans and pop culture enthusiasts alike.
In many ways, “Rob Pattinson in Japan” is a love letter to the kami ladies of Japanese folklore. The opening shot of the film (which you can read more about here) features a close-up of Pattinson as he contemplates a calligraphic translation of the Japanese phrase “kawaii koto” (roughly “cute things”). This is presumably a reference to the 17th century Edomiyo-ji Treasure, an unrivaled collection of over 200 beautiful painted scrolls from the “ukiyo-e” school. This series of paintings, which depicted the courtesans of old Kyoto in a seductive yet respectful manner, were first brought to the attention of the West in 1911, when the Boston Museum of Art bought the lot for the princely sum of $350,000. The museum donated the collection to the city in 1973.
The Seventeenth Century Edomiyo-ji Treasure
The collection of paintings that make up the Edomiyo-ji Treasure is one of the most outstanding in all of Japanese art history. The museum that houses the collection, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art, is the first to admit, “This collection is so beautiful that it is very difficult to put it into words. Even those who are not very familiar with art can feel the emotion of the viewers just by looking at the paintings.” It’s an understatement to say that the collection is stunning. And it’s not just the paintings that are striking—it’s the fact that they were all created between the years 1615 and 1665—that make the collection so special. The ukiyo-e (pictorial prints) master, Shunshin, who was responsible for printing most of these works, lived and worked during what is known as the “golden period” of ukiyo-e. Between 1655 and 1700, more than 200 separate books were published that featured ukiyo-e artwork.
Though mostly known for his paintings, the prolific Shunshin also produced a large number of ukiyo-e prints, including this exceptional 16th century Edomiyo-ji painting, named “Sakura” (“Cherry”). The original painting is on display at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art along with a series of other fascinating works by Shunshin and his students. As mentioned, since its debut the Edomiyo-ji Treaure has been the subject of much admiration and analysis from both professional and amateur scholars alike. And these days, it’s very difficult to find a wall in Tokyo that doesn’t have a masterpiece by Shunshin hanging on it.
The “Twilight” Signature Scent
That this movie is named after the “Twilight Saga” is no coincidence. Not only does the scent of patchouli oil, which is used to represent the “Twilight” signature scent, play a vital role in the narrative of the film, but so does the plant itself. In several scenes throughout the movie, you see a small tree, which appears to grow naturally inside a glass vase. This is most probably a type of Baume Sauvage, or French lavender, which is a common sight in Japanese flower arranging. According to Japanese flower lore, the plant was first brought to Japan from China around AD 962, where it was used to scent the air during the ritual practice of archery.
“Twilight” is the first “Twilight” movie to feature an opening credit sequence. Shot in the UK by the acclaimed Luke Mooney, the sequence starts with a beautiful shot of the River Lune in front of a row of lime trees, before moving to show an old man carving a Japanese beetle, which is considered as a bad omen in the country. Inevitably, the sequence ends with the British director ruefully admitting that he doesn’t know much about beetles, but is just doing his best to complete the task in front of him.
The “Venice” Director’s Cut
Another thing that makes “Rob Pattinson in Japan” so endearing is its devotion to “Venice”, the highly-acclaimed 2006 debut film of director Paolo Sorrentino. Co-produced by France’s Les Films du Fleuve and Italy’s Sudestada, “Venice” is, in many ways, the spiritual successor to Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon”, the film that influenced William Shakespeare’s tragedy of the same name. Like “Rashomon”, it’s the tale of a murder that is uncovered by the different accounts of the participants. But where “Rashomon” was an intricate study of the ways in which the truth can only be discerned by multiple individuals, “Venice” is a gorgeous romance, whose every shot is a visual feast. And it’s the visual effects that truly take the cake in “Venice”. Though largely a product of today, the movie was made with vintage cameras to capture the unrivalled beauty of 1950s and 1960s Venice. The “Venice” cut of the movie, like the earlier “Twilight” director’s cut, also has an opening credit sequence, which features a series of sumi-e (black ink drawings) that evoke the aesthetic of the city. It also boasts a dazzling display of 3D, which was particularly striking back in the day when it was made.
Pattinson had an uncredited part in “Avengers: Infinity War” as a member of the villainous group, The High Council. Much like the plant that grows naturally inside a glass vase, the High Council is made up of some of cinema’s baddest dudes, who wield the ability to control the weather as a key power in the group. Though he doesn’t appear in the movie, we do get to see Pattinson in a deleted scene, as he prepares to enact one of the film’s most chilling moments, when he throws a thunderbolt at a city bus. The shot was almost certainly a reference to Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”, in which the iconic “samurai” sword is used for similar dramatic effect.