Bill Zarchy’s SHOWDOWN AT SHINAGAWA is a collection of essays relating the author’s experience as a director of photography, shooting in various locations around the world, and occasionally running into celebrities. Some of the topics covered include the plight of a tall person in a Japanese hotel where everything was designed for short people, a death-defying ride down a very dangerous highway in India, a bonding moment with former President Clinton over the death of a dog, and the eventually-aborted filming of a very ambitious B-movie in the Philippines, produced by a man named Kurosawa who is not to be confused with the director named Akira.
The result is decidedly a mixed bag. In the best of these essays, Zarchy manages to find humor in the situations he’s in, and in the worst, well, he doesn’t. In one essay, he details what a cruel and overbearing crank Steve Jobs was being one time on the set, only to cut away at the end, as if he suddenly realized the Apple Corporation had snipers trained on him, with, “The old hands at Apple, the ones on the original Macintosh development team, referred to Steve’s legendary charisma and powers of persuasion (and never taking “No” for an answer), as the Reality Distortion Field. His powerful genius attracted many creative artists and persuaded them to become a part of Apple’s legend and legacy.” In general, this book suffers from tone issues: is it meant to be satirical or serious? The essays in SHOWDOWN AT SHINAGAWA sometimes can’t even agree with themselves on this.
But whether it’s scathing or sanitized, SHOWDOWN AT SHINAGWA is often pretty interesting. “Shanghai Lunch” is a funny little vignette about Westerners trying Chinese delicacies, including the following food review: “slimy, yet satisfying.” “Singapore: No Worry, Chicken Curry” is full of character, trying to convey a sense of that tiny nation whose government tries to sanitize every surface and sweep every problem under the rug. “The Big Break: Malaise in Manila” is a great little humor piece for those of you just dying to know how a B-movie gets made. Not all pieces are that effective, though: “Uganda: a World Together,” a piece about advanced electronics in Uganda, doesn’t really go anywhere, and “Starstruck at Cannes” seems little more than some celebrity sightings and some lame jokes about red-carpet fashion.
SHOWDOWN AT SHINAGAWA provides a glimpse into various cultures, as well as a glimpse into the author’s world; some parts of it are definitely less interesting than others, but its curiosity and sense of humor manage to endear it.
Reviewed by Charles Baker for IndieReader.