native in nerja

On Sunday, we went to dinner with a friend my wife had made in a Nerja group on Facebook. It was a nice evening with an energetic companion. We spoke mostly in English, but it was interesting that occasionally she and I would lapse into Spanish, or perhaps more accurately, Andalusian (I'll get to that in a bit).

I was fascinated by her perspective, as a native not only of Andalusia but of Nerja itself ... she was born here in 1975. As we ate ice cream on the Balcon de Europa, as we have done so many times over  the last 20+ years, she offered her memories of being on the Balcon when she was a kid. It reminded me of when we once visited Stonehenge with friends who had grown up nearby ... to them, it was mostly just a place to play on as a kid (which apparently you could do back in the day). Our new friend loved Nerja, and in some ways her Nerja was an even more romantic place than for us tourists.

Throughout the evening, she related to the town differently, obviously. Walking past one restaurant, she said she waited tables there for her first job ... it had a different name, then. I asked her if she watched Verano Azul when she was young, and she replied yes as if the answer was obvious. Verano Azul was a Spanish television series, a teen drama shot in Nerja and shown in 1981-2.

She also reflected on the impact of Franco on Spain. One thing I hadn't thought of specifically is that, as she remembered it, Franco hated Andalusia and its people. He had tried to force the country into a unified Spain, forcing Castilian Spanish to be the only accepted legal language, and fighting against the regional cultures that lent diversity to the country. Andalusia was the hardest-hit area during Franco's reign of terror. Our friend said Andalusians felt separated from the country, which thought of them as gypsies at best, a culture that didn't even speak "proper" Castilian Spanish.

All of this added the local perspective to the tourist's view we have experienced in our seven visits to Nerja. It was not just a fun evening, but an instructive one.

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the ghost of yotsuya (nobuo nakagawa, 1959)

This is the eighth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 7th annual challenge, and my third time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", and last year's at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21"). Week 8 is called "J-Horror Week":

From Wikipedia:

"Japanese horror (also known as J-horror) is horror fiction arising from popular culture in Japan, generally noted for its unique thematic and conventional treatment of the horror genre differing from the traditional Western representation of horror. Mediums in which Japanese horror fiction is showcased include literature, film, anime, video games, and artwork. Japanese horror tends to focus on psychological horror, tension building (suspense), and supernatural horror, particularly involving ghosts (yūrei) and poltergeists. Other Japanese horror fiction contains themes of folk religion such as possession, exorcism, shamanism, precognition, and yōkai."

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen J-Horror film.

Yotsuya Kaidan has been called the most famous Japanese ghost story of all time, dating back to its first appearance as a kabuki play in 1825. It has been made into numerous films, starting in 1912, and Nakagawa's version is often considered the best. Nakagawa directed more than 100 movies in his career, including several horror films in the late-50s/early-60s. I came to The Ghost of Yotsuya as a beginner ... for me, it was just another Japanese horror movie, since I didn't have the cultural context the story carries with Japanese audiences. It was occasionally hard to follow, but in a good way ... it added to the supernatural elements in the film.

There are murders from the start, but the ghosts only emerge gradually. Much of the film is interesting, but without the horror aspect I expected. It's almost a character study for much of its running time. But when the ghosts come out, the supernatural horror moves to the front, building on what has come before. There is a visual splendor whenever the film moves outdoors, but most of the time, we're inside with the characters.

The Ghost of Yotsuya might appeal more to an arthouse audience than to one looking for gore and horror, but it succeeds on either level.

Among the choices of others for the Challenge was Kuroneko.


joining the rest of the world

In my search for things to watch that were accessible via streaming from Europe, I decided I would join the rest of the world and watch Squid Game.

Squid Game, which was released a little over a month ago, is the most-watched series (from its launch) in the history of Netflix as I write this. It reached #1 on the Netflix TV charts in 90 countries, including Spain ... when I logged onto the service from Nerja, the website said "#1 in Spain!"

With all of this, I admit that while I knew of the cultural explosion around the show, I had no idea what it was about. Nor did my wife, about which more in a bit. I settled in for Episode One, expecting some excess, in line with some of the Korean horror films I'd seen. For the first 40 minutes or so, I saw an interesting setup about some people suffering from immense debt, who agreed to play a large-scale game for a chance to win a lot of money.

What follows here includes necessary spoilers for that first episode. A total of 456 players are taken to a hidden compound. They will play a series of six games, with a big payout for anyone who finishes. The first game is "Red Light, Green Light", a variation on the children's game. They have five minutes to reach a finish line, but they can only move at certain moments; anyone who moves during the stay-still periods is eliminated.

The game begins, the players move forward towards the finish line, the call to stop comes, the players stop, and the ones who move are eliminated from the game. Their elimination results in their being shot down and killed. By the time the five minutes are up, more than half of the 456 are dead.

There are underlying themes about class and money, reminiscent perhaps of Parasite. But I've only watched two episodes so far, and I can't really comment on those themes. In fact, this post isn't really about analysis at all, but rather at the fascinating (and rather sad) reaction of my wife when I explained the first episode.

My wife watches a lot of TV while she knits, often shows from other countries. She chooses shows by browsing, sometimes selecting something Netflix or other services recommend based on her past viewing. She is mostly uninterested in stuff that goes viral, so while she had heard of Squid Game, she knew even less than I did about the series, and didn't have any interest in watching it. I made what I see in retrospect was an insufficient description of the show's concept, so that she didn't know the show is fictional. To her, I am describing a Survivor-like reality show, so when I got to the part where half of the people died, she was disgusted. Not just with the show, but with her husband, who seemed to look forward to Episode Two. She didn't think I was the kind of person to watch actual killing for entertainment purposes, and while she couldn't really believe such a show existed, times are bizarre, and so when I kept insisting that the game's losers really died, saying "it's Korean!" in reference to Korean horror films, she thought I meant there was a show from Korea where people were being murdered.

I admit I was, and am, a bit frightened that she would think I would continue to watch the show she thought I was describing. But then, based on the look on her face. she was just as frightened that her husband of 48 years was the kind of person who would indeed want to watch more.

It's safe to say we were both relieved when I did a better job of explaining that the show was fiction. I went on to watch the second episode, but I don't think she will be putting it on her Netflix queue anytime soon.