Unexpected Visitors in an Ebisu cafe

Originally published in Tokyo Notice Board, July 20 – August 2 2012 issue

By Dan Asenlund

I spent a few months in the spring of 2009 speaking English (and getting paid for it) at a café called Com Inn in the nostalgic alleys of Ebisu. Customers pay by the hour to practice their English in roundtable discussions or (if they are lucky to arrive at a slow hour) privately with a native speaker, who in turn gets a little money and (not so little) free coffee. But more than anything, he or she gets to meet a potpourri of strange souls and interesting characters, which is exactly what happened to me one strange evening.

First the late-twenties-something woman, clad in a shining blue evening gown, who had read her fiancé’s text messages and found out that he had a date that same night (she knew about the location and would witness it from a nearby Starbucks). She will not confront him, she says, but instead try to pretend it is her being on the date, hence the fancy dress.

Then the 85-year-old woman wearing Marilyn Monroe-like sunglasses and talking about how her school class escaped the bomb raids of 1945 and how she was in her mother’s womb during the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. All this in fluent English, perhaps after a romance with an American GI during the Occupation.

But just as I am about to end my shift, two beautiful young women sit down at my table and the boss asks me to work for another hour. No complaints on my side, especially not after they introduce themselves as actresses. Their English leaves much to be asked for, and when the boss isn’t looking I speak to them in Japanese. Marilyn Monroe doesn’t seem to mind, and the last person at the table, a guy in his early twenties, is shocked to find out that one of the actresses is Chiaki Ota, his favorite Gravia model (he doesn’t speak another word, his eyes glued to the protruding bosom of his tablemate).

The other actress looks familiar, as does her name, Tomomi Miyashita. We talk about movies (the boss is still not looking) and when I say that I love horror movies she asks if I have seen Ju-on. I have, I answer, and she says that then I must know that its director is Takashi Shimizu. Of course, I tell her.

“He has also made a movie called Marebito…”

Zap! A lightning crashes through the roof and hits me strait on the head, piercing through my brain. Across from me is the female lead in Marebito, the monster existing in Shinya Tsukamoto’s head as a pet, twisted in his mind from its original identity of his own daughter. Marebito, the film I had seen three times and in one of my university classes even read an interview with Miyashita. And here she was.

We keep talking until the café closes. The young guy is still eying Chiaki Ota, and the old lady comfortably leans back and smiles behind her Marilyn Monroe-glasses. All this while the woman in blue evening gown probably has taken her position in a window seat at a nearby Starbucks.

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