On March 31st, 2017, I visited with teacher, author, actor, internet old-timer, and award-winning video maker Robert Red-Baer at his home in Nagareyama, Japan. We discussed his life in Japan, his work, and the lessons he’s learned since first coming to to the country in December of 1974.
I first ran across Robert and his site around the turn of the century, near the high water mark of my Japanese cinema laserdisc collecting phase. I was hunting for information on Toshiro Mifune, and AltaVista (remember, this was in the days before Wikipedia and Google) had singled out Robert’s site as an especially promising destination. I still remember those early days of searching the Internet, when feelings of frustration and disappointment were at least as common finding what you wanted.
Seeing Robert’s site was like finding an oasis in the Sahara: here was a man who not only wrote about Mifune, but actually worked for him for a time as a drama and English teacher, at the Mifune Geijitsu Gakui acting school.
In one section of the site reserved for comments, Robert mentioned he was planning to pay a courtesy visit to Mifune Productions and the estate’s executor, Toshiro Mifune’s son, Shiro Mifune, an occasional actor best known for playing Lord Nagai (and sounding incredibly like his father in one scene) in what was to be Akira Kurosawa’s final film, Ame Agaru. As soon as I had read that Robert’s visit was still planned for some time in the future, I decided to write to him then and there.
In my mail I had asked him if would be willing to pass a question to Shiro Mifune during his visit: a hopefully tasteful request about information as to the location of his father’s grave. Robert was happy to help, and within a few months he’d made his visit and posted Shiro’s kind reply for all to see. He even attributed the question to me on his Q&A page, which was a kick.
Within a year or two of this, we’d sold our house in the U.S. and moved back to Japan and an area not all that far from where Robert lived. Once things were more or less settled and the opportunity presented itself, I visited Toshiro Mifune’s grave (if you open the link, it’s the double-sized right in the middle of the screen, a little down and to the right from the diagonal stairs) using the information both gentlemen had provided, carrying a little bottle of whisky which I left as an offering.
After that, Robert and I stayed in touch every so often, both deliberately and accidentally; in 2004 I bumped into him and his wife at a shopping mall. In 2010 Robert sent me an early version of a manuscript he was working on, seeking a little feedback. (that manuscript eventually became a very unique and interesting a self-published book). Further delay and drama, which I will go into later, sadly prevented us from meeting up for that drink until 2016, believe it or not. During that meeting I broached the idea of doing an interview some time in the next year, which Robert agreed to. After much wasted time and delay on my part, during which I was getting this site ready), we sat down to do a proper retrospective interview (my first attempt at such writing, actually).
Unfortunately, as I am often prone to doing, I got a bit ahead of myself. The amount of material I recorded (over 4 hours), combined with the need to focus on other things, has made it impossible for me to sift through everything and write up something that satisfied me in the time I have remaining before departing for my walk across Japan (at the time of this writing, I depart in five days). The release of the full interview will have to wait until I have the bandwidth to do it to my satisfaction. It will not surprise many to learn this may take a while.
Until then, by all means, visit Roberts personal site and check out his book, entitled The Night Train Before Christmas. It’s raw, it’s fun, it’s true, and in many places is a lurid and suspenseful page-turner well worth four dollars.