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Japanophiles may be fascinated with Japan Fest this weekend at NOMA (10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun., Nov. 8), or greatly disappointed. NOMA's annual event focuses on the elegant and dignified traditions of Japan. These include the grooming of tiny bonsai trees, plodding tea ceremonies, traditional floral arranging (ikebana) and origami. A couple of the more vibrant exhibitions include taiko drumming and aikido and kendo martial arts demonstrations. But where is the wild exuberance of Japanese popular culture? The violence and leering, borderline pedophilia of Manga comics, the hard-charging grotesque absurdity of sumo wrestling, the goofy transliterations and bizarre television. For every expression of formal and polite etiquette there is an opposite guilty pleasure, such as the rampant physical comedy and humiliation of contestants on the show Takeshi's Castle (the clip above is from an American rerun of the show with comedic voiceovers). The renowned actor Takeshi Kitano hosted the gameshow from 1986 to 1989. In it, armies of contestants figuratively stormed his castle by being put through grueling obstacle course tests. It should be a national treasure. And if NOMA can warm up to Disney animation, it can welcome Hello Kitty.


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