As sardonic as it is poignant, hilarious as much as touching, Showdown at Shinagawa: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil by Bill Zarchy is a truly interesting collection of anecdotes and expositions by a man who has been there, eaten that, and even gotten the Corregidor T-shirt.
His long and illustrious career as a freelance director of photography, as well as a teacher, a writer, and occasional bowler, has taken him across both America and the world over the past 40 years. Zarchy, who can boast being a blogger before “blogger” was even a word, has kept his on-the-road writing and essays going for many years, and after previously publishing some of his stories in other anthologies, some of his best tales have been put together for this title, complete with some insightful edits, foreword and a cohesive theme of new experiences from the business of moving pictures, be it the thrill of working under major stars or acclaimed productions or the lurking discomfort in seeing a slum first-hand and the personal concerns that affect and are put aside during a job.
While the book bills itself most as being about the experience of foreign filmmaking, it really pulls together as a narrative about humanity in general in a very intriguing and heartwarming way, even when talking about the worst sides of a production or the lowest moments life can offer.
In fact, especially so: The titular and opening story, Showdown at Shinagawa, itself is about the differences and animosity between the local clients and the flown-in production crew, and how common ground could still be found and a small but meaningful interaction spawned treasured memories. Of particular relevance to the subject is Zarchy’s experience of the “Universal Language” that comes out of necessity between people who don’t speak the same tongue, yet out of necessity manage to communicate through shared knowledge. These are all sub-points, however, within the witty discourses and war stories that make up the book that truly dig into the lives of those involved in such careers, as well as that of the man living his life behind the cameras and kvetch.
Showdown at Shinagawa is about culture, about career, but most of all it is a book about life. Bill Zarchy’s life, with all the gore and glory and everything between. The book is sarcastic and raucous just as much as it is honest and heartfelt, often both, and shows exactly the kind of spirit one needs to live an ever-shifting and highly-demanding lifestyle and career. Whether you’re an “armchair traveler” looking for a first-hand perspective of many different countries and cultures across the past few years, someone interested in film and writing looking for someone else’s trials, tribulations and even some handy tips, or you just want to read the sharp-witted musings of a man with a lot of stories to tell, the book has a lot to offer almost anyone and I would heartily recommend it to anyone wanting some easily digested, hard to forget reading.