It was 2.30am. I was practicing in my hotel room. The thing about hotel rooms in Japan is that they are generally tiny. More like cupboards than rooms. And the walls are thin. Mine was no different. So I played quietly.

There was a knock at the door.

Bugger. I’d been wondering why there hadn’t been any complaint so far. I guess it’d finally come. I gingerly put down my guitar and put on my apologetic puppy face. I opened the door. A big American man stood before me. He had a beat-up guitar in his hands.

“Hi, you wanna jam?”

That was Tommy. He was in town to do a dance installation and shoot a film with his friends. They had been listening to me from their rooms for a few nights and now wondered if I’d like to join them for a drink. In truth, all I wanted to do was to be left alone to practice. But I was so relieved that this wasn’t the night manager coming to throw me out that all I could do was nod.

The party was in Room 1413. There was Virginie the French dancer and filmmaker, Zoltan the cameraman from Paris, Agustin the architect, Martin the DJ [both from Argentina] and another Frenchman whose name I forget. There was also an old man clad head to toe in black, looking like a cross between a kindly grandfather and an evil genius. He looked vaguely familiar. But I could not place him. Not that I was very curious, it must be said – given excuse to play loudly at last, my mind was entirely focused on blowing off steam at full volume. So I played my stuff. Tommy did his. We played a little 12-bar-blues. Then we did polka for the hell of it. Boom-cha-boom-cha-boom-cha…

Just then, the old man began to sing.

“I will crawl”
“I will crawl a”
“I will crawl a thousand miles”
“To see your beautiful face”

It was not a singer’s voice. The delivery was awkward and pitching was dodgy. Nevertheless, it had an emotive power that only really old people possess [anyone who’s heard Johnny Cash’s America I-V records will know what I mean]. It wasn’t the voice that stood out anyway. It was the accent. Unmistakably Eastern European, it was oddly moving, and reminded me of Medieval Europe. So I took in the old man properly for the first time. He glared back.

“Hello, I’m Jonas Mekas”, he grinned.

Thus it was the godfather of American underground cinema introduced himself. To those who don’t know, Jonas is a living legend. He is a poet, film critic, filmmaker and life-long promoter of avant garde films. Borned in Lithuania in 1922, he moved to New York after the war, and would eventually established the Anthology Film Archive. People he has filmed includes John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Jacqueline Kennedy and Salvador Dali. Giants like Andy Warhol and Bruce Nauman were among his artistic heirs. In fact, Warhol learned filmmaking sitting in Jonas’s loft, watching his films. Yet, here he was, seated in a crowded hotel room, singing wildly as I played the guitar. I could not decide which was more surreal – hanging out with Andy Lau in Pusan, or this.

Jonas Mekas: “Extra Portion For Free”

Eitherway, Jonas and I would meet again several times in the next couple of days. We’d have dinner [see above video], go to Focus Film’s party at the Tokyo International Film Festival [where he was mobbed by filmmakers], attended a CD launch at a trendy Aoyama dance club, and discuss his new I-pod project over coffee. It was incredibly fun to spend time with someone whom you normally only read about. For this privilege, I remain indebted to Lorna Tee [distribution and marketing manager of Focus Film] for giving me the opportunity to attend both the Pusan and Tokyo film festivals.

Jonas could not come to my Shibuya show though. It’s such a shame, not least because the gig turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever played. But then it has always been easy for me to perform well in Japan. I could mention a dozen things why this is so, but it ultimately comes down to the quality of the audience. Japanese people not only respect artists, they also contribute to their performances in a musically knowledgeable way. Thus, folks are quiet when there is need to be and rowdy when it is appropriate. You won’t believe how inspiring it is to play under such conditions.

Not that I knew how well the gig would go the night I met Jonas, of course. All I knew was lots of people would be attending – among them, a label interested to license and distribute my work in Japan, people from the film festival, friends, fans – and I was determined to focus my head on practising and playng as much as possible beforehand. In fact, it wasn’t until the end of the party, when he asked me for a copy of ‘Television’, that the weirdness of our encounter sank in…

“I’d been jamming with Jonas Mekas”.

Bloody hell.


TIFF SYMPOSIUM. Malaysian ‘New Wave’ filmmakers made so much progress over the last three year that the Tokyo International Film Festival held a special symposium to discuss it. Most were astonished by the lack of support from our authorities for non-Malay films. I was on the panel along with Tan Chui Mui, Khoo Eng Yow and Bernard Chauly.

SHIBUYA GIG. At ‘Classic Livehouse’. Amongst those who came was Kido Natsuki, one of Japan’s best guitarists. We might work together soon. Others include Yuka Sakano [GQ Japan writer], Yoichiro Takahashi [Director], Kosaku Sawada [A&R, Videoarts Music], Taishi Korezawa [Artist Manager & label owner] and Naoharu Takahashi [Director].

YASMIN AHMAD. The Tokyo International Film Festival had a special programme for Yamin Ahmad films this year, where her new film ‘Murksin’ was premiered. ‘Murksin’ has also been picked up by Andy Lau’s Focus Film for international distribution. This photograph was taken at the industry party held by Focus. Jonas was my surprise guest.

DVD INTERVIEW. One of the interviews I had to do was with Ho Yuhang for Rain Dog’s DVD release in Japan. We clowned around for the camera and made up everything we said. The interview crew from IMX the distributor were in stitches half the time. It was the most fun-filled interview I’ve had for a while. If only every interview is as enjoyable.

WITH BOPHANA & REN. I met Ren Takada and his manager Taishi Korezawa for dinner. They’d just finished a recording session with a Bossa Nova band called ‘Bophana’. After dinner, we went drinking till the wee hours of the morning. They are such nice people. I am dying to get them to come play in Malaysia. Perhaps next year.

WITH KASSHY. Kasshy is a glass maker. I met him at this cool salaryman’s bar last time I was in Tokyo. We met again this time at the same bar. He also came to the Shibuya gig with his young daughter, who wants to learn the guitar. He is making a couple of glasses for me. They’re not cheap, but they’re worth it. Can’t wait to get them.

SIGNING AUTOGRAPHS. Japanese fans are great. They are shy to begin with, but once the ice is broken, they are fantastic fun. Not many of them have seen me act. I believe this photograph was taken after the screening of James Lee’s ‘Before We Fall In Love Again. The film has now been selected for competition at the Marrakech International Film Festival.