Sunday, February 24, 2013
I couldn't even remember Kiyomori's name to be honest. I had the word blahname in place while I was roughing out that last post and had to go to the book to find out who he was. I knew his skulls and the picture of his glare; he is the man on the front cover of this copy of the Heike, looking angrily off a balcony in a print by Utagawa Hiroshige, who was drawing (I am going by a description of the picture at the Ashmolean Museum website) a kabuki actor named Nakamura Utaemon IV. "Utaemon ... performed this role in the first month of 1845."
Seven years later he died, I don't know how, and the same professional kabuki name went to Nakamura Utaemon V, who moved the Utaemon dynasty's base of operations north-east from Osaka to the larger city of Tokyo and passed the title to Nakamura Utaemon VI, a man who died in 2001, specialist in female roles (onnagata), and he was an honourary citizen of Las Vegas, not as a resident but as a gambler like the Japanese character in the film Casino, which I'm going to mention in a moment, a fact I know for sure because I've gone back to insert this sentence. Now I'll have to scroll down and change the way I've introduced the film in the next paragraph because apparently I've already introduced it in this one. (Now I have come back again because this paragraph went on for so long that I have converted the next paragraph into the start of its own post.) Utaemon died on the thirty-first of March, 2001, "a remarkable day on which snow fell onto the cherry blossoms against the backdrop of an evening moon," but the real-life counterpart of the high roller in Casino was stabbed to death with a sword in his kitchen while members of his family were away from the house looking for strawberries. "The day of his funeral was dreary with snow." In the film he is played by Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, the head of Nobu restaurants and Robert De Niro's frend. Both of them were in town recently, Matsuhisa and De Niro, opening a new Nobu hotel development at Caesars' Palace. The lobster sushi at the opening banquet was so fresh that it is alleged to have quivered. De Niro is in Casino too, playing a casino manager whose fictional behaviour was inspired by the genuine actions of a mob associate called Frank Rosenthal, though most people mention him by his nickname, which is Lefty. Dead now, he did not stay in Las Vegas after the events depicted in this film; he died in Florida. The fictional Rosenthal comes to Las Vegas because he has been sent there by the Kansas City mob, short men like large-lipped moneybank frogs sitting together in the basement of a grocery store eating the spaghetti that has been cooked for them by the store-owner's mother, who is played by Martin Scorsese's own mother Catherine. The owner of the store is not played by Catherine Scorsese's son, but his daughter Cathy plays the owner's nameless daughter. Fake Rosenthal is a perfectionist and the frogs trust him to run their casino, the Tangiers, which was invented by the filmmakers to represent the four different casinos that genuine-Rosenthal actually ran, all of which were the property and responsibility of the Chicago mob (or outfit), as was he. The Kansas City outfit, in the film (which was in real life the Chicago outfit), sends one of his childhood friends to help him, Nicky Santoro, played by Joe Pesci, who has been based on a thug named Tony the Ant Spilotro, who, if you've seen the movie, really did run a gang of burglars who used to knock holes in the sides of banks and stores at night, and steal the money or jewels inside. They were known as the Hole In The Wall Gang, which has to be the least imaginative crime nickname ever but at least it lets you know their modus operandi and does not misrepresent them. No one has to waste time asking questions because there it is in front of you, they were the Gang that made Holes in Walls. Spilotro's nickname was Pissant but the newspapers couldn't print it, therefore they called him the Ant, and he is ant-like in his pictures, small and tight next to Oscar Goodman in a photograph that is more or less well-recognised in Las Vegas, Goodman being the city's most popular former mayor, and would probably have been mayor unto death if there was not a limit on the length of time a mayor can serve. Now his wife is the mayor. (An illustration of them appeared on the cover of Las Vegas Seven before Valentine's Day, the ex-mayor with a bare chest of hair and cushions and the mayor in a romance-novel outfit like strawberry ice cream.) Goodman was Spilotro's lawyer, which is the same role he plays in the film. In the film he wears 1980s glasses with huge frames, as in the photograph, but nowadays I think he's switched to contacts. He used to represent the Hole In The Wall Gang too, and I've heard that one day he owed them several hundred dollars so they knocked a hole in his own wall and took it while he was out at an evening function. Las Vegans are frequently but not universally affectionate towards Oscar Goodman, whose client Tony the Ant once crushed a man's head in a vise until his eye rose from its socket and emerged. In the film he only threatens to do it, in real life he really did do it, popping the eye out while one of his sidekicks looked on, eating pasta, an individual named Chuckie the Typewriter, which was, as Spilotro once remarked to his friend Frank Cullotta, a "heartless" thing to do while a man was being murdered, the eating I mean, of the pasta. Cullotta was the leader of the Hole In The Wall Gang under Tony the Ant. In the film he is played by Frank Vincent and his character is named Frankie Marino. The original man, Cullotta, was present on set as a technical advisor. Scorsese hired a number of locals for minor roles as well, and anyone who is interested in trivia might like to know that the Metro officer who came to Robert De Niro's house towards the end of the film really was a Metro officer. De Niro asks him how his life is going, and the cop tells him that his wife is pregnant again, which got him a laugh from his friends at the premier for reasons that I won't go into. Cullotta, if you've seen the film, is also the nameless assassin who comes between two cars in a parking lot at the end and shoots another actor dead. (I think I saw somewhere that the actor who had been hired to play the assassin wasn't getting the murder right therefore Cullotta had to step in, gesturing Infirm of purpose, give me the daggers.) He's grown a beard since then, and the trimmed edges make his chin and throat look neater. Cullotta: The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster and Government Witness is the name of his autobiography. Whether it is good or not I couldn't tell you because I haven't read it.