Home on Film

The last movie I saw in the theater was It Follows. It’s a good movie, maybe even a great movie, a sleepy horror story that embraces the idea of building dread throughout its run time rather than wasting its scare factor on jump moments. My favorite thing about it, though, has nothing to do with story or performances or score, all of which are more than satisfactory. The thing I liked most in It Follows — the thing that set it apart from so many movies like it, so many movies in general — was the setting.

(I’m going to get into personal anecdotes with this, so brace yourself or something.)

I was born in on the east side of Michigan’s lower peninsula, and though my family moved to the greater Grand Rapids area on the opposite side of the state when I was six years old, I still spent plenty of time back in Royal Oak and the surrounding suburbs. My grandma and grandpa on my mom’s side lived there, and from 1994 through 2008, my family and I would visit about once a month. As we got older, one sibling or another and their respective significant other would drop out for a month or a few, but we were all, as one, committed to sustaining our relationship with Grandpa, who passed away in 2006, and Grandma, who passed away in 2008.

I haven’t seen much of Royal Oak since then, but considering how much time I’ve spent there, my memories of the landscape are indelible. The Detroit suburbs have an indefinable midwestern beauty about them: trees that seem to drop their leaves through all four seasons, so-clear-you-can-see-forever skies, and crisp, cold air for half the year that’s suddenly interrupted by just the right amount of humidity sometime in the middle of May. The suburban streets are narrow, flanked by narrower sidewalks occupied by couples walking and children being pushed in strollers and dogs being dragged by their leashes. I always felt safe in those suburbs, however naive that may have been. Even as a charmingly jaded twenty-something, though, the thought of meandering through the streets of Royal Oak is a calming one. So naturally, since so much of It Follows was filmed in eastern Michigan was equally calming.

Don’t get me wrong here. It’s haunting, and some shots in particular stuck with me for hours after viewing. But mostly, it just made me nostalgic, even homesick. And that feeling lingered much longer than the creeping dread the movie so effectively creates. Yesterday, though, something reminded me that I have two homes now — my home state, and my city.

It happened when Scott and I were watching the Daredevil pilot. We’re not great at keeping up with current shows, but we were having a lazy evening, and neither of us wanted to commit to watching an entire movie after playing Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments as long as we had. So we tried out Daredevil, which, for the uninitiated (me), felt like a combination of the fifth season of Angel and the Toph Bei Fong black and white sequences in Avatar: The Last Airbender. In short, it’s great. And in the first few minutes, there was a single shot that really landed for me, something that never happened on Angel or Avatar or any other show I care about.

In one of the first scenes, we see the stupidly named Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) talking on the phone as he walks down a Manhattan street. He passes beneath a few awnings and soon reaches the 50th Street subway station. There was one awning in particular that Scott and I noticed and immediately recognized. We’d seen it for the first time in 2012. New to the city, we were still getting our bearings, and some friends of ours took us to a restaurant known by a few different names: Japas 27, East 27, or simply East. It’s known for its karaoke bar and its unorthodox method of serving sushi — via conveyor belt, with differently colored plates indicating different price points. More than once, I’ve eaten cheesecake with chopsticks there after having my fill of spicy shrimp rolls. It’s not right around the corner from our place, but we’re repeat customers. And there it was, smack dab in the middle of the Daredevil set.

I realize that living where we do means I’m going to see my home on TV and in movies, hear it mentioned in songs, see it as the setting in books, et cetera, et cetera. But seeing the beacon of a restaurant I’ve been enjoying for years, one of the literally thousands of restaurants in New York? That’s different. That’s special. And, silly or maudlin as it may seem, it reminded me that I belong here, and will for some time.

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