Skip to content

Los Angeles, the City in Cinema: Speed (Jan de Bont, 1994)

Speed, the quintessential Los Angeles action movie, actually comprises not one but three Los Angeles action movies, each a contest of wills between a SWAT hot-shot and an ex-LAPD mad bomber: the first high in a downtown office tower, the second in a bus careening across town on a freeway, and the third underground in an out-of-control subway train. No action movie before or since — and certainly no other so transit-oriented — has taken more advantage of Los Angeles’ mixture of horizontality and verticality as well as its vast size and seemingly perpetual incompleteness.

The video essays of “Los Angeles, the City in Cinema” examine the variety of Los Angeleses revealed in the films set there, both those new and old, mainstream and obscure, respectable and schlocky, appealing and unappealing — just like the city itself.

Presenting the Notebook on Cities and Culture Guide to Japan

ncc japan guide header

The Notebook on Cities and Culture Guide to Japan indexes all the show’s Japan-recorded and Japan-related interviews. Stay tuned for much more and about the Land of the Rising Sun.





  • Pico Iyer, author of Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk, The Global Soul, and most recently The Man Within My Head
  • Christopher Olson, artist, critic, and teacher


  • Tim Olive, guitarist, improviser, and sound artist

Los Angeles:

  • Todd Shimoda, author of “philosophical mystery” novels with science, engineering, Japanese and Japanese-American themes (this interview covers Subduction)
  • Roland Kelts, visiting scholar and lecturer at the University of Tokyo, contributing editor to literary journals A Public Space and Japan’s Monkey Business International, and author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S
  • Leslie Helm, former Tokyo correspondent for Business Week and the Los Angeles Times and author of Yokohama Yankee: My Family’s Five Generations as Outsiders in Japan
  • Dan Kuramoto, founding member of the band Hiroshima
  • Eric Nakamura, founder of Asian-American aesthetic culture and lifestyle brand Giant Robot

Marketplace of Ideas interviews:

  • John Nathan, translator of Yukio Mishima and Kenzaburō Ōe, filmmaker, and author of the memoir Living Carelessly in Tokyo and Elsewhere [MP3] [MP3]
  • Ian Buruma, writer, documentarian, Henry R. Luce Professor of Human Rights and Journalism at Bard College, and author of The China Lover, a historical novel examining on life and career of Manchurian-born Japanese actress Yoshiko Yamaguchi [MP3]
  • Kim Richardson, executive producer at The Criterion Collection and producer of box set Pigs, Pimps and Prostitutes: Three Films by Shohei Imamura [MP3]
  • Nick Currie, a.k.a. Momus, musician, writer, artist, “avant-gardist,” and Osaka resident [MP3]
  • Todd Shimoda, author of “philosophical mystery” novels like 365 Views of Mt. Fuji, The Fourth Treasure and now Oh!: A Mystery of Mono No Aware [MP3]

Notebook on Cities and Culture’s complete Korea Tour

Korea Tour guest images Boing BoingYou can download every individual interview by following the links below:

  • Hyunwoo Sun, founder of the Talk to Me in Korean language-learning podcast empire
  • Bernie Cho, president of DFSB Kollective, a creative agency that provides digital media, marketing, and distribution services to Korean pop music artists
  • Laurence Pritchard, writer, teacher, enthusiast of Korean literature, and “English gentleman”
  • Mark Russell, author of the books Pop Goes Korea, K-Pop Now!, and Young-hee and the Pullocho
  • Mipa Lee, proprietor of Itaewon’s vegan (!) bake shop and café PLANT and author of the blog Alien’s Day Out
  • Marc Raymond, film scholar, teacher at Kangwoon University, and author ofHollywood’s New Yorker: The Making of Martin Scorsese
  • Adrien Lee, French-Korean host of Arirang TV’s Showbiz Korea and Arirang radio’sCatch the Wave
  • Michael Breen, author of The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies
  • Stephen Revere, CEO of 10 Media, co-founder and managing editor of 10 Magazine, author of two Survival Korean books, and for three years the teacher on Arirang television’s Let’s Speak Korean
  • Open Books acquiring editor Gregory Limpens
  • Charlie Usher, author of the blog Seoul Sub→urban and the book 찰리와 리즈의 서울 지하철 여행기 (Charlie and Liz’s Seoul Subway Travelogue)
  • Danny Crichton, researcher and writer on regional innovation hubs and a contributing writer for TechCrunch
  • Darcy Paquet, critic of Korean film, founder of and the Wildflower Film Awards, author of New Korean Cinema: Breaking the Waves, teacher, and occasional actor
  • Stephane Mot, “conceptor,” writer of fiction, nonfiction, “nonsense,” and author of the blog Seoul Village as well as the collection Dragedies
  • Jon Dunbar, urban explorer, editor of long-running Korean punk zine Broke in Korea, and author of Daehanmindecline
  • Nikola Medimorec, co-author of Kojects, an English-language blog on transport, urban planning, and development projects around Korea
  • Chance Dorland, host of TBS eFM’s “Chance Encounters” segment and the podcasts Chance and Dan Do Korea
  • Keith Kim, creator of the travel and culture site Seoulistic
  • Steve Miller, creator of the Asia News Weekly podcast and the vlogger formerly known as QiRanger
  • Charles Montgomery, editor of the site and global ambassador of Korean literature in translation
  • Alex Jensen, host of weekday news show This Morning on TBS eFM
  • Daniel Gray, creator of the site Seoul Eats, proprietor of craft beer restaurants Brew 3.14π and Brew 3.15π
  • Barry Welsh, host of the Seoul Book & Culture Club and Seoul Film Society
  • Writer Krys Lee, author of the acclaimed short story collection Drifting House
  • Literary translator Bruce Fulton
  • North Korea analyst B.R. Myers, author of A Reader’s Manifesto and The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters
  • James Turnbull, author of The Grand Narrative, a blog on Korean feminism, sexuality, and popular culture
  • Broadcaster, teacher, rapper, and television star Chad Kirton (a.k.a. Fusion)
  • Jeff Liebsch, managing editor and partner at the magazine Busan Haps
  • Sofía Ferrero Cárrega, film critic and enthusiast of Korean cinema
  • Changwon bikeshare system outreach coordinator Coby Zeifman
  • Daniel Tudor co-founder of craft beer pizza pub chain The Booth, author of Korea: The Impossible CountryA Geek in Korea, and (with James Pearson) North Korea Confidential
  • Andrew Salmon, author of To the Last Round: The Epic British Stand on the Imjin River, Korea 1951Scorched Earth, Black Snow: Britain and Australia in the Korean War, 1950; and All That Matters: Modern Korea
  • Michael Elliott, creator of the English-learning site for Koreans English in Korean and the Korean-learning site for English-speakers Korean Champ
  • Architect Minsuk Cho, principal at Mass Studies, designer of the Golden Lion-winning Korean pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2014
  • Matt VanVolkenburg, author of Gusts of Popular Feeling, a blog on “Korean society, history, urban space, cyberspace, film, and current events, among other things”
  • Brother Anthony of Taizé, renowned translator of Korean poetry, president of the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch, and naturalized citizen of South Korea

Supplementary material:

Notebook on Cities and Culture’s Korea Tour: Opting for Korea with Brother Anthony

Brother Anthony 2In an officetel in Seoul, Colin talks with Brother Anthony of Taizé, one of the most renowned translators of Korean poetry, president of the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch, and naturalized citizen of South Korea. They discuss the frequency with which he’s heard “Why Korea?” in the 35 years since he first arrived as a member of Taizé; the Korean lack of belief that anybody would actually opt for Korea rather than their own homelands; what fills Korean taxi drivers with strong opinions; Korea’s aging rural population versus Japan’s even more aging rural population; the Seoul he arrived in in 1980, and how it compared with the Philippine slum in which he’d spent years previous; the “trickery and violence” involved in the city’s redevelopment; how a “shame culture” deals with modernization (and especially with thatched roofs); how Japanese society accommodates a kind of “nonconformism” that Korean society doesn’t; how he began translate Korean poetry, and why he got into poetry rather than other forms of Korean literature; how Korean fiction came into being after the war, and what it often lacks; how the concept of separation has been expressed as “the great Korean thing,” and younger Korean writers’ desire to get away from it; why “Koreans can’t speak Korean”; the endless pattern drills he endured while studying Korean at Yonsei University; how he began “doing tea,” and where in Asia the interest has taken him; how China has used Korea as a developmental model; why he isn’t sure he wants to live in a “fascinating country”; how some foreigners love traditional Korean music and architecture while most Koreans themselves don’t; whether Korea can gain the confidence it has long lacked; why we should rightfully be able to ride the train from Busan to Paris.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Los Angeles Review of Books Podcast: Cynthia Kadohata

Colin Marshall talks with Cynthia Kadohata, author of novels for young readers like the Newbery Medal-winning Kira-Kira, the National Book Award-winning The Thing About Luck, and the new Half a World Away. She has also written for adults with such novels In the Heart of the Valley of Love, a grim but hopeful vision of Los Angeles’ future.

You can stream the conversation just above, listen to it on the LARB’s site, or download it on iTunes.

Notebook on Cities and Culture’s Korea Tour: The Style of the Time with Matt VanVolkenburg

matt vanvolkenburgIn Seoul’s Sinchon district, Colin talks with Matt VanVolkenburg, author of Gusts of Popular Feeling, a blog on “Korean society, history, urban space, cyberspace, film, and current events, among other things.” They discuss what it feels like to live in Seoul, of all places, without a smartphone; why navigating the city poses so much of a challenge to the newcomer; how he sees the relationship of the Korean media to foreign English teachers, “the new incarnation of the GIs”; what made it possible for the Korean media to talk freely about the acts of foreigners; the history of “Korea as a victim”; why non-English-teaching foreigners surprise Koreans; what makes some Koreans and foreigners alike see entry-level foreign English teachers as third-class citizens; the country’s distinctive combination of overregulation and under-enforcement, and what it says about the difference between the legal cultures of Korea and North America; what he does on trips instead of hitting the beach; Isabella Bird Bishop, the 19th-century traveler and write from whom Gusts of Popular Feeling takes its name; why the collapse of the Sampoong Department Store didn’t prevent the sinking of the Sewol; the writing of Percival Lowell and others who had more to comment on than dirtiness and superstition did about Korea in the late 19th century; the Chonggyecheon’s very short history as a “clean stream”; James Wade, one of the more prolific English-language observers of postwar Korea; what he finds reading old Korean newspapers; his incredulousness at a foreigner’s complaint that “you can’t get cheese here”; the 1988 Hustler article on the easiness of Korean women; the importance of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to Korean relations with foreigners in the country; the fallout of “Dog Poop Girl”; the thorough change he’s seen in the built environment of Seoul in his 13 years there, and what he notices about the less-developed cityscape revealed in old movies; Korea’s relative lack of the geek and the nerd; and what word he really doesn’t want to use when describing why he likes living in Korea.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Notebook on Cities and Culture’s Korea Tour: Concrete Utopia with Minsuk Cho

minsuk choIn Seoul’s Itaewon district, Colin talks with architect Minsuk Cho, principal at Mass Studies, designer of the Golden Lion-winning Korean pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2014. They discuss whether he talks about the use of space differently in English than in Korean; how copying, and especially while misinterpreting across cultural boundaries, counts as a way of creating; his earliest memories of Seoul’s “building explosion” that grew the city tenfold over fifty years; the difference between current Seoul and the Seoul of his childhood; the “concrete utopia” in which he grew up, and how quickly it went away when the branded “high-density gated community” high-rises that now characterize the city rose; the book that set him on the path to architecture (even as his architect father didn’t push him into the profession); the “toilet paper” life expectancy of Korean buildings; how he has reacted to the “bigger, higher, cheaper, faster” building ethos of Seoul; the “blessing” of so much building right up against so much nature; when Korea’s dictatorship didn’t want people to gather, and what effect that had on the built environment; his experience riding a Yellow Cab from LAX to Palm Springs; how Seoul passed through its “juvenile teenager phase,” and what mistakes it made that compare to Los Angeles’ onetime avoidance of density; the village fetish that has recently developed; what he felt in New York that made him cartwheel in the streets; why the flatness of Rotterdam bothered him when he worked for Rem Koolhaas; how Korea became, for him, a more appealing place to build things; Mass Studies’ Pixel House in the recently developed city of Paju and the island of Jeju; the beginning of a reverse migration out of Seoul; Itaewon’s varying role in the city as “a center that is also a void”; the importance of architecturally uniting North and South Korea in Mass Studies’ Venice Biennale pavilion; and what he thinks of the prospects of actually reuniting, for architecture or otherwise.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

(Photo: Sukmu Yun)

Los Angeles Review of Books Podcast: Alain Mabanckou

On the latest Los Angeles Review of Books podcast, Colin Marshall speaks with Alain Mabanckou, the Congolese-born author of such novels as African Psycho, Broken Glass, Memoirs of a Porcupine, Black Bazaar, Tomorrow I’ll Be Twenty, and the coming The Lights of Pointe-Noire. His latest book translated into English, Letter to Jimmy, takes the form of a letter to his writing “mentor” James Baldwin on the twentieth anniversary of his death.

You can stream the conversation just above, listen to it on the LARB’s site, or download it on iTunes.

Skid Row, the “heart of darkness” of the astonishingly revitalized downtown Los Angeles

In the centre of one of the world’s most high-profile cities lies a concentration of desperate poverty unlike any other in the developed world. Los Angeles’s Skid Row, a common name for a once-common form of down-and-out quarter in American cities, persists as the last neighbourhood of its kind.

Skid Row’s very existence illustrates a major planning mistake the southern Californian metropolis made in the past. The struggles over what to do with it now reveal the extent of the challenge facing LA in its current transformation into a denser, more traditionally urban city. It’s no exaggeration to call Skid Row one of the main battlegrounds for the future of Los Angeles.

The neighbourhood went from metaphorical to literal battleground last Sunday when, on a rare rainy day in this city, an altercation with Los Angeles Police Department officers resulted in the death of a 45-year-old resident. Known locally by the name “Africa” or “Cameroon”, he was shot by several officers after allegedly grabbing one of their guns; beyond that, facts about the precise sequence of events have been slow to emerge.

We know the victim lived in a tent; he’d pitched it near the corner of San Pedro and 6th street. Every Angeleno has seen these tents – always between the hours of 9pm and 6am, when police look the other way about camping on the streets. One wrong turn out of a trendy night spot or the Disney concert hall and you can find yourself in another world, where encampments of the drug-addicted and mentally ill spill out on to the sidewalk for block after block after block.

Read the whole thing at The Guardian.

Notebook on Cities and Culture’s Korea Tour: It Takes a Lifetime with Michael Elliott

michael elliottIn Seoul’s Sinchon district, Colin talks with Michael Elliott, creator of the English-learning site for Koreans English in Korean and the Korean-learning site for English-speakers Korean Champ. They discuss why Koreans insist on the difficulty of their own language; whether and why he considers Korean difficult; what it means that “there are so many different ways to say the same thing” in Korean; the perennial issue of saying “you” in Korean; the “native speaker’s privilege” to go a little but out of grammatical bounds; why the Korean alphabet has displaced Chinese characters more or less entirely; why Koreans rarely acknowledge the language itself as a driver of interest in Korea; the different, more intense ways trends manifest themselves in Korea than in America; whether we can call English education in Korea a “craze,” and why Koreans spend so much money on it to so little apparent result; the degree of parental involvement in English education and how “keeping up with the Joneses” drives it; the trouble with studying the languages of “poor countries” in Korea; the dominance of “the right way and the wrong way” in Korean thought; what it takes to make it to the highest level of Korean study, and why that sets off suspicion in Korean people; how tired he’s grown of explaining to those “back home” why he went to Korea to study Korean in the first place; how he got an exemption not just from Korean trends but from American hipsterdom, or indeed any kind of “team”; how he came up with his new Korean Champ videos shot on the streets of Seoul; what would happen to the Cheonggyecheon Stream if built in America; how he studied multiple levels of Korean at once; the importance of observation when learning languages, and the general resistance to it; the “little bit of a scoff” with which Koreans sometimes correct Korean-learners; and the sleep he loses on the rare occasion he says something incorrectly in Korean.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.