By Kiki Murai
This blog post is part of a special series documenting Dorothy’s 10-day trip to Japan this spring for the Japanese premiere of Megumi Sasaki’s new film Herb & Dorothy 50X50.
At The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan
This past spring, while Dorothy was in Japan for the Japanese premiere of our new film Herb & Dorothy 50X50, one question she was frequently asked was, “How has the film (Herb & Dorothy) changed your life?”
To this, Dorothy always replied, “It hasn’t. My life hasn’t changed.”
Of course no one believed her, and the Japanese thought perhaps Dorothy was being modest, a state-of-mind to which they could relate, an answer that provided them with a certain sense of comfort. (Oh, how the Japanese disdain a boaster.)
But Dorothy meant it. “Generally, nothing’s changed. I still live in the same apartment. When Herb & Dorothy first came out, I was recognized once or twice on the street,” she’ll admit, “but not much anymore.”
She doesn’t overspend, though she loves to buy objects (as you know), because she knows exactly what she wants. Since Herb passed away last July, she has been carefully organizing the one-bedroom Manhattan apartment she and Herb shared throughout their married life, and she has no intention of adding to their possessions. (Though she received more gifts in Japan than she knows what to do with.)
With their cat Archie by her side, Dorothy says, “I really should be doing more (cleaning). But there’s a lot to get through.” If you recall their apartment from Herb & Dorothy, you might agree.
“There’s no rush, Dorothy,” I say. “Take your time.”
It’s no longer the possessions that mark Dorothy’s life, but rather the experiences and friendships.
Impeccable timing for real cherry blossoms
One standout experience from Dorothy’s trip to Japan this past April (as Dorothy is first to remind me) was “the beautiful geisha dance”. Oh yes, how could I forget, how Dorothy’s eyes lit up inside the traditional Kyoto theater for the Miyako Odori, or Cherry Blossom Dance.
It was the second to last day of our trip, and we had to fulfill one final wish of Dorothy’s in Kyoto, which was “to see a geisha”. Kyoto is one of the few cities left in Japan where you actually can see geisha and/or maiko (geisha-in-training) walking down the street, in full kimono.
Contrary to popular belief, catching a glimpse of geisha and/or maiko walk down the street is a rare occurrence in the rest of modern Japan. Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan, is just as fascinating a city to modern Japanese folks as to the many foreign visitors the city receives each day. And Kyoto knows it.
The Gion District, one of the most exclusive and well-known geisha districts in Japan
A one-month limited engagement where the geisha women and maiko girls glide gracefully across the stage to tell the story of the four changing seasons, the Miyako Dance is an opportunity available just once a year, one Dorothy was delighted to experience.
Dorothy reads the program carefully before the show
The performance is expressed entirely in traditional dance, and two hours later, when the show was over and we streamed out of the theater Dorothy glowed, “Oh, that was just beautiful.”
A weekly theatergoer in New York City for many decades, Dorothy has seen countless stage performances and yet, “This was such a treat. Thank you.”
Dorothy’s smile just about says it all.
The thing about being in Dorothy’s company is that you tend to forget she is that Dorothy Vogel. The one that was interviewed in The New Yorker earlier this year.
Though she was greeted by thunderous applause at every theater in which she and Megumi appeared, for example, her genuine curiosity was never towards herself, but for the people who came to see her.
Dorothy told me after our trip, once we had returned to New York, “I didn’t realize the intensity (of the Japanese) toward the film, and that was surprising.” She continued, “but all in all, the warmth was wonderful.” They had indeed been waiting, and were thrilled for Dorothy’s visit to Japan.
Japanese fans follow Dorothy out of the theater to tell her how she has inspired them
What we didn’t know, was what was going through Dorothy’s mind every time she stepped in front of an audience welcoming her with a standing ovation. “I was afraid I would disappoint people,” Dorothy later confided. “The film has built me up to be much bigger than I am. They’re expecting someone great, and little old me shows up.”
“That’s not true!” Megumi and I protested. But Dorothy was not easily persuaded. Our assertion that she is a giant (though not physically) was met with, “No, it was Herby. He was the one.”
She said it nonchalantly, just like that.
One of many screenings attended by Megumi and Dorothy
Dorothy made her gratitude known at every turn during the trip, and at the end she thanked us many times for the ten days together. “I was treated so well here by my team, like I was a china doll or something! It was nice to be taken care of.” She always made it a point to remember who did what. “I was taken care of so well. Now I’m going to turn back into a pumpkin.”
She certainly didn’t turn back into a pumpkin, as we prepare now for the US release of our new film, Herb & Dorothy 50X50. Dorothy is about to meet many, many more enthusiastic supporters.
In the meantime, Dorothy is back in New York City, stronger than ever.
“I was very proud of myself for being able to go to Times Square today and going to the theater,” she told me a week after we came back from Japan, “because I also like to be independent.”
That’s our Dorothy.
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