The Psychotronic Tourist: FANGO Visits Tokyo’s CAMBIARE…The SUSPIRIA Bar!
Our favorite films quickly feel like a part of our lives. You watch them repeatedly and they become like comfort food or a nice easy chair. You want to live in those movies, hang out with the characters and immerse yourself in their surroundings. The proprietors of Tokyo’s Cambiare Bar and Grill have taken this idea a little further, designing their establishment after Dario Argento’s 1977 masterpiece SUSPIRIA. When word of this bar’s existence hit the news wire, many a horror fan’s curiosity was piqued. Luckily, this writer found himself in Tokyo this past summer and decided to check it out. This was the story.
Cambiare is located in the Shinjuku are of Tokyo. At night, Shinjuku becomes one of the city’s busiest and liveliest areas. The streets fill with the city’s young and hip alongside the hustlers and hawkers all trying to get you into their bar, restaurant or club. Add in the blasting sounds of pachinko halls (Japanese slot machine houses) and the aggressively sweet and loud J-pop and it feels like a realization of the cityscape portrayed in Blade Runner. It can be a little disorienting if you are trying to find a particular spot in a town you’ve never been to as we were.
If travelling by the city’s extensive transit system, you want to get off at Shinjuku station. Cambiare is located in the Golden Gai neighbourhood. This neighbourhood is northeast of Shinjuku station. Like any large city, street maps are frequent everywhere you go and they do have English on them. Still, you would be advised to bring a map or guidebook of your own as a secondary source. At 13 million people, Tokyo is very dense with endless side streets and its layout is not the grid of other major cities. It can be a frustration to any traveller’s sense of direction and was the biggest challenge in finding the joint. (Full disclosure: It was my wife’s patience and map-reading skills that saw us through.)
The Golden Gai is the opposite of the Times Square vibe of Shinjuku. It comprises of about a half-dozen alleys full of small, house-sized establishments. These places often have gimmicks or novelties but I also know that many exist as secret handshakes and were for locals only. Not knowing if I would get the cold shoulder once I got there, I nonetheless pressed on. Trudging up one alley after the next, I eyed the signs looking for Cambiare until I finally and surprisingly hit pay dirt.
Cambiare is on the 2nd floor with very narrow steps and a low overhead. Watch your step and your noggin! As I entered, I was surprised by two things. One, the staff were very friendly and accommodating to us, immediately making sure we were comfortable. Second, the place, like many in Golden Gai, was small. It has a seating capacity of about eleven and could fit another ten people standing. The menu is not too complicated, basically Italian appetizers to go with your drinks. I had a Sapporo while my wife had a sangria. There was no secret room full of barbed wire but they did have a black toilet which was novel to me.
But the charm is in the sights and sounds. On the far wall is the primary coloured stained glass window that features prominently in the film’s beginning when young Patty is thrust through it with a noose around her neck. On the opposite side is the white wallpaper with the flowery blue patterns that so loudly adorned Suzy and Olga’s apartment. The doorway is outlined in a red neon light similar to how doorways appear in the film as Suzy goes searching for the witches’ secret lair. The colours behind the bar are red and a glowing white and there is a chandelier as well. It is appropriate to the movie’s look and ties the room together. And what is playing over the speakers? What else, but Goblin’s unforgettable haunting soundtrack.
And that is all there is to it. Still, there is something relaxing and transcendent in listening to the rhythms of Goblin while staring at that set so burned into my conscience. Its why people keep coming back to SUSPIRIA and I’m sure it’s why people make there way to Cambiare as well. It can be a trek to find it but moments like these are worth a little effort.
Cambiare can be found at: 1-1-7 2F Kabukicho, Shinjukuko, Tokyo Shinjuku, Golden Gai Hanazono 3rd Lane.
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