For the past year, people have been telling us to watch “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” the 2011 documentary by David Gelb about Jiro Ono, the 85-year-old artisan sushi chef who operates a Michelin 3-star restaurant, Sukibayashi Jiro, tucked into a Tokyo underground station.
We finally saw it, and it’s a charming look at the very high end of sushi, not just as food, but as an artform. The sushi is served one piece at a time, meant to be swallowed whole, and whatever soy sauce or extra flavoring is required is brushed on by the chef before it’s placed on the customer’s plate. There are no small plates for soy sauce and wasabi to mix together at your discretion. The chef controls the experience from start to finish.
The film is also arty and deliberate in its pacing, with the telling modernist repetition of composer Philip Glass making up much of the soundtrack music. The documentary reveals the daily workings of the small restaurant and its autocratic owner Jiro and his aging son Yoshikazu who is waiting to take over when his father retires (and the younger son Takashi, who escaped to operate his own restaurant in the hip Roppongi district of the city). Continue reading →
Clint Eastwood, who looked at one of the most famous battles of World War II through the eyes of doomed Japanese soldiers in the 2006 film, “Letters from Iwo Jima,” is now lookng at Asian Americans and racism in an upcoming movie, “Gran Torino.”
Eastwood plays a racist Korean War veteran and retired Ford factory employee, Walt Kowalski, who’s been beaten down by life. The only two steadfast things in his life are his 1972 Gran Torino, an artifact from the glory days of Ford muscle, and his M-1 rifle, an artifact from the glory days of American muscle. Everything else around him is going to hell: his wife has recently died, he’s estranged from his grown kids, and to his dismay, his rundown neighborhood is becoming over-run by Asians.
The incoming foreigners are Hmong, not Korean. Eastwood’s character gets to know the Hmong family that moves in next door after their 16-year-old son tries to steal his Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation. Predictably, Eastwood at first hates them but then grows close, and protects them against the gang.
The movie’s trailer shows some typical interactions between a cranky white man and black neighborhood punks and scary-looking Asian gang members. Knowing Eastwood, I bet the plot is more complicated than the predictable scenes in the trailer, though.
This is the first time a Hollywood movie has taken a deep dive into the Hmong community, so it’s an opportunity to teach Americans about their history and culture, and of the AAPI culture of second generation Hmong Americans.
Besides Eastwood, the movie stars a group of first-time actors, most if not all Hmong (no hiring of non-ethnically accurate actors just for the right “talent” or “star power” a la “Memoirs of a Geisha”), and the casting was featured in a series of interviews in a Hmong news site, Suab Hmong Radio: Continue reading →