Saturday, March 24, 2012

Jiro: Dreams of Sushi

By Moira Sullivan 

Jiro: Dreams of Sushi is a 2011 documentary that is making the rounds and will be opening this week at Landmark Theatres. If you thought you knew all there was to know about sushi, this film will prove you don’t. 
Jiro Ono
Jiro Ono is a Japanese sushi master with 10 seats in his subway restaurant in Tokyo and he serves up the most exquisite handcrafted sushi. Few sushi restaurants have such quality. I can think of one on Clement St in San Francisco that seems to live up to the reputation of Jiro—Murusaki’s.  It is the kind of restaurant with three courses, as is explained in this documentary, with different kinds of sushi. The San Francisco chef has a diploma for using the deadly blowfish, and that is difficult to come by.
Jiro takes us through the male dominion of sushi making in Tokyo, from the fish markets where brokers bid on fish like the stock market in New York to the restaurants. It takes a while to become a sushi master and Jiro, who is now 80, has received several prizes. 
New York filmmaker David Gelb briefly traces Jiro’s upbringing. Apparently Jiro was raised by a strict father who failed at business and he almost never smiles through the film. We learn he was a bully in grade school and he travels to meet his old school chums who can testify to that.
The style of the film includes interview with Jiro’s son, Yoshikazu, who is now in the sushi business, workers in the field, the fishmongers, and fans of his eating. 

Documentary filmmakers should find new ways of making their films, because to show interview after interview with a nice background is not enough. The use of fast film speed to convey the routine nature of this business is done a couple of times without much artistic flare. And just when you think you have heard enough Philip Glass to last a lifetime, David Gelb trots him out again, to symbolize the frenzy of this routine business. 
It is true that Jiro dedicated his life to improving his craft and perhaps his life doesn’t need a documentary film for us to realize his talents. But how else would we have every learned about him? 
Now, to do some serious investigation for the best sushi restaurants in San Francisco.
© 2012 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 03/21/12
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Joan Chen Honored at San Francisco Asian American Film Festival

By Moira Sullivan

Joan Chen in The White Frog
The San Francisco Asian American Film Festival has acquired an excellent reputation as a showcase of new films by directors of Asian heritage who grew up in America. This year’s  festival runs from March 8-18 with 100 films from 20 countries.
The special spotlight this year is on the Shanghai born actress Joan Chen whose Chinese name is Chen Chong. Joan Chen has lived in San Francisco for the past twenty years and although the designation Asian American didn’t quite fit for her before, it does now, especially with her two children who grew up in the city and her husband Peter Hui, who is a cardiologist in San Francisco. 
Chen was discovered on the rifle range by Mao Zedong’s wife and was selected for the Actor’s Training Studio in 1976. She won best actress in 1980 for her role in Little Flower. Shortly after, she moved to the US and studied acting at Cal State Northridge. Her international film debut was in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987) when she was only 26. 
Chen was interviewed in the documentary Hollywood Chinese (2007) by local filmmaker Arthur Dong and revealed that had she been a white actress her film career would have taken off at that point. Despite nine Academy Awards, she didn’t get a single film offer unlike white actors in the film. Instead, she received marginal roles afterwards. She is perhaps best known to audiences in the USA as Josie Parker in Twin Peaks.
Chen tired of being an exotic symbol in film and turned to directing. Her favorite accomplishment is the film Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl from 1998, which will be screened at the festival. The film is about a young girl who is to take charge of her cavalry youth group in the Peoples Republic of China of the 70s but learns that government officials of the event are corrupt. The film won several Golden Horse awards in 1998 for best picture, best screenplay for Chen, and best actress and actor awards . Other notable recent films starring Chen are Jiang Wen’s The Sun also Rises from 2007 and  Jia Zhangke’s 24 City (2008), which premiered at the Venice Film Festival.
The world premiere of The White Frog directed by Quentin Lee is the opening night film of the festival on March 8 at the Castro Theater. Chen plays the mother of a young man with Asberger's syndrome played by Booboo Stewart, alongside San Francisco BD Wong, who plays the father.
© 2012 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 03/07/12
Movie Magazine International

Friday, March 2, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin

By Moira Sullivan
John C Reilly, Lynne Ramsey, Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller at Cannes
In Lynne Ramsey"We Need to Talk about Kevin",  Eva (Tilda Swinton) and Franklin (John C Reilly) play the parents of a young boy that grows up to be a psychopathic killer. There are many, many warning signs during his upbringing, although it is clear that he was born with mental deficiencies. Kevin (Ezra Miller) is problematic from the beginning, either by putting too much salt on his food, or by being cold and cruel to both his parents and later his sister. Eva's reactions are scrutinized more than her husband's. Franklin is away most of the time and just seems to come home and pat his son on the head like a dog and disappear - most likely to work given the expanse and expense of their home.

It’s important to point out that the film is fragmented as far as narrative order so that we are seeing the prequel, and sequel to an attack by bow and arrow of high school students in a padlocked gymnasium. And we actually never see that, narratively, only fragments to suggest the scene and anguished relatives outside while gurneys of victims are rolled to ambulances.

Instead Eva is shown in the beginning of the film being held high by a huge crowd of people crammed together and being deluged by tomato sauce, or we see her car and house spray bombed with tomato sauce, or Kevin wearing a spotted orange t-shirt that looks like spattered blood, or tomato sauce. The inverted narrative order and the detail paid to the interior design of this American family’s home visualizes what might be the interior of Kevin’s brain – a huge modern, and youthful edifice with wooden furniture, and everything tidily arranged, empty cold and devoid of feeling. A living room with spacious couches, and yet all we ever see is the nuclear family, mother father, son and daughter. 

Perhaps it is the flashbacks of Eva as she reflects on what she might have missed about her son, but there are things that she doesn’t see, that we do, like the amount of strawberry jam put on white bread for a sandwich where Kevin squeezes the bread together and the red filling overflows. Or when he peals a piece of candy that looks like an eyeball in macro closeup with juice squirting as he squeezes down on the object. Later we see the young daughter with a bandage over her eye.

Was Kevin created by his environment, or was Kevin created before birth? That is the shocking question that runs through your mind as you see this film. Certainly the township blames the mother for it all. And there are several shots of the couple’s courtship before Kevin was conceived without any visible evidence of weirdness in case it’s the two of them.

We Need to Talk About Kevin was presented at the Cannes Film Festival and was a serious contender for the Palme d’or.  However,  in 2003 Gus Van Sant won for his film about Columbine called Elephant and the subject of high school murders was unlikely going to capture another award.

Tilda Swinton at Golden Globes -nominated for best actress 

With this film, Lynne Ramsey has certainly escalated her visual ability as a storyteller. Her most recent film, Movern Caller (2002), was excellent but the strength of this film is that it doesn’t rely on dialogue. The spectator must assemble the pieces to make sense and has to work for this film to enfold, which is the sign of great cinema. 

Tilda Swinton, as usual, is the daring actress who allows us to observe all of her raw emotions without words. And kudos also go to Ezra Miller, whose internal struggle is always captured on his face, clearly having done a quick study  of Swinton’s work. 
© 2012 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 02/29/12  Movie Magazine International