Friday, January 27, 2012

A Discernable Taste

There's this scene in the epic novel "Musashi," somewhere within its 970 pages, where the young samurai, fresh from a bloody battle, is invited by an old ceramics master and his mother to sit down for tea in the middle of a field. Musashi is a bit disheveled in his trademark mass of hair sprouting wildly from his scalp, but he is only self-conscious about one thing: his lack of experience in the art of tea.

The master tells Musashi that one only need be genuine and honest and not be concerned with anything else, after which he asks the samurai to look at a pair of tea cups and discern which is more valuable. It is here that the master discovers another master, and thus begins a lifelong friendship between the two.

I've known many who've claimed such masterful skills — the ability to discern true quality over what is probably just good marketing — but have only met a small handful of them. You'll know them by what they recommend in the way of restaurants, clothing, bartenders, appliances, tools, knives, entertainment, markets, wines and, oddly enough, sushi.

It's one thing to know a good sushi or sashimi restaurant. It's quite another to know why it's good. Because when you know why it's good, a chef just might pay attention to you, not necessarily the other way around.

There's a documentary called Jiro Dreams of Sushi that is coming to theatres in March that is sure to prove popular among local foodies and other aficionados, particularly of sushi but not necessarily so.

Here's Anthony Bourdain taking a sampling below.

I like Anthony Bourdain and I think he has this discerning characteristic that has been his trademark ever since he wrote his first essay critiquing the gourmet establishment.

As for me, I only wish I may become as trained in both vision and taste. Unfortunately, my sense of smell is still somewhat lacking, so I'm at a bit of a handicap, but maybe if my other senses can make up for it, I might have a fighting chance.

Man, sushi sure sounds good right about now. It is a Friday night, isn't it? Let's go get some, shall we? Shall I pick you up about 8?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Murakami, Coelho, Hoshino: Some Light Reading

Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist , has a blog and a series of vlogs on the writing process. Like his books, these videos are capable of feeding both the experienced and the beginner—a remarkable skill of his. The 4th installment is below and is also viewable on Coelho's YouTube channel.

My all-time favorite Haruki Murakami book, Norwegian Wood , was adapted into a movie last year and screened all throughout Asia. Reviews say that it is beautifully shot and aptly cast, and that it remains true to the haunting yet mildly erotic themes of the book. As for me, I can't wait to see it on the big screen in America (as opposed to some downloaded bootleg), and it looks like I'll get my chance this weekend at the Laemmle Theatres here in Los Angeles.

Directed by Vietnamese filmmaker Tran Anh Hung (The Scent of Green Papaya), the author was recently interviewed by the Pacific Citizen and he talks mostly about the language barriers involved as the dialogue is completely in Japanese. But there's a great quote at the end of the article where Tran had a conversation with one of the actresses on the concept of experience vs. expression:

"Rinko Kikuchi came to me and, very moved, told me something that had disturbed her for a while, I guess. She said that there is something that she cannot understand about herself and asked me: 'Hung, how come when I cry in real life, I don’t feel it’s as true as when I cry on the set for a scene?' And my answer made her cry: 'Because you are an artist. In life, we have experiences but, in art, we have expressions. For an artist, expression is always more true and perennial than experience.'”

I sat on that quote for a few days and let it sink in. To actors, I believe he is saying that in order for a feeling to become completely fleshed out, it must be expressed in a way that is both true to their act of expression and true to themselves, whereas just an experience may not encompass both parts, especially the expression part.

For writers, that probably means that not only must you feel the emotion inside when you write it, the expression of it must also be true, as well as true to the writer's act (or art) of expression. In other words, I have to feel the pain and describe it well too.

But how does one describe pain accurately? How do we make the feeling universal enough so that a reader, no matter what state of mind they may be in, will read the words and instantly comprehend the feeling behind them? It's a difficult task! Fortunately, I have plenty of pain to reference in my life, so this thing is perhaps one of the easier jobs for me. It's actually finding time to get the words on paper that I have the most difficulty with.

On another note, I once worked with an illustrator who has a new children's book out in print. Felicia Hoshino is her name and the story is called Sora and the Cloud. It was recently reviewed in The New York Times and I'm both envious and very proud of her. Great job, Felicia!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Samurai Economy

I'm just a layman when it comes to the art of samurai. I've read a few books — Book of Five Rings, Musashi, Art of War, The Unfettered Mind — and even took a class in stage samurai called Tate where we learned the earth, tiger and dragon katas. Very recently, I learned there were two ancestors of mine who were "adopted" by the Tokunaga family and trained as samurai. Not that this means something, but being Japanese, for many, means figuring out where your family was in the feudal class structure. If one of them was a samurai, you rock!

I happened to view this awesome film by Takeshi Fukunaga on one of the last living master swordmakers in Japan, Korehira Watanabe, and it reminds me of why I value those who are able to reach a mastery of any given subject. Japanese craftsmen take it to a different level, of course, by mastering one craft throughout their lifetime, and then handing that tradition to someone else who will hand it someone else.

I love that stuff. And I think many people do, even those of us who are so far removed from the Japanese culture, myself included.

Back in the feudal era of Japan, there was a samurai economy. Samurai collected a certain stipend from their lord's estate, often in the form of rice, barley or some other valued commodity. They, in turn, could use their salary to cultivate the many things that would suit a samurai: geisha, tea ceremonies, sharpening their swords, chats with zen monks, studying the art of war, calligraphy, ikebana, landscaping, sculpturing, painting, etc.

There's a passage in Unfettered Mind that goes against popular Western thinking, particularly in self-help books. While most self-help books say that anyone can do anything, Unfettered Mind says that it takes so much effort and discipline to become a samurai, most people will never achieve this super status. Or, more pointedly, of all the things it takes to become a samurai, mostly likely you do not possess it.

This sort of thinking is perhaps the essence of the Japanese craftsmen. They continue to hone their skills, never satisfied with their last achievement. Those who could afford it would patronize these master craftsmen, who would in turn patronize other master craftspeople. When you were in that downstream of wealth, you were in the samurai economy. And the very bottom of that stream would, I suppose, be the peasants.

I'm not really sure why I wrote this entry, other than the idea that the video above sparked an old flicker I use to have when it came to doing things. That is, doing things the right way, or not doing them at all. But if you committed to doing it, you committed to doing it for a lifetime.

Earlier on my way to work today, I made a little prayer asking why it is that I no longer have the burning desire to accomplish something beyond myself right now. Not in acting, writing or anything else. It's probably because my ideology has changed, that's for certain, but there must be something else to it. I hope to figure it out soon enough — both what I'd like to accomplish and why I don't have this feeling anymore.

Miyamoto Musashi, in Book of Five Rings, said that once you master one thing, you master all things. He certainly was a living example of this, as he was a gifted sculptor, painter, philosopher, and landscaper in addition to being a master samurai. I've studied a lot of things, but I sure haven't mastered any of them. Perhaps it's time to focus on one of them.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Melrose 20 Years Later

Almost 20 years ago, I made the great coastal trek down the 5 freeway to L.A. from Seattle. Originally, my plan was to look for a job in TV news, hoping to be a news reporter at one of the small TV stations in California: Fresno, Bakersfield, Monterey, San Luis Obispo. I knocked on a lot of doors, trying to work my way into an interview so I could show them my audition tape. When that didn't prove fruitful, I made my way over to Arizona—Yuma to be exact, which at the time was the smallest TV news market in the country, and possibly the universe.

Yes, I was willing to start small, ant-sized small, then move up from market to market. It's how people usually do it in the broadcast news world, well, people who don't have something like a beauty pageant title to help propel your career. But this was 1992—yes, you knew I had a "but" ready—and it was the height of the economic recession in California. Unemployment was high, and homeowners were walking out of their mortgages, much like today.

My first job in Los Angeles was on Melrose Avenue, which I didn't choose. I called a friend from Seattle who was working at Nordstrom and he knew a friend who knew a friend who could hook me up with a job there selling shoes. Bronx Shoes, I believe, is the name of the store. And it was actually still frequented by some celebrities.

The owner also had two other stores on Melrose: Boy London and something else. I took a stroll down Melrose with my wife this past Saturday, hoping to spark some of the old memories. But no, most of the old stores and restaurants (Hama, Cafe Luna, The Gap) have either changed or are closed down. Others aren't even stores anymore. They're marijuana dispensaries like this one.

After parking my car, I saw a pretty blonde coming out of one carrying what looked like medical paperwork so that she could qualify for a prescription. She was probably an actress of some sort, nicely dressed, with dark sunglasses to hide most of her face. I can't imagine that coming out of one these places would be a good photograph for any known actress, however, so she was probably no one famous.

I walked into a couple of vintage clothing store and eventually scored a black leather belt with a large loop for a buckle, something like the one I had seen Bruce wear in one of his old photos. It cost me a whole $14 and I took it home for a good cleansing with a foaming leather cleaner I bought from Aldo. Except for a cup of coffee at The Coffee Bean, I didn't buy anything else on Melrose. It just wasn't a fond reunion. Sad, really. Larchmont District is much better for doing any kind of shopping nowadays. I bought an azure blue T-shirt at a store called Noni with the instructions: "Be the love." I'll try.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Posing Til Closing

Time to revisit the subject of "How to take a really good photograph." Personally, I need to revisit this subject myself. Why? Because I haven't been taking very good photos lately. I have to admit that I'm feeling a little heavy in the face and body, and this affects how I feel in front of a lens. Truthfully, I am about 8-10 pounds heavier than my best picture-taking weight right now. That's not good, especially for my confidence in front of the camera.

So, just like you, I need all the tricks I can find to take a better picture. Gizmodo posted a pretty good article on it here and offers tips from a supermodel. Which just happen to be similar to my own tips on the subject here. Yes, patting myself on the back again.

One of the things the Gizmodo article mentions that I don't is how to angle your face, which I didn't have a clue about. The model, Shalom Harlow, says to find your light, and then face it. This makes all the sense in the world. I mean, even if you are 15, bad lighting can make you look 20 years older. So if you're in your 40s, make sure the lighting is working for you, not against you.

When Harlow says to face the lighting, she means to physically angle the front "plane" of your face and turn it toward the light. That way, shadows don't form where they shouldn't, like in those little wrinkles above your nose or to the left or right of your eyebrows. Don't point your nose down in an attempt to look more suave and debonair. That should come from your intentions, not how the light catches your face.

Recently, I went to one of those dermatology parties (i.e., Botox parties). I have a friend who's 6 years my senior and she is very much into cosmetic enhancements. The dermatologist brings the equipment to someone's house and performs the treatments there. I'm not yet doing the Botox, but I do have a fair amount of facial scars, pigment spots and other skin tag-like things on my neck. So I get them burned off or cauterized with a laser.

Right now, I'm scar city. Got little dark scabs all over my neck and face, mostly on my neck. After a couple days of healing, I'm starting to put some cover-up makeup on them. But it hardly does the job. Concealer doesn't work so well on scabs, apparently.

Yeah, it's kinda gross, but it's the price I pay to look, well, how I used to look 10 years ago.

Another point Ms. Harlow makes is to look directly into the lens. I often find myself looking in the photographer's eyes rather than at the lens. It's an amateur's mistake though. Look into the lens, and understand that you are actually looking at the viewer when your photo shows up on a computer monitor somewhere else.

Not sure if I mentioned it before, but one time, this Japanese girl was taking a Polaroid during a casting session and she angled a manila folder just below her chest like a reflector. I honestly don't know if that's going to make you look better, but I do have to wonder about that. I mean, when was the last time a professional photographer gave you "underlighting" as an effect?

The reason I am mentioning it here is that, as hopeful actors and models, we often will do things, spontaneously, to try to gain a leg up on the competition in a room. The absolute best thing you can do, spontaneously, is to make that poorly lit Polaroid stand out. How? By lighting up the camera with your natural, glowing personality. I know that sounds obvious, but the idea is to practice doing this over and over again, and make it seem natural. It's not an easy thing to do.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What to Do for a Living

There once was a time when I was asked for my highly regarded opinion on what a young person ought to do with his or her life. And yes, I was naive enough to answer it and think my opinion would be taken seriously. I mean, really, who gives a crap what an older person thinks? It's still not going to sway anyone's life choices one way or the other, especially a young person's life choices.

But there I was, being put on the spot in front of a group of young folks, all with dreams as wide as the Los Angeles air is smoggy. Okay, let's just stop right there, why don't we? I sound really damn jaded there, don't I? Smoggy? Let's back this rig up a bit, shall we?

The title of this entry is "What to Do for a Living." Not "What to Do with Your Life." And so I answered it as such. I said, "In my experience, I don't think you should do what you love for a living. I think you should do something that you're really good at." And right away, a young blonde shot back, "I disagree completely! You should only do what you love. How can you even say that?"

Actually, she wasn't waiting for me to explain myself. She had already made up her mind, both that I was wrong, and that she was only going to do what she truly loved.

I smiled, in the way Japanese people do when they're thinking of something that doesn't really bring a smile to their face. And then I turned to a young girl who was still interested in my opinion. Which is odd, because most young people I know don't really want to hear an older person's opinion. They just want to express their own opinion, especially when they ask someone else for their opinion.

So I looked at this girl and said, "Sometimes, when you do something you love for a living, it can take the love right out of it. Especially when you're not having a good day. Or when you're sick, or tired, or both. Doing stuff you love is really good when you're in a good mood. But when you're in a bad mood, the stuff you love can turn on you. And when it turns on you, it can really suck.

"And that's why you should do something you're really good at. Because you're still good at it, even when you're not feeling well, or you're tired or sick."

The young girl smiled sweetly. In my mind, I want to believe that she pondered that little piece of advice of mine and used it to enrich her life. I wouldn't blame her, however, if that smile of hers was just a cover for something else. She was Japanese after all.

Friday, August 05, 2011

My Obsession with Wooden Sunglass Frames

A long, long, long time ago, I bought my first pair of Ray-Ban "wooden" Wayfarer II sunglasses with the Polaroid lenses at a small clothing shop in Seattle off of Broadway in Capital Hill. And then I had them stolen. So I bought another pair. And then those got stolen. And then I bought my last pair before you could no longer buy them any more from anywhere. That was well over 20 years ago. I had my car valet parked somewhere in Los Angeles and when I came back, my entire Ciao! bag (yes, I said Ciao! bag and yes, I know that's so 1980s, but it was black and unique and nobody had one) was stolen with some stuff in it along with my "wooden" sunglasses.

I put wooden in quotes because the Ray-Ban version was actually made of plastic and had a coarse feel to the surface, almost like they had been made of real wood but forgot to sandpaper them to a fine polish. Here's a picture of the Wayfarer I version, which is slightly bigger and rounder at the bottom of the frames.

And another picture up close:

Personally, I like the squarer Wayfarer II style, which I can't seem to locate anywhere online. But I did find this vintage sunglasses site that has a rare pair of the Wayfarer I wood frames for sale at about 6 times the original price. Around the start of eBay, I started to create a search filter for these frames and only twice in about 5 years did I get a hit. The first one was for a pair of "Woodies." I wasn't familiar with this brand, but I ended up "stealing" them on a last-minute bid from another eBayer for about $65. The guy or girl must've been pissed. I would've been. A couple days later, a woman asked if she could buy them from me for double the price. I didn't respond. These frames were actually slightly larger than the Wayfarer I style, but they were made of real wood and kept in a beautiful wooden case. Oh, the woman who asked to buy them from me also said that the frames I bought weren't very good and would break easily. I didn't know why she would offer to buy them from me for double the price I paid if they were so bad.

Those frames ended up getting stolen from my SUV after a homeless dude broke my window in downtown LA. I almost cried when I discovered they were gone. No, I did cry. I remember now.

The second time my search filter went off on eBay, there were a set of frames that had a high bid of well over $300 and going higher. I maybe would've bid $180 for them, so $300 and up was out of the question. I just did a search and found these frames sold for $500.

About 3 months ago, I did another search on eBay and found several vintage wooden frames up for auction, one of which I placed a bid on and won for $18 plus $7 shipping. They were in good condition, but just not something I would want to wear.

But then I did a general search online for wood sunglasses and got a couple new sites. Proof sells real wooden frames and so does a company called Shwood. Plus, they're new! So you buy them for the retail price and no markup. I bought a pair of Proof Boise Zebrawood frames with Polaroid lenses for $125 and they were great until I put them in my pocket while doing some shopping and broke one of the hinges.
As you can see, the frames are more square than the frames above, and they do look a lot more like the Wayfarer II style I like. The day before I broke my Proof sunglasses, I was walking down 3rd Street Promenade and a guy with a retail kiosk stopped me. He noticed my frames and wanted to see them. Turns out, his kiosk was for a company called Sire's Eyewear. He gave me his card, Wes Freitas was his name, and then he went to work studying my frames. He even asked if he could put them on. Impressed, he told me how they were cut and that they actually had wooden screws instead of metal ones. I actually hadn't noticed that before.

Wes said his frames were really popular and his biggest selling point was how unique wooden frames were. He knew about Shwoods but never heard of Proof. It turns out, this wooden frame thing really isn't so unique anymore. Go figure. The frames Wes sold weren't all wood, he later noted. They had a plastic backing, but then he went on to show why it was necessary. He said all-wood frames tended to break too easily. I'm not accusing him of breaking my frames, but I think he was testing them to see how strong (or weak) they were. Lesson learned: Never ever give your wooden frames to a competitor's salesman to test how strong they are.

I emailed Proof to see if they could repair my frames. They said to send them in and they'd check 'em out. Soon after, I got a package with some frames in them. These:
Yeah, I'm really not so fond of this color. It's almost yellow, and against my own "yellow" complexion, it's just not quite "it." Apparently, they were out of the Zebrawood frames, and 2 months later, they're still not stocking them. Ah well. I got these frames from Shwood on my shopping list:

They're $125 plus shipping. A guy can seriously go broke buying all these wood frames. I really gotta temper this obsession.