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.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Kenny Choi in Captain America

A buddy of mine, Kenneth Choi, who played my brother in a movie called Only the Brave, has a sweet role playing a Japanese-American soldier in Captain America: The First Avenger. I was very happily surprised to see that not only is he in the movie poster, he's also in the billing on the one-sheet, which I think I mentioned before is worth its weight in gold, especially at today's prices.

You can actually read an article on Kenny here in the Pacific Citizen, which is an odd publication. Why's it odd? Well, it's a newspaper paid for by memberships in the JACL or Japanese American Citizens League, and for some reason, it seems to cover a lot of entertainment stories about people who aren't Japanese.

The reason I'm bringing this up is that half the article was about Kenny Choi's ethnicity, which he refused (or refuses) to disclose. He had absolutely no problem playing my brother, but I think he wanted to make sure this JA advocacy newspaper wasn't going to start some letter-writing campaign against his casting, which I can totally understand. Another actor friend of mind, Bruce Locke, once had the role of a lifetime in RoboCop 3, only to have it completely diminished because of a letter-writing campaign by some Asian advocacy group. In RoboCop 3, Bruce played an evil Japanese character, which is absolutely fine by most Japanese, especially in the fictional realm, but not fine to this advocacy group. To avoid any controversy, the movie studio ended up cutting most of Bruce's dialogue and leaving in his action scenes.

I think I'm both grateful for these advocacy groups and wary of them at the same time. They've often done more to hinder the progress of Asian Americans being cast in film and TV than helped it, and I'll debate that with Guy Aoki to death if he'd like. (Look him up, if you want. He's really not worth the effort, in my not-so-humble opinion.) And I guess I'm none too fond of most of these advocacy types who take it upon themselves to change things without any sort of consensus on the matter. Want an example? Well, there was once a dig on actor Sung Kang on TMZ that seemed to irk some individuals. I really thought it was harmless and actually could've helped Sung's career, but man, someone went and phoned or wrote in to TMZ to take the piece off their website, and just like that, it was gone. I don't even know if it made it to their TV show or not. Sometimes, folks, we just got to let these things play out. For better or worse.

By the way, Kenny Choi did an awesome turn in a Priceline commercial not too long ago, which I'll post.

I'll just end this by saying I'm glad he didn't get screwed because of some ethnicity thing. In my opinion, he's a pretty good actor.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Michelle Yeoh

On my Yahoo! homepage, I read this headline, "Hollywood actress blacklisted, deported from Myanmar," and I immediately thought of Patricia Arquette. Why? She did an independent film many years ago called Beyond Rangoon that was about the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi. And, of course, because she is white. Hollywood actress most often means white in America.

And then I clicked on the link and it turns out it's a story on Michelle Yeoh, who went to Myanmar to visit the former prisoner, apparently for an upcoming film role. I thought, "Wow, Michelle Yeoh, Hollywood actress!" Yeah, maybe you thought, "Wow, she's gonna portray Aung San Suu Kyi in a movie!" Me, I'm still on Maslow's lowest hierarchy of needs.

I met Ms. Yeoh when she was first entering her role as Hollywood actress. My roommate at the time was a photographer and he was shooting her for the cover of a magazine I was working for. I didn't do the interview, but I did get to be there for the photo shoot. She was lovely and amazing in all of her photos. I tell you, not a bad one in the entire lot! And she was professional and courteous. You could tell, she was going to be sticking around. And, oh, not a trace of a Malaysian accent, which I have to admit, literally causes my ears to bleed.

She had a firm, strong handshake, and looked you right in the eyes, not to eyeboink you, but probably to let you know she could Wing Chun your ass. She was also not young. I had to be about 10 years younger than her at the time, but now, it's as if I've aged and she hasn't changed at all.

About her photo shoot: She was as graceful as a ballerina or dancer, and knew how to move her hair and body. She was not afraid to be a fun and sexy woman, and she could own that in a moment's notice. No pose was like the previous one, and she was athletic too, yo. I mean, she could do the splits, lift one leg up in the air, or twirl her body around several times in a row, and look good doing it all.

Anyway, I just had to write all that. She just had that kind of impression on me.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Career Update and an Ode to Roger Fan

My little adventure back into commercials got put on hold after I got a job offer. It was too good to pass up. I probably could've rode out my unemployment just like the other 9% of the population, went on auditions, finished my novel, and worked on my golf swing, but damnit, I got a job offer. This was back in November, mind you, so I'm a little late in reporting it.

I work at a pretty good-sized ad agency now, way bigger than my last one. Not nearly as big as BBDO, but much bigger than BBDO West. We have some respectable clients, ones that shoot tons of commercials every year.

And so, yeah, I'm kinda sad about that. Because I see people I absolutely hate in some of the spots we produce. Unfortunately, I have little to no say on the creative direction of our talent. On the creative direction of our scripts, yes. But that's where my job description ends.

I got this job after doing some freelance work for the company just after getting let go from my last employer. Talk about dumb luck, the freelancer who normally does my job had to take an extended leave of absence due to, well, a death in the family. Not happy circumstances, I know. But I got the call, and then I got offered a full-time position once it opened up. No interview, no background check, just an offer and a welcome to the company.

It's been 8 months now and I'm starting to get the old itch again. Not that itch, the acting itch. I see commercials with the one Asian dude in it and I think, "Dagnabbit, I could've done that!" Then I take a sip of my $12 Costco wine and think, "Ah, regular employment's not such a bad thing."

Yesterday, I got to reading a blog from an old actor friend of mine, Roger Fan, and he's talking about how his two kids take up most of his time and energy these days, and he spends very little time working on his career. He said his career has been on a downward tilt ever since getting married and having kids. I'm not really sure what to think of this blog entry, as it sounds a bit lamenting about the kids and all. But I do like that he's being courageously honest, which is what all writers ought to be, especially bloggers.

If I could tell Roger something, it would be this: Hey, man, long time no see. You looking good still for a daddy of two. I gotta tell ya, you have got it good. Spending all this time in the early, formative years of your kids is a true blessing. My brother-in-law got let go from his job when his young twins were just born. He was out of work for two years, and in the meantime, raised his kids like a champ. Those were some of the best memories he's had since, because ever since then, he's been busy at work, and just recently saw his kids graduate college. "Where did all the time go?" he laughed recently. The time? It flew by while you work to build a career, or to hold onto one. There's varying degrees of that throughout a working person's life. Rarely is work something that truly serves a purpose, other than to keep you working. Paying the bills? Nah, because as humans, we all adjust to our circumstances. When my brother-in-law wasn't working, he didn't suffer. And neither are you, Roger.

But I know you know all that. You're no dummy. After all, you did graduate from an Ivy League school, come from a good family, married to a good, hard-working, smart woman, and you're not too fat to see your penis.

But you sat me down a long time ago, gave me some great information on how to become an actor, and I took it and ran with it. I owe my career to you, bud. But I'm not gonna lament not being able to act or do commercials right now because I'm working a steady job. Things change, jobs change, and people adjust. God plays a role in there, most definitely. But so does having the faith that you are doing exactly what you should be doing right this moment. God wouldn't have it any other way, in fact. But enough about the Big Guy. This is about you, Roger. The Fan Man. You do have a lot of fans, some 2,196 Facebook fans, last I checked.

I'll end this little convo by saying that I once interviewed the actor Robert Ito, of Quincy, M.D. fame. He said he had two kids, his wife, and he didn't know what to do with his life. He was struggling to make ends meet, even though he got regular background dancing gigs in musical theatre. And so he did what most sane people would never do: he packed all his things in the back of a VW Bug and moved his family to California to pursue an acting career. He had very little to fall back on, and he wasn't a young man anymore. He had two kids and a wife, all looking up to him. And that's what you need to remember, Rog. Ask yourself, what the heck am I gonna do now? If I don't do something, how will my kids survive, how will they look at me, how will they be able to go to college? And then buckle down, and make a plan.