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!