Friday, July 11, 2014

An Asian in Hollywood...Comes Back!

It's been years—years, I say!—since I've updated this site. What can I say? I've been a little busy: changed jobs, changed jobs again, managed to book a job without auditioning, and, uh, one more thing. What was it? Oh yeah, my wife and I gave birth to a daughter a couple years ago. Here's the evidence.

She's a sassy little one, and a natural poser. I'm a little afraid she'll want to enter the biz one day, because she practices her craft on her family every day! She loves to gain our sympathy by pretending to fall on the ground and say "apo," which I think is Korean for "ouch." Put a pair of sunglasses on her and a bag on her arm, she's acting like a little socialite on Rodeo Drive.

My wife often wonders if she's actually as cute as we think, or if it's just because she's our daughter. I think both. But she does have this evolving persona inside of her that is just captivating. Complete strangers always come up to her grandparents and make comments while they're out shopping or playing. I once chewed out a douchebag at Ikea for taking a photo of her. He tried to deny it but when I told him I was going to call security, I saw him delete it while still pretending he had done nothing wrong.

In the photo on top, by the way, I'm wearing one of my latest wooden sunglass purchases. I'll soon update my post on this obsession of mine that never seems to fade. I can never buy enough wooden sunglasses because I can never stop breaking or losing them. I'm like the perfect customer for such a thing because I keep coming back for more! It's like toilet paper for me.

I'll also post some of the foodie trips I've taken: French Laundry in Napa Valley, Addison in San Diego, Totoraku in L.A., and maybe a couple of places in Seattle. Plus I'll talk about some of the hotels we stayed in.

Oh, as far as my little foray back into acting, I did a one-day shoot on an industrial video for a company called LRN. Didn't even have to audition for it. My old agent called me and said this company wanted to use me for something. Nice of them to do that. (Thanks, BBA Talent Agency!) I played a company boss who has no clue about proper hiring practices. The woman who plays the human resources director may be familiar to you. Take a look, she's on the left:

Very nice lady and an overly qualified actor to my hack performance. I wasn't even off book yet and then we started shooting the scenes. But instead of breaking the scene into parts, the director wanted us to shoot the whole scene through. It was seriously a miracle how the words managed to come out of my mouth.

The young pregnant lady in the middle played a pregnant fairy, a fact of which I point out to the HR director. She immediately chides me for it. Both of them have been in a number of guest spots on TV series, but the HR lady is none other than Veronica Mars' mother, from the TV series. I never watched the series, starring Kristen Bell, but it was so popular with fans a successful Kickstarter campaign managed to crowdfund a 2014 movie release of the same name.

A friend of mine who works for a talent agency sent me out on a couple auditions this year for the specific role of a samurai. I once studied a stage form of samurai called ta-te and I'm decent enough with the katas to look like I know what I'm doing with a katana. Maybe not decent enough, however, as I didn't even get a callback for either audition. It sure was fun, though, dusting off the old wooden swords and putting on my kendo gi. Kinda changes up your daily routine a bit.

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.