Tag Archives: asian

TIFF 2012

The Toronto International Film Festival kicks off this Thursday.  Toronto is a fun glammed up version of itself during the world’s largest and most important film festival, what with the celebs crawling the streets and your favourite haunts.  Walk through Yorkville and everyone is in a big hat and dark sunglasses, famous or not, people want to be taken as such.  It’s kind of a riot and a harmless sort of fun.

This year there are lots of films worth checking out, many likely to be on Oscar-watch.  Here though is a list of some interesting Asian cinema making its North American debut at this year’s fest.

Gala Presentation
Thermae Romae

Based on Mari Yamazaki’s critically acclaimed manga series, Thermae Romae is a time-travelling comedy that has done gang-busters at the box office in Japan.  A lot of irreverent and absurd fun, it needs to be seen to be believed given the plot:  Lucius a thermae architect from ancient Rome is propelled into a modern-day Tokyo bathhouse where he is inspired by the many innovations in “modern bathing culture” and can’t wait to implement some of these ideas back in ancient Rome.  Director Hideki Takeushi has tackled a classic fish-out-water story, one that addresses class, imperialism and creative thought, in one unique and entertaining film.

In Conversation with… Jackie Chan

What can’t Jackie Chan do?  As an actor, director, martial artist,  writer, comedian, stunts choreographer, recording star (yes, really!), philanthropist and entrepreneur, his list of accomplishments is mind-boggling.  I suppose he did start his career at age 8, but still…

With one special presentation on September 9 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Chan will be on-hand to discuss his impressive career as well give those lucky enough to score a ticket a preview of his forthcoming project Chinese Zodiac.

Contempory World Cinema

Kiyoshi Kurosawa is known as the Japanese master of suspense.  His latest endeavour, Penance, designed to be screened as a multi-part television miniseries or theatrical feature event, is a 4.5 hour, 5 chapter meditation on the nature of guilt as a mother seeks answers and revenge to the brutal murder of her young daughter killed during a day at elementary school. It’s billed as “a disquieting fresco of disturbed minds and wounded souls, Penance is a quiet masterpiece of mounting intensity” and not to be missed.

Comrade Kim Goes Flying

An inspirational tale about a young coal miner who dreams of becoming an acrobat, Comrade Kim Goes Flying is also important because it represents the first Western-financed fiction feature made entirely in North Korea. The festival programmer promises that “this charming film wears its heavy historical mantle with grace, weaving a lovely, light-hearted tale whose themes — overcoming adversity, and realizing the dream of a lifetime—upend our assumptions of a largely cloistered culture”.  Certainly an interesting look into a culture we rarely see.

Do you plan on making it to any screenings at TIFF this year?  What’s on your list?

All images courtesy of TIFF.net.  Visit the official TIFF website for ticket availability.

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Yayoi Kusama Retrospective
Whitney Museum of Art, NYC

Image by Renee Alfonso

This past weekend I had the opportunity to see the retrospective exhibition of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. The exhibit traveled from the Tate Museum in the UK, which curated and organized the show. It is on display now and will run until the end of September this year.

Image courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc. Via Whitney Museum.

Kusama might very well be Japan’s foremost and most prominent contemporary artist. Her career took off in the 1960’s parallel to modern movements in Western art, and she boasts being contemporaries with the likes of Andy Warhol and Donald Judd. While many people around the world might know Warhol and Judd, there will certainly be a number of people who might be encountering Kusama for the first time during this show.

Photograph by Tom Powel, courtesy Whitney Museum

This is not surprising, considering that Kusama’ entire life and career seems to have been affected and literally dotted with her struggles. She came from a conservative, traditional Japanese family, that looked down on her creativity and shunned her desire to make art. As a woman, she was definitely considered as minority in her homeland– as well as in the United States of the 1960’s. As she struggled to promote her art overseas, her Asian heritage set her apart from the rest of her western contemporaries.

These struggles however are what enrich her art and give it a unique voice unlike any other. Her art allows you to take a glimpse into her mind, and showcases how it copes with the challenges it encounters. Each of her pieces is a rich composition that combines experience, imagination, and environment.

Image courtesy Whitney Museum via Huffington Post

As an art history student I was introduced to Kusama’s work from a very specific period in her career, beginning with her breakthrough in the 1960’s. It was a rare opportunity to see her development as an artist as well as the struggles she encountered in order for her unique perspective and voice to be recognized.

Image courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio, Inc. via Huffington Post

What makes Kusama so unique is that she constantly, innately challenges boundaries, and these ideas and concepts all come from her fantastic imagination. She says in a documentary about her work, “I painted patterns from day to night. As I painted I suddenly would see the patterns spill out of the canvas and into the surrounding spaces. This is how I became an environmental artist.”

Photo by Jason Schmidt, courtesy Whitney Museum

I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to see the famed Fireflies on the Water piece, one of Kusama’s immersive environmental pieces. Thankfully though the piece is on display longer than the exhibition as it is in the Whitney’s permanent collection, so I think I will definitely make an effort to go back and try to see it before it is put away again.

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Tanabata – The Japanese Star Festival

Image from Wikimedia commons

For Americans around the world, July 4th is always a day of celebration, and here in Washington, DC, the sky is always lit every year with fireworks. On the other side of the world, however, a few days from now another celestial celebration will take place, and for many people in asian countries, wishes will be sent up to the heavens on the evening of July 7th.

Image from Wikimedia commons

In Japan July 7th is when the festival Tanabata is celebrated. The Star Festival, as it is usually known, has its basis in Asian folklore primarily native to East Asian countries. While the celebrations that take place in contemporary Japan are uniquely representative of Japanese culture, the festival itself is Chinese in origin. The Chinese festival is known as Qixi.

Image from The Nihon Sun

The story of Tanabata is the story of two lovers who can only meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month. In the myth, the king of heaven had a daughter, Orihime, who was a weaver. Because she worked so hard to create the cloth, she could not meet any suitors. Her father then arranged her to meet Hikoboshi,  a suitor who lived on the other side of the river Amanogawa. When the two met, they instantly fell in love and married; however their marriage brought chaos to their heavenly kingdom. The king of heaven separated them, thus allowing them only to meet one day a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month. It is said that on this day, the lovers’ constellations shine brightest.

Image from X3 Magazine

Celebrations in Japan for Tanabata involve the writing of wishes on vertical strips of paper, usually in the form of poetry. The wishes are then hung on trees, usually of bamboo. Sometimes artificial trees are made to become wishing trees because in most cases the trees are set afloat on a river or burned so the wishes can be carried off to the heavens. The festival is usually anticipated by young women who have romantic wishes due to the folklore behind it. Hence it is also known as the “Lovers’ Festival.”

Image from Tokyo ezine

In contemporary Japan, the Sendai Tanabata festival is probably the largest and most well-known celebration in the eastern part of the country. It is one of the three largest summer festivals and a major tourist attraction.

Photo by Michael Tonge. From A Billion Voices.

During the festival, seven types of paper decorations are usually put out to symbolize the different types of wishes that people can send to the heavens. The most famous type of decoration and today most synonymous with the festival is the large ornamental ball with streamers. The decoration itself was a contemporary addition to the traditional paper wishes conceived in the 1940’s by merchants in Sendai. The strips of paper hanging represent the cloth that Orihime would weave.

Image from Pint4Japan

Photo by Josep M. Berengueras

While the most common wishes during the season are for love, health, and prosperity, you can of course, wish for anything on this special day. Do you know what you’ll wish for this year?

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Splendor in the (Lemon)grass

It’s Foodie Tuesday!

If you read my post about yuzu, you know that I am a little obsessed with citrus and am always looking for new ingredients that boast this flavour profile. Chefs in Southeast Asia often turn to lemongrass to add a lemony aroma and taste to their dishes and I have been eager to follow their lead.

Lemongrass Plant; Photo: Aidan Brooks: Trainee Chef

I usually buy lemongrass pre-minced in a tube at the grocery store but, as the name suggests, it is actually a species of grass. The plant is very attractive and although it is a tropical, adventurous North American gardeners can grow it if they treat it like an annual or bring it indoors before the frost.

sliced lemongrass

Lemongrass Stalks; Photo: hardlikearmor via Food 52

I would love to have this rustling in the breeze on my rooftop patio, filling the air with its slightly flowery scent and, more importantly, I would love to have a constant supply of fresh stalks to use in my summer cooking!

lemongrass dish

Stuffed Lemongrass; Photo: Gourmet

The advantage of whole stalks is that they can be used as decorative skewers for appetizers like grilled shrimp or chicken: they are sturdy enough to survive a few minutes on the grill and impart a lovely flavour into the food.

Spicy Tangy Tom Yum Goong

Tom Yum Soup; Photo: About.com Thai Food

Lemongrass is especially common in Thai food; the fresh-tasting herb helps to balance out the chili heat of many meals. Traditionally it is used more in savory dishes like Lemongrass Chicken or Tom Yum Soup. Although less well-known, it is also used in other Asia cuisines.

Pan-Fried Tofu with Spicy Lemongrass Sauce; Photo: My Recipes

I am trying to eat less meat so I can’t wait to try the Vietnamese dish Tofu Nuong Xa (Pan-Fried Tofu with Spicy Lemongrass Sauce). In Cooking Light’s version, the sauce is almost like a savory jam that blends sweet, salty, and spicy flavours to wake up the bland tofu.

Lemongrass Frozen Yogurt with Basil; Photo: The Guardian

Lately Eastern and Western chefs have been experimenting with lemongrass in sweet dishes. I have never been one to turn down dessert and I think I would love the herbalicious tang of The Guardian’s Lemongrass Frozen Yogurt with Basil as a not-too-sweet ending to a summer meal.

Lemongrass Panna Cotta with Spicy Orange Caramel; Photo: 59 Kilos

If you can’t be bothered to pull out the ice cream maker, panna cotta is light custard that is a breeze to prepare. And 59 Kilos’ Lemongrass Panna Cotta with Spicy Orange Caramel manages to bring that traditional Asian spicy-sweet dichotomy to a thoroughly modern dessert.

Lemongrass Iced Tea; Photo: Matu Hotohori

Living in the South, I drink gallons and gallons of iced tea in the summer. Replacing the typical lemon garnish with lemongrass would make for a pleasant, if subtle, variation.

Vodka infused withe lemongrass

Lemongrass Infused Vodka; Photo kennethalan via Dresses and Appetizers

For those looking for libations that pack a little more of a punch, try infusing vodka with lemongrass stalks. It will not only serve as the base of a refreshing cocktail but it will also make a lovely decoration on your windowsill as it steeps.

If you are looking to add a little citrusy kick to your summer cooking, I encourage you to experiment with lemongrass!

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Momofuku Toronto, Can’t Hardly Stand the Wait

momofuku's famous pork buns

Momofuku famous pork buns.  Image via Momofuku for 2

At 33 Michelin-starred chef David Chang runs an impressive food empire Stateside.  In New York City his Momofuku restaurants include the Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar, Ko, and Má Pêche as well as 5 Milk Bars in the city and 1 in Montauk, NY (Milk Bar is the bakery-inspired dessert branch of the Momofuku restaurant group).  His style is inventive, blending Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian and French cuisine with dazzling effect.

Momfuku's David Changimage via Food Gal

And the disgustingly young, cute-but-still-badass celebrity chef, called one of the best chef’s in the world by Anthony Bourdain, is opening a grand location in Toronto this August (!!!!). Located next to Shangri-La Toronto, a new construction luxury hotel/condo residence at Richmond and University Ave, fans here are already in a lather.   The mysterious Momofuku Toronto location is taking party bookings for the Toronto International Film Festival, when the chef himself will be in town.

So far details of what exactly is in store for the Toronto location are few and far between.  What we do know is that the Toronto Momofuku project is Chang’s biggest to date.  The space is three stories with the potential for a concept resto on each floor.  One interview suggested the main floor would a version of the Noodle Bar.

Momofuku Fried Chickenimage by Nick Solares via New York Serious Eats

this comes with your fried chickenFried Chicken is served with a range of sauces and vegetables with the idea being you create a wrap using bibb lettuce as the wrapper. Image by Kathryn Yu via New York Serious Eats

Whatever it ends up being, Chef Chang does promise that while his famous pork belly buns and fried chicken will be on the menu, though he says he won’t simply be cloning one his New York establishments.  But really would that be so bad?  Because check this out:

If you’ve got no plans to be in NYC this summer and can’t wait till Toronto’s grand opening, you can always pick up the Momofuku cookbook and try your own hand at masterfully done Asian fusion.

david chang and peter meehan's Momofuku Cookbookavailable via Amazon

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