Friday, June 28, 2013

JAPAN CUTS Cool With Hot-Hot Sellers

Helter Skelter hot, yes, but apparently this photo means nothing out of context.

With two weeks left before this year’s JAPAN CUTS film festival heats up midtown east July 11-21, there are already a handful of screenings close to selling out (spoiler alert: they probably will this weekend, so get tix now!) We asked the fest’s curator Samuel Jamier (who also co-curated the New York Asian Film Festival, which launched today), why these films are so hot.

“Of course the opening night screening of I'M FLASH! is not to be missed,” says Jamier. “Not only is it a hard, fast and fantastic gangster thriller, but festival fave director Toshiaki Toyoda will be on hand to talk about his latest UFO (Unidentified Film Objects, as I call his brand of cinema), and it is followed by one of our legendary Sapporo-sponsored after parties. The theme is bordello, and the dress is 'flashy'. Just no flashers, please.”

Helter Skelter (pictured above) is hot. “Like HOT hot,” says Jamier. “And it also contains one of the sexiest psychotic breakdowns captured on film.” The 'plastic surgery horror movie' follows a youth-obsessed, Gaga-esque pop star’s descent into hell. Apparently, a hot-hot hell.

Japan's number one box office hit of the year Rurouni Kenshin, getting its U.S. premiere screening as part of JAPAN CUTS and NYAFF, is based on manga that has sold 55 million copies and spawned several popular animated adaptations. “They couldn’t have missed if they tried,” says Jameir. “And boy didn’t they. Miss that is. It is pure manga sword-swinging bad-assery with girls in kimono. Period.”

Another near sellout is Yuichi Fukuda’s off-the-wall Hentai Kamen--a topsy-pervy twist (hentai basically means “pervert” or “perverted” in Japanese) to the superhero genre about a man who gains special powers when donning ladies underthings. The trailer alone received over 50,000 views in the first five days after it was uploaded to YouTube. When asked why, Jamier just shook his head baffled. “Because crotch jockeying action heroes is the genre we need?”

Here’s the trailer. Some might find it NSFW, but if that’s the case, you probably need to get a job somewhere with a sense of humor. Silly, earnest, epic. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Koji: Mother of Japan’s Miracle Marinade

No amount of Photoshop can mask the ick-factor of raw shio-koji. Via.

Raw koji looks grotesque and has an odor of vaguely “sweet smelling socks”, according to the Los Angeles Times. Despite its superficial unpleasantness, the taste and usefulness surprises and delights.

What is koji exactly? It is a mold (Aspergillus oryzae, Japan’s national fungus), which is used to ferment rice to create items such as miso, sake, soy sauce, mirin, shōchū, and rice vinegar--all staples of Japanese cuisine.

These items come from kome koji (literally “rice koji”), in which the rice starches are broken down into sugar (a process known as saccharification), releasing fatty and amino acids.

Adding sea salt (shio) or soy sauce (shoyu) to the mix before alcohol begins to form creates what the LA Times calls a “miracle condiment”. Shio- and shoyu-koji are used to bring out the natural salt flavor in food without using as much salt, while keeping a hint of sweetness from the sugar within. The result is pure umami--a burst of savory, sweet deliciousness in every bite.

The health benefits of koji are numerous and the taste that accompanies it is an even bigger bonus. It can be used as a marinade for meats, fishes, and vegetables and also a total replacement for salt. Easy to make while enhancing the natural umami flavor, it’s no wonder that koji is now making its way into global pantries, especially in the United States.

While the koji demonstration and tasting at Japan Society tonight is sold out, there are many simple and delicious ways to use koji at home. Chopsticks New York has a handy instructional on how to make shio-koji, and the San Francisco Chronicle recently ran several shio-koji recipes, including Sauteed Lemon-Koji Asparagus, Grilled Koji-Marinated Hokkaido Squid With Ponzu Mayonnaise, and Koji Shira-ae With Favas and Tomatoes.


--Susan Berhane

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Taiko Vs. Shamisen: Ancient Instruments Intertwine In Performance First

Kenny Endo (left) rehearses with Agatsuma before the big concert.

Tonight two masters of modernizing ancient Japanese instruments while retaining their classic vitality converge on stage for the first time ever.

Kenny Endo is a legendary contemporary percussion and rhythm artist. Over his forty year career, he has taken the genre of taiko (traditional Japanese drums) to new heights, blending classical elements with global rhythms and original melodies and improvisations. 

Endo warming up his skins. "Taiko" is Japanese for “fat drum” (although the drums vary in size) and usually played in a set called kumi daiko.

Hailing from Hawaii, where he has his own "Kenny Endo Day" as proclaimed by the Mayor of Honolulu, Endo originally trained as a jazz musician in California. He honed his taiko skills at the renowned San Francisco Taiko Dojo, then embarked on a decade-long odyssey through his ancestral Japan in the 80s, studying and performing with the masters of ancient techniques. He has recorded and performed around the world and has the honor of being the first non-Japanese national to have received a natori (stage name and masters degree) in hogaku hayashi (classical drumming).

Hiromitsu Agatsuma is a young and boundary busting virtuoso on the shamisen, a three-stringed banjo-like Japanese instrument performed with an aggressive style developed over centuries in northern Japan. He has been playing the instrument since he was a child, winning his first major competition at 14. After garnering much acclaim in the traditional Japanese music world, Agatsuma began infusing other instruments with beat-driven rock, attracting young and enthusiastic audiences.

Since his U.S. debut at Japan Society in 2003, Agatsuma has toured the world extensively. Like Endo, he explores traditional aspects of his instrument, while constantly experimenting with sound and incorporating diverse musical genres.

Performing together for the first time tonight at Japan Society, these two greats promise music magic, combining classical Japanese sounds with a 21st century feel.

If you cannot make it, check out this exclusive Spotify playlist or see more pictures from the historic rehearsal.

--Susan Berhane

Endo gets some shamisen tips from Agatsuma.