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California (Roll) Dreamin’

1 Aug

One of the things that we and our spouse discovered early in our relationship is that we both liked films about obsessive people. She liked movies about obsessive women (Truffaut’s “The Story of Adele H.”)  while we preferred movies about obsessive men (Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo”). We both liked “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, David Gelb’s 2011 documentary about sushi chef Jiro Ono, an octogenarian who runs a small sushi restaurant in Tokyo.

Jiro is a quirky guy who decided decades ago that he would be a sushi chef and devoted all his energy to being the best sushi chef he could possibly be.  Jiro seems to have reached his goal; reservations at this restaurant must be made a month in advance and his restaurant has been given three stars by the Michelin Red Guide, their highest rating.

Everything is prepared to the nth degree – the squid must be massaged for forty minutes so that it will not be rubbery.  The rice is cooked under intense pressure.  Jiro’s tuna merchant is a bit like Jiro – if there are ten tuna, he knows that only one can be the best and buys that one.

There is a touching section of the film when one of the apprentices describes his ordeal in learning to make egg sushi, preparing the dish two hundred times over many days, only to have the result rejected every time. Somewhere around batch 200 he finally produces egg sushi that satisfies the finicky master.

So, since Jiro’s sushi is so great, would we like to eat at Sukiyabashi Jiro?  Probably not. Viewing the documentary, one wonders if Jiro has achieved the summit of sushi only to fail at the total dining experience. For one thing, dining there is rather pricey – around three hundred American dollars. Secondly, the meal will last about a half hour.  Though it may seem that the eccentric master is trying to pack ’em in then boot ’em out, it seems there is actually a reason for this.  Some sushi connoisseurs contend that a piece of sushi should be consumed within five seconds after it is made. We wouldn’t want to insult the sushi by dawdling, but we think the meal should suit the diner rather than the other way ’round.  The most amusing comment about Jiro that we found on the Web compared him to the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld.

But we digress. Is “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” a good documentary? Yes. Would we like to watch it again? Yes. The only quibble we have with the film is that it seems slightly over-long.  Toward the end, we felt sated, but the film continued for a bit after that point. However, check out the film for yourself; you might decide that we’re wrong.  Too, there’s a lot that we’ve left out — no point in us doing a frame by frame commentary.  The film can be found on Netflix,and there’s also a Web site: http://www.magpictures.com/jirodreamsofsushi/.

Jiro Ono

No soup for you!

Now’s the time we should tell you that we lied in the title of this post – you won’t find California Roll on the menu at Sukiyabashi Jiro.

Capitalists, Communists, and Spies

8 Apr

We haven’t written anything in donkey’s years (we don’t really know what that means, but our ol’ mum used to say it, so it’s good enough for us.) We started to write something about Matt Taibbi’s book The Great Derangement, which is all about politics, religion, and stuff like that there.  Then, after listening to DVDs of Ben Macintyre’s book A Spy  Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal we figured we’d write about that.  Then, got interested in the famous Detroit Industry Murals of Diego Rivera, and yep, we figured we’d write about them.  It seemed like a mixed bag, but politics was the common thread tying these seemingly disparate subjects together.

Kim Philby was the (in)famous head of Britain’s MI6 who spied for the Russians for decades.  As described in Macintyre’s book, Philby and his colleagues were a boozy lot who more or less fell into the spy trade.  It seems that all one really needed to do in those days was to have graduated from one of the upper crust colleges, and, once in possession of the old school tie, to discreetly put out the word in the right circles that one wanted to join the spy biz.  This is an oversimplification, but not a very gross one; both Philby and his MI6 colleague Nicolas Elliot made their entrances into the business following more or less this formula.

Philby  was an odd duck.  He wasn’t Russian, but he along with Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, seems to have become a convert to Soviet Communism while a student at Cambridge and never questioned his decision, even after the horrors of life under Stalin came to light.  Unlike his friend Burgess who seems to have offended just about everyone,  Philby was charismatic and liked by all who met him.  For the longest time, the only ones who seemed at all suspicious of him were his Soviet paymasters, who thought him too good to be true.

We liked Macintyre’s book.  In fact, we want to actually read it; we feel like we cheated by listening to it on DVD as we shuttled to and from our work place.  One cool thing about the DVD version though, is the narrator ( whose name escapes us at the moment.)  If he’s quoting a Frenchman, he adopts a French accent.  If the speaker is Russian, he adopts a Russian accent.  It’s quite funny when he does an American accent, not because he’s not good at it (he is) but because it’s always the same American accent, even when the American he’s quoting is from the South.

What stuck us about Macintyre’s book is that, here’s this guy who’s aiding the Communist cause every chance he gets, while all the while going to his posh club, taking long, liquored-up lunches with friends, and living the life of a capitalist.

Diego Rivera, on the other hand, was a self-identified communist who acted like he was a capitalist (we were determined to tie these two disparate characters together, even if we had to use a shoehorn to do it.) Unlike Philby’s works, Rivera’s are masterpieces, and when he painted the 27 frescoes that comprise the Detroit Industry Murals, he was at the top of his game.  (Don’t take our word for it, visit http://www.dia.org/art/rivera-court.aspx  and slide down the page to check them out.)  We like art and we like the murals, so what’s our beef with Rivera?  Well, in our humble opinion, the guy was a tightwad.  Rivera was to be paid $10,000 to paint the murals, but when his patron Edsel Ford saw the preliminary sketches, he more than doubled Rivera’s fee (the settled-on amount was something weird  like 20,899 – if we weren’t so lazy we’d look it up.) The cost of materials would also be borne by his patrons, but Rivera was expected to pay his assistants from the 20K+ he’d been given. So here’s this guy, being paid what was not a bad chunk of change during the Great Depression, and what does he do?  He turns around and pays his four main assistants 12 bucks a week (at the time, the workers in Ford’s plant received $5 per day.) Other assistants didn’t get paid at all.  One of the main assistants later got $18 a week after he threatened to protest in front of the museum saying that Rivera was unfair to labor.  He got the bread, but he also got the silent treatment from Rivera for a long time after that.

It’s not that we have anything against Diego Rivera.  On the contrary, we think him a great artist.  It’s just that we think that if you say you’re a Communist, you really ought to share the wealth, ‘cause that’s theoretically what you’re supposed to do when you make that  statement.

This guy was making more than Rivera’s assistants

We could rhapsodize for hours about the murals and attempt to beguile you with trivia (did you know that Dick Tracy appears on the South Wall among a depiction of folks touring the car plant), but we hope we’ve piqued your interest enough that you’ll research them on your own.

OK we didn’t manage to work in the Taibbi book in this one, but hey, maybe later.