Archive for the ‘Food’ Category


February 10, 2013


I unfortunately missed Bullhead when it was first released in this country. This Belgian film was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign language film. (It lost out to the Iranian film, A Separation, which is also very good.) First time director Michaël R. Roskam has crafted a powerful and disturbing movie.

Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) belongs to a cattle-raising family in Flanders. His family uses hormones to fatten their cattle, which is illegal in Belgium. Jacky uses steroids to bulk himself up, in a manner eerily similar to the way he bulks up cattle. Through a series of flashbacks we learn that Jacky’s behavior is the result of a traumatic childhood experience. Jacky’s family becomes increasingly involved in the trade in illegal hormones. When a leader of the “hormone mafia” has a government agent killed, Jacky begins to fear that his family may be in over their heads. At the same time Jacky obsesses over a girl from his childhood.

Bullhead derives much of its power from Schoenaerts’s performance. One can sense the frustration and rage boiling inside his character. Much of the suspense of the film comes from knowing that his anger can explode at any time.

This film depicts Belgium’s hormone mafia. This group presents a real problem in that country. In 1995, they murdered a government meat inspector (this incident was the inspiration for this film). It appears that farmers are willing to break the law just to give themselves a competitive advantage. The logic of capitalism fuels such behavior. Here in the U.S., where agribusiness practically controls the government, there are no prohibitions on hormone use. The U.S. has been pressuring European countries such as Belgium to lift their bans on hormone use. It seems that the U.S. has become a sort of hormone mafia.

Two Films about Japanese Artists

April 28, 2012

A scene from Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Eugene’s Bijou Art Cinemas just hosted the Cinema Pacific Film Festival, which is devoted to films from Asia and from the Pacific Northwest. This annual festival is just one of the many benefits of living in Eugene. (If I seem to be on a civic boosterism kick, it’s because of a recent ESPN article that portrays Eugene as a warren of zonked-out hippies with questionable grooming habits.) I regret that because of previous commitments I was not able to attend all of the films. Based on the ones I did see, however, I was impressed by the selection job that the festival organizers did. I found every film I saw interesting in some way. Two that particularly stood out for me were documentaries about two artists in Japan.

Jiro Ono is Japan’s most famous sushi chef. He runs a sushi bar in a Tokyo subway station. The Michelin guides have given the place a three star rating. People make reservations months ahead of time just to eat there. David Gelb’s film, Jiro Dreams of Sushi examines the life and work of this cook who, at the age of 85, says he will never retire. He dislikes taking days off. He is assisted by his son, Yoshikazu, and by a small, hard-working staff that he trained himself. An apprentice at Jiro’s restaurant has to train for ten years before he is considered a shokunin (chef).

Yoshikazu is destined to take over the restaurant after his father’s death. However, a sushi chef tells us that because of his father’s reputation, Yoshikazu would have to be twice as good just to be considered his equal.

Jiro tells us that he arranges his meals like music. He starts with light, subtle flavors and gradually works his way to heavier ones. Gelb builds upon this idea with a shrewdly constructed musical soundtrack. As we watch Jiro and his assistants, they at times almost seem to be moving in sync with the music.

On a somber note, both Jiro and Yoshikazu report that they have seen both the quality and quantity of fish sold in markets decline over the years. Yoshikazu blames this on over-fishing. He is particularly critical of the way tuna are caught, saying that many of these fish are captured before they are mature.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It made me hungry for sushi.

I watched Astro Boy on TV when I was growing up. This show would likely strike contemporary children as crude (it was in black & white, for one thing), but to me it was magical. I remember I was puzzled at how his feet would suddenly disappear and flames would shoot out of his legs when he would fly through the air.

So my curiosity was piqued when I heard that the festival was showing a film titled The Echo of Astro Boy’s Footsteps. This movie is about Matsuo Ohno, who did the sound effects for Astro Boy. Actually, he was the sound designer. He would actually get mad at people if they said that he did sound effects. Instead of trying to imitate noises, he would create whole new sounds. The title refers to the curious sound for Astro Boy’s footsteps, which he created by manipulating recording tape.

Ohno became interested in electronic music in the 1950’s, when he heard a Stockhausen recording. He continues to compose and perform to this day, trying to create what he calls “ethereal music”. A traditionalist, he continues to use reel-to-reel tape players and oscillators, instead of computer programs.

Ohno has a reputation for being irascible and difficult. Yet he devotes a large part of his time to teaching music to mentally disabled persons. He says that we can all learn from such people. However, this film will not dispel the stereotype of artists as eccentric people. A friend of Ohno’s tells us that when the latter was young, he preferred to enter buildings by climbing through windows.

I highly recommend seeing this film.