Jiro Dreams of Sushi

This is another feature length documentary I’d intended to watch for a long time. It was worth the wait. From the New Yorker review:

One of the hardest reservations to get in the world is a seat at Jiro Ono’s sushi counter, a three-Michelin-star restaurant adjoining the entrance to the Ginza metro station, in the basement of a business building in Tokyo. A meal there, which consists of twenty pieces of sushi served one at a time, costs thirty thousand Japanese yen (about three hundred and seventy dollars), and lasts about fifteen or twenty minutes. (By contrast, a meal at Noma, probably the toughest get on the list, takes a good three to four hours). There are only ten seats, there is a set menu (no appetizers or modifications), and there are definitely no California rolls.

The question of what makes this hole in the wall so worthy is the subject of a gorgeously shot documentary opening today called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” directed by David Gelb. Jiro Ono was born in 1925, left home at the age of nine, and has been making sushi ever since. Though Japan has declared him a national treasure, he still says, at the age of eighty-five, “All I want to do is make better sushi.” He goes to work every day by getting on the train from the same position, he always tastes his food as he makes it, and he dislikes holidays. Jiro is described as a shokunin—a person who embodies the artisan spirit of the relentless pursuit of perfection through his craft.

Another Japanese term that came to my mind while I watched the film was kaizen, meaning “improvement” or “change for the better.” The concept is one of process, and it is often applied in business settings, like manufacturing and logistics, to ensure constant and never-ending improvement. Before cooking his octopus, Jiro used to massage it for up to thirty minutes. Now he will massage it for forty minutes, to give it an even softer texture and a better taste. Before a meal at Sukiyabashi Jiro, guests are handed a hot towel, hand-squeezed by an apprentice. The apprentices, who train for at least ten years under Jiro, are not allowed to cut the fish until they practice just handling it. One of the older apprentices says Jiro taught him to “press the sushi as if it were a baby chick.”

Read the rest here

Archibet postcards by Federico Babina

The last time I posted about Federico Babina it was about his wonderful reimagined iconic film posters. His new project is even better. From the Guardian:

Archibet is a book of 26 postcards by Federico Babina. It runs from Aalto to Zaha, by way of big names such as Gropius and Foster, and slightly more recherché ones such as Adalberto Libera, author of the wonderful 1930s Casa Malaparte in Capri. Also Quincy Jones, not to be confused with the musician and producer of the same name, purveyor of stylish California modernism to the rich and famous.

The first letter of each name is made into a little monument – a “small surrealistic building”, as Babina calls them – in the manner of the relevant architect, the P of Renzo Piano, for example, being held up by the cross-bracing of his Pompidou Centre. Sometimes the shape of letter and the architect’s style don’t match. The Dutch modernist Gerrit Rietveld is given a full-curved R, although he rarely deviated from straight lines and right angles.

Babina is Italian, lives in Barcelona, trained and practised as an architect, but also works with graphic design. Over the past 18 months, he has started publishing his architectural fantasias, in which three-dimensional structures are transposed to flat surfaces, realised with solid blocks of strong but subtle colour, and a wry knowingness about his subjects.

Read the rest of the article or better still buy the postcards here.

Lost Destination prints by Dorothy

I’m a big fan of Dorothy, the Manchester based visual art studio. I posted about (and bought) their famous Film Map a while back. Now they’ve released a new series of prints called Lost Destination, “which take inspiration from the iconic travel posters of the first half of the 20th century, celebrating the unique but often forgotten beauty of buildings that in their heyday were destinations in their own right but have since been either immersed in the everyday or demolished.” Take a look and buy one here.

See more of Dorothy’s work here.

Mistaken For Strangers – a documentary that’s easy to love

I’m catching up with a boatload of great documentaries, and of them all so far Mistaken for Strangers is the easiest to love. If you’ve not seen this film yet, you really should. From the New York Times review:

Placed side by side, Tom and Matt Berninger are as aesthetically harmonious as marshmallow and beef jerky. But physical difference is only the tip of a fond estrangement that began during their childhood in Cincinnati and widened as Matt, the elder by almost a decade, gained recognition as the lead vocalist for the National. Seeing an opportunity to close that gap, Tom — whose main creative output had been microbudgeted horror movies — accepted Matt’s offer of a grunt job on the band’s 2010-11 European tour, toting a camera and a vague plan to make a documentary. What could go wrong?

Quite a lot, as it happens. Despite intermittent blasts from the band’s anguished, cerebral performances, “Mistaken for Strangers” isn’t about the music (which Tom, in any case, doesn’t really cotton to). The gold here lies offstage, in Tom’s left-field interviews with bemused band members (do they take wallets onstage, he wonders?) and in barbed confrontations with the highly organized road crew members who resent his laissez-faire work ethic. Chided by Matt for drinking too much (“You’ve got the allergy”) and disillusioned by the band’s aversion to drugs and partying, he visibly wilts; we can sense him recalibrating his notion of perhaps more than just the rock star lifestyle.

Pierced with touching moments of seemingly stumbled-upon clarity, “Strangers” is a shaggy ode to sibling reconnection. As Matt roams an auditorium during one of his midsong walkabouts, Tom scurries behind with the microphone cable before boosting his brother back onstage. The sequence is wordless, but its metaphorical impact is deafening.

And now for some photos of colossal statues

From Wired:

Enormous statues have been erected around the globe for centuries, omnipresent memorials to historical figures and events. Fabrice Fouillet’s series Colosses—a collection of photographs of the world’s most imposing monuments—makes these familiar sights downright strange through a simple shift in perspective. It’s not the size and scale that interests him, but their place in the surrounding landscape. The result can be dizzying and disorienting.

“I was first intrigued by the human need or desire to built gigantic declarations,” said Fouillet. “I was not especially looking for the ‘spectacular’ in the series—even if the dimensions of the statues are—but I wanted to explore how such huge monuments fit in the landscape despite their traditional social, political, or religious functions.”

Fouillet frames these sites from the sidelines, capturing the perspective you don’t see in postcards. He frames Dai Kanon in Sendai, Japan, from a few blocks away, for example. Christ the King in Świebodzin, Poland, is framed from behind. In some cases, he shoots wide enough to include mundane details of life and the people living in the shadow of these looming monoliths. Laundry flaps in the breeze beneath the imposing facade of Ataturk Mask in Izmir, Turkey, and a Coca-Cola machine sits just down the hill from Grand Byakue Kannon in Takazaki, Japan. Fouillet appears to be toying with our notions of the sacred and profane.

The meaning of ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’ by the Pogues

I’ve often wondered about the lyrics to A Pair of Brown Eyes by the Pogues. You probably know the words, but here they are just in case:

One summer evening drunk to hell
I stood there nearly lifeless
An old man in the corner sang
Where the water lilies grow
And on the jukebox Johnny sang
About a thing called love
And it’s how are you kid and what’s your name
And how would you bloody know?
In blood and death ‘neath a screaming sky
I lay down on the ground
And the arms and legs of other men
Were scattered all around
Some cursed, some prayed, some prayed then cursed
Then prayed and bled some more
And the only thing that I could see
Was a pair of brown eyes that was looking at me
But when we got back, labeled parts one to three
There was no pair of brown eyes waiting for me
And a rovin’ a rovin’ a rovin’ I’ll go
For a pair of brown eyes
I looked at him he looked at me
All I could do was hate him
While Ray and Philomena sang
Of my elusive dream
I saw the streams, the rolling hills
Where his brown eyes were waiting
And I thought about a pair of brown eyes
That waited once for me
So drunk to hell I left the place
Sometimes crawling sometimes walking
A hungry sound came across the breeze
So I gave the walls a talking
And I heard the sounds of long ago
From the old canal
And the birds were whistling in the trees
Where the wind was gently laughing
And a rovin’ a rovin’ a rovin’ I’ll go
For a pair of brown eyes

A bit of digging unearthed this interview with the man himself, Shane MacGowan, from an interview with Folk Roots in August 1987, published at Poguetry.com:

“It’s just about a guy getting pissed at a bar round here,” says Shane nonchalantly. “He’s getting pissed because he’s broken up with this bird and… you know how it is when you just go into a pub on your own to drink and it’s really quiet and you get this old nutter who comes over and starts rambling on you. So this old guy starts on about how he came back from the war, the First World War. Or the Second. One of them anyway. And he tells him about the ship he had out there and how he got out and came back and this girl had fucked off with someone else, a girl with a pair of brown eyes. Which is the same situation as the young guy sitting there listening to all this rubbish and the juke box playing Johnny Cash and Ray Lyman and Philomena Begley, classic London juke box tracks. And in the end he gets to the stage where he says fuck it, and he goes stumbling out of the pub and he walks along the canal and starts feeling really bad, on the verge of tears, and he starts realising that the old guy has had a whole fucking lifetime of that feeling, going through the war and everything, but his original reaction is to hate him and despise him. I’m not saying he goes back and starts talking to him but you know… “

How elevators made the modern city possible

Elisha Otis demonstrating his safety system, Crystal Palace, 1853

From the Boston Globe:

Elevators first arrived in America during the 1860s, in the lobbies of luxurious hotels, where they served as a plush conveyance that saved the well-heeled traveler the annoyance of climbing stairs. Initially these steam-powered “moveable rooms” were extravagantly furnished with chandeliers, benches, and carpeting, says Lee Gray, a columnist for Elevator World and an associate professor of architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Passengers were expected to sit down and get comfortable before the operator fired up the new contrivance. “It was all about luxury,” said Gray.

It wasn’t until the 1870s, when elevators showed up in office buildings, that the technology really started to leave a mark on urban culture. Business owners stymied by the lack of available space could look up and see room for growth where there was previously nothing but air—a development that was particularly welcome in New York, where a real estate crunch in Manhattan’s business district had, for a time, forced city leaders to consider moving the entire financial sector uptown. That plan came to be seen as unnecessary thanks to the initiative of one Henry Hyde, the founder of a large insurance firm, who realized that by installing a pair of elevators in his headquarters, he could make it the tallest building in the city: seven stories and 130 feet. In so doing, Hyde ushered in a new era. As a writer for Scribner’s Magazine put it almost 30 years later, the passenger elevator turned out to be “a revolutionary agent” that did for modern building what the steam engine had done for transportation.

Advances in elevator technology combined with new steel frame construction methods to push the height limits of buildings higher and higher. In the 1890s, as Bernard recounts in his book, the tallest building in the world was the 20-story Masonic Temple in Chicago; by 1913, when hydraulic elevators had been replaced with much speedier and more efficient electrical ones, it was the 55-story Woolworth Building in New York. Quickly, the modern city assumed its present shape. As Patrick Carrajat, the founder of the Elevator Museum in New York, put it, “If we didn’t have elevators…we would have a megalopolis, one continuous city, stretching from Philadelphia to Boston, because everything would be five or six stories tall.”

The arrival of the elevator upended more than urban planning: It changed the hierarchy of buildings on the inside as well. Higher floors had once been distant, scrubby spaces occupied by maids and the kind of low-rent tenants who could be expected to climb six flights of stairs. The more important people climbed at most one or two flights, which gave brownstone-style homes, for instance, their high-ceilinged parlor floors. While the arrival of elevators didn’t change this right away—the top floor of Henry Hyde’s building was occupied by the in-house janitor—the upper reaches of buildings eventually became desirable. The elevator ushered in the end of the garret and the beginning of the penthouse, as lawyers and businessmen came to appreciate the advantages of having beautiful, bird’s-eye views and respite from the loud noises of the street. Hotel owners, meanwhile, started turning their top floor rooms into their nicest ones. They could even rent out their roofs for garden parties where guests could survey the glittering new city, all without doing a bit of work to get there.

Read the full article here.