The Perfect Home was a great three-part BBC series made in 2006 by Alain de Botton on architecture, and I love that you can watch it anytime you like for free now on YouTube. The series was based on his book The Architecture of Happiness, this review gives a good overview of de Botton’s philosophy:
De Botton’s message, then, is fairly simple but valuable precisely because it is simple, readable and cogent. He wants to encourage his readers, and society more generally, to pay more attention to the psychological consequences of design in architecture: that architecture should not be treated as an arcane and specialist discipline to be left to professionals, but as something that affects all our lives, our happiness and well-being. He wants us to look more carefully at our architectural surroundings, pay attention to them and develop a language with which to judge them.
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
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.
Another day, another awesome documentary. This one is from 2009. From the producers:
After 30 years of war and Taliban rule, pop Idol has come to Afghanistan. Millions are watching the TV series ‘Afghan Star’ and voting for their favorite singers by mobile phone. For many this is their first encounter with democracy. This timely film follows the dramatic stories of four contestants as they risk all to become the nation’s favorite singer. But will they attain the freedom they hope for in this vulnerable and traditional nation?
I watched Last Train Home last night. It’s a beautifully made documentary by Lixin Fan. Here’s the overview from the makers of the film:
Every spring, China’s cities are plunged into chaos, as all at once, a tidal wave of humanity attempts to return home by train. It is the Chinese New Year. The wave is made up of millions of migrant factory workers. The homes they seek are the rural villages and families they left behind to seek work in the booming coastal cities. It is an epic spectacle that tells us much about China, a country discarding traditional ways as it hurtles towards modernity and global economic dominance.
Last Train Home, an emotionally engaging and visually beautiful debut film from Chinese-Canadian director Lixin Fan, draws us into the fractured lives of a single migrant family caught up in this desperate annual migration. Sixteen years ago, the Zhangs abandoned their young children to find work in the city, consoled by the hope that their wages would lift their children into a better life. But in a bitter irony, the Zhangs’ hopes for the future are undone by their very absence. Qin, the child they left behind, has grown into adolescence crippled by a sense of abandonment. In an act of teenage rebellion, she drops out of school. She too will become a migrant worker. The decision is a heartbreaking blow for the parents. In classic cinema verité style, Last Train Home follows the Zhangs’ attempts to change their daughter’s course and repair their ruptured family. Intimate and candid, the film paints a human portrait of the dramatic changes sweeping China. We identify with the Zhangs as they navigate through the stark and difficult choices of a society caught between old ways and new realities. Can they get ahead and still undo some of the damage that has been done to their family?
From Marco Casino’s Vimeo page:
Staff riding, the local slang for train surfing, is a widespread phenomenon in SA. Katlehong is one of the largest townships in South Africa and has played a key role in the history of the struggle against apartheid.
The almost total majority of surfers are kids under 25. Amputations and death are really common. The Prasa Metrorail, the SA train company, is one of the foundations of their society. This connection between train and citizens remained very strong over time. The spectacular and risky act of train surfing becomes the framework to tell the Katlehong’s young people social fabric.This place has been the epicenter of the anti-apartheid’s guerrillas, and on the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the facts that we all know , the situation of segregation has remained more or less unchanged in daily life.
In a context where violence , rampant poverty , abuse of alcohol/drugs and infant birth/AIDS are the masters , the train surfing is configured as the search for a social redemption that will never come for the characters of this story .