Lynne Kutsukake’s novel The Translation of Love is an emotional and engaging journey through post-war Japan as seen by its wide cast of characters. It is a unique picture of what happens after war–the consequences of war, the struggles to recover, the aftermath of families torn asunder by loss. Though perhaps most closely following a young girl’s search for her older sister, it includes also the stories of a young Japanese Canadian re-pat, Japanese Americans working for MacArthur’s occupation government, those stranded when war broke out, among others.
The novel takes a vignette approach, as each chapter jumps between the dozen or so characters before oh- so-inevitably climaxing when their lives intertwine. Overall, it’s an enjoyable read.
The book’s antagonist is more than anything the hard comings of post-war life. In this, it is perhaps overly generous. Yet it captures an interesting and little written about slice of life. What happened to those Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians who chose to return to Japan after internment? What was it like for Japanese Americans serving in the occupation, apart yet not? What was it like living in post-war Japan, after your lives have been upended? These are the fragments Kutsukake hones in on.
Perhaps my favorite of her carefully crafted cast is Matt, a Japanese American whose brother died fighting for the United States and who moved to Japan to work for MacArthur. He translates letters written to the general, many from ordinary Japanese trying to survive and find their loved and lost–trying to capture their nuance, yet knowing most will remain unanswered. He, like the others, is sympathetic.
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When I was looking through the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival guide online, I came across a screening for the film that I had heard about, The Man Who Knew Infinity, described here:
“For writer-director Matthew Brown, it has been a long, twisting road bringing “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” a drama based on the short life of mathematician Srinavasa Ramanujan and his friendship with a Cambridge professor, to the screen.
In 2004, he read Robert Kanigel’s biography of Ramanujan, an impoverished autodidact from Madras, India, who was invited to work on his theories at Cambridge in the early years of the 20th century. Brown wrote the first draft of his screenplay more than 10 years ago and, as he started pitching it around, he realized just what a challenge he’d placed before himself.
“This has been about as hard as it could possibly be to get financed,” he says. “It doesn’t fit into any of the Hollywood models. Indian mathematician at the turn of the century. It’s really a love story between the two men. He had to leave his wife, obviously, and misses her terribly, but really the story of the friendship is the central relationship. It’s mathematicians. It’s an Indian man, a period film. It’s basically every strike — you’ve struck out five times. You’re kicked right out of the executive’s office.””
I had heard of Ramanujan and his story, but didn’t really know that much about him. Then again, the only historic mathematician I know is probably Newton (and he’s probably known way more for physics).
Originally, I think I had read that actor Dev Patel who plays Ramunujan (best known for the surprise hit Slumdog Millionaire) was going to be in attendance for the panel discussion, but after the screening, I was disappointed to find out that he wasn’t, but a large panel including the Director Matt Brown, composer Coby Brown, actor Stephen Fry, actress Devika Bhise (who plays Ramunujan’s wife), producer Ed Pressman, mathematicians Manjul Bhargava, Ken Ono, and Edward Frenkel, book writer Robert Kanigel (which the film is based on, of the same title). You can watch the panel discussion in this YouTube video I took:
What struck me about the biopic was the period piece reminds us of the racism that Ramunujan faced as an Indian visiting Great Britain during the start of World War I. Today, we think of Indians, or at least Indian Americans, stereotypically as very intelligent and probably good at math, science and spelling. But that was definitely not the case when Ramunujan arrived in Cambridge, England and seen as intellectually inferior due to his race and I’m sure that India was part of the British Empire at the time didn’t help things either. As the directo said in the panel discussion, “talent can be found anywhere,” which is relevant to today’s discussion of diversity, especially in Silicon Valley and the tech community.
Overall, I enjoyed the film and learning the story of Ramunujan. The film itself reminds me very much of a combination of A Beautiful Mind and Good Will Hunting, but somehow not as polished. Also, if you liked The Theory of Everything or The Imitation Game, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the film as well. I thought actor Dev Patel did a good job and was pleasantly surprised to see Jeremy Irons portray Ramunujan’s mentor, G.H. Hardy, terrifically.
However, I didn’t think the film really went into Ramunujan’s work or its implications as deeply as I thought it should – even if the film is for the general public. Then again, some of Ramunujan’s work is and its implications are only beginning to be understood. I knew that Ramunujan had stayed in England for a while, but learned only afterwards reading online that he stayed for five years. And learning that, I wondered how being away from his wife in India for so long was portrayed correctly or was more a Hollywood tale.
As of this writing, the film gets 67% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film opened in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles the weekend of Friday, April 29th and I assume will be rolled out to a broader audience over time.
I’m ashamed to say, but I think this is the first time I’ve attended a film screening at San Francisco International Film Festival – not sure why, though I don’t live in San Francisco but do make it to the city, usually on weekends, and I’ve attended CAAMFest many, many times. The screening took place in the beautiful and historic Castro Theater.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 2, Episode 23: “The Manchurian Dinner Date”
Original airdate May 17, 2016.
Microsynopsis: Alison finally gets to meet Jessica, but she panics when she learns that Jessica has always wanted Eddie to date a Chinese girl, so she sends Audrey, a piccolo player in her youth orchestra, to pretend she’s Alison. Emery prepares the valedictory address for his graduation from elementary school. Grandma volunteers to sew Evan a new suit so he can look good for Jessica at the family graduation celebration.
Good: The dialogue is excellent in this episode: quick, sharp, clever, and mostly quite funny. I love when, as Eddie stresses out during his phone call with Alison, Audrey and Emery seem to find something in common. Audrey asks Emery, “Do you use the eyes-mouth method or the most prominent feature?” Eddie, annoyed, says, “Both of you: shut your eyes-mouth. No one cares!” I also really like the sweetness of Emery and Audrey getting along as Jessica realizes that while Audrey is perfect, she’s not perfect for Eddie.
I’ve missed some of the visual creativity of earlier episodes, but there are a couple of cute visual effects where Eddie’s parents speak to him while he’s still in the womb.
Bad: The Grandma-Evan story is lame and uninteresting, although Evan gets a couple of nice lines (“That’s not even a real ruler; that’s Bubble Tape!” and “I have two blazers, three khakis, and six shirts that I mix and match to create thirty-six different looks!”). And geez, that stupid bit where the boy is forced to leave the graduation ceremony as his principal mocks him isn’t funny.
FOB moment: Audrey brings a huge box of oranges for Jessica, and she takes her shoes off before entering, something nobody in Dr. Ken ever does. I was beginning to think Asian Americans on the continent had completely abandoned this practice. Or maybe it got lost sometime between the mid-90s and the mid-2010s.
Soundtrack flashback: “Poison” by Bel Biv DeVoe (1990, sung by Reba). “California Love” by 2Pac (1995). “Come Fly with Me” by Frank Sinatra (1958).
Final grade, this episode: Funny episode. B+.
Showing in New York until May 22, Kentucky by Leah Nanako Winkler is a tumultuous and energetic ride through the lives of a Kentucky family on the eve of a wedding. It’s a play about home–home and family, for better and for worse. And it’s both over the top theatrical while also sweetly engaging and relatable.
Hiro’s younger sister Sophie is about to get married to a born-again Christian, six months after their first meeting. Hiro–returning back to Kentucky (which she insists is no longer home) from New York–is determined to free her sister from their abusive father, “brainwashed” mother, and the small world of Kentucky. And this is only the beginning. Continue Reading »
“We wanted to see whether Nohl’s group could actually do what they claimed — so we sent an off-the-shelf iPhone from 60 Minutes in New York to Representative Ted Lieu, a [Taiwanese American] congressman from California. He has a computer science degree from Stanford [’91] and is a member of the House committee that oversees information technology. He agreed to use our phone to talk to his staff knowing they would be hacked and they were. All we gave Nohl, was the number of the 60 Minutes iPhone that we lent the congressman.”
I’ve blogged about Congressman Lieu in the past and have met him a few times. Lieu has both a computer science and law degree, and thus often interviewed during the whole Apple vs. FBI iPhone encryption legal battle. Congressman Liu has been a strong defendant on privacy and encryption for individual and against any “backdoors.”
A group of professional hackers demonstrate how they can access Lieu’s phone calls, location and even turn on the phone’s camera and view remotely. Pretty frightening…
You can watch the entire 60 Minutes segment below:
Make you kind of think who is listening to you on your phone or watching you via your phone’s camera … pretty scary.
The only Chinatown I remember growing up was Oakland Chinatown.
When my family first came to the Bay Area, we lived in the East Bay, and Oakland Chinatown was the nearest place my parents could get Filipino vegetables and other Asian groceries. For a long time, the nearest dim sum restaurant was in Oakland Chinatown, and when I was a grad student at Berkeley, I did volunteer work there – just a quick BART ride away. With that background, I was saddened to read that like other Chinatowns in the US, Oakland Chinatown is struggling.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 2, Episode 22: “Gotta Be Me”
Original airdate May 10, 2016.
Microsynopsis: Emery is suddenly having difficulty getting along with the other boys in school, so Louis gives him some advice on making his behavior more manly so he’ll fit in. Jessica chaperones Eddie’s class field trip to Colonial Floridatown, where she demonstrates (much to Eddie’s surprise and anger) that she can be a lot of fun.
Good: This is a strong episode with two fun plots that give the actors a lot to work with. There is a scene in the car where Emery blames his father for his trouble, and Forrest Wheeler delivers his lines like he’s on the verge of crying, out of both confusion at his circumstances and anger at his father. It’s Wheeler’s finest bit of acting all season. And I have never thought Hudson Yang did anger very well, but he also has a moment, just before he gets on the school bus, where he lets loose on Jessica, and it’s believable as the release of several years’ worth of confusion and anger.
There is kind of a masterful but subtle parallelism in the two plots, with Emery’s struggle to express himself sincerely without alienating himself from his peers, and with Eddie reconciling his perception of his mother with a new reality. Then, a late scene adds a third conflicted identity issue, one developed in the first scene but seeming to be a throw-away gag for setting up Emery’s story. And this third layer, explained by Grandma (who for the third time in recent weeks is the voice of sympathy, compassion, and wisdom), folds everything together and leaves you wondering how the writers pack so much good stuff into 22 minutes of television. It is almost Seinfeldian.
Bad: More idiocy from Eddie’s school principal. And I’ve been casually trying to nail Fresh off the Boat for anachronisms, but my eye must not be very good, because I haven’t found one in more than thirty episodes so far, but aha! I kind of found one, although you could make the case that when Louis says he mistook the “Critter Capers” section at the video store for the “Criterion” section, he was just reaching for anything that might be conceivable, and not mistakenly thinking that Criterion ever released titles on VHS (it didn’t–in those days, its titles were on LaserDisc, which this store doesn’t seem to rent). It’s weak, but it’s all I’ve got so far.
FOB moment: Jessica says, “Colonial Americans were like the Chinese of today … their struggle, their work ethic, their ability to use every single part of the buffalo!”
Soundtrack flashback: “Sneakin’ Up On Ya” by Fu-Schnickens (1994; edited); “Know How” by Young M.C. (1988; the whole first verse!).
Final grade, this episode: This is a heck of an episode. It’s not one of those TV-changing moments, but it’s a great example of how a family sitcom can address common growing-up themes without looking or sounding like every other show that’s done it before. Excellent writing and acting make this a high point of the season. A-minus.
Ever since I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and tried a Din Tai Fung (DTF), I’ve wanted one in the Bay Area. Din Tai Fung opened today – Tuesday, May 10th at 11:00 AM PST – and I was there to catch the grand opening.
For a while, the only Din Tai Fung in the United States was in Los Angeles – Arcadia, California to be exact. The that location expanded with another restaurant adjacent to it. Then, to my great surprise and disappointment, Din Tai Fung expanded to Seattle – of all places – and is expanding now to having almost four in the region. And of course, expanding in Los Angeles and Southern California.
Din Tai Fung first announced their first Bay Area location would be at the Valley Fair Mall in Santa Clara (next to San Jose), California around last September 2015. Since then, I’ve been periodically contacting the restaurant as to their opening.
I was thinking of dropping by Valley Fair Mall at around 10:00 AM this morning when the mall technically opens, but realized that I should go into work, especially since I had been out two days last week for personal/family reasons. I had read that the restaurant was going to be opening at 11:00 AM, so figured I’d go to work a little early and leave around 10:30 AM to check out the opening, since the mall was less than 10 miles away via highway and local roads. But if I had really wanted to be first in line, I would have had to have gotten there really early, according to the San Jose Mercury News:
“It might sound crazy, but it’s not to people like Taylor Arnicar and Shirley Song. The Sunnyvale couple has been to 10 Din Tai Fung locations around the world, including Beijing, Hong Kong, Seattle and Los Angeles and were excited that the restaurant was opening so close to home. They were so excited that they arrived at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday and were the first in line. “We were the only ones here for a while,” Arnicar said, “so we could have gotten a couple of hours more sleep.”
They weren’t alone for too long. As chefs — looking like bunny-suited tech workers in a clean room — were hard at work handmaking dumplings, the line continued to grow. About 30 minutes before the 11 a.m. opening, it had ballooned to about 400 people, all waiting for a taste of Din Tai Fung’s famous xiao long bao dumpling, or XLB, as fans know it.
The restaurant, though, can seat only 120 people at a time. So anyone toward the back was practically guaranteed a wait of a couple of hours. It got so busy that the restaurant closed off the line so it could restock supplies. Insiders say you can expect this kind of lines for the next few weeks at least, if not months.”
I wasn’t too sure who else was going to wait in line and didn’t necessarily want to eat alone. I did see on Facebook someone I know and his wife were planning on getting there early, and did see him chatting and standing next to a friend of mine – which surprised me (they had just met). And later, I did bump into my brother’s friend and her friend as well.
There was definitely a long line an hour afterwards – I dropped by after I ate lunch elsewhere, where you can take a look at this 360 video that I took around noon:
I think I will try to get to the Din Tai Fung on a Saturday or Sunday early morning when the mall opens so I can get in without waiting – or waiting too long. I can’t wait! It’s been a long time coming, but I am glad there is FINALLY a Din Tai Fung in the Bay Area – and I wonder how quickly and how many more restaurants they plan on opening, since I am sure this one will make a boatload of money.
Asians in Colorado by William Wei unearths a local and regional history of Chinese and Japanese in the Centennial State. Wei positions the unique aspects of the state’s history within the broader national story. It is the stories of little known individuals, from Chinese Americans involved in local court cases to Japanese farmers, to their far and few between white allies that add something new to our knowledge of Asian American history. As Wei makes clear in the introduction, he intends this to be an American story. It too seeks to address the fundamental question, what makes an American? This is a familiar angle for those well-versed in Asian American history, but by looking at Colorado as an embodiment of the development of the American West, it transports us out of the coasts and into the center.
Among other things, my book shows that Asian Coloradans did not lack true grit. On the contrary, they displays a dogged perseverance and refused to be discouraged by setbacks.
Overall, there is much to praise in terms of highlighting local history, for which there is never enough space in larger survey books.
Amanda Harvie is a cute, 23-year-old bartender looking for love. Her mom (and best friend) Larissa thinks she knows best what kind guy Amanda will gravitate toward, but professional matchmaker and dating expert Carmelia Ray thinks she has the expertise to find Amanda a likelier match. After a short interview with Amanda, Carmelia looks through her computer for the right guy, while Larissa visits a nearby improvisational theater class to interview prospects. Each potential Cupid coaches her candidate for a first date, which we get to watch.
We get a bowling alley, a bar (made of ice, apparently), a mannequin, and a bunch of hidden cameras as each training session and first date unfolds. To every participant’s credit, despite the forced nature of the entire exercise from premise to execution, everyone seems to make a sincere attempt at making things work, with no trace of irony, which would destroy a show like this. Any irony needs to be brought by the viewer, and I at first didn’t have any problem looking at the show through a non-ironic prism.
Amanda is cute, Larissa is cute, Carmelia is cute, and each of the dates is cute. It’s nearly a cuteness overload, but I’m not complaining because that’s good enough a reason for me to watch. I should admit that I’m a really, really slow dater, and almost none of the advice given by anyone in this show would work for me, and if I were to take it very seriously, I’m not sure I’d make it through a whole episode without the cute likeability of everyone on screen. With no personal connection or investment, what’s left for me is to be entertained, and (mostly) I am.
The show is fun to watch in the first half. The edits are playful, with quick shots of subjects against seamless white backgrounds. It’s a good-looking, well-produced program. My only technical complaints come in the second half, where the voiceover (which is fine in the intro) gets needlessly intrusive, and there are a few too many exterior shots through a fisheye lens.
Reactions by Larissa and Carmelia in the hidden rooms feel scripted, and motivated more by wanting good soundbites than expressing anything meaningful. If there’s a weakness here, it’s this: everyone seems to be too fully aware of the camera in the real-life segments of the program. This is okay from Carmelia, who serves as a kind of ringmaster, but some illusion of spontaneity would go a long way toward establishing some kind of humor or tension. Think of how real the hidden camera segments felt in a show like Supernanny, and you see what I mean. The kids in that program could only be themselves, and since the parents could only respond to behaviors, a feeling of realness permeated everything, increasing the viewer’s engagement.
Still, even as I write this, I’m aware of taking the program too seriously. My first, just-enjoy-it viewing (I try to save my critical eye for the second viewing) was entertaining. I found myself picking one of the candidates, semi-seriously involved in the final reveal, and that’s a good sign. Mom vs. Matchmaker is definitely worth a few looks, and I’ll be back.
May is officially Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. In celebration of the month, PBS will be premiering five Asian American documentaries during the month of May, presented by the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM). The documentaries are:
The films are supported or co-produced by CAAM, with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. My favorite CAAM produced documentary is Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority – that film really inspired me and quite liked Mr. Cao Goes to Washington and the related A Village Called Versailles.
I really like documentaries, and if I won the lottery, I’d probably spend a good portion of my time being a documentary filmmaker – probably making films of Asian Americans in public office or running for public office.
Of a number of musical instruments/styles in the United States one can say that are truly Asian American – instruments and/or genres whose structure and playing style are heavily influenced by Americans of Asian descent – probably the most well-known is the ukulele. We have talked about Jake Shimabukuro, who has pushed the limits of the ukulele. Honoka Katayama and Azita Ganjali, 2013 MVP winners of the Ukulele International Challenge, push the bounds of ukulele even farther, doing this bluesy rendition of the classic surf song Wipe Out. Honoka and Azita having been playing ukulele since they were 8 and 4, respectively.
It’s amazing how international the ukulele has become. Contests for the ukulele challenge come from all over the world, and Honoka and Azita have played at the third annual Czech Ukulele Festival, in a place you might think wouldn’t be very interested in ukulele music.