Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

2017 August 9
by Stacy Smith

Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language.  Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Last week the inaugural Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema began, and I’ve had the chance to catch a lot of great films at the two main venues of Kew Gardens Cinema and Queens Museum. Today they screened Persona Non Grata (杉原千畝 スギハラチウネ, 2015), a film about Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara (“Japanese Schindler”) who served as a consul in Lithuania from 1939-40 and saved the lives of thousands of Jewish refugees by issuing over 2000 transit visas to Japan. He famously continuing to sign visas even as his train pulled away from the station, and is estimated to have saved over 6,000 lives from the Nazis who invaded Lithuania in 1941. However, his diplomatic career was ruined because he had defied instructions from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs not to issue the visas. Sugihara didn’t know if they had made any difference until being found years later by someone he had helped. He is now considered a hero in Japan, and those he saved have more than 40,000 descendants.

The film stars the phenomenal Toshiaki Karasawa as Sugihara and the always stellar Koyuki as his wife. It was directed by Cellin Gluck, who grew up partly in Kobe and whose mother is Japanese American and father is Jewish. Regarding the film he has commented, “It’s the classic tale of a classic hero, in the sense that extraordinary things happening to ordinary people and the way in which they react is what creates a true hero. And that was our goal. He did what he believed was right, and his actions ended up making him a hero. He didn’t set out to become a hero. It found him. He was a man that was driven by his conscience.”

New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) 2017

2017 July 13
by Stacy Smith

Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language.  Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

This weekend concludes the 2017 New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF), which offered another amazing lineup of films and special guests.  This is the 16th year of its running, and it just seems to get better over time.  I saw two of the Japanese films screened at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, the festival’s venue, and another two I had seen on the plane during a recent business trip to Japan (In this same venue the week before the event I had the chance to see Harmonium (淵に立つ), which was not part of the festival but is another thought-provoking and upsetting Japanese film).

The two films I saw at the festival were Rage (怒り) and Double Life (二重生活).  Rage stayed with me for a while after watching it; it is not a film you can easily shake.  It is based on the mystery novel of the same name by Shuichi Yoshida, who also wrote Villain and Parade which were both made into fantastic films (the former directed by Sang-il Lee, who made Rage).  The story begins with the heinous murder of a couple in their home, with the young, male killer on the loose.

Characters from communities in three different parts of Japan (Chiba, Tokyo and Okinawa) are shaken by the appearance of three respective young men who fit the description of the wanted man.  As the manhunt unfolds, the more we find out about each suspect the more the suspense builds.  I was on the edge of my seat for the majority of the film, but once this fear dissipated the psychological terror of the chilling climax is what I kept replaying in my mind days after.  In addition to the gripping story, another thing making this movie a must-see is the stellar cast featuring standouts like Ken Watanabe and Satoru Tsumabuki (who won a Japan Academy Prize for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, beating fellow nominee from the film in the same category, Mirai Moriyama).

Double Life follows a philosophy grad student  as she embarks on a thesis project suggested by her advisor (played by the great Lily Franky): tailing a specific person for no reason.  The rule is to observe them to the greatest extent possible and to never let them realize they are being followed.  She selects her neighbor as her subject, and soon finds out that this seemingly straight-laced family man has secrets of his own (hence the film’s title).  The film clocks in at over two hours but is absorbing, dealing with existential questions such as what the meaning of human existence is.  It is director Yoshiyuki Kishi’s debut, and based on his deft handling of this multilayered subject matter it will be exciting to see how his career develops.

The two movies I missed on the big screen but saw mid-flight were Survival Family and Close Knit.  I enjoyed both but particularly recommend the latter directed by Naoko Ogigami, who was on hand during the NYAFF screening.  For those craving more Japanese film, tonight begins Japan Society’s Japan Cuts, another film festival that always showcases an outstanding lineup.  Eagerly anticipated is the attendance of actor Joe Odagiri, this year’s recipient of the CUT ABOVE Award, at the (sold-out) screening of his film Over the Fence next Thursday, July 20th!

Korean Singer-Song Writer Making His First Live Concert of 2017 In NYC!

2017 June 13
by juyeon

Eric Nam, a Korean American singer-song writer and entertainer currently based in South Korea making his first Live Concert of 2017 in New York City! He will perform on August 8th at the Gramercy Theatre in New York. Don’t miss out!


When: Tuesday, August 8 at 7 PM – 10 PM
Where: The Gramercy Theatre: 127 E 23rd St, New York, NY 10010
• Website: http://venue.thegramercytheatre.com/EventDetail?tmeventid=000052C10DA473BD&offerid=48155

NY Japan Cinefest 2017

2017 June 2
by Stacy Smith

WIT Life is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Last night I attended the first night of the 6th annual NY Japan CineFest 2017 at Asia Society.  This is one of my favorite cinematic events in the city, as it is a compilation of Japan-related short films.  As usual, there were many thought-provoking selections ranging from documentary to futuristic to artistic.

My favorite was Wasabi from director Bunji Sotoyama, which stars Kyoko Yoshine who you might recognize as the main character from the recently ended NHK morning drama Beppin-san.  In this film, she plays high school student Aoi who lives with her depressed father who is no longer able to maintain his sushi shop.  She is weighing different options for her future, including succeeding her father as sushi chef to save the restaurant.

A close second was The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere, the story of racehorse Haru Urara who back in 2003 single-handedly saved a Kochi racetrack with her amazing losing streak.  Judging from the chatter at the post-screening reception, it sounded like this film might take the prized NY Japan CineFest Audience Award, decided by those in attendance voting on their favorite film from the lineup.  If this has piqued your interest, check out the CineFest’s second night of Animation & Japanese Film Festivals Program at Asia Society tonight!

The Departure

2017 May 2
by Stacy Smith

WIT Life is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Last month’s Tribeca Film Festival featured the world premiere of the documentary The Departure directed by Lana Wilson.  It profiles Ittetsu Nemoto, a Buddhist priest whose lifework is suicide prevention.  In the group sessions he holds at his temple, he introduces exercises that attempt to show attendees what ending their lives would really mean in terms of loss and even simulates the experience of dying.  Many participants come away with a renewed lease on life, and for those who don’t Nemoto makes himself available to them day and night whenever they need someone to talk to.

However, Nemoto’s devoted around-the-clock counseling takes its toll on him, both emotionally in his shouldering these countless stories of grief, and physically as he is suffering from heart disease and trying to stay healthy for his wife and young son.  The film reveals how Nemoto’s own life was touched by suicide in the past, as both his uncle and two high school friends took their own lives.  Nemoto and his family were on hand for the final screening of the film, after which I interpreted for him during the Q&A.  Although Wilson doesn’t speak Japanese, both she and Nemoto said this contributed to a more relaxed shooting atmosphere, as participants felt comfortable sharing more than they would have if they were being completely understood.

 

Premium Friday

2017 March 31
by Stacy Smith

WIT Life is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

A little over a month ago Japan began a new public-private initiative called Premium Friday (aka プレミアムフライデー or プレ金) as part of ongoing labor reform efforts from the government.  This monthly event will take place on the last Friday of each month, and its official launch was on February 24th.  The idea for Premium Friday was conceived by the Japan Business Federation, and the concept is that employers let their employees leave at 3 p.m. on the final Friday of the month.  This is not just an altruistic move the Federation is making on behalf of workers; the goal is to have shorter hours boost productivity and encourage consumer spending.  It is also a response to the suicide of a 24-year old employee at Japan’s largest advertisement agency Dentsu in December of 2015, which authorities ruled was a result of overwork.

At the start there were 130 companies that implemented Premium Friday, and 4000 have applied for the official logo (pictured above).  Of those already on board the majority are larger companies, and only 3.7 percent of Tokyo area employees took part in the inaugural event.  Statistics for the second Premium Friday which took place today have not been released yet, but considering that March 31 is the end of Japan’s fiscal year and one of its busiest days overall, it it likely that participation was not stellar.  For those who took part last month, some of the activities people engaged in were spa visits, gym workouts (with some clubs offering Premium Friday half-price services), time with family and early happy hours with friends and colleagues.  However, employees who didn’t take part gave reasons like the fact that they would just have to make up the work over the weekend, or that they had unavoidable meetings with clients during that time.

Going forward, the hope is that people will use the early work end to not only shop and enjoy leisure activities locally, but to also take trips.  The Federation is anticipating more 1.5 night stays in places like Hokkaido and Okinawa, and 2.5 night stays in nearby overseas locations such as Taiwan and Korea (in case you’re wondering how one can stay half a night, this refers to arriving around 2 a.m. and then starting the day at an early hour like 7 a.m).  If this kind of travel takes off, the expected economic effect is travel consumption increasing by 500-600 billion yen (about 4.5-5.4 billion dollars).  If it doesn’t go as well as expected, the extent of growth would likely be closer to 220-260 billion yen (about 1.8-2.3 billion dollars).

Scheduling time off is something Japan is very good at, which is revealed by its large number of three-day weekends (with the new national holiday of Mountain Day added in August of last year).  Earlier this year there was even a move to a four-day workweek in some Japanese corporations, including big names like Uniqlo and KFC.  It remains to be seen how successful these programs will be in terms of stimulating the economy, as well as improving employees’ overall well-being and companies’ bottom lines.

KPOP Star Hyuna Launching Her First North American Tour In New York City!

2017 March 1

Korean Pop Star, Hyuna (Hyun A Kim), is launching her very first North American Tour starting in New York City! She was a lead member of a group 4MINUTE and featured in the Gangnam Style music video, sung by Psy. Her hit songs are Red, Bubble Pop, Roll Deep, etc. Don’t miss out on her performance!

 


 

 

 

Picture:
https://www.facebook.com/hyuna.unitedcube

Korean Fine Dining NYC – Gaonnuri

2017 February 17
by juyeon

The upscale Korean restaurant, Gaonnuri, is getting loyal New Yorkers with good quality ingredients and a stylish interior layout. Gaonnuri is located on the 39th floor penthouse of an office building at the entrance of Korean town on 32nd Street and 6th Avenue. For first time visitors, it can be confusing to find the place because ongoing construction in the area is currently blocking not only street signs, but also store banners with barricades. However, once you manage to walk into the lobby of the building, a restaurant host will guide you to take an elevator up to the restaurant.

Warm and Chic Ambiance Pic from grubstreet.com

 

When you get out of the elevator on the penthouse floor, Gaonnuri bar and lounge plays out before you, and bright yet dim lights set the chic mood for the entire restaurant. Traditional Korean pots are displayed extensively. On your right turn, host staff is waiting to escort you to the table.

Korean bbq grill Pic from nycgo.com

 

When it comes to Korean food, many New Yorkers can only think of kimchi (salt and hot pepper marinated cabbage) or grilled barbeque. In Gaonnuri, you can broaden your horizons by trying out the Lunch course at $45 or 3 course pre-fixe menu at $55. Both options include desserts and a variety of Korean side dishes that Korean people eat on special occasions such as holidays.


The best dining experience Gaonnuri offers is overlooking beautiful New York City views while eating. Due to its high demand for a limited number of tables nearby windows, reservations are strongly recommended. Also, if you prefer to sit at a table away from barbeque tables, you can inform the restaurant in advance and the staff will accommodate your request.

Table overlooking Midtown NYC Pic from Gaonurri.com

 

Gaonurri
Address: 1250 Broadway, Koreatown
Phone: 212-971-9045
Website: gaonnurinyc.com
*Sign Picture from gaonnurinyc gallery

 

 

 

Kim Bum Soo Comes To NYC to Madison Square Garden

2017 February 8
by juyeon

Korean R&B singer, Kim Bum Soo, is singing at Madison Square Garden this week. His song I Miss You (bogo shipda: 보고싶다) is the No.1 song Korean men sing in Korean Karaoke, Noraebang. The singer is eager to share his music with fans in New York City.
 

 


 

 

Picture:

http://www.aestheticshub.com/news/news/south-korean-singer-kim-bum-soo-discusses-his-recent-eyelid-surgery-on-his-radio-show

The Beauty of Washi

2017 February 6
by Stacy Smith
 WIT Life is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.
This weekend I had a chance to sit in on a culture class at the Nippon Club in order to write an article in Chopsticks.  We were studying calligraphy, but specifically practicing this art on 和紙 (washi or Japanese paper).  Sensei Mori Suzuki was visiting from Japan just for this class, and in addition to guest teaching we got to enjoy an exhibition of his work and other washi delights in the 7th floor gallery.  Entitled 「和紙・伝統と創造」 (Washi: Dentou and Souzou or “Washi Paper: Cultural Heritage and Artistic Creativity”), this exhibit introduces the history of traditional handmade washi, the aesthetic beauty of 切金(kirikane or metallic foil cut into strips or other shapes to form decorative motifs) through the subtle light reflected from foil, origami artwork, modern washi sculptures, and Suzuki Sensei’s calligraphy creations on handmade washi. It runs through February 24 with free admission and the gallery is open every day but Sunday, so make sure to check it out before it closes!
20170204_160148

One of Suzuki Sensei’s amazing works: 以花為師 (“Life lessons from flowers”). It reads from right to left, but is slightly cut off at start.