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4/20/2015 Japanese movies

Looks like it's time for another travelogue entry...

April 12th - 19th (Sunday - Sunday): HIFF Spring Showcase
HIFF stands for the Hawaii International Film Festival, which I attended back in November (see the entry for November 2nd). Well, while the main festival is in November, they have a small version in the spring. Much smaller (30 movies vs. around 200), but I still found a few things I wanted to see. So, like last time, here's short reviews of the movies I saw (all of which were Japanese).

Unsung Hero
Are you familiar with tokusatsu? It's a Japanese film genre. Specifically, the one where heroes in colorful body suits fight monsters (guys in big rubber suits). Ultra Man, Kamen Rider, and Power Ranger (well, sorta, but that's another subject) are all examples. That explanation out of the way, Unsung Hero isn't a tokusatsu movie. It's actually about a stunt man from a (fictional) tokusatsu series. See, the heroes of those shows often have two actors. The regular actor who plays the hero in his or her normal form, and the stunt man who plays their masked hero persona (hidden behind the suit and mask). The story follows a veteran stunt man who loves his job but always longed for a role where he could actually show his face on screen. Though that actually takes a backseat for the majority of the movie, which focuses on him training a talented by arrogant young actor. The story is fairly predictable, but it was fun to watch and offered a bit of a behind the scenes look at stunts and tokusatsu.

Midnight Diner
Based on a TV drama which was in turn based on a manga (neither of which I'm familiar with), Midnight Diner is about a small restaurant in Tokyo that doesn't open until midnight. It's a slice of life drama about the diner's customers and how, with the help of its owner, they work through different problems in their lives. The manga and TV influence is obvious, as the movie is broken up into several mostly independent stories. Some of those stories are better than others but, as a whole, it's a fairly enjoyable look at ordinary people helping each other with ordinary problems. Little bit of food mixed in there as well, though it's not really the focus (as opposed to, say, Little Forest). On a side note, as the entire movie takes place in Tokyo, I had fun trying to identify all the different shooting locations (I think I got most of them right).

Hello Junichi
The description called this a musical, which it really isn't (there's just one song and, aside from a few snippets, it isn't played until the end). That aside though, it's a cute comedy about a group of nine year olds. Junichi is the most timid member of his group of friends and can't seem to muster up the courage to return an eraser to the girl he likes. The others are dealing with various issues of their own but a new student teacher sets in motion a series of events which helps them become more confident and solve their problems. A couple of the problems are actually very serious but the movie never gets stays that way for long, always going back to an upbeat and light hearted tone. All the characters have overly extreme personalities, it tosses in some odd one-off scenes here and there, and I can honestly never quite buy the whole little kids in love thing (not just in this movie, but in general). But, that aside, it's a fun and moderately amusing movie.

When Marnie Was There
Marnie is the newest Ghibli movie. It's also the first one they made after Hayao Miyazaki's retirement and, possibly because of that, didn't do especially well in the Japanese box office (at least for a Ghibli movie). So I wasn't sure what to expect going in. Really though, I'm not sure why it didn't do better. The art and music are beautiful, as expected from a Ghibli movie, and, unlike Ghibli's rare past missteps, has a good story as well. Anna is a introverted and rather anti-social girl living in Tokyo. After a particularly bad asthma attack, she's sent to live with relatives in the country in hopes that the clean air will help her condition. While there, she meets and befriends Marnie, a mysterious foreign girl living in an equally mysterious mansion. Not to spoil much (you'll figure this out pretty early on), but When Marnie Was There is a ghost story, though not dark or sinister one. A little mysterious and melancholy, but touching as well. Honestly, I'd say it's one of the better non-Miyazaki Ghibli movies. I believe it will be getting a wider US release later in the year, and I recommend checking it out when it does.


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4/17/2015 Japanese BBQ

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And now for that restaurant review I didn't get to on Wednesday...

Restaurant Review: Gyu-Kaku
Type: Yakiniku
Location: Honolulu (Waikiki, Kapiolani, etc.)
The last time I got yakiniku was in Osaka. But it was only a matter of time before I tried out one of the places here on Oahu. For those not familiar with the term, yakiniku is the Japanese take on Korean BBQ. You order an assortment of meat and/or veggies and grill them at your table. As a note, if you haven't done it before, I'd recommend going with someone who has. If that's not an option, just keep a close eye on your grill to avoid burning anything.
Anyway, Gyu-Kaku is a fairly typical yakiniku place I went to the Kapiolani location, which is very nice restaurant with a clear Japanese vibe. The menu consists of a bunch of Japanese and Korean appetizers and a wide variety of veggies and thinly sliced meats to grill. They recommend 3 - 5 items per person, which sounds about right depending on the items and person in question. I got kalbi (Korean style beef ribs), harami (skirt steak), beef bacon, and some shiitake mushrooms, along with a plate of assorted kimchi. Some of the meats come already marinated, but they've got a selection of sauces on the side (with recommend pairings on the menu) as well. Both the meats and sauces were excellent. Though, as I mentioned, it's at least somewhat dependant on your own grilling skills. I was able to grill my own taiyaki for dessert too, which was a pleasant surprise.
I really have no complaints about Gyu-Kaku. Nice atmosphere, good food, and reasonable prices for yakiniku (though keep in mind that yakiniku is a little on the expensive side to begin with). Service was good too and I managed to get there are just the right time to avoid a wait (though I got lucky, it tends to get long lines during dinner time). I'm sure I'll be back again sooner or later.


4/15/2015 Scotland in Hawaii

More travelogue.

April 12th (Sunday): Scottish Festival
The Honolulu Greek Festival last fall came as a bit of a surprise, but not nearly as much as when I heard about the Scottish Festival. Of course, I had to check it out. It was actually at the same place as the Greek Festival was, the pavilion at the far end of Ala Moana Beach Park. Personally, I think the design of the place suited Greek culture a little better, but anyway... There were a few booths selling assorted Scottish items, a room with tables for various Scottish clans (who knew there were so many people of Scottish descent in Hawaii?), and some food, of course. I was a bit disappointed to see that the majority of the food wasn't Scottish, but I did get bridie, which is a sort of puff pasty with ground beef inside. Could have bought canned haggis too, but even if it wasn't $14 a can, I kinda of doubt I would have (maybe I'd try it in a good restaurant, but not canned). Inside the pavilion they had a highland dance competition going all day (for young girls and teens, from the look of it) and plenty of Scottish music. Speaking of music, here's something a little different. It's a kind old attempt at a Scottish Hawaiian song. Kinda weird, but amusing. Right outside the pavilion they were running a series of Scottish games. They included hammer throwing, weight tossing, and the famous caber toss. They had a few events for women too, like throwing frying pans and rolling pins (on that note, I wouldn't recommend angering a Scottish woman). Is it just me, or does every traditional Scottish sport seem to involve throwing heavy objects around? That weight tossing one especially looked dangerous since the goal is to toss it almost straight up and over the bar above your head. If it were me, I'd probably take off running the moment I threw the weight... The Society for Creative Anachronism had some fighting demos too, though that's not strictly Scottish.
In the end, I spent a fun two or three hours there. It's not one of the biggest festivals, but there's some good entertainment and it's definite change of pace from the usual Hawaiian and Asian style festivals they have around here.

Got a restaurant review to write too, but that'll have to wait. See you Friday!


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