Too Much Salt in Your Popcorn? No, Those Are Just Your Tears
“Like Father, Like Son” (2013)
“Like Father, Like Son” (2013) (“Soshite chichi ni naru”) is an extremely touching Japanese film by director Hirokazu Koreeda about what it truly means to be a family. Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama) and his wife Midori(Machiko Ono) are confronted with the awful news that their six-year-old son, Keita, might not actually be their biological child; he may have been switched with another boy at birth. From then on, the narrative poses the question, “is it in the blood?”
This brings up the issue of “old” ideas versus “new” ideas in Japanese culture. The idea of “old” and “new” is a conversation that has been going on for a while in Japanese society, with the younger generation being fairly critical of the older generation’s unwillingness to change and the older generation criticizing the younger generation for not sticking with traditional Japanese ideas and behavior. This has even come into play in politics, as very conservative Japanese politicians will tend to criticize younger generations for becoming too “Americanized” and losing their “traditional” Japanese morals. Ryota’s father, who, sticking with “old” ideas, tells him that “for humans and horses, it’s all in the blood.” Ryota’s stepmother, a believer in the “new,” tells him that being a parent isn’t only about blood.
Other prevalent themes that addresses the “old” and the “new” are class and the work/life balance. When the Nonomiyas meet the family with whom their child was switched with all those years ago, Yudai (Lily Franky) and Yukari Sakai (Yoko Maki), there is a striking difference between the family dynamics. The Nonomiyas live in a beautiful and spacious apartment right in the middle of Tokyo (and can even see the Tokyo Sky Tree from their apartment window) and drive a very nice car. The Sakais live in a much more down-to-earth home that is attached to the tiny hardware store that they own, the store itself being in a small town a few hours away from Tokyo (Ryota at one point calls the Sakais “country bumpkins”). While Ryota believes himself to be the superior father because he earns more and can therefore provide more for his family, Yudai shows that what is most important is actually spending time and playing with one’s children.
“Like Father, Like Son” is visually very sharp and detailed, which I really think compliments the movie’s serious and realistic approach to the issues tackled. It really touched on all of the social anxieties that surround the construction of “family,” and especially the work/life balance that is a real concern in modern Japanese society. The best thing is that it does so in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s an easy way out of addressing this problem. There is no quick and simple ending, but instead a very real and difficult conclusion that makes it all the more beautiful.
Another recommended Japanese film that addresses these same themes (work/life balance and the importance of being “blood” related) is “Bunny Drop” (2011) (“Usagi Doroppu”). Although it tackles similar conversations about family, it does so in a much more idealized and less realistic form. Not to say that “Bunny Drop” doesn’t have its serious and tear-jerker moments, but it would be a good film to watch in conjunction with “Like Father, Like Son” to see how two different movies deal with the same issues.
What do we really know about the ground we walk on?
Illustration by Jordan Whitney Martin
When I was a kid, I was a full fledged, sash-wearing, cookie-selling Girl Scout. For two weeks of every summer and countless weekends, I spent time at Camp Welaka, a small site located on the outskirts of the larger Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Hobe Sound, Florida. The camp consisted of army surplus tents mounted on raised platforms to protect us from the seasonal flooding on a sandy terrain speckled with pine trees and palmetto bushes made humid by the Loxahatchee River snaking through the grounds. Each summer spiders and mosquitoes feast on hapless campers only to be killed en masse as trucks spraying pesticides drive along the dirt roads of the camp. One summer my girl scout best friend and I noticed strange red lights emanating from across the park. We devised fantastical stories to explain the glow in the night sky, stories of Red Martians and the invasion of the rival Boy Scout’s Camp Tanah Keeta. As the years passed, the red glow became accepted, and like the trucks of pesticide, was not discussed.
C + -Au
Graphite, Distemper and Gold Pencil on Paper, 2013
Sarah Knudtson //photos courtesy of the artist
Flash forward a decade or so, to my stint as a K-12 drawing teacher. I was reassuring a young pupil that she would not get lead poisoning from the shiny grey smears on her hands, and had the realization that although I knew that pencils were graphite and not lead, I didn’t actually know their history. I looked into it. The process started benignly enough, with a history that involved shepherds marking their sheep and graphite’s amazing properties as a cannonball lubricant. From there I began to make drawings that toyed with these histories. Following the trail from artistic to industrial uses, I started playing with its conductivity. This resulted in drawings that, with the help of electric currents, lit up LEDs. Wanting to explore this material further, I stumbled across an article that mentioned graphite was used in nuclear reactors. I do not pretend to understand nuclear fission, or for that matter life in general, but I do know that the very first reactor ever built used 771,000 pounds of graphite, which equates to a shit ton of drawings by third graders. This discovery was congruent with my arrival in Chicago, the home of that very heavy first reactor, known the world over as Chicago Pile One, CP1 to it’s friends. It was built in a squash court under the football field at the University of Chicago in 1942, but by 1943 the reactor moved to it’s current location in Red Gate Woods.
Infrared Stereoscopic Digital Photograph, 2013
Sarah Knudtson //photos courtesy of the artist
Part of the Cook County Forest Preserve, Red Gate is located just outside of the city. Marked by two monuments reminiscent of gravestones are Plot M, the first nuclear waste pile, and Site A, commemorating the burial site of the reactor. I was intrigued that these sites, visible scars on the landscape, are located within a nature preserve. Researching Red Gate Woods led me to look into the history of other parks and preserves. What I discovered was that many parks also share histories complicated by government regulations that seesaw between masking and exposing the manufacturing refuse of the past.
While digging through Chicago’s industrial burial grounds, I recalled those lights that in my youth I had attributed to boy-scout-abducting aliens. Prior to being a Florida State Park, the Jonathan Dickinson grounds had been Camp Murphy, a World War II training ground for the then highly classified radar system. In its heyday the site was made up of one thousand buildings, including a bowling alley. Remnants of those buildings can still be seen on the landscape. It turns out that in the mid 80s the state of Florida sold a parcel of land back to the federal government to build the Jonathan Dickinson Missile Tracking Annex. Atop a large microwave tower protruding from the northern section of the park was the source of the lights that had appeared that summer.
Even though I cannot visit these sites in person, I have developed a way of exploring them visually. Delving into materials made available by the Freedom of Information Act to question the shift that occurs when a place goes from restricted to public access, I create physical remnants of the unseen. In hand-drawn, layered photographic maps I ask, “What do we really know about the ground we walk on?”
Wandering Around the West Loop’s Gallery Season Openings
There were some murmurs that the September 6th Chicago gallery openings didn’t have the same hype from years past. Indeed, information about what could have potentially been an important night in the life of a local gallery was scant even on the Internet. Could EXPO CHICAGO, the largest art fair in the Midwest happening later this month, have stolen some of the thunder of Friday’s events? Have certain notable galleries put all of their exhibition eggs into the EXPO basket? Is the gallery system simply changing as curated commodities move online? A stroll through the West Loop that night seemed decidedly anticlimactic, like an average Second Friday art opening event that galleries in the neighborhood host each month during the season.
Michiko Itatani, “Cosmic Wanderlust” painting from Virtual Eitoku, 2013, 96”x154”, Sumi ink & oil on canvas (courtesy of Linda Warren Projects)
The first stop was Linda Warren Projects on North Aberdeen, with one of the most impressive, if not the most interesting, exhibitions in the neighborhood. Works from SAIC’s own Michiko Itatani’s “Cosmic Kaleidoscope” fill both rooms in the gallery with Baroque interiors empolying with a sci-fi twist. Here, alien concert halls and huge parlors with fantastical chandeliers really are, well, “cosmic.” A strange theme emerges in a majority of the works: floating rings of glowing blue orbs situated in the lower middle of the paintings. It’s easy to feel like a part of Itatani’s works, most of which are on eight-by-six canvases; without a single figure in any of them, they seem an invitation to enter the artist’s reality. But, the reoccurring glowing orb design stops us, not as if it were blocking entry into one of her scenes, but rather more like the distraction of a superfluous detail on an otherwise excellent creation; the small design takes away the viewer’s interest in the whole. A highlight of the opening was Ms. Warren herself because her enthusiasm for the work was very apparent.
Michiko Itatani, “Cosmic Wanderlust” painting from CTRL-HOME, Echo CRH-11, 2012, 78″ x 96″, oil on canvas (courtesy of Linda Warren Projects)
Itatani’s paintings were infinitely more thoughtful than “Wisconessee,” Duncan R. Anderson and Daniel Bruttig’s creations down the street at Kasia Kay Art Projects, but their A/C was pumping and the gallery felt great. There was even some taxidermy. “Alter,” a study by Bruttig in cuckoo clocks is especially architectural; the chopped-up donor clocks had been fitted together in a grand repurposing of Bavarian folk design. Childish-chic monochromatic drawings of wolves, among other things, fill out the rest of the show.
Across the street at Design Cloud, a welcome surprise. Robert Burnier’s “Things That Can Be Mistaken For Plans” represents a detailed, methodical and intuitive practice. It includes a variety of explorations with folded cardboard, aluminum and plastics, in addition to other media. In “Ten,” Burnier decorated a square piece of plywood about two feet across with hundreds of parallel but jagged ballpoint pen lines. The result is a fine, exquisite texture, and though the lines run off the edges of the piece, the lack of contrast between the ink and its background keeps the work self-contained. The piece is a rare case in which both admiration at a distance and close-up examinations are equally gratifying. One of Design Cloud’s designers mentioned that the gallery space is actually a side project of the design studio’s main work. During the day, the space is filled with desks and chairs, but once a month, a different guest curator puts a show together as part of a curatorial residency, turning the office into a contemporary art gallery for one night.
Some blocks away, Western Exhibitions, Paris London Hong Kong and Document in the 845 West Washington Street Building. It was disappointing to see that Kavi Gupta had no opening on this night and bewildering that Carrie Secrist was already closed at 7:30pm. Michael Genovese showed “Joliet” at Paris London Hong Kong, and although just barely evocative of the strange beauty of cracks in porcelain, frozen water or a windshield, the thin, jagged lines of nickel-plated steel seem like ideas not fully realized. What he says with the decision to place them as accents to the room is perhaps simply lost on us.
But, Genovese’s work at least provokes consideration of such things, whereas the works on display at Western Exhibitions and Document did not warrant further note. Making it to the top of the building, we came upon Volume Gallery’s intriguing and delightful show of Jonathan Muecke’s postmodern furniture designs, “Open Objects.” Two of the five pieces on display take to task our preconceived notions around touching things in galleries. That gallery’s director explained that all of the pieces in the show are functional, such as a beautifully crafted wooden bench cradling several gallery-goers. Adjacent to that, a tall and spindly metal table with a drastically uneven surface had a group of men standing around it, itching to set their PBRs somewhere on top. Muecke’s piece, much like the West Loop’s contributions to the gallery opening event, made them unsure whether to engage with it or abandon it.
Amandla Stenberg stars as 'Rue' in THE HUNGER GAMES. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
Is America showing its true colors on the issue of skin color? I think it is. Recently a much anticipated blockbuster movie, “The Hunger Games”, written by Suzanne Collins and directed by Gary Ross, has been coming under scrutiny from die-hard “fans”. A significant number of these “fans” have been very upset with the casting choices of some of the series’ most important roles. The characters, Cinna, Thresh, and Rue all have something in common, they are played by black actors, and that is causing an uproar.
If these were real “fans” they would know that the characters Thresh and Rue are actually black or minority characters according to the novel. The book clearly states in the book on page 45, the description of Rue:
“And most hauntingly, a twelve-year-old girl from District 11. She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that she’s very like Prim in size and demeanor…”
Later there is a description of Thresh: “ the boy tribute from District 11, Thresh, has the same dark skin as Rue, but the resemblance stops there. He’s one of the giants, probably six and half feet tall and built like an ox.”
The funny thing about these “fans” is their pure lack of basic reading comprehension, because the author clearly states that these two characters have “dark” skin. To be fair, dark skin could mean any minority, really— Asian, Latin, Indian, or Black—but the author Suzanne Collins did an interview in April 2011 with Entertainment Weekly stating, “They’re African American.” This was about the characters Thresh and Rue.
Not only are the characters described in the novel, but also the author states herself that the characters are African American. What’s even more ironic is that the book is set in a post-apocalyptic world where there has been “a lot of ethnic mixing.” This is interesting, considering one theme of the book is how people beneath the government are all in the same position whether they are the same color or if they are a variety of different colors. But instead of taking in the strong multi- and post- racial themes of the book the “fans” are spreading hate all over Twitter:
“Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the blonde innocent girl you picture”—Aiana Paui, via Twitter.
“I was pumped about the Hunger Games. Until I learned that a Black girl was playing Rue.”—John Knox IV, via Twitter.
And the most blatantly racist “Sense when has Rue been a n—–.” —Cliff Kigar, via Twitter.
What is truly unnerving is the fact that for once a director finally cast the characters the way they were portrayed and described in the novel, and people have the nerve to bitch about it. Additionally, the minority actors have roles that are not as demeaning as traditional “black” roles. They are not stereotypes or caricatures of black people, which is a refreshing change from what Hollywood usually throws at us. Most of the time, unless the actor is Will Smith, Denzel Washington, or Halle Berry, they end up being a racist stereotype of how black people really “are.” Unfortunately, minorities whether, Asian, Latin, Indian or African, are portrayed as stereotypes. As the media continue to perpetuate these ideas, it is very hard for people to truly let go of their prejudices. I wholeheartedly believe that if the media and Hollywood let go of their racial biases, then so will America.
Although this is very upsetting, it is very impressive to see the different actors and actresses from “The Hunger Games” speaking out against the racism and backlash and supporting how great of a film and novel The Hunger Games is. It is truly disappointing and disturbing to realize that racism to this extent still exists, especially since it is 2012.
Introduction by Ziyuan Wang
As the full-fledged Occupy movement disseminates its seeds from Wall Street to every major city in the country the founding spirit of a democratic America seems lost in the volatile class war. The Tea Party called on us to “ take back America.” But whose America is it? Have we lost sight of what the Real America looks like?
The America we know doesn’t only exist in grand political gestures and promises. It’s a time for artists to take on the role of voicing our hopes and concerns. Through these short stories, we can have a glimpse of the real “Americanness” revealed in small moments of joy, of celebration, of despair, and of revelation.
“FREE CONDOMS!” Shouts Jerome. “FREE LUBE, FREE DENTAL DAMS, FREE FEMALE CONDOMS!” He continues as a flock of young people empties his hands of the contraceptives. Most people are hesitant to take free condoms and lube from a strange teenager on North State Street, but those who do aren’t just helping themselves, but a whole movement.
The movement came to a bit of a halt, as a man claiming to be a police officer threatened to get a group of about eight of us thrown in jail, for not having a permit to give out free condoms on the street.
I knew I would be in for a treat when I met Jerome, after he first introduced himself to me on Facebook with less of an about me and more of an about condoms introduction. “I have about 500 male and female condoms that I’m bringing with me to Chicago…(not for my own personal use of course, but to give away to students who need them),” Now of course he also told my other roommate and I about his love for Kid Cudi, but the condoms were all that I got out of his message. So why is an 18 year-old SAIC student giving out 500 condoms every chance he gets? Simple, Jerome works with a multitude of non-profit organizations that promote safe sex and teen pregnancy prevention, the largest of which is Advocates for Youth.
I had to know why Jerome was so involved with these programs and as soon as he responded, “There’s a stipend of a $100 dollars a month, man, haha” I wanted in on it too. Of course my reason was more for the money, Jerome went on to say that, “I started out for the money, but then as I got more into the program I learned that the movement [for safe sex education] was really needed especially in the South, where some of the highest rates of teen pregnancies across America are present.”
After a lot of talk about condoms, some late night homework and some more safe sex discussion I convinced him to talk a midnight trek with me to Taco Bell. As we walked at a brisk pace to make get to our destination before they closed, I questioned on. I tried my best to refrain from more questions about condoms, so I asked him if he could describe his exuberant clothing style (without using exuberant), he replied, “Colorful, hipster and Urban Outfitters.” I quickly responded with, “Urban Outfitters and hipster is the same thing though,” only to receive a irritated, “Douche bag. They’re not the same. No.” I guess he knows better then me since he used to work at the Urban Outfitters in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.
“There’s no way were getting there before they close,” a concerned and cold Jerome exclaimed to me as we approached a blocked off street. “We’ll just take a right, then a left, then another left and will be fine, don’t worry, Jerome.” I tried to get a little deeper with my questions trying to uncover the juicy stuff. I went with, “Jerome, can you tell me you’re coming out story?” with a bit of hesitation and a giggle he agreed. “So when I was still questioning my sexuality and didn’t really know any gay men, I started posting ads on craigslist.” I braced for the most ridiculous story and it was a good thing I did. “I would post those m4m personal ads, with just a simple about me, a picture of me and a picture of my penis.” This is when he really started to smile and laugh, once he collected himself he kept up and this came out (no pun intended), “I was going into my Junior year of high school when I was doing it, and cops constantly monitor those posts so no minors post and nothing bad happens. So the cop that stumbled upon my posts was a friend of my mom’s and he printed everything out, showed it to her and that’s how I came out to my mom and then everyone else.” I paused in amazement because that was the best coming out story I had ever heard, and then laughed a bit. We trekked forward.
I asked him what the best condom distribution experience he had was and he responded, “Every time a young couple takes them, because I know they’re going to be safe, and that’s exactly what our mission is.” He says, “The time that police officer or whatever he was told us to move, that was bullshit, it’s not illegal to hand out condoms in Chicago or even Illinois, it was just bullshit.” As we arrived at our destination I asked him if he would have done anything differently he replied, “I did what I had to do, facing a possible arrest and the possibility of losing my SAIC scholarship, I did what I had to do, but I wish I would’ve stayed.”
After a meal of Taco Bell for me and Popeyes for Jerome we headed back to the dorms. When we got to our room it was no less then five minutes that a group of guys knocked on the door and asked for condoms. The sign on our dorm for free condoms attracts a lot of late night attention. They came in and snagged a handful each. I asked them what they thought about Jerome’s distribution and they all had positive replies.
“Man, condoms are way to expensive, so this is awesome!”
“You gotta protect yourself!”
A Lil Wayne quote was blurted out too, “Safe sex is great sex, better wear a latex, cause you don’t want that late text, that I think I’m late text.”
Since it was already passed 1 a.m. I threw a few more questions at him, Jerome’s dream job is to be a advertising designer and he hopes the Visual Communications program here at SAIC will help him reach his goal. My final question was, “How is it being a gay black man in today’s society?” Jerome gave me a two part response: “It’s better being a gay black man now, we’ve made strides as a community to overcome HIV/AIDS epidemic, but it can get better, but I am a proud gay black man, but that’s not all that I am.”
Jerome is a man beyond the free condoms that he is known for; he is an artist, an avid Kid Cudi fan and an awesome roommate and friend.