So I’d like to couch the last paragraph of this post with this statement: I believe Ruth Ozeki’s “My Year of Meats” is absolutely 100% true! Sure, the author claims this is a novel, but I know better since her fictional documentary experiences mirror my own real-life ones. She’s completely accurate. MYOM is the absolute real deal of what it’s like to work with a Japanese film crew.
The Japanese director I work with is obsessed with food. His #1 obsession is Korean barbeque, and he will travel hours out of his way to try out a new Korean restaurant. Seriously. I have learned that food is essential to the greater experience of making any documentary. It’s not just sustenance. Crew meals are wielded as a means of control, power, pleasure, and punishment.
Which brings me to “Oni the Lonely” (a book I wrote with my husband, who also works on Japanese documentaries and is entirely familiar with the world-wide quest for Korean barbeque). It’s a vegan-centric novel with demons, Buddhism, and a teenage protagonist battling a voracious appetite for chicken nuggets – despite being raised as a strict cause-no-suffering-to-others vegetarian.
How important is food – and MEAT – in novels? In all my pursuits, it seems to be a central theme. It plays as large a role in real life as it does on the page. It is a means of control, power, pleasure and punishment. A way to torture our protagonists and ourselves.
So here’s my secret foodie observation of Japanese documentary film making: When a day of filming sucks and everything is going wrong, we eat like the kings of Korean Barbeque… but when everything is going well and we can’t get enough great footage, it’s hello dollar menu. I once fed a crew of 5 for $17 at a Burger King in Flushing, NY. On another great shooting day, we ate 99-cent slices of cheese pizza made with questionable dairy products. Our intestines all paid a hefty price for that success.
This leaves me wondering if there is a food god in Japan. When things go well, we tend to focus on the job (or life). But when things change for the worse, do we make Korean barbeque offerings to the food gods to adjust our fates? I’ll have to do more research.
Anyway, feast or famine, it all filters through to the page or screen eventually. Because it’s life, it’s passion, and it’s all good story telling. Right, Ms. Ozeki?
BLURB for ONI THE LONELY:
Mari Kato, 16, wants what everyone else her age wants: a driver’s license. Too bad a family curse, passed on by her Japanese-born Buddhist dad, who claims to be thousands of years old, transforms Mari into a flesh-eating Oni demon when she feels frustrated (like every time she gets behind the wheel). But when her geologist mom moves their vegan-lifestyle-obsessed family to Rock Creek, Mari stumbles upon the gates of Hell and a mining company plundering its depths. Add in an evil cheerleader determined to steal Mari’s first boyfriend and plunge the Earth into eternal darkness. Suddenly, getting the keys to the car isn’t as important as saving the world. Totally dealable… if she can find the courage to reveal her demon self.
Visit Jamie and learn more about her fiction and non-fiction books at http://jamiebrazil.com/