How the Astonishing Sushi Scene in Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs Was Animated: A Time-Lapse of the Month-Long Shoot

Since the moviegoing public first started hearing it twenty years ago, Wes Anderson's name has been a byword for cinematic meticulousness. The association has only grown stronger with each film he's made, as the live-action ones have featured increasingly complex ships, trains, and grand hotels — to say nothing of the costumes worn and accoutrements possessed by the characters who inhabit them — and the stop-motion animated ones have demanded a superhuman attention to detail by their very nature. It made perfect sense when it was revealed that Isle of Dogs, Anderson's second animated picture, would take place in Japan: not only because of Japanese film, which opens up a vast field of new cinematic references to make, but also because of traditional Japanese culture, whose meticulousness matches, indeed exceeds, Anderson's own.

Most of us first experience that traditional Japanese meticulousness through food. And so most of us will recognize the form of the bento, or meal in a box, prepared step-by-step before our eyes in Isle of Dogs, though we may never before have witnessed the actual process of carving up the wriggling, scurrying sea creatures that fill it.




One viewing of this 45-second shot is enough to suggest how much work must have gone into it, but this time-lapse of its 32-day-long shoot (within a longer seven-month process to make the entire sequence) reveals the extent of the labor involved. In it you can see animators Andy Biddle (who'd previously worked on Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, and before that his animated The Fantastic Mr. Fox) and Tony Farquhar-Smith painstakingly positioning and repositioning each and every one of the bento's ingredients — all of which had to be specially made to look right even when chopped up and sliced open — as well as the disembodied hands of the sushi master preparing them.

Shooting stop-motion animation takes a huge amount of time, and so does making sushi, as anyone who has tried to do either at home knows. Performing the former to Andersonian standards and the latter to Japanese standards hardly makes the tasks any easier. But just as a well crafted bento provides an enjoyable and unified aesthetic experience, one that wouldn't dare to remind the consumer of how much time and effort went into it, a movie like Isle of Dogs provides thrills and laughs to its viewers who only later consider what it must have taken to bring such an elaborate vision to life on screen. If you want to hear more about the demands it made on its animators, have a look at the Variety video above, in which Andy Gent, head of Isle of Dogs' puppet department, explains the process and its consequences. "It took three animators, because it broke quite a few people to get it through the shot," he says. "Seven months later, we end up with one minute of animation." But that minute would do even the most exacting sushi master proud.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch Andy Warhol Eat an Entire Burger King Whopper–While Wishing the Burger Came from McDonald’s (1981)

In the early 1980s, Danish experimental filmmaker Jørgen Leth came to America intent on capturing it live as it was actually lived across that vast, still-new, and often strange country. The result, 66 Scenes from America, offers images of roadside motels and diners, desert landscapes, the Manhattan skyline, miles of lonely highway, and stars and stripes aplenty. Halfway through it all comes the longest, and perhaps most American, scene of all: Andy Warhol eating a fast-food hamburger. A few moments after he accomplishes that task, he delivers the film's most memorable line by far: "My name is Andy Warhol, and I just finished eating a hamburger."

"Leth did not know Warhol, but he was a bit obsessed with him so he definitely wanted to have him in his movie," writes DailyArt's Zuzanna Stanska. And so when Leth came to New York, he simply showed up at Warhol's Factory and pitched him the idea of consuming a "symbolic" burger on film. "Warhol immediately liked the idea and agreed to the scene – he liked it because it was such a real scene, something he would like to do."




When Warhol showed up at the photo studio Leth had set up to shoot the scene, complete with a variety of fast-food hamburgers from which he could choose, he had only one question: "Where is the McDonald's?" Leth hadn't thought to pick one up from the Golden Arches as well, not knowing that Warhol considered McDonald's packaging "the most beautiful."

Warhol had a deep interest in American brands. "What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest," he wrote in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. "You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good." Surely the same could be said of any particular fast-food burger, even if Warhol couldn't have his preferred brand on that particular day in New York in 1981. In the event, he chose a Whopper from Burger King, still a well-known brand if hardly as iconic as McDonald's — or, for that matter, as iconic as Warhol himself.

Above, you can see Leth talking years later about his experience filming Warhol.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Celebrate Emily Dickinson’s 188th Birthday with Her Own Cake Recipes: Coconut Cake, Gingerbread, Doughnuts & More

Happy Emily Dickinson Day!

What are you doing to celebrate the poet’s 188th birthday?

The Emily Dickinson Museum took advantage of the weekend to celebrate the occasion a couple of days early with Victorian crafts, readings, festive piano music, a display exploring the Dickinson family's gift-giving tradition, and slices of coconut cake, baked from the birthday girl’s own recipe.




Given the Belle’s penchant for home-baked goodies, we’re dispensing with the more high-minded endeavors to concentrate on the sweet side of this literary holiday.

LitHub reports that

...whenever Dickinson saw children playing in her family gardens, “she headed for the pantry, filled a basket with cookies or slices of cake—often gingerbread—carried it upstairs to a window in the rear of the house (so their mothers wouldn’t see), and attached the basket to a rope to slowly lower it to the “storm-tossed, starving pirates” or the “lost, roaming circus performers” eagerly waiting below.

Truly, we owe it to her to return the favor.

Shall we start with some Emily Dickinson doughnuts?

Like many experienced home cooks of the period, Dickinson’s instructions are a bit vague. She seems to have gotten the recipe from an acquaintance named Kate, jotting down measurements and ingredients, after which, she knew what to do.

If you’ve never worked with yeast before, you might want to proceed straight to her Black Cake recipe…

Or not. You may have 5 pounds of raisins on hand, but this is no spur-of-the-moment recipe.

As librarians Heather Cole, Emilie Hardman, and Emily Walhout demonstrate below, this whopper needs to spend 3 weeks wrapped in a brandy-soaked cheesecloth after it comes out of the oven.

Onward then to Miss Dickinson’s gingerbread.

As if those with December birthdays aren’t overshadowed enough by the tyranny of Christmas! Must their special day’s cake flavor be dictated by that big gorilla too? (For those who say yes, Rosa Lillo of Pemberley Cup and Cakes breaks the recipe down 21st-century style, adding a simple icing sugar glaze and an embossed floral pattern.)

Perhaps that famous coconut cake really is the best choice for observing Emily Dickinson Day.

See if you can detect a note of inspiration in that buttery flavor. As was her habit, Dickinson flipped the scrap of paper on which she’d listed the ingredients, and pencilled in the beginnings of a poem:

The Things that never can come back, are several —

Childhood — some forms of Hope — the Dead —

Though Joys — like Men — may sometimes make a Journey —

And still abide —

We do not mourn for Traveler, or Sailor,

Their Routes are fair —

But think enlarged of all that they will tell us

Returning here —

"Here!" There are typic "Heres" —

Foretold Locations —

The Spirit does not stand —

Himself — at whatsoever Fathom

His Native Land —

Those whose Emily Dickinson Day gift giving list includes a poetry lover / amateur cook may wish to stuff their stockings with a copy of the 1976 book Emily Dickinson: Profile of the Poet as Cook with Selected Recipes.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City through December 20th in the 10th anniversary production of Greg Kotis’ apocalyptic holiday tale, The Truth About Santa, and tonight, as the host of the book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The First House Powered by Coffee

Since 2006, Dunkin' Donuts has used the tagline "America Runs on Dunkin'," presumably alluding to the coffee and donuts that get millions of Americans through each morning. But maybe, all along, they've had something more in mind. Above, Dunkin' presents a tiny home powered by biofuel made from spent coffee grounds, a process masterminded by a company called Blue Marble Biomaterials. Working with luxury tiny homebuilder New Frontier Tiny Homes, they've created a process--notes a Dunkin' press release--that works something like this:

  • Step 1: Extract excess oils in the spent coffee grounds. There can be natural oils left in spent coffee grounds, all depending on the coffee bean type and original processing methods.
  • Step 2: Mix and react. These oils are then mixed with an alcohol to undergo a chemical reaction known as transesterification. This produces biodiesel and glycerin as a byproduct.
  • Step 3: Refine. The biodiesel is washed and refined to create the final product.

When all is said and done, 170 pounds of used coffee grounds translates into one gallon of fuel. From 65,000 pounds of coffee grounds, you got enough juice to power a 275 square foot home, at least for a while.

Take a 360 degree interactive tour of the tiny home here.

via New Atlas

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The Disgusting Food Museum Curates 80 of the World’s Most Repulsive Dishes: Maggot-Infested Cheese, Putrid Shark & More

Often we get to know each other by talking which foods we like. Perhaps even more often, we get to know each other by talking about which foods we hate. Entertaining disagreements tend to arise from such discussions, usually around traditionally divisive comestibles like anchovies, cilantro, brussel sprouts, or the Japanese dish of fermented soybeans known as natto. But however many of us prefer to avoid them, these foods all look more or less conventional compared to the dishes curated by the Disgusting Food Museum, which the Washington Post's Maura Judkis describes as "the world’s first exhibition devoted to foods that some would call revolting."

"The exhibit has 80 of the world’s most disgusting foods," says the museum's official site. Adventurous visitors will appreciate the opportunity to smell and taste some of these notorious foods. Do you dare smell the world’s stinkiest cheese? Or taste sweets made with metal cleansing chemicals?" Judkis notes that "the museum’s name and its contents are pretty controversial — one culture’s disgusting is another culture’s delicacy.




That goes for escamoles, the tree-ant larvae eaten in Mexico, or shirako, the cod sperm eaten in Japan, or bird’s nest soup, a Chinese dish of nests made from bird saliva." It all goes to emphasize the Disgusting Food Museum's stated premises: "Disgust is one of the six fundamental human emotions. While the emotion is universal, the foods that we find disgusting are not. What is delicious to one person can be revolting to another."

With interest in food seemingly at an all-time high — and not just food, but traditional food from all around the world — the cultural studies wing of academia has begun to get serious mileage out of that proposition. But the Disgusting Food Museum has taken on a less intellectual and much more visceral mission, placing before its visitors durian fruit, banned from many a public space across Asia for its sheer stinkiness; casu marzu, which the museum's site describes as "maggot-infested cheese from Sardinia"; and hákarl, which Judkis describes as "a putrid shark meat dish from Iceland that the late Anthony Bourdain said was one of the worst things he had ever tasted."

You can learn more about these and the Disgusting Food Museum's other offerings from the Associated Press video at the top of the post, as well as at Smithsonian and the New York Times. If you'd like to see, smell, and even taste some of its exhibits for yourself, you'll have to make the trek out to Malmö, Sweden. The project comes from the mind of Samuel West, a Swede best known for creating the Museum of Failure (previously featured here on Open Culture), whose half-American parentage has made him familiar with several items of U.S. cuisine that gross out non-Americans, from Spam to Jell-O pasta salad (shades of James Lileks' midcentury midwest-focused Gallery of Regrettable Food) to Rocky Mountain oysters. Despite being American myself, I've never known anyone who likes that last, a dish made of bull testicles, or at least no one has ever admitted to me that they like it. But if someone did, I'd certainly feel as if I'd learned something about them.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Wagashi: Peruse a Digitized, Centuries-Old Catalogue of Traditional Japanese Candies

If you've been to Japan, or even to any of the Japanese neighborhoods in cities around the world, you've seen wagashi (和菓子). You've probably, at least for a moment, marveled at their appearance as well: though essentially nothing more than sweet treats, they're made with such striking variety and refinement that you might hesitate to bite into them.

First created in the 16th century, when trade with China made sugar into a staple in Japan, wagashi have developed into one of the country's signature delicacies, appreciated for their taste but beloved for their form. You can browse and download a three-volume catalog of wagashi designs, itself centuries old, at the web site of Japan's National Diet Library: volume one, volume two, volume three.

The site also has a special section about wagashi, though in Japanese only. The catalog itself, of course, also contains text in no other language, but wagashi isn't about words.




Even without knowing Japanese, you can flip through each volume's pages (volume one - volume two - volume three) and recognize the look of dozens of sweets you've seen or maybe even sampled in real life, where their colors may well look even more vivid than on the page.

Like most realms of traditional Japanese culture, wagashi demands painstaking craftsmanship. Often brought out at festivals and given as gifts, it also celebrates different aspects of Japan: its seasons, its landscapes, chapters of its history, and even its works of literature. Some wagashi designs do this abstractly, while others lean toward the representative, replicating real sights and symbols in a form both recognizable and edible.

Many wagashi, as Boing Boing's Andrea James writes, "still look the same as they did hundreds of years ago when the art form flourished in the Edo period" of the 17th and 18th century. Instagram, as she points out, has proven a natural online home for not just the kind of traditional wagashi seen in these catalogs but designs that pay tribute to figures of more recent vintage, such as Rilakkuma and the aliens from Toy Story.

And though Halloween may not be an originally Japanese holiday, it hasn't stopped modern wagashi-makers from bringing out the ghosts, skulls, and jack-o-lanterns in force.

via BoingBoing

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How the Ancient Mayans Used Chocolate as Money

We've had hundreds and hundreds of years to get used to money in the form of coins and bills, though exactly how long we've used them varies quite a bit from region to region. Of course, some spots on the globe have yet to adopt them at all, as anyone who's heard the much-told story of the Yap islanders and their huge limestone discs knows. But the history of money is, in essence, the history of bartering — trading something you have for something you want — becoming more and more abstract; now, with digital crypto-currencies like Bitcoin, it looks like money will ascend one level of abstraction higher. But to imagine what a truly non-abstract currency looks like, just look at the ancient Mayan civilization, the members of which paid their debts with chocolate.

"The ancient Maya never used coins as money," writes Science's Joshua Rapp Learn. "Instead, like many early civilizations, they were thought to mostly barter, trading items such as tobacco, maize, and clothing." Thanks to the work of archaeologist Joanne Baron, a scholar of murals, ceramic paintings, carvings and other objects depicting life in the Classic Maya period which ran from around 250 BC to 900 AD, we've now begun to learn how chocolate took on a major, money-like role in the Maya's economy.




Some images depict cups of chocolate itself, which the Mayans usually enjoyed in the form of a hot drink, being accepted as payment, and others show chocolate traded in the coin-like form of "fermented and dried cacao beans." In many scenes, Maya leaders receive their tributes (or taxes) most often in the form of "pieces of woven cloth and bags labeled with the quantity of dried cacao beans they contain."

Cacao beans eventually became such a valuable currency "that it was evidently worth the trouble to counterfeit them," writes Smithsonian's Josie Garthwaite in an article about the early history of chocolate (a subject about which you can learn more in the TED-ed video above). "At multiple archaeological sites in Mexico and Guatemala," she quotes anthropologist Joel Palka as saying, "researchers have come across remarkably well-preserved 'cacao beans'" that turn out to be made of clay. "Some scholars believe drought led to the downfall of the Classic Maya civilization," Learn notes, and according to Baron, "the disruption of the cacao supply which fueled political power may have led to an economic breakdown in some cases." That may sound strangely familiar to those of us who — even here in the 21st century, among the many who have gone nearly cashless and may soon not even need a credit card — have breakdowns of our own when we can't get our chocolate.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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