Brad Pitt and Quentin Tarantino: Cooking for Basterds

By Karen

On a recent trip to Japan I was channel surfing in my hotel. I usually want to be out and about while traveling, but Japanese television is famous for its unique window into the culture and the pretty constant rain was keeping me in a little more than usual. I know no Japanese past domo arigato. When I watch the Japanese language programing, I am for all intents and purposes deaf to verbal language and taking in all of my information in body language, visual cues and sound effects.

I watched two programs this way, guessing what the details might be, when I happened upon Brad Pitt and Quentin Tarantino promoting “Inglorious Basterds” while acting as judges for a Japanese cooking show. I was rapt. Not only was this unique (serious understatement), I was able to understand much of what was being said.

American celebrities have long promoted products and shows in markets where their work is pretty much lost to American view. The movie “Lost in Translation” opens a window into that world. Once, they were able to promote products in a way that would appeal to a foreign market and never worry about the impression that might give to American viewer because they would never see it back home. Globalization is making that harder and everything is heard ’round the world these days. I can appreciate how making this kind of a promotional tour is a difficult balancing act.

Brad Pitt was amazing, a perfect guest. I was distracted a bit by the prominent goatee and the heavy processed look to his beard and hair. Later, I noticed on US tabloids, that this, in a slightly less processed form, was his current look. I was not so distracted that I failed to notice how well he negotiated the task at hand. He was polite and respectful with perfect poise and seemed both comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. He was a complimentary and thorough judge of the food. Whether all of this was genuine, or whether he was acting, it was exactly what the occasion called for and it was fascinating.

Quentin Tarantino appeared to be completely at ease and a little hyper. He was enthusiastic about Japan and the food and completely without any appearance of self-consciousness. Tarantino is loved by peers, and all I could think as I watched was that if this man could be so successful, perhaps there was a place in the world for me too. Perhaps his presence was also a performance, a perfectly balanced contrast carefully contrived to appear anything but contrived.

The cooking show backstory with the flower filled backdrop was both substantive and superfluous. The food appeared to be 5-star from both contestants, but unlike most Japanese cooking shows, the camera was on the guest stars as the subject for almost all of the whirlwind program. There was a cutaway to a promo for the toy that shares one of the images with Tarantino above. I wondered if it was paid advertising. So far as I could tell, the sole prize for having won was promotional materials brought by Pitt and Tarantino.

One of the rewards of international travel is that you get to see ordinary everyday things through he prism of another culture. This program was the mother load in that respect. When two cultures interact this way, it reminds me of opposing mirrors with infinite reflections. Two months later I still remember a marketing promotion sought out to pass the time in a hotel room halfway ’round the world.


By Karen

I visited Japan a few days ahead of the Honda Grand Prix Hot Air Balloon Race in Tochigi Prefecture. The extra days helped me to get over jet lag, see a bit of the country and to keep up with some other obligations via the internet. I planned a day in Tokyo. I wanted to finally make it to Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market, but when I got there I stayed in the most public of places at the market and didn’t really get to see much. Tourists learned about it. They were not being attentive and getting in the way, so now the documentation asks that you stay away during those times when there is something happening to see, leaving nothing to draw me in when I am allowed to be there, and, unfortunately, that will remain an opportunity forever lost, since it has now moved. Shopping on the outskirts was nice and I did visit the nearby public garden, Hama-Rikyu, the only garden with tidal pools that remains in the city, and I took a boat ride up to Asakusa Temple. These few days, as it turned out became about finding the unexpected treasure.

Tokyo is such a mix. Miles and miles of similar buildings, one after another. Some have a simple understated Zen beauty with a mix of natural colors that highlights the elegance in simplicity to absolute perfection. Then, there is the contrast of the bright lights and showmanship in places like the Ginza where Mikimoto and other luxury retailers have flagship stores. One jewelry shop had an opulent fresh orchid display outside the store to greet customers. The whole strip sparkles, with Swarovski crystals, prices, and electricity. It is well enough lit to see and distinguish from space at night, a photographers dream from any angle or distance. Between the islands sophisticated beauty in Zen inspired design and the glitz and glamor of the Ginza lie mile after mile of undistinguished functional buildings. Concrete and high-rises cover the landscape in a banal blanket. As I left Tokyo on Shinkansen, the sky was dark and the train rushed by leaving sheets of rain and rows of buildings. The cloudy cold added to the drab. Tokyo has its appeal, but later, while I was far from this mega-city, was when all of the good memories from my trip of two years ago came flooding back. My day, like Tokyo, was filled with the occasional pearl.

When I got to the train station in Morioka, the rain was heavy. I would usually walk, but rented a taxi to take me a block so I could keep my suitcase out of the rain. I sat in the hotel and caught up on internet communications while I waited for the rain to quit. My room wasn’t ready and my emergency rain poncho was hiding in plain sight. I thought it wasn’t accessible. After watching through the window, I decided that the store that sold an umbrella couldn’t be too far away and I took off. While walking, a friendly gentleman put his umbrella over us both and came along with me as I made my way to an umbrella of my own. We couldn’t actually talk to each other, but it wasn’t hard for him to tell what my goal was, and kindness is the best of universal languages. The kindness of strangers is the reason travel heartens the soul. That was the first gem of my day.

Shortly after I got my umbrella, the rain stopped. It happened just as I reached the ruins of the local castle, and there was the next gem. The fall color was past peak, but those leaves that remained were in glorious color, the occasional bright yellow Ginko accenting the garden landscape as the Ginza accents the cityscape. The rain had knocked a bright carpet of fresh leaves on the ground. I took out the camera and finally started acting like a tourist. I could even see the mountains, or at least part of them in the distance, a classic cinder cone shape peeking out from behind clouds.

Maples and Ginko

Maples and Ginko


Fall Vegetables and Edible Mums

Fall Vegetables and Edible Mums



There were open air markets in covered areas where I bought crisp mountain apples and tangerines. The market had a variety of items that would be unusual in most US markets, edible flowers and ferns, a purple cauliflower. All in all it was a pretty good day. Sometimes it is the unexpected gem, the one sparkling in the darkness that shines brightest.