Theater: “Banana Boys” at the Factory Theatre Toronto (review)

Nina Lee Aquino gets great performances out of her cast in Factory Theatre's latest production of Banana Boys, writes Richard Ouzounian.

The Star (by Richard Ouzounian):

There are at least 10 reasons you ought to go see the new production of Banana Boys that opened at the Factory Theatre Studio Theatre on Thursday night. Since the venue is small (100 seats) and the run short (until Nov. 22), I suggest you plan to see it right away. Here’s why:

The Script

Leon Aureus’s adaptation of the game-changing Terry Woo novel about the lives of five Asian Canadians still has all the punch it ever did. Maybe even more so, as people today assimilate externally while their internal workings remain truer to their origins than ever. The end of each act may still seem a bit repetitious, but the overall effect is powerful.

The Direction

I’ve been pretty tough on Nina Lee Aquino in recent years, but her direction of Banana Boys shows her at her best. She’s totally connected to the material, gets great performances out of her cast and stages it in a really imaginative way. It looks very 2015, which is just the right idea.

Darrel Gamotin

He plays Sheldon Kwan, the guy who’s says he’s willing to give up everything for the right girl but proves better at dumping them than keeping them. Warm-hearted, but kind of soft-headed, Gamotin has all the right feelings but all the wrong moves. A really touching job.

Matthew Gin

Gin has one of the toughest jobs, playing the author surrogate who grudgingly goes into medicine to keep his parents happy when he’d rather be an author. He looks like the preppiest of all the guys, but there’s some truly dark stuff bubbling underneath. He’s a multi-level performer.

Oliver Koomsatira

The character of Dave Lowe is the hardest to take in the play: sexist, racist, horribly violent and always in your face. Here’s the surprise, Koomsatira makes us understand and empathize with him without softening any of the hard edges. Frightening but magnetic.

Simu Liu

It’s Rick Wong’s funeral that frames the play. No spoiler here, you see his body as soon as you enter the theatre. Wong is the most seemingly successful one but driven by unspeakable demons. Liu lets us see the man’s power as well as his pain. A great juggling act.

Philip Nozuka

Luke Yeung is one of those Peter Pan boys who never commit and never grow up. Nozuka is perfect in the role, as charmingly playful as a puppy, but just as mischievous as well. Nozuka delivers all that with style but lifts the curtain to let us see the emptiness inside as well. He’s a fine young actor.

The Production

This is part of the “Naked Season” at Factory, where physical trappings aren’t supposed to matter a lot. It may not work on some shows, but it’s perfect here. The uncredited costumes are perfect (especially Nozuka’s Power Rangers T-shirt), the simple set is versatile and Jennifer Lennon’s lighting is flashy or subtle as needed.

The Anger

This is a very funny show and very touching as well, but you’re going to walk away remembering the anger. Every one of the cast has at least one major eruption of long-hidden rage, all related to issues of racism that have been ignored or repressed. It’s a powerful and frightening message.

The Audience

I attended the final preview, which was packed, enthusiastic and heavily weighted toward the under-30 crowd. Those qualities are so seldom visible in Toronto theatres that you have to cheer when you see it happening. If you feel like you don’t belong at most plays in the city, try this one out.


By Leon Aureus. Directed by Nina Lee Aquino. Until Nov. 22 at the Factory Theatre Studio, 125 Bathurst St. or 416-504-9971

MUJI to Open Store in Vancouver

Image of MUJI to Open Store in Vancouver

The understated rival to a familiar Japanese retail favorite, MUJI has set its sights on the Canadian frontier moving into the next year. Reports have announced that aside from a confirmed location in Toronto, MUJI will seek bi-coastal dominance with a shop in Vancouver as well. The news comes on the heels of the brand’s success with nine locations in the United States, which include five in New York City alone and four across California.

MUJI is currently securing its own Canadian leases, a move consistent with the brand’s admirable cost-effective advertising, location and research philosophies. Look for the MUJI Vancouver location to arrive in 2015.


New reality show to feature lives of ‘Ultra Rich Asian Women’

When we said we needed more Asian representation on screen, this wasn’t exactly what we had in mind. A new Vancouver reality show will spotlight the “luxurious lifestyles of ultra rich Asian girls.” The name of the series: HBIC TV, which stands for Hot Bitch In Charge. Cringe.

Although details on the show are sparse at the moment, HBIC TV has announced that a casting call and audition will be held on June 26. The producers, Kevin K. Li and Desmond Chen, say that most of the show will be in Chinese and will feature young women who have inherited large fortunes, according to CTV News Vancouver.

On the show’s official Facebook page, there’s a brief description of the types of girls producers are looking for:

Are you the next #HBIC of Vancouver? Got a Centurion Black Amex Card?
Hermes, Lanvin, Dior, Louboutin, Chanel, Lambos and Ferraris are all a part of the daily lives of our HBICtv Divas.

“If you’re into the high fashion, the couture, the fancy cars, and the foie gras dinners, and popping the champagnes on the weekend like it’s every day,” Li said. “You know, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, but in Vancouver with this demographic.”


Pharrell Williams – Happy Vancouver Desi!

Vancouver based Actress/Model/Designer Mesha Toor and film maker/videographer Adam Dosanjh of Triple7Films present #HappyVancouverDesi.

Inspired by Pharrell Williams video “Happy,” this video was created to unite the “movers and shakers” of the South Asian community in Vancouver, BC as a means to spread more positivity, happiness and togetherness.


Artist Profile: Toshio Saeki exhibition at Narwhal Projects (Toronto)



Narwhal Projects is proud to present the first Canadian exhibition with Japanese master Toshio Saeki, who we just featured in the  print edition of Juxtapoz magazine in a rare interview in the March 2014 issue. The works presented in this exhibition are comprised of original ink drawings from 1977-1983, and a rare series of fifty letterpress prints from Saeki’s 1972 publication Akai Hako (The Red Box). Presented in partnership with the Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2014.The show opened on May 8, and will run through May 24, 2014.

Celebrated as the “Godfather of Japanese Eroticism“, Saeki’s artwork draws from the basement of a collective subconscious, depicting universal taboos through surreal narratives and dark humor. Filtering imagery from his photographic memory and childhood experiences through imagination and dreams, Saeki splits open a universally erotic world where iconic characters subject themselves to grotesque behaviours staged within traditional Japanese environments.

Within Saeki’s drawings you may see a zen like creature calmly engaging in disembowelment while a woman romances her lover by slicing her breast into his mouth. Children interact joyfully with demons, a massage therapist performs his service using severed limbs from the patients in the next room. In one particularly iconic piece entitled Irodaruma, a gang of life size Daruma buddhist dolls seduce a woman sprawled out in a Japanese style room while in the foreground a young boy sits watching, knocking apart a toy sized version of the doll. Separating them is an open Shoji (sliding door). It’s this bizarre interpretation of perspective and experience that gives Saeki’s work an added level of extremeness. The portals between dreams and waking life have been left open. Nothing is quite as it should be. Pain reads as pleasure, fear as delight, sombreness as humor. Desire for the forbidden manifests itself into unfathomable formations. Further adding to the surreal quality is Saeki’s often inclusion of a secret watching figure, creating the dynamic of a psychic apparatus that exposes the many sides of the human condition.

Accessing the traditional Japanese partnership employed by the Ukioy-e woodcut masters, Saeki creates his original works as black and white ink drawings which he then overlays with vellum sheets hand marked with colour plans for the visualized finished image. As an “eshi” (artist) he passes his designs to a “surishi” (printer) and they are developed into the final work. Saeki refers to his method of practice as Chinto printing. Through harmonizing provocative contemporary imagery with traditional Japanese culture, Saeki’s work transcends time, weaving fantastically grotesque and abstract narratives that are at once are at once startlingly indecorous yet remarkably alluring.

Check out this link:

Artist Profile: Toshio Saeki exhibition at Narwhal Projects (Toronto)

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Museum cancels yellowface-themed fundraiser after accusations of racism

CBC News:

Racism complaints force WAG to rework fundraiser theme

The Winnipeg Art Gallery is changing the theme of its Art & Soul fundraiser after complaints of racism.

The theme for the Feb. 22 event was initially called Big in Japan and encouraged people to “grab your chopsticks, show off your jiu-jitsu skills”  and “get noticed by Geisha girls.”

Jenny WillsJenny Wills wrote a blog post criticising the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s theme for an annual fundraiser. The gallery later changed it.

Jenny Wills condemned the event in a blog post that has since gone viral. People flocked to Twitter to criticize the event, using the hashtag #WAGOrientalism.

My initial reaction was that it had to be a joke. The original page has things like, ‘This party will be so epic, you’ll think you’re turning Japanese,’” said Wills, who teaches Asian studies at the University of Winnipeg. “It was just sort of horrifying to me that some of the stereotypes that had been used to make me feel othered as a child were still being used — and being used by a cultural institution in the name of fundraising.”

The website for the event also referenced environmentalist David Suzuki, who was born and raised in Canada. That particularly hit a nerve for Wills.

This is the same kind of ‘forever a foreigner’ that was used to intern and deport over 20,000 Canadians with Japanese ancestry during World War 2, more than half of who were born in Canada,” she said.

It was surprising that the art gallery didn’t realize their event would offend a lot of people, said literature professor David Palumbo-Liu, who specializes in Asian-American studies at Stanford University in California.

If you had an event and called it ‘Let’s be Jewish for a Day’ And you mimicked various Jewish customs and food. I think the Jewish community would think of it as being anti-semitic,” he said. “Just imagine your ethnic background becoming a spectacle.”

“Through social media and emails, several people have expressed their dissatisfaction with the Big in Japan theme,” Stephen Borys, WAG director and CEO, stated in a press release.

It became clear over the course of the last few days that the event itself was being overshadowed by the issues at hand. However, when the community speaks up, we listen.”

The fundraising event “will feature four floors of décor and entertainment reflecting Manitoba’s distinctive seasons,” the press release stated.

We’ve heard opinions expressed across the spectrum, many who wanted to stay with the theme who believed in the event as a cultural celebration, but at the end of the day we needed to do the right thing,” said Borys.

The WAG would never want to reduce any culture to stereotypes and we thank those who contacted us directly with their concerns, and we are sorry for any offence that was caused.

Japan theme at WAGThrough social media and emails, several people expressed dissatisfaction with the Big in Japan theme, said Stephen Borys, the WAG’s director and CEO.

We had several people speak to the issue of cultural appropriation and the offence that this theme was causing. The dialogue around what is respectful and beneficial to everyone is important to the WAG, and that’s why we’ve decided to choose an alternative theme.”

Art & Soul is in its 25th year as an annual fundraiser for the WAG. The event takes place throughout the entire building and centres on a particular theme that changes every year.

Wills said cultural institutions need to be aware of what kind message they are sending with their events.

She has spoken with employees with the WAG about having cultural workshops to avoid something similar happening again, but for now, said she’s happy they listened to her concerns.

I respect them for that very much,” she said.

Check out this link:

Museum cancels yellowface-themed fundraiser after accusations of racism


Local paper in Canada compares win by Japanese National High School Wrestling Team to Pearl Harbor

cochrane 2 Cochrane Times compares Japanese wrestling win to Pearl Harbor

In a rather inappropriate lead, an Alberta newspaper compared a win by a Japanese wrestling team to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Cochrane Times, a weekly publication owned by Sun Media, ran a story about the Japanese National High School Wrestling Team defeating a local team on Jan. 5.

This was how that article began:

They saw, they came, they conquered. Japan has never had such an easy time of it since their surprise attack on Pearl Harbour as the Japanese National High School Wrestling Team invaded the home of the Cowboys Wrestling Club at Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Center, Jan. 5, and annihilated their competition.”

The article is not on the Cochrane Times website yet but can be viewed on the digital edition of the newspaper.

For a brief history lesson, Japan’s military launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, a U.S. naval base in Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941. More than 2,400 Americans were killed in the attack which prompted the U.S. to enter the Second World War.

The attack also led to the mass internment of Japanese people living in both Canada and the U.S.

Cochrane Times Editor Noel Edey told the paper has not received any complaints about the article and the writer was simply making a simile.

Check out this link:

Local paper in Canada compares win by Japanese National High School Wrestling Team to Pearl Harbor


Maple Batalia film ‘Thy Beauty’s Doom’ honors murdered B.C. (Canada) student

A film by Krystal Kiran Garib for Bravo!FACT. Based on Sonnets 14 and 66 by William Shakespeare, ‘Thy Beauty’s Doom‘ is inspired by the paintings and artwork of, and dedicated to, Maple Batalia. Maple was a nineteen year old Simon Fraser University student, model, actress and aspiring doctor who was gunned down in the parkade of the SFU campus after a late-night of studying in Sept 2011.

Thy Beauty’s Doom‘ is created to bring Maple’s art work to life through original music, and a fusion of classical Indian and contemporary dance. The House of Kiran and The Batalia Family have created the Maple Batalia Memorial Fund, which is comprised of a SFU Health Sciences Scholarship and The Maple Batalia Bursary for The Arts, to which the iTunes music sales from this film will support, as well as proceeds from other fundraising projects.

Visit for more information.

Funded by Bravo!FACT – A Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent

Written, Directed & Performed by
Krystal Kiran Garib

Cast (Dancer/Singer/Actor)
Krystal Kiran Garib … Lead

Produced by
Josh Epstein …. producer
Krystal Kiran Garib …. executive producer

Original Music by
Christine Wu & Satnam Ramgotra


Indian composer A.R. Rahman gets own street


Renowned Indian composer A.R. Rahman, who took two Academy Awards for his work in Slumdog Millionaire, has another feather to add to his cap.

According to a report in the Times of India, Rahman now has a street named after him in Markham, Ontario, Canada.

Rahman posted a picture on Facebook of himself wearing a very cool coat and holding his street sign with the caption: “Welcome to my street!”

Check out this link:

Indian composer A.R. Rahman gets own street


Korean-French actress Pom Klementieff makes US Debut in Spike Lee’s ‘Oldboy’ remake


KoreAm Magazine (November 2013 issue):

Spike Lee kept provoking Pom Klementieff. I see in your resume that you did some boxing, but I just can’t see it,” he would say, seemingly displeased with her martial arts skills.

Klementieff was horrified. The Korean French actress, so eager to work with the man responsible for movies like Do The Right Thing (1989) and Inside Man (2006), had prepared for two months with a stuntman in Paris. Now, called back for a second audition in front of Lee himself, her chance to star in the Hollywood remake of Oldboy appeared to be dwindling.

He asked her bluntly, “Do you want the part?

Of course,” Klementieff replied.

Hunching forward on the edge of his chair, Lee told her, “Then show me.”

Out of desperation, Klementieff punched and kicked the air as hard as she could, all while Lee was yelling for more: “Give me some kicks! Stronger! Quicker!

I turned red,” the actress recalled in her thick French accent. “I was exhausted. I was losing my breath. It was completely ridiculous.”

And just when Klementieff thought it was over, Lee asked her to come back a few hours later, but wearing a sexier outfit and makeup. “At that point, if he had asked if I could cut my leg off, I would’ve said, ‘Of course! Right or left?’” she said.

Upon her return and additional auditioning, she and Lee ended up having a conversation. “He was asking me all these questions,” Klementieff said. “So I told him, my father died when I was 5. My mother, she is schizophrenic, so she couldn’t take care of me and my brother, who committed suicide a few months before the audition. But I was just so happy to be there. I was telling him all this and smiling at the same time, like a weirdo.”

A week later, she learned that she got the part. And now the 27-year-old Klementieff, for whom “weird” and black humor are just two of many facets, will make her American debut when Oldboy arrives in theaters on Nov. 27.

Her first name, Pom, even has multiple meanings. While “pomme” means apple in French, her mother, Yu Ri Park, gave her the name with two more words in mind. In Korean, Pom could refer to both spring (pronounced “bom”) and tiger (pronounced “beom”).

Born in Quebec City, Canada, Klementieff has also had numerous homes. Her parents met when her half-Russian, half-French father visited Seoul in the mid-1980s. “My mother is completely Korean, and my father is Russian and French. They met on the street in Seoul, and he fell in love with her. He followed her around like a weirdo. He was obsessed with Asia.”

You know, yellow fever?” said Klementieff, laughing.

A consul with the French government, her father would relocate the family to Japan and Western Africa’s Ivory Coast during Klementieff’s infant years, before finally settling in France.

She said being on the move repeatedly as a child has given her a “gypsy soul.” “I mean that in a good way. No, I don’t smoke weed,” she said, giggling. “It just means that I can be comfortable anywhere. I can go from one place to another and be comfortable.”

But growing up, there would also be great sadness, like her father’s death due to cancer when she was 5. On her 18th birthday, the paternal uncle who ended up raising Klementieff, due to her mother’s schizophrenia, passed away.

My uncle was like my second father,” she said. “When he died, I first went to law school to please my aunt, but it just wasn’t for me. Then I worked as a waitress and saleswoman in Paris. I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. I was 18 and wanted to do something that can help me express my feelings.”

Klementieff decided to try acting, and started by attending the prestigious Cours Florent, a drama school in Paris, when she was 19. She showed promise immediately, winning a theater competition only a few months later that awarded her free classes with some of the best teachers in France. “Doing things on the stage and being able to move people, it was fun. And winning that competition was a really good sign,” she said. “It meant people saw promise in me.”

But tragedy would befall again, this time on her 25th birthday: Her older brother, Namou, committed suicide. “Now I’m afraid of somebody else dying on my next birthday,” she said with a grin that perhaps masks a genuine fear of loss. “But it’s life, you know? Moving here, it was tough and complicated. But I wanted to move. I wanted to be free of drama, and have a new story to tell.”

If the new Oldboy resonates with audiences like South Korea’s Park Chan-wook’s much-revered and award winning 2003 version, she will have a compelling story to begin with. She’s made an impression on producer Roy Lee, the Korean American with numerous high-profile Hollywood credits, including the remade Oldboy. “I thought she had a great screen presence and an interesting, fresh look,” he said.

Klementieff plays Haeng-Bok, the bodyguard for the film’s villain. Being able to give a beat-down was new territory for her, but the work she put into the physical training was worth the effort. Because it fits with her career goals, one of which is to “be a badass.”

Her bubbly personality showing, she proudly revealed the nickname she earned on the film set: Pominator. But more than anything, Klementieff is now looking forward to her life in the U.S. “I like the American optimism,” said Klementieff. “The [saying] here is, ‘If you work hard, you can do whatever you want.’ And it’s true. In France, it’s different. It’s more like, ‘Yeah, you can do it, but it usually doesn’t work, so let’s just have a cigarette and a glass of wine.’ When I first came here, I felt everything is possible. And it really is.”

Check out this link:

Korean-French actress Pom Klementieff makes US Debut in ‘Oldboy’ remake