By Pete Kane
By Anna Roth
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
By Max A. Cherney
By Anna Roth
By Alex Hochman
By Anna Roth
It was with considerable excitement that I contemplated the program for the 46th annual San Francisco International Film Festival. Everything in life is a trade-off (an old boyfriend encapsulated this philosophy by saying, "For every 'yay,' there's a 'boo'"), and though I'm the first to admit that the recent move to the Bay Area has improved my life immeasurably in certain ways (the availability of really excellent cheese, for example), my moviegoing life has gone all to hell.
San Francisco, CA 94115
Region: Japantown/Pacific Heights
Bento box special: three items at lunch $8.25
Sansai soba (hot, with vegetables) $6.50
Zaru soba (cold) $5.25
Sapporo-Ya, 1581 Webster (at Post), 563-7400. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Reservations accepted during the week. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: lot in Japan Center. Muni: 2, 3, 4, 38. Noise level: low to moderate.
Izumiya, 1581 Webster (at Post), 441-6867. Open for lunch Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and for dinner from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Closed Mondays. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: lot in Japan Center. Muni: 2, 3, 4, 38. Noise level: low to moderate.
Mifune, 1727 Post (at Webster), 922-0337. Open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: lot in Japan Center. Muni: 2, 3, 4, 38. Noise level: low to moderate.
For a variety of reasons: I'm out of the orbit of Los Angeles' generous press screenings, I haven't quite figured out how to use the alternative exhibition houses, and then there's that irritating sentence printed at the bottom of all-too-many movie ads in the New York Times every day: "Now Playing in New York and Los Angeles" -- foreign films, independent films, even some studio films that platform their releases. Some of these movies will work their way to San Francisco eventually. And some will not. In the meantime, the prospect of more than 200 films from 46 countries unspooling in a densely packed couple of weeks is terrifically appealing.
There are a couple of ways to approach a big festival. I always favor the total-immersion theory, happily staggering bleary-eyed from movie to movie, a strategy inspired by a film professor who announced nonchalantly that he had spent the first years after he graduated from Yale "going to movies every day in order to escape life." Instead of hearing this as a cautionary tale, I took it as a life lesson, and I began following his example almost immediately. For years I chose my friends largely on the basis of whether they were willing to go from movie to movie without pausing for sustenance (they were easy to find, usually sitting around me in the museums, art houses, festivals, and multiplexes, recognizably pale from minimal exposure to daylight).
Then there's the more epicurean approach, choosing just a few movies from the vast array, based on your own taste: French movies, say, or Hong Kong action pictures, or documentaries, all of which are well-represented in this year's festival. You could also have your choice dictated by convenience: Go out on Friday evening after work, choose among the four or five movies that start around 6 or 7, and dine afterward.
Nowadays, I do find sustenance essential, and something more nourishing than what's generally available at snack bars (I like popcorn movies, but I'm not nuts about movie popcorn). One of the selling points of the AMC Kabuki (aka "Home of the Festival") is its location in the Japan Center, a somewhat confusingly laid out collection of malls (Kinokuniya, Kintetsu, and Miyako) that houses more than two dozen restaurants, snack shops, and coffeehouses. You could eat in a different one every day of the two-week festival and still have days of exploration ahead of you. Trying to eat your way completely through even a single menu, as I just read that a nicely obsessive San Franciscan has been doing with a favorite Chinese restaurant for the last seven months, boggles the mind.
Appropriate to their setting, most of the restaurants in the Japan Center are Japanese (there's a fairly swanky Korean place, Seoul Gardens, in the Miyako Mall, at the easternmost edge of the Center). At first glance, many of the eateries seem to serve much of the same food, often displayed in plastic equivalents as a visual aid and come-on, but eventually the specialties emerge. One is a ramen house, another does wonders with tempura, a third dishes out some of the city's best soba and udon. There are a couple of inexpensive Hong Kong-style coffee shops (the Yo-Sho-Ku-Ya Curry House On the Bridge and May's Coffee Shop) where you can find Asian interpretations of spaghetti, hamburgers, and the like, and several pastry shops (Tan Tan, Marie Antoinette, and Murata's Cafe Hana), where you can have a cup of coffee or tea and a pretty pastry or a light bite. There's a stylish Yakiniku house, Juban, where you cook your own food on a grill; an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, Umeko; and a tiny, quite chic place, Maki, where you need reservations, that serves wappa-meshi (special, pricey rice dishes served in wooden bowls). And more sushi than there is in heaven (one of our favorites, for the kitsch factor alone, is Isobune, where you sit at a counter and the sushi floats past you in little boats).
But best for fest purposes may be the smaller spots that serve food fast without being fast-food places. In the Kinokuniya building, closest to the Kabuki, I love the big bowls of ramen offered in nearly a dozen different ways at the wooden tables, some overlooking Post, of Sapporo-Ya. I especially enjoyed the soothing butter ramen topped with cha-su (barbecued pork) and the spicy kimchi ramen, also topped with cha-su, both under $10. In addition, Sapporo-Ya has a specialty in teppan yaki soba, homemade noodles fried in a salty sauce with vegetables, pork, or beef, served here on iron plates, and okonomiyaki, a frittatalike pancake topped with pork, beef, and shrimp (also both under $10). (It's easy to eat well and cheaply in most of the Japan Center restaurants, nicely offsetting the price of a movie ticket -- or a $600 festival pass.)
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