George Clooney’s ‘Catch-22’ reflects on ‘insanity’ of war

Grant Heslov, from left, George Clooney, Christopher Abbott, Kyle Chandler, Ellen Kuras and Luke Davies participate in the "Catch-22" panel during the Hulu presentation at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour at The Langham Huntington on Feb. 11, 2019, in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)
Updated 12 February 2019
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George Clooney’s ‘Catch-22’ reflects on ‘insanity’ of war

PASADENA, California: George Clooney, who returns to TV for the first time in 20 years with an adaptation of the classic novel “Catch-22,” said on Monday the Hulu series set in World War II aims to tell a timeless story about the “insanity” of war.
At a preview for reporters, Clooney said he initially resisted the idea of taking on Joseph Heller’s 1961 book about member of a US bomber squadron fighting the higher-ups in the military bureaucracy.
“It’s a beloved novel,” Clooney, who also served as executive producer and directed two episodes, said at a Television Critics Association event. “I didn’t want to get into the middle of that.”
He said he was drawn in because the writers “did an amazing job unspooling these characters” for the six-episode series that will be released on Hulu on May 17.
That allows the series to expand on Heller’s story, which Clooney said was meant “to make fun of all the red tape and bureaucracy of war and the ridiculousness of war.”
“I think it still plays,” he added. “All of us spend our days and nights worrying about those situations. This story is just reflecting on the insanity of it.”
“Catch-22” follows a US bombardier named Yossarian who is infuriated that the army keeps raising the number of missions he must fly to be released from duty. Yossarian’s only way to avoid the missions is to declare insanity, but the only way to prove insanity is a willingness to embark on more of the highly dangerous bombing runs, thus creating the novel’s absurd ‘catch-22.’
It was made into a 1970 movie directed by Mike Nichols with Alan Arkin as Yossarian.
“I think we all wake up every morning these days in this kind of shared global anxiety condition, and this novel is a beautiful distillation, or a prophetic distillation of that,” said co-writer Luke Davies.
Christopher Abbott stars as Yossarian and Kyle Chandler plays his commander, Col. Cathcart. Clooney originally planned to play Cathcart but instead took a supporting role as training commander Scheisskopf.
Clooney, 57, last appeared on television 20 years ago as Dr. Doug Ross in hit medical drama “ER.” He then built a successful film career with movies including “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Gravity” and “Up in the Air.”
The actor said he was happy to come back to television.
“I don’t care about the medium,” Clooney said. “I just care about the quality of the work and what we’re able to do.”


High-end rebrand makes life sweet for Japan’s ‘ice farmers’

Updated 18 August 2019
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High-end rebrand makes life sweet for Japan’s ‘ice farmers’

  • Reinventing natural-made ice as a high-end artisanal product has helped revive the ice-farming trade
  • The blocks are sold to some of Tokyo’s high-end shaved ice shops as well as department stores

NIKKO, Japan: In a mountainous area north of Tokyo, a priest blows a conch shell as Yuichiro Yamamoto bows and thanks the nature gods for this year’s “good harvest”: natural ice.
Yamamoto is one of Japan’s few remaining “ice farmers,” eschewing the ease of refrigeration for open-air pools to create a product that is sold to high-end shaved ice shops in trendy Tokyo districts.
His trade had all but disappeared in recent decades, and the shaved ice or kakigori that is popular throughout Japan in summer had been produced with cheap machine-made ice.
But reinventing natural-made ice as a high-end artisanal product has helped revive the sector and save his firm.
“When I started making natural ice, I wondered how I should market it. I thought I needed to transform kakigori,” Yamamoto says at his ice-making field in the town of Nikko, north of Tokyo.
Yamamoto took over a traditional ice-making business 13 years ago in Nikko, where he also runs a leisure park.
At the time, shaved ice cost just ¥200 ($2) in the local area and Yamamoto, who was fascinated by traditional ice-making, knew he couldn’t make ends meet.
“My predecessor used to sell ice at the same price as the fridge-made one, which can be manufactured easily anytime throughout the year,” the 68-year-old says.
The situation made it “impossible” to compete he explains, as producing natural ice is labor intensive.
Instead he decided to transform cheap kakigori into a luxury dessert, made with his natural ice and high-grade fruit puree rather than artificially flavored syrup.
After months of research, he began producing his own small batches of artisanal kakigori.
“I put the price tag at ¥800 for a bowl of kakigori. I also priced the ice at ¥9,000 per case, which is six times more than my predecessor,” he says.
At first, there were days he threw away tons of ice because he could not find clients.
But one day buyers from the prestigious Mitsukoshi department store discovered his product, and began stocking it, turning around his fortunes.
Kakigori dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185) when aristocratic court culture flourished in the then-capital of Kyoto.
It was a rare delicacy reserved for the rich, with the ice naturally made and stored in mountainside holes covered with silver sheets.
It was only after 1883, when the first ice-making factory was built in Tokyo, that ordinary people could taste the dessert.
With the development of ice-making machines, the number of traditional ice makers dropped to fewer than 10 nationwide.
The story is one familiar to many traditional Japanese crafts and foodstuffs — with expensive and labor-intensive products losing ground as cheaper, machine-driven versions become available.
And making ice naturally is a grueling task.
The season begins in the autumn when workers prepare a swimming-pool-like pit by cultivating the soil and pouring in spring water.
Thin frozen initial layers are scraped away along with dirt and fallen leaves.
The ice-making begins in earnest in the winter, when water is poured in to freeze solid, but it must be carefully protected. Producers regularly scrape off snow that can slow the freezing process.
“I once spent 16 hours non-stop removing snow,” Yamamoto recalls.
And rain too can ruin the product, causing cracks that mean the whole batch has to be discarded.
“I check the weather forecast 10 times a day,” Yamamoto laughs.
Once the ice is 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) thick, which takes at least two weeks, workers begin cutting out rectangular blocks.
Each block, which weighs about 40 kilograms (88 pounds), is glided into an ice room filled with sawdust on a long bamboo slide.
The blocks are sold to some of Tokyo’s high-end shaved ice shops as well as department stores.
In the Yanaka district, more than 1,000 people queue up every day for a taste of kakigori made with natural ice produced by another ice-maker from Nikko.
Owner Koji Morinishi says the naturally made ice has a texture that is different from machine-made products.
“It feels very different when you shave it. It’s harder because it’s frozen over a long period of time,” explains Morinishi.
“It’s easier to shave really thin if the ice is hard. If not hard, it dissolves too quickly.”
Morinishi himself struggled when he first opened the kakigori shop, but has gradually built a cult following for his desserts topped with purees of mango, watermelon, peach or other fruit.
And Yamamoto’s firm has seen demand soar — he now harvests 160 tons a year and knows two new producers who have entered the market.
He says: “This business has become attractive and the ice makers are all busy.”