Lost in Gustation 

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sensory cinema Whistler's Cornucopia is hosting a dinner party while diners watch Lost in Translation.

The concept of creating and entering different realities goes back to ancient times. With storytelling, people found a way to inject themselves into imaginary environments. Plato wrote about humans' tendency to act based solely on perceptions of what is real; this led to existential questions like, What exactly is reality? And really, who hasn't been carried away to some other life, some other time, by a good book or film? Film, it turns out, is the best place to investigate the phenomenon of perception.

Early film transported viewers in a way that was completely new to the senses. Imagine a theatre audience today jumping out of their seats simply because a locomotive was rolling toward them on a screen. Yet that's what happened on Jan. 25, 1896, when the Lumière brothers screened their 50-second silent film L'Arrivée d'un Train en Gare de La Ciotat at a Paris theatre.

The power of film led people to theorize about using technology to create alternative realities, a notion that emerged in the connection between science fiction and technological advance. Literary references to "virtual reality" go back to Brave New World, Aldous Huxley's landmark 1932 novel of futuristic utopia where people attended "feelies" — a cinema where viewers experienced and felt everything they saw onscreen. That same idea was pursued with early 3D films and then, in the 1950s, by combining 3D, audio, wind, and aromas to create experiential theatre in an arcade-like setting. This invention — "Sensorama" — simulated a motorcycle ride through Brooklyn for a single viewer. Attempts were made to create similar multi-sensory experiences in a theatre setting, but beyond sound advances they never caught on. Now, computer technology and its various forms of virtual reality have taken over. 

Fortunately, the pursuit of new experiences with conventional film hasn't ended entirely. Imagine watching a beloved cinematic masterpiece accompanied by a tasting menu assembled by award-winning chefs who select favourite moments in the film and playfully pair them with sweet and savoury canapés. Viewers experience the film with food that complements the scene, perfectly timed and delivered to their seats. With the added sensory dimensions of taste, touch and smell, film classics would come to life in an immersive cinematic experience. And that's exactly how it worked when Vancouver's unconventional, multidisciplinary studio Here There presented the likes of Amelie, The Big Lebowski, Kill Bill: Volume I and The Royal Tenenbaums under the house-banner Sensory Cinema.

Here the self-professed mandate is to activate brands through experiences and stories that "disrupt expectation" (always a good thing). Ken Tsui, co-founder and creative director, had heard of film screenings in London and New York where full dinners were served before, during or after, and immediately saw another potential dimension. "I wanted to bring an elevated viewing experience that was more moment by moment."

As a former film student, creating new ways to experience beloved movies got him excited, and he wasn't about to wait until it had commercial potential. "If we have a good idea we don't always wait for a client to sell it to. If we think it's going to enrich the community or inject new ideas into the cultural bloodstream, we just do it."

During Cornucopia, Whistler's Harajuku Izakaya will co-host a Sensory Cinema event, screening Lost in Translation with a menu designed by chef Cliff Chi that pairs food with six scenes in the film. The screening will take place on Sunday, Nov. 12 at 6 p.m. (Tickets at tiny.cc/sensorycinema.)

"We're using a smaller room at the Conference Centre because it should be somewhat intimate if you're serving food," says Harajuku manager Aki Kaltenbach. "I went to the Kill Bill dinner in Vancouver and it was awesome. The movie doesn't stop at any time, the pairings just arrive at the right junctures. I immediately thought how well this would work with the Harajuku menu. So, I approached Ken."

Tsui's choice of what movies get the Sensory Cinema treatment is based on finding the right fit between chef and film. He's in no hurry to find the next one ("though I'd love to do a Tim Burton film..."), so there's no regular schedule. But Lost in Translation and Harajuku fit the bill. "I love working with chefs to come up with film moments that aren't necessarily food-related, but more sense-related. For this one, we're not only working with food but with Japan's Suntory Whisky — which makes sense if you've seen the movie."

"Lost in Translation is the perfect film for us because we're an izakaya — a sort of Japanese tapas," says Kaltenbach. "So, there's already this East-West tension in the food. It'll be fun for our chef because the menu is a mash-up of Japanese and Western flavours. Picture the classic scenes in the film where Bill Murray is confused because it's his American sensibilities versus Japanese culture... But I don't want to give away which scenes we'll be pairing with — I want it to be a surprise."

There are clearly still new ways to appreciate classic movies, and Sensory Cinema might even change your perception. One imagines Plato would approve.

Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn't like.

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