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James Mudge recently caught up with director Junya Sakino, who made his feature film directorial debut on the culture-clash comedy “Sake-Bomb”, over at the 2013 Raindance Film Festival. (You can read that review here.) You can find out more about the film and follow it over at Facebook. In the meantime, here is our interview with the director.
James Mudge: I caught the screening of Sake Bomb, and really enjoyed it, a little different to what I expected, though in a very good way. It deals with some serious issues, cultural stereotyping and the experiences of Asian people….
Junya Sakino: I guess that depends on how you define seriousness, right? It’s funny, as some people think it’s a really light comedy, some people read more into the subtext. I find it interesting to see the difference between US reaction and UK reaction, there’s a lot of similarities but a lot of differences. I mean, the languages are the same, but then I found out that Asian in the UK means Indians, I had no idea that the term oriental is different…in the states at least – you remember the scene where Jocelyn calls Sebastian an oriental, that might be pretty offensive for Americans to hear that. I found that there was a cultural-language difference.
JM: Yes, that’s definitely true, between American English and English or UK English.
JS: Real English!
JM: Or just the sense of humour, everything can be pretty different, so I can totally believe that different audiences will take different things. That’s what I liked about the film, the different aspects of it, dealing with serious issues but still very funny.
JS: Oh yeah, absolutely. I wanted to make entertainment, and wanted to make it funny as hell, but still tackling some issues underneath the comedy. Like, why are we laughing at this joke, is it supposed to be funny because it’s racist? So, there’s a lot of things like this to call into question after people watch it. If people watch it and are then just like ‘what am I going to eat tonight’ then that’s fine too, which is how it is with a lot of Hollywood comedies, you don’t think too much and just enjoy the moment. But, if you’re doing an indie film, I felt I could just do more than just comedy.
JM: Which is cool, as people can either just watch it or take something more, whereas a lot of films are either too heavy or too stupid.
JS: You know, I think that the movie does cross over, it’s kind of mainstream formula, like buddy comedy, but it’s also got drama. It’s like a sake bomb, mixing two different genres.
JM: That’s one thing I was going to ask – the film reminded me of road and buddy movies, and I was wondering if you had any particular influences?
JS: I don’t know, not really. I was born in Japan, then later moved to the states to study film making and when you think of American films there are a lot about road trips, one goes to the other country, and it’s really like a fish out of water thing, and this was really like my own experience coming to a different culture and whatnot. So I guess that this kind of comedy, like road trips, was what I’d wanted to do after coming from Japan, but I did it in kind of an indie way.
JM: Was any of the film based on your own experiences?
JS: Yeah, unfortunately some of the stuff really happened to me, some scenes we exaggerated to make more funny, but the writer Jeff Mizushima is a Japanese American, and I’m Japanese from Japan, so we’ve seen a lot of different views on Asian Americans. One of the ideas was to portray our real life experiences, but also to make some comedy out of it. I think like the first sequence in the States is really funny, people seem to really like that, as Asian Americans tend to hear these kind of jokes a lot. I’d say a lot of things in the film were part of my experience and Jeff’s experience.
JM: You’ve got the two lead characters who are very different and have different views – you’ve got Sebastian, who is pretty angry, and then you’ve got Naoto, who is kind of innocent, and coming to America for the first time you see through his eyes, giving you two different perspective through the film.
JS: Yeah, that gives you a clash of cultures. They’re both Asian – I don’t know if they look alike, but they’re Asian, same skin colour, but one’s American and the other Japanese, so I was wanting to have a contrast between the two and to get some comedy out of it.
JM: The other thing about the film is that although you have all these issues and you have these two guys, after a while, you kind of don’t see them as Asian or different and just as two regular guys, there’s a lot of universal themes like family and friendships.
JS: Yeah, that’s something when I hear it I feel rewarded. We’re using the Asian thing as a plot device to tell a story and a context, but it is really a universal story where you have a guy that doesn’t feel like he belongs to one particular culture and feels lost, and then he has family trying to help, but there’s a bridge between him and them. But whether you’re white, black, Latino or anything you could find elements that you could identify with.
JM: How easy or difficult was it to finance the film? Even just the fact that you’ve got two Asian lead actors….
JS: Exactly, usually, forget it. I just didn’t realise that having two Asian leads wouldn’t help. But it’s my movie, right, and I wasn’t going to change. I ended up finding some small money, luckily enough to do it. It’s really unfortunate in Hollywood, we actually sent the script to a lot of producers, they really liked it but couldn’t figure out how to market it. Luckily no one said let’s make these two guys white characters! But that could have happened, and I knew it wouldn’t be an option and so I pretty much stuck to the original idea and found the money eventually.
JM: The film has played quite a few different festivals – has it played at all in Japan?
JS: Not yet, but it’s going to be released in Japan next year. We started off at South by Southwest in the states, which is one of the biggest festivals, and this really helped us to get more attention from other festivals. So right after this now, I’m going back to LA and then Hawaii, and after that back to LA again for the theatrical release, then San Diego….and I just got a report that there will be another 10 cities after that, so it’s really exciting.
JM: Is this your first time in London?
JS: This is my second time, I came here like 10 years ago, I was backpacking, and it’s cool to be back here again with my film. I was a film student back then!
JM: So why did you make the move from Japan to study film in the US? Did you think it’d be different?
JS: At the time, when I had the choice of going to a Japanese…..well, actually I didn’t have a choice, of going to film school in japan. When you are in high school they put you either on a science or a literature track, and I was on the science track, and once you’re on that you can’t really change. So by the time I realised I wanted to be a film maker, I couldn’t convince my parents, my teachers and people that I wanted to do film, I tried, but it never happened. I went to the institute of technology, but on my second day I realised that it wasn’t meant to be, and it took another 6 months for me to convince my parents that I should quit and go to the States, but finally they let me and I moved to the US.
JM: Do you plan to keep making films in the US?
JS: I don’t know, maybe if I had an opportunity to make a film I’d go wherever, whether it’s here or in Japan. Right now, because I have a base in LA, it’s easier for me to make a film there. But if this film does well in Japan next year, and I have the opportunity to make a Japanese film, then I’d love to try that too. It’s not easy to be an independent film maker these days, anywhere, so whenever you get the chance to make an indie film or a studio film, I’ll give it a try.
JM: Have you got some regular people who you work with, like your screenwriter Jeff?
JM: What other projects are you working on at the moment? Are there any particular films you’d like to make?
JS: One of the projects is Transience, which I wrote with Jeff prior to Sake Bomb. We have a script, we showed it around but nothing happened, no one took us seriously. It’s about four women and Buddhism, it’s a drama, a heavy drama, but no one wanted it. Or maybe that genre, like progressive, I don’t know exactly, but for whatever reason, nobody wanted to take a chance, so we gave up and went on with Sake Bomb. But now that I’ve got this film, I feel like I kind of want to get back to that….so it could be Transience or it could be one of the other films, I feel like it’s all up in the air.
JM: Going back to the title of the film, I guess that represents a lot of things – so you get a small cup of sake, put it on two chopsticks on top of a beer, and hit the table and it falls in?
JS: Yeah, that’s it.
JM: So what’s it like? I’ve never tried one and I’d never really thought about mixing sake and beer….
JS: Oh, you never thought of it?
JM: I drink a lot of sake, but never, no…in the film it looks like when the sake goes into the beer it all starts foaming up, right?
JS: Actually, yes, that’s what happens.
JM: I should try it, with some cheap sake maybe.
JS: Yeah…I don’t think it’s the kind of drink a sake drinker will like, it’s more the beer! It’s a fun drink. I’m not sure if you get it in restaurants here, but if you go to LA, then most fish restaurants – not so much traditional Japanese places – but some places will have it on the menu. Sake became popular before but they always try to come up with something new. Like sushi in Japan, in California Japanese Americans come up with their own kind of sushi roll, and we now import this back to Japan. So with this film, sake bomb, it’s kind of a party drink. If you’re a person who really likes the taste of sake, maybe not, but if you like to just drink, you’re gonna have a good time and get really drunk.
JM: When you made the film, did they really drink it?
JS: No, that was fake beer!
JM: Well, I think that’s pretty much everything – thanks so much for your time, and good luck with the film.