(Screened at the 2013 Raindance Film Festival)
By way of explanation – a sake bomb is a drink whereby you place a cup of sake on two chopsticks over a glass of beer, then knock the sake into the beer and swiftly drink. It’s also the feature debut from Junya Sakino, a director born in Japan and who moved to the US to study film making. The film is a culture clash comedy with a twist, following a young Japanese man called Naoto (Gaku Hamada, recently in the excellent “See You Tomorrow, Everyone”), who after learning that he is to inherit a sake brewery in Japan, decides to fulfil his dearest wish first by traveling to the US to try and track down his long lost love. On arrival, he’s hooked up with his angry, sarcastic web-blogger Japanese-American cousin Sebastian (TV and video game voice actor Eugene Kim), who reluctantly agrees to help him in his quest. The two set off on the road and run into the usual kind of mishaps, while bonding, falling out and experiencing a variety of different attitudes towards Asians in America.
“Sake-Bomb” has been proving popular at a number of different international festivals, having premiered at SXSW and recently screening at Raindance in London, as well as being picked up for distribution in the UK by Third Window Films. It’s easy to see why it’s been going down well, as what Junya Sakino and writer Jeff Mizushima have crafted here is a very enjoyable mix of serious and intriguing themes with a commercially friendly road-buddy comedy in the traditional Hollywood style.
Drawing in part from their own experiences, Sakino and Mizushima do a great job of making both challenging and humorous use of the many stereotypes, urban myths and challenges faced by Asians in the US (note though that some of the use of the terms Asian and Oriental may have a slightly different meaning for European and US audiences), with some hilarious and insightful scenes. This to a large extent comes through the character of Sebastian, who very frequently mouths off about the many, many problems he seems to constantly find in his life, though there are also a number of suitably farcical set pieces, including one involving a borderline racist cop, and the film is generally pretty creative without falling too much into ranting or using his character as a mere mouthpiece.
The comedy for the most part is very effective, and though it doesn’t go too far, there’s a fair amount of bad taste humour, not to mention plenty of drinking of the titular cocktail. Though the film is essentially predictable and does rely a little too much on the usual buddy comedy clichés, it rings pleasingly true, thanks to some solid character writing and performances from both Gaku Hamada and Eugene Kim – the latter starting off as an abrasive and unlikeable ass, though thankfully becoming more fleshed out and sympathetic as things progress.
Part of the film’s universal appeal comes from the fact that it also manages to ring true when it comes to themes of family, friendships and relationships, at least on a basic level, and it’s a very good sign indeed that despite its focus on the Asian American cultural experience, it never uses this as a one track gimmick. Indeed, the viewer comes quite quickly to think of Naoto and Sebastian not as ‘Asians’ or cyphers, but as a couple of regular guys with all the usual problems, which is definitely also to its credit.
“Sake-Bomb” is all the more entertaining as a result, and it’s hopefully a film which will find a wide and appreciative audience. Junya Sakino and Jeff Mizushima have successfully combined mainstream comedy film making with an indie sensibility, and the results are both funny and at least occasionally thought-provoking.
Junya Sakino (director) / Jeff Mizushima (screenplay)
CAST: Gaku Hamada … Naoto
Eugene Kim … Sebastian
Marlane Barnes … Joslyn
Josh Brodis … Michael
Chrissie Fit … Edie
Samantha Quan … Tamiko
Hiroyuki Watanabe … Takanori
Jessika Van … Annie
Jenn Liu … Olivia