South By Southwest Film Interview – SAKE-BOMB director Junya Sakino
By Jason Whyte
Posted 03/08/13 08:32:14
“A sarcastic and self-deprecating Asian-American must take his naive Japanese cousin on a road trip along the California coast to find his ex-girlfriend. Along the way, they meet a colorful group of characters as they come to grips with who they are and the true nature of the girlfriends they are pursuing. It's a modern vision of Asian West meets Asian East.” Director Junya Sakino on “Sake-Bomb” which screens at this year’s South By Southwest Film.
Is this your first SxSW/Austin experience?
Yes, I've always wanted to go there so I'm pretty excited about this.
Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker. Also would love to hear about anything else you have made in the past!
I was born and raised in Japan and came to the states to pursue a film career when I was 19. I graduated from California State University Long Beach in 2006 where I met a lot of colleagues who went on to work with me on this project. Ever since graduation, I've been working in the film and commercial industry. As a director, I have shot a lot of short films, including "Orizuru," which was an award winning short at film festivals around the world. Sake-Bomb is my directorial feature debut.
Living as a foreigner in the states, I have experienced a lot of interesting cultural differences. Over the course of years, I started hanging out with Asian American friends. Although they look like me, most of them don’t speak their motherland language and some of them are having an identity issue as though they are not sure if they identify themselves as an American or Asian, or Asian American. I thought that it was a really interesting subject for a film. You don’t see a lot of Asian movies except about Kung Fu or Samurai. So I thought, why not explore this subject. With the help of my writer Jeff Mizushima, we created Sebastian, a complicated, self-deprecating, offensive, ass-hole Asian American. You may have not seen the exact person like Sebastian in real life. But I can guarantee that some of his traits/characteristic might be somewhat familiar to some of you out there, if you’ve ever been friends with Asian Americans. I thought the combination of Asian and Asian American would make sense to tell this subject matter, so we created a pure, naïve, sake-maker from Japan, Naoto. Of course much of my own experience as a foreigner coming to the states having cultural shocks is implemented through the eyes of Naoto.
Instead of making this a serious drama, I wanted to make a sarcastic comedy because I felt that is the perfect way to tell the story of a cynical character like Sebastian. There is a lot of sarcastic humor in this film and I hope audiences understand the jokes and laugh at them. Hopefully not AT the film!
]What was the biggest challenge, or challenges, in making the film?
My biggest challenge? Every stage in making the film; first, financing was tough. I've talked to many industry people and they all loved the script, but a lot of them passed because they couldn't figure out the market.
Second, having two Asian guys as the leads and a first-time director didn't really help get us the money we desired. Many couldn't picture what to compare this film to. Some called it a low budget version of Harold and Kumar, which I would sort of say a reluctant yes to because of the road trip aspect then strongly say NO. I understand that when you are trying to make a unique and original film there is nothing to compare it to then people just get scared because it's something they haven't seen before.
Once we decided to shoot, we had no prepping time due to the very tight web of actor schedules. That was crazy. For a road trip film, we literally had no time before going into production. But if I had missed the opportunity, the film would have never had happened, so I'm glad that I took a chance.
Finally, the most eye-opening experience was working with a hybrid production crew of Asians and non-Asians. Fiction met reality head on. It became the norm on set as I witnessed the day-to-day challenges of cultural diversity in action. Being in the middle of everything, watching the different crew members of varying ethnic backgrounds and how subtle/non-subtle differences were playing out on set mirrored some of the film's content. The strengths of different work ethics and different people's approaches to the nuances of the subject matter proved to be more challenging than expected. "Lost in translation" was a bit of an understatement.
What was your single favorite moment out of the entire production?
Craft service. One piece of bread (and nothing more) every morning was my favorite moment.
What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?
One piece of bread.
I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.
My director of photography Sam Yano is a good friend of mine from film school and we've worked together on a number of productions prior to this project. So we were comfortable working together. We used a Canon C300, which is the first EOS camera since they released last year. Canon generously sponsored the camera as well as their EF lenses. We loved the camera as it was so compact and we thought it was the right pick for our indie road trip film. What we were impressed the most with was the camera's sensitivity. There were some scenes where we were shooting under the streetlights with a few LCD lights. We bumped the ISO up to 3200 but the image looks crispy without noise. We were pleased with the result. We also liked Canon Log which has much more dynamic range than regular linear color space. Canon's legendary Mark II 5D is a great DSLR for the price, but you need the right tool to shoot a feature film and C300 was the perfect camera for us.
How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?
I think it is very important. Any positive response is needed for a small project like this. We just don't have any resources to promote the film other than putting the film out to the festivals and hope audience/critics/buyers like the film. Social media, especially these days, plays such an important role to promote the film and any positive word of mouth can greatly influence a potential distribution deal.
After the film screens at South By Southwest, what is the future release plan for the movie? Where would you like it to go?
I'm not quite sure yet. I hope we go to other festivals after sxsw and get maximum exposure for distribution.
Alamo Drafthouse and Paramount theaters in Austin aside, if you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?
Landmark Theater in West LA. I really like the couch seats there.
What would you say or do to someone who is talking or texting during a screening of your film?
Don't do that unless you are talking good things about my film. Wait, that's not still cool.
There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers both at SxSW and reading our site. I was curious if you had any advice to aspiring filmmakers?
I'm still an aspiring filmmaker myself. I'm the one who should be getting advice!
This is one of the many films screening at the 2013 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 8-16. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film.
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
Twitter: @jasonwhyte Facebook: jasonwhyte