By Mark Saldana
For my second entry in my SXSW Film interviews series, I had the pleasure of speaking with director Junya Sakino and lead actors Gaku Hamada and Eugene Kim of the movie Sake Bomb.
The day prior to the interview, I attended an afternoon screening. I found the film to be funny, sweet and quite smart. I also enjoyed the performances of Hamado who portrays Naoto, a character as equally charming as he is and Kim, whose character is much more abrasive than the actor himself who actually has quite a disarming personality. Director Sakino spoke about his film which much love and enthusiasm. This time, I came better prepared with questions.
Mark Saldana: (To Junya) As a Japanese man who has encountered Asian Americans in the U.S. did you ever receive or experience any disdain, or even hatred from Japanese Americans born here?
Junya Sakino: Not so much. I do have a lot of Asian American friends. We do have differences. They are definitely more American, but I have never gotten any hate. If anything I feel more sympathy for them, because they have these two different levels. They are Asian, but they are also Americans. I am 100% Japanese. Because I hang out with them so much, I can understand where they are coming from.
M.S.: What were your opinions of Americans before you moved here? (Junya was born and raised in Japan, but has now lived in the States for a while.)
J.S. : I loved America. I loved American films. I loved action and good dramas, but I had no notions regarding Asian Americans. You don’t see any of them in movies.
M.S.: I read the press notes last night and I found it interesting that your perception of Americans, from movies, was ethnically white or black, but in reality there are so many different cultures here.
J.S.: Exactly, I was really shocked to see all these Asian-Americans in California. I feel that my whole perception of the United States has changed completely since I moved here.
M.S.: As a film critic, I have tried to study a large variety of films and the work of film directors across the globe. In my discovery of Japanese film, I have enjoyed the work of Kurosawa, Ozu, and others. Who are some of your favorites?
J.S.: I love Ozu. Ozu is one of my favorites. I like Kurosawa, too. But, I didn’t get to see all these Japanese masterpieces until film school. I didn’t watch many Japanese films growing up. Now that I have seen films by Ozu, I can appreciate his themes. His films are all about family. In his movies, I can see my family and life in Japan. As a kid, I watch a lot of American films, and that’s why I moved here.
M. S.: Who is your favorite American director?
J.S.: Paul Thomas Anderson. He is my favorite, favorite director. I have seen all of his films, but Magnolia is my favorite by far.
M.S.: (To Eugene): You have a background in improv. How much of this did you incorporate into the film?
Eugene Kim: I followed the script pretty much word for word, most of the time. There were things that I added in the moment that I felt Sebastian (his character) would say impulsively. Hopefully it makes the cut, as long as it fits in with what the filmmakers want. There was some improv, here and there, but I mostly stuck with the script.
M. S.: (To Eugene) Ok, this may be an embarrassing question for you. Your character seems to sweat a lot in the film, sometimes profusely. What was happening there?
E.K.: Oh my gosh! (laughs) There was one particular scene. I have been trained as an actor in the method of Strassberg. There’s something called, “Speaking Out”, where when you feel blocked, when you have a specific feeling outside your character. You say what you’re feeling out loud and keep going. There is a certain rant I have as Sebastian and we were filming on one of the hottest days of the year. I had my sweatshirt on. I was so frustrated at how hot it was and so stuffy and I expressed my anger and it brought out a spontaneity and that’s the take they used. From then on, it became my character’s trademark. It became a character quality of Sebastian, that he was such a hot head that he’d sweat.
M.S.: (To Gaku Hamada) How difficult was it to take an English speaking role? (Hamada has acted extensively in Japan, but does not speak English and this was his first English language film)
Gaku Hamada (with the help of a translator): It’s a really different system. I’m used to the vertically written scripts in Japan. I had to listen to CDs of the script. It was a lot like memorizing music.
Junya: We pre-recorded whole dialogue for him.
Eugene: He was always available to talk about the film. We would have extensive Skype sessions, so we were able to bond and establish a relationship that really aided us in working on this film. We were never ever lost in translation while working on the movie.
M.S. (To Gaku): Was working on this film your first visit the U.S?
M.S. Could you relate to the culture shock experienced by your character Naoto?
Gaku: Oh yes. I had to adjust. The toilets here are really high.
For those who haven’t seen Sake Bomb, the film will be screened one more time at the Violet Crown Cinema on Thursday March 14 at 8:30 pm.