Junya Sakino is a new japanese director, that has previously worked as a cinematographer and producer, both in Japan and the US. On the occasion of the release of his first feature film, Sake Bomb he answered some of my questions. I will not get into further details about him as the interview is quite biographical
First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your first feature film, Sake bomb. Could you tell us a bit about the path that brought you from Japan to the U.S and the making of this movie.?
I was born and raised in Japan and decided to move to Los Angeles to purse a filmmaking career. It’s not that I didn’t consider staying in Japan, but it made sense for me that there were a lot of universities that offered film studies, so my natural instinct was just to go and study there although I didn’t speak a word of English. I had a great time making short films with filmmaker friends in college and when I graduated from school, I kept in touch with those classmates who eventually became the main crew of Sake-Bomb.
You have exercised a number of roles in the production of a movie. Apart from filmmaker, which one do you enjoy the most?
I was fortunate to have gotten involved with many co-productions as a bilingual Assisstant Director. This experience really opened the door for me in the industry. But the more A.D work I do, the more passion for creating something on my own became apparent and that’s when I decided to make my own feature.
You have worked as a cinematographer in the TV documentary, Oceans Away. Could you tell us a bit about this experience and what are the technical differences between making a documentary and a feature film?
That was a TV documentary series about Chinese individuals living outside of the country. I was hired as a cinematographer to follow a Chinese international student. It was my first documentary work and I’ve learned a lot. In the documentary, the characters don’t work for you. So you have to always think ahead how the characters would interact and come up with plans so that you can capture the best moments from the reality. Whereas in the narrative feature, it takes a long time to develop how you want to tell a story, but once you’ve got that foundation then it’s just a matter of adjusting on set. But I have to say, the indie filmmaking can be like documentary sometimes because you don’t have enough resources to create what you want, so you end up working with what you have, which is like documentary style.
Which are your most important influences, as a director and could you tell us some of your favorite movies?
I’ve had a huge influence from Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. This movie had come out in theater right before I left for the U.S in 2000. I never forgot the shocking experience watching Magnolia in the theater. Sake-Bomb may not reflect of his influence, but I have been developing other projects that are hugely inspired by PTA’s films.
What is the difference between working in Japan and the U.S.?
It’s hard to say because most of my professional film career has been based in the U.S. In Sake-Bomb, we shot 2 days in Japan and that was my Japanese film experience. We couldn’t afford to send a crew from the U.S, so we ended up crewing a whole brand new team in Japan. I’m used to be called by my first name (Junya) on set, but when I was in Japan they called me “Kantoku” which means “Director”. They would never call you by the first name. So I felt weird in the beginning, but by the time I got used to it, the shoot was over.
In Sake Bomb, you have a blend of American and Japanese actors. Are there any differences in the way they work and how do you choose the actors to play in your movie?
Just as the title explains, the movie is really about mixture of cultures and I also wanted to mix American and Japanese actors. It was a lot of fun working with these great actors. They may have slight different approaches, but for the most part I feel it doesn’t matter what background they have. Good actors are good actors no matter where they come from. The reality is that you don’t have a lot of time on set especially in the indie film so it’s always good to have good actors that can pull of great performance in a few takes.
Denden and Hiroyuki Watanabe are quite famous in Japan. How did you manage to cast them and how was your experience working with famous actors?
I got lucky to have these amazing actors. I had worked with Watanabe-san previously and he has always said he would come to the U.S to be in my movie. So I sort of wrote the character for him. Denden was my first choice and we weren’t sure if we could cast him until a couple of weeks before the production because he was so busy. Gaku Hamada was also busy working on “The Eternal Zero” while we were filming Sake-Bomb. So it was a bit hectic for the production to schedule, but it was totally worth working with these amazing actors. I’m so grateful to have collaborated with them.
Do you identify with any of the characters in the movie?
I may not justify these character’s behaviors, but I identify with their struggles. Sebastian is very cynical in his worldview, but very much a tragic victim in his denial. Naoto is a very naive character who needs to find his true love. Both of them need each other to understand the reality and these realizations can be sometimes brutal. That sort of pain is something we all go through as a human being and I think these characters are definably experiencing the very moments in the film.
Are there many Asians like Sebastian, who is totally frustrated with all the stereotypes, in the U.S.?
Yes, there are. A bunch. As I have lived in the states more than 15 years now, I totally understand the dilemma ωοψαλ experience here. I think Sebastian’s complexity might be a bit too extreme but I don’t doubt that there are a lot of Asian Americans that share the same view as Sebastian (It’s only that they are not as vocal as Sebastian). There are many people who are fed up with Asian Stereotypes in the states. The film won some awards at Asian American film festivals and this maybe tells me that some people identify with the themes or the characters.
Could you tell us a bit about your future plans?
I have a few projects that are in the middle of development stages and in the meantime I’m currently working on a feature documentary about a group of space enthusiasts who attempt to build their own way into orbit. I don’t know when we are going to finish it but I’m hoping that this will be my next feature.