After the loss of a beloved family member, a daughter returns from far away to her mother's home in Japan; mother and daughter attempt to work past the guilt and distance in order to reconnect, each in their own ways.
We spoke with Kana Hatakeyama, writer/director (and actress and producer, too!) of OKAASAN (MOM), playing in the shorts program "Everything Is Gonna Be Alright" on Sun, June 24 at 9am. Read more with Kana and catch the film this weekend!
NFF: Can you talk a little about your inspiration for the film?
KANA: I had been working on writing several different projects, but this is the one that I ended up finishing first. It wasn't a conscious choice, but I think it did come out first because it was important to me. That being said, the film was shot in my native Japan, and it had been a goal of mine as an artist to capture what my beloved homeland has meant and felt like for me over the years--a bit different in perspective from the representation of Japan in film I'd been exposed to growing up in the U.S., which generally seems to focus more on the exotic aspects of the country and culture. I wanted to portray a mother-daughter story set in an area of Japan that I personally love, a distinct Japanese space where bits of the urban and the mythical nature co-exist. Also, as a Japanese woman and an Asian-American woman, I wanted to tell a story with two female Japanese, Asian protagonists who are fully human, complex, and do not play into any sort of stereotypes.
NFF: Why or how did you decide to have your own mother act in the film?
KANA: I had written it with her in mind, and I had always felt that something about her way of being in real life would translate beautifully on-screen. In addition, I only had 6 weeks from when I decided I was going to shoot it to production, and I was also self-financing and thus working with a very limited budget, so I had financial and time constraints that I would have had to contend with had I decided to find another actress. And although my mom hasn't been working professionally as an actress, she did theater when she was in university, so acting wasn't something that was totally foreign to her. Also, part of the reason I wanted to make the film was to get to spend time and do something meaningful with her, so I asked. Initially she hadn't thought she was going to be acting in it so she was like, "I can't," and I was like, "Mom, you must." And fortunately she ended up agreeing to do it :)
NFF: I know you have a background in theatre - how was making a film similar or different?
KANA: It was really cool and a bit surprising to discover, what I found most similar to the rehearsal process in theater was the editing process. In theater, you rehearse, you try things, and you come up with some sort of draft, a version of the scene or play. You do it, you learn from it, and then you build on it, with each new draft, new layer, new rehearsal. Sometimes you discover that what you had before worked better, sometimes you try something completely new and different. The editing process was very similar. Working with my wonderful editor Ronnie Rios, we'd come up with a cut, we'd watch it, learn from it, and try again, and with each new cut, we were able to get closer to the core of the story, which to me is exactly the same as the rehearsal process in theater. I loved it.
NFF: Did you face any challenges or surprises while filming?
KANA: Because we had a skeleton crew--partly because I didn't have the money to hire more crew, transport them, and house them, and also because I thought a smaller crew would work better for this intimate story I wanted to tell--beyond directing and acting, there was a lot to be done, including basic but very important stuff like making sure there was enough coffee and food for everyone. I had help from my mom and our AD, but at the end of the day there was very little time for sleep, so that was challenging, wearing so many hats at once. A lovely surprise I had while filming was the fact that my dog is a very talented and eager actress, as she barked her way into more scenes than she was originally written into. Fortunately, it worked out because she was brilliant, and really brought so many additional layers to the film. She is a star, and I'm very proud of her and her work in the film.
NFF: Why are you excited to screen in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences might relate to or takeaway from the film?
KANA: I'm so excited to screen in Nantucket because I've heard such wonderful things about both the festival and the island! I've never been to the island or the film festival, so am really looking forward to getting to discover both. I hope that Nantucket audiences in turn will get to discover a part of Japan that they may not have yet been exposed to, as well as relate to something explored in the film, whether that be loss or guilt or mother-daughter relationships.