Get to know actress, writer and filmmaker Ayako Fujitani

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 Audrey Magazine:

When her latest film Man From Reno won the top prize at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival this summer, Ayako Fujitani was initially confused. “Dave [Boyle, the director,] told me, ‘We won!’ and I said, ‘For what?’” she remembers. She laughs. “I had forgotten it was a competition! The project had come such a long way from the [initial] Kickstarter [fundraising campaign]. We had such a tough time even finishing the movie, and we were super happy to even get in the L.A. Film Festival. So when we won, we were super shocked and surprised, in a good way.”

This is the second time the hapa actress (born to Japanese aikido master Miyako Fujitani and American action star Steven Seagal) has worked with Boyle, the first experience being in his 2012 black- and-white indie romance Daylight Savings, in which she had a supporting role as Goh Nakamura’s ex- girlfriend. After that wrapped, Boyle was working on a crime film that started out as a pair of simultaneous mystery stories with vastly different protagonists, a Japanese writer and an elderly sheriff. The sheriff character, who’d eventually be played by Pepe Serna, came from an unproduced screenplay Boyle had written previously, but the Japanese writer Aki was a new addition and written with Fujitani in mind.

I think she has a unique cerebral soulfulness about her that was perfect for the part of Aki,” says Boyle. “While the sheriff’s storyline is more of a traditional police procedural, Aki’s is a bit more emotional and character driven. She is the classic amateur sleuth, but she has secrets of her own that make her darker than your average heroine.”

Aki is a very successful Japanese mystery novel writer who’s not happy about her success for some reason,” explains Fujitani of her bilingual character. “She runs away from her book tour to San Francisco — and runs into a real mystery.”

During post-screening Q&As during the film’s festival run, Fujitani remembers Boyle joking that after she got involved, the Aki character suddenly became super dark. “Before, the character didn’t feel too much regret or sadness,” says Fujitani. “But if she was happy, no one would really care about what she goes through.”

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[Once] we realized how game Ayako would be to push the character further and further into the darkness, she made all three of us [Boyle and co-writers Joel Clark and Michael Lerman] braver as writers to make the character rougher around the edges. Her fearlessness gave us confidence,” says Boyle.

Though Fujitani wouldn’t describe herself as the type of actress who practices method acting, it was difficult for her to get Aki out of her head. Part of the reason was because they shot many of the film’s foreboding scenes in a hotel room in San Francisco, which was right next door to the actual hotel room where Fujitani stayed during the weeks they were filming in the city. “When you’re basically on the set in the same hotel room the whole time, it’s almost impossible to forget the character,” she says. “It helped my acting a lot, to get into the maze of this world, but I felt like I had no way out.” She laughs.

So after I finished the movie, it was like, I need to go to Hawaii or something!”

A relaxing vacation wasn’t in the cards, however, because Fujitani, also a filmmaker herself, has been working on numerous projects that take her back and forth between the U.S., Japan and Korea. Her short film The Doors, shot entirely on an iPhone 5 without any special lenses, recently played at the Asian Film Festival of Dallas. (It was originally made for the Olleh International Smartphone Film Festival in South Korea.) She also co-wrote a four-episode short film series, A Rose Reborn, a collaboration between acclaimed Korean director Park Chan-wook and the Italian fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna, which stars Daniel Wu and Jack Huston. She is currently developing another Korean short film, a dark comedy that follows a nervous, picky, routine-driven businessman.

She’s very confident and has a great eye and ear for unusual characters and interesting dialogue,” says Boyle of Fujitani’s work as a writer and director. In fact, he often relied on Fujitani’s instincts when it came to the Japanese-language scenes in Man from Reno, which also stars actors Kazuki Kitamura, Yasuyo Shiba, Hiroshi Watanabe and Tetsuo Kuramochi. “We worked with a lot of great translators during the scriptwriting process to make sure the Japanese version would be up to snuff, but a couple of days before we started shooting, Ayako and I did a last brush up that did amazing things for the movie,” says Boyle. “Having her ear at our disposal was huge.”

Man from Reno, which has also won awards at the San Diego Asian Film Festival and Wichita’s Tallgrass International Film Festival, has a theatrical release planned for next spring. Next up, Fujitani is off to shoot a film with Japanese director Takashi Miike, known for bloody cult films such as Ichi the Killer, Audition and 13 Assassins. “After I had been in Korea for a while, I visited Japan, and as soon as I arrived and turned on my Japanese cell phone — which is never on when I’m in another country — I get a call from Miike’s producer,” says Fujitani of the role she seemed fated to get. A fan of Miike’s work, Fujitani said yes before she even read the script. She plays a nurse in a medical drama about doctors from Nagasaki, Japan, going to Kenya. “This is a departure for him,” she says. “It is definitely not one of the horror, crazy-in-a-good-way films that Miike is known for.”

 

‘Big Hero 6′ shows that an Asian American cast can top the box office

Big Hero 6 stars (L to R): Hiro Hamada, Baymax & GoGo Tomago. Source: disney.wikia.com

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American:

 

This past weekend’s box office numbers are in, and Disney’s latest project Big Hero 6 stands soundly on top. This might not come as a big surprise, considering that Frozen-fever is still holding every auntie’s TV hostage – but the film still breaks ground, especially in the scope of Asian Americans in cinema. And Hollywood should take note.

 

Daneil Henney (left) and Ryan Potter (right), co-stars of Big Hero 6. Source: sanfransokyo-bae.tumblr.com (yes, that's a real URL)

Daniel Henney (left) and Ryan Potter (right), co-stars of Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 is a robotic sci-fi tale that revolves around Hiro Hamada,  Disney’s first explicitly mixed-heritage protagonist. Hamada is voiced by Ryan Potter, who is of Japanese and Caucasian descent himself. In fact, the entire film is placed in a “Hapa environment” of sorts, set in San Fransokyo, an architectural and cultural hybrid of the cities the name references.

Casting Asian Americans isn’t new to Disney, whose Mulan in 1998 was voiced by Ming-Na Wen, BD Wong and George Takei, among others.  Still, the studio has been inconsistent when it comes to this matter – the lead role in Lilo & Stitch wasn’t voiced by a Hawaiian (or an Asian Pacific American, for that matter), and we’d have to go as far back as Aladdin or even The Jungle Book to locate another Disney animation starring characters from a broader Asian origin (let’s pretend the Siamese Cats from Lady and the Tramp never happened).

Among those mentioned films, the only voice actor of Asian descent was Lea Salonga for Princess Jasmine’s singing parts. So while Big Hero 6 is a fictitious metropolis which never reveals what country it’s actually in, its cultural mash-up of settings, characters and themes means it could very well be Disney’s first Asian/American film that actually stars Asian American actors.

Hollywood’s reputation for placing white actors in Asian roles is a tale as old as time – from Goku in Dragonball: Evolution to Aang in The Last Airbender, glossing over the past century of Asian roles in American film would show little progress since Paul Muni and Luise Rainer donned yellowface in 1937’s The Good Earth. The track record for animation hasn’t been fantastic either, with white actors playing the lead roles in both Avatar series’ and the English dubs for Dragonball Z and Pokemon (I just ruined my childhood going through those links, BTW. You’re welcome).

 

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’m not the only one who has been griped by this cinematic phenomenon. When 2010’s The Last Airbender revealed an all-white cast (minus Dev Patel as the villain, of course), it caused such an uproar that an entire website called Racebending was launched against the production, and multiple petitions continue to call for a reboot of the franchise. Director M. Night Shyamalan, who’s Indian American himself, seemed aloof about the matter, insisting that the diversity of the cast and crew was on par with the United Nations. Those who have tried to actually find logic in prioritizing white actors in these roles have eluded to Asian and Asian American actors having less audience appeal than white actors, despite the fact that these films have failed among critics and fans alike.

Enter Big Hero 6, adapted from an obscure Marvel series about a Japanese counterpart to the Avengers. Unlike other Marvel titles like X-Men – which has an existing fanbase, or other Disney films like Maleficent – which is based on a childhood classic, Big Hero 6 relies on Disney’s promotion engine and, more importantly, its characters and storyline. Merely being a Disney film hasn’t always been a shoe-in (anyone watching The Rescuers: Down Under tonight?), but critics and audiences have been singing this one’s praises since it opened at the Tokyo International Film Festival late last month.

 

A night view of San Fransokyo, the make-believe home of the Big Hero 6. Source: disney.wikia.com

 

Debuting an awesome cartoon about Asians in the land known for cranking out awesome cartoons about Asians is a tough job for anyone, but Big Hero 6‘s ability to exhibit cultural tropes between America and Japan without being overly cheesy or offensive was impressive even to a cinema Grinch like me. Sure, I scoffed a bit at the pagoda-topped Golden Gate Bridge, but I also couldn’t help but feel validated to hear someone on the big screen say “red bean paste” as casually as one would say “hot dog.” The cast is diverse enough to make me suspect at least one member of the talent scout was a former member of the Third World Liberation Front – Potter, along with Daniel Henney, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans, Jr. and Génesis Rodríguez make T.J. Miller and Scott Adsit’s roles the only two not filled by an actor of color.

 

"Big Hero 6" © 2014 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

 

I must say that I left the film with a bittersweet feeling, as I was disappointed when I didn’t see any Asian American names in the credits among the top-level crew – this is a testament to the fact that much progress is yet to be made. But where Big Hero 6 does succeed is that it actually tried what many of us knew would work all along – make characters that reflect the audience, and hire actors who reflect those characters. So if anyone else in Hollywood is still wondering if our audiences are ready to see more Asian Pacific Americans in the big screen, I’ll leave you with yet another box office dominator:

therock

 

Link

How to piss off an Asian American…

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The following list was constructed in consideration of all Northeast Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian, Pacific Islander, and HAPA Americans, whether they were born here or earned naturalized citizenship through processes administered by the US of A. Like the Italians, we hold a grudge when a grudge is called for. Thus, it is advisable that one does NOT:

Assume we don’t get angry.

If Asian American people don’t react angrily to a dick move that would throw anyone else into a fit, it’s because they have better things to do than acknowledge your existence. Or, they are conserving their energy while they calmly await the next best opportunity to screw you over the same way you thought it was okay to try to screw them over.

Say we’re cute when we’re angry.

Continue down this road of condescension, and you’ll soon learn what the not-cute version looks like. Consider yourself warned that damages may be bodily, psychological, emotional, financial, or legal in nature.

Ask us where we’re from, or say “you look half.”

Sadly, this tends to happen more to the ladies, but really, the offense can be experienced by both sexes of any sexuality, even in supposedly more cosmopolitan or educated city centers like San Francisco or New York City. Worse, such queries are often made under the auspices of flattery or admiring curiosity. Hence, even the calmest assertion that we are offended by these ludicrous questions is met with a whole lot of talk, ranging from “Wha-a-at? It’s because you’re beautiful and I want to know your origins,” to “I love Asians!” to “You should be proud of your origins,” to “Whatever, I’m not racist.”

Here is a hint, asshole: The only right thing to do if someone calls you out for being a moron in this special way is to S.T.F.U., bow your head, and desist all attempts to interact with the victim unless they for some reason approach you for conversation first.

And…”you look half?” Half what, ass hat? Such things aren’t even assumed about stray dogs on the street. When it comes to humans, better not ask “what” they are, or worse, tell them what you think they look like they are. We are all human. Period.

Still not convinced these questions and statements are completely unacceptable, especially when posed as conversation openers or pickup lines? Just repeat the scenarios in your head with a black person or a Hispanic person, or any kind of person other than Asian. You wouldn’t do it. No, you would not, and you have not ever, so don’t pretend. You don’t even have to explain why you wouldn’t do it to African Americans or Other Americans; just be consistent and don’t do it to us, either.

When indulged with an answer to the “Where are you from?” question, persist with “No, I mean where are you really from?”

If an Asian American tells you they’re from Boston or Minnesota or Humboldt County, that’s exactly what they mean, period, and you must wrap your head around that.

So before persisting in this matter, ask yourself why you’re so convinced we’re from somewhere else, and why you fail at finding the appropriate way to ask someone about their heritage or ancestry once you get to maybe know them better and grant them the plain fact that they are first and foremost as American as you are.

In a random setting, approach an Asian person you don’t know and shout out a phrase in any Asian language you guess they speak.

Read and internalize: This is just wrong. You WILL insult everyone you accost in this manner.

Ask an Asian American if they speak English.

We’re in America, so unless you hear someone speaking only in another language, the default assumption should be that we do speak English just as well as, if not better than, you do.

Ask if we like anime or Hello Kitty.

The answer is maybe or maybe not, but it’s awful to be asked it just because we are Asian American, since anime and Hello Kitty were conceptualized in a small area of Japan.

Dismiss us as bad drivers.

This is patently untrue. If you are in Southern California and say, “It’s true, though, little Asian ladies everywhere are terrible drivers,” it’s because you’re living in an area where there Asian people at all (versus somewhere where there are next to none), and because old people are bad drivers, second only to teenagers. Also, LA is full of crappy drivers of every race. None of these facts allows the conclusion that the drivers are bad because they are Asian.

If you were in Nebraska, you’d just be saying, “Old ladies are awful drivers,” and this would be getting closer to the truth. Even then, you wouldn’t take the trouble to say “Old white ladies are awful drivers.” See the point I’m trying to drive home?

Make casual jokes or references that are ultimately about serious wars and strife that occurred in Asia or among Asian people and not applicable to the present-day situation in which you misused these jokes or references.

Here are just a couple examples. Gold star to anyone who can think of another one on their own.

1. “Me so horny; me love you long time.”

You might know these words as a refrain to a shitty club song from the early ’90s, or as a common catcall made about Asian women who are assumed to be wanting sexual acts to be performed upon them. But the line is actually a quote uttered by prostitutes from the Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket; a stylized but not entirely inaccurate expose of the horrors of the Vietnam War. I think the actress, by the way, appears again later in a climactic moment of the film, eviscerated and lying at the feet of American soldiers, eyes rolling back into her head and begging for death by the bullet.

So yeah…these words relate back to a scene about women who were actually (and not too long ago) exploited in sexual slavery, raped, killed in the crossfire, and left with diseases and children, who in turn were left with diseases and without parents, food, or education in a war-ravaged region. Not sure what’s so funny or arousing about all this, even if you meant it as a joke about an Asian female who you think is a ho’ who wants your dick (probably not).

2. When eventual gold medalist Yuna Kim of South Korea and Mao Asada of Japan went head to head in the figure skating event of the 2010 Winter Olympics, the non-Asian American commentators casually talked about how there was a lot at stake because of historical tensions between South Korea and Japan. While it is fact that Japan colonized Korea, sexually enslaved its women, and tried to eradicate the country and its language less than a century ago, World War II was more recent and you’d never hear a sports news anchor alluding to Pearl Harbor or the Holocaust in a similar situation. I think every Korean American, Japanese American, and Asian American cringed in apology of our country’s ignorance in that moment. A lot of bad shit has happened everywhere around the world, but it belongs in history and in memory, and nowhere else, least of all a rink during an international athletic event.

Nod at any mention of parent-related stress and say knowingly, “Tiger Mother?”

The person who takes credit for this term is one Chinese American woman named Amy Chua, who — in writing the self-exhibiting Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother in an attempt to justify the strict and education-obsessed parenting method imposed by her own parents — enabled all non-Asian readers to feel validated in their groundless assumptions about what an Asian parent is like because they can use a two-word catchphrase to sum up these assumptions.

No one raised by Asian or international parents can deny that cultural elements didn’t color the experience of growing up in this country. But these experiences can NOT be reduced to, or even partially described by, the words “tiger mother” and their implications any more than non-Asian parents would be captured by the words “lackadaisical breeder of underachieving American sloths.” Besides, one should hope that being raised with high expectations for work ethic, respectful behavior, educational excellence, and professional success is not a patently Asian trait. Or else Amurrrca (where Asians are still in the minority and treated as such) really is in trouble.

Say there are “too many Asians” in our good colleges.

Asian Americans still make up under 7% of the population in the whole United States, and this handy fact sheet reveals where the ‘most Asian’ schools are. But we are still generally in the minority both in this nation and in all of its educational institutions. Don’t you think it’s bizarre that no one looks at the US or Harvard and says, “America’s 77.9% white?? Only 38% of Harvard is non-white (bearing in mind that even this percentage is inflated because white people are beginning to realize they don’t have to check off their demographic box on applications)?? There are too many white people up in here. Our nation and our top universities have a white problem. It’s not fair to anyone else.” No!

It’s insane to think that the presence of high-achieving Asian Americans in our nation’s schools is coined as an “Asian problem” and discussed as such. The only problem here is our looking at America’s brightest youth and singling them out for the way they look and saying there are too many of them on campus. Seriously, WTF??

Say we’re good at numbers.

Not always true. Well okay, we’ll take the compliment to our quantitative and financial aptitude, but leave the flip side, which is the latent assumption that we don’t also rock it out in literary feats, music, art, innovation, communication, and expansive thought. And video games.

Say “You look so Asian,” or “That’s so Asian,” or “You’re not really Asian.”

Lest the reader think I’m making this into an Asian-versus-Everyone-Else tirade, Asians do this to one another quite frequently, too! To these statements, I must say: Pardon my Asian, but what’s your fucking point?

Check out this link:

How to piss off an Asian American

Link

Hapa-Palooza 2013!

 

Celebrating its 3rd year, the 2013 Hapa-Palooza Festival is Vancouver’s first festival celebrating mixed roots arts and ideas. Launched in 2011 as a celebration of Vancouver’s rich identity as a place of hybridity, synergy and acceptance, Hapa-Palooza places the prominence on celebrating and stimulating awareness of mixed-roots identity. Running September 18, 19 & 21, 2013, Hapa-Palooza brings an unprecedented array of mixed-heritage artists in the mediums of film, music, visual and literary arts such asYasuko Thanh, David Chariandy, Fred Wah, Jason Karman, Kyle Toy, Tetsuro Shigematsu, Brent Hirose, Travis Bernhadt and Michelle Kim.

Check out this link:

Hapa-Palooza 2013!

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