This is the touching story of Pat Morita as
an advice giving sushi chef.
Questions and a lightning round with Richard K. Kimi
1) I understand that AtomFilms.com
and IAM.com funded this project through
a contest. What I don't understand is the part where they say, "Atom
Insider Eel Jin Chae won the opportunity to be Executive Producer
on Rich Kim's film." It makes it sound like you two were thrown together
and he won you as a prize.
Could you shed a little light on the contest and your relationship?
In May, AtomFilms asked all the directors who already had short
films on the Atomfilms.com site to submit a short script. Only 46
directors (including me) ended up submitting scripts. Then at the
end of May, Atom asked their five most active registered users (Atom
"Insiders") to peruse the 46 scripts, choose one script each, and
pitch it. One of those 5 active users was
Eel Jin Chae who chose my script for "TALK TO TAKA" Together
we made a two-minute video pitch that competed against the 4 other
pitches. And for two weeks, the AtomFilms general public submitted
their votes. TAKA got 41% of the vote, and was awarded the $100,000
2) Was this the biggest budget you've had
for a film?
Yeah. I had just finished film school before starting TAKA, and
the biggest budget I had in school was $3,000.
3) Has it ruined you for future lower budget
Naw. I think a lot of stories can expand or contract to fit the
budget it's allotted. Of course it's easier for a film to EXPAND
into a large budget, but with mini-DV and a steady hand, a lower
budget project is just 3-chips away.
4) What has been the response like now that
It's great that almost anyone can see it. College friends of mine
watched it from their work, my cousins in Korea watched it at their
corner "PC cafe", others saw it at home... and everyone can type
a review online...and most of them have been great! It's cool to
read a brief review that says "I thought it was cool" to a longer
critique of the editing, acting and directing. Most mornings, I
check the site for new reviews... and I'll read how TAKA is resonating
with different kinds of people. Having so much daily feedback...
it's like having a festival screening every single day. And I'm
glad people like the film.
Let's Play the Race Card
5) I can count all the famous American Asian actors on one hand.
Has the role of the Asian actor improved in recent years, or is
the Asian American Actor rolling backwards.
It's gotten better... exposure-wise, especially for Asian American
women. But for Asian American male roles, there's still a canyon
of lack... both in the quality of roles and in the number of roles
out there. Last year, the biggest gig in town for Asian American
actors was on the set of "Martial Law" where the Asian male's primary
appeal and depth of character is no different from that of "Kung
Fu: The Torment Continues." At least with "Martial Law," Sammo is
I was really conscious of the fact that I not only had several Asian
American roles in TAKA, but also that two of my stars, Mako and
Pat Morita, are full fledged pioneer heroes of Asian American film.
For Pat, we decided early on that he wouldn't have an accent...
only cuz, we both felt that Asian American film has come far enough
along that audiences would still feel fully attached and find endearing
an older Asian character, even if he didn't have the accent to give
him the "Oriental" mystical air of wisdom. And for some folks who've
watched TAKA, they get surprised to hear that Pat doesn't have an
accent in real life... but what's not surprising is how much they
still love Pat in TAKA.
6) This movie could have been set in a lot of
different locations (e.g. Burger Joint, Confessional, Bar) why was
it important to set it in a Sushi Bar? Is it just because your dad
likes Japanese food?
We all know the traditional role of the Bartender... who lends an
ear to loners drowning their sorrows. But a smoky cocktail bar is
often seedy, especially in films. And it's usually men who come
to drink their woes away... or if a female steps into the bar, she
is at risk... or a prostitute. But with a SUSHI BAR... it's totally
different. It's a bit more middle to upper-middle class... also
a woman can sit down, and not be of ill repute. Even COUPLES can
sit at a bar, and both engage with the bartender, whereas it's harder
to envision a couple sitting at cocktail barstools with a bartender
mediating their discussion. Yet a Sushi Bar is still a public place,
where people come to have a good time, it's friendly, and a great
place to talk. The perfect place for good scenes to happen.
7) Have you received any heat from the Korean
community because your movies have no Korean characters or setting?
Koreans love both Japanese restaurants and Chinese restaurants.
And a lot of the values, sensibilities, themes that I've touched
on... they come from a part of me that is intrinsically Korean...
or at the very least Asian American. I think that's why the Korean
community has been so supportive of my work, both in the press and
at festivals. Also... my very first short film, that I did at NYU
summer school... it was set in a Korean BBQ restaurant. So, doing
TAKA was kinda like fulfilling a Korean-Chinese-Japanese Restaurant
8) How did you get Pat Morita to appear in the
Originally the role of "Taka" was written for a 31 year old man.
I kept picturing someone like Takeshi Kaneshiro in my mind as I
was polishing the script. I wanted Pat Morita to do a cameo as "Mr.
Hiro" the grouchy restaurant owner... so I got my script to an executive
at Sony Pictures who knew Pat personally. Pat got the script by
fax and called me. He said "I love this script, and would love to
be a part of this project." And then he says "... IF I can play
the lead role of TAKA." So I explained to Pat that I had written
the role for someone nearly 40 years younger. But then Pat acted
out the whole story... over the phone... from memory... voicing
all the parts... including Taka. And it was GREAT! It totally worked
having TAKA be an older character. So I took a week to rewrite the
script, and faxed it back to Pat. He liked the new version, tailored
for an Older Taka... and we "shook hands" over the phone. This all
happened long before the AtomFilms Mogul Maker program... so I was
planning on making TAKA with my own savings... and Pat had always
agreed to work on this film for no pay.
9) How do you just get your script to an executive
at Sony Pictures? Did you know the person, or was this some massive
smoke and mirrors project on your end?
Ah... a woman who lived in my apartment building was an assistant to the
Sony executive... so I pitched her the script, and she handed it to the Sony
guy, who told her "If it's good, I'll give it to Pat Morita." He liked it &
faxed it to Pat.
10) The scene where Taka creates this mangled
bit of Sushi art. I really like the timing and the rhythm. What
did you tell Pat Morita before doing the scene? He's really..uh..wacky.
On the first take of the sushi-mangling (or "sushi sex" as we called
it) Pat didn't really give me what I wanted. But we were behind
schedule... it was the last day of the shoot... at the 13th hour...
the sushi smelled like pure fungus... and the crew was getting grouchy.
So I just went for extremes! I asked Pat first to try one take as
though he were Cary Grant. He did a dead-on impersonation of Cary
Grant, gently dancing the sushi on the platter. THEN I asked Pat
to try a take as in the style of Larry Flynt... and Pat did some
crazy laughs, kinda mad-scientist-ish... and finally I asked Pat
to give me a Cinemax Tuesday Night soft-core porn version... and
that's where some of the grunts came in. My editor saw the footage...
and none of the takes worked on their own... but once he tried jumbling
them up, we saw that there was a goldmine to be found by Cuisinarting
all the takes.
11) What do you want people to know about you
or your films?
My short films center around communication and acceptance... or
conversely, miscommunication and rejection. Too many times, feelings
get hurt, friendships are broken, people discarded because of misunderstandings
or gaps in communication. These situations have plagued my life,
and it seems my films reflect a kind of wish-fulfilment that people
would understand me or my intentions.
12) What did I forget to ask you?
I dunno, I forgot.
Lightning Round --
Favorite Sound? spandex waistband slap
Favorite Smell? electric trainset transformer
boxers or briefs? Thong
Dinette Set or trip to Europe? Europe.
the Movie Talk to Taka on atomfilms.com