Section: Film
Title: Talk to Taka
Artist: Richard K. Kim
Importance: The first time I've seen sushi be funny.
Talk to Taka

This is the touching story of Pat Morita as an advice giving sushi chef.

11 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 production budget.

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 projects?
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 online?
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 actually Asian.

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 Trilogy.

8) How did you get Pat Morita to appear in the movie?
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.

See the Movie Talk to Taka on atomfilms.com