Sunday, November 24, 2013


On Thursday, I stopped by the 4 Star to see Sake-Bomb.  This was an odd choice because Fassbinder's Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? was playing at the YBCA and I was inclined to see it.  However, my work schedule was odd that day so it was more convenient for me to get to the 4 Star rather than the YBCA which is the opposite on most workdays.

Sake-Bomb starring Eugene Kim & Gaku Hamada; directed by Junya Sakino; English & Japanese with subtitles; (2013) - Official Website

I thought I saw the prolific Japanese actor Denden's name in the opening credits but I don't recall seeing him in the film nor is he listed on the IMDB page

Sake-Bomb premiered at this year's SXSW Film Festival which is impressive. The actual film was a little less impressive.

Naoto (Gaku Hamada) is a Japanese sake maker.  The head of his company appoints him as the next chief sake maker and gives him some advice.  Take a week or so and do something you've always wanted to do because he won't have the time or freedom to do so once he is in charge.  Naoto decides to go to the US to find his lost love.  Naoto took English language lesson from Olivia (Jenn Liu) and they had an intense physical relationship.  One day, she disappeared without a word and Naoto is left to wonder what has happened.

Naoto arrives in LA to stay with his uncle and cousin Sebastian (Eugene Kim).  Sebastian is a slacker type who runs a vlog called FOB Motherfucker.  For those not familiar with the term, FOB stands for Fresh Off the Boat.  FOB MF is like Angry Asian Man crossed with Nat X.  If you knew those two references with having to look them up, we should hang out sometime.  For the other 99%, Sebastian posts videos off himself railing against racial stereotypes he encounters as an Asian American man.  Some have merit, a few have humor but mostly they show Sebastian to be preoccupied with race to the detriment of himself.  In one memorable scene, he drives away his girlfriend by watching a faux vintage porn film featuring Dat Phan as a fictitious Asian porn actor and white porn star (former California gubernatorial candidate and real porn star Mary Carey).  Arguable, Phan and Carey's brief porn-film-within-a-film scene is funniest part of Sake-Bomb.

Back to Naoto.  He and a reluctant Sebastian set out for Petaluma where Olivia lives.  Along the way, they meet up with a sexually liberated author, some cosplayers who revere Naoto for being Japanese, a racist cop and an equally rednect bar patron.  Petaluma doesn't come off too well in Sake-Bomb which makes its inclusion in the recent Petaluma International Film Festival more surprising.

Naoto is quite naive which is explained away by his coming from a small town.  Sebastian is quite a jerk which psuedo-explained by some vague inferiority complex rooted in his Asian identity or self-perception thereof.  Regardless, it's hard to relate to the insufferable Sebastian and Naoto's quixotic quest for a woman whom he has attempted to contact is also hard to root for.  Indeed, the film ends without much resolution.  Olivia is married; always was so Naoto unwittingly cuckolded Olivia's Caucasian husband which is most certainly a commentary on the race relations Sebastian's constantly complains about.  Naoto is too nice of a guy to expose Olivia's infidelity to her husband.  After an 8 month absence which roughly coincides with the appearance of  Olivia's pregnancy, the issue of paternity of Olivia's baby is also sidestepped. 

Sebastian fares even worse.  When given the opportunity to have sex with the author (a white woman nonetheless!), Sebastian demurs.  He is still remaining true to his Asian ex-girlfriend who dumped him and made clear she wants no part of him.  Although a friendship has developed between the cousins, their lives certainly seem worse than when they embarked on their road trip. 

I laughed out loud a few times during the film.  Eugene Kim as Sebastian wasn't quite able to pull off the scenes requiring intense frustration and anger.  Essentially an ass, the future path for Sebastian doesn't look to rosy.  Naoto was more adeptly played by Gaku Hamada although he didn't have to show the range of emotions required by Kim.  Far from a great film, Sake-Bomb has an unmistable Asian indie vibe which I have picked up on over the past year or two.  Asian American filmmakers are making films dealing with Asian American issues.  Interestingly, the most pronounced moral of Sake-Bomb was that Sebastian would be a better person if he stopped thinking about himself as Asian American and looking for perceived acts of racism.  Sake-Bomb would have been a better film if it had scaled back some of stated Asian American stereotypes it was trying to disprove and satirize.  However, that kind of defeats the purpose of the film.  We had to burn down the village in order to save it.

BTW, Kim delivers a nice Bruce Lee impersonation towards the end.  He riffs on Lee's famous "Be Like Water" speech.

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