Akiko Izumitani – hailed from Japan, Currently Residing in Los Angeles. She was a Perfect Example of a person who ‘Addicted’ In Cinema. When she was at the age of 24, she directed her first documentary film ‘Silent Shame’ that unfolding a lesser known story of Japan war crimes and for making that film she travelled alone, took interviews of people from China, Japan and Korea. It took her seven years for completing her first film. Lack of Finance was the one main reason behind the happening of delay of the film release; she amasses funding by doing some extra jobs in her vacations. Finally in the Year 2010, she released that movie and it got premiered in eminent film festivals including the Beijing Movie Film Festival, Foyle Film Festival and The End of the Pier Film Festival. Afterward, she directed three more narrative short films “The Other Side”, “Sukiyaki with Love” and “Kung Fu Date” that, also received positive responses from many leading film festivals. We are So Happy to spare some moments with this cinephile.
Miss Akiko Izumitani Interview with Mr. Sreekanth Gopinathan of Filmmakersfans.com
Sreekanth : What made you decide to be a filmmaker?
Akiko: It was 1984 or 1985, my brother showed me a brochure of the movie, Gremlins. I asked him what this is and he said “It’s a movie.” That was when I recognized the “movie.” I grew up watching Hollywood movies behind my brother’s back. He was a movie buff. Through him, I realized the power of movies and gradually it enchanted me. In 1992, The Silence of the Lambs won many Oscars and when I watched it for the first time, I did not understand why ‘this film’ won that many awards. So, I watched it again and again and again to understand the film and realized why this film was so good. That was how I became fascinated of filmmaking.
One day, my school brought students to watch the play about Chiune Sugihara, a diplomat in Lithuania who saved more than 6,000 Jewish refugees during the WWII. I was a typical high school kid hating the school activity and was reluctant to go watch the play. Later, I decided to watch the play and after watching it, I thought the play was so powerful that it could convey the unknown story to a person like me. Then I watched Schindler’s List. It was shocking and painful, but people needed to know that the incident happened. That’s how I started thinking about filmmaking and decide to make movies that would change many people’s life and their point of view.
However, the problem was I lived in the country side. There were no film theaters in my city. I did not know anyone who was a filmmaker. I asked my teacher how I could be a film director and he said he heard UCLA was the best film school in the world. I asked my parents to send me to a film school, but of course they said no. So I kept begging them for six months and they finally approved me to study abroad with certain conditions.
I first went to a city college to save tuition. My school counselor told me to give up the hope to get into UCLA Film School. They only took fifteen students from entire world (and fifteen from UCLA lower division) and it’s difficult to get in for even American students. She thought I should study for something else because my English was not great at that time. My screenwriting teacher who graduated from UCLA Film School told me not to listen to her so I kept studying for film school and didn’t study for other majors. Finally I was accepted by both UCLA and USC Film School and I chose UCLA.
The film school was very academic, but I was happy that I was in the dream place. After I graduated from UCLA, I received a job offer from the Universal Studio’s Editorial department, which is actually a dream job for many editors in Hollywood, but they could not hire me because I didn’t have a greencard. The solicitor told me that I would have to give up working in the US because the government would not give me a working visa because my degree is film and it’s too specific. I m sure, I have to get a job in the film industry but they could not proof that it has to be me when there were many Americans who needed job. I got an office job that relates to the film industry and worked on the documentary during the nights and weekends.
After ten years, I finally received the greencard through my work that nourished again my filmmaking dreams and I started filming short films. I’m hoping to shoot a feature film next.
Filmmaking is hard, but when I meet the audience who loved the film, I forget all the hardships. Once, a Chinese person approached me after she watched my film- ‘Silent Shame’ and told me that she hated the Japanese until she watched this film. So I guess I did something to change one person’s view. The best moment was when I screened my film in Japan.. All of my family and my friends came to watch it. They cried for me because they remembered the day I said “I’m leaving Japan to pursue my dream to be a director.” I’m still working to be a full time director, but I’m definitely working toward my dream. “
Sreekanth: Your directorial debut ‘Silent Shame’ is about the Japanese War Crimes and it was acclaimed in many film festivals including BJIFF. How you get inspired to make such a film?
Akiko: My friend from UCLA who took a documentary class told me that the documentary would be easy because I would need only camera and a microphone. Now I think how wrong she was. At the time I was wondering why the Japanese people would deny about the worst thing the Japanese military did during the WWII. I wanted to know more about it and I thought I would learn more if I would make a documentary about the subject. I also wanted non-Japanese people to know the situation for people in Japan. If you talk about it, you would be harassed. Your family will be harassed. You might have to argue with your boss. So it’s a serious deal.
Sreekanth: You made Documentary as well as narrative short films. As a filmmaker, can you say-what was the functional difference that you noticed on both?
Akiko: The biggest difference between documentary and narrative films would be you are working with real people when you make documentary. Your subject would be open up their personal life so they would want to be the best friend with you. Real people would give you hard time when it comes to sign on the contract. Real people would not understand how the film shooting works. When you work with narrative filmmakers, they do this every day so it’s so much easier to deal with them. Documentary requires a lot of leg works and a lot of research time. If you do by yourself, it’s hard but you can lower the cost. You will have to revise the script based on the interviews. It’s very different from narrative filmmaking. I personally like narrative filmmaking better.
Sreekanth: You Born in Japan and now residing in Los Angeles. Is that because you want to make a try in Hollywood?
Akiko: I grew up watching Hollywood films and I generally like them better than Japanese movies (although I love samurai movies!) I felt filmmaking in Hollywood is more efficient and more resourceful. I know there are good Japanese actors in Japan, but I think there are more trained actors in Hollywood. There are strong unions here it seems crew members here are happier than crew members in Japan. Hollywood films typically raise bigger money than Japanese films. Filmmakers are arriving to the Hollywood from all over the world. They are all talented and they have a strong mentality to overcome hardship like language, cultural difference, etc. So, it’s very exciting and very competitive in Hollywood. It’s probably harder to be a director here than in Japan for me, but I like the challenge.
Sreekanth: Exactly, How You Find funding for your films?
Akiko: All the funding for Silent Shame came from my pocket. I haven’t recouped the cost yet. I sold Sukiyaki with Love for one month licensing and I recouped a half of my production cost. I did kickstarter for ‘The Other Side’, but mostly came from my saving as well. I’m done with using my own money. I think I proved that I can deliver the material and I can ask investors to trust me as a director.
Sreekanth: Yet Now, how much You Exploited the Filmmaking Technologies?
Akiko: One of my scripts is fantasy love story that will require a lot of VFX. It will have to look natural blending with natures. It could be tough and ambitious but it will look the most beautiful thing if the VFX team makes it happen.
Sreekanth: You have visited many film festivals. What were the few common things that you noticed in all the film festivals?
Akiko: You want to submit your films to as many film festivals as possible if you can afford it. If not, pick festivals near your area, so you don’t need to deal with booking the hotel, airplane, and etc. Or you can pick the festival you want to visit. Submit your film to a festival based on your film genre: for an instance, submitting a romance film to the horror film festival is not a good idea. And, submit your film as early as possible. It’s cheaper that way, and the judges are not exhausted yet to watch your film.
When you go to the festivals, it could be overwhelming. You will meet many people. I bring my business card with my picture on it. It helps people to remember you. Typically the festival will give you a film pass. Put your film’s post card on the other side of the badge. When people ask you if your film is in the festival, you flip the pass and show them. If the post card lists the screening time, it’s even better.
Many people like to submit their films to bigger film festivals. Sometimes it’s good to submit to the smaller festivals in Hollywood and Beverly Hills area. You will meet people in the industry and you will have time to talk to them like a real person, get to know them, be friends with them.
Also, it’s good to go to the festival with someone who knows many people. It’s better when someone says “This is a director of the film called so and so” instead of you saying “I’m a director.”
Sreekanth: I Found that you prefer the Vimeo than You Tube, Well that’s a good thing. Based on your experience, can you tell which one is more beneficial for an indie-filmmaker?
Akiko: I use both, but Vimeo has a password option when you share the link with someone, and you can pick the thumbnail unlike youtube. I feel search option for Vimeo On Demand can be improved to let the audience find my film. Silent Shame is very specific subject and people would want to watch it if they are interested in the subject. I wish they had a search option for “looking for a documentary about history, human rights or humanity,”
Watch : Silent Shame On Online
Sreekanth: According to you, what are the best qualities indeed need for good filmmakers?
Akiko: Pursuing a directing career in Hollywood is the hardest thing to do in the film industry. Everyone wants to be a director. There is no set course. You will have to figure out. Just being talented is not enough. You have be smart, be positive, be friendly, be strong, and be lucky. If you are woman, you will encounter the sexism. If you are the ESL person, you will have to compete with American filmmakers whose English skills are higher than average Americans. If you are not Americans, you will have to figure out how to get a greencard. In the end, I think you have to be absolutely in love with films to endure the hardship, frustration, and financial problem. And if you love filmmaking more than anything, you won’t quit. And if you won’t quit, you will make it one day.
Sreekanth: What about your Future Projects?
Akiko: I have two feature scripts that I’m developing. One is drama about the friendship between an American POW and a Japanese boy. Another one is a fantasy love story and I would like to visualize it in Japan.
Sreekanth: Thank you Akiko, for sparing your time with us. We wish you all the best for your filmmaking career
Akiko: Thank you very much too!