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Where EAST meets the Northwest

SOMETHING’S FISHY. The Singh family — (L-R) Kal Penn, Sakina Jaffrey, Bernard White, and Te’Amir Sweeney — is stranded in the desert in Sharat Raju’s American Made. (Photo/Matthew R. Blute, courtesy of ITVS) Pictured at right is Lovey, played by Mie Omori, daydreaming in class in Kayo Hatta’s Fishbowl. (Photo/Kayo Hatta, courtesy of ITVS)

From The Asian Reporter, V16, #18 (May 2, 2006), page 16.

Last and first

Fishbowl

Directed by Kayo Hatta
Produced by Linda Barry, Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga, and Kayo Hatta
Distributed by the Independent Television Service (ITVS)
 

American Made
Directed by Sharat Raju
Produced by Marcus Cano

Distributed by the Independent Television Service (ITVS)

By Josephine Bridges

There’s a sad irony to the pairing of these two short films: Fishbowl is Kayo Hatta’s last, while American Made is Sharat Raju’s first. Kayo Hatta, the acclaimed Hawaiian filmmaker who gave us Picture Bride, one of the first independent films made in Hawaii, died last year. Fishbowl, her final film, is dedicated to her memory. Sharat Raju, on the other hand, is just getting started. American Made, which won 17 international awards at nearly 40 film festivals around the world, is the thesis film for his MFA in Directing at the American Film Institute.

Fishbowl

Fishbowl, adapted from Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s novel, Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers, is set in the plantation town of Hilo, Hawaii in 1975. Eleven-year-old protagonist Lovey spends considerably more satisfying time in her imagination than in real life, but it is her imagination that eventually comes to her rescue and that of her best friend Jerry, "one boy who act like one girl." Jerry and Lovey, who attend the plantation Halloween costume party as The Captain and Tennille, are eccentric, but the characters around them are just plain odd. Lovey’s Uncle Steve, "who practically live in our garage," makes a brief but unforgettable appearance. Lovey’s teacher Mr. Harvery — "You’re speaking a low-class form of good, standard English; continue and you will go nowhere" — could win an award for incompetent and insensitive classroom instruction. And then there’s The Rays of the Rising Dawn, a club of creepy clones who seem well on their way to becoming an island version of The Stepford Wives. Fortunately, there’s also a great soundtrack and gorgeous footage of goldfish to take our minds off the kinds of folks Lovey has to contend with every day.

American Made

"I told you not to buy American," Jagdesh tells his turban-clad father when the family’s Grand Cherokee breaks down on a back road in the desert. The genius of American Made is that everyone — husband, wife, grown son, and teenage son — has a different opinion, not only about their predicament but about every other aspect of life as well, and every one of them is right. And not only the audience, but the characters themselves, figure this paradox out in the course of American Made.

Sharat Raju manages to jam more thought-provoking questions into just over 20 minutes than most full-length films tackle. Do white people really fail to grasp any difference between Sikhs and Arabs, as Ranjit suggests, and simply lump them all into the same heap labeled "terrorists?" Is it a coincidence that the motorist who finally stops to help is a black man? What meaning does Anant’s turban have, to him, to Ranjit, and in the overall scheme of things? And whatever became of Jagdesh’s cell phone?

American Made is also filled with gentle humor. Upon learning that his brother goes by Paul at work in part because that’s the name of his favorite Beatle, Ranjit pretends to contemplate the name Ringo. Between unsuccessful attempts to flag a driver down, Anant Singh reads out loud from a guidebook that the land they are stranded on "was home to the Hopi Indians." His teenage son doesn’t skip a beat: "Now it’s home to four hopeless Indians."

Sharat Raju is currently at work on the feature documentary, Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath, a chronicle of hate crimes in the United States after September 11, 2001. He’s a young filmmaker to watch.