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Sometimes, films can have very lofty ambitions that are never truly realized, at least in the context of their narratives. Somewhere along the way, the message can be buried by shoddy performances or an ill-fitting tone; or, better yet, the theme being explored could simply just be too big for the entire film.
With Sake-Bomb, it’s a mix of a few of these problems. After all, when a film exploring the interaction between a native Japanese man and his Japanese-American cousin is presented as a buddy/road film, problems are going to arise.
Director: Junya Sakino
Release Date: March 8, 2013 (SXSW)
Sebastian (Eugene Kim) is a young Japanese-American adult angry at Asian stereotypes in America, as displayed on his vlog entitled “FOB (Fresh Off the Boat) Mother Fucker.” When his Japanese cousin, Naoto (Gaku Hamada), a sake maker set to inherit a sake factory from his boss, comes to California to find the love of his life, he initially resents Naoto and his quest. However, he reluctantly helps his cousin as they both discover something about themselves during the journey.
A sake-bomb is when a shot of sake is dropped into a glass of beer, whereupon the person must chug the entire drink. Director Junya Sakino utilizes the concept as a way to describe the two differing cultures, Japanese and Japanese-American (sake and beer, respectively). The title, thusly, is so fitting for the ideas he explored in the film. However, the ideas are much more compelling than the film itself.
A reason for this could be just how shallow the narrative could be. Again, the theme of culture differences runs through the entire film, but they’re never really explored to a greater extent. What results are these surface interactions where racial tension isn’t necessarily exploited for humor, but are just too obvious. Take, for example, the obvious look at anime/cosplay culture and how the related scene displays the American fascination with a “real-life Japanese person.”
Another reason could be the acting. During a post-screening interview with Kim, I could sense just how passionate he felt about the subject matter. On-screen, however, he was prone to overacting. This could be because of the extreme nature of Sebastian and his blatant anger towards everything, but it could have been more subdued. Hamada, however, easily portrayed the quiet, demure Naoto, serving as the obvious contrast to Kim’s Sebastian caricature.
The subject matter is what initially interested me in Sake-Bomb. However, the film itself doesn’t live up to its lofty ambitions. Granted, exploring relations between a number of different cultures (Japanese v. Japanese-American, Japanese v. American, Japanese-American v. American) is already a heavy topic, but to explore it under a buddy/road trip comedy takes a specific formula to achieve successfully. Sake-Bomb unfortunately doesn’t do that, but it does make a valiant attempt.