Interview: Jason Chan and Christian Lee, directors of Jimami Tofu

We pick the brains of Singapore-based filmmakers Jason Chan and Christian Lee on their debut feature length film, Jimami Tofu

Jason Chan as Ryan in Jimami Tofu

Blending food and romance, there's no truer local love story than Jimami Tofu. Set in Singapore and Okinawa, the film follows the life of Ryan (Jason Chan), a Singaporean chef working in Tokyo who falls head over heels for the city’s harshest food critic. We catch up with multi-talented duo Jason Chan and Christian Lee who starred in, wrote, directed and produced the feature, which debuted at the 37th Hawaii International Film Festival. Here’s why you should embark on this discovery of love and the true meaning of home.

You were both on a scouting trip to Okinawa when the idea for the film came about. Tell us more…

Jason: We went to a lot of the tourist spots on the island and although we found it beautiful, we wanted to dig deeper into the prefecture. One night, Christian and I found some traditional Okinawan food – a perfect blend of Chinese and Japanese-Ryukyu cuisine – down a little back alley that we thought would make a fantastic scene for a film.Thats when we discovered the world we wanted to create.

Christian Lee as Marcus

"Longing for a home is one of the main themes in this film"

Was any part of the movie inspired by your personal lives?

Jason: We’ve always wanted to produce something romantic but as we discovered more about Okinawa, we heard stories of how its people yearn to move to the big cities. But there are also residents who are incredibly proud of their Okinawan heritage.

Christian: It ties in really well with our story because it’s basically about a foreigner living in a different country. Longing for home is one of the main themes in this film.

What was it like working on an international collaboration?

Jason: The first time we got a chill down our spine was when we auditioned Japanese actors. They were reading our translated script and we were like, “wow, these people are actually acting out our story in Japanese!” And because it was a film about their hometown, the project took a life of its own – a lot of the cast and crew offered to help make the production better. It was difficult at times to direct in two languages but a dream to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds.

Christian: The challenge of having to communicate through translators throughout the filming process made us rely more on universal themes, which helped us create a story that transcends language.

Jason Chan and actress Rino Nakasone

How different was it working with a larger crew compared to previous projects?

Jason: Overwhelming! We had more than 30 people on set compared to a team of four in our past productions. On the first day [of shooting] I told Christian, “dude, what do we do with all these people?” We were so used to carrying our own equipment that when we had assistance from others, we felt a bit strange only holding on to our scripts. 

Christian: Yeah, but now I want someone to carry my script for me too! [laughs]

What did you guys do differently for this production?

Jason: Definitely editing. Compared to the fast cuts you’ve seen in our previous short films like Perfect Girl, for Jimami Tofu we wanted to capture the essence of how time passes in Okinawa. We wanted the scenes and the story to breathe, so the audience can feel like they’re walking down a tree-lined path in a village. I’d also say we were more influenced by Japanese styles of filmmaking in this one.

Christian: It was nice to let the scenes play out naturally. And I’m sure the actors really enjoyed that too because they got to wholly immerse themselves in the story-telling. The irony is that at first, we developed a technique to speed up the filming process but we ended up taking our time.

"We spend our lives trying to find a home and our own voice, but your home is where you can speak from your heart and express what you want"

Ryan, the protagonist in the film, makes a lot of self-discoveries about home and identity in the film. What did you guys discover while producing it?

Jason: We’ve come to realise that feeling like a foreigner is actually quite universal. I grew up in Australia and Christian in the States, and we both came back to Singapore to feel more at home. Although strangely we felt like we didn’t quite fit in. And when we went to Japan, I thought ‘oh, we definitely don’t fit in here’. But then we discovered that the people in Okinawa sometimes feel quite foreign themselves too. Either because some of them are Japanese so they’re not really Okinawan, or they’re Okinawan and they don’t identify as Japanese. And it really resonated with us. We spend our lives trying to find a home and our own voice, but your home is where you can speak from your heart and express what you want.

Christian: Ryan tries so hard to perfect traditional Okinawan food but he learns that he’s got to make it his own by infusing his personality and journey into it. And when he does that, he finds the balancing pieces. For us, we weren’t quite sure if the Okinawans would accept a bunch of foreigners trying to depict their culture. But we took our time to shoot the story in way we knew how and we’re pleasantly surprised by the warm reception.

You both direct and act in this film. Which is harder – acting or directing?

Jason: Oh, directing for sure – you have to make the decision for everything. Our art director fits in meetings on what types of spoons we’d want to use or what colour menu we’d prefer.

Christian: I think it’s so luxurious that we got the chance to pick on little details that help tell the story better. Directing is hard but it’s absolutely rewarding.

Jimami Tofu is screening at select theatres in Singapore. For more information and updates, check out bananamanafilms.com.

Comments

0 comments