I’m not a film critic and won’t pretend to be one. Strictly from an audience member’s perspective, Infinity and Chashu Ramen is a light-hearted & enjoyable film about a slice of life in San Francisco’s Japantown.
Written and directed by Kerwin Berk, Infinity and the Chashu Ramen premieres this coming Saturday at the 2013 Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco at the Kabuki Theater with two showings.
The film stars 91-year old Hiroshi Kashiwagi, an actor, poet and playwright whose films and TV credits include Hito Hata, Black Rain and Hot Summer Wind.
Wendy Woo is a graduate of the acting department at the Academy of Art University and is making her first feature-length film.
Kashiwagi plays a Japanese American spirit who goes in and out of people’s lives, creating mischief while keeping the universe running in order. Woo is the young apprentice Kashiwagi is grooming.
The film was shot entirely in San Francisco’s Japantown.
Tickets are available at infinityandchashuramen.com. Showings are at 7 and 9:30 pm Saturday night.
Writer and director Kerwin Berk agreed to answer the following questions about the film from AsAmNews.
Where did you get the inspiration for Infinity & Chashu Ramen?
I was on vacation and sitting in a cafe in the Montmartre District of Paris. I struck up a conversation with a local and remarked that it was a remarkable neighborhood. He had lived there for many, many years and, I can only guess, had not looked at his surroundings with fresh eyes in a while. He look around and simply said “Yes, it is.” From there I began to think that outsiders must see – and think – something much different than I do when they visit the neighborhood of my youth – SF’s Japantown.
Describe the Japanese spirit in your life.
I am a Sansei, born and raised in San Francisco. Japantown was my backyard and playground as a young child and even though we moved out to the Avenues when I was young I still consider it my neighborhood. As with all Asian Americans, my ethnicity and culture is engrained in my character and values.
Why did you choose to film Infinity & Chashu Ramen entirely in Japantown?
They say writers are supposed to write about what they know so when I wrote the screenplay I took characters from my youth and wove them into the places I remember them. Plus, I think we were able to provide viewers with a glimpse of a neighborhood that is largely ignored by TV and Hollywood filmmakers. Japantown is an incredibly beautiful neighborhood but it just isn’t on their radar.
How would this film have been different if you have chosen a different locale for the film?
The location and the screenplay are somewhat inseparable. Moving the film would have changed the core concept of looking into a day in the life of a Japanese American neighborhood.
What is the significance of the title of the film?
Noodles are extremely important in the life of Asian Americans. And, chashu ramen is comfort food for Japanese Americans. Ask any JA to name their favorite ramen place and you’ll get a detailed description of why they like the ramen there and why every place else is second-best. In the film one of the characters takes about life and, naturally, uses ramen as the metaphor.
What was it like to work with Hiroshi Kashiwagi?
Hiroshi is amazing. I marvel at his artistic ability and energy. This is our second film together and his ability to slip into character is uncanny. He a treasure among JA artists – he’s a poet, playwright and actor. He’s written about his experiences growing up near Sacramento, his days as a No-No Boy at the Tule Lake internment camp and what it’s like living on Ocean Beach. He was
What was the importance of the role of Lucy Yamaguchi as played by Wendy Woo?
How would the film have been different without that role?
Hiroshi’s character represents our cultural roots – the part in all JAs that is Japanese. Wendy’s character represents our historical roots – her character is Nisei, the generation that was seminal in our history. In addition, their relationship is a cross between sensei and student and sempai/kohei – the relationship between an older person and a younger apprentice. Dramatically – or comically – Wendy is the foil to Hiroshi’s mischievousness.
Would you describe your film as reflective of the Japanese American experience? Why or why not? If not, how would you describe your film?
I think I’ve *tried* to make it reflective of Japantown – glimpses into the lives of locals and even people just visiting. You have to realize Japantown isn’t just JA. All Asian ethnicities come to our neighborhood.
What do you want your audience to take away from this film?
I think a lot of independent Asian American films deal with the problems we face each day – trying to find our identity, facing racism in the workplace, dealing with stereotypes and being treated as foreign. Don’t get me wrong, these are important and needed subjects. But I think it’s great to be Asian American. This film tries to show content characters who are happy with who they are racially but still have basic problems not necessarily rooted in their race.
10. What is your background as a filmmaker?
This is my second film and first feature-length one. The mission statement of my production company is: Ikeibi Films tells Asian American stories, using our own talent both in front of and behind the camera.
11. How long were you a journalist? What did you do during your years in journalism? Why did you leave journalism to become a filmmaker? Did you leave journalism to specifically become a filmmaker?
I was in print journalism for almost 20 years and I did everything – writing, editing, page design. I became more and more discontent with the way newspapers covered Asian American communities – especially in the Bay Area – so I decided to leave when the Chronicle was making massive layoffs. I took the buyout package and after traveling for about a year decided to put one of the many screenplays into production.
It’s been an interesting journey to get “Infinity & Chashu Ramen” into the theater.