An accolade darling on the underground circuit—he received Best Feature at the Underground Film Festival in both New York and Chicago—Jon Moritsugu creates films that in mainstream circles are called “offensive,” “perverse,” “low-budget” and just plain “weird.” The auteur and writer of six feature films, including Scumrock, Mod Fuck Explosion and the made-for-PBS Terminal USA, Moritsugu and his wife/collaborator, Amy Davis, traded in the cloud cover of the Pacific Northwest for Santa Fe’s adobe and arroyos to film Moritsugu’s newest work.
SFR: What’s your newest film about?
JM: It’s a horror film, but it’s not gonna be a gore or porno horror film like Saw. It’s more psychological, but it’s combined with extreme elements of comedy.
Each of your films has been radical or alternative as far as the way you filmed. What have you got this time?
I really want to play around with how the movie looks. I don’t know what format I’m gonna shoot it on because I don’t have a budget yet. I want to get a higher budget, higher production values. I want cameos by some Hollywood [actors]. I really want something that’s gonna go beyond where any of my other movies have gone.
An accident involving your arm and a machine funded your first four films. Are you going to sacrifice the other arm for this one?
I don’t endorse this as a way of funding movies [shows large scar on his right arm]. Life definitely throws you loops. I was like, ‘This has happened; I have to capitalize on it.’ It sounds crass but I didn’t want to feel sorry for myself. I think I saw enough people in physical therapy where it was like, ‘Wow, you weren’t even that hurt but that has sort of crushed your spirit.’ I said I would not let my spirit get crushed by this accident. An acquaintance of mine who I’ve worked with before, he recently stepped aboard as a silent producer for [this] movie. He was sort of like, ‘I’m gonna help you behind the scenes, but I don’t want to be known as a producer because I don’t do that anymore.’ He’s putting calls out to other people…It’s just a matter of getting the right people and getting a little bit of funding.
In Fame Whore, your use of 16-millimeter film disqualified you from the Academy Awards. Has your use of lo-fi equipment kept you off of mainstream radar?
On one hand, it being on 16 millimeter instead of 35, that hindered my chance to go for the Oscar. I think, especially with Scumrock, it’s actually gotten a lot of attention for the movie. It’s like, ‘Wow, these people in this age of DVD and this age of digital, they’re gonna grab analog, outdated, trailing-age technology to make this feature.’
You consistently fall into subsets such as Asian or underground. Do these categories help or hurt your films’ exposure?
Both. It’s a double-edged sword, just like the underground or lo-fi tag. I think it sometimes puts a glass ceiling on my activities. But, then again, I think there’s something enticing about the words ‘underground,’ ‘lo-fi,’ ‘independent.’
Your agenda in your portrayals of Asian characters is clearly beyond the ‘Asian seeks mediocrity’ trajectory often adopted by Asian filmmakers, but it’s never clear.
I’m not overtly political, but I do think that my films sometimes smash you in the face or confront you and make you maybe question your way of seeing the world. I’m trying to break free of all the stereotypes and ways we put people into boxes and expect them to be a certain way.
Can you recommend a movie for DIY/low-budget filmmakers?
AKA Don Bonus. Whenever I’m feeling down or frustrated about filmmaking, I watch this and it sort of strips down what film or cinema ultimately is: It’s one camera, a subject and something engaging to look at.