SFR: When you first started selling films to Japan 10 years ago, what were audiences looking for?
TI: Most of my films were documentaries with Asian-American subjects and themes because I was in the northern part of California, which had lots of documentaries being produced. [Japanese audiences] were looking for Asian-American themes, especially films by Asian-American, Korean-American filmmakers about the LA riots and the Korean communities behind the riots.
What’s the demand like there now?
Totally different. They’re getting conservative like America. It’s happening on a global size. Ten years ago, people could see so many different foreign language films in Tokyo. Right now the audiences are not interested in foreign films.
Some point to the financial situation on the global market, others the internet. It isn’t hard for people to get the information they want. Thirty or 40 years ago, Japanese people wanted the actual Beatles album. Now, they can get something easily translated through software online.
What’s the American appetite for Asian films like?
Six years ago, I thought there is some population here for Japanese movies. I was trying to connect to movie fans who like Japanese films. At the time, J-horror hit the market or people wanted to see something based on Japanese comics. In the past two or three years, art houses have been rejecting some foreign language films because of DVDs. The niche market and hard-core audiences got tools to get these films online from the original company.
So you’ve been supplanted by the internet?
A little bit. We can find a strategy to release Japanese or Asian titles to viewers. Just because the niche market is satisfied doesn’t limit wider exposure. There are two types [who want independent foreign films]: someone who wants to see any kind of film different from Hollywood; another type reads reviews and wants to see the film.
On Aug. 8, you’re screening Electric Button. What made you choose this film?
There are many young female film directors coming into the film world in Japan; this is written and directed by a female. Twenty years ago, I hadn’t seen a single female film director. The film is about a female erotic writer who goes and experiences the sexual things she writes about when she has writer’s block.
What kinds of films are you trying to expose people to?
Americans can see ninja, Godzilla or samurai movies, so I try to bring more contemporary features, contemporary subjects, art-house filmmakers, interesting issues. I have horror films, social documentary, drama. Asian films have a wide range of variation. It’s not only horror, thriller, action, kung fu. I’d like to show everything—except samurai, ninja and geisha films.
Isn’t ‘Asian’ too general a category?
I learned something from food culture. Thirty-five years ago, there were few people in America who thought of eating raw fish. Right now, sushi is popular. I have a mission like sushi’s history. At an Asian bistro, there are many kinds of Asian food. You can have everything: Indonesian, Chinese, fusion. I like the Americanized way to introduce Asian culture.