Q: What was your collaboration with co-writer Joel Clark like? Because there are lot of Japanese lines in this film, wonder whether any of you speak Japanese?
DB: I speak Japanese; Joel does not. Basically our collaboration went like this: I didn't meet him until midway through writing the screenplay. And when we were both writing in English together, the actors and I decided which scenes were going to be in Japanese and which scenes were going to be in English.
I worked with the actors on the Japanese language dialogue, so the screenplay is mostly in English, but then the parts where they are in Japanese I had a Japanese version of lines. I let the actors improvise some of the Japanese language dialogue or at least changed it to fit their way of speaking.
Q: So you weren't born to the Japanese parents?
DB: No, No, I'm not. Do you know the Japanese talent, Kent Derricott? I learned Japanese the same way he did a long time ago, I was a volunteer missionary except I didn't go to Japan. I went to a Japanese community in Australia. I thought to learn to speak Japanese, and I learned a little bit about Japanese culture and stuff. In making this movie, I really relied on the actors for the dialogue, and some of the cultural things.
Q: Did you know that the actress Nae was really popular in Japan back in 90's? How did you cast her?
DB: I've actually seen her in a Yoji Yamada's movie Gakko /School, and around the time we were making the film, she was just started to do Hollywood movies like Letters from Iwo Jima, and Inland Empire. I think that somebody suggested we try talking to her, she really liked the script. She's an amazingly talented actress, and a lot of fun to work with. So I hope she gets more recognition.
Q: So what particular element fascinated you so that you cast her?
DB: I had a meeting with her and Hiroshi who played the main character. They really seemed like brother and sister; they had a really good interaction with each other. They really had the right type of chemistry to play siblings. So that's why I knew she was the right person for the part.
Q: There's interesting stuff in the film that, like the traditional Japanese man, who is close to 40-50 years old like the main character in this film, they kind of hate or dislike the tall woman. I thought that you got that down about the Japanese!
DB: That's actually my favorite scene in the movie, and the part of the tall woman was really hard to cast. It's hard to find somebody who was a good actress and tall enough to make that gag funny. Kayako Takatsuna who played the role, she's actually not that tall, but she was always standing on a box or whatever, so that she looks really tall. But she was really a great actress.
Q: The kid Bob is played by Justin Kwong, who doesn't speak any Japanese at all in the film. There are lots of people in this country who can't speak their parents' mother tongue? Were you consciously aware of that to incorporate it into this film?
DB: He's just like character Bob in real life. His mother is Japanese, and she was always on set, and she always spoke to him in Japanese, but he just speaks in English back. A lot of my Japanese American friends or Asian American friends do the same thing. They get to a certain age, and they don't want to speak their parents' language any more. They just start speaking English, and later in the life, they regret it.
Q: The main character, Jimmy, is played by Hiroshi Watanabe. Jimmy had a ex-wife. But you actually didn't go through the process of showing the back story of how they divorced or got married, was that something you consciously avoided to focus on the current situation?
DB: Year, I thought it would be a little bit funnier, if we never meet her, the only thing we know about her is seeing her picture. Probably no matter what we did, what ever I imagined about their first marriage, it's probably funnier than anything that I can come up with. So I just left it up to the viewers to imagine his life in Japan.
Q: Could you talk about casting Hiroshi Watanabe? He was really the right choice.
DB: You know it's funny. I made another movie called, Big Dream Little Tokyo, a very low-budget indie film. I did that before he was in "Letters from Iwo Jima." We became friends; I thought he was really good in my first movie. He just played a little part, but he totally stole the scene away from the everybody else. So I remembered him, and thought he would be really great in a leading role in a comedy.
I thought that he would be really great for the Tora-san (the Japanese comedy series) type of movie. So I had a script called "White on Rice," and at the time, it didn't have Japanese language in it or a Japanese theme it was just story about 40 year old man. Then I decided that I was going to cast him in the lead role, so I changed it around to use the Japanese culture a little bit.
Q: Talk about the challenge of balancing out or trying to avoid the stereotype of Japanese or Asian characters while at the same time, trying to be funny?
DB: Yeah, that can be challenging. Since I'm not Asian, I had to be extra careful. But I think what I trying to do was, basically that all the characters had to be very unique in and of themselves. Whenever it's possible that somebody might think of a stereotype, I try to make the character so specific that it's different from what people would expect.
There's big variety in a number of the different characters. I think there is somebody in the movie for everybody to relate to. You know when Americans see it, I don't think that all Asian people are like Jimmy or like Bob. They just recognize them as an individual character for his/her individuality instead of as a stereotype. So far the reactions have been good.
Q: What is your fascination with the Japanese culture?
DB: You know it's funny. I speak Japanese, but I just learned that accidentally I guess. My first movie was more specifically about the Japanese culture whereas this one, it's just the story that happened to star Japanese characters, if that makes sense. So it's not really directly about Japanese culture, it's just that the people happen to be Japanese.
Q: So what your next film?
DB: I'm working on a couple of different projects that I'm writing. And I'm shooting a very low-budget movie this summer called "Surrogate Valentine." That one doesn't have any Japanese language in it. But I'd like to make a movie in Japan at some point. I'm actually going to Japan for the Japanese premiere on "White on Rice" this weekend, March 10th, 2010. Hiroshi, Nae, and I are all going to be there as well at the Osaka Asian Film Festival.
Q: Have you found the distributor in Japan?
DB: We don't have a distributor yet, but we are shopping it around. And I think that the festival would be a big test. This will be the first time showing it with Japanese subtitles to an all-Japanese audience. So depending on their reaction, we can probably find a distribution in Japan. That's what I hope.