10/9/12

Follow Your Muse, Not Jerry Bruckheimer

There are some early career stage directors and aspiring filmmakers that I know, that if you were to ask them what it is they want to express artistically they wouldn’t be able to tell you. They can tell you they want to direct or they can tell you they want to make films. But without something unique to offer they are just like everybody else. And when you’re just like everybody else the chances of you making it are diminished.

Jerry Bruckheimer was born in 1945 to German Jewish immigrant parents. He is one of the most successful producers of all time, earning hundreds of millions of dollars every year. He has already taken the world by storm and left his mark – and there won’t be another like him. So why do people try?

Only Jerry Bruckheimer can be Jerry Bruckheimer, and only you can be you. I know it’s cheesy, but it’s also true. What makes you special? What do you (and only you) have to offer? What is unique about your voice that you want to express? I don’t want to be a director just to be a director – I have a specific voice to share that only I can express. And I need to create and have that voice heard. There is nothing I want to do more.

I’m not saying that if you want to make films just to make films, and you don’t have anything in particular or unique to say, that you can’t be successful. I’m just saying that often the people who follow their own personal muse, the people who are passionate about what they are trying to express in the world, those who are blazing their own path and not following the herd have a greater chance of success. That inspiration and voice can be come from many different places and take different forms, but ultimately it comes from within. I have a family members who have written two successful blockbuster romantic comedies. As crowded as that genre might be, thier whole lives have led them to create feel good comedic work. That is what they were meant to express, and I believe that is why they have been so successful at it.

When I was in college I took a multicultural drama class. We explored female playwrights from all around the world. With plans already set to teach English in Japan after graduation, I was particularly interested in the modern plays written by Japanese American playwright Velina Hasu Houston. Up to that point, most of the Japanese plays I had come across were Noh and Kabuki – interesting and valuable, but not very relatable to a young, liberal thespian from Queens, NY.

Even though Velina Hasu Houston’s plays were set in Japan, I found them to be very relatable – and also intriguing and culturally layered. Houston’s play KOKORO (True Heart) told the story of Yasako, a young Japanese wife and mother, living with her family in California. Far from home and clutching to her Japanese culture, Yasako struggles to adapt to life in the U.S., learning not only her own boundaries, but also those of her husband, marriage, and legal rights. I found myself relating to Yasako’s love for family, her passion for life, and her longing for freedom.

After college I lived and worked in Niigata, Japan for a little over a year teaching English to children. While Niigata is a small city with a Starbucks and a McDonalds, there are few foreigners and even fewer individuals who speak English. Japan is an amazing country to explore, as it is clean and safe, with over a thousand years of history. The culture is almost the opposite of American culture, full of conformity and collectivity. Living on the other side of the world opened my eyes and changed my life forever.

Living in Japan, I realized how living in such a different culture can make you want to grab onto the familiar and avoid change. I felt I understood more about where, in Houston’s play KOKORO (True Heart) the character Yasako, came from, and what it felt like to live on the opposite side of the world from your culture and family. While I sometimes clashed with the culture, I realized that that disharmony with aspects of my surroundings was a direct result of where I was raised and where I was from. For example, as an American, I had been raised to believe that if I had a fever of 102 degrees, then I should stay home and rest. As a Japanese, however, you are expected to not inconvenience anyone by missing work, regardless of how you feel. In Japan, the group is more important than the individual. As an American, that was a hard lesson to learn. But I learned that it’s a cultural difference – neither is more “right” than the other.

On September 11, 2001, I had been away from home for almost a year. We heard about the Twin Towers being hit that evening after work (with the time changes, I was 12 hours ahead of New York). My father had started working in Tower 2 just a few weeks prior to the attack. Watching the news unfold on NHK, I feared the worst and tried to get a hold of family on the phone. Hours later, I received an email from my father saying that he had gotten out safely and had walked to an office in midtown where he was able to access email.

Missing my beloved family and city and feeling worlds away from home, I went in to work the next morning. My Japanese co-workers were sympathetic, but adamantly pacifist. While I intellectually understood their response, how would I have felt if my father had not been okay?

I started to reflect and question how my upbringing, genetics, and culture had shaped who I was. I felt a deeper connection to the character, Yasako, and Houston’s entire body of work. I was invigorated by the themes and questions Houston’s work raised. What makes a woman a good mother, friend, or lover? How are you specifically affected by your culture? Is there a universal truth?

I’m excited to continue my exploration of culture, spirituality, and boundaries through Houston’s work.