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June 20, 2005

{     Interview : Jon Moritsugu     }    

Without question, you know when you're watching a Jon Moritsugu film. Honestly, how many filmmakers, or bands for that matter, can you name who are so distinguishable that you can recognize them after just a few seconds of exposure to their work? Both in distinctiveness of style and independence of vision Jon Moritsugu is as close as I've come to seeing a John Waters in my generation. Like the noble Punk Rawk Indian using the bones, meat, organs, and every other part of the buffalo (sometimes literally), he's been scraping together 20 years worth of brilliant films which he's written, directed, starred, scored, and maybe most impressively, distributed. Trash like this only comes around every so often, so dear Mod Fuckers, Fame Whores, and Scum Rockers, if you want to know what everyone in "the future" is talking about, just go and buy yourself a Moritsugu

Q: My friend went to school in NJ and all the jocks called this one Indian kid "ramadouche", as in the Holiday of Ramadan combined with the word douche. I've always wondered what kind of idiot savant can come up with something as creative as "ramadouche"? The characters in your films seem to embrace their nicknames, did you have any creatively cringe-worthy racism growing up?
A: Hmmm... fifth grade was a particularly creative time and I remember classmates nicknamed Aero-Dick, Dorky Drooler, Aina Vagina, Sow Wang and Twat (SWAT), etc., but as far as racism, I had the sort of unoriginal nickname of "slanty-eyed Japaneee boy" for a brief amount of time (it later changed to "Pure-bred Japaneee boy").

Q: Any army brats throwing out any anti-Pearl Harbor sentiments towards you growing up in Hawaii? For some reason, that seemed like a popular thing for jocks to bring to Asian kids in West Virginia but maybe just says more about West Virginia.
A: Actually, there was quite a bit of racism flyin' around Honolulu when I was a kid. "Slap a Jap" day was a totally violent and serious occasion, as was "Kill Haole (caucasian) day" on the last day of school. I even got severely hassled by CHINESE kids on December 7th! How about that for total lack of asiatic brotherhood, right?

Q: After living in San Francisco for years you just moved back to Hawaii, how's that going so far?
A: Funny you should ask.... after 10+ months here Amy and I are checking out new locales to set up our base of operations. It's totally beautiful here and we love it, but on the other hand, we're missing the west coast (Pacific NW?) climate and veggies. Plus, it's way too expensive.

Q: Your early films were about as DIY as you can get, it seems like you're really influenced a lot by music both in the substance of your films and your indie-label like way of distributing your films?
A: Yeah, music has always been a major influence on my films. I've been thoroughly inspired by bands and record labels, especially in the late 80's when I was getting started and very few filmmakers and film companies were doing it the "punkoid" way. SST, Dischord, & Touch and Go definitely showed me what you could do and how far you could go with
the minimal amount of $ and mainstream support.

Q: I read Mark Robinson recently and he said he'd never even seen Mod Fuck Explosion, noones as busy as that guy but that seems really bizarre, how did working with Unrest on the soundtrack to Mod Fuck Explosion even come about?
A: Unrest contributed a song to my previous feature, HIPPY PORN, thanks to Gerard Cosloy. So when I was in pre-production for MOD FUCK EXPLOSION, I contacted Mark and company to enlist their help. They were really great to work with and to this day, they have created some of my favorite music. It was actually a dream come true to have Unrest do the soundtrack tunes.

Q: Your PBS-funded portrayal of an American family in Terminal USA is a sitcom-esque story about a mother who's hooked to her ailing fathers morphine, a father who thinks doomsday is upon the family, the relationship between their drug dealing son Katzum (played by Moritsugu himself) and his girlfriend 8-ball, Marvin the nerdy brother with a fetish for skinheads (also played by Moritsugu), their sister Holly a cheerleader with a sex video. What was PBS's reaction when you showed them the film?
A: Understandably, PBS was a little freaked out. But I created a censored version which they seemed pretty okay with. Overall, it was a blast to shoot something on Panavision with a sizeable budget and a huge crew, especially because I was coming from such a scumbag methodology of filmmaking.

Q: How different are the PBS edit of Terminal USA and the full length?
A: They are radically different. There's a "director's cut" version of the flick that is 15 minutes longer and full of so much artsy nuance and subtlety it would make your head swim.

Q: Is it true TERMINAL USA was almost used on Northwest Airlines to show to passengers in flight?
A: Totally true. They were considering it for their Japan-USA flights and it was rejected at the last possible minute. Pretty weird considering that the flick is about a sleazy and oddball Japanese-American family led by a survivalist/apocalypse fetishizing dad.

Q: You've said that one of your "cinematic dreams was realized" when you got to construct a 800 pound meat garden for Mod Fuck Explosion. Do you have any more cinematic dreams that due to budget constraints have yet to be realized?
A: I've always wanted to do a period piece. You know, have enough of a budget to set it in the 1500's or something. A time when the earth was a little more pristine, untamed, and different looking. It would also be cool to have the budget to do the historical and scenic research to ensure accuracy. Yeah, that's a dream of mine. Another more immediate dream is to shoot a flick in Hawaii, you know, capture the lurid and sweaty island vibe.

Q: You work with your wife Amy Davis on most of your projects. It seems very romantic, do you two ever feel like a meat-garden-making-Charles-and-Ray-Eames working on projects together?
A: Definitely. I've always dreamed about having a partner in art, and I've found her with Amy. It's cool having your sidekick, your confidante- someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to watch your back, someone to tell you, "hey, this idea is totally lame."

Q: Are you and Amy still doing the band The Believers, or are you called Tiny Believers now?
A: We are now TINY BELIEVERS, due to the fact that there are like 10000 bands with our previous name. We are blisspop and punkoid and scuzzy and we just played some shows out here at Honolulu Ladyfest opening for Deerhoof (and now some shameless promotion: check out sample tuneage at:

Q: You've described your newest movie Scumrock as "a sprawling epic about rock-n-roll winners and losers, pretentious art-obsessed kids, back-stabbers and people gettin' old and freaking out (with a) wall-to-wall rock and noise soundtrack, (It's) fucked up and great." and that it's you're "first movie where you really have empathy for the characters; they're not just on screen to make you laugh or for me to fuck over". How else do you think it differs from your other films?
A: Well, it's my most ambitious flick (over 120 planned scenes + shot over 5 months) with the most low-end equipment ($300 analog Hi-8 video camera). Amy was co-writer + director of photography and I really love the way it turned out looking. It's always been my dream to put a really high-end soundtrack together with imagery that looks like someone dragged the footage through a gutter (albeit a beautiful, glistening, candy-coated gutter).

Q: So what's going on with Scumrock now, will it be out on video or DVD soon?
A: Yes, look for it real soon. We are currently remastering tapes and will release the dvd with 25 minutes of bonus material like auditions and outtakes.

Q: I saw at the Film Arts Festival you gave an hour long "Moritsugu Guide to Independent Feature Filmmaking", what did you cover in your class?
A: I try to cover every mistake I've made over the years, and yes, this is A LOT of material. But basically, I also like to talk about how you can empower yourself as a filmmaker - how to make a movie if you have little $ and resources, how you can distribute stuff yourself, etc.

Q: Are you ever surprised by the types of people who show up to see you at things like that?
A: I'm never surprised by who shows up but the diversity can be mind blowing. I've had people from 15-75 years old, retired multi-millionaires to buddhist monks.

Q: You and film maker Gregg Araki (Splendor, Nowhere, The Doom Generation, Totally Fucked Up, and Mysterious Skin) seem to be kindred spirits in film making, I know he's thanked often in the credits of your films. How did you two meet?
A: We met at the Asian American Film Festival in NYC in the late 80's. We totally bonded because we felt sorta out of place and "not connected" to the rest of the Asian Film scene.Through the early 90's, we hung out, shot the shit, and tried to fight the power, man.

Q: I've heard you say before that your list of favorite movies are always changing, what is it currently?
A: Swept Away (original Lena Wurtmuller version), Stranger Than Paradise (Jarmusch), Back to the Future II.

Q: How about music, what are you listing to lately?
A: 400 Blows, Brian Eno, Rocket from the Tombs, Dry Kill Logic, Rolling Stones, Zoot Sims + a smattering of Playboy Jazz (the genre).

Q: I've heard that Fame Whore was up for Academy Award consideration, what's the story behind that?
A: In late 1999 I got a letter from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences letting me know that FAME WHORE was up for Academy Award "consideration". It was a total weird and fun shock to me but it strangely made sense cuz the film did play out a lot and got quite a few rave reviews. Anyhoo, long story short, they eventually kicked it out of the running on a technicality -it screened on 16mm in theaters (all Academy Award narrative films are required to screened on 35mm).

Q: In a perfect world where you might win an Academy Award what might your speech be?
A: Okay here it is:
"Good evening. (lotsa applause) Thank you. Thank you. A few years ago, if I had won this award, I would have stood here on this stage and spit upon this little golden man statuette and defiantly smashed him to demonstrate my radical ideals. On this evening, however, I choose to lift him up (at this point I hoist the statuette into the air and salute all four corners of the room - west, north, east, and south) and salute the idealists and the visionaries of the world. Anything is possible, my friends. Everything is possible. Brothers and sisters, do not lose faith and never lose your dreams." (quick exit out back door to waiting limo with chilled Dom Perignon in the back seat).

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Best article I've read in a long time. Good job, Lindsey.

Posted by: Eric at September 23, 2005 4:14 AM

love this site, maybe u might like mine!!!

Posted by: andy lafferty at January 9, 2006 3:52 PM

Sorry, but what is kimerikas?


Posted by: sweeta-hz at March 27, 2008 5:43 AM

Sorry, but what is kimerikas?


Posted by: sweeta-hz at March 27, 2008 5:43 AM

Sorry, but what is kimerikas?


Posted by: sweeta-hz at March 27, 2008 5:43 AM
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