How has the School of Cinematic Arts changed your view of filmmaking? The most important thing USC has taught me is to trust myself. With every class I’ve taken, I’ve been encouraged to exercise my intuition as a storyteller. My mentors always remind me to stay true to what I believe, and this has been critical in helping me develop and hone my voice as a writer and director. That’s what I love about USC: people help you tell the best version of your story. Before attending USC, I thought writing and directing was about story structure, working with actors, leading a team, and the technical skills of filmmaking. These, of course, are all critical parts of the craft; but USC is where I learned the importance of trusting myself, because that is what allows others to trust you and makes any of us a unique storyteller.
What advice do you have for prospective students looking at applying to your program? Take risks and try new things. Film school is the perfect place to explore and experiment. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, because school is all about learning in a challenging but supportive environment.
With every project I was involved with, I grew as a filmmaker, no matter what role I played. You will meet talented people in the program who will want to collaborate with you. They might have different sensibilities than yourself, but when you invest your time and unique talents to their projects, something beautiful almost always happens. You will end up learning a great deal from them and build friendships that will continue professionally and personally.
How has the School of Cinematic Arts prepared you so far for a career in your discipline? USC has given me so many opportunities. Most recently I had the honor of directing one of the School’s advanced documentary projects. Being placed in a leadership position gave me the opportunity to apply everything I had learned at USC towards a film I was incredibly passionate about. I collaborated with a great team and they helped me execute and enhance my vision as a director. Being in flow with a team creating a film you are passionate about under the guidance of one of the best documentary faculty in the world was incredible. This experience continues to influence my writing and directing, regardless of whether it is documentary or fiction.
What have been the biggest challenges for you at USC? Because USC has so many opportunities, the biggest challenge has been managing my time. Our school has incredible classes across departments, networking events, screenings, and collaborations. But it’s impossible to take advantage of all of them. But really, this is a luxurious challenge to have. In the end, all of this encouraged me to uncover what I loved most and invest in it with greater focus.
What in your past has given you inspiration or a unique point of view that you bring to USC? There are so many things, but the main one would be growing up between both the U.S. and Japan. It’s funny when I look back because, when I was in Japan, people would call me American; when I was in America, people would call me Japanese; and when I was with Japanese Americans, they would say I was too Japanese or American. What I realized later on was that growing up in this way gives me a unique perspective. I’m always interested in people who come from different backgrounds and might not fit into the mold. I love telling stories from the perspective of people whom we don’t normally hear from.
Once I entered my teens, I had the opportunity to travel a great deal. It’s still a love of mine to pick up a backpack and explore a country for a few weeks. Along these adventures, I’ve been able see and make friends around the world. I build upon these experiences to try to create stories and characters that are grounded in reality. It has made me a better observer and listener, which I think is one of the most important qualities as a storyteller.
What personal projects have you worked on and/or are currently working on? This past fall semester, I directed the documentary short Lost & Found, which was funded by USC. Lost & Found was made in the 547 Advanced Documentary Production class within the MFA program, wherein three documentary films are green-lit through a competitive pitch and selection process. The comedy doc follows senior women who are finding love again after losing their husbands. The heart and soul of the film are the charismatic women who are full of life, sass, and attitude—at 90 years old.
I was also the writer for the Asian American musical about dating and binging on Thai food, Mango Sticky Rice, funded through USC’s 546 Advanced Fiction Production class last semester. This fiction script was based on my own embarrassing online dating history and emotional eating habits.
I’m currently developing Lost & Found into a feature length documentary. I’m also writing a comedy feature script about two foodies who fall in love eating their way through Los Angeles.