From Japanese horror to American intrigue

by

Special To The Japan Times

As a second-generation Japanese-American working in Hollywood, Shintaro Shimosawa stands out. Take his name for example, he prefers Shintaro over his given “American name,” Edward.

“I just think Shintaro sounds really cool,” he tells The Japan Times during a recent promotional tour for his debut feature, “Misconduct” (“Black File: Yashin no Daisho” in Japan). He adds that this preference has sparked unusual reactions in the past, most recently from “Misconduct” actress Malin Akerman.

“She said to me, ‘I’m not racist or anything but I saw your name on the script and was expecting a Japanese man who didn’t speak any English.’ This sort of thing happens sometimes, but I still prefer (to use) my Japanese name.”

Shimosawa’s parents emigrated from Kobe to Chicago during the 1970s to open a Japanese restaurant. In an effort to teach their U.S.-born son about his heritage, the family spoke Japanese at home and young Shintaro was made to go to Japanese school on Saturdays.

“I hated it,” he says with a laugh. “I considered myself an American and having to miss out on Saturdays was like a violation of my rights.”

As usual, however, parents tend to know best. Unlike some of his Japanese-American peers, Shimosawa was able to use his linguistic skills to his advantage. While still in his 20s, he nabbed a position as co-producer on the 2004 horror flick “The Grudge,” a Hollywood remake of Takashi Shimizu’s “Ju-on” (2002). Shimosawa was also co-producer on “The Grudge 2” and has become something of a go-to guy for anything related to Japanese horror.

“Actually, I’m comfortable with the whole horror genre,” he says. “I think that the Japanese have a flair for horror that no one else has.”

“Misconduct,” however, has nothing to do with Japan or horror — though it can get a bit scary in places. It’s also a departur: Shimosawa’s first directorial outing after having worked in producer roles for films and television series such as “Ringer” and “The Following.”

“Misconduct” stars Josh Duhamel as Ben Cahill, a young lawyer at a New Orleans law firm who gets caught in the middle of a vicious feud between his boss, Charles (Al Pacino), and a badass pharmaceutical executive named Arthur (Anthony Hopkins). There’s a femme fatale in the form of Ben’s ex, Emily (Malin Akerman), who also has just been jilted by Arthur, and there’s Ben’s brooding wife, Charlotte (Alice Eve), who turns up at inopportune moments to make things awkward. To add to Ben’s problems, there are also kidnappings and murder. The whole package is tinged in a 1990s-style sepia to give it some gravitas, and injected with a shot of “Presumed Innocent” intrigue. They don’t make movies like this anymore, mostly because no one seems that interested in making them.

Despite the big-name cast, “Misconduct” didn’t win over too many critics in the States. However, Shimosawa seems unfazed.

“I’d be happy making smaller movies for a smaller market, most likely in the horror genre,” he says, adding that a lot of Hollywood’s output these days is meant to be able to crossover to the Chinese film market. That means less complicated dialogue and more mindless action sequences.

“These movies have to be dubbed or subtitled, and there’s no room for good, long lines or an intricate plot or stuff like that,” he says.

With that in mind, Shimosawa prefers the independence and wiggle room of low-budget movies that target Western audiences that can understand the cultural references.

” ‘Misconduct’ was an experience that I’m glad I had,” he says. “I can now turn my mind to other things.”

One of these “other things” is a return to producing horror films with “M.F.A.,” which is slated for release later this year. With his experience, though, can we expect Shimosawa to work on more Japan-related projects in the future?

“That remains to be seen,” he says. “In Hollywood, there’s a sexual/race revolution going on just now and I think we’re going to see some big changes — in spite of the new president. This means, among other things, that we’ll see more movies about minorities, and minority filmmakers will have more opportunities.”

Shimosawa hopes he’ll be able to make use of his Japanese abilities to create more spooky films that are not necessarily Japan-related but have the “moodiness and particular silence of a Japanese horror movie.” He also hopes there will be more exchanges between Japan and the United States when it comes to filmmaking.

“I hope more American directors go to Japan to shoot movies,” he says. “When American directors film in Japan, they’re always astonished at how excellent the local crews are. The crews work 14-hour days without a union and never complain, and after two weeks the language barrier stops being an issue. The Americans are always delighted.

“On the other hand, a lot of Japanese directors may be disappointed at how things are done in Hollywood. I guess that’s why the coolest Japanese directors prefer to work at home.”

“Misconduct” opens in cinemas nationwide on Jan. 7.