In the past, short films have represented a boring and sometimes painfully over artistic movie going experience. That is changing. Part of this change can be experiencing the beautifully done short film Chiyo, which was the first Film Focus of this year’s Arts Quest.
Chiyo’s producer, 29 year old Century High School graduate, Jason Allen and its writer, as well as director, 28 year old, Masanori Baba of Nagoya, Japan, came all the way from Los Angeles to show the film at The Grand Theater to a sold out crowd. They also made several special appearances at Bismarck State College classes. They encouraged students, “Whatever fields you want to go into or explore in your life, be passionate about what you do,” as well as telling them about the film and themselves.
Masanori Baba was born and raised in Nagoya, Japan. He graduated from Tokyo’s Sophia University where he was encouraged by a University of California, Los Angeles professor to go to LA and get involved in movies. It was at UCLA that Baba first met Allen.
Allen was born in San Diego, but moved to Bismarck with his family from Tucson, Arizona when he was sixteen years old. It was in Bismarck that Allen discovered his love of movie making by shooting short films with his brother and friends for public access television.
In 1997, with the encouragement of his parents, Allen moved to LA to pursue a movie career. In 1999, he wrote and directed The Lift, a short film that, like Chiyo, also showed at The Grand Theater. It went on to win the “Pride of North Dakota Award” amongst others.
After meeting, Baba and Allen began talking about shooting a different short film that Masa had wanted to make. It never happened but in Allen’s words, “His (Baba’s) sensibility really came through and we really made that connection.” They both knew then that they wanted to make a movie together. When the idea for Chiyo came along it was just a matter of taking that idea to the next step.
The movie was shot over seven days in Japan. Allen and Baba spoke a lot about the many cultural differences between shooting in Japan and America. Chiyo was a collaborative effort of both Japanese and American crews and one cultural obstacle was the language barrier. Allen told us a humorous tale of one such situation. A lot of the shooting was done on the grounds of a temple. One day, while waiting for the temple monks to finish their chants, Allen asked his Japanese second assistant director when the monks would be done. The second assistant director took that to mean, “I want them to stop.” That didn’t go over well with the Japanese crews at all. For the next couple of days, they had the entire American crew running around telling them, “He didn’t mean anything by it.”
Chiyo is really a beautiful movie, the cinematography as well as the story. Baba describes it as a story that is really about, “the passion of the girl… every passion that you have, just don’t give up.” This moving tale about one young girl’s search for her father’s ghost brought a tear to my eye, something that is hard for even the best of feature length films to do. Yet this short film accomplished it in around twenty-four minutes.
Chiyo opens in 1944 with a tense goodbye scene between the four-year-old girl, Chiyo, and her father as he leaves to go to war. It then jumps ahead to one year later on O-Bon, the Japanese day of the dead. We watch as Chiyo eagerly awaits the return of her father’s ghost. She grows anxious as the night wears on and there is still no sign of him. During a heated argument with her mother Chiyo runs off in search of her father. Alone in the night she finds herself on a journey during which she meets several restless spirits and a Lotus God who helps to lead her to a tearful reunion with her father.
Chiyo is a moving and beautiful movie to experience. I would highly recommend it. For more information check out the movies web site at: www.chiyoshort.com.