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East meets west in SU grads’ film

By Staff | Sep 23, 2011

Paying homage their Japanese and American roots, SunJae and Mie Smith, co-owners of LightSmith Productions, are getting ready to launch “Ai Means Love,” an international romantic comedy.

“My dad is Japanese, and SunJae’s mom is Japanese,” Mie Smith said in a press release. “So we both grew up as familiar with Samurai dramas as with Cowboy Westerns.”

Their third feature film blends the confusion and the sweetness of people from completely different cultures growing into love, with the Japanese word “Ai” (pronounced like our word “I”) for a type of deeper, more divine love.

“Life in an intercultural family is a sort of constant series of comic moments,” said the film’s director, Mie Smith. “Growing up, I kept a special notebook of the funny things my dad would say, the confusing things that were always happening. We used a lot of those incidents in our script.”

“In a family setting, being intercultural is natural,” said SunJae Smith, who is the director of photography and co-producer. “Using chopsticks or eating sushi is as normal as grilling a hotdog. But what we want people to see is, all the world over, people are really the same at heart.”

The story is set in Martinsburg, where SunJae spent most of his growing years. Many local residents play key roles in the production, both in front and behind the camera.

“We were lucky to find a huge pool of talent and interest, not to mention great locations and beautiful scenery,” SunJae said. “For filmmaking, this area is paradise.”

The bulk of the shooting took place in July of 2010, despite 100-plus temperatures and a number of logistical issues.

“We had to complete the shooting in that time frame,” SunJae said, “because Mie was nine months pregnant, and that was a deadline that couldn’t be negotiated.”

Indeed, the Smiths’ son, Kosei, arrived shortly after the Martinsburg footage wrapped.

Despite the pressures of parenting, the Smiths continued to shoot several mini-movies during the ensuing months.

“We shot period pieces in the style of the old samurai movies, and a scene in the style of a Japanese romance, which are sub-stories to the main plot,” SunJae said.

In “Ai Means Love,” the Hayashi family’s dad is a former Samurai movie actor who runs a video store renting out the classic movies of his era after being dismissed from his corporate job because of his Christian faith. In a store nearby, the Marshall family struggle with the tough economy and a spate of vandalism, with their son Ian encouraging them to expand into cyber-commerce. Ian endures ridicule from friends for his values, but isn’t comfortable speaking up. Miki Hayashi wants to help her family, and considers taking a well-paying job back in Japan, despite her personal wishes. Linking these two families is Betty, a Japanese widow of an American serviceman who embarks on some old-fashioned Japanese matchmaking of her own. Ian finds in Miki someone who opens his eyes to things he never considered.

“It’s a love story, but not just about two peopleit’s about all the love in a family, the love between neighbors and even the love people have because of their faith. We tried to show the goodness and deeper nature of both cultures, despite differences and misunderstandings. We hope it will be entertaining-and also encouraging-to all audiences.” SunJae said.

Post-production for the feature has been extensive, involving working with composers to do the original score, and an animation segment as well. Currently, however, the filmmakers are trying to raise money to enter the movie in film festivals and to introduce it to audiences around the U.S.

“We’re trying to raise $5,000 to bring the film to the festival circuit and to get the word out,” Mie said. “The idea is for people to invest in the production of positive movies, to create independent film productions that reflect real values and that honor each person.

The trailer and producers’ commentary can be seen at www.aimeanslove.com.