District Fray is on the road. We are excited to be in Austin, Texas for SXSW 2022 after the festival’s two-year hiatus. All week long, we’re covering local and international artists and creatives showcasing their talents. To learn more about SXSW 2022, visit their website here. To stream shows, including panels and musical performances, visit here.
On Monday, March 14 composer/songwriter Kishi Bashi (Kaoru Ishibashi) and filmmaker Justin Taylor Smith will premiere “Omoiyari: A Song Film” at SXSW Film Fest. In “Omoiyari,” Bashi embarks on a personal quest by creating his music in locations relevant to the Japanese American Incarceration during WWII.
On this journey, Bashi comes to terms with his own identity and uncovers a myriad of social issues with gripping modern relevance. “Omoiyari” is a genre-breaking, artistic exploration that fuses history, music and the complexities of the human condition.
The film will premiere on Monday at ZACH Theatre in Austin at 5:45 p.m., with subsequent screenings on March 15 and March 17. For a deeper preview of the film — and personal insights from Kishi Bashi and co-director Justin Taylor Smith — read on for our one-on-one with the makers.
District Fray: As your first feature documentary film, what inspired the making of “Omoiyari: A Song Film”?
Kishi Bashi: I was commissioned to write a symphony with video improvisations about this topic in 2017 and I approached my co-director Justin about documenting the process. What we thought might be a short film turned into a feature film.
Justin Taylor Smith: I spent the previous decade working on action sports and outdoor films, mostly in the snowboard world. On a previous film I edited, I met Kishi and worked with him on the score. We formed a great creative bond and in 2017, he flew out to Jackson, Wyoming, to pitch me on a new film idea. What started as a short film concept about him writing and composing songs related to the Japanese incarceration during WWII quickly turned into something much, much bigger. I was most inspired to work on “Omoiyari” because I’m a huge history buff and felt compelled to completely immerse myself in a story I knew nothing about.
Is there one scene or part of the song film that especially resonates for you? Why?
Bashi: We visited a Japanese-American incarceration camp (internment camp) in Jerome, Arkansas, in the winter and it was particularly cold and bleak. It was a visceral experience to imagine 10,000 civilian prisoners once living in what is now a barren field.
Smith: For me, the final scene is really emotional. At that point in the film, we’d been to Heart Mountain a few times and recently obtained some archival film reels shot by one of the incarcees detained during the 1940s. It was color 8mm and had very intimate moments of what life was like in the camps I decided to shoot Kishi playing “Summer of ’42” in what was once the exact site of dozens of barracks. Today it’s just a barley field. I remember shooting the handheld scene of him first, then getting the aerial shot after as the sun set. It was the most beautiful light and such a visual representation of how so much Heart Mountain has changed and how the history is baked into the soil here, even though there’s no trace of the barracks there today.
Let’s talk about instrumentals. How would you describe your approach to scoring the film?
Bashi: I took the themes I wrote and turned into songs for my companion album, “Omoiyari,” and spread the melodies throughout the score. I had the opportunity to smoothly connect my live performances to the orchestral underscore as well. Justin, my co-director, was gracious enough not to give me any notes on my score, so I had free reign to do what I want, which is unheard of for a composer.
What do you hope viewers will take away from your song film experience?
Bashi: I hope people who have a minority experience in the country will feel empowered to feel confident about their American identity. This country is changing in a very rapid way, and there is much more tolerance for diversity now than we’ve seen in the past. I also hope to cultivate empathy in non-minority viewers to feel excited about a more diverse America.
Smith: I hope that the people who watch this film will learn as much about this history and their own identity as I did. The filming of this movie has changed my entire perception of myself and our country.
On Monday, March 14, “Omoiyari: A Song Film” will premiere at ZACH Theatre in Austin at 5:45 p.m. At 10 p.m., Kishi Bashi will also present a live solo performance at the Elysium during the afterparty.
Viewers can also catch an online screening at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, March 15 and a screening on March 17 at Stateside Theatre at 2:45 p.m.
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