Directed by Leslie Yusuke Watanabe
Many years ago, while my father was working on his Bonsai plants in the garden, my mother said to me "He made my life a Bonsai" The result, decades later was this extremely personal work intertwining the technically brutal creation of the beautiful bonsai tree with the life of my mother.
Get to know the filmmaker:
1. What motivated you to make this film?
While my mother and I were watching my father through the backdoor cutting his trees my mom suddenly said “he made my life a Bonsai.” Stunned though I was I did not ask her to clarify what she meant. I internalized this and for many years her phrase haunted me. It wasn’t until 20 years after she had passed away that I decided to do a dance based on her phrase. This was meant to be a stage dance and not a film. It was another 17 years when I decided to produce a film of this dance.
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you
to make this film?
In order to make the stage dance (2004), I needed to gather literature of Bonsai trees and also find my mother’s letters which she had written to me over the years. I needed to see from her point of view what her relationship with my father had been. Once I had the Bonsai literature and my mother’s letters, I began writing the script. This took about 4 months. I then set about choreographing “Bonsai” for the stage. This took about 4 months. After the stage production, it would be 17 years (2021) until I decided to make “Bonsai” into a film.
The process of making the film included teaching a new set of dancers the choregraphy from the stage production. This took three months. Once learned we began the filming. This took 3 days. Once I had all the footage, I had to locate the original Bonsai literature so that I could film the actual photos of the Bonsai trees. I then began at the very beginning and began editing the collage of dancers to specific trees. The editing process took approximately 5 months. I also had to relocate the original composer and find a new narrator. Finally completed in May 2022.
3. How would you describe your film in two words!?
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
I would have to say the editing process with it’s many collages and layers and how to effectly size the frame depending upon what was being said. Also, making sure at all times the music fit exactly the timing of the dancer’s movements.
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking
about your film in the feedback video?
I was elated as the first female audience member really understood what I was trying to do and the desired effects I wanted the audience to experience.
6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?
It was when I returned to grad school at UC Irvine in 1993. I was asked by the faculty if I wanted to make a stage production. I said ‘probably not” as I had done so much of this…At the same time, I had a dream: A lot of people were huddled around something and I scurried towards them to see what they were looking at; it was a young filmmaker showing off his camera and talking of making a film! That was it. That was when it all clicked for me!
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
The 1959 Japanese film of “Floating Weeds” by Yasujiro Ozu. It is a beautifully filmed, nostalgic film of traveling ex Kabuki actors with a wonderful cast, including the great Michiko Kyo who also was the ghost in Kenji Mizoguchi’s “Ugetsu.”
8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other
festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking
I am totally satisfied thus far.
9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your
experiences been working on the festival platform site?
Working with FilmFreeway has been seamless. I love how I can view all submissions, Dashboard and see all of the notification dates as well as check to see what categories I actually submitted for.
10. What is your favorite meal?
Ah, Sashimi of course! Oh now you made me want to find some right now! Ima! Umm oishi yo!
11. What is next for you? A new film?
Next I will restage a dance of mine called “Not a Tango” for a dance festival in Portland, Oregon.