The Year of My Japanese Cousin Premieres in Seattle

ATN Seattle correspondent Gillian G. Gaar

reports: I caught the June 8 screening of Maria Gargiulo's The Year

of My Japanese Cousin (the world premiere took place May 20 at the

Seattle International Film Festival). A cross between Singles

and All About Eve, the independent film features on-screen and

musical performances by a host of Seattle bands and other indie acts.

The film stars Selene Vigil (from Seattle's 7 Year Bitch), left, as

Stevie, an ambitious performer in an up-and-coming band. Janis Tanaka

(from San Francisco's Stone Fox), right, plays Yukari, Stevie's cousin,

initially welcomed as a house guest, but who soon develops into

Stevie's rival when her own musical talents are revealed.

"I've lived in Seattle all my life and it's interesting watching the

music scene evolve and change," said Gargiulo. "Watching musicians

who've been in groups for years, who have a lot of CDs out there, but

who aren't necessarily a huge group like Pearl Jam. But they keep

doing it and they have this wonderful community of friends and

supporters. I really wanted to get the feel of that community, and the

frustration artists experience when you're working really hard at

something and not necessarily getting recognition for it."

Gargiulo, who has previously made documentary and educational films for

PBS and non-profit agencies, wrote Japanese Cousin a year and a

half ago, inspired by her interest in the Seattle music scene and

Japanese bands.

"I really loved the girl groups coming out of Japan, like Supersnazz

and Shonen Knife," she said. "I thought that was really fascinating to

see these really feminine, delicate Japanese girls who are rockin'

babes on stage!"

In fact, Tanaka was nearly cast as Stevie, with Tomoko, from

Supersnazz, playing Yukari; but an accident in which Tomoko fell from

her bike and knocked her front teeth out precluded her involvement in

the film. Along with Vigil and Tanaka, Japanese Cousin features

Kurt Bloch (Fastbacks, Young Fresh Fellows) as a record producer, Criss

Crass (ex-Muffs, currently in Seattle band the Rockinghams) as a

drummer in Stevie's Band, Gas Huffer in a "Battle of the Bands"

sequence, and Ken Stringfellow and Mike Musburger (the Posies) as

musicians in Tanaka's band. Gargiulo's sister Lulu, a member of the

Fastbacks, puts in an off-camera performance as the film's

cinematographer.

The soundtrack includes music by 7 Year Bitch, the Deflowers, the

Picketts, and Catfood, along with music recorded especially for the

film, "Fade Like You" (performed by Vigil, Tanaka, Bloch, and

Musburger), the Fastbacks' "In America" (performed by Tanaka,

Stringfellow, Bloch, and Musburger), and the Deflowers' "Wear You

Down." "We very much want to do a soundtrack album," said Gargiulo.

"Sub Pop's indicated some interest."

Japanese Cousin was filmed in April 1994, with financial

assistance from Independent Television Services (affiliated with the

Corporation for Public Broadcasting), the National Asian American

Telecommunications Association, and other sources. "I own ten or 12

credit cards right now!" Gargiulo said.

Because of CPB's involvement, PBS owns the domestic television rights,

but it has not yet been determined if the film will be scheduled for

broadcast. With two sold-out screenings at the Seattle International

Film Festival, Japanese Cousin is attracting attention from

distributors. "We haven't signed anything yet," said Gargiulo.

"Probably what we'll do is we'll need to take it to other film

festivals."