Interview with Junko's Shamisen Creator Sol Friedman

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Sol Friedman amazed me with his Junko's Shamisen short film. Loved everything from the story, concept, art direction and all the cinematic elements used.  I knew i just had to do a Q&A to uncover more. Here is what we talked about. Enjoy!

2dots - Can you please tell readers a bit about yourself and what you do.

SF - I am an artist and animator. When I was eight years old, I did a very short clay-mation film about a white tiger and a dracula. Then, about five years back I taught myself computer animation in order to help a friend with an animated documentary project.

2dots - What made you/inspired you to do Junko's Shamisen?

SF - After high school I trained in Zen Shiatsu and have visited Japan several times since. I had been waiting for a project that would really let me bring together my fascination and love for Japanese culture with the creative work that I do. So when visiting in 2008 I watched a Kabuki performance and got pretty excited about the possibilities of how it might translate to film. I did a little bit of research and came across a Kabuki story that I really enjoyed and began writing my own.

2dots - How much research did you do especially on the Kabuki aspect to make the short film.
SF - I immediately started with some fairly broad research on the various Japanese storytelling traditions: Noh, Kabuki, Bunraku, etc. but I came to understand that (as with many aspects of Zen cultue) people can, and do, study these traditions their entire lives, and for me, the important aspect was to maintain, and express, the sense of wonder and excitement that I felt when I first watched a Kabuki performance.

Lead actress Clemence Wong making of Junko's Shamisen

2dots - What was your creation process and duration making this short film. and what was the overall experience?

SF - Relatively speaking, it went quite fast. We shot in May and wrapped up post production in August. 3 Months is fairly good on such a post-heavy project.
The process was a challenge for sure. For the entire post-production phase, I would sit down at the computer and work for almost sixteen hours straight without even realizing. By the end, I was so engrossed in the work that it was a bit sad for me when the project  was ending.

2dots - How did you combine kabuki traditions, comic-manga and anime with other cinematic elements and syncing all of them in your story and what was your biggest challenge bringing it to life.

Junko's Shamisen behind the scenes : actors Benny Min and David Fujino

SF - I understood the challenges and solutions to the visual treatment of the project, but the biggest challenge by far was in using a more sophisticated production workflow. I usually work alone so it was a bit of a learning curve for me in terms of how to communicate with others on the team. Other than that, everything felt quite natural. The treatment gave us creative license to really do whatever we wanted visually and since we were shooting on a greenscreen, there really were no restrictions at all.

2dots - I am sure you are a fan of comics and manga/anime if so, what are your favorites?

SF - I actually didn’t read a lot of manga/anime before this project, but I have always appreciated the art form. When I was working on this film I did try to spend a bit more time with comic books, but many of the ones that I was looking at were in Japanese so I was mostly in it for the pictures. There was one that I really liked, a more crude style of drawing (there is also an animated film based on it). I could be wrong but I think its called Tekkon Kinkurit..? Does that sound right? I also liked Bleach.
2dots - Ha! It is Tekkon Kinkurit. How about your all time favorite film makers/artists that inspire you.

SF - I have been watching David Fincher's movies for a long time. His magic is the kind where you don’t even know you are watching magic. I also really like, Michel Gondry, Jean-pierre Jeunet, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Terry Gilliam and many others too.

2dots - Top 3 visually inspiring movies.

SF - There are so many, these are the first three that came to mind that I felt have really striking visual treatments or art direction. Ones where it made me jealous in some way that I hadn't done it. But there are many, many more.

City of Lost Children - Marc Caro, Jean-pierre Jeunet
Enter the Void - Gaspar Noe
Edward Scissorhands - Tim Burton

2dots - With such creativity under your belt,directing, writing and animation how do you personally define creativity and how do you enlighten yourself ?

Sol Friedman with lead actress Clemence Wong

SF - I don’t really think about creativity or enlightenment anymore. I see puzzles, and I look for the ones that will stimulate me the most.
2dots - I know you have interest in making it a full length movie, if you get the chance, what are your early plans for the film and how different will it be from the short film.

SF - I can’t really say much about it for now, but the project will take its cues from the original both stylistically and in terms of the storytelling.

2dots - What is next for you and any current project you are working on that you want to share?

SF - I am currently doing post-production on a short robot love story called, “Love Songs from an Android”. Its a really exciting and challenging project, and the cast and crew have been amazing to work with and really supportive. We will hopefully premiere in September of this year, so stay tuned. 

2dots - What do you like most about what you do?

SF - I don’t know really. I like the constant growth and development of a project through its various stages. I like the adrenaline and intensity of working within tight timelines. And I like at the end of the day making something out of nothing. It really is a kind of magic.

Sol Friedman's official webpage -
Junko's Shamisen official webpage -
Junko's Shamisen facebook page -