Talking with Allen Smithee Jr about Reflections
By: Darida Rose
Allen Smithee Jr's short film, Reflections, is a frightening ghost story set in Japan. Two kids are stuck with their bizarre aunt while their parents tend to a sick grandfather. The only problem is that there's a spooky little girl in the house too, but only the kids can see her. But no one seems to be taking the kids seriously. This is both visually and thematically a compelling short and we're pleased to have the opportunity to ask Smithee Jr., who wrote, directed and produced the film a few questions.
Darida Rose, Phoenix Journal (PJ): First off, what inspired you to write this story?
Allen Smithee (AS): I was wanting to make something scary that could work on both a domestic (Japan) and international demographic. I thought about what scared me as a kid and what scared me when I first started living in Japan. I married the two together and 'Reflections' was the result. It was also my Executive Producer, Natasha, who kept pushing me to get the script written and begin pre-production. If it wasn't for her, I don't know if I would've finished it.
(PJ): Where was this filmed? It's very rustic and the wood cabin really
adds a lot to the feel of the film.
(AS): We filmed up on Mt. Akagi near our home in Maebashi, Japan. The cabin was actually built by my wife's parents. It's funny because we weren't originally going to film there. We were going to rent out a small hotel for the interior shots and use another place just for the exterior shots. It wasn't until in a side conversation where my wife mentioned her dad doing some work on their cabin that the lightbulb went off. I couldn't believe we had forgotten about the cabin! It made a HUGE difference, and I finally had what I imagined when writing the script.
(PJ): What was it like working with two kids as the main actors?
(AS): It was interesting working with kids. Cathy is played by my daughter, but she wasn't originally supposed to be in the film. We had a last-minute audition on set because the original actress we had became too camera shy. She was recast as the girl in the mirror, which we had yet to cast at the moment. Tim was played by Kenshin Maruoka, and he was fun to work with. He and Luna had great chemistry on and off camera. They enjoyed playing the whole brother-sister dynamic and being allowed to say things they would normally get in trouble saying. Finding their motivation for each scene was a challenge at first, but when they found it, they gave some performances I did not expect from them.
(PJ): Could you speak about the title? Is it meant to be a double entendre?
(AS): Ah, yes. The title. It is meant as a double entendre, but it wasn't me that thought of it. I usually love having creative titles, but for the life of me I couldn't come up with a great title for this one. The running title throughout pre-production was 'The Aunt'. Everybody hated it. So, we held a little competition among the cast and crew to see who could come up with a title that represented the film, and my wife, Mayumi, came up with what is now 'Reflections'. And just like with finding the Cabin for a location, the title was an obvious choice that I couldn't see. The logo then came naturally. It is "Reflections" but instead of having a normal shadow or reflection it is the title in Japanese. When you watch the film, you can also notice how perfect the title is because the movie is a reflection of itself. From the opening notes of the music to the closing notes; the opening scene to the final scene. I don't want to get too much into spoilers, but when you watch it, you get it...at least that's what I hope.
(PJ): What is the sticky stuff Aunt Kurosawa eats?
(AS): The food Aunt Kurosawa eats is called natto. This was a scene I wanted from the very beginning. Natto is fermented soybeans, and is a common thing to eat at breakfast. I hate the stuff. It stinks, it's slimy...ugh... It's like eating snot and boogers. Japanese people love to ask if you like natto because they know it's not normal. I wanted it to be a bit of a funny, yet disgusting moment that both domestic and international audiences could enjoy.
(PJ): I thought that apart from being a great ghost story (my assumption), this film could almost be a metaphor for facing one's ancestral culture for the first time: the image in the mirror, like the ghost girl, could be quite startling and unusual. Was that part of your goal here?
(AS): It's more of a metaphor of what it was like for me, and I'm sure countless others, after moving to Japan. It's a very different country with deep cultural nuances. It's at first hard to be taken seriously as a person actually living among them. Learning the language and the culture eventually stops feeling like an adventure and becomes a daily task. You start to lose your identity and you find yourself feeling like a foreigner no matter where you go and you're helpless. I tried to squeeze that feeling into a 1-day scenario. I'm fine now, by the way. Haha.
(PJ): From your bio on IMDb it looks like you're living in Japan. Do you happen to know if ghost stories are distinctly different in Japan than in the west?
(AS): Ghost stories between Japan and the west are starting to become similar, I think. I never enjoyed the slasher genre, so I tended to avoid horror movies altogether growing up. I liked horror elements in films such as Jurassic Park, or The Sixth Sense, but I never thought of those as horror films. It wasn't until I saw The Conjuring that I felt a real thrill from being scared, and it was the way James Wan created the atmosphere more than jump scares or gore that made a lasting sense of suspense throughout the film. That is what Japanese horror is like. Also, as with any culture, there are superstitions and urban legends that haven't been mined by a western filmmaker yet, and that is exciting to think about.
(PJ): Do you have any plans to make this into a longer feature?
(AS): I would love to turn this into a longer film. There is so much back story, and a whole lot of questions I left unanswered on purpose that I'm dying to tell. I won't say anything now in the hopes of getting the chance to expand on what we have, and I hope it'll keep the audience at the edge of their seat!
(PJ): Could you tell us about any future projects?
(AS): I have completed a full-length feature screenplay delving into the horror genre again. It's called 'The New House' and is about a newlywed couple who move into a new house, but all is not what it seems.... Again, my wife hates the title, so she'll probably rename it for me again. I wrote it with a Japanese audience in mind this time around. However, I am most excited about the project I am currently working on, which is a two-parter, simply titled 'Samurai'. It will be a marriage of Japanese mythology and actual history, but more on the mythology side. I'm hoping to create a new mythology that the whole world could possibly enjoy.