Origin of the Story

I love the Japanese kanji, of which there are about 2000 in general use. I like the idea of communicating just through these very rich symbols. For example, put together女 (“woman”) and子 (“child”)and you get(好) “fond, pleasing, to like something.” Makes sense, right? Of course, if you’re a Japanese speaker reading this, you’ll know that some combinations make sense, and others, well, their meaning seems lost to antiquity.

I wanted to create a story with an American among Japanese people, but I didn’t want it to be about war—not WWII, not the American occupation after the war, not soldiers on Okinawa. So I asked my friend, Tokyo filmmaker Shigeru Hirai, how hard it would be to shoot a period piece in Japan. He told me about the Saga Ninja Village in Kyushu. When he told me he knows the person who owns it, that clinched it: our story would take place in 1854, in a fictional village I chose to call Inuoka (犬丘“dog hill”). To me, this is funny because it evokes a rural town with a humble name, though to Japanese it sounds neutral, and is a plausible name for a town.

I wanted to have the two main characters be a female Japanese interpreter and an American male interpreter, thinking I could play the American. After I wrote the first three scenes, I decided the American should be played by someone younger, but by that time I was having fun with the story, which Shigeru thought was “hilarious already” after just those three scenes.

Shigeru is my technical advisor for the writing, and it’s possible he or others may contribute to the script as well, but for right now, it’s just me. My son lives in Nagoya with his Japanese wife and their three young children, and I do speak and write some Japanese, so for many reasons I’m very excited about this project.