Terminal USA and Mommy Mommy Where’s My Brain? Class Discussion
Asian American Punk and Underground Films
The two films we are presenting today are Mommy Mommy Where’s My Brain? (1986) and Terminal USA (1993), written and directed by Jon Moritsugu. Jon Moritsugu was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1965 and started filmmaking at Brown University in the mid 80’s. As an underground filmmaker, Moritsugu writes, edits, and distributes most of his pieces. He also works with his wife, Amy Davis, who co-writes, co-produces, and acts in many of his films. Jon Moritsugu’s films have been featured in many festivals such as Sundance, Moma, and Cannes, and his piece Fame Whore was considered for an Academy Award in 1999. Unfortunately, this film was rejected for an award because it was not screened on the mandatory 35mm.
Terminal USA is a 60-minute film that tells the story of an alternative Japanese American family and their experiences with drugs, sexuality, and violence. One New York Times review describes this film as a scathing satire: “The family is comprised of Japanese Americans that fit into the typical Anglo sitcom family mod. The results are hilarious as they deal with drugs, sexuality, discrimination, aging, and the perils of parenting.” As we have seen in other Independent Asian American Media, Terminal USA provides an alternate and more post-modern narrative of Asian American identity, culture, and experience.
Mommy Mommy Where’s My Brain? is a 10-minute short that Moritsugu completed at Brown University. During an interview in May 2012, Jon Moritsugu describes this film as a “Marxist critique of post-commodity representations…or…shock cuts/rotting meat/feedback/death/rock/barnyardin’/earwrecking (in an ironic way)…it’s sorta like hanging out with Derrida and then sticking your head in a toilet to escape the noise.” This piece is black and white and visually schizophrenic, with a non-linear narrative and unconventional scenes.
Both Mommy Mommy Where’s My Brain? and Terminal USA are considered punk and underground films in the sense that they both have a “lo-fi” aesthetic, and filmed with 16 mm cameras, and produced using a limited budget. Moreover, both of these films are considered absurdist comedies that capture rebellious feelings and attitudes of American youth.
A few questions that we want you to consider while watching the clips are, would these films be considered post-modern? How do these films present Asian American identity? In a positive or negative light? Do they reinforce or deconstruct orientalizing stereotypes?
-Terminal USA is a parody of censorship as well as a parody of Asian stereotypes
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