By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Now available on Amazon in the U.S., UK and Japan, it’s a dark psychological voyage through the Japanese city.
Immanuel Martin, who previously wrote and directed the exchange-student-from-hell film MIYUKI, has encored on LA MANO, and got in touch to fill us in on its conception and creation. “After making MIYUKI, I ended up moving to Japan to be near my daughter, who lived there with her mom. I had wanted to shoot my next feature there, but with my work schedule I just couldn’t find the time. Then several years back, I found myself between jobs and with some savings, so I decided to make my next feature film.
“The original idea for LA MANO,” he continues, “came from a macabre and surreal dream I had one night about an ex-girlfriend’s hand. I don’t want to say too much about that dream, as it will give away some elements of the film. But it stayed with me for a long time, and served as the inspiration for the basic story.”
That scenario, set in modern-day Tokyo, centers on Tomas (Shinji Hasegawa), “a half-Japanese immigrant from Latin America,” according to Martin’s official synopsis. “Tomas has no memory of his past, other than his roots far away from Japan. By day he works as a construction worker, and by night he drinks away his monotonous existence. One day at a construction site, he finds the severed hand of a mannequin. Intrigued by the hand, he takes it home with him, and soon long-buried memories start to resurface. He sees a mysterious and elusive Mexican man around Tokyo and tries to make contact, but each time the man disappears. Soon, more tragic memories come back to him, and he struggles to maintain his sanity. More surreal visions drive him on a quest for answers about his past, and ultimately, he is forced to confront tragic events from long ago and face the consequences of his actions.”
Joining the Honduras-born Hasegawa, who like Martin had lived in San Francisco before they met in Japan, in the cast are artist/photographer/model Jasna Boudard and Alex Hormigo, whose mysterious character is based on a character from the filmmaker’s previous short DIEZ and the Mexican folk hero Malverde. Martin shot LA MANO in Spanish and Japanese, which proved to be a challenge, as did making the movie in a city where he had no connections to the local film industry. “One of the keys to making an indie feature in a location you are unfamiliar with is developing friendships with people who believe in the project and want to support you. Getting access to several key locations was instrumental in being able to go into production in the time frame and budget we had. While scouting Tokyo for locations, I found an independent theater group, Organic Theatre, in a suburb of west Tokyo that had a floor of a 1950s-era apartment building. As I needed precisely such a location, I approached them about shooting in their building, and after several meetings, they not only allowed me to rent a floor of the building and their studio, but also made several key introductions to cast members from their troupe, such as Toyotaka Hanazawa, who plays Yasuto in LA MANO. He’s a veteran of many Japanese films including SHIN GODZILLA. Further, they introduced me to a couple who had a country house in the mountains of Yamanashi, a prefecture north of Tokyo, where I was able to shoot a significant portion of the scenes.
“At any given time, I had to have both Spanish and Japanese versions of the script available for cast and crew. Also, I needed to always have bilingual staff on hand to explain dialogue, action and scenes to either the Japanese or Spanish-speaking cast and crewmembers. But it was worth the effort, as using Japanese for the main Tokyo-based scenes added the reality I wanted the film to have, and contrasting it with the Spanish gave life and emotion to the main character’s past and added to the film’s surreal elements.”
With the coronavirus putting up a roadblock to festival and commercial play, Martin decided to release LA MANO direct to streaming; see the Amazon links below. He also hopes to have limited screenings in Tokyo, San Francisco and Los Angeles once the pandemic eases. Beyond that, Martin says, “I want to bring Shinji Hasegawa and Alex Hormigo’s characters back together for a sequel filmed somewhere in Latin America, Mexico ideally. It seems natural that Hasegawa, being born in Latin America, would travel back to the place of his birth both in the story and in real life to learn more about his past.”