“Setsunasa Burger,” the only foreign language film in the 2013 UCLA Campus MovieFest Top 16, was almost an accident – an accident that won best story and best production design.
Codirected by Joseph Brandel, a fourth-year world arts and cultures student, and Tim Ammand, a graduate of UC San Diego, “Setsunasa Burger” began as a joke post on the Facebook page for Campus MovieFest. When lead actress Mia Risberg, a second-year political science student, signed on, the project suddenly became real.
“We posted a half-sincere listing for actors, written totally in broken English,” Brandel said. “We said we were making a Japanese film about eggplants and such, and Mia responded to it as if it were a perfectly sane message. When that happened, the film suddenly got real.”
Risberg responded to the message because of the Japanese element; she’d grown up in Tokyo, and felt like the film would be a good fit.
“They were joking around, (and) thought no one would ever respond,” Risberg said. “But they wanted to make a movie about Tokyo, and I’m from Japan, so I thought I’d give it a chance.”
Brandel and Ammand had made fake commercials together before embarking on “Setsunasa Burger,” which is an absurdist comedy about a burger joint and a transliteration of “Sadness Burger.”
The film follows Risberg’s character, Milky Tanabe, as she starts work at Setsunasa Burger and develops a friendship with its owners.
“We wanted to make a movie that portrays how we see reality,” Brandel said. “Sometimes all that’s out there is loneliness and hamburgers.”
Brandel and Ammand wanted the film to have a specific mood, reminiscent of the tone of Japanese dramas. This led to the bright camera work and absurd set design. The burger joint in question has its customers sitting at a bar that faces only a blank wall.
The improvisation in acting reflects upon the run-and-gun nature of the production as a whole. Ho Man Leung, a first-year Design | Media Arts student who handled the camera work on the film, said that it was like nothing he’d done before.
“It was very interesting. We’d get there and come up with a shot on the spot,” Leung said. “It was sort of random, unprepared, but I think they learned from the experience.”
The hurried nature of the production made the crew somewhat skeptical of the film’s chances, though Risberg said she was pleased with the effort anyway.
“Regardless of success, I’m just happy to have met really creative people,” Risberg said. “I love working with people who are interested in what I’m interested in.”
The crew was somewhat surprised at the film’s success, though Brandel offered reasoning as to why.
“I guess it’s kind of a weird thing to make an entirely Japanese film (for CMF) not about UCLA or typical college life,” Brandel said. “So I’m surprised and not surprised. The other films were good, but ours was different.”