Wendy Woo Lucy as and Hiroshi Kashiwagi as Tenshi.
Wendy Woo as Lucy and Hiroshi Kashiwagi as Tenshi.

Ikeibi Films and the Japanese American National Museum announce the Southern California premiere of the new independent film “Infinity & Chashu Ramen” at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 18, at the Tateuchi Democracy Forum in Little Tokyo.

“Infinity & Chashu Ramen” is the first feature film shot entirely in San Francisco’s Japantown – a sleepy little neighborhood in the heart of the city where magic is in the air and unseen spirits roam the streets.

Tenshi is an obnoxious 400-year-old spirit from old Japan who has a foul mouth and a propensity for petty theft. He’s been charged with watching over the residents of  Japantown, which he does with all the grace of a drunken sumo wrestler. Despite this he’s able to keep things running on course most of the time, but it’s always a challenge. Complicating matters is his new apprentice.

An assisted-living facility resident (Chizuko Omori) gets an unexpected visitor.
An assisted-living facility resident (Chizuko Omori) gets an unexpected visitor.

Lucy is a naïve woman who stepped right out of the 1940s into the modern world. She’s unsure of the year, her surroundings and her new role in the universe, but she’s got a good heart and is a quick learner. Unfortunately, Tenshi is her only teacher.

Together, these two will wander in and out of the lives of Japantown residents, trying to keep the universe in order. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail but no matter what they will irreparably change and connect the lives of dozens of people – whether they like it or not.

The film stars noted playwright, poet and actor Hiroshi Kashiwagi, who will also be holding a reading from his latest work – a collection of short stories about growing up Nisei in California called “Starting From Loomis and Other Stories” — at the Tateuchi Forum at 2 p.m.

Kashiwagi leads an ensemble cast that includes Wendy Woo, Todd Nakagawa, Sandra Young, Anna Jones, Jean Franco, Suz Takeda, Randall Nakano, Larry Kitagawa, Ben Arikawa, Carolyn Hu, Nan Suphari, Nishea Andolong, Rey Taira, Henrietta Gard, Ricky Wang, Koichi Sugiyama, Kallan Nishimoto and Chizuko Omori.

The film made its world premiere at the Sundance Kabuki Cinema in San Francisco’s Japantown and has screened successfully in Sacramento, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and at CAAMFest in San Jose.

“San Francisco’s Japantown is small and very close-knit. And it’s that closeness that made the film possible,” Berk told The Rafu Shimpo. “We could not have made this film without the support of residents and business owners, who literally opened their homes and shops and allowed us to shoot. It didn’t hurt that we had such a large cast of local Nikkei; someone always knew someone.

“One of our actors, Larry Kitagawa, also grew up in J-Town and went to high school with Bobby Okamura, the owner of Benkyodo — one of our key locations. Benkyodo has been in Japantown over 100 years, or as long as there’s been a Japantown. Bobby would come down to the store, unlock the door, hand us the keys and say, ‘Just lock up when you are done.’

“We all very much consider this film a community effort.”

Berk, who also made a short film (“The Virtues of Corned Beef Hash”) set in Japantown, added, “I was traveling in the Montmarte are of Paris a few years back and was taken by its charm and beauty. I noticed, however, that the locals seemed somewhat desensitized to it. I think you can lose perspective about the beauty and quaintness of a neighborhood when you see it every day.

“When I got back to San Francisco, I looked at Japantown with fresh eyes and realized what a treasure we have — and that got the ball rolling for writing the script. The neighborhood itself plays a big role in the film and the characters I wrote about are really just an amalgamation of people who I grew up with.”

The Tateuchi Democracy Forum is located across the courtyard from the Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Ave. (at First Street). Tickets: $8 for JANM members, $10 online at www.infinityandchashuramen.com, $12 at the door.

Benkyodo is the place to get mochi and pearls of wisdom from Juanita the waitress (Suz Takeda).
Benkyodo is the place to get mochi and pearls of wisdom from Juanita the waitress (Suz Takeda).
Claire and Hank (Sandra Young and Todd Nakagawa) meet after breaking up 20 years ago.
Claire and Hank (Sandra Young and Todd Nakagawa) meet after breaking up 20 years ago.


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