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Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2001

Hosoya serves up some excellent cheese

OK, let's play Guess The Filmmaker. Here's the flick: it's called "Home Sweet Hoboken," it's set in a New Jersey neighborhood, and it features two jobless young slackers who live with their grandmother while subsisting on pizza and beer. Their foul-mouthed dialogue is along the lines of "S***, I gotta do some thinking -- where's the bong?"

News photo
Yoshifumi Hosoya

This cheesy slice of suburban Americana comes to you courtesy, not of Kevin Smith ("Clerks," "Chasing Amy"), but of Yoshifumi Hosoya, a Japanese director based in New York City since the mid-'80s. Like his debut feature, 1995's "Sleepyheads," "Home Sweet Hoboken" is a slickly produced comedy that merges misfit characters with a broad, almost slapstick sense of humor.

Indeed, "Home Sweet Hoboken" is almost too slick for an indie film. Its tale of two slow-witted brothers plays close to "Bill and Ted" territory, into which are dropped character actors like Ben Gazzara, Isaac de Bankcle and Elizabeth Ashley, who suggest an altogether more offbeat indie universe and the films of directors like John Cassavettes, Jim Jarmusch or Todd Solondz.

" 'Stranger Than Paradise' opened about a year after I came to New York," said the 36-year-old director in an interview with The Japan Times. "It was probably the first independent film I saw, and I was like, wow, because it was so simple and so funny."

Compared to Jarmusch, however, Hosoya's brand of humor is more conventional, his pacing less affected, a fact which he's certainly aware of. "I thought from the beginning, I'd try to balance a bit of an indie movie touch with a more mainstream sensibility," said Hosoya. "But sometimes I think I should have gone a little crazier, more of an indie way -- it probably would have been easier to market. I think the problem is that it's an independent movie, but commercially made."

Hosoya himself is rather like a character from a Jarmusch film, though, a rootless cosmopolitan immersed in an adopted culture. Certainly, his knowledge of American cultural quirks is formidable. Hosoya co-wrote the script, but credits his collaborators with making it all look and sound "right."

While "Home Sweet Hoboken" is getting a theatrical opening in Japan, Hosoya explains that "despite what people think, it's still a really tough climate for independent films, especially trying to find distribution. Even the Sundance winners usually don't open really wide in the theaters. But for us, we're not seriously expecting to make huge money from this movie, y'know? We know from the start it's not going to be 'Titanic,' we just like to keep making films and doing good work. Though it would be nice to do something with more money next time!"

Hosoya certainly has learned how to play the game, though. He used the interest in veteran actor Ben Gazzara, currently hot in the indie scene after appearances in "Buffalo 66" and "Happiness," to attract other actors and financing, despite the fact that Gazzara didn't sign on the dotted line till the week before filming. "That's crazy," admits Hosoya, "but that's always the case with casting. It's always a game. But we were telling all the other actors 'Ben is going to be in the film!' "

Hosoya has the technical chops to succeed, and a comedic style all his own. You get the feeling he's one pic off a break, though his next project -- a sci-fi comedy billed as "Galaxy Quest meets Ed Wood," with Mel Brooks in the lead -- seems, to say the least, a dicey proposition.

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