Lee Shorten embraces ambiguity in ‘Parabola’
Lee Shorten was determined to showcase the acting chops of a couple of his talented friends, and so he wrote a short film that would do just that.
The result – Parabola, which Shorten also directed – screens at The Centre on Saturday night. It’s one of six short films created as part of the 2019 edition of Crazy8s.
Parabola features Hiro Kanagawa as an aging yakuza, and Mayumi Yoshida as his emotionally fraught daughter. Yoshida’s character reluctantly welcomes her estranged father into her home after he’s completed a lengthy jail sentence. The film explores the gap between these traumatized characters, and the far-reaching impact of guilt.
Shorten acted opposite Kanagawa (an actor and Governor General award-winning playwright) and Yoshida (an actress and award-winning filmmaker) on The Man in the High Castle, Amazon Prime’s locally shot dramatic series based on the dystopian novel by Philip K. Dick.
Last year, Shorten wrote and starred in a short film – The Day We Met – that was funded by Storyhive, co-directed by Yoshida and Nach Dudsdeemaytha, and inspired by his own adoption story (“I think superficially you could say a lot of my films are about children, family, and death,” notes Shorten). For his follow-up, he wanted to remain behind the camera and instead highlight the abilities of his High Castle colleagues.
“They’re both these fantastically talented actors, and I was thinking about how I’d wanted to see more from them,” says Shorten.
Kanagawa is a veteran character actor, but he’s usually cast to play variations on a single character type, according to Shorten: the stoic figure; the stern gangster; the harsh man. Shorten wanted to “subvert expectations around Hiro and his body of work. What if we took that body of work, drew upon it, and then turned it on its head? That’s how his character came about: this older yakuza figure who is actually full of regret and remorse, and he’s kind of weak and frail instead of what you would expect.”
As for Yoshida, Shorten wanted to see her inhabit someone vastly different from the well-composed, Type-A characters he’s used to seeing her portray.
Once Shorten had his characters locked down, Parabola’s narrative arc “came morphing from there,” he says.
It was during filming – when Shorten stood at his monitor and watched as Kanagawa and Yoshida went where he’d never seen them go before – that he knew he’d achieved his initial goal. “There was one moment when Hiro and Mayumi were acting together, and the crew, you could hear a pin drop, and you could feel the chemistry between those two, and it made all the pain worth it,” he says.
As one of the Crazy8s’ chosen six, Parabola was created in eight days (three to film, five for editing and post-production) and received financial and in-kind help from community partners. The Crazy8s process “forces filmmakers to make split decisions and rely on your instincts,” says Shorten. “What is the core of this story? What is the core of this scene? Let’s get that and move on. In the edit, we’d say, ‘We could play around with this score for five minutes, but what is the emotion we want the audience to feel right now? Hone in on that and let’s move on.’”
YVR Screen Scene is a spoiler-free zone, so we’re not going to tell you how Parabola ends.
But we will disclose that the ending is deliciously ambiguous, and – if Shorten gets his way, and we have no doubt that he will – will inspire some passionate post-screening conversations.
“I’m very interested in telling ambiguous stories,” says Shorten. “I like films that start a conversation rather than are the conversation. It’s not about going out and having a clean ending and then we walk away. I want you to have your own experience with the film, I want you to engage with it on your own terms, and then I want you to want to talk about that and debate it with everyone else.”
That said, “I also want you to think about your own experiences with your family when you watch the film, and the choices you’ve made in your life, and the consequences of those choices and what you can do to address them,” says Shorten.
Parabola’s cast also includes Peter Shinkoda (DareDevil’s Nobu), Phoebe Miu, and Darryl Quon. It was produced by Phil Planta and Brittany Lum-Cho, and co-produced by Theo Kim, Irma Leong, and Willan Leung. Yoshida served as associate producer.
Parabola screens Saturday night at the Crazy8s 20th anniversary gala, joining Ada (about Ada Byron King, widely considered the world’s first computer programmer), Hatch (a darkly comedic sci-fi short about a woman who finds an alien egg buried in her backyard), Idols Never Die (in which K-pop fans mourn the tragic loss of their favourite star, ND – AKA NeverDie – and set out to steal his ashes), The Mirror (a horror film wherein three high school girls break into an old abandoned house and disaster ensues), and Unkept (a compelling, family-driven story about a young boy who makes a life-changing decision).
Tickets and information at http://crazy8s.film/.
Top photo: Hiro Kanagawa in Parabola. Photo by Jan Colango