Just two years ago, 24-year-old Peter Miyakawa was a student at UCSB and one of his dreams was to have a film play at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
That dream will be fulfilled Monday, when the festival hosts the U.S. premiere of “Easy Living,” the debut film by him and his older brother, Orso Miyakawa, an alumnus of the New York Film Academy.
Filmed between Turin, Italy, and Menton on the French Riviera, the film addresses the universal issue of borders through a story about a 14-year-old boy, his older step sister and an American tennis player who form a bond with an Afrigan migrant named Elvis and help him cross the border from Italy to France so he can meet up with his pregnant wife.
In an interview with the filmmakers and their 15-year-old brother James Miyakawa, who stars in the film as the 14-year-old boy, the directors told the News-Press that the idea for “Easy Living” came about when they noticed Italy’s attitude toward national borders change.
Around 2015, following a series of terrorist attacks in France, the border between Italy and France tightened, a dramatic change from when the Miyakawa brothers were kids. Orso remembered how he and Peter watched this change from afar.
“We actually noticed that shift a lot because we were studying here in the U.S. When we left it was still kind of open and normal, and then we came back and the situation had changed,” he said.
Though set where he and his siblings were raised between Italy and France, the elder co-director expects the film and its themes will resonate just as much in the United States, or anywhere for that matter.
He and Peter made the film in “a very broad and more general way” so everyone around the world could connect with the topic.
The Miyakawa brothers are a quarter Japanese, their grandfather a Japanese immigrant who traveled from Japan to Italy on a motorbike. Their family history has a significant influence on how they view borders.
“We kind of in a way owe our lives to the fact that somebody crossed a border… Also, growing up in many different countries, that kind of made us grow up with a very open idea and concept of borders,” Orso said.
Orso and Peter inserted a great deal of their personal upbringing into “Easy Living,” particularly through the protagonist played by their younger brother James, who makes his acting debut in the film.
His prior acting experience only consists of some school theater, but James said that acting on film for the first time was a fantastic experience that he wants to continue.
“It was amazing. It was really emotional and it was a really incredible experience. I loved it,” he said.
In the acting department, one of the greatest challenges was up to American co-star Manoel Hudec, who didn’t know Italian and had to learn all of his dialogue phonetically. The character he plays is an American living in Italy who speaks with an American accent and occasional language flaws, but Mr. Hudec still had to undergo a month’s worth of training.
Every day for the month, Mr. Hudec worked with the directors on his lines, Orso and Peter guided the actor not just through their pronunciations, but also their meanings so he could convincingly deliver them.
When the film had its first premiere at the Torino Film Festival, Mr. Hudec’s performance fooled he Italian audience into thinking that he spoke their language.
Orso recalled, “It was amazing because at the Torino reception people watched the movie and approached the actor… believing that he would speak Italian.”
Looking back on the film’s production, Peter thinks he and Orso were lucky in a number of ways. For one thing, the weather was on their side. Perhaps more importantly, their movie was fortunate to have a small, dedicated crew that shared the brothers’ passion for the project.
“Since we were so few people, everyone was really important. Everyone takes a lot of responsibility because you don’t have like fifty people. Everyone has a lot of stuff at the same time, but in the end it turned out our strength,” he said.
Beyond the questions of borders the film tackles, the theme of friendship sits at the heart of “Easy Living.”
As the film’s first American audience witnesses the movie’s protagonists befriend Elvis and help him cross the border from Italy to France, the Miyakawa brothers hope their depiction of people finding common humanity in one another resonates deeply.
“We want the audience to take away the fact that you can become friends with anyone and establish a friendship,” Peter said.
“Easy Living” will have its first screening at the Lobero Theatre at 4:30 p.m. on Monday. This will be followed by two screenings at Metro Theatre 3, one at 2:40 p.m. on Jan. 21, and another at 8:20 a.m. on Jan. 22.