BY Kenneth Harvey
February 24 2010 1:25 PM ET
Last year University of Southern California graduate student Mitsuyo Miyazaki embarked on a journey back to Japan to mark the 10th anniversary of her grandmother’s death. As the family gathered, a stack of long-lost photos turned up, showing her grandmother, Tsuyako, with an unknown woman. After looking a little closer, Miyazaki knew that her grandmother once loved this woman.
“Her gaze and gesture spoke of something that transcended friendship,” Miyazaki said. “She couldn't touch who she wanted to touch; she couldn't kiss who she really wanted to kiss.”
Tsuyako eventually married a man, but Miyazaki remembers her grandmother’s bitterness about the marriage. With talk of how she never wanted to marry her husband, Tsuyako constantly threatened to leave her family behind.
“Had she not made that sacrifice, I would not be here,” Miyazaki said.
To honor her grandmother, Miyazki and classmate Michelle Peerali are making the trek to Japan to capture Tsuyako’s story, which takes place in the aftermath of World War II, in an eponymous feature film. The pair, both in their last year at USC, talk about taking on this major project.
The Advocate: This project is your graduate thesis film, the final project you will submit before graduation. To add more to your plate, you’ve opted to retain the rights to this film, but you have no financial support from USC. What has that been like for you?
Mitsuyo Miyazaki: We chose this path because this is something we will be doing in the professional world and this will be a great opportunity to get our hands dirty.
Michelle Peerali: It's pretty much along the lines of independent filmmaking — working from the ground up. We basically have to raise everything when it comes to crewing, equipment, and location.
Mitsuyo, you’re the director of this film, while Michelle, you serve as a producer. How did you two meet?
Peerali: The first day of class we realized we were with the same agency in Los Angeles. We bonded because were going to auditions while going to film school. I just instantly bonded with Mitsuyo because of her personality and because of how passionate and creative she is as a human being. She’s very comfortable to be around. As a producer, who wouldn’t want to be around that sort of person?
What was your grandmother Tsuyako like?
Miyazaki: My grandmother was someone who never wore a skirt. She always wore jeans, a polo shirt, a frumpy hat, and huge glasses with a chain wallet hanging from her side while smoking cigarettes. She would be 90 years old if she was alive. My grandfather used to do a lot of photography, and in none of the photos she smiled. She was this tough cookie that was bitter about life and sometimes talked about how she didn’t want to marry my grandfather and was always ready to run away from the family.