Private Project


NAMI -- which means waves in Japanese -- follows one day in the life of a Japanese immigrant widow, who journeys across Los Angeles to reach the ocean. She struggles with the loneliness of mourning and comes to terms with her place in the world without her husband.

  • Masami Kawai
  • Masami Kawai
  • Mayuran Tiruchelvam
  • Kana Kawai
    Key Cast
  • Topher Osborn
    Director of Photography
    Dear White People
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    13 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    June 30, 2014
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • International Film Festival of Rotterdam
    January 23, 2015
    World Premiere
Director Biography - Masami Kawai

Masami Kawai is a filmmaker born and raised in Los Angeles. She received her MFA degree in Film Directing from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television and BA degree from Hampshire College.

Kawai’s work has screened at various museums and festivals, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Rotterdam Film Festival, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

She is working on a documentary about her father, who was a Los Angeles-based artist from the Pacific island of Amami and was part of the L.A. Minimalist movement. She is also developing a Japanese-American road movie.

Currently, she teaches film production and directing in the Cinema Studies Program at the University of Oregon.

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Director Statement

The genesis of NAMI originates from the passing of my father at the end of my first year in film school. While I lost myself in schoolwork, I watched my mother create rituals that kept her moving forward despite her sadness. I was moved that she wore my father’s belt under her clothes—a private action that made her husband’s presence a physical one. This image became the basis for the widow character in NAMI. And through the process of making this film, I was able to confront my own grief, which had been kept at bay for too long, and to reconcile that life moves on after losing a loved one.
I wanted to honor my mother’s past acting experience by creating the role of the widow for her. In Japan in the 1960s, she studied acting with Kikue Mori, an actress who had worked with legendary Japanese film directors such as Kenzo Mizoguchi and Kon Ichikawa. But when she immigrated to the United States to be with my father, she put her artistic pursuits on hold to support her family. This film gave me the opportunity to collaborate with my mother and to put on screen her long unrecognized talents.
For the aesthetics of NAMI, I took inspiration from my father’s artwork, which found expression in the Los Angeles Minimalist movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Along with his friends James Turrell and John McCracken, he created art that questioned the traditional boundaries of gallery and museum spaces. Whether it was Turrell’s studio-based light installations or my father’s use of space to transform objects into poetic sculptures,
their work discerned the minimal essence of the physical world. More specifically, NAMI pays homage to a performance/installation piece called Stones, which my father created in 1980. He collected stones throughout Los Angeles and placed them in a gallery. After exhibiting the work, he returned the stones to their original locations to complete the piece, thereby bringing to the fore the context of art display and the process of art making. The centrality of stones as objects, the importance of location, the movement through Los Angeles, and the ocean as a visual link to the Pacific island of Amami where my father is from: All of these
elements shape the trajectory of my film.
In making NAMI, I’ve come to a deeper understanding of minimalism and my father’s art. He wanted to turn viewers into art makers by encouraging them to pause and reflect on life’s beauty. For this film, I similarly wanted to pare story and style down to the essentials to trace the journey of a mourning widow. Through long takes and meditative moments captured on 16mm, I hope to inspire the audience to contemplate the details
of a character quietly grieving.