A Japanese American family finds balance in an incarceration camp during World War II.

  • Terre Nguyen
  • Galen Hogan-Barden
  • Chris Debo
  • Akiko Fujiwara
    Key Cast
  • Takaaki Hirakawa
    Key Cast
  • Ian Noh
    Key Cast
  • Wain Richardson
    Key Cast
    "PFC William Harlow"
  • Joseph Puccio
  • Evelyn Frazier
    Production Designer
  • Danny Caporaletti
    Executive Producer
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    Drama, War, Family
  • Runtime:
    14 minutes 46 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    August 20, 2023
  • Production Budget:
    8,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
    Yes - VCUarts
Director Biography - Terre Nguyen

Terre Nguyen (Nguyễn Đình Quý Anh) is a Vietnamese American filmmaker. His debut short film Uncle and Son, which reflects the experience of LGBTQ+ people in rural Vietnam, was selected in several international film festivals. The short won the Best Foreign Language award of Virginia’s 2015 Alexandria Film Festival. Terre is interested in exploring classic cinema, surrealism, and sensual, dream-like images.

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Director Statement

“Ma” is a story about a Japanese American family who is forced to live in an internment camp during World War II in 1944. This drama features themes including war, family, immigration, justice, depression, etc. to which I immediately connect by virtue of my own background. In my parents’ memory, The Vietnam War is such a trauma that cannot be forgotten. Growing up with my mother and my father in Vietnam, I understand that war brings only pain and anger to people. Then I went to the U.S, became an immigrant and a citizen in this country. Here, I experienced aggression towards me for the first time. Remembering this experience, I empathize with Ma’s characters very much.

I believe I have both Taira and Haruki’s souls inside me. Similar to Taira, I love photography and am easily moved by beautiful objects under perfect sunlight. I immediately take out my camera and capture those transcendent moments. However, being raised in Asian culture, I - similar to Taira - tend to cope with aggression by either being submissive, running away, or becoming quiet. If Haruki loves flowers, so do I. It is interesting that a delicate character like Haruki can stand up and speak against authoritarianism.

Regarding cinematic styles, I would love to portray Ma as a formalist work. The Academy ratio of 1.37:1 would be my choice in order to refresh the memory of the 1940s. Orangish desaturated vintage color can also be suitable for this historical piece. I love the notion of Ma in Japanese culture, which is “the fundamental time and space from which life needs to grow” (Kiyoshi Matsumoto). By this approach which also reflects the notion of Ma, the viewer may have the chance to live in and feel the space and the passage of time in a scene.

My vision for Ma is like a photo collage of nostalgic dream-like images. Each photo is full of sense impressions created by the actors’ posing, different materials, textures and fantastic warm lighting. I am picturing Haruki sitting with her flower arrangement in front of a plain rough wall, next to a window. Through the fluttering thin curtains, the sunlight lands onto her beautiful face, falls on the soft petals, the green stems, and lights up the whole glass bowl full of water. In Japanese Kanji writing, ”Ma combines door 門 and sun 日. Together these two characters depict a door through the crevice of which the sunlight peeps in 間” (Kiyoshi Matsumoto).

Galen Hogan-Barden’s script presents many vivid contradictory symbols and ideas: flowers vs barbed wire fences, fragility vs brutality, a family versus a soldier, fear versus joy, democracy versus authoritarian, aggression versus gentleness. What stayed with me the most in the end of the script was such a sense of poignance but tenderness which reminded me of Yasujirō Ozu’s films. The look of this film can be pretty, but the story beneath is surprisingly dark and sad, which somehow suggests the paradox of being an American at that time in history.