It's surprising to some that the Internet is not so much killing radio as rejuvenating it. Podcasting to practically every niche available is gaining popularity by the minute; cinema podcasts are no exception. One such undertaking, the VCinema podcast on Asian cinema, originates from San Mateo. (To be more exact, it simultaneously comes out of Slidell, Louisiana, and New York City thanks to the wonders of Skype.) The producer from our Peninsula is Jon Jung (aka Coffin Jon). His co-hosts are Slidell’s Josh Samford, proprietor of the cult film website Varied Celluloid, and New York-based Rufus de Rham, contributor to the website cineAWESOME! Each episode begins with overviews of what is happening on their respective websites, then ventures into brief commentaries of what they’ve each been watching since the last episode, finally moving into a discussion about the Asian film that is the focus of that episode’s podcast (e.g., Keisuke Kinoshita’s Twenty-Four Eyes) or an interview with other writers who focus on Asian cinema (e.g., Jasper Sharp of the Japanese film website Midnight Eye). Turning the interview tables on Jon, I recently met up with him at the New People café in Japantown to talk about how he’s developed VCinema into an engaging soundspace for the Asian cinephile.
SF360: Tell us how the VCinema podcast got started.
Jon Jung: Originally I had thought about it in 2008. I was commuting a lot, listening to a lot of music on the road, until a friend of mine told me, ‘Well, why don’t you start listening to podcasts?’ So I started picking out some podcasts [and] somewhere along the line I thought to myself, ‘You know, I’d like to do a podcast myself.’
I’ve had radio experience at several college radio stations, including KZSU here in the Bay Area. And I already had recording equipment because I was a musician when I was younger. So I thought this was the perfect opportunity to use that equipment, to use my experience to start a podcast.
Around that time, I had already known Josh for maybe a year. He runs a website called VariedCelluloid.net. It’s a cult film website. I always thought it’d be nice to do a project with him. I’m a big fan of cult film and I never heard of his [website previously] and when I learned that he had been running it for a few years by that point, I felt it was a pity that no one had heard of this site. Josh being younger, I thought his reviews came from a fresher perspective than what I was used to. A lot of cult film websites deal in snark, but his dealt with more of the joy of checking these things out.
And around summertime of 2009, I started a live videocast. We did a cult film show and called it VCinema, because the ‘VC’ is the same as Varied Celluloid and we wanted to make an association with it. But I thought it was just too much work to do and we weren’t getting a very big audience. So I re-pitched the idea of a podcast to Josh.
So our first episode was in January 2010. We actually started as a cult film podcast with an idea that we would focus more on Asian cult film. But several episodes down the line, we made a complete conversion to Asian film.
SF360: What is it about Japanese cinema in particular, and Asian cinema in general, that has drawn you to devote a whole podcast to it?
Jung: When we finally made the complete conversion to being an Asian film podcast, my first idea, (and I still might try this idea), is to have a specialist from each of the major regions of Asian Cinema as a host. I don’t know if I can call myself a specialist in Japanese film, but at the very least, I’ve watched it all my life and I’ve had interest all my life. Rufus is the Korean film guy, he studied Korean film as an undergraduate. And then eventually we could add someone who is into Hong Kong film, someone who is into Thai film, something like that, on the show and have us all come together as one big Asian film ‘United Nations’.
[As for Japanese cinema], a lot of kids [around 1982] were getting into things like Godzilla, Ultraman, all the stuff they would play on KTVU Channel 2 here in the Bay Area. I know that a lot of my peers kind of stick to that level of the pop culture spectrum. But for me, when I was that age, I wanted to really explore more. I thought, ‘There’s got to be more than this Godzilla stuff, this Ultraman Stuff.’ Luckily for me there was a local library that actually rented out videos. This was very rare at the time because videos were expensive. I’d go with my parents and we would get these videos. I would always say, ‘Hey, this person sounds like an Asian person, this director Koo-roh-saw-wa. I don’t know what nationality he belongs to, but I want to get this film.’ So I started getting into film that way by digging more.
What really converted me was Ozu’s Tokyo Story. As a child, I watched it and was surprised how much it affected me which is something I don’t think should have been the case, being an American kid and I’m not Japanese. Another thing was that I thought it was a very puzzling film too. There was a lot I didn’t understand. I thought, ‘Well, maybe it’s because I’m not Japanese that I don’t understand it?’ And I think it’s that question that has always driven my interest and passion, for not only Japanese film, but also Asian film, to understand. Film is really, to me, the window to humans. To understand a human, it helps to be in touch with that human on a one on one level, but we can’t do that all the time. The Internet affords us some of that contact. But, if you don’t have the Internet, as we didn’t have back in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s, film was the way to understand other cultures, to solve that puzzle that I had about Tokyo Story.
SF360: I listen to so many podcasts, and one of the things I love is a distinctive voice, like Kim Hill out of New Zealand. She sounds like she smokes ten packs of cigarettes a day and I love it. And when I first heard Rufus, there’s a texture to his voice that I really find appealing on the radio. Josh’s Louisiana accent is a pleasure to hear. And then, as the primary host needs to, you take a more reserved role. Your pace seems to be [the metronome] for everyone else. I like the three distinct voices.
Jung: That’s an interesting observation. I think once we had gotten together on an episode and actually recorded, I realized this was a perfect combination of voices. As you mentioned, I’m a more West Coast, laid-back type of voice, and Rufus is from the Northeast, and Josh is from the South, so you can easily differentiate our voices. That’s one thing I really like is there are different colors to our voices.
SF360: Your ethical approach to reviews came to my mind when you were talking about controversial issues in Lee Chang-dong’s Oasis. You and Josh both were very particular about how you talked about aspects of the film. You both will be very direct and say ‘You want to be ready for this if you choose to watch this film.’ Do you have a set ethical approach to talking about films?
Jung: I try to really think about (and this is probably coming from my radio background) how I am presenting something to an audience. Because obviously you can’t sugarcoat a lot of things in the world. The world is a tough place and it’s unfair and there’s a lot of things that are really hard to talk about. And I think it’s important, not from a standpoint of political correctness, but just from a standpoint of being a human being and being at least sensitive and respectful of other human beings.
I think one of the themes with the podcast is discovery, something we’ve highlighted in our end of the year wrap-up on the blog. Asian film is not something you can ‘master’. It’s very nebulous. But to discover things with an audience is really powerful too. A lot of these films, I’d say 90 percent, I’ve seen before. Even so, there’s that 10 percent where I’m finally discovering, ’Oh, this film is important!’ And in turn we can relay that to the audience and they are discovering that along with us.
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