Back to IndieWire

Meet the 2015 Tribeca Filmmakers #52: Erik Shirai Captures the Art and Science of Brewing In ‘The Birth Of Saké’

Meet the 2015 Tribeca Filmmakers #52: Erik Shirai Captures the Art and Science of Brewing In 'The Birth Of Saké'

READ MORE: Meet the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival Filmmakers

Erik Shirai’s atmospheric ode to the 2,000-year-old art of saké introduces audiences to the Tedorigawa brewery and the small brotherhood of highly dedicated and painstakingly trained artisans who bring the ancient spirit into existence year after year. Spending six months away from friends and family, the team of men live and work together under the tutelage of the Brewmaster, a respected leader who is also like a surrogate father or brother to them. Facing the evolving tastes of a new generation of saké drinkers, Tedorigawa remains steadfast in its commitment to creating the highest quality product. [Synopsis courtesy of Lisa Domnitz, Tribeca Film Festival]

What’s your film about in 140 characters or less?

The film is about the people who make saké in northern Japan.

Now what’s it REALLY about?

The film is about a small group of artisans who brave unusual working conditions to preserve a 2000-year-old tradition that we have come to know as saké in its most traditional form. The film is a tribute to artisans who have dedicated their lives to carrying on this increasingly rare craft. We follow the brewery’s staff, who spend 6 months out of each year at the brewery, forsaking family, friends and even holidays in order to maintain the round-the-clock process the age-old process demands. As artisans who must dedicate their whole lives to the making of this world-class saké, their private sacrifices are often sizable and unseen.

Tell us briefly about yourself.

I’m a Japanese American, born and raised in the US. I was raised by the strength and will of my mother who to this day is still my biggest influence. I began working on film sets as a lighting technician when I was 19. After several years, I patiently worked my way to becoming a cinematographer. At 32 years old, I feel more grateful than ever to have the opportunity to work in something I truly enjoy.

Biggest challenge in completing this film?

For me, the hardest challenge was being responsible for portraying the true essence of your subjects. 

What do you want the Tribeca audience to take away from your film?

The appreciation and recognition for the humble people behind the crafting of this tradition.

Any films inspire you?

“Un Prophete,” “Cyclo,” “A Woman In The Dunes.”

What’s next?

Since 2008, I have been working on a film about the night. I hope to finish it in the near future.

What cameras did you shoot on?

Sony F3 and Sony F5

Did you crowdfund?
If so, via what platform. If not, why?

We used Kickstarter.

Did you go to film school? If so, which one? 

I never attended film school or college. I learned from working with my peers on film sets and being around people I respected.

Indiewire invited Tribeca Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2015 festival. For profiles go HERE.

This Article is related to: Festivals and tagged ,