2018. Andrew and his wife Luisa are both seventy, their birthdays a few weeks apart. They are in good health, Andrew descended from Ashkenazi Jews, Luisa from Chippewa Quebecois Afro-Cubans. Their many friends want to throw them a big birthday party, but they decline, having suffered through a big party last year to celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary and now feeling done with big parties forever.
Andrew and Luisa are writers and musicians and live ten miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia with their three children—twins Teo and Rosa, eleven, Jalecia, eight—in a large house Andrew built forty-two years ago. Also part of the family is Diana, a poet in her late forties who resides in the other house on the property and is essentially the children’s third parent.
Luisa’s daughter Lily, mother of Jalecia, is thirty-six, a movie actress living in Los Angeles. Her torrid romance with pop star Kingdom Jungle Boy and their tumultuous seven-month marriage and messy divorce were exhaustively covered in the tabloids and mainstream media a year ago and shortly thereafter Lily landed a leading role in the huge-budget remake of The King and I set in a distant solar system, Lily the earthling who comes to the tropical planet Thailorg to tutor the emperor’s many translucent four-armed children, the iconic songs updated with hip hop arrangements.
Andrew’s son Owen is also thirty-six and lives in Vancouver with his wife Miyoshi, who is thirty-nine, and their three-year-old daughter Mimi. Owen and Miyoshi recently left the employ of the movie producer and director Nicolas Thorsen and moved from Ireland to Vancouver to launch their own film company Character Driven Cinema, Owen a producer/director, Miyoshi a cinematographer.
Andrew and Luisa are delighted to have Owen and Miyoshi and the darling Mimi in their midst, and they are excited that Character Driven Cinema’s first film is the metaphysical comedy Moon In Leo from an original screenplay by Andrew and Luisa to be filmed in and around the nearby town of Squamish.
Some years ago Luisa stopped writing stories and until recently was content to work with Andrew on his plays while managing the business end of things and raising the children. However, for the last several months, she has been overwhelmed by the kids and frequently depressed by the daunting prospect of parenting teenagers until she is eighty.
Andrew continues writing short stories and plays, but often goes weeks now without writing. The children and music, specifically composing for the piano, are his main everyday endeavors now.
And Diana, who has lived with Andrew and Luisa and the kids for six years, is currently the three-days-a-week drawing and painting teacher at the Vancouver Waldorf high school and is in the second year of a relationship with Simon, a singer songwriter who makes his living building stone walls.
One of the main characters in Moon In Leo is Old Martha, an ancient wizard who uses her talent for shape shifting to influence the flow of events in the movie. Miyoshi’s mother, Sakura Enamoto, a well-known actress in Japanese cinema, will play the part of Old Martha, and in mid-march, a few weeks before filming begins, Sakura arrives in Vancouver to spend time with her granddaughter Mimi and to rehearse her scenes with an acting coach fluent in Japanese and English.
Two days after Sakura arrives in Canada, Owen and Miyoshi and Mimi and Sakura come to Andrew and Luisa’s for lunch. This being a Tuesday, Rosa and Teo and Jalecia are in school, which is a huge relief to Owen and Miyoshi and Luisa, and a big disappointment to Mimi who is madly in love with the big kids she knows as her cousins, though biologically Rosa is her half-aunt, Teo her half-uncle, and Jalecia no relation.
Sakura is strikingly beautiful with enormous brown eyes, long black hair, a girlish figure, and a regal bearing. Though seventy, most people assume she is much younger. She speaks somewhat broken English, understands English quite well, and has little trouble communicating with Andrew and Luisa and Owen.
Miyoshi, whose father is French, is fluent in Japanese, English, German, and French. She spent her first twenty years in Japan with her mother and then moved to Switzerland where she attended film school before becoming Thorsen’s cameraperson and eventually his cinematographer.
Sakura was unable to attend Owen and Miyoshi’s wedding in Ireland seven years ago, nor did her subsequent trips to Ireland coincide with Andrew and Luisa’s trips to Ireland, so this luncheon is the first time the three of them meet.
When everyone is seated around the dining table enjoying Luisa’s fish tacos con guacamole, Mimi sitting on Luisa’s lap, Sakura says in her deep resonant voice, “Now we can have Owen and Miyoshi wedding for parents.”
“Let this be the wedding,” says Miyoshi, laughing wearily. “This could be our only chance in the next six months.”
“Okay,” says Sakura, smiling and nodding to Luisa and Andrew. “I so honor your son marry my daughter. She so lucky to marry such good man.”
“And we are honored your daughter married our son,” says Andrew, nodding graciously. “He is very lucky to be married to such a wonderful woman.”
“I now pronounce you wife and husband,” says Luisa, raising her glass of bubbly water to Owen and Miyoshi.
Sakura raises her glass and says something in Japanese.
Everyone drinks and Luisa asks Miyoshi, “What did your mother say?”
“She said ‘May our families be joined forever.’”
The sun breaks through the clouds after lunch and the three grandparents and grandchild have coffee and cookies on the deck while Owen and Miyoshi stay inside making phone calls as the thousand and one responsibilities of producing a major motion picture weigh heavily upon them.
Mimi chooses Sakura’s lap for cookie time, reasoning that Luisa will only allow her one cookie whereas Sakura might be good for two or three.
“So beautiful place,” says Sakura, gazing out over the large vegetable and flower garden, the wild forest beyond. “I read your play in Japanese before English. Very great play. I honor to be Old Martha. She strong witch but funny. I want you show me how you want me say your words.”
“I’m at your service,” says Andrew, enchanted by her. “I’ll be attending your first few sessions with your acting coach and be on the set for all your scenes.”
“You tell me how you want,” she says, nodding confidently. “I can learn.”
When Andrew wrote the first draft of Moon In Leo, he envisioned Old Martha played by some great British actress, but when Owen and Miyoshi read the script they immediately saw Sakura in the role, and only now, as they are about to start filming, do they think they may have made a terrible mistake in casting Sakura as Old Martha.
Indeed, so distraught are Owen and Miyoshi, that after they take Sakura and Mimi back to Vancouver following the luncheon, Owen returns to Andrew and Luisa’s to tell them he and Miyoshi are seriously considering bringing in another actress to play the part of Old Martha.
“This has ballooned into a thirty-million-dollar movie,” says Owen, sequestered in Andrew’s office with Andrew and Luisa, the kids home from school and piqued they can’t hang out with Uncle Owen. “If Old Martha isn’t funny, the movie flops.”
“What makes you think Sakura won’t be funny?” asks Luisa, who secretly shares Owen’s doubts.
“Japanese humor and American humor are worlds apart,” says Owen, sounding utterly miserable. “Different timing, different phrasing, different emphasis on syllables, different facial expressions, different body language. Why we thought Sakura could deliver these lines as you intended, I don’t know. We just saw her in the part, and of course she’ll look fabulous, but…”
“Could you dub someone else saying her lines?” asks Luisa, making a sour face at her idea.
“No,” says Owen, anguished. “She’s a great artist. It would be like dubbing Meryl Streep. And we can’t afford to shoot the scenes with Sakura and then reshoot them with someone else if they don’t work. She’s in a quarter of the scenes.” He bows his head. “What were we thinking?”
“You weren’t thinking,” says Andrew, placing his hand on Owen’s shoulder. “And I mean that in a good way. You were feeling, and I think you felt correctly. You just have to trust in your deeper wisdom and prepare her for those scenes as well as you can.”
“As well as you can, Papa,” says Owen, looking up at his father. “Only you can teach her the timing. The Jewish timing. And we know that’s what you want. Groucho Marx in the body of a shape-shifting wizardess from Japan.”
“I’m game,” says Andrew, feeling as he always does when a creative challenge takes him over—exhilarated and full of curiosity to see what will happen next.
For the first coaching session, Andrew meets with Sakura and her bi-lingual coach, a young Japanese Canadian woman named Joan, in a large warehouse Owen and Miyoshi leased for filming sequences involving special effects, though they hope to capture most of the action on location in the forest and coastal settings that figure so prominently in the story.
Sakura has loosed her long black hair from her ponytail and is wearing a dress made of rags, a prototype of what Old Martha wears when wandering in the forest and lounging in her lair in the hollow trunk of a giant Sitka spruce. Andrew is dressed in black T-shirt and baggy brown pants, Joan in black slacks and a white dress shirt with a red bow tie.
They begin with Old Martha’s first scene, wherein she walks through the forest finding various plants and mushrooms and speaking to them as she eats them, the scene ending with her sensing a crystal buried under a large fern and cajoling the crystal to emerge from the ground so she can steal its power.
Sakura has thoroughly memorized her lines and recites them as a mother might speak to her small children as she walks along and mimes plucking and eating the occasional mushroom and fern fiddlehead, with Joan correcting her few mispronunciations.
When Sakura finishes the scene, she stands silently awaiting Andrew’s critique.
“You walk with such grace,” says Andrew, smiling at her. “But we want Old Martha to have a bit of a hitch in her git-a-long.”
Sakura stares blankly at him, the phrase meaningless to her.
“A subtle limp. She is not so graceful.”
Sakura nods solemnly. “You show me.”
So Andrew demonstrates a less graceful walk with a slightly stooped posture, and speaks to the imagined mushrooms in the manner of an ironical Jewish comedian.
Joan and Sakura laugh several times during his rendition, after which Sakura says, “You do again. I shadow.”
“Shadow? You mean imitate me?”
Sakura says something to Joan in Japanese.
Joan translates, “She will be your shadow and your echo.”
“Fine,” says Andrew, wondering how she intends to do that.
Sakura comes and stands directly behind Andrew, her body no more than two feet from his, and as he enacts the scene, she follows him so closely and mimics his posture and movements so precisely she is, literally, his three-dimensional shadow. And when he speaks his lines, she quietly echoes his every word.
At scene’s end Sakura says, “You easy for me to follow. Now I do scene for you.”
“Okay,” says Andrew, breathless from their intimate enactment.
Sakura does the scene again, not so much in imitation of Andrew, but with the cadence of his speech and the gist of his mannerisms, and both Andrew and Joan are in awe of Sakura’s transformation.
The next day, following their second coaching session, Sakura and Andrew go to lunch at a nearby café and share brief autobiographies.
Sakura tells of when she was thirty-two and became pregnant with Miyoshi, and the father, a French journalist, wanted her to give up her acting career and move to France with him.
“He no understand I devote to acting. I say to him, ‘I no love you. I love be actor.’ He say, ‘Then you must abortion,’ but I want Miyoshi. I pick her father because he beautiful man.” She looks into Andrew’s eyes. “I know if I meet you when I am young, I want you to be father. And husband.”
“I’m flattered,” says Andrew, imagining her at thirty-two and him at thirty-two and how well they might have fit together.
“You know me,” she says, holding out her hand to him. “I know you. In Japan we say sorumeito. Our soul know each other.”
“I think so, yes,” says Andrew, taking her hand. “Soul mates.”
Andrew coaches Sakura for two hours a day for the next two weeks, and with every session she becomes more and more the master of her scenes.
But when she rehearses with the other movie actors for the first time, and Andrew is not in attendance, she is at a loss how to proceed.
Owen and Miyoshi are again convinced they made a terrible mistake casting Sakura in the role of Old Martha, and when Andrew arrives at the next rehearsal, he finds the movie’s star, a rakishly handsome Australian, berating Owen for wasting his time with “some washed up Kabuki bimbo.”
Despite the star’s kvetching, the rehearsal begins and Andrew knows immediately that the problem is not Sakura, but the other actors, their timing dreadful and their understanding of their characters completely off the mark.
“If I may show you the way Sakura learned this scene,” says Andrew, speaking up when the action grinds to a halt a few terrible minutes into the rehearsal, “I think you’ll see why we’re having trouble with the flow.”
“Who are you?” snarls the rakishly handsome Australian.
“I am the writer of this comedy,” says Andrew, bowing to the irate actor. “And I have been coaching Sakura for the last two weeks.”
Before the star can protest, Andrew strides toward Sakura and delivers the star’s opening line, I thought I’d find you here. Sakura waits for Andrew to be nearly upon her before she fires off a stinging rejoinder and deftly dances away—she and Andrew playing out an elaborate pas des deux during which they exchange rapid-fire insults and Andrew can never quite overtake her as she deftly foils his every move—the assembled cast and crew roaring with laughter as the scene reaches its denouement and Sakura shape shifts into a gorgeous young temptress (to be achieved more fully with special effects) and steps into Andrew’s arms and kisses him.
With Owen and Miyoshi’s insistence, Andrew takes over the direction of all Sakura’s scenes and painstakingly trains the other actors until their timing and intentions synch perfectly with Sakura’s.
And though rehearsing and shooting these scenes—many of them extremely complicated—takes much more time than Owen and Miyoshi budgeted for, the results are spectacular.
When filming wraps in June, Sakura stays on in Vancouver to take care of Mimi for a couple of months while Owen and Miyoshi work day and night to fashion a viable cut of the movie to show to distributors.
Sakura frequently brings Mimi to Andrew and Luisa’s, Mimi loving being with her cousins, and on several occasions Sakura and Mimi spend the night at Andrew and Luisa’s rather than having Andrew ferry them back to Vancouver or asking Owen to come fetch them.
One such evening, the kids gone to bed, Andrew and Luisa and Sakura have tea in the living room and Sakura says to Andrew, “Why you never direct movie? You so good director.”
“I never wanted to,” says Andrew, who feels profoundly changed and inspired by the experience of directing Sakura’s scenes. “Or I didn’t think I wanted to.”
“Maybe now you do,” she says, nodding hopefully. “Maybe you write movie with part for me and be director.”
“Seems so far beyond me now,” he says, exhausted after a long day at the beach with the children. “Though I did love directing you.”
“If you weren’t seventy and raising three children,” says Luisa, vastly relieved Moon In Leo is no longer taking so much of Andrew’s time, “directing a movie might not seem so daunting.”
“I think I’ll leave the movie making to Miyoshi and Owen,” says Andrew, yawning and closing his eyes. “Barring the discovery of the fountain of youth.”
Sakura yawns in sympathy with Andrew. “Two year ago my agent say he find part for me. I say ‘What is part?’ Agent say ‘Grandmother in TV show. Your daughter is divorce, have two children, try many men.’ I say ‘What grandmother do?’ Agent say ‘Grandmother babysit children and complain daughter about be old and everything so hard now.’ I say ‘I don’t want grandmother part.’ Agent say, ‘You old now, Sakura, not so many part for you. This good part. Everyone watch. Pay high money.’ But I say no and now only have one small part in movie next year.”
Andrew opens his eyes. “After Moon In Leo comes out, you’ll have lots of work.”
“I hope so,” she says, nodding seriously. “I like work if part good. Make me feel… purpose. Yes? Purpose?”
“Yes,” says Luisa, who is struggling mightily with the same issue in her life. “Purpose.”
“Miyoshi and Owen ask me move here,” says Sakura, half-smiling and half-frowning. “I think if no part come for me, maybe I am your neighbor.”
“We would love that,” says Andrew, who makes no secret of his fondness for Sakura.
Two nights before she is to fly back to Japan, Sakura invites Andrew and Luisa and Owen and Miyoshi to join her for supper at a high-end Japanese restaurant, Sakura having arranged everything in advance with the chef.
Midway through the spectacular meal, saké warming their hearts and loosening their tongues, Owen announces they have signed an excellent distribution deal and Moon In Leo will open wide in England, Canada, Australia, Europe, and Asia in September of 2019, with a limited opening in America in October of 2019, with wider distribution should the film catch on.
“And our next movie,” says Owen, gazing fondly at Miyoshi, “is going to be something much less grandiose.”
“Much,” says Miyoshi, kissing him.
Now Sakura raises her cup of saké to Andrew and Luisa and says, “I hope we be friends for rest of life.”
“I hope so, too,” says Luisa, raising her cup to Sakura.
“We will be,” says Andrew, raising his cup and smiling at Sakura. “Without a doubt.”
“Without a doubt,” says Sakura, echoing Andrew precisely.