Review: ‘Terminal USA’

San Francisco filmmaker Jon Moritsugu turns the American sitcom family on its head with "Terminal USA," a post-punk, psychedelic picnic brimming with wholesome depravity and playfully twisted stereotypes. Part of the Independent Television Service's "TV Families" series, this rambunctious volley of flagrantly tasteless humor could whip up a minor cult following, especially in the U.K. and Europe.

San Francisco filmmaker Jon Moritsugu turns the American sitcom family on its head with “Terminal USA,” a post-punk, psychedelic picnic brimming with wholesome depravity and playfully twisted stereotypes. Part of the Independent Television Service’s “TV Families” series, this rambunctious volley of flagrantly tasteless humor could whip up a minor cult following, especially in the U.K. and Europe.

Moritsugu plays up the incongruousness of Asian ethnicity wedged into a soap operatic, all-white TV entertainment mold, with a seriously problem-plagued Japanese-American family whose delivery is pure Dick and Jane. His contorted take on staple small-screen drama ingredients like drugs, sexuality and parenting angst never goes much beyond droll trivialization, but it offers a tongue-in-cheek alternative to “Beverly Hills, 90210.”

Ma (Sharon Omi) sits around in glamorous boudoir garb, staying sweet thanks to life-support drugs meant for bedridden Grandpa (Lenny Lang). Dad (Ken Narasaki) has a pent-up urge to annihilate the old man.

Begging parental concern are their pregnant, nymphomaniacal cheerleader daughter (Jenny Woo), and twin sons (both played by Moritsugu), Kazumi, a nihilistic junkie with a g.f. from another planet (Amy Davis), and Marvin, a computer nerd nursing a secret passion for men in uniform.

Perfs are appropriately large throughout, with standout input from Omi and Narasaki as perfect embodiments of unctuously righteous TV parents mutated by a splash of venal duplicity.

Jennifer Gentile’s inventive production design re-creates the suburban picket-fence home in a garish comic-strip realm that’s cleanly shot by Moritsugu’s fellow West Coast underground cinema exponent Todd Verow. While the antics are generally well-sustained, they could perhaps have benefited from being cut to a marginally tighter rhythm.

Terminal USA

(Comedy -- Color -- 16mm)

Production

An Independent TV Services presentation of a Killing Kulture production. Produced by Andrea Sperling. Directed, written by Jon Moritsugu.

Crew

Camera (color), Todd Verow; editor, Gary Weimberg; music, Brian Burman; production design, Jennifer Gentile; art direction, Peter Calvin; costume design, Elizabeth Canning; sound, M and M Prods., Monte Cazazza, Michelle Handelman; associate producer, Timothy Innes; coordinating producer (for ITVS), James Schamus; assistant director, Erica Marcus. Reviewed at Rotterdam Intl. Film Festival, Feb. 2, 1994. Running time: 54 min.

With

Ma ... Sharon Omi Dad ... Ken Narasaki Grandpa ... Lenny Lang Holly ... Jenny Woo Kazumi/Marvin ... Jon Moritsugu Tom Sawyer the Lawyer ... Victor Aquitaine Eightball ... Amy Davis
With: Timothy Innes, Peter Friedrich, Bonnie Dickenson.
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