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The producer speaks: Kotaki at the USS Slater.

Photo: Joe Putrock

Shooting Completed

By the light of the moon on a re cent midsummer night, the USS Slater appeared to be reliving her glory days during World War II, when the battleship prowled the waters of the Pacific fending off Japanese submarines. Clean-cut sailors in regulation uniforms scurried fore and aft, preparing for attack, while a cannon pivoted into position and the captain shouted the order to fire. But among the crew were guys holding up big square screens that they maneuvered around the sailors. The screens were to block the sights of present-day Albany (such as highway signs) while the cameras rolled.

For two weeks in August, the Slater, a restored Destroyer Escort docked on the Hudson River, served as a set for Orion in Midsummer, a Japanese feature film about the last days of the war in the Pacific. Those moonbeams shining brightly upon the mast were actually crane-mounted klieg lights. For three nights, 14 hours a night, the Slater was “hit” by a torpedo from a Japanese sub. “Seeing 50 people running around in an action scene, taking direction in Japanese translated into American, it was amazing,” said Tim Rizzuto, the Slater’s executive director. The Slater portrays USS Percival, an inspired-by-a-true-ship DE.

About 30 percent of the Tokyo-based film was shot onboard. “We needed to shoot historically,” said co-producer Shohei Kotaki at a press conference held dockside last Wednesday (Aug. 27). “After doing our research, we learned that this kind of ship is the most suitable.” Kotaki mentioned the dedication of the Slater’s restoration efforts as another reason the ship was chosen as a location, and praised the Albany Film Commission for its cooperation. Rizzuto said he didn’t have concerns about the reactions of local World War II veterans to the Japanese production, describing the script as being fair to both sides.

The film has two directors, representing the American and Japanese viewpoints. “We researched how the soldiers and sailors felt about fighting, to capture how they were onboard, the drama and the bravery. To get the big picture,” said Shunji Okada, director of the American sequences.

David Winning, a native of Virginia with TV credits, plays the American captain. “It’s been a wonderful experience from the very first day I auditioned,” he said. The tall, dark and handsome actor said the trait he most related to in his character was leadership. “He’s a father figure, he’s in charge of 220 shipmates. You have to remember that the average age was 17, 18 years old, and they’re running this huge ship. Their lives depend on each other.”

“The first time I read the script, I was waiting for the Americans to be the bad guys, but it didn’t happen,” said Joe Rayome, who plays a lieutenant he describes as “fearless.” A New York City actor who has worked off-Broadway, Rayome added, “I’m very fortunate, this isn’t the kind of role that comes along every day.” Both actors said they were proud to have worked aboard the living history of the Slater, and that they were spoiled by the Japanese producers. And both actors joked about how the film’s realism included smelly, waterlogged life jackets.

For Rizzuto, a more important detail is that Slater’s hull number, DE 766, will appear in the film and could help to promote Japanese tourism for the ship. Orion in Midsummer will be released theatrically in Japan next year. American distribution hasn’t been finalized, but an Albany premiere is being planned.

—Ann Morrow

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