Ai Means Love: East meets West in film made in West Virginia

About Ai Mean Love, creator Mie Smith says -It’s a love story, but not just about two people, it’s about all the love in a family: the love between neighbors, and even the love people have because of their faith- Photo: East in West Va

WASHINGTON, September 18, 2011—Mr. Hayashi, a former samurai movie actor, runs the local video store. Nearby, Greg and Julie Marshall run a Christian bookstore. As cultures collide, the two families are drawn together through their children. Ian is “made in America, and Miki is “made in Japan,” but their parents think they might be “made for each other.” In the age of online dating, the right person might just be next door. 

This is the setting for “Ai Means Love,” an international romantic comedy from young filmmaking couple SunJae and Mie Smith, who pay homage to their Japanese and American roots in this touching project and unique American story. 

Both SunJae, 26, and Mie Smith, 24, who were married in 2006, are the children of Japanese - American parents. This is the independent filmmakers’ third feature film produced by their own movie company LightSmith Productions. The movie has been entered into the West Virginia International Film Festival, where it is scheduled to run on Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the Elk Theater in Sutton, WV.

“My dad is Japanese, and SunJae’s mom is Japanese,” said film director Mie, who developed her craft working at a community access television station in Prince George’s County in Maryland. “We both grew up as familiar with Samurai dramas as with Cowboy Westerns.”

The film blends the confusion and the sweetness of people from completely different cultures growing into love.

“Life in an intercultural family is a sort of constant series of comic moments,” said Mie, who hails from West Lanhan Hills, Md., and was raised with an Irish-American mother and Japanese dad. “Growing up, I kept a special notebook of the funny things my dad would say, the confusing things that were always happening. We used a lot of those incidents in our script!”

“In a family setting, being intercultural is natural,” said SunJae Smith, who is the director of photography and co-producer. “Using chopsticks or eating sushi is as normal as grilling a hot dog. But what we want people to see, is that all the world over, people are really the same at heart.” 

The story is set in Martinsburg, WV., where SunJae spent most of his growing years with his American dad and Japanese mom. Many local residents play key roles in the production, both in front and behind the camera.

 “We were lucky to find a huge pool of talent and interest, not to mention great locations and beautiful scenery,” said SunJae, who graduated from Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV., in 2009 with a degree in Mass Communications. “For filmmaking, this area is paradise.” 

The Smiths are seeking funding to show their film at other locations around the country through special screening and film festivals in cooperation with kickstarter

“We’re trying to raise $5,000 to bring the film to the festival circuit and to get the word out through self distribution,” Mie said. “The idea is for people to invest in the production of positive movies, to create independent film productions that reflect real values and that honor each person.”

Filming Ai Means Love

Filming Ai Means Love

The bulk of the shooting took place in July of 2010, despite 100-plus temperatures and a dizzying number of logistical issues. “We had to complete the shooting in that time frame,” said SunJae, “because Mie was nine months pregnant, and that was a deadline that couldn’t be negotiated!”

The Smiths’ son, Kosei, arrived shortly after the Martinsburg footage wrapped two weeks ahead of schedule. Despite the pressures of parenting, the Smiths continued to shoot several mini-movies during the ensuing months.

“We shot period pieces in the style of the old samurai movies, and a scene in the style of a Japanese romance, which are sub-stories to the main plot,” SunJae said. 

In “Ai Means Love,” the Hayashi family’s dad rents out some of the classic movies of his era when he was a Samurai movie actor. In a store nearby, the Marshall family struggle with a spate of vandalism. Their son Ian is pushing them to join the age of cyber-commerce. Ian endures ridicule from peers for his values. Meeting Miki Hayashi opens his eyes to new ways of seeing things, eventually leading to tough choices. Linking these two families is Betty, a Japanese widow of an American serviceman who embarks on some old-fashioned Japanese matchmaking of her own.

“It’s a love story, but not just about two people, it’s about all the love in a family: the love between neighbors, and even the love people have because of their faith,” SunJae said. “We tried to show the goodness and deeper nature of both cultures, despite differences and misunderstandings. We hope it will be entertaining, and also encouraging, to all audiences.” 

The trailer and producers’ commentary can be seen at

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John Haydon

John Haydon has covered soccer for The Washington Times for two decades. He has reported on international soccer events in Germany, South Korea and Spain. John hails from Birmingham, England and has lived in the Washington D.C. region for over twenty years.  

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