TERMINAL USADirected by Jon Moritsugu
Cast: Jenny Woo, Jon Moritsugu, Ken Narasaki, Sharon Omi
2021 restoration by American Genre Film Archive
Meet Ma, Dad, Grandpa, Kazumi, Marvin, and Holly, the not-so-wholesome Japanese American family in Jon Moritsugu’s 1994 twisted sitcom TERMINAL USA. While Mother pilfers Grandfather’s deathbed drugs, nymphomaniac cheerleader Holly tries to suppress a leaking sex tape. Drug-dealing Kazumi (played by Moritsugu) has a vaguely extraterrestrial girlfriend Eightball. His sweater-vested twin Marvin (also played by Moritsugu) holes up “studying” subculture studs. Oh, and Dad harbors homicidal fantasies.
Commissioned as part of the ITVS series “TV Families,” a PBS initiative that aimed to produce subversive takes on the family sitcom and drama, TERMINAL USA garnered festival awards and the ire of Asian American critics for its undignified representation of a thoroughly dysfunctional family. Today, the film is a lynchpin of the Asian American cult classic canon. So when Dad, optimistically awaiting Judgement Day, tells his son Kazumi that “you are a mutated stain on the young silk of this clan,” he might have also been describing Moritsugu’s proverbial middle finger to the model minority myth. The film is a transgressive takedown of values and ideals held dear to the older generation, the “Dads” who believed in a salvation through asphyxiating models of assimilation. Instead, Moritsugu queers, aliens, and makes delightfully depraved the signs and syntax of all that’s seemingly all-American——lines are delivered in All My Children style (enhanced to maximum skuzz with post-punk guitar chords) to envision the apocalyptic implosion of an Asian American clan that, as Jun Okada wrote, “enjoy their symptoms as the world goes to hell.” TERMINAL USA was ahead of its time. We’re still catching up to it.