Okinawa was often the final destination for US GIs before shipping out to Vietnam in the 1960s. These young soldiers were keenly aware of the dangers that awaited them on the battlefield and they wanted to have a good time drinking and dancing in the many hostess clubs known for cheap drinks, great music and beautiful women. At each of these night clubs there was a "mama-san", a seasoned veteran of the water trade who made sure that things were running smoothly and everyone was enjoying themselves. The mama-san had to show a sweet and tender side to her customers while ruling over her employees with the fist of Stalin. There was a lot of money to be made during the war and the competition for US dollars was fierce. Most of the hostess clubs were owned by the yakuza and the mama-san knew that she could be out on the street if she allowed things get sloppy. After One Cigarette is a fascinating short expose on the life of the mama-san at the China Night, one of the top hostess clubs in Okinawa which was modeled on the Playboy Club in Chicago. "Mama-San" is played by Nobu McCarthy, the beloved actress who graced the screen in memorable roles in films such as Geisha Boy and The Wash, and sadly passed away in 2002. Mama-San is feeling the strain of running the China Night. A ruthless gangster named Tommy (Jim Ishida) is honing in on her business. The only person she can trust is Sammy (Rodney Kageyama), her right hand man who works as an emcee at the club. One day Mama-San opens the newspaper to find that her estranged daughter has been murdered. She suspects that Tommy was behind the killing but quickly disposes of her grief to focus on the day to day activities of the China Night. There's a long line of pretty young women outside her office waiting to be interviewed for jobs as hostesses and Mama-san is known to be very hard person to impress: after one cigarette the interview is always over. One of the women, Michiko (Brittany Ishibashi), bears an uncanny resemblance to her recently deceased daughter, and Mama-san sheds her dragon lady exterior to take a maternal interest in the young woman. When Mama-San discovers that Michiko's life may be in danger she has to decide if its worth the risk of losing the China Night to save her. First-time director Peter Stougaard, Vice President of Advertising & Marketing at Twentieth Century Fox, based the character of Mama-san on the mother of his wife, Jo Oyakama Stougaard (who also contributed to the script). The majority of the film (with the exception of some footage of Okinawa) was shot in Chinatown, Los Angeles but the elaborate set designs, costumes and music will bring the viewer back to a time when Okinawa was the party capitol of the world.
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