Cary Joji Fukunaga Biography


Home > Actors > F > Fukunaga, Cary Joji > Biography


Birth Name: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Born: 07/10/1977
Birth Place: Oakland, California, USA


Born on July 10, 1977 in Oakland, CA, Fukunaga was the son of a Japanese father and Swedish mother. After his parents divorced when he was a child, Fukunaga spent his summers with his father in the East Bay, which was where he began vigorously watching movies at seven years old. By the time he turned 11, he was adept enough to understand the inner workings of film, which led to writing screenplays by the time he was in high school. Though he had an early interest, Fukunaga put his film career on hold in order to earn a bachelor's degree in history from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He continued his education by studying political science at L'Institut d'études politiques de Grenoble in Saint-Martin d'Hères, France. Returning stateside, Fukunaga embarked on his directing career as a member of the graduate program at New York University, where he made the short film, "Victoria para chino" (2004), a 13-minute drama that focused on a real-life incident in which a group of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America were crammed into a truck and smuggled into the United States, only to see 19 die from the overwhelming Texas heat. The film screened at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and won more than two dozen international awards, including a Student Academy Award.

Fresh off his first film success, Fukunaga set off to expand upon the world he had touched on with his short film in order to fully explore the plight of migrant workers from Mexico and Central America struggling to make their way to the United States. But instead of imagining what life might have been like for illegal immigrants making their way north, Fukunaga traveled south of the border to learn firsthand and began to formulate the ideas that eventually became his first feature length film, "Sin Nombre" (2009). While on his journey through Central America, he learned that many immigrants came from much farther south than Mexico - many made their way from places like Guatemala and Honduras, often hitching rides atop moving trains in a dangerous attempt to forge a better life. Delving into their world, Fukunaga braved weather, dangerous conditions and violent gangs in order to ride the rails himself, while interviewing both migrant workers and gang members serving time in prison. The result was an entirely fresh perspective on a political, sociological and economical issue often obfuscated by one agenda or another.

Upon his return to the states, Fukunaga began writing the script for "Sin Nombre," which he fashioned to tell the tale of Sayra, a young Honduran girl (Paulina Gaitan) who joins her uncle on a harrowing cross-country trek to America atop a railroad car in order to join their family in New York City. While en route, she encounters Willy/El Casper, a reluctant member of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang (newcomer Edgar Flores) who murders his leader (Tenoch Huerta Mejía) while trying to rob the train. Seeking both redemption and a means of escape from his vengeance-minded gang, Casper escorts Sayra in an effort to reach the border while helping her overcome numerous obstacles, including the Mexican police. Both a gritty crime thriller and subtle character drama, "Sin Nombre" was a confident debut from a first time director who was able to craft an exquisite film with smart writing and lush photography while eliciting fine performances from his two leads. After premiering at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, where Fukunaga won the directing award, "Sin Nombre" went on to accumulate numerous award wins along the festival circuit, while earning Independent Spirit Award nominations for Best Feature, Best Director and Best Cinematography. Consequently, Hollywood stood up and took notice of the bright new talent, resulting in Fukunaga signing a development deal with Universal.