DEWITT, N.Y. -- Cast and crew members shuffle through the halls of the Central New York Film Hub in Dewitt Thursday morning, hard at work on an upcoming film that brings sumo wrestlers from around the world together with players from the Syracuse Strong football team.
Sushi Tushi (Or How Asia Butted into American Pro Football) is an original comedy written by Richard Castellane, who is also the film’s executive producer and financier.
The movie follows a fictional pro football team named the Portland Lobsters (of Portland, Maine), who are the worst team in the league and are coming off a 32-game losing streak. On a whim, Coach Danny Morelli (played by Eddie Mekka) flies to Japan and recruits five giant Sumo wrestlers, who he trains to be his team's offensive line to protect their Heisman trophy-winning quarterback.
“Invariably, comedy ensues,” says Bob Altman, the film’s line producer and a graduate of Syracuse University. “It has elements of slapstick, but at the same time it is also a football movie.”
Sumo wrestlers weighing between 400 and 600 pounds hailing from China, Japan, Mongolia, Egypt, Syria, and Australia can be seen walking around the set.
The film’s budget is $1.5 million, all of which is being spent in the Syracuse area, Altman said. Some of the actors in the film include players from Syracuse Strong, the city’s semi-pro football franchise.
At its heart, Sushi Tushi is an American sports comedy. The plotline closely echoes the 2000 film The Replacements, which starred Keanu Reeves as former All-American college quarterback Shane Falco who, after his own fall from grace, reluctantly leads a ragtag group of washed-up athletes to a playoff berth.
Castellane, who is originally from the small town of Munnsville, just south of Oneida, says the idea for the film has been turning around in his brain for the past 12 years.
“This story never ends,” he says.
On Thursday, the cast and crew filmed a scene in which assistant head coach Toshi (played by Korean actor Joomin Hwang) attempts to invigorate the sumo wrestlers by telling them that the opposing players are “lusting for their mothers.”
Castellane laughs, “In the scene, you can see the sumos getting more and more ferocious.”
Earlier this week, the cast and crew invited hundreds of extras to fill NBT Bank Stadium for outdoor scenes for the movie, though the majority of the film is taking place inside the CNY Film Hub.
"It really is a world-class facility," Altman said.
The film, which will be released in 2018, is directed by Syrian-American filmmaker Ziad Hamzeh.