Member Login

Member Login

Username
Password *

FC HEADER

WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES


WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES


 June 5, 2019
Q&A guests: Director Makoto Nagahisa and producer Shinichi Takahashi


FCCJ Zombies P FCCj-14
Producer Shinichi Takahashi (left) and writer-director Makoto Nagahisa brought some friends to the screening. ©FCCJ

Blame it on the braids, the ready grin, the boyish mien. One could be forgiven for imagining that filmmaker Makoto Nagahisa identifies overly much with the protagonists of We Are Little Zombies, who are all of 13 years old.

There’s also the energized exuberance of his award-winning debut feature, which is exhilarating and mind-bending in equal measure, and seems to explode from the consciousness of a young person not yet bogged down with the wearisome woes of adulthood.

Belying his appearance and his demonstrated brilliance with visceral imagery, however, Nagahisa is in fact a thoroughly mature professional.

FCCJ Zombies NT KM-2   FCCJ Zombies NT KM-3   FCCJ Zombies N FCCj-8   
Nagahisa fields wide-ranging questions. ©Koichi Mori and ©︎FCCJ (right)

Appearing at the Q&A following our screening of We Are Little Zombies, he responded to questions in a measured, thoughtful manner, underscoring the level of care and compassion that are crucial underpinnings to the film’s success, along with its stylistic inventiveness.

Although one critic called the writer-director a “mad scientist” (a compliment), We Are Little Zombies is in reality the work of a serious-minded (and seriously imaginative) auteur, a longtime Dentsu ad planner who in 2017 became the first Japanese to win the Sundance Short Film Grand Jury Prize, for And So We Put Goldfish in the Pool.

Producer Shinichi Takahashi told the FCCJ audience that his company, venerable Nikkatsu Corp., had immediately recognized Nagahisa’s talent and begun talking with him shortly after Sundance about plans for his first feature. “He promised to come up with ideas for five or six stories during his paternity leave, so we could choose one to produce,” he recalled. “But when his leave ended, he came to us with a full script.

WALZサフ42019WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIESFILM PARTNERS
Hikari (Keita Ninomiya) at his parents' funeral.
©2019“WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES”FILM PARTNERS

“During development, he’d wondered if it might be difficult to do a story about 13-year-olds, since it might not do so well at the box office. But when he came to us with the script, I realized that was really the story he wanted to tell.”

We Are Little Zombies is a tragicomic exploration into parental neglect, loss, grief, alienation, media manipulation, personal growth and other capital-T themes. It is also the most manically inventive, colorfully chaotic, whacked-out, surrealistic, joyously vibrant film you will see this year, if not this decade.

FCCJ Zombies N FCCj-2
©FCCJ

Taking his cue from his juvenile protagonists, Nagahisa has adopted the style of a Super Nintendo RPG game, with characters each having to overcome various challenges before moving on to the next stage of their lives.

If the resulting candy-colored, eye-popping pastiche of madcap mayhem seems devoid of emotional depth for most of its running time, it is precisely because the director is echoing the children’s own emotional voids. But as it nears the finish line, Zombies sparks to poignant life, presenting its characters, as well as audiences, with an unexpected — but well-earned — catharsis.

WALZ 2019WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIESFILM PARTNERS
The Little Zombies in their performance wear, assembled at a garbage dump.
©2019“WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES”FILM PARTNERS

The film’s four protagonists meet for the first time at a crematorium. Hikari (Keita Ninomiya, who played the architect’s son in Like Father, Like Son), Ikuko (Sena Nakajima), Ishi (Satoshi Mizuno) and Takemura (Mondo Okumura) have all lost their parents at the same time. As they swap stories, they discover something else in common: they feel nothing at all for their parents, nor for most adults, except disdain. “Reality is too stupid to cry over,” says Hikari. Unable to grieve, unwilling to follow society’s absurd prescripts, they begin skipping school and hanging out together. Like so many of today’s plugged-in tweens, they have no dreams, no energy to move forward, no future.

Then one day, they find inspiration in a “garbage band” at a homeless encampment, where the members channel their misfortunes into music. The kids decide to form their own retro-chiptune band to try to retrieve their emotions, and dub themselves the Little Zombies. After creating costumes and instruments with stuff on hand, they find an online influencer (a hilarious Sosuke Ikematsu), have him shoot a music video and upload it. Overnight, they become viral sensations, and their mistrust of adults is amply rewarded (there are satirical cameos by Kuranosuke Sasaki, Youki Kudoh, Jun Murakami, Shiro Sano, Rinko Kikuchi and Masatoshi Nagase).

FCCJ Zombies two KM-87-s
©Koichi Mori

Nagahisa told the audience he was first inspired to write the film by a mysterious story out of Russia in 2016 dubbed the “Blue Whale Challenge,” an SNS phenomenon that reportedly targeted young gamers with a series of innocuous tasks that eventually led to a final challenge requiring players to commit suicide.

“This was making headlines around the world, and I was really shocked to hear it,” Nagahisa recalled. He’d been an avid gamer himself as a youth, especially when he was “in the throes of despair, since it made life a little easier. I could lose myself in games, and detach myself from reality. It was a filter for going through hardship.”

He apologized that the film “doesn’t have any real zombies.” But responding to a question about the metaphorical meaning of the title, he explained, “It’s a representation of the ways in which we’re incapable of communicating anymore, and it reflects the real world in the divide between adults and children.”

WALZサフ32019WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIESFILM PARTNERS
Ikuko (Sena Nakajima) with her parents (Masatoshi Nagase, Rinko Kikuchi) before they die.
 ©2019“WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES”FILM PARTNERS

Praised for the film’s music, which Nagahisa himself composed (with the exception of the 1967 Zombies tune “This Will Be Our Year”) the director admitted, “Originally, I wanted to be a musician. I find that playing an instrument really helps give shape to certain internalized emotions and brings them to life. The music in the film is as important as the dialogue. Music is an artform that is more powerful than visuals. It instantly and directly reaches [the viewers'] heart. This was really my attempt to create a 120-minute opera.”

One audience member asked about the film’s references to writers Albert Camus and Franz Kafka. Said Nagahisa, “I studied French literature in college and was really into surrealism. I find a certain beauty in the juxtaposition of A and Z, rather than A and B. I think that absurdity should be accepted, and when it comes to dealing with the absurdities of life, surrealism is a tool and an approach that allows me to overcome them.

FCCJ Zombies t KM-15
Takahashi  ©︎Koichi Mori

“That’s why I’ve layered the images in the film the way I have. The story is about how the protagonists deal with the absurdities of their lives and with events that have no rational explanation, and it’s only natural that I would draw from Camus’ and Kafka’s works.”

As for those layers, the director was asked just how many cuts the film has. “There are 1,800 cuts, or about 180 scenes in 2 hours, so I apologize if I wore you out.”

FCCJ Zombies N FCCj-5
©︎FCCJ

(Want to play Spot the References? Told that Zombies has a Juzo Itami (The Funeral, Tampopo) vibe, Nagahisa expressed enthusiasm for the work of Nagisa Oshima, Takeshi Kitano, Luis Buñuel, Michael Haneke and Richard Linklater, films like Kazuhiko Hasegawa’s The Youth Killer and La Jetée, and “films from the 70s and 80s, especially ATG films.”)

Another audience member, suggesting that the Zombies’ concerns seem specifically Japanese, asked about the film’s international reception (a foreign festival favorite, it won the 2019 Sundance World Cinema Special Jury Award for Originality, as well as a Special Mention in the Generation section of the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival).

WALZサフ22019WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIESFILM PARTNERS
Sosuke Ikematsu (center) is a social influencer-cum-Zombies manager.
 ©︎2019“WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES”FILM PARTNERS

“I want to avoid generalizations about how audiences react overseas vs. Japan,” Nagahisa began, “but it seems that more Japanese understand this emotionless state of the kids and can empathize with it, having been accused themselves of being the same way when they were young. With international audiences, [discussions] have focused on the character arcs of the kids as they learn to feel emotions again. Also, there have been comments about how cool [the Little Zombies band] is, that it’s a survival strategy. Instead of succumbing to the depths of despair, they developed a tactic to forge their own path.”

FCCJ Zombies FCCj-171.jpg
Takahashi and Nagahisa strike a pose familiar to all Japanese film fans. ©FCCJ

His producer nodded. “When he won the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at Sundance,” Takahashi recalled, “the reaction from Americans had been ‘This is our story, too.’ So we knew that Mr. Nagahisa’s themes have a certain universality, and the way he depicts the distance between children and adults also feels universal. [On this film] it was important to us to be protective of his visual sensitivity and to encourage his creative vision throughout the process. After the latest Sundance award, he’s received a lot of interest from studios and big-name producers, and [he’s considering several projects].”

Nagahisa hastened to add, “I didn’t make this film to win awards or praise. I made it because I truly, truly believed in it. And I made it as if my life depended on it.”

WALZ POSTER2019WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIESFILM PARTNERS
©2019“WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES”FILM PARTNERS

Selected Media Exposure

JAM


JAM (jam)


November 30, 2018
Q&A guests: Director Sabu and actor/co-producer Shintaro Akiyama


Sabu AkiyamaJamFCCJ-1
Sabu and Jam's co-producer, Shintaro Akiyama, appeared the night before their film opened in Japan.  ©FCCJ

It is not essential to know everything — or even much at all — about LDH Pictures before watching Sabu’s new film, Jam. But for those of us who became ardent followers of Japanese indie film after discovering his hilariously dark, high-speed, genre-blending comedies in the 1990s, it comes as a bit of a jolt to hear that the heralded director is now one of them.

“Them” is LDH World, a powerful artist management agency and related empire spanning music, dance, theater and most recently, films. Under the leadership of Chief Creative Officer Exile Hiro (ne Hiroyuki Igarashi), the firm launched LDH Pictures in 2016 and began actively producing and distributing films featuring its huge stable of talent. Its contract with Sabu assures that one of Japan’s most distinctive auteurs will continue to be funded and reach appreciative audiences, many of whom are overseas, with his work.

Sabu has been feted with awards and retrospectives around the world since his 1996 feature debut, Dangan Runner, which established his uniquely kinetic, blackly humorous style. He has continued to explore themes of fate and faith, guilt and retribution, coincidence and karmic payback in such films as Postman Blues (1997), The Blessing Bell (2002), Miss Zombie (2013) and Chasuke's Journey (2015); but like all singular filmmakers, he has had to contend with increasing budget challenges and a shrinking theatrical marketplace.

AoyagiSho Aoyagi is utterly unforgettable in Jam.
©2018"jam"Production Committee

LDH manages the enormously popular Exile performing group, many of whom appear in Jam. Sabu had first worked with Exile star Sho Aoyagi on his 2017 film Mr. Long, and as he told the FCCJ audience, “[At that time] I had several discussions with LDH about projects that we wanted to do together, but they didn’t come to fruition. In the meantime, they asked me to come up with some ideas for a film featuring Mr. Aoyagi and other members of the Exile group, and that’s how this came about.”

Jam co-producer Shintaro Akiyama, who also plays the role of a friendly-but-dimwitted thug in the film, explained, “It all started with my boss, the executive producer of this film, Hiro. He very passionately approached Sabu to sign with LDH.”

Demonstrating impressive English skills, Akiyama briefly outlined LDH World’s global ambitions, with new branches and training schools now running in Asia, Europe and the US. Among other milestones, he noted, “Our actors and artists are branching out overseas, and one of them, Naoki, will be starring in a Netflix Hollywood movie. I look forward to starring in my own Hollywood film soon.”

(Exile members often use first names only. “Naoki” is Naoki Kobayashi, who appeared at FCCJ in 2017 with the very first LDH Pictures film, Tatara Samurai. He moved to Los Angeles shortly afterward, and stars in Wash Westmoreland’s 2019 Earthquake Bird with Alicia Vikander and Riley Keough.) 

AkiyamaJamFCCJ-1   AkiyamaJamFCCJ-4

AkiyamaJamFCCJ-2   AkiyamaJamFCCJ-5
Akiyama appeared in the first-ever Exile stage production in 2007, and is now co-producing as well as
eyeing his own directorial debut, based on one of his novels. ©FCCJ

The LDH focus prompted one audience member to ask whether Sabu still had the freedom to make films on his own terms. “My contract allows me to do as I please,” Sabu reassured him. “The only stipulation is to use LDH artists whenever possible. I don’t feel restricted in any way, and I haven’t been told to focus on certain genres. They also haven’t asked me to target the Japanese market — on the contrary, they want to make films that will appeal to international film festivals and overseas markets.”

Jam is precisely that type of film. A bittersweet confection in which three lives collide and converge after random chance and a series of fateful encounters, it eventually erupts into one of Sabu’s trademark foot chases, made even more mirthful by the addition of drone shots.

SabuJamFCCJ-1©FCCJ

Hiroshi (Sho Aoyagi, almost too convincing in his role) is a jaded, small-time enka singer who holds “Talk to Me” sessions after each of his shows, building a real-world fan base that would normally spring up spontaneously on social media. “These events are essential to going global,” he tells the middle-aged women who flock to his shows. Meeting personally with them seems to work, though: he has a huge following of ardent admirers, each vying to know more about him and his work than the next.

After a series of “secret live” gigs at the Oldies but Goodies Jukebox bar, two of Hiroshi’s fans get into a contretemps over the order of his set list, one suggesting that he should swap one song for another that is more upbeat; and the other defending Hiroshi’s artistry. “Real fans should respect his song choice,” she insists.

fans
The marvelous Mariko Tsutsui is Hiroshi's No. 1 fan. ©2018"jam"Production Committee

This real fan, Masako (Mariko Tsutsui, of Harmonium, relishing the part), waits for Hiroshi after the show and assures him, “I won’t let anyone denigrate your art.” She then does the only logical thing: drugs and kidnaps him. She gets unexpected help from a friendly young man with a car, Takeru (Keita Machida), who offers to drive them home. What ensues is every obsessed fan’s dream, and every celebrity’s nightmare.

Takeru, meanwhile, goes on to the hospital where his girlfriend is in a coma, and reports that he’s done two more good deeds that day. The young woman took a bullet in crossfire as armed robbers were chased by the police. God then told Takeru that she will regain consciousness if he does good deeds, and so he does.

Sabu AkiyamaJamKoichi Mori-22
Akiyama credits LDH boss Hiro with bringing Sabu onboard. ©Koichi Mori

On the same evening, Tetsuo (Nobuyuki Suzuki) is released from prison and immediately goes after the yakuza gang who had him sent up. With impressive fighting skills, a lethal pickaxe and apparent immortality, he fells dozens of them, even when he’s pushing his dementia-stricken grandmother to the train station in a wheelchair to meet her (deceased) husband.

Responding to a question about how much Sho Aoyagi’s own life might have shaped his character in the film, Sabu said, “I created the character of Hiroshi before I had any discussions with Mr. Aoyagi. He usually wears a bit of stubble, which I think makes him look a lot like an enka singer. When we were walking on the red carpet at the Berlin International Film Festival for Mr. Long, he had on this tuxedo that really gave him an enka vibe. That’s how the character came to me. Also, Mr. Aoyagi is very popular with older women.”

akiyama
Akiyama sported blonde hair to play a friendly thug in the film. ©2018"jam"Production Committee

He expanded, “I decided to make him an enka singer because enka fans happen to be women of a certain age. There aren’t that many films out there with a lot of older women in them. Enka is like country music in the West, and although this is true of other musical genres as well, I find the phenomena of fandom to be quite interesting — this psychology of the fan who thinks s/he can listen to a song and believe it was written just for them.”

Sabu enjoyed creating the character so much that he even wrote the lyrics for Hiroshi’s songs, as well as working with composer Junichi Matsumoto on the music. One critic noted that she could just imagine Hiroshi appearing on the popular year-end NHK-TV singing contest "Kohaku Uta Gassen/Red and White," and asked whether Sabu planned to release a CD of the music.

Sounding like a true producer, Akiyama said, “That’s a very good idea. But I’ll have to consult with Mr. Aoyagi and our company.” Added Sabu, “I had hoped to debut the character of Hiroshi [as a new singer], but unfortunately that hasn’t happened yet.” (It’s never too late — just look at Spinal Tap!)

SabuJamKoichi Mori-3
©Koichi Mori

The director was asked whether Stephen King’s Misery, adapted into Rob Reiner’s superlative film, had influenced the Hiroshi-Masako storyline. Sabu concurred that he’d been reminded of the story while writing. “I had that kind of heavy character in mind at first” for the No. 1 fan, “a little heavier than she ended up being in the film,” he said. “I ultimately decided to not go in that direction, because I wanted to suggest that they could actually be a couple, that it’s not so strange to imagine. That’s why I offered the role to Ms. Tsutsui, because she’s an amazing, amazing actress. She did it so wonderfully, bringing so many different facets to the character. She can be so charming and yet so scary. If I’d gone with a character like in Misery, it would’ve been more of a horror film.”

The Japanese flier features a prominent image of a jar of jam, and a film critic asked Sabu just what the title refers to, since jam “can mean the stuff you spread on bread, or that you’re in a fix, and also musicians improvising on stage.” The director responded, “Yes, it means all those things. That’s spot on.” He laughed and then said, “I’ll share the backstory with you. In 2017 I was with my family in Victoria, Canada and we just happened to visit a café called Jam. The food was really great, and my wife said, ‘You should call your film Jam.’ And so I did.”

The critic also asked about the classic car that Takeru drives in the film. “I couldn’t take my eyes off it,” he enthused. As it turns out, it wasn’t such a trivial question. Sabu explained, “I wanted the car to have a classic feel, and I wanted Takeru to have a backstory. The backstory could be that he’s actually quite affluent, so I imagined him choosing a vintage auto, a classy classic. The interiors are classier, too, with leather seats. Modern cars aren’t interesting — they’re round and boring.” And then the aha! moment: “Also, the car is important because we’re hoping to make a couple of sequels to the film.” 

poster Sabu AkiyamaJamFCCJ
 ©FCCJ

The director had done his post-production in Germany, and he was asked whether that was because he felt a foreign post-production crew might lend the film a different flavor. Noted Sabu, “I’ve had a longtime relationship with [Germany’s] Rapid Eye Movies. They funded three of my earlier works. I find that it’s much better to do post-production overseas, especially when it comes to color grading and sound mixing. The post-production crews overseas have such craftsmanship, and such ownership of their work, so the quality is much better.”

Akiyama was asked the same question, and his response was something the majority of Japanese directors will sadly never hear. Said the co-producer, “The director made this request to do post-production overseas, and we supported him because we felt it would help bring an international sensibility to the film. It’s our company policy to respect the freedom of the creator, and since we are also looking to expand overseas, it’s very beneficial to have that kind of foreign influence. So we were really thankful that we could complete the film in that way.”

Although the international premiere of Sabu’s Jam has not yet been announced, one can imagine it will be appearing soon on German screens.

jam 2018jamProduction Committee
©2018"jam"Production Committee

Selected Media Exposure


WHILE THE WOMEN ARE SLEEPING


 February 24, 2016
Q&A guests: Producer Yukie Kito and stars Shioli Kutsuna,
Sayuri Oyamada, Makiko Watanabe


three FCCJ 064
The female stars had a lot to say about working with Wang on his first Japanese production.

As its title suggests, the male gaze is strong in Wayne Wang’s While the Women Are Sleeping, a moody, mysterious meditation on voyeurism, obsession and the painful act of creating. A cross between Nabokov’s Lolita and François Ozon’s Swimming Pool, it is both hypnotizing and unnerving, with an ending that invites a range of interpretations.

The Hong Kong-born American director, acclaimed for such films as Smoke, Joy Luck Club and Maid in Manhattan, marks his first-ever Japanese production with an adaptation of the eponymous short story by Spanish novelist Javier Marías. Working with producer Yukie Kito, his collaborator on two previous titles, Wang attracted a stellar cast to the project, including Hidetoshi Nishijima and “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, playing his first lead role for another director in 12 years.

Just 10 days after the world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, Kito brought the three non-male stars of the film to FCCJ, and presided over a post-screening Q&A session that she dubbed While the Women Are Talking. The session was in English, allowing ample time for each of the four to respond to a range of questions.

Highlights of the session are below, but first, a brief recap of the story:

Novelist Kenji Shimizu (Nishijima) has a bad case of writer’s block. His wife, Aya (Oyamada) is a successful editor who sympathizes, but she’s also given him an ultimatum: write or get a real job. On a one-week vacation together in Izu, Kenji hangs out in their beautiful seaside hotel while Aya assists a client staying nearby. At the pool on Day 1, Kenji’s attention is drawn to a beefy older man, Sahara (Takeshi), and a comely young lass, Miki (Kutsuna), obviously intimate, but surely not father and daughter.

Kenji can’t sleep; neither can Sahara. Late the next night, they meet by chance at the pool, and Sahara admits he’s been shooting Miki as she sleeps for the past 10 years — and then, overwriting the footage. “I want to have a record of her last day,” he says. But he’s certain that she will betray him, and “I’d rather kill her than let my love die!”

 shioli FCCJ 042   sayuri FCCJ 020

yukie mance 6   makiko FCCJ 028
Clockwise from top left: Kutsuna, Oyamada, Kito (©Mance Thompson), Watanabe

 Growing evermore intrigued, Kenji finds himself following the couple into town, then peeping into their room and by Day 4, actually entering it. The odd owner of a rundown restaurant where they tryst (Lily Franky) hints about dark dealings in Sahara and Miki’s past, feeding Kenji’s obsession further. Then one night, Miki comes to him, and shortly after, disappears. Aya has apparently taken up with her client, or perhaps she’s succumbing to Sahara’s seductions. By Day 5, the only thing that is clear is that either Kenji is losing his mind, or the world around him has gone mad.

Question: How did the project come about? Did Wayne read the story, acquire the rights and come to you with the idea of relocating the story to Japan?

Yukie Kito: First he was thinking of doing the film as written, which is, set in Spain and written in English. But as he was developing it, he decided that he wanted to make a film in Asia. So he came to me and I said, “If there’s any Japanese element, I could be helpful. Otherwise, there’s no point in having me.” And he said he wanted to make a film with one Japanese couple. We started that way, and then he said he wanted to make it completely in Japan. So I said, “There’s only one actor we can go to: Beat Takeshi.” Knowing the chances were quite slim, we tried, it worked and here we are.

yukie makiko mance 42©Mance Thompson

Q: Great movie. What actually happened, and is that girl dead? I’d just like some clarification. We have a missing person, presumed dead. I’d like to know who it is.

Shioli Kutsuna (the missing girl): It may be disappointing, but there are no right answers to how you read this film. As Wayne was continually saying, he did not want to push people to read the film in only one way. I think how you read it depends on you.  

Q: So are you dead, or not?

Kutsuna: Personally, I don’t even think Sahara and Miki exist. At the time, I didn’t think that… but I don’t want to push my personal opinion on you.

Kito: As Wayne and Takeshi-san have been saying in interviews, there are multiple ways to interpret this film. When I was making the film, I thought she was dead. Now I don’t think so.

Sayuri Oyamada (the novelist’s wife): My personal opinion is that she’s still alive. But it’s up to the audience.

Makiko Watanabe (the novelist’s wife’s friend, who works at the seaside hotel): I want to say that it’s up to your imagination. But as a hotel employee, I cannot divulge too much about our guests.

 shioli mance 31   shioli mance 28
Kutsuna grew up in Australia, but started her career in Japan ©Mance Thompson

Q: When it’s a film made by a Hong Kong-born American director, based on a short story by a Spanish writer, set in Japan, it begs the question: Do you think there’s anything in the story that resonates as Japanese, or is this a case of plonking a story down in Japan that doesn’t really fit?

Kito: When I started working on this project, it was completely Spanish. Screenwriter Mami Sunada changed it into Japanese. While we were going back and forth, I realized Wayne has real respect for Japan, not superficially, but emotionally. I think he really respected the writer. But I can’t see it objectively, to be honest. I wonder whether the actors felt the screenplay seemed a little foreign, or if it felt Japanese when they first read it?

Kutsuna: I didn’t think it felt too foreign. I heard that Wayne included specific things to make it feel more Japanese, like the scene where Sahara shaves the hair on the back of Miki’s neck. For Western cultures, that might not be sexy, but for Japanese, due to the geisha culture, it is.

Oyamada: I think it had a Japanese feeling. The Japanese actors and actresses understood the story, and even though the original is Spanish, the script was in Japanese. Acting is always the same, coming from inside of us, from emotions.

Watanabe: I can’t compare the Japanese and Spanish scripts; I only saw the Japanese one, and I had to believe in it. The shooting location was Japan, the actors were Japanese. All those elements made it Japanese. If there are any Spanish elements, they come from human nature.

sayuri FCCJ 020   sayuri mance 38
Oyamada has worked with Japan's leading auteurs, but is now based in New York.     (right photo: ©Mance Thompson)

Q: How does a non-Japanese-speaking director get the proper line reading? Even if you hire the best actors, you can’t tell. How did it work? Tell me a little about Wayne Wang’s style.

Kutsuna: I was wondering how the communication between us would be. We were all able to do it smoothly. We all speak English, so I guess it was comfortable for him to be working with actors who understood English. Before I went to set, I asked Yukie-san what Wayne was looking for in a good take. She told me that he can sense takes that are good. He really communicates, and he pushes your creativity past your limits. He was very patient and very cooperative with the actors. Language wasn’t the most important tool for us to communicate.

Kito: Takeshi-san doesn’t speak English, but he understands it well. He’s as charming on set as you imagine, and he would say interesting things in English to make us laugh. As a producer, I had to sign off on language, while Wayne watched the emotions of the performance. If someone skipped a line, it was my job to catch that, so it was a collaboration.

Oyamada: I met Wayne for the first time in Los Angeles, and we talked about the script and my character a lot. Also, on the set, we talked about story and character. It had a really good effect on me. Because the Japanese film industry is often so rushed, that we can’t talk. I could talk a lot with him, and everyone knows he’s a great, great director, not a typical Hollywood director at all, so artistic. I really treasured this experience.

Watanabe: My scenes were short. I’m really envious that these two spent so much time with him. During the costume fitting, I was talking with him about my character. Even though my English isn’t so great, within 5 minutes, I thought, this will be fine. I’m always desperate to have this type of communication with my directors. But language isn’t as important as being able to agree on things. We had a lot of bilingual crew members, and everyone was working extra hard to bring Wayne’s vision to fruition. It was a really special set.

makiko mance 41Veteran actress Watanabe has a devoted overseas fanbase.  ©Mance Thompson

Q: Javier Marias is very knowledgeable about cinema, a famous and prominent film critic. He’s not particularly happy with previous adaptations of his work. Was he involved in the creation of the film, and did you get any feedback afterward?

Kito: He asked for a DVD, I sent it to him and it’s on the way. Actually, he wrote [the short story on which the film is based] 20 years ago, and I heard that he felt kind of detached from the material for a while. But when the film got into Berlin, he started to pay a little more attention and he asked for a DVD. So I was happy. Hopefully, he’ll like it.

yukie mance 26   makiko mance 40
©Mance Thompson

Q: I was very impressed by the performances of all the cast members, they were great. It’s a powerful cast. How and why did you assemble them?

Kito: We were looking for new talent, and Wayne and I met so many young actresses. Then I heard that Shioli wanted to meet us, and I told him “She’s too experienced. I know she’s young, but we’re looking for new talent.” [Japanese-Australian Kutsuna has already won three newcomer awards, and appeared in many films.] But it was suggested that they meet for tea, and since she speaks English, I thought it would be good for Wayne to meet her. She came on her day off from a shoot in Wakayama, and I thought immediately, “Oh my god, she’s Miki.” And Wayne felt the same. We also met so many actresses for the part of Aya, and had a hard time. I knew Sayuri, and reached out to her in New York [where the actress has been based since 2010]. She said, “I’m going to LA next weekend,” and Wayne was going to be there, so they could meet. That’s how we cast her. I met Makiko in Hong Kong a few years ago, when she won Best Supporting Actress at the Asian Film Awards [for Capturing Dad], and I was looking for a chance to work with her. I went to her, begged her, and she said OK.

When Wayne was thinking of making the film into an Asian story with the younger couple being Japanese, I said, “I can think of only one actor for the part of Kenji: Hidetoshi Nishijima.” Wayne said, “Oh, let’s go with him!” I said, “You don’t know him! How can you just decide like that?” He said, “I know him from the film Cut.” So I introduced them and they completely hit it off. Nishijima-san even went to Hong Kong to spend some time with Wayne and they created the character of Kenji together. I started worrying about what would happen if I couldn’t raise financing. But fortunately, all the detailed conversation wasn’t wasted.

[As for Beat Takeshi], there was only one person we could think of who would make even Javier Marias happy. Takeshi-san is so respected in Europe, and Javier Marias said yes to him. So we went to Takeshi-san, thinking it wouldn’t happen. But miraculously, the timing and material were right.

three poster mance 24
©Mance Thompson

Q: Congratulations on a great film. It’s the second time I’ve seen it, since I watched it in Berlin a few days ago. What was the biggest challenge for the actresses? Sexuality in Japanese cinema is often a taboo; was that a challenge for you?

Kutsuna: When I was having tea with Wayne, as Yukie-san mentioned, and I started thinking that I might have a chance to do the role, all I could think about was, “Wow, I need to lose weight.” [Sahara and Miki] are a very odd couple. Being Takeshi-san’s girlfriend, with our ages so far apart, I thought I had to have a good relationship with him and communicate as much as possible on set so that we appeared comfortable with each other. But Takeshi-san does not really speak much on set. The first scene we did together, which wasn’t actually in the final film, was a scene where we were trying to catch butterflies with these nets. It was a strange, unusual scene. We weren’t talking, but he was apparently catching a lot of bugs in his childhood, and he was very good at it. He caught a lot of butterflies. Afterward, I felt comfortable around him, and allowed him to take our scenes wherever they had to go. I built a relationship with Takeshi-san and felt confident, and in a way, kind of vulnerable, because Miki is at the stage where she wants her own freedom after being with this man who has locked her up in cages and taught her only his world.

Oyamada: As you know, I’m an actress, so I just do [explicit scenes] with passion. When I first met Wayne, we talked a lot about the sexuality, and he asked me whether I could get nude in front of the camera. So I said, “Okay.” But we talked a lot about those scenes. I trusted him. Also, I’ve worked with Nishijima-san [with whom she has several love scenes] for a long time, and we have mutual friends. I was so relaxed in front of him, and in front of the camera. So I just did it.

Photos by Mance Thompson and FCCJ.

wtwas poster
©2016 wtwas production committee

Media Coverage

Recent posts

THEY SAY NOTHING STAYS THE SAME

00:00 Thursday, September 12, 2019

5 MILLION DOLLAR LIFE

00:00 Sunday, June 23, 2019

WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES

00:00 Monday, June 10, 2019

JESUS

00:00 Friday, May 10, 2019

KINGDOM

00:00 Wednesday, April 17, 2019

SHUSENJO

00:00 Sunday, April 07, 2019

21ST CENTURY GIRL

00:00 Thursday, February 07, 2019

HIS LOST NAME

00:00 Wednesday, January 16, 2019

THE LEGEND OF THE STARDUST BROTHERS

00:00 Saturday, December 15, 2018

JAM

00:00 Saturday, December 01, 2018
  • Go to top