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THE SCYTHIAN LAMB


THE SCYTHIAN LAMB (Hitsuji no Ki)


January 31, 2018
Q&A guests: Director Daihachi Yoshida and star Ryo Nishikido


 scythian lamb posterMance-14-a
Nishikido and Yoshida with 2 of the film's 8 main characters (right)   ©Mance Thompson

Who doesn't love being a witness to history - even if we don't realize it until after the fact?

The Film Committee found itself at the center of a historic turning point on January 31, when, following the jam-packed Q&A session for Daihachi Yoshida's new black dramedy The Scythian Lamb, Johnny & Associates officially announced that it was easing restrictions on the use of images on online media. 

As everyone in Japan knows, Johnny's is the largest and most successful management agency for male entertainers, with "boy band" acts like SMAP, Arashi, Hey! Say! JUMP, KinKi Kids, NEWS, Kanjani8 and KAT-TUN, and award-winning actors like Takuya Kimura, Kazunari Ninomiya and Junichi Okada. The agency has long wielded enormous cultural clout, and tightly controlled the use of its talents' images, which appear only in newspapers and magazines.

Because Johnny's actors headline many of the films the FC screens, we had tried numerous times in the past decade to bring Johnny's talent to FCCJ, with no success. When the agency agreed to allow Ryo Nishikido, the star of The Scythian Lamb, to appear at the Q&A following our screening — with photo-taking by journalists allowed — we knew it was a minor triumph.

The icing on the cake was to learn that Johnny's had chosen FCCJ for its watershed moment. Not only had photos of Nishikido been allowed online for the first time — resulting in an ever-expanding flurry of postings — Johnny's then announced that images from all press conferences, interviews and stage greetings involving its stars would now be allowed on news sites online (although limited to 3 images for each site). 

scythian lamb twoKM-3-2-aAn unexpectedly delightful pairing of talent.               ©Koichi Mori

Ryo Nishikido handled his history-making appearance with exceptional poise, greeting the audience with a thoughtfully considered statement in fluent English. After thanking everyone for being there, he said: "This movie made me think about how I would act if someone I didn't know anything about joined my community. Then I realized that it's not just entertaining, but it also reflects social aspects. So I hope this film can give people a chance to think about issues such as depopulation and immigration."

Already a hit on the international festival circuit, and winner of the prestigious Kim Jiseok Award at the 2017 Busan International Film Festival, The Scythian Lamb is arguably Yoshida's most compassionate work yet. While his previous six films (including The Kirishima Thing, Pale Moon and A Beautiful Star) have also been darkly strange dramedies with social relevance, the messages here — not only about rural revitalization through immigration, but also tolerance, forgiveness, friendship and second chances — seem essential for today's Japan. 

Ever spent a few hours in one of Japan's small towns and wondered just what it would take to liven it up a little? What if the government had a secret plan for repopulating such towns, and what if you were in charge of helping newcomers make themselves at home?

hitsuji zMikako Ichikawa helps children bury a favorite pet.  
©2018 "The Scythian Lamb" Film Partners  
©Tatsuhiko Yamagami, Mikio Igarashi/KODANSHA

That's the position Hajime Tsukisue (Nishikido) finds himself in as The Scythian Lamb opens. Tsukisue is a city functionary in (fictional) Uobuka, a down-at-its-heels harbor town somewhere Out There, and he's been assigned to acclimate six strangers - four men, two women - as they arrive a few days apart via planes and trains, all a little dazed.

A model official, Tsukisue goes about the job with friendly efficiency, welcoming each arrival with helpful local factoids. "It's a nice place," he tells them. "Nice people, great seafood." A faded sign proclaims Uobuka: Full of Life, Cheer and Comfort

scythian lamb NishikidoFCCJ-2-a
Nishikido turned the star wattage way down to play Tsukisue.    ©FCCJ

When he asks his first new charge where he's come from, the answer is so odd, he doesn't pose the question again. Tsukisue isn't the curious type, and besides, he's just discovered that his high-school crush, Aya (Fumino Kimura), is back from the big city. It's only later that he learns they're part of a program to release convicted felons who are considered low risk back into society. His boss warns him to breathe a word to no one, since the ex-cons must remain in town for 10 years in exchange for early parole. Feigning broad-mindedness and citing Japan's strict privacy laws as an excuse for the secrecy, he nevertheless warns, "Keep them apart, so they don't conspire." 

Gradually, the newcomers settle in and assimilate into the community. There's Hiroki Fukumoto (Shingo Mizusawa), a timid type who starts apprenticing to a barber; Katsumi Ono (Min Tanaka), a silent type with a bad scar over his eye, who starts working in a dry cleaning shop; Reiko Ota (Yuka), a sexy type who becomes a caregiver in the senior day-care home that Tsukisue's dad frequents; Kiyomi Kurimoto (Mikako Ichikawa), who has a penchant for burying dead birds and fish, and whose methodical work as a janitor leaves something to be desired; Katushi Sugiyama (Kazuki Kitamura), a boisterous fisherman and photographer who is definitely up to something; and the youngest, Ichiro Miyakoshi (Ryuhei Matsuda), who happily becomes a deliveryman and begins taking guitar lessons from Aya after Tsukisue introduces him.

And then one day, a body washes up in Uobuka harbor, and foul play is suspected….

Nishikido has been honing his acting chops primarily on TV since 2003, but his past as a singer-dancer in idol bands Kanjani8 and NEWS informs many of his roles. Surprisingly, he is utterly convincing as Tsukisue, the boring-but-nice city functionary. There is underlying charm, but not for a moment does his character seem anything other than a small-town salaryman. His authenticity anchors the film in a believable reality, even as events begin spiraling out of control.  

hitsuji no ki
©2018 "The Scythian Lamb" Film Partners  ©Tatsuhiko Yamagami, Mikio Igarashi/KODANSHA

Asked how he tamped down his innate effervescence, Nishikido replied, "Acting in a film is solitary work, and I don't feel the need to bring my 'idol' presence into it. I think for everyone there are parts of your life that are more glamorous than others. There are moments where I'm just at home, watching TV, forgetting to eat. The glamour is just one part of my life. I didn't consciously suppress it, but I brought out my darker, flatter side."

"It was necessary for him to be a regular guy on screen," Yoshida concurred. "But not only that, he also had to have a presence that attracts you. Watching his previous work, I found him to be 'normal' but also attractive. You can't take your eyes off of him. He was just what I needed for this part."

Mentioning that Nishikido's character would probably be played by a young Tom Hanks if the film had been made in America, one FCCJ member asked the actor whether he had drawn from any foreign actors in approaching the character, and whether he had any designs on Hollywood. "I can't think of anyone I drew from in particular, but I learned a lot from the director, and I've learned a lot cumulatively from the 'role models' I've found while watching films. If I were to mention favorites, they would be Jake Gyllenhaal, Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington. I've watched their films over and over, so I may be unintentionally imitating them. As for career aspirations, if there was an opportunity for me in Hollywood, I would very much like to have it. But I was very nervous speaking in English tonight, so I need to work on that." 

scythian lamb yoshidaFCCJ-a
Yoshida has created his most compassionate film yet.    ©FCCJ

Asked how he had juggled so many different genres ("comedy, yakuza gangster, even a tokusatsu monster film!"), characters and story strands, the director explained: "I tend to be really greedy in my filmmaking. I want to depict as many different emotions as possible, which makes my films very difficult to promote. But film should reflect the reality of our everyday lives, and the characters shouldn't be stereotyped or simplified. I think it's feasible to create such stories if you have enough time, and I always try to do so."

The next question concerned Yoshida's approach to keeping the film from being either lurid or conventional. "The film has a more subdued tone than the original work [the manga series Hitsuji no Ki, by Tatsuhiko Yamagami and Mikio Igarashi], which is more chaotic and sensational. But I wanted my characters to be more realistic, and to express their inner conflicts and the clashes between them in a more restrained way. So we decided to avoid creating in-your-face violence."

Striving to deliver on Yoshida's earlier invitation to ask "fresh, unexpected questions," one journalist inquired about the garage band in the film, a noisy trio composed of Tsukisue, Aya and their fellow high-school classmate on drums. "It's not in the original," said Yoshida. "But I had to think about how young people in rural areas spend their time. In my own case, I always played music with my friends. I thought it was a good way to bring these three together, since it was over a decade since they graduated from high school. Also, the emotion is coming from Aya, on guitar, and Tsukisue is supporting her on bass. That [relationship] is what I wanted to depict." 

hitsuji z3
              Kazuki Kitamura (left) tries to lure Min Tanaka back into a life of crime.
 ©2018 "The Scythian Lamb" Film Partners  ©Tatsuhiko Yamagami, Mikio Igarashi/KODANSHA

Nishikido added: "I usually play guitar, not bass, but the music was really edgy and I quite liked it. Also, I think the bass allows you to look at your band members while you're playing, and I watched Aya closely." He quickly clarified, "My character was watching Aya closely."

Surprisingly, no one asked about the film's title. While it opens with lines from an eponymous poem, it is only later, when one of the transplanted characters finds a plate bearing an image of the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary (below), that the meaning begins to dawn on us.

And yet, even then it's open to multiple interpretations — just like the best films should be. 

hitsuji no ki poster
©2018 "The Scythian Lamb" Film Partners  
©Tatsuhiko Yamagami, Mikio Igarashi/KODANSHA
 

Selected Media Exposure

 

TV Exposure

  • テレビ東京 ワールドビジネスサテライト WBS News:「羊の木」 海外メディアに試写
  • テレビ東京 一夜づけ (エンタメ情報):2月3日に公開される映画「羊の木」の告知。
  • TBS はやドキ! スポーツ紙 まるごとチェック:錦戸亮さんが映画「羊の木」の外国特派員協会の記者会見を行い、英語で語った。
  • 日本テレビ Oha!4 NEWS LIVE スポタメ:錦戸亮 英語でスピーチ
  • 日本テレビ ZIP! SHOWBIZ 24:21:00 関ジャニ錦戸 英語で記者会見
  • フジテレビ めざましテレビ エンタみたもん勝ち:海外メディアも注目 錦戸亮(33)主演映画を英語でPR
  • フジテレビ めざましどようび コレぐぅー Movie:今週未公開作品の期待度ランキング

  • 日本テレビ スッキリ クイズッス:あさって公開!錦戸亮主演 映画「羊の木」
  • 日本テレビ news every. TIME4:関ジャニ∞錦戸 英語であいさつ 

THE MAN FROM RENO


March 12, 2015
Q&A guests: Director Dave Boyle and star Ayako Fujitani


4
Fujitani and Boyle share a giggle during the Q&A session.

The world needs more filmmakers like Dave Boyle. Maybe then we’d have a better chance to stem the tide of xenophobia, monolingualism and cross-cultural misunderstanding. Every one of his five award-winning, independently produced features is bilingual, and his actors hail from a global village of backgrounds.

“A lot of times at Q&As, the first question I’m asked is ‘What is your obsession with Japanese culture?’” said Boyle, in response to the first question he was asked at the Q&A following the screening of his beautifully shot thriller Man from Reno. “I wouldn’t necessarily call it an obsession,” he explained. “I think there’s a lack of diversity in American film. There are very few movies that deal with culture in an off-hand way, the way it is in real life. [Reno] has people from all different backgrounds in it, but that’s not necessarily the point of the movie… It just so happens that I sort of speak Japanese, and in wanting to explore that space in movies, it naturally progressed from that.”

(Boyle is being modest: he actually speaks Japanese fluently, and his facility with the language has proven crucial to each of his films.)


5  1
Fujitani and Boyle

His star, Steven Seagal’s very talented daughter, Ayako Fujitani, was clearly happy about Boyle’s obsession — er, commitment. “I’m really honored to be playing this role,” she told the FCCJ audience. “It’s kind of my dream come true, to be able to speak two languages in one movie. It’s really hard to find this kind of project. Since I moved to LA 5 years ago, it’s been so hard to get a job as an Asian actor…I believe that as we keep on doing this, there will be more projects with different languages, different cultures.” Boyle broke in, “What would be great is if, at some point, it doesn’t become remarkable to have multiple languages and casts of many different backgrounds. ”

But he admits that he didn’t necessarily have “noble intentions” for Man From Reno: “I made this because I wanted to tell a really fun story. I love mysteries, and I always wanted to do a mystery in which culture and language was one of the clues that eventually leads to the truth.”

Winner of the Best Narrative Feature award at last fall’s Los Angeles Film Festival, and a nominee for the John Cassavetes Award at the Spirit Awards, the film marks a turning point for the LA-based director, representing a move from quirky comedy into neo-noir territory — and bigger-name casting. Boyle loved the idea of telling a far-fetched crime story with a completely straight face, going so far as to tell investors that they should imagine Alan J. Pakula directing a Nancy Drew movie.

Man From Reno opens on a lonely highway in dense northern California fog, and it isn’t until the film’s final moments that the fog lifts — with a creeping sense of “ah-ha!” as all the twists and turns, disappearances and mistaken identities, MacGuffins, mysteries and mayhem, finally make sense. Fujitani plays a popular Japanese mystery author who has fled to San Francisco to escape a book tour and falls for a charming Japanese traveler (Kazuki Kitamura) who disappears, leaving a trail of strange clues. Before long, Aki finds herself teaming up with aging, small-town Sheriff Paul Del Moral (the great Pepe Serna, in a rare leading role), who is also chasing a mysterious Japanese man. The crime writer and crime fighter make a wonderfully intergenerational, intercultural team. “I’m pretty sure this is the first film that has an aging Latino man and a young Japanese woman as their lead characters,” Boyle laughed.

8Fujitani and Boyle

Fujitani was asked whether being a writer herself helped her prepare for the role. She is known for her essays, film critiques and short stories, as well as novels like Shiki-jitsu, which was adapted into a film in 2000, directed by Hideaki Anno (Evangelion), starring Fujitani opposite famed director Shunji Iwai. After Boyle interjected that she had actually inspired the role, Fujitani said, “There was one scene where Aki is writing for a long time, and I know how the body aches after you write for a long time. So I could use that in my acting.”

Much of the focus of the Q&A discussion was about Boyle’s wizardry on such a minuscule budget (the Cassavetes Award honors films with budgets under $500,000). He gave credit not only to the exceptionally talented cinematographer, Richard Wong, as well as the locations assistance he received from coproducer Taro Goto. The film features over 40 locations, and makes the most of San Francisco’s photogenic profile. “I love that city,” said Boyle. “It’s the city of film noir. You pretty much point the camera in any direction, and there’s something interesting going on.”

After generously hanging out in the Main Bar until closing time to chat personally with audience members, the director and his star headed down to Osaka the morning after FCCJ’s screening, to present their film at the Osaka Asian Film Festival. Although it did not garner the top prize, it fed the buzz that is sure to build as its theatrical release date in June draws closer.

  Photos by Koichi Mori and FCCJ.

ManFromReno PosterImage
©MAN FROM RENO LLC.

Media Coverage

 

KILLERS (KILLERS/Kiraazu) Event


KILLERS


 January 24, 2014
Q&A guests: Writer-codirector-producer Timo Tjahjanto,
stars Kazuki Kitamura and Rin Takanashi 


killers
Rin Takanashi, Kazuki Kitamura, Timo Tjahjanto. Photo © FCCJ.

Marking a groundbreaking collaboration between Japan and Indonesia, the highly anticipated Killers arrived at FCCJ just days after its world premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and less than a week before its Japan debut on February 1. The pan-Asian thriller was coproduced by Nikkatsu Corp. and Indonesian production house Guerilla Merah Films. Shot in Tokyo and Jakarta, the film’s creative team includes some of the hottest names in the business: producer Yoshinori Chiba of Cold Fish fame and executive producer Gareth Evans of The Raid: Redemption.

One-half of the acclaimed directing duo the Mo Brothers, Timo Tjahjanto heaped praise on Nikkatsu’s support of the venture, which spent only 15 days shooting in Tokyo before moving to Jakarta for 40 more.

Although some people were scared off by the MC’s description of Killers and the truly frightening Japanese poster, they were missing the bigger picture: this film is one of the first major international coproductions with a Japan studio — a trend that will surely continue. Films in this violent, psychological thriller genre (sometimes derisively called “torture porn”) are an outgrowth of the J-Horror films that became so popular worldwide in the 90s, another big story. These genre films also tend to be cheaply made, but they also tend to be among the most profitable films at the global box office.

So Killers is an immensely newsworthy film — as well as a well-reviewed one — and the FCCJ audience was privileged to have an opportunity to discuss its making with the filmmaking team.

killers poster© 2013 NIKKATSU/Guerilla Merah Films

Media Coverage

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