Member Login

Member Login

Username
Password *

FC HEADER

BENEATH THE SHADOW


BENEATH THE SHADOW (Eiri)


 February 4, 2020
Q&A guests: Director Keishi Otomo and producer Masashi Igarashi


FCCJ EiriKoichi Mori-27-2
 Igarashi (left) cracks that it's a lot harder to make a film based on a prizewinning novel than it is to make one based on a manga,
which "Mr. Otomo has done time and again."
©Koichi Mori

Most of us know Keishi Otomo as the director and cowriter of the blockbuster Rurouni Kenshin trilogy, arguably the most globally successful samurai-swashbuckler franchise of our time. The first-ever Japanese helmer to sign a multipicture deal with Warner Bros., Otomo produced slick, big-budget, live-action adaptations of the popular manga/anime series that were instant classics for their mix of spectacular swordfights, slapstick humor and romanticism.

What we didn’t recognize from Rurouni Kenshin — or his other domestic box-office hits — is that underneath the polish of this world-class director, beats the heart of a poet.

But Otomo’s new film demonstrates just that. With his first arthouse title after three decades in TV and film, he takes a surprising turn toward the contemplative, the elegiac, the ineffable with Beneath the Mask.

 FCCJ EiriKoichi Mori-21
Otomo took time out from the final weeks of editing his summer Rurouni Kenshin releases.  ©Koichi Mori

Based on the 2017 Akutagawa Prizewinner “Eiri,” it is set in the director’s hometown of Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, both before and after the 3/11 tragedy. The sense of loss that infuses many of its scenes signals just how much personal resonance the story has for him.

Appearing after a sneak preview at FCCJ, Otomo immediately confirmed this. He recalled, “In 2011, I came to the decision, after working at NHK [since 1990], that I would leave the company to focus on making films without corporate backup. Just after I made that decision, 3/11 happened. The question that I’ve kept going back to is, Is there anything I could have done, or anything I can do [as a filmmaker] for my hometown of Morioka? I did receive project offers aimed at rejuvenating the area, and those planted a seed. But after I started my own company [Office Oplus], all the pieces finally fell into place.

“Also, since this is the year of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, and all eyes will be on Tokyo, that made me somewhat apprehensive about how Tohoku would be viewed. I wanted to make this film for the people of Tohoku, to express their thoughts and feelings, to record them in an accurate way and share them with audiences. So many bereaved family members said ‘Goodbye, see you later’ to someone who never came back. What happened to their pain, their sadness? I wanted to give them a voice. It’s that kind of sentiment that went into the making of this film.”

eiri-2 2020 Beneath the Shadow Film Partners  eiri-1 2020 Beneath the Shadow Film Partners
Ryuhei Matsuda as Hiasa (left), in his new life as a traveling salesman. Go Ayano as Konno (right), who's just arrived in Morioka. 
©2020 Beneath the Shadow Film Partners

The protagonist of Beneath the Shadow, Shuichi Konno (Go Ayano), first meets Norihiro Hiasa (Ryuhei Matsuda) when his pharmaceutical company transfers him to Morioka, where the latter already works. Both men are 30 years old and seemingly solitary, but they have little else in common. Konno is an introverted stickler for rules who spends his free time with books and a jasmine plant sent by his family; Hiasa is a smiling rebel, a rule shirker who loves to fish in the nearby rivers.

The two men begin to spend time together, and Konno develops his own fondness for angling as they fall into an uneasy comradery. Infected by Hiasa’s enthusiasm and the beauty of Morioka's natural surroundings, Konno starts emerging from his shell, joining the company’s sansa dance team and smiling more often.

eiri-3 2020 Beneath the Shadow Film Partners
©2020 Beneath the Shadow Film Partners

But one day, Hiasa abruptly quits and leaves town without a word. When he shows up again, half a year later, it’s to beg his friend to buy a policy he’s selling for a “mutual aid society,” since he’s “just one sale short of the quota.” Their friendship and fishing trips gradually resume, but Konno remains unnerved. And then 3/11 hits, and Hiasa completely disappears. Like so many others, he is assumed to be dead.

Konno contacts Hiasa’s father (Jun Kunimura) for news, and discovers that what little he knew about his friend had probably been a lie. He remembers what Hiasa said to him late one night: “You only see what the light hits for an instant. When you look at someone, you should look at the other side, the side where the shadow is deepest.”

eiri-4 2020 Beneath the Shadow Film Partners
The friends fish local rivers for a variety of species.
  ©2020 Beneath the Shadow Film Partners

Like its literary inspiration, the film’s tale of fly fishing, drinking and male bonding skirts obvious interpretation, as straightforward as it seems. It begins with the suggestion of tragedy, is driven by mystery and ends even more enigmatically than it began. Laden with subtext, heavy with meaning and metaphor, it’s that rare film where nearly every line, nearly every action, can be interpreted both literaly as well as symbolically.

Discussing the film’s title and its implications about the hidden sides of all of us, Otomo told the FCCJ audience: “Konno has so much anger inside him, which he represses and manages to live quietly. But we can feel it roiling underneath the surface. Hiasa is also full of complexities and contradictions. We sense that he is of the moment but also eternal. He’s an adult, but also childish; there’s a double-sidedness to his character.”

eiri-6 2020 Beneath the Shadow Film Partners
Konno reacts when he hears shocking news from Hiasa's father (Jun Kunimura).  ©2020 Beneath the Shadow Film Partners

Expanding on the character sketches, he explained: “Konno is an LGBTQ character, and as with such characters in many societies, not just Japan, he’s gone through many hardships. These have led him to be very sensitive about how people react to him. Since he’s come to Morioka as a newcomer, it’s liberating because no one knows that he’s gay. He’s embarking on a new life, but he’s lonely because he doesn’t know anyone.”

On the other hand, “Hiasa was born and brought up in Morioka. He’s free-spirited and doesn’t follow the rules. I think we can say he’s a metaphor for uncontrollable nature, anthropomorphized. He’s not ill-intentioned, he just doesn’t want to adjust himself to society’s norms.”

FCCJ EiriKoichi Mori-14
©Koichi Mori

Asked about the casting of his two leads, both of whom Otomo had previously directed, he admitted, “I basically went with my intuition. From the moment I read the novel, through the process of working (with Kaori Sawai) on the script, I felt these were the only two actors for the roles. With Mr. Ayano, he has this very intellectual, cultured aspect to his presence, while Mr. Matsuda is somehow just so cinematic. He has a very poetic presence. I just couldn’t wait to see them play the roles.”

Otomo was praised for eliciting such nuanced performances, and asked about his approach to directing them. He concurred that they were “wonderful,” and that Matsuda, in particular, “really grounded his role,” despite its challenges. (Matsuda won the award for Best Actor at the Hainan Island International Film Festival in December, where Beneath the Shadow had its world premiere).

FCCJ EiriKoichi Mori-20
   Igarashi produced Netflix's Hibana: Spark and Naoko Ogigami's Close-Knit, among other titles. ©Koichi Mori

“As with any good actor,” he said, “Mr. Ayano and Mr. Matsuda can tell from the production design and costumes what kind of approach you imagine in a certain scene. I didn’t have to explain a lot. And we didn’t talk a lot about the characters on set. I didn’t want to impose anything on their own interpretations. Sometimes it seemed like I was just shooting a documentary about the characters, except when they would occasionally veer too far from what I’d imagined. Then I would quietly pull them aside so we could discuss the scene. But mostly, I would work closely with my production designer to adjust the backdrops of the scenes to heighten the acting choices they had made.”

Otomo’s business partner and producer, Masashi Igarashi, was asked what it was like to work on the modestly budgeted project. “We’ve only been working together since founding the company 3 years ago," he responded, "but I was always a great admirer of Mr. Otomo’s work. He may be best known for Rurouni Kenshin, but he’s also done films like the two-part March Comes in Like a Lion, that are really rich, profound human dramas. Despite the fact that this film wasn’t on as massive a scale as his other work, I’m happy that we could make such a rich, intense film together.

eiri 2020 Beneath the Shadow Film Partners
Ayano first worked with Otomo on Rurouni Kenshin, while Matsuda had a role in
the director's first film, Vulture (2009)
  ©2020 Beneath the Shadow Film Partners

“It’s very difficult to make films like these in the present environment in Japan,” he lamented. “It’s a lot easier to make films based on manga — which Mr. Otomo has done time and again — than it is to make a film based on an Akutagawa Prizewinning work [that requires audiences to read] between the lines. But it’s still possible, and I hope audiences here and overseas will [appreciate] this.”

Asked for his own thoughts on the film’s international appeal, Otomo waxed nostalgic. “When I was growing up," he recalled, "I would go to a really tiny cinema in Morioka, and that was really my window on the world. I traveled the world and learned so much that way. I think film should be a submersive experience in a cinema, not viewed on a small screen.

FCCJ EiriFCCJ-15
Otomo with the film's Japanese poster. ©︎FCCJ

“I always hope my films will become a tool of communication. It was such an enjoyable experience participating in the Hainan International Film Festival, seeing how the audience digested and interpreted my film. Film isn’t only art, it’s a way to communicate.”

While it won't attract the frenzied fanship of his most famous series, Keishi Otomo's Beneath the Shadow is certain to travel widely, and to launch many a conversation — on love, loss, loneliness, trust and betrayal, not to mention hidden meanings in the water, the weather, the trees and even that pomegranate.

eiri poster en012020 Beneath the Shadow Film Partners
©2020 Beneath the Shadow Film Partners

Selected Media Exposure

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 

Recent posts

MISHIMA: THE LAST DEBATE

00:00 Thursday, March 19, 2020

FUKUSHIMA 50

00:00 Thursday, March 05, 2020

FIRST LOVE

00:00 Thursday, February 27, 2020

BENEATH THE SHADOW

00:00 Saturday, February 08, 2020

COMPLICITY

00:00 Sunday, January 19, 2020

TALKING THE PICTURES

00:00 Wednesday, December 04, 2019

THE 47 RONIN IN DEBT

00:00 Thursday, November 21, 2019

I: DOCUMENTARY OF THE JOURNALIST

00:00 Thursday, November 14, 2019

TORA-SAN, WISH YOU WERE HERE and Q&A in collaboration with TIFF

00:00 Saturday, October 05, 2019

WORDS CAN'T GO THERE

00:00 Saturday, September 28, 2019
  • Go to top