Thursday, October 09, 2014
OCTOBER 8, 2014
Q&A guest: Writer-director Writer-director Shoichiro Sasaki
Sasaki (r.) with his producers, Tetsujiro Yamagami and Takahide Harada.
For 20 years, legendary NHK director Shoichiro Sasaki was entirely absent from the public stage, apparently retired from a career that marked him as one of Japan’s most prolific and poetic creators, with a body of internationally award-winning work that inspired such leading lights as Cannes favorites Hirokazu Kore-eda and Naomi Kawase, and Venice regular Shinya Tsukamoto.
Sasaki has now broken his silence, and fans will be thrilled that his first-ever theatrical release (the film is debuting on October 11 at the vaunted arthouse theater Iwanami Hall) is over 2 hours long. Harmonics Minyoung is an inventive, experimental quasi-documentary that moves constantly between Japanese, Korean and English as well as the language of song. The complexity of its structure obfuscates its strong antiwar message until the final act, but it gradually becomes clear that the story is near to the director’s heart. As it turns out, the film’s period scenes, depicting a family’s life in Tokyo during World War II, are based on Sasaki's actual experiences as a youth in wartime.
The director waxes eloquent on Mozart.
During his Q&A session at FCCJ, Sasaki expressed fears about the film’s public reception, reminding everyone that for two decades, he’s been known only as a “former TV director.” He recalled the recent cast and crew screening, at which he stood on the stage and apologized for putting them all through so much trouble. “I’d been thinking about what a ‘film director’ is,” he explained. “Is he a great artist? No. A craftsman? Maybe. A shyster? I finally realized that he’s a guy who causes problems for everyone involved, in order to complete his film.”
As in Sasaki’s previous productions, Harmonics Minyoung is cast with nonprofessionals. The ebullient heroine, Minyoung, is from Seoul, but met Sasaki in 2004 when she was attending Waseda. The director asked her parents for their permission before signing their daughter on to play the character of university student Minyoung, who is writing and illustrating a novel called “The Laws of Harmonics.” She is obsessed with Mozart’s music (as is Sasaki) and, for some reason, with a photograph depicting her grandmother's Japanese friend Sueko. Driven by her curiosity about Sueko, Minyoung journeys to Tokyo. Here, she meets a street child, Yu, as well as reuniting with a friend who is now a freelance journalist covering the dark side of society, and is constantly being pursued by strange men in trenchcoats. When Minyoung suddenly becomes Sueko in the film-within-a-film, she is actually portraying Sasaki’s own mother, to whom Harmonics Minyoung is dedicated. The journalist is his father — in reality, as here, murdered for expressing critical views of the military — and the street child, Sasaki himself.
Sasaki originally planned to use only Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony (No. 41) in the film, since it’s “overflowing with hope,” and chose the Czech Philharmonic because they have “the best string section in the world.” But after production ended, he felt something was missing, and decided to delay editing until he finally had a breakthrough: “One day, I heard the old [Civil War] song ‘Marching Through Georgia’ — which was the first American song heard by the Japanese, when Admiral Perry came to Japan — and I [realized I needed a musical counterpoint]. After that, I selected 12 songs to use in the film, even though I didn’t tell producer [Takahide] Harada.”
Sasaki is now 78, and eager to plan his next outing as film director. Considering his enviable energy and the widespread support from a creative community that never forgot him, his second career may be just as laudable as his first.
— Photos by Koichi Mori.
©2014 Siglo/Sasaki Films
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
May 13, 2014
Q&A guests: Director Yuya Ishii and stars Satoshi Tsumabuki and Sosuke Ikematsu
Yuya Ishii, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Sosuke Ikematsu
FCCJ film night audiences are no stranger to movie stars, but they are sometimes surprised when the lights go up after the screening, and the Japanese camera crews start filing in for the Q&A sessions. On May 13th, there were 6 TV crews and several dozen still photographers from the Japanese press — all there for sound bites and great images of megastar Satoshi Tsumabuki (Waterboys, The Little House) and Sosuke Ikematsu (The Last Samurai, Love’s Whirlpool). The instant and widespread Japanese coverage of our events enables us to continue sneak previewing some of the most buzzworthy films opening soon in a theater near you.
On this night, that film was Yuya Ishii's Our Family, soon to open across Japan. In 2013, Ishii’s The Great Passage was selected as Japan’s official Oscar entry and swept up every conceivable domestic award, including the top four Japan Academy Prizes. The director could have had his pick of any follow-up project, but as he explained to the FCCJ audience, he chose to adapt the bestselling novel Our Family because he was consciously making a break from the existential comedies with which he had made his reputation. Why? Because it was to be the last film he made before turning 30.
The result is an extremely mature work. Our Family features Ishii’s trademark comical touches but also demonstrates his new mastery of gravitas as it limns the emotional journey of a four-member dysfunctional family facing a range of modern-day maladies, most crucially, its matriarch’s diagnosis with a potentially fatal brain tumor. Rather than continuing to hurtle toward collapse, the family gradually begins to discover in each other unexpected sources of strength and ultimately, hope.
Ishii and Tsumabuki share a laugh during the Q&A session.
Tsumabuki and Ikematsu, who convincingly portray the estranged brothers in the film, discussed their images of families at FCCJ, both agreeing that there’s no such thing as the perfect one, and Tsumabuki stressed that communication is the most powerful tool to overcoming problems. When questioned about his recent appearances in a string of family dramas, he insisted that he hadn’t planned it that way. All three men were curious about the overseas reception of the film when it seems to them so specifically Japanese — but FCCJ's audience clearly found it to be universal.
Nippon TV interviews French critic Aude Boyer after the screening.
Our Family has been selected for competition at the Montreal World Film Festival in August, marking its international debut. The festival is very Japanese-film friendly, having bestowed a range of awards on Japanese titles nearly every year, including the top prizes for A Long Walk (2006) and Departures (2008).
— Photos by Koichi Mori except where noted.
©2014 'Our Family' Film Committee
- ‘Bokutachi no kazoku’, la sonrisa congelada
- Bokutachi no kazoku
- 『Oha 4 News Live』 日本テレビ
- 『ZIP！SHOWBIZ TODAY』 日本テレビ
- 『あさチャン！LIFE』 TBS
- 『めざましテレビ』 フジテレビ
- 『一夜づけ』 テレビ東京
- 『スッキリ！！スッキリエンタメ』 日本テレビ
Thursday, April 03, 2014
OYAKO: PRESENT TO THE FUTURE
April 2, 2014
Q&A guests: Director Toshi Inomata, producer Yoshiko Inoue
and subject Bruce Osborn
Toshi Inomata, Yoshiko Inoue, Bruce Osborn
It's no secret that FCCJ's Exhibition Committee Chair Bruce Osborn is a famed photographer. Now he is also the star of a film about his "life's work," the joyous portraits of Japanese families that he has been taking for the past 32 years. The MC premiered Oyako: Present to the Future on April 2 to an overstuffed house close to 200 people. During the Q&A session, Osborn, producer Yoshiko Inoue and director Toshi Inomata, discussed the project's beginnings, and their decision to pitch it on Motion Gallery, a crowdfunding site that eventually brought in 1/3 of their budget.
Osborn was once just a commercial photographer from Los Angeles; now he is the leader, with his wife Inoue, of a social movement in Japan. Arriving here in 1980, he was inspired to shoot a series of portraits of punk-rock musicians with their parents. Fascinated by the idiosyncrasies of the Japanese "oyako" (parent-child) relationship -- especially when he became a father himself -- he realized that the photos had given him entrée to observe Japanese culture at its most intimate. The revealing and sometimes humorous black-and-white portraits he took brought an overwhelming response from Japanese families -- and thus a movement was born.
Producer Satoru Seki, Bruce Osborn, Toshi Inomata
Osborn went on to meet and photograph over 4,500 oyako from a variety of professional and personal backgrounds, and to create Oyako Day with Inoue in 2003, a would-be national holiday celebrating family bonds. For Oborn, it's been a way to document the changes in Japanese society; but as Present to the Future proves, the photos aren't just fun to shoot, they have brought estranged families back together again, brought laughter back to Fukushima following the 3/11 disaster, and brought out the best in everyone who has had the evident joy of posing.
With appearances that include fashion designer Junko Koshino, alpinist Yuichiro Miura, journalist Shuntaro Torigoe, filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi and superheroes Ultraman Zero and Ultra Seven, as well as historic footage, hundreds of photos and two short dramas casting real-life parents and children, the documentary underscores the Japanese belief that we are not isolated individuals. While everyone seems to have a different opinion how to express the meaning of "oyako," Osborn prefers this: "Oyako is the long, unbroken chain of life -- each of us is a link to the past and a bridge to the future."
— Photos by Koichi Mori except where noted.