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MISS HOKUSAI (Sarusuberi)


MISS HOKUSAI


May 7, 2015
Q&A guest: Director Keiichi Hara


May 07 15 Movie Miss Hokusai by Aoki 031
Hara lightens up under questioning.

Just two days before the hotly anticipated release of his latest film, Annecy-winning director Keiichi Hara (Colorful) thrilled FCCJ’s audience with a sneak peek of Miss Hokusai, which illuminates the extraordinary lives of iconic artist Katsushika Hokusai and his outspoken daughter O-Ei. Following a spate of recent discoveries, O-Ei is now recognized not only as an essential contributor to her father’s later — and most famous — work, but as a groundbreaking artist in her own right.

It was only the second time in the past decade that the Film Committee had screened an animated film (the other was Eric Khoo’s Tatsumi in 2013), which is admittedly inexplicable from both a creative and financial stance*, given that the anime industry accounts for 90% of all Japanese “content” sales overseas, regularly earns a bigger chunk of change at the domestic box office than all other films combined, and is propelled by some of the biggest names in the global pantheon.

  hokusai workplace
O-Ei (front) and Hokusai (middle) work amidst the detritus of leftovers and failed drawings.
© 2014-2015 Hinako Sugiura・MS.HS / Sarusuberi Film Partners

But one doesn’t have to be an anime aficionado to appreciate Hara’s enthralling vision of old Edo. Paying tribute to one of Japan’s greatest artists — and the assistant who, given different circumstances, might have one day surpassed him — he has literally animated the process of artistic creation in ways that are by turns lyrical, lush, magical, startling and sublime. (The FCCJ audience was split, however, on whether his use of heavy metal in the opening and closing scenes was poetic-license appropriate.)

Marking his first collaboration with the acclaimed animation house Production I.G (Ghost in the Shell, A Letter to Momo, Giovanni’s Island), working with the chief animator of Hayao Miyzaki’s The Wind Rises, Yoshimi Itazu, and celebrated background artist Hiroshi Ohno, Hara has adapted the beloved historical manga Sarusuberi (Crape Myrtle) by Edo Period expert Hinako Sugiura for Miss Hokusai.

May 07 15 Movie Miss Hokusai by Aoki 010Interpreter Don Brown, looking positively animated himself
(especially the Fuji-and-sakura shirt!) did the subtitles for the film.

During the Q&A session following the screening, Hara repeatedly gave props to the original author. “I did a lot of research, but the vast majority of it was Sugiura-san’s,” he said in response to a question about why the film seems so “modern” compared to our typical image of Edo Japan. “I was trying to recreate the world that Sugiura-san created in her comics, rather than one that resembles a typical jidaigeki period piece. I think people in the Edo Period lived a far freer, more relaxed and congenial lifestyle than we lead today. They had much more fun.”

Hara also noted that he’d chosen a “simple, realistic” style of animation to suit the story. He stressed that Sugiura’s women are not “living tragic lives, being persecuted by men. In Sugiura-san’s manga, they are full of life, and have the power to choose whichever man they want. Sugiura-san’s manga, as well as her essays and other works, showed an image of women that was very different from what we’d seen in period films and on TV.”

Indeed, Miss Hokusai often feels almost hyperrealistic in its breathtakingly colorful depiction of 1814 Asakusa-Tawaramachi, teeming with peasants, samurai, merchants, nobles, artisans, courtesans and not surprisingly, we soon find out, a slew of supernatural beings. A stone’s throw from Ryogoku Bridge, the eccentric Tetsuzo (aka Hokusai) spends each day creating paintings for clients around Japan, from an enormous Dharma that fills an entire hall to a tiny pair of sparrows on a grain of rice. A master of portraits, landscapes, still lifes and erotica, Tetsuzo’s skill fits any commission. O-Ei works at his side, assisting, cajoling and smoking her pipe. They neither clean nor cook, and when their discarded work and leftover food fills up their home-atelier, they simply move to another. Undeniably talented, as well as stubborn, short-tempered and uninterested in money, this father-daughter team may not always agree, but “with two brushes and four chopsticks,” they can get by.

hokusai darumaHokusai paints a pretty (big) picture.
© 2014-2015 Hinako Sugiura・MS.HS / Sarusuberi Film Partners

Hara deployed 3D computer graphics in creating the film, but noted, “I didn’t want the CG to take you out of the film. The basic process is the way it’s always been done in 2D animation… In particular, there’s one scene where O-Ei runs out of the inn, and the camera pans down to her feet, comes back up and swings around, facing her. Normally, that would be done by a CG and 2D animator working together. But I had one animator do the whole 40-second sequence. It took 3 months. But it’s the kind of amazing sequence that Japanese animators have the technique and skills to accomplish.”

Returning to Sugiura once again, the director explained, “In the manga, O-Ei is the central character [in certain scenes only], but I decided to make her the main protagonist of the film. [Like O-Ei,] Suguira had a soft side to her, but as a writer, she was also very strong and had an eccentric side.”

Far from being just the first film Hara has directed that features a female protagonist, Miss Hokusai also surrounded him with a non-traditional crew. “There are more and more women working in the anime industry, especially at Production I.G, which made this film,” he said. Besides Sugiura, “the screenwriter was a woman, the two producers were women, and some of the animators were women. So there wasn’t any gender gap on this film.”

May 07 15 Movie Miss Hokusai by Aoki 056  May 07 15 Movie Miss Hokusai by Aoki 052
Hara poses with the film's poster, and holds up his newly minted FCCJ Honorary Membership.

Although he directed his first live-action film, the biopic Dawn of a Filmmaker: The Keisuke Kinoshita Story, in 2013, it doesn’t look likely that Hara will be leaving animation behind. Along with all his past prizes, in 2015, he was awarded the Anime d’Or at the Tokyo Anime Award Festival for his achievements. Hara will be heading to Annecy, France once again in June, where Miss Hokusai is in festival competition, as well as Montreal in July, where it is the Opening Night film at Fantasia Film Festival. It was also presold across Europe, with releases planned in France, Belgium, the UK, Germany, Austria, Spain and Portugal, among other nations. Can the USA be far behind?

*So shoot me — I didn’t develop a taste for animation in my youth, and it’s easier to program live-action films when you’re fairly ignorant about the likes of Tezuka, Ishii, Anno, Mizushima, Nishio, Araki (but we have tried countless times to persuade the fellows at Studio Ghibli to join us at FCCJ, to no avail).
  Photos by FCCJ.

hokusai poster
© 2014-2015 Hinako Sugiura・MS.HS / Sarusuberi Film Partners

Media Coverage

TOKYO TRIBE


 TOKYO TRIBE


 August 7, 2014
Q&A guests: Director Shion Sono and stars Ryohei Suzuki, Young Dais and Nana Seino


all2
A zany FCCJ team celebrates a zany Q&A.

Studies have shown that only a handful of Japanese directors are known by name overseas. Right near the top of that short list is Sion Sono, the one-man cinematic cyclone whose every work, even after a prolific career spanning 25 years, still feels iconoclastic. Provocateur, impish maestro of naughtiness, winner of countless festival awards, discoverer of new talent — he guided Shota Sometani and Fumi Nikaido to the Marcello Mastroianni Prize for Acting in Himizu — reaper of box-office coin (2010’s Cold Fish was a surprise international hit), Sono is the creator of both high-minded fare like the Fukushima-themed The Land of Hope (2012) and low-brow celebrations of B-movie outrageousness like Why Don't You Play in Hell? (2013).

The Movie Committee had attempted to lure the director in for a sneak preview event since his much-admired Love Exposure in 2009, but each new release found him already deep in production on the next, too busy to make an appearance. On our seventh attempt, we hit the jackpot: Tokyo Tribe proved to be our lucky number. Sono’s frenetic live-action adaptation of Santa Inoue’s mega-bestselling manga series “Tokyo Tribe2,” the film is the world’s first rap musical and marks the screen debuts of hip-hop artists from seemingly every Japanese prefecture.

sono
Sono speaks

Sono brought with him his three young stars, Ryohei Suzuki (Gatchaman, Hentai Kamen: Forbidden Superhero, NHK’s Hanako to An), Young Dais, a popular recording artist, and Nana Seino (Wood Job!) — who obliged the director’s request to demonstrate her panties-flashing backflip for the FCCJ audience. Suzuki and Young Dais impressed the audience (and their director) with verbal gymnastics: both had gone to high school in the US, so answered questions in fluent English and then translated themselves into Japanese.

During the Q&A, Sono described how he was brought into the project by his frequent producer, Yoshinori Chiba, who “plotted and schemed” to get it made. The manga adaptation process began with only a few rap songs, but eventually grew into a full-blown musical after Sono held nationwide auditions to select hip-hop artists and gave them suggestions for lyrics to be adapted. Without the rapping, he said, the film would have been “an orthodox coming-of-age story.”

three copy
Seino, Young Dais and Suzuki.

Young Dais and Suzuki both lauded the director for encouraging interaction, a process that Suzuki likened to “a battle” of creativity. “I needed to bring more than he expected to the set,” he said, “and we had to always be ready for changes and new scenes all the time. That was a real thrill.” Young Dais added that acting was a big adjustment for him, but toward the end of shooting, he was comfortable enough to make suggestions to Sono, “and he would listen and say, ‘yeah, let’s try that,’ and he was really encouraging to me. But he’s really a crazy guy.”

Seino discussed how she’d always heard that Sono was a “scary, demanding director,” but found him to be very supportive on set. She leaned forward and directed her final remarks to Sono: “I love you, desu,” she said, to which her director replied, “Me, too.”

nana2
Seino strikes a pose after her backflip.

Like the manga, Tokyo Tribe opens five years after the Shibuya riots, with Tokyo divided into territories run by 23 rival tribes — the Shibuya Saru, Shinjuku Hands, Kabukicho GiraGira Girls, Bukuro Wu-Ronz and my personal favorite, Nerimuthafuckaz — each with their own colorful approach to fashion and the new lingua franca, rap. Crossing territorial lines in this Blade Runneresque Tokyo results in ballistically choreographed, action-packed rumbles — just as it did in the New York of West Side Story, another obvious influence on the director.

The FCCJ audience was clearly enthusiastic about what one attendee called “two hours of constant, ass-kicking fun:” a constant visual assault of candy-colored neon, lewd graffiti, black leather thongs, flying kickboxers, a Kano sister, a sadistic midget, severed fingers in cigar boxes, human furnishings, penis jokes and a growl-rapping Riki Takeuchi, all directed with the deliciously delirious excess that has made the madcap-genius director (almost) a global household name. The international rollout of Tokyo Tribe, which begins with the Toronto Film Festival, where the film opens the Midnight Madness section, is sure to further Sion Sono’s renown.

— Photos by FCCJ.

tokyo-tribe-poster
© 2014 NIKKATSU

Media Coverage

2014年8月8日
・『PON!エンタメよーいPON!』 日本テレビ
・『スッキリ!!エンタメまるごとクイズッス』 日本テレビ
・『ZIP!SHOWBIZ TODAY』 日本テレビ

2014年8月12日
・『PON! 毎日が緊急企画!ちょっとおトーク』 日本テレビ

 

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