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Interview with “Reiko and the Dolphin” Director Shinji Imaoka at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020

At the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020 were two veteran pink film directors: Hideo Jojo and Shinji Imaoka. Both had brought dramas far away from what many might have expected of them. The former, a bit of a journeyman director, had made a teen-centric movie centered on baseball and a cast of characters looking to the future while the latter delivered a heartfelt drama about the passage of time.

Reiko and the Dolphin is a film that speaks of the aching loss of a loved-one. Adapted from a scenario Imaoka wrote just after the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, it’s Japanese title is even more poignant and direct to the subject-matter: Is Reiko There? The story involves an ordinary couple, Ichiko (Aki Takeda) and her writer husband Tasuke (Hidetoshi Kawaya), who lose their daughter in the earthquake. We track their lives over 25 years as the two experience ups and downs, life and death. Thoroughly normal experiences that run the range from gently amusing to harrowing. Reiko’s presence haunts them but Imaoka handles this downbeat subject matter with grace and a philosophical air.

Shinji Imaoka kindly sat down to talk about the genesis of the movie and how it was made just before the 25th anniversary of the earthquake. This interview was conducted with interpretation from Keiko Matsushita and Takako Pocklington.

Where did the idea come from?

I became a director in 1995. I had been an assistant director for pink films and then became a director in 1995. At that time, it was kind of a trend among pink films to contain actual events and my seniors such as Director Takahisa Zeze and Hisayasu Sato also adapted real events into their films. There was the earthquake that occurred in the same year as I became a director, then I wanted to use it as a theme of a film. That was my initial motive.

You are famous for pink films but this film is dramatic. Why did you choose to making it in a dramatic style?

After the earthquake disaster in 1995, I wrote a scenario and released it to a pink movie company at that time. However, my proposal wasn’t accepted because the company president said that he doesn’t’ like films with a storyline with a child’s death. And over twenty years later, I was offered backing by someone who would sponsor me to make a film on whatever subject I wanted to do. Then, I dug up my old project and rewrote the script for an independent film not for pink film, that’s why I shot this as an independent film.

So this originally started as a pink film, then became a drama.

I had originally written it as a story in the aftermath of the earthquake, but now twenty years after that, I had the idea to depict time from the view point of a married couple who had experienced the earthquake. Like, “What have they been doing for these twenty years?”

Very impressive. You covered so much time. It felt like the actors aged over the film. Was that the only intention, to cover 25 years of their lives?

Yes, but the budget was very little, it was impossible to create production design of the past and the present or take twenty-five years to shoot with the same actors so I tried to shoot in places where things haven’t changed since before the earthquake and have remained as it is. I took a whole year to shoot it in different seasons which would convey the flow of time. I shot it whilst thinking about how to portray time.

Do you think that coming up to the twenty-fifth anniversary since the disaster, was it easier to get the film made?

Well… I thought about what it would mean to depict time. I thought it wouldn’t be like simply using effects by production design. It has also been twenty-five years since I became a director. There are lots of changes in my life as well—like I got married and had children. I didn’t have any intention to make some kind of anniversary film for the disaster. It doesn’t need to be a big historic event. I just wanted to portray the lives of ordinary people who weren’t spotlighted in the history, who just keep getting on with their life after the disaster.

Repetition happens a lot…like Ichiko always marries a writer. It felt like the characters were stuck in a circle. And the dolphins just swam around the circles.

I didn’t even think about it. I did it unconsciously.

What would you describe the theme of the movie as?

I don’t have any strong theme in this film. However, when losing a good friend or someone precious, I would be at loss what to do for the rest of my life. People often say, “Try to forget about her/him and get back on track” but I think that would be wrong. I want to keep remembering her/him forever. The important thing is to keep going with your life without forgetting your loved one.

I felt like, at the end of the film, the characters, the parents Tasuke and Ichiko could finally move on from losing Reiko but only after lots of repetition. There is a different character, Hiroshi, who remains unchanged and seemingly unaffected by events. What is his meaning in the film?

When you depict a long track of time like twenty-five years, you will show how everything has changed, but I thought it would be nice if there is someone who would never change. He is not exactly a fairy but I thought that it would be a great relief for us to have a presence like him. This person has existed since the universe was created and will exist forever. I wish we could have someone like him, it would be fine even having him just passing by. Actually, by the way, he is a friend of mine, I asked him to be in the film.

One of the fun characters. Again it fits in with the idea of repetition.

Wow, you are very observant.

How different is this from pink films you shoot.

Pink films are commercial films. You should shoot a film within a time-frame and in a certain place, and it is very limited so it was challenge for me to express what I like under these limited conditions. On the contrary, I was able to do whatever I want and take plenty time to shoot it this time. Those are the differences of my stance on shooting between this film and pink films. Funny enough, but I found it rather difficult to shoot this, I didn’t know where to start it.

I read a 2014 Japan Times interview for The Woman of Shinjuku. You described the difficulty of working in the Pink film industry. How would you describe the industry now?

It is getting scaled back. There is not much demand for the work, so everyone works on it whilst doing other jobs. It is a pity because pink films are a unique genre, a bit different from adult videos. The industry is declining.

So you are going to move more into dramas?

I am not bothered. Film making keeps changing. I used to shoot films with 35 mm film but now I do it with digital. Like independent films, you could make interesting things with any kind of medium. You could even shoot by iPhone. I would be willing to do whatever if I found something interesting.

Like with the film Tangerine

And also I like women and like shooting their naked bodies.

There is at least one scene like that in this film. How did you go about casting the film?

I myself live in Tokyo, so I thought it would be very difficult to shoot in Kansai for a year. I thought it would be tricky to take actors or staff from Tokyo to Kansai with me so I decided to cast people who live in the Kanasai area. I put some adverts on the internet and in local notice boards and had a public audition.

Why did you cast the actors for Ichiko and Tasuke?

I auditioned. I met about seven people and had a chat with them and chose those actors. I felt as if they approached me rather than I chose them. I felt like those roles fit them.

You know what I mean? Let me see…when you enter a shop and choose something, you may have a feeling that some items would appeal themselves to you to buy, as if saying “Please pick me”.

Just judging by their energy. What would you hope audiences to take away from the film?

Maybe you will experience ups and downs in your life, but to be alive is a great thing. To live is fun. We all die some time, everyone will die some time and your everyday life won’t always be smooth and fun. Even though I feel like that I still want to speak out loud and say that life is fun. I would like audiences to spend their life with the feeling that it is great just to be alive. The time you watch the film is a great time but also the time you are able to watch it is a great time.

Like the characters, you carry on.

Reiko and the Dolphin was shown at the Osaka Asian Film Festival on March 6.

This interview was published at VCinema on April 14th

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Japanese Films at the We Are One Global Film Festival

Due to COVID-19, film festivals around the world have had to postpone or cancel events. Then, in April, Tribeca and YouTube announced they were teaming up for a 10-day online festival called We Are One and working together with other festivals to create a digital film festival.

We Are One Film Festival Image

The festival will stream a selection of films online on YouTube for FREE from May 29th to June 07th. There will be 31 features and 72 shorts over 10 days, the titles have been co-curated by over 20 film festivals from across the world, including Annecy, Cannes, London, Venice, Sundance, Berlin, Locarno, Toronto and Tokyo. Viewers can also enjoy virtual talks with directors.

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Japanese Films at Annecy International Animation Film Festival 2020

This year’s edition of the Annecy International Animation Film Festival is the 60 anniversary of the fest and it takes place from June 15th to the 30th and, due to the COVID-19 situation, it’s a totally online edition. Unlike last year’s event, which was jam-packed with films, there are about four Japanese animated films and some international co-productions on the roster. The festival welcomes back Masaaki Yuasa, who has directed a Netflix show, and there are some newbie directors.

As per usual, titles contain links to the festival and sources used for information range from the festival site itself to My Anime List (MAL) and Anime News Network (ANN). Let’s start with…

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Kankai no renzoku Japanese Film Trailer

Happy weekend, everyone!

Henry Fool Image

I hope you are all safe and well!

The state of emergency has been lifted in Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo this week but it remains in place in Kanagawa and Tokyo. Movie distributors and cinemas have taken a massive hit in April due to the closure of cinemas with “the total box office earnings of Japan’s 12 largest movie distributors in April totalling just $6.4 million (688.24 million yen), a 96.3 percent plummet from the same period last year, according to the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan (MPPAJ)” (source). As I wrote last week, some cinemas have reopened and the films that are being screened are classics. The number of classics has been updated to include Blade RunnerRio BravoBen Hur and The Shawshank Redemption. What about new films?

Well, this week, I posted a review for the indie drama The Modern Lovers and the interview I did with the director Atsuro Shimoyashiro.

What is released this weekend?

Continue reading “Kankai no renzoku Japanese Film Trailer”

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Interview with “The Modern Lovers” Director Atsuro Shimoyashiro at the Osaka Asian Film Film Festival 2020

Atsuro Shimoyashiro was at this year’s Osaka Asian Film Festival with The Modern Lovers, a sexually explicit story about two former lovers reuniting, raking over their past relationship and realizing their regrets. His path to the festival is an interesting example of an indie film warrior. After dropping out of college, Shimoyashiro studied at the Film School of Tokyo and has had an interesting career working in music and indie movies. He directed films like Walk in the Room (2016), which was selected for TAMA NEW WAVE and the Kanazawa Film Festival 2017, and Voyage Garden (2018), which was selected for O!!DO Short Film Festival. He has also produced music for films, including two by Shinji Imaoka, Long Goodbye: Private Detective Kurinosuke Furui (2017) and Reiko and the Dolphin (2019).

The Modern Lovers is something else. A hip movie with an atmosphere choked with longing, lust and a little bitterness. Due to the nudity involved and its brief story, it brings to mind the pink films of the Roman Porno genre despite being an indie drama. There seems to be some creative connection since legendary pink film director Shinji Imaoka makes a brief appearance in a bar scene and Shimoyashiro has collaborated with him. It may be tempting to see Shimoyashiro as a new generation of pink film director but he is firmly on the indie side of things, as he explained when he sat down to talk about The Modern Lovers and his inspirations. This interview was conducted with the help of translators Keiko Matsushita and Takako Pocklington.

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The Modern Lovers 東京の恋人 Director Atsuro Shimoyashiro (2019) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020]

The Modern Lovers    The Modern Lovers Film Poster

東京の恋人Tokyo no Koibito

Release Date: June 27th, 2020

Duration: 81 mins.

Director: Atsuro Shimoyashiro

Writer: Atsuro Shimoyashiro, Naoaki Akamatsu (Script),

Starring: Ryu Morioka, Nanami Kawakami, Mutsuo Yoshioka, Ruri Shinato, Tomoki Kumura, Shinji Imaoka, Teruko,

OAFF

The dreams we forgo and the promises we break can define our lives as we grow older, a realization that the protagonist of Atsuro Shimoyashiro’s steamy indie drama gradually comes to when he reconnects with an old flame for one last tryst.

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The secret of the spirit cafe “Extra” -The Real Exorcist- The Real Exorcist, A Town That Tells Spring Japanese Film Trailers

Happy weekend, everyone!

Haikyu Orange Uniform

I hope you are all feeling good.

This week it was announced Japan is due to ease the lockdown in prefectures least affected by Covid 19. After more than a month of closure, some cinemas will reopen. They are a mix of big chains like Toho Cinemas and Aeon Cinemas and, according to this article by Mark Schilling over at Variety, there are some independent cinemas, too. Looking at the cinema listing for Toho, the titles include recently released titles that were still being screened at the time they were closed like the latest Psycho-Pass movie, MidsommarAkira 4K , Katsuben and Ossan’s Love Love or Dead (which is massively popular) and some others like The Wizard of Oz.

The reopening comes with caveats such as hand sanitiser and plastic screens to limit interactions between staff and customers and spacing assigned seats to maintain social distancing. One Twitter user, @garamanhall, gave an image of what a concert with social distancing will look like:

So you can imagine a cinema screening might be similar – a seat free either side and the row in front and behind free…

Since Covid 19 is here to stay until a vaccine is developed, it is reasonable to say that this will be the standard operating procedure of festivals for the foreseeable future. At least we can go and see Tenet on the big screen which opens in July.

Since cinemas are closed and I’ve been at home, I’ve watched lots of anime. This last fortnight I watched season four of Haikyu!! and re-watched Bakemonogatari and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind. I posted about the film’s Good-bye and On the Edge of Their Seats and interviewed the directors Aya Miyazaki and Hideo Jojo.

What new film is scheduled to be released this weekend?

Continue reading “The secret of the spirit cafe “Extra” -The Real Exorcist- The Real Exorcist, A Town That Tells Spring Japanese Film Trailers”

Interview with On the Edge of Their Seats Director Hideo Jojo [OAFF 2020] (Japanese and English Text)

Some cursory research into the career of Hideo Jojo will turn up a whole slew of movies that ranging from pink films to V-Cinema. Jojo got his start in filmmaking by producing 8mm movies while studying at Musashino Art University before he entered the industry as assistant director on pink films. His directorial debut, Married Women Who Want a Taste (2003), won the Bronze Prize and New Director Award at the 2003 Pink Grand Prix. To date, he has written and directed over 100 works and won awards and fans in Japan and internationally. His career is as varied as it gets and recent titles include the screenplay for Neko Zamurai (2014), directing the horror movie Corpse Prison (2017) and even a Gachi-ban movie (2008). With such variety, it stands to reason that he would be able to direct a charming youth drama based on a stage play.

On the Edge of their Seats is based on an award-winning stage play created by a theater group from a high school in Hyogo Prefecture. It takes place during a hot summer’s day at a baseball match between high school teams in a tournament that leads to a final played at Koshien Stadium. Being able to play at Koshien in the final is a big dream for all high school baseball players in Japan and it often comes up in films. However, it’s not so much the drama happening on the field of dreams that is the concern of the film but what is going on with five characters in the stands as they work out some dramas that have occurred in their final year of high school. As they interact, they reveal some of their feelings and help each other learn to look at life more positively. The film is a real charmer built around some lovely characters and brought to life by a charismatic cast who are perfectly guided by Jojo’s sharp direction.

Hideo Jojo participated in an interview at the Osaka Asian Film Festival where the film received its world premiere. The interview was conducted with help from the interpreter Keiko Matsushita while the translation was made with the help of the interpreter Takako Pockington.

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On the Edge of Their Seats アルプススタンドのはしの方 Dir: Hideo Jojo (2020) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020]

On the Edge of Their Seats    On the Edge of Their Seats Film Poster

アルプススタンドのはしの方Arupusu sutando no hashi no hou

Release Date: June 19th, 2020

Duration: 89 mins.

Director: Hideo Jojo

Writer: Tetsuya Okumura (Script), Hiroaki Yabu Hyogo Prefectural Higashiharima High School Drama Club (Original Stageplay)

Starring: Rina Ono, Amon Hirai, Marin Nishimoto, Shuri Nakamura, Rikki Metsugi,

OAFF Website

Journeyman director Hideo Jojo has made everything from pink films to V-Cinema so finding him at the helm an earnest high school drama full of fresh-faced teens shouldn’t be a surprise. On the Edge of Their Seats is a meticulously made movie that, at 75 minutes, flies by with sharp dialogue and performances allowing audiences to get to know the disappointments and desires of a selection of high school students watching a baseball game.

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Interview with “Good-bye” Director Aya Miyazaki at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020

The life of twenty-something woman Sakura (rising star Mayuko Fukuda) changes when she quits her office position and takes a job at a nursery. This impulsive decision puts her in the orbit of a girl named Ai whose father, Shindo (Kohei Ikeue), seems to be struggling to raise her without her mother around. Again listening to her inner impulses, Sakura gets involved with the two as she subconsciously works through various feelings related to her own fractured family. Little does she realize that this process will lead to the reconfiguriation of her relationship with her parents.

A minimalist psychological piece, Good-Bye is the third film from director Aya Miyazaki and it received its world premiere in the Indie Forum section of the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020. One of the youngest directors at the festival, Miyazaki only started making films while studying at Waseda University where she learned under the supervision of Hirokazu Kore-eda and Tamaki Tsuchida. She currently works for a movie company but took time to appear at OAFF to introduce and discuss her latest film.

The interview was conducted with help from the interpreter Keiko Matsushita while the translation was made with the help of the interpreter Takako Pockington.

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