Kamata Prelude is the brainchild of Urara Matsubayashi (lead actress in The Hungry Lion) who produced as well as took a lead role. She gives a portrayal of a struggling actress named Machiko who lives in the Kamata area of Tokyo. A four-part omnibus film, each section revolves around her in some way and aims to depict what it means to be a “woman” and an “actress” in society, but they are done in the unique style of each of the four directors.
Two of the directors are guys you may have heard of if you follow film festivals. Book-ending the film are Ryutaro Nakamura, whose works like Plastic Love Story and Silent Rain are full of lyrical imagery, and Hirobumi Watanabe, who has built a filmography based on his stories all being set in his native Tochigi prefecture and shot with distinct monochrome visuals while being shot-through with dry humour. The newer directors are two young women, Yuka Yasukawa, one of a number of emerging talents tapped to helm a section in the omnibus film 21st Century Girl, and Mayu Akiyama, whose debut work, Rent a Friend, won the MOOSIC LAB Grand Prix and was screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival 2018.
While Watanabe and Nakamura made sections that are delightful reveries about life and a love of movies/culture (albeit, tinged with melancholy in Nakamura’s case), Yasukawa and Akiyama provided subjects that feel more keyed in to the thorny issues of life as a young woman. Yuka Yasukawa gives a #MeToo story wherein Machiko goes to a casting call and finds herself facing a grossly exploitative panel of guys alongside a defiant fellow actress played by Kumi Takiuchi (It Feels So Good, Greatful Dead). Meanwhile, Akiyama’s section felt like a realistic depiction of a get-together of girls wherein false masks and the anxieties that women bear in society are exposed in an onsen in Kamata. This section is full of great actresses who are making waves in the entertainment world like Mayuko Fukuda (Good-Bye) and an especially acerbic Sairi Ito (Love & Other Cults).
Sat with Matsubayashi and Akiyama at a rooftop bar, I enjoyed a lively talk with two intelligent and resourceful creatives who I felt would be making big things in the future. Their film is a refreshingly hip and contemporary set of stories where its unique approach to style and subject-matter rendered their address of important issues enjoyable, nuanced, and relevant for our age.
This interview was done at the festival and via email with their help and the invaluable help of Takako Pocklington who translated and added some interesting comments.
Jason: Thank you very much for doing this interview. I enjoyed watching the film. It has a fresh feeling due to it being shot in different styles by different directors. Making an omnibus film like this is an interesting set up. So, my first question is why did you create this project?
Urara Matsubayashi: I have been acting for seven to eight years but haven’t been so successful. I’d been contemplating myself and my situation and I thought I need to have a more positive stance as an actress, I should not just wait to be offered roles, I should also be expressing myself. That was my initial motive for doing this project, then I started to plan this project and scouted directors.
You worked with directors who have very different styles, why did you select them?
Matsubayashi: I was a fan of them so I just said to them, “Shall we make a film together?” without much consideration.
You were telling a young woman’s story. Often times it’s usually men interpreting women’s stories but with this film you have two men and two women. Was it always your intention to have two men and two women?
Matsubayashi: I didn’t have any intention to do that. There were three female directors and a male director to start with but due to various reasons, we ended up having two men and two women.
Did you give directors complete freedom to write and shoot what they wanted?
Matsubayashi: I presented them with the basic theme of an actress named Machiko and the location of the story, which would be in my home town of Kamata. I asked them to depict Machiko’s life, different aspects of her personality, her surroundings and the life of people related to her.
[To Mayu Akiyama] Your section is very interesting. You had a collection of really good actresses. Could you talk about what you wanted to achieve with your section?
Mayu Akiyama: Yes, the theme of my section is “Joshikai”(girls’ party), where Machiko has a reunion with her high school friends. They have all grown up and have different lives but their old relationship still occasionally lingers among them. It is a story about five women, who have a twisted relationship and go to a hot spa in Kamata together. Their relationship is a bit like a soap opera.
Could you talk about the writing and the rehearsal process?
Akiyama: I started the script with Machiko’s issues. Her occupation is an actress. People tend to see her occupation superficially and think she must be rich and her life must be very stylish. I depicted this with the dialogue. However, she is having trouble making a living by acting. She hasn’t had many casting opportunities or been paid much and she hides her situation. The rooftop party scene depicts the conversation and the real intentions of the characters which shift as they hide their inferiority complexes while casually boasting.
Then, the scenes at the hot spa, just as they take off their clothes and expose their naked bodies, they gradually reveal their true selves, their realities. There is only one person who doesn’t get in the bath though (Sairi Ito’s character, Hanna)
I had a rather tight schedule. I shot the film in two and a half days including rehearsal. The actors are all unique, so I trusted their acting and we improvised in each scene. The scene at the rooftop, they didn’t have much space to move around so I depended on their facial acting. The later scenes at the spa, I used the place fully to render their feelings. I just let them act as they are and managed to finish the shooting.
So that was the reason there was so much naturalism. Sairi Ito’s character was kind of scary. She takes no prisoners. She is very honest. In some ways, that is quite healthy, because she acts like the catalyst for change.
Akiyama: She played a character that is persistent from the beginning to the end.
Why did you want a #MeToo story and how was it created with Yuka Yasukawa. Were those real stories?
Matsubayashi: In the #MeToo part of the film, I asked director Yuka Yasukawa to expand a story based on my actual experience. I told her that it must include the audition scene. I feel that women who are judged by men like this work, and that women who are targeted for exploitation are depicted realistically in terms of [a situation between an] actress and director.
In working on the transcription, Takako pointed out that there is a connection to the Kinji Fukasaku film Fall Guy (蒲田行進曲) in the use of music. Had you seen the film before making Kamata Prelude and is the reference to it deliberate?
Matsubayashi: Yes, of course! I watched Fall Guy (蒲田行進曲) directed by Kinji Fukasaku. Machiko’s favorite movie is Fall Guy. In the opening scene of Mayu Akiyama’s section with the “Joshikai” (girls’ party), Machiko is singing the theme song for Fall Guy.
My final question is to you, Matsubayashi-san. You are known as an actress. Do you think you will go on to produce more films?
Matsubayashi: Ummm, I don’t know. I had lots of moments to realise how hard it is being a producer. However, I felt I achieved my aim, which was to broaden both my acting skills and my view by experiencing the role of a producer. I am very grateful to the people (who helped me). If I had an opportunity, I might want to do it again though…
I’ve already been offered the chance to produce my next project. I need to promote this one first, so it can be seen by lots of people???
I really enjoyed the film. It’s rich character study, we see Machiko from many different perspectives and understand her career and her concerns and, by extension, concerns of people in her generation. It’s very enjoyable being around all the characters. Thanks for making it.