Tetsuki Ijichi is a veteran in the international film industry, having worked as a, assistant director, producer, projectionist, publicist, and sales rep (amongst many other things) in Japan since the 80s. Now based in Philadelphia, USA, he is using his experiences to bring Japanese films stateside as the president of Tidepoint Pictures – Don’t Look Up (1996), Noriko’s Dinner Table (2005) and Uzumaki (2000) – Rain Trail Pictures – Videophobia (2020), Lovers on Borders (2018). I now have the chance to interview him but not for his important contribution as a film distributor but as a director in his own right as his short film, Laundromat on the Corner (2020) is available to stream on FilmDoo.
Laundromat on the Corner is a supernatural romance that effectively mixes Eastern and Western culture together for a film that could be said to be a modern twist on Ugetsu Monogatari (1953). The film, set in working-class Philadelphia, follows Josh (Eric Slodysko) a deep-in-debt down-on-his-luck desperate divorcee eager to escape his miserable situation as a put-upon home helper to a terminally-ill lady named Mary (Joanne Joella) and her daughter Beth (Heather Blank). Respite comes in the form of Ming (Stephanie Pham), a woman in a white dress who catches the eye of Josh at a laundromat he starts to use. Of course, there is more to Ming than meets the eye and it isn’t long before Josh finds the borders between life and death collapsing…
Having had the chance to review the film, I was eager to ask Tetsuki some questions relating to the making of it, his influences (a fellow horror film fan!) and his experiences of working in Japan and America!
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.
I believe this is your first feature.
Yes, it is. This is my directorial debut short. But, I’ve worked as a producer for Carnival in the Night (1981), Pig Chicken Suicide (1981) and Zazie (1989) as well as directing an 8mm student silent movie, Kuhaku no Akuma 空白の悪魔, in the late 70’s.
When watching this film and considering the supernatural relationship at the heart of the story, the closest antecedents I found were A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) and, much more closely, Ugetsu Monogatari (1953) due to the latter film’s investment in showing social milieu. This seems like something you emphasised on your short Laundromat on the Corner, your directorial debut.
Thank you for seeing Mizoguchi’s influence in my short. I especially love Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu. It’s a haunting love story between a couple. But, I didn’t bring such a social comment in the short film. I want to address social issues in the feature version.
How did you come up with the story and what influences did you and your writers have?
My concept of the story was an Asian ghost story combined with a boy-meets-girl set-up in Philly. For influences, besides Ugetsu, A Chinese Ghost Story and the Japanese remake called Botan Doro, The Peony Lantern (1968), inspired me.
I met a Taiwanese filmmaker and we wrote a synopsis based on my idea. Then I worked with a writer who is a native speaker and she rewrote the script more than five times under my direction. Then, I finalized the screenplay with a script doctor.
Can you describe the Philadelphia film scene and how you adapted from working in Japan to working in America?
I feel Philly is still an underdog to New York city. Some of movie crew commute to work in New York, because there isn’t enough film production in Philly. However, there are so many historical and hidden stories in Philly. M. Night Shyamalan, a Philadelphian, has presented such an atmosphere and spookiness in Philly in his horror/thriller genre films.
Regarding the transition and adaptation between Japan and the US, my film distribution career in Japan helped me to work as a sales rep and distributor in the US, as well. When I was in Tokyo, I worked for a New York-based film company and was responsible for the Japanese release of American films like Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense (1984) and Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It (1986). I feel comfortable with working in the US.
In terms of shooting the Laundromat on the Corner, how was it directing your first film? How long was production and what was the budget and what experiences in your life did you find most useful for the role?
The budget was $19,000 including marketing. The shooting schedule was 7 days. I thought that was enough time to make a 20 minute movie. Before shooting the movie, I was concerned about communications with the D.P. as well as actors on the set. Before pre-production started, I had a chance to visit Tokyo and asked film director friends such as Shunsuke Kaneko (Death Note, 90s Gamera movies) and Kaizo Hayashi (To Sleep So as to Dream) about how to direct actors. The directors suggested to just let actors perform with their instinct. One thing I worked hard on was to create a storyboard so that the crew could understand my vision.
Was there anything you had to cut from your story? If you had a bigger budget, would you have used more on something like special effects?
I modified and deleted a few scenes from the original shooting script because of resources and budget. If we would have had a bigger budget, I might have spent it on more special effects and added a couple of new scenes, for instance, a scene of Mary drowned in a bathtub as well as an ambulance with its red lights flashing in front of Beth & Mary’s house. Also, I had a scene where Josh was in an old library’s room to research the archived news on a computer.
Can you talk a little about working with the actors? Were they local to Philadelphia and how did you work with them on their roles? Were there rehearsals or lots of ad libbing?
It was my first time to work with professional actors in an English-speaking environment. I was anxious to prepare to direct all of the scenes before shooting. But, everything went smoother than I thought.
I wanted to make a Philadelphia film project with locations, casting and staffing all done locally, because I am living in and getting know more about Philly. I auditioned and cast local actors. My rehearsal schedule was just one day. The cast was great working with the script. I was glad because the movie is a sort of theatrical stage drama combined with Kabuki elements. The movie’s theme music score is based on Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess and it added haunting and melodramatic moments. I especially thrilled to find a Philadelphia-based Chinese Erhu player to perform it.
This film is a mixture of East meets West. What are your favourite ghost stories and horror films from Asia both regions?
My favourite horror films, especially with ghost or being from another world is Ugetsu by Kenji Mizoguchi, Peony Lantern by Satsuo Yamamoto, The Discarnates (Ijin tachi no Natsu) (1988) by Nobuhiko Obayashi, Let Me In (2010) by Matt Reeves, Let the Right One In (2008) by Tomas Alfredson, The Shape of Water (2017) by Guillermo del Toro and Dracula (1992) by F. Ford Coppola. I’ve always loved such a horror movie because there is a haunting love story.
Laundromat on the Corner is available to watch on FilmDoo
Images from FilmDoo, Greater Philadelphia Film Office, FilmFreeway