An Interview with Azusa Hieda, Director of Summer Wedding [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

Azusa Hieda Landscape Shot

Azusa Hieda’a short film Summer Wedding received its World Premiere at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022 where it was one of the few films to directly use the Covid-19 in its narrative. In her work, writer/director Hieda utilised social isolation during the pandemic to offer a space for two lovers, a bride (Rika Kurosawa) and her groom (Daiki Nunami), to change their lives in unexpected ways. Between a strong set and acting that carried emotions undercutting what should have been a happy event, audiences are able to read between the lines and experience a story rich in contrasting emotions.

A graduate of the Department of Broadcast Film Studies of Visual Arts Osaka, Hieda has worked on one short, Fuyu no Aka and a number of trailers. To explain more about her latest work, she took part in an email interview in Japanese and English. This was done with translation by Takako Pocklington.

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An Interview with Tetsuki Ijichi, Director of “Laundromat on the Corner” (2020)

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 PicturesVideophobia (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!

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An Interview with Mai Nakanishi about Her Horror Short “SWALLOW”

As a horror film fan, Mai Nakanishi is talking my language. When I first saw HANA at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019, it stood out to me as an expertly crafted minimalist horror film given depth by having a subtext about motherhood and career pressure. When news of her latest film came to me, I was very much excited at the prospect of seeing more of her work and that work is… SWALLOW

SWALLOW is Nakanishi’s sophomore short film where the rivalry between two actresses culminates in them attending a banquet which one believes holds the promise of providing food that can sustain her youth. Underneath a bit of body horror lies a satire of our beauty-obsessed world which drives women to pursue youth and good looks at any cost. Expertly shot, this Taiwan-set film features an exquisite horror atmosphere of lavish sets drenched in red and a gripping short character study brought to life by excellent dialogue and performances. 

Mai_picThis is just the next step for Nakanishi who has worked in various roles, including as an assistant director for Eric Khoo and as a producer on the Japanese segments for the horror anthology ABCs of DEATH 2. Most tellingly, she is a founder and director of Scream Queen FilmFest Tokyo, an event which champions horror movies from a female perspective.

In the run-up to SWALLOW playing at forthcoming Skip City D-Cinema Festival, both online (July 21 – 27) and also on site (Convention Hall – 7/18, 13:50 – and the Audio Visual Hall – 7/22, 11:0o), as well as playing online at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (July 07-17). She generously allowed me the chance to watch her latest work and interview her about her fascination with horror, life after HANA, and the making of SWALLOW in Taiwan during Covid conditions, and much more.


Thanks for allowing me to watch SWALLOW”. I was really impressed by HANA– congratulations on Hanawinning the Goule D’or Directors Award at the 2019 Portland Horror Film Festival and Best Short Film at the 2018 Monsters of Film in Sweden! – and I was intrigued to find out where your career would go next, especially because I am also a fan of horror films. SWALLOWis your second work and it has won an award already at the Tampere Film Festival 2022 where it won a Special Mention in the Generation XYZ competition – so congratulations go out for that, too!

I’m grateful to get the chance to interview you and have a number of questions.

Looking at your career, horror films are your chosen metier. What inspired you to become a filmmaker and why focus on horror movies?

I actually started my career in film business with experiences ranging from marketing, programming and acquisitions of films for pay-TV broadcaster and international sales and acquisitions for film distribution companies. I’ve only been involved in filmmaking since 2013, where I had the opportunities to work with international genre stalwarts as a producer, assistant director and assistant production designer and before I knew it, I was directing “HANA”.

I’ve been a huge of fan of the horror genre since I was small. There are many great horror films containing hidden subtext and relevant social commentary beneath the thrills and scares which fascinate me.

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An Interview with Akinori Ikuse, Director of Out of Tokyo 202x [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

 

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A mood of optimism radiates from Akinori Ikuse’s 14-minute short, Out of TOKYO 202x, a time travel movie where two people from the future, Rika (Ucyu Imagawa) and Shin (So Morozumi), spend time together after meeting on the grounds of the Tokyo Olympic stadium. Their shared experience is both romantic and hopeful as they get swept up in the cheer and the happiness of an event that was surrounded by controversy given the Covid-19 pandemic. Benefiting from actually being shot on location, Ikuse brings viewers the sight of crowds of onlookers as well as special events like a fly-past by Japan’s Blue Impulse aerial acrobatics team. Beyond this, he manipulates the look and sound of the film to vibrantly convey the intense atmosphere of the occasion.

Ikuse took part in an interview where he explained the making of the film, his filmic inspirations, and what it was like to shoot on location at such a historic moment. This interview was conducted with the help of staff at the Osaka Asian Film Festival and via the invaluable translation of Takako Pocklington.

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An Interview with Yuko Watanabe, Director of BOY SPROUTED [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

 

Boy Sprouted depicts the battle of wills unfolds between a boy (Seitaro Hara) who dislikes tomatoes and his mother (Kanako Higashi) who is determined to make him eat them. Director Yuko Watanabe takes this everyday scenario and channels the boy’s aversion into a fairy tale nightmare aesthetic that is visually arresting and makes the film’s tone hover on the border between horror and bathos. The story itself comes from a Japanese AI named “Furukoto”, a bot that uses a neural network to create a story long enough to make a 30-minute short.

The film had its world premiere at Osaka Asian Film Festival (OAFF) 2022 and can currently be streamed online globally as part of Short Shorts Film Festival and Asia.

Yuko Watanabe took part in an interview where she went in depth into her background as well as the background of the film, explained her experience of working with an AI and a child cast, her ideas for the visuals, and influences in creating such a distinctive and enjoyable work. This interview was done thanks to the dedicated work of OAFF staff, the film’s producer Ryohei Tsutsui, and translator Takako Pocklington.

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An Interview with Daisuke Miyazaki, Director of NORTH SHINJUKU 2055 [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

ID07_North Shinjuku 2055_director

North Shinjuku 2055 is the latest film by Daisuke Miyazaki, one of the directors who regularly attends Osaka Asian Film Festival with his youth-focused works with Yamato (California) (2016), Tourism (2018), and Videophobia (2020) being screened in the past. His latest film is a sci-fi short that lets audiences listen in on an interview between an investigative journalist (Tatsuya Nagayama) and a North Shinjuku kingpin given the moniker K (played by the rapper GAMI) as they discuss the history of the titular district.

On paper, watching a conversation might sound boring but the film’s experimental style is surprising and impressive. It really sparks the imagination as images are relayed almost entirely through still images à la Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962) and accompanying sounds consist of the musicality of the voices of the two talkers and also a myriad of street noises that create a strong urban atmosphere. Beyond this shot of originality is a depth to the vision as it extrapolates the history of the area and broader current-day social issues that affect it and imagines how they have developed by the year 2055.

Thanks to the invaluable efforts of translator Takako Pocklington, Miyazaki kindly took part in an email interview wherein he talked about capturing photographs and working with his two actors, to bring to life a unique sci-fi short.

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An Interview with M Haris Sheikh, Director of HOWLING [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

Howling (review) is a blackly-comic neo-noir from M Haris Sheikh who subverts the genre by creating a collection of characters defined by desperation, cowardice, and disappointment rather than the expected avarice and lust.

We follow a motley bunch of no-hopers living lives based on lies they tell others to cover their miserable situations. They are led by a very flawed 40-year-old unemployed guy named Ryuji Tanoue (Ichiro Hashimoto) who is in desperate straits and equally desperate to be a hero which leads to him being a bit of a fantasist. Their number includes a housewife named Chisato (Sanae Kotani) and a 20-year-old student named Akane (Yukino Takahashi), two women who fulfil the role of femme fatales who manipulate a woefully underprepared and cowardly main protagonist into a situation requiring him to kill people. Alas, what Ryuji thinks will be easy become increasingly dangerous and blackly comic due to a serious case of sophistry blinds that him to his personal failings. For all of their flaws, the characters never lose our interest or investment in their quest to escape their situations as they are multifaceted and capable of change, but will change come in time for everyone? Viewers will find themselves gripped by the twists and turns until the film reaches its jaw-dropper of a finale which will leave viewers shocked and laughing.

Thanks to the help of festival staff, members of M Haris Sheikh’s team and the translation services of Takako Pocklington, I was able to interview the director on his singular vision.

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An Interview with Yusaku Matsumoto, Director of BAGMATI RIVER [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

B-River-Yusaku-Matsumoto

Bagmati River received its world premiere at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022. It is the latest work from director Yusaku Matsumoto, a talent who broke onto the international film scene with Noise (2017), a drama set in Akihabara and based on a stabbing incident. It focused on the travails of working-class kids and their families to show how such a thing could happen. Matsumoto’s latest work turned out to be quite a departure from what audiences might associate him with as he takes them to Nepal in the company of rising actress Junko Abe of Still the Water (2014) who plays a young woman seeking to confront the disappearance of her brother in the mountains. Also backing up Matsumoto in this Nepal-set film was Kentaro Kishi (Hammock, The Sower), a cinematographer and actor (amongst other things) who worked on and appeared in Noise.

In order to get some background on the film, I interviewed Matsumoto via email thanks to the help of festival staff and through the translation services of Takako Pocklington.

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An Interview with Mayu Nakamura, Director of Among Four of Us [OAFF 2021/JAPAN CUTS 2021]

Mayu Nakamura’s film Among Four of Us may only last 20 minutes but it makes a deep impact. A conversation piece involving three friends reuniting during the COVID-19 pandemic, it focuses on their fractious interpersonal history from college drama club and a mercurial fourth figure who had a major impact on them. As they catch up, wistful memories mix together with regrets and admissions of betrayal to end on an overwhelming note of melancholy. It is a mature and delicate work that, thanks to Nakamura’s writing and a trio of tight performances, is suffused with meaning. Made during the COVID-19 pandemic, it cleverly weaves the atmosphere and restrictions of the time into the narrative to create a sympathetic and very dramatic film. Nakamura’s background shows why.

A filmmaker who earned an MFA from the Graduate Film Program at New York University, Nakamura has made documentaries and features for both film and TV. Her debut feature, The Summer of Stickleback (2006), premiered in competition at the Busan International Film Festival while her documentary Lonely Swallows–Living as the Children of Migrant Workers (2012) won the Grand Prix in Documentary Features at the Brazilian Film Festival. One long-term project she is working on is the documentary Alone in Fukushima which tracks a man who remained behind in a small town to look after cattle located in a nuclear no-man’s land.

Nakamura kindly took the time out of her busy schedule to take part in an interview where she explained the origins of the story, her influences, and how she and a small cast and crew filmed it. This interview was originally connected to the screening of the film as part of the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021, where it won the Japan Cuts Award Special Mention. Its posting coincides with its streaming availability as part of JAPAN CUTS. My thanks go out to the filmmaker and the organizers who made this conversation happen.

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An Interview with Kazuya Shiraishi, Director of “Last of the Wolves” [New York Asian Film Festival 2021]

All bets were off with Last of the Wolves. It was the highly anticipated sequel to The Blood of Wolves, a gangster epic that was a throwback to Kinji Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honor and Humanity series what with its yakuza politics, police corruption, and fearless depiction of brutal violence. This crime world is based on the critically-acclaimed novels of Yuko Yuzuki so there is a lot of material to work with but with a number of major characters dead or locked up in the slammer, just where would the sequel go? To the younger generation as yakuza wars heated up in Hiroshima Prefecture!

Blood of the Wolves Level 2

This is the latest work by Kazuya Shiraishi (The Devil’s PathTwisted JusticeOne NightDawn of the Felines). He has a knack for filming edge-of-your-seat crime thrillers and Last of the Wolves managed to do justice to the first film and take things to the very next level thanks to two intensely physical performances, one from the intimidating presence of Ryohei Suzuki who plays a murderous yakuza thug, the other from Tori Matsuzaka who is wilier than a fox as a cop dodging death while double-dealing with gangsters. Director Kazuya Shiraishi explained more about the film, what drew him into the project, the talents that Suzuki and Matsuzaka have, and more in this interview done as part of the New York Asian Film Festival 2021.

Image taken from: https://news.yahoo.co.jp/byline/nakanishimasao/20191030-00148849

This interview was done with the help of Takako Pocklington, who translated my questions, Koichi Mori of the New York Asian Film Festival, who set up the interview and translated the answers, and also the film festival staff who pulled off an excellet NYAFF 2021! Many thanks go out to them and, of course, to Kazuya Shiraishi who participated!

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