An Interview with Satoko Yokohama, Director of “Ito” [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

While getting a World Premiere in the Competition section of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021 would be a sign of quality for director Satoko Yokohama and her film Ito, her work ended up taking two high-profile accolades at the event as judges awarded it the Grand Prix (Best Picture Award) and viewers selected it for the Audience Award. These wins are richly deserved as Ito laces a youth film and a heartfelt tribute to all-things Aomori around a charming central performance from rising actress Ren Komai (駒井蓮).

In the film, Komai plays Ito Soma, a high school girl who lives with her father (Etsushi Toyokawa – 豊川悦司) and maternal grandmother (Yoko Nishikawa – 西川洋子) in a small town just outside Hirosaki city, Aomori. Ito embodies various aspects of the local culture, from having a thick Tsugaru accent to an innate skill in playing the Tsugaru shamisen, an ability inherited from her late mother.  Alas, Ito refuses to practice and stays silent due to her embarrassment over her country roots and also her melancholy over never having known her mother. What puts the girl on the path of self-acceptance and self-expression is an unlikely job at a maid café where she meets a coterie of kind people who offer encouragement and get her to embrace her cultural and family heritage on her own terms. You can read my review here

The film is based on a novel by Osamu Koshigaya and while its Japanese title “Itomichi” was shortened to “Ito” for the international version, the story still communicates all of the charms of Aomori. It is the latest project from Satoko Yokohama (横浜聡子), a graduate of the Film School of Tokyo who independently produced her first feature German + Rain (2007) which won the Directors Guild of Japan Newcomer Award. Next came Bare Essence of Life (2009) and The Actor (2015) which have both been screened at international festivals. Both she and lead actress Ren Komai hail from Aomori Prefecture, the setting of the film and audiences will be able to detect their knowledge and closeness really brought out deep details and atmosphere.

Director Yokohama kindly took part in an interview where she talked about adapting the novel, working with Ren Komai to get a moving portrayal of the main character plus an impressive shamisen performance, and what it means to be a filmmaker from Aomori and returning there to shoot a film. 

Satoko Yokohama at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021 Satoko Yokohama at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021

This interview was done through the translation skills of Takako Pocklington and the film/festival staff who set everything up.

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Ito いとみち Director: Satoko Yokohama (2021) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

Ito    Itomichi Film Poster

いとみち Itomichi

Release Date: June 25th, 2021

Duration: 92 mins.

Director: Satoko Yokohama

Writer: Satoko Yokohama (Script), Osamu Koshigaya (Original Novel)

Starring: Ren Komai, Etsushi Toyokawa, Mei Kurokawa, Yoko Nishikawa, Mayuu Yokota, Ayumu Nakajima, Daimaou Kosaka, Shohei Uno,

Website IMDB OAFF

Winner of the Grand Prix and Audience Award at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021, Ito is the first solo feature film from director Satoko Yokohama since her 2015 drama The Actor. Her cinematic return, following a stint in TV, is an adaptation of the first of Osamu Koshigaya’s series of three youth novels that were serialised and published between 2011 to 2016. His novels find their setting in Aomori Prefecture, the birthplace of Yokohama and also of the film’s lead actress Ren Komai.

There must have been an attraction to working on a project that is so close to home and it feels as if their intimate knowledge of Aomori’s way of life helps make more unique and meaningful its heart-warming comedy drama about a teenage girl who finds her voice through maid cafes and shamisen.

Itomichi Film Ren Komai and Mei Kurokawa

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Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats 福福荘の福ちゃん (2014)

Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats      Fuku-chan of FukuFuku Flats Film Poster

Japanese Title: 福福荘の福ちゃん

Romaji: Fukufuku-sou no Fuku-chan

Release Date: November 08th, 2014

UK Release Date: July 13th, 2015

Film Distributor: Third Window Films

Running Time: 111 mins.

Director: Yosuke Fujita

Writer: Yosuke Fujita (Screenplay)

Starring: Miyuki Oshima, Asami Mizukawa, YosiYosi Arakawa, Kami Miraiwa, Yuuki Tokunaga, Mei Kurokawa, Maho Yamada, Takeshi Yamamoto, Kanji Furutachi,

Director Yosuke Fujita has taken nearly a decade to follow up his debut film, the marvellous low-key comedy Fine, Totally Fine (2008), with another feature film. In the time between the two he has been making short films (including the Cheer Girls entry in Quirky Guys & Gals) and a TV movie. Fujita also spent this time crafting the screenplay for Fuku-chan which, like his first film, is equally filled with eccentric and loveable characters’. Fujita’s inspiration for the film was the comedian Miyuki Oshima, a regular face on Japanese television, and he challenges her to take on the role of a guy with a fear of women who audiences will surely come to love.

Tatsuo Fukuda (Oshima) is a nice guy and has the nickname ‘Fuku-Chan’.

Fuku-chan (Miyuki Oshima)

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How Selfish I Am! (2013) 自分の事ばかりで情けなくなるよ

How Selfish I Am        How Selfish I Am Film Poster

Japanese: 自分の事ばかりで情けなくなる

Romaji: Jibun no Koto Bakaride Nasakenaku Naru Yo

Running Time: 106 mins.

Release Date: October 26th, 2013

Director: Daigo Matsui

Writer: Daigo Matsui (Screenplay), Sekaikan Ozaki (Original Work)

Starring: Maho Yamada, Sei Ando, Shunsuke Daito, Mei Kurokawa, Sekaikan Ozaki, Sosuke Ikematsu, Kaonashi Hasegawa, Taku Koizumu,  Yukiji Ogawa,

Website

How Selfish I Am is an episodic musical drama exploring the loves and travails of a group of people in Tokyo, all of whom are connected together by the music of the rock group CreepHyp. A glib comparison might be Short Cuts by Raymond Carver/Robert Altman on a smaller scale with a post-rock soundtrack but just as much darkness and more visual and aural dazzle.

The film is the culmination of a long collaboration between How Selfish I Am Sekaikan Ozakifilmmaker Daigo Matsui and the band CreepHyp, this is the final result of a series music videos made over the last few years¹ based on a story originally conceived by CreepHyp’s frontman, Sekaikan Ozaki. The episodic nature of the original music videos is carried over to a feature film format and expanded upon as it draws everything together into a final product which acts a musical showcase for the band, a creative director, and a strong ensemble cast.

The film is told over the course of a few years and from multiple perspectives split between two girls and two guys, all of whom are scudding along the bottom of the Tokyo social scene.How Selfish I Am Kumiko Ando 2

We start off with Kumiko (Ando), a lonely girl working at a cosplay bar/brothel who pines after her ex-boyfriend (Onoue).

How Selfish I Am YamadaKumiko is followed by Mie (Yamada), a mousy, introverted and put-upon office lady who adores CreeHyp, and has a Twitter addiction (@mieephyp0819 – yes, I write down Twitter handles in films) and a ticket to CreepHyp’s concert which she may miss because of problems at work.

How Selfish I Am DaitohTsuda (Daito), the guy collecting tickets at the concert, is undergoing something of a meltdown as his beloved pop idol is about to retire.

The final, and longest sequence, involves a young homeless man named Rikuo (Ikematsu) who lives in two vans with a young woman (Kurokawa) who, due to a trauma in her past that has damaged her, refuses to speak.

How Selfish I Am Kurokawa and Ikematsu

The four stories weave together to create a sometimes funny but mostly tragic series of tales demonstrating the bleaker side of the Tokyo dream, all loneliness, frustration and desperation.

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