An Interview with Masashi Komura, Director of POP! [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

For the last few years, Osaka Asian Film Festival has been screening MOOSIC LAB films. These works are the result of the pairing together of up-and-coming directors, actors, actresses, and musical performers into a unit to create a movie. The final products are almost always idiosyncratic in some way since they are the results of the combined talents of whoever has been grouped together. This year’s entry was POP!, a quirky drama featuring dry comedy and existential angst. It plays on the unique combination of director Masashi Komura (小村昌士), lead actress Rina Ono (小野莉奈), and DJ/producer Aru-2.

Rina Ono takes the lead role of Rin Kashiwakura, a 19-year-old who is on the cusp of turning 20, the official age of becoming an adult. With the approach of such a momentous occasion in her life one would expect excitement but what she feels is frustration and confusion as she struggles to understand how she fits in with others and the world at large, and just what she wants to do. An early dream of becoming an actress has become side-tracked and she works part-time as an official mascot on a struggling local TV charity program and part-time at a remote mountainside car park where nothing much happens. An encounter with a mad bomber leaving explosive packages around town gives her some impetus to move forward.

This description may seem full of random elements but they are deliberate and filmed in such a way by Masashi Komura that they form a collage of situations that form the entry point into Rin’s existential crisis – nothing seems to join together story-wise, long sequences happen in empty locations, and scenes can be devoid of propulsive action and sound and time. At its centre is a strong yet reticent performance from Rina Ono who keeps our attention. Overlaying everything is the downtempo lo-fi musical tracks of of Aru-2. Its lazy beats, samples, and various audio imperfections are indicative of both what a person Rin’s age might listen to and also how she feels. When combined, at times, this experience is frustrating, tiring, and confusing but there is also a lot of humour and heart as Rin struggles to make sense of things. These myriad of emotions reminded me of what I felt in my own adolescence. In short, the film had successfully made me feel Rin’s existential crisis as she tries to pull herself out of her stagnant life and move forward like the adults around her. The final result is a truly unique film (my review).

I wasn’t the only one, it seems. The film won the Grand Prix and Rina Ono also nabbed the Best Actress Award at the MOOSIC LAB awards, thus showing that quality of the film. Director Masashi Komura kindly agreed to take part in an interview to explain how the different elements of the film match up and he furnished many interesting answers.

A relatively new filmmaker, Komura has worked on a number of projects including co-writing the screenplay for The Man Who Was Eaten, which was featured at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2016, writing and directing the 2017 film LEO, and appearing in Ken Ninomiya’s The Matsumoto Tribe (2017). Komura talked more about POP!, how the project came together, his inspirations, his approach to manipulating time, and working with Aru-2 and gifting his sound to audiences.

Masashi Komura, director of POP! at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021

This interview was done with the massive help of Takako Pocklington, who translated between English and Japanese to help bring director Komura’s answers to the page.

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Dong Teng Town ドンテンタウン (2020) Dir: Kouhei Inoue

Dong Teng Town    Dong Teng Town Film Poster

ドンテンタウン Donten Taun

Release Date: July 17th, 2020

Duration: 61 mins.

Director: Kouhei Inoue

Writer: Kouhei Inoue (Script),

Starring: Ryo Sato, Sho Kasamatsu, Ai Yamamoto, Ryui Ushio, Saki Iwasaki, Gantsu Morita, Ryo Anraku,

Website

Director Kohei Inoue’s Dong Teng Town netted the Actor Award for Sho Kasamatsu’s performance, and was the runner up for the MOOSIC LAB Grand Prix prize, which ultimately went to Sleeping Insect. His work is, nonetheless, strong, as it gives a dreamlike tale with lead performances full of poignancy that rises above a confused narrative of two lost souls communicating through time and space through cassette tapes as themes of absence and meetings, common in all of the MOOSIC LAB films, are played out quite nicely.

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My Lovely Days, Yuka-chan no Aishita Jidai ゆかちゃんの愛した時代  (2018) Dir: Yun Hayama

My Lovely DaysYuka-chan no Aishita Jidai Film Poster

ゆかちゃんの愛した時代 Yuka-chan no Aishita Jidai

Release Date: July 11th, 2020

Duration: 30 mins.

Director: Yun Hayama

Writer: Yun Hayama, Nishio Hiroshi (Script),

Starring: Yun Hayama, Keita Yamashina, Sayu Higashi, Marc Panther, Shiho Tanaka,

With the retirement of Emperor Akihito and the ascension of Crown Prince Naruhito to the Chrysanthemum throne, the transition from the Heisei era to the Reiwa era¹ sparked a lot of nostalgia in Japanese who looked back over the cultural shifts felt during the 80s and 90s. Yun Hayama indulges in the same thing and is clearly writing from experience with this film which is a flashback to the fun of the 90s.

It is April 30th, 2019, and the Heisei era will end in an hour. At one coffee shop in Osaka, Yuka Yukawa, a local talent born in 1989 (the first year of the Heisei era) is having a meeting with her manager Masao (Keita Yamashina). While Masao is pressuring her to do work (including, quite cynically, a film with an erotic scene), Yuka is more interested in talking about her memories of the Heisei era and as she talks her sweet and infectious desire for the Heisei era begins to overflow into the conversation.

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Tailwind 追い風 (2020) Dir: Ryo Anraku

Tailwind    Oi-kaze Film poster

追い風 Oikaze

Release Date: August 07th, 2020

Duration: 71 mins.

Director: Ryo Anraku

Writer: Ryo Katayama, Ryo Anraku (Script), 

Starring: DEG, Ryo Katayama, Ryo Anraku, Hyoma Shibata, Hiroki Sato, Ritsu Ootomu, Mebuki Yoshida,

Website

Winner of the Best Actor and Musician Award in the feature film category of MOOSIC LAB 2019, Tailwind was shot in just three months by up-and-coming indie film makers Ryo Katayama and Ryo Anraku. Their story is based upon shared real-life experience with their friend DEG, a hip-hop artist whose friendly persona and musical performance fits perfectly into both this youth drama and the MOOSIC LAB mantra of combining filmmakers and artists.

28-year-old Tokyo-based rapper DEG is struggling with his career and feeling frustrated. A decent rhyme-smith, his songs lack fire since the lyrics are inoffensive (and maybe even a little bland) to win listeners over and so he isn’t making any progress beyond friend’s parties and izakaya gigs. His affability on the mic is reflected off the stage as he masks his frustrations and disappointments behind his smile. Any inconvenience, insult, or disagreement from someone is met with a big grin and a laugh and so he is suffering on the inside while others advance their lives and move on without him, sometimes at his expense. However, with his frustrations mounting DEG’s smile begins to fade and his inner voice beings to emerge. When he is invited to a friend’s wedding which Hikari, the love of his life, will attend, he decides to use the event as the catalyst for him to realign his personal and professional personas and make his own tailwind and seize his own happiness. 

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Soul Music ソウル・ミュージック (2020) Dir: Masaki Soejima

Soul Music    Soul Music Film Poster

ソウル・ミュージック Souru Myu-jikku

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 30 mins.

Director: Masaki Soejima

Writer: Masaki Soejima (Script),

Starring: Teruyuki Oshima, Kazuaki Koyama, Yoshio Otani, Miki Aoyagi,

Website

Director Masaki Soejima is both a psychiatrist and filmmaker who combines the two to make a funny mockumentary in which a duo of bumbling middle-aged men make a supernatural song recording.

“Can you write a song with a ghost?” This is a request sent into a late-night radio show by an elementary schoolgirl. What she is doing up late at night listening to Teruyuki Oshima and Kazuaki Koyama, two musicians with laidback radio personalities is anyone’s guess but in the middle of a ratings slump, their producer sees her challenge as a chance to get a bump in listeners and so he sends his reluctant charges out into a haunted forest with a small crew to make music with a ghost.

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