An Email Interview with Hiroshi Gokan, Director of “Gotō-san” [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

The Osaka Asian Film Festival has a number of sidebars and one of the more exciting is dedicated to works supported by the Housen Cultural Foundation, a funding body that provides support to students at the graduate school level. It is here that you will get challenging, deeply personal, or experimental works from a new generation of voices. This year’s crop of titles were all particularly involving and unique. One film that really spoke to me was Gotō-san from writer/director Hiroshi Gokan which struck at the heart of the uncertainty of our age.

Gotō-san is the story of a young man who has chosen to pursue an unconventional life. The titular character, Gotō (Hirofumi Suzuki 鈴木浩文), lives and works in a 24-hour internet café in Tokyo. He seems to have struck the jackpot when it comes to leading a laidback lifestyle and he even gets into a romance with a fellow internet café resident, a young woman named Riko (Tomomi Fukikoshi 吹越ともみ). Beneath this quirky narrative, director Gokan subtly shows trouble brewing in the background with glimpses of a deteriorating jobs market and the Covid-19 pandemic rearing their head until they eventually turf Gotō out into the harsh reality of life. It’s a breath-takingly bleak series of unfortunate events that radically alter the narrative and causes our lead character’s lifestyle to unravel.

You can read my review here, but I felt that Hiroshi Gokan made an astute assessment of the fragility of society that worked because it used an offbeat set-up and characters to take in many socio-economic details without belabouring any points.

So, who is the director? Hiroshi Gokan earned a Master’s in directing at the Graduate School of FilmGoto-san_Gokan_portrait and New Media, Tokyo University of the Arts. Teto, his first feature and graduation project, starred Sakura Ando. His 2012 short Aohige was a co-production between Tokyo University of the Arts and Korean Academy of Film Arts. He has worked on making-of videos for directors such as Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Masayuki Suo and Shinobu Yaguchi. He generously participated in an email interview where he provided a lot of answers that revealed why he cast lead actors Hirofumi Suzuki and Tomomi Fukikoshi, how he created the space of the internet café, and also his stance on weaving real-life into his stories and the impact of Covid-19 on the production. 

This interview was done with the invaluable help of Takako Pocklington who translated between English and Japanese.

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Gotō-san ゴトーさん Dir: Hiroshi Gokan (2020) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

Gotō-san

ゴトーさん Gotō-san

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 77 mins.

Director: Hiroshi Gokan

Writer: Hiroshi Gokan (Script), 

Starring: Hirofumi Suzuki, Tomomi Fukikoshi, Seiichi Kohinata, Manaka Kinoshita, Sun Chi,

OAFF

Mild spoilers in this review

Don’t be fooled by the cute tone, Gotō-san is both dark and refreshingly substantive in its politics which it masks with off-beat characters and meet-cutes in a less-than-ordinary setting. To wit, director Hiroshi Gokan provides a deconstruction of our current capitalist climate wherein, due to factors such as economic liberalisation, cuts to welfare systems, casualisation of work, and certain so-called “efficiencies” such as My Number Cards added for control of identification, society can be quite inhospitable for those who fall off the employment treadmill. Indeed, a person can “disappear” and life can turn into a nightmare as the lead character, the titular Gotō-san finds out.

As travellers and the generally cash-strapped know, 24-hour internet cafes can be cheap and convenient places to stay. The best of them provide showers, a laundry service, a manga library, spacy-enough private booths with computers and the anonymity to live undisturbed for the price of a few thousand yen a day. This is where our titular character Gotō-san works as an assistant and also where he lives.

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