Please tell us about your background. What made you fall in love with cinema? How did you become interested in filmmaking and what did you work on before making The Love Reminder of Invisible Light?
From my late teens to early twenties, that means while I was preparing for the college entrance exams and as a college student. I was influenced by monochromatic films, “Tokyo Story” directed by Ozu Yasujiro, “Shadows”& ”Faces” directed by John Cassavetes, “ À bout de souffle” directed by Jean-Luc Godard, and “Otto e mezzo” directed by Federico Fellini. I went to movie small theaters all night and watched those movies in Kyoto, that is my happiest time and preparation time for making films. I know filmmaking is much more difficult than just watching movies, so I always say to myself “OK, you can be an audience anytime, so you can just do the things you can do now”.
Well, I didn’t expect that when I study abroad in the United States, I would be interested in dealing with words rather than filmmaking, for example, literature, novels, and poets. I just wanted to learn about British and American literature for study abroad in the United States, then another purpose is to expand my possibilities in my life. I already spent 2 years preparing for college entrance exams, I felt like I stepped off an ordinary life course, I felt bored to get a job soon after I graduate college. So, I picked an old American culture called “New Orleans”. But I planned to stay only a month & a half in New York City during summer vacation. Because they had a “Summer Intensive Filmmaking Class” at New York University.
I fell in love with filmmaking immediately from the experience of the summer class in N.Y.U. Yes, it is exactly my first impression to me. It was real art, not only from the textbook, I learned about filmmaking involving all factors of the arts with experience in physical work. I still remember clearly the deep impression when I saw the 8 mm film which I made. I discovered a totally new world in it, that is like touching the strings making sounds of guitar, so amazing. It is kind of difficult to say, but I felt like I gained both recording & creativity. It needs a huge amount of skill to communicate with people. Throughout the class, the teacher taught us how to write script, shoot, edit and screen extensively.
When I came back to Japan from the U.S., I asked myself “Will I stay in the U.S. and make movies in Hollywood or go back to Japan to make movies for the movie industry in Japan?”. I chose Japan, because I love Japanese movies the best. I still don’t know if it was the right decision or not, because I had to leave my girlfriend in the U.S., moreover I had to work in a very prejudiced Japanese movie industry even though I didn’t know it.
Anyway, it doesn’t mean I could enter the movie industry soon after I come back to Japan, because I’m always making detours in my life. After I wrote the bachelor thesis about John Cassavetes and graduated from college, I went to film school in Osaka for a year. To tell the truth, I failed all recruitment exams and interviews in the media industry because the job market was so bleak. I was hired by the patent office through personal connection with my parents. Finally, I refused it too, so I entered film school. It was the same reason when I went back to Japan, “it is not fun to start work now, it might be not bad to start studying in the film school as the 1st graduates.
In the film school in Osaka, I learned from director Kazuyuki Izutsu. He invited professional cameramen and sound operators for his class, we learned practical dialogue and shooting. I made my first companies for making films together. Some of them went to Tokyo and started to help with his work. On the other hand, I made a movie by myself, then I took a feature movie, because I thought I could debut as a professional movie director by movie award simply. I was just 25 years old, young and fell in love with filmmaking. However, the movie “B Story” was failed and not evaluated by almost movie festival even I spent to make it for 3 years.
After that my career, I spent time learning acting in my late twenties. Swing by & swing by is my life, not bad the experiences because it became useful in my life. I love John Cassavetes and his movies, I was interested in acting. And I looked for my actor friends, the actors in my movie “B Story” learned method acting. I took the class by myself, it was amazing. The class’s teacher was Miyuki Hirano, who is Zen Hirano 's wife, member of New York Actors Studio.
I’ve learned acting for 3 years in the community. I learned and lived in the acting studio at the foot of Mount Fuji as the 1st graduate student for the last 6 months. The conclusion from my experience, “Acting is fun and interesting, but I really wanted to make films.” Then I started to shoot movies with my friends who I encountered in the community. I made the movie wholeheartedly “Knock the door for 4 times”, I believed that it should have won a movie award, but it failed again. I came up against a brick wall again in my thirties.
That brick was huge, I thought about stopping to make films, but I still tried to get a chance to come to Tokyo. I felt it was too early to give up everything at thirty. But I found that almost all my friends were promoted to higher positions. It was too late to start my career, especially the strict hierarchy by seniority in Japan. I didn’t feel the “free atmosphere” in the U.S. before, I left the commercial movie industry within a year.
It took 10 years to keep going on, I am sorry that I still couldn’t shoot theatrical movies yet, but my movies have been spread all over the world with English subtitles. I feel the “free atmosphere” I felt in the U.S. coming from overseas eventually.
“The Love Reminder of Invisible Light” describes an earthquake. The great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in my school days and I also experienced The Great East Japan Earthquake too. The largest disaster was an earthquake to our generation which never experienced real war in real life. I imagined it might be a big scale movie, but I should challenge it this time, because I took short movies for a long time before, so I spent 5 years brushing for the scrip.
Which filmmakers influenced you and your filmmaking? Which films have affected you the most?
As I already mentioned, I am absolutely influenced by John Cassavetes. In his movies, actors and actresses didn’t play the normal method, but those characters in his movies are ordinary people and very realistic, sometimes eccentrics, but it might be very American eccentrics. If anything, Japan is a restrained country, ruled by manners and morals, so I loved those eccentricities. And I have to say more about two movie directors, firstly Philippe Garrel, secondly Bernardo Bertolucci. I know I couldn't hold a candle to them, but exactly their movies inspired my movie. For example, Carrel’s frank way and Bertolucci’s light & shadow.
What are the themes/issues you try to reflect in your films? What, in your opinion, is the most important quality of a film?
As for me, what is most important in my film is “Humanity”, it is like warmness that touches the heart even in very cruel & violent realistic scenes, some people said to me that my film has some kind of humanity. It depends on my background more than themes.
However, the most important thing in movies is “Scenery”, I might say that “People” is most important a while ago, but I noticed that it is too narrow to describe only humans. We can describe light, nature, documentary by camera, and we can use the concept of time to make movies. I think that is the most important and unique role in a movie.
Where did the idea for the film come from? What made you want to set the story around The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake? Was it something from your own experiences?
Firstly, I thought I would make “Soup Opera”. But it is very peaceful in Japan, not at war now. I mean not a dramatic situation for soup opera. So, what is a dramatic situation is a natural disaster, I mean earthquake. I couldn’t skip my experience of The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995 and The Great East of Japan Earthquake in 2011. Fortunately, I didn’t get serious damage from those disasters, my family and friends survived it. But I found many house buildings were destroyed, many people died, TV news reported so many victims continuously. I felt powerless because I couldn't do anything like an observer, but it has been years now, I can contribute a little by making a movie about it.
Please tell us about the production and your experiences of making The Love Reminder of Invisible Light. What are some of the challenges and difficulties you faced?
I had planned to start shooting from 2020, because it has been just 10 years since The Great East Japan Earthquake. I spent 5 years preparing the script, so I wanted a commercial movie. But I was still working for independent film, so I made up my mind making it by myself.
Firstly, I felt some possibility about this movie, I encountered the actors in the workshop in 2019. I needed 2 male and 2 female as main characters, I found 2 actors & 1 actress, so a total of 3, but it was very difficult to find the actress for Maiko. I put wanted ads on the internet and had interviews with many actresses. However, it was very difficult for the conditions which included a sexual scene (not in the finished film), shooting for a long period, no performance fee, requirement of workshops, then appearance and acting skill. I spent more than 6 months just casting, during this period, other actors rehearsed many times, it was good as a result, anyway. And we started shooting without Maiko, February of next year, I finally found the actress to act for Maiko, just before the scene of winter.
It was a small shooting crew, but I think it was more advantageous than a big budget movie, because it was easy to change the shooting plan. The most important challenge in this movie is improvisational shooting and acting. Even though we had a script, I gained many great ideas by brainstorming from actors & actresses through many rehearsals. If I hired a script writer, he/she might be mad for that I changed the script many times. I know about my script about what is important and essential because I wrote it by myself, that why I could change it and followed casts' emotions. Totally I was influenced by John Cassavetes’s method of filmmaking. But as for me, I didn’t do pure improvisation, we did the improvisation that we prepared in rehearsal when we shot, but not just same to the improvisation of rehearsal we increased acting and quotes sometimes, we decreased them sometimes. If I do the method, their acting is more sophisticated and sharpened. If I use all improvisation, consistency is not reasonable, but some of the improvisation is good like this time. Especially, when I work with younger actors who still have the taste of a child, they show great improvisational acting to me.
And those three scenes where the father became mad were all improvisation. Actually, I made two films, one is following the script and another is improvisation, I said to him that he can act whatever he likes following the situation. The actor as the father is my friend who learned about method acting (community), so I trust him so much and could make him free acting. Some people might think it is too overreacted, but I love that scene, I almost cried when I was shooting and editing the film. I am not emotional so much, because I saw thousands of improvisations and overreacted plays. The reason why I was impressed is he played with his real emotion. He risked his life for the furious anger. He already retired from acting, but he accepted my offer for this kind of eccentric role who is not loved by the audience. I feel that the relationships with actors & actresses are the most important factor and precious things in this movie.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of independent filmmaking and working with small budgets? Does it liberate the filmmaker or limit his or her freedom?
I love and respect the founding father of independent film, John Cassavetes, so I don’t care about the small budget. I think it is an advantage, independent filmmakers can make movies. If you make a huge scale Hollywood movie, you need a big budget, but nowadays, cameras and PCs are so improved, it is much easier to make movies with a small budget. I started to learn film, and after I backed Japan, I was so impressed to know digital camera and edit software, but in that time, it was obviously differences between film and digital like professional and amateur. But now it is difficult to distinguish them. It is a huge opportunity for an independent filmmaker.
Small number of crews have huge responsibility, but the best thing is the possibility to control everything. But on the other hand, we have to do all parts and spend a long time and need big effort. One staff’s skill affects the quality of the movie directly.
Tell us about your festival run. Have film festivals provided you with the experience and exposure you needed?
I feel huge appreciation for the movie festival. Of course, some people might say that it is nonsense to order art pieces. Every art has a different charm, so we can't order them, but a movie festival is the chance to know about my movie from all over the world. It is a very huge change to independent filmmakers.
Since I put English subtitles on my movie and submitted it to a movie festival overseas, I got the benefits from them. The movie festivals in Japan are purpose to find only one great film, they don’t focus on others, but the movies festivals in overseas is purpose on evaluating every movie, that is big differences. For example, they evaluate and praise that finalist too, they send laurels, trophies and celebration parties. Although it depends on the movie festivals, they cheer filmmakers up so much. I really appreciate it, and so do my staff and casts too. But I feel a little sad that we don’t have the culture in Japan.
What was the reaction of those who watched your film? Was the feedback what you hoped for?
Yes, the audience reacted much more than I expected before. If I could show this movie to more people, I have confidence they will be crazy for this movie. But I had two different reactions, some people left soon, some people stayed in the theater, and the second one liked to talk about this movie together forever. It is difficult to make all people love this movie. I just want to share this impression with the people who love it. It is my pleasure.
Please tell us about your future project(s). What are you working on?
Next movie I’m shooting now is a comedy, a girl's struggle about sexuality. I took a serious one based on the earthquake, now I want to shoot the opposite taste film. Comedy is the most difficult genre. I’m having a hard time shooting. But I think comedy has a lot in common with the whole world. I really like that people from many countries will watch this movie, so I’m doing my best. All casts are not paid performance fee, higher evaluation of the movie festival will be a big bonus for them. The movie title is “Tokyo Shijimi Diary 202＄”. The heroine also joined my workshop last year. Please look forward to completing it! I love the connection to many filmmakers and audiences by movies. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!