If you’ve seen the Japanese films “CONFESSIONS“, “KAMIKAZE GIRLS” or “MEMORIES OF MATSUKO” you’ll know that the director of these is one of immense talent. It is hard to believe that this guy is almost a self-taught filmmaker, and therefore something which gives all budding film directors great hope. Visiting London to promote “THE WORLD OF KANAKO”, part of the BFI London Film Festival, it gave yours truly much pleasure to have have the opportunity to interview Mr Tetsuya Nakashima.
And so, with a list of questions in my hand and a generous overrunning of interview time to come, it was time to hear from Tetsuya Nakashima and all his revealing ‘CONFESSIONS’.
Large thanks to Third Window Films for allowing MMM to meet and interview Mr Nakashima at such length. Indeed with an extra 25% of time it allowed for a couple of answers to questions which I simply couldn’t leave without asking.
The following interview took place in London on 13th October 2014.
Mini Mini Movie: I’m interested in your early career. Did you study film, and if so do you feel you specialised in one area more than others – perhaps writing, making shorts or something else?
Tetsuya Nakashima: I haven’t studied in film school, or anything really. I was at university and there was a movie club, and I made an 8mm movie using the people in the club. That was it. I didn’t actually study movies. No studying of script writing either. What I did was, I read just one script from somebody, just to establish the format and how they do it, and then I just started doing it in that way.
Mini Mini Movie: I respect that.
Tetsuya Nakashima: However, because I’ve not taken the conventional path or followed the traditional practice of making a movie in Japan, some people criticize my style.
Mini Mini Movie: That’s why I respect it. It’s outside the normal, expected way.
Tetsuya Nakashima: Thank you very much.
Mini Mini goes on to remark on himself as a filmmaker and his own self-education, in addition to a lack of film school teachings.
Tetsuya Nakashima: Well, I don’t know if you know this or not, but I started with adverts… commercials… I was working as a director making commercials. It’s quite a free industry in that you can do anything within approximately 30 seconds, or 15 seconds of screen time. As long as you can get the message across within that time you can do whatever you like. So, I think I learnt so much from those projects. But because of that, the way I make movies is different from the conventional way of making movies and that’s why people do frown upon me or criticize my style.
Mini Mini Movie: They’re probably jealous.
Mini Mini Movie: “Kamikaze Girls” has a style and vision to it, but it also has a kind of biographical narrative therefore feels, to me similar in those ways to “Memories of Matsuko”. I wondered, with these similarities in mind was it the experience of “Kamikaze Girls” which actually gave you the confidence to make “Memories of Matsuko”?
Tetsuya Nakashima: In terms of “Kamikaze Girls”, such a film would actually usually fall into a genre known in Japan as ‘Seishun Eiga’. These are films about adolescence, teenage years or what you may call ‘high school movies’. You know, just kids and a kind of ‘growing-up’ type of film. Those movies in Japan are always very, very serious and very, very conscientious… They’e not very poppy or lively, but always about kids facing their problems. So I wanted to create something vivid & poppy, even though the location is very, very much a countryside one. Therefore, this goes against the high school movie tradition in Japan. In terms of Matsuko in “Memories of Matsuko”, she is a person who is being tricked or deceived by men and she’s going down the road to despair. This is an unhappy protagonist and therefore an unhappy movie. The distributors hate those kind of movies. They’re not convinced by them and hate an unhappy protagonist or a movie of despair. But… If I’m making a happy movie it’s not going to be interesting, is it? In other words, although the novel is a very, very dark sort of novel and nothing at all vibrant a strictly faithful film based on the book would be a really, really dark movie. So, by putting music, a Musical-like feel or animation into it – but still with Matsuko being a very despairing person – I could make an entertaining movie and people could see it and be entertained. That’s why I put all these elements into it.
Mini Mini Movie: So, it looks happy but it’s actually dark…
Tetsuya Nakashima: Yes. That’s exactly it.
Mini Mini Movie: That’s a good way to lead me on to my next question, one about “Confessions”. It’s not so much filled with effects as those previous two films and also has a dark, bleak story, not to mention a dark visual style to match. I wondered therefore, how challenging it was when making it, maybe because A) It was such a different visual style to “Kamikaze Girls” and “Memories of Matsuko” and B) You’re dealing with a darker subject, i.e. the death of a child. Can you tell us a little about these aspects?
Tetsuya Nakashima: Probably the biggest challenge was, like you said, the former former movies were very, very extravagant and really colourful. You get loads of information in one scene, and so each are very condensed movies. But in “Confessions” I take everything I’ve done and take out the superfluous objects or aspects to make it very minimal, including the colour. I used a blue tone a lot. I left only the necessary, so that it was done to the complete minimal. Even the art direction… I could have put something more but I left it with the bare minimal as well. So that was challenging. Also, it’s a very good challenge for me, because I don’t want to do exactly the same thing again and again. I want to create something new. So, that was very challenging but I liked it. Then, through “Confessions” I realised the importance of the actors and how the casting is very, very important. Using them and bringing out the best of an actor is very imoportant for me, but I didn’t have that perception before that film. I only realised on that film.
Mini Mini Movie: So you were growing as a director?
Tetsuya Nakashima: Well, if you want to grow as a director what you have to do is challenge yourself. So you have to intentionally put something, which you find difficult or impossible to do, into the movie or script so that you really have to do it. Then… you will find a way around it to make it a reality, and that is making yourself grow. You give yourself a purpose or target so that you conquer things and grow as a director. By doing this, you won’t make tedious movies. If you stagnate you’ll become boring. So ultimately, you’ll also make better movies.
Mini Mini Movie: On to “The World of Kanako”… This was another different style to your other films but this time, I wondered, was one of the biggest challenges finding an actor who could do action, compared to little action in all previous films?
Tetsuya Nakashima: Half of the cast I had worked with before, so I knew them well. Therefore it wasn’t really difficult casting the people, but more about them accepting the roles. Luckily, they all accepted the roles. Nobody rejected them. That was lucky for me, because I managed to cast everyone I had wanted to.
Mini Mini Movie: I think that says a lot about you. The actors trusted you in an action-based roles, even though relatively a new challenge or genre for you.
Tetsuya Nakashima: Well, the previous movie, “Confessions” was less about action and so what I asked the main actress, Takako Matsu, to do was not to move too much. Don’t do anything and instead make minimal movements. That’s the request I put to her. But with this movie, I asked them to be liberated, be really free and even exaggerated. Often actors do less exaggerating acting to make it seem real, but this time I asked them to just exaggerate and enjoy their roles. So, really my direction between the two films changed a complete 180 degrees. The reason for this was so that they were more energetic and animated… Yes, I think that’s because I’d asked them to exaggerate and enjoy.
Mini Mini Movie: If I may ask something about “Lala Pipo”next. When researching for your involvement on the film, there wasn’t much to be found associating the film to you. I’m aware it isn’t one you’d directed but instead only written, but I wondered if there was a reason for the lack of information connecting you to it?
Tetsuya Nakashima: The only reason is because I didn’t direct it. I just wrote the script.
Mini Mini Movie: It’s not because you were ashamed of it, or anything like that?
Tetsuya Nakashima: [laughs] No, no, no.
Mini Mini Movie: Finally, “Confessions” features the Radiohead song, “Last Flowers to the Hospital” and it’s simply perfect. The point where it is used feels like a music video yet very sad. I wondered who’s choice it was to use that one. Can you explain a little?
Tetsuya Nakashima: On the set, I was playing loads of Radiohead songs. That is what I normally do… I play some other music to give me ideas about the movie. That piece was very, very suited for that movie. However, I wasn’t expecting Radiohead to say “Yes” to using the piece, but the producers tried their best and really made an effort to get the rights. I really wasn’t thinking we’d actually be able to use it.
Mini Mini Movie: I don’t think I’ve seen their music in a cinematic film, so perhaps it’s pretty unique.
Tetsuya Nakashima: Well, we actually just contacted Thom Yorke and he said “Yes”.
Mini Mini Movie: Thank you so much, Mr Nakashima.
Special thanks to incredible translator, Ms Sayaka Smith for her assistance during the interview.
‘World of Facts’ or ‘Confessions & Connections’
– Award winning actor Koji Yakusho won the Best Actor Award at Sitges Festival Internacional de Cinema Fantastic de Catalunya for his acting in “The World of Kanako”.
– Koji Yakusho is the first Japanese actor to receive the above award.
– “The World of Kanako” won the Best Screenplay award at Fantastic Fest in Austin Texas. It was written by Tetsuya Nakashima.
– Koji Takusho is also known for his acting in “13 Assassins”, “Babel” and more.
– Satoshi Tsumabuki not only appears in “The World of Kanako” but can also be seen in “Villain” and other films.
– “The World of Kanako” is based on the novel “Hateshinaki Kawaki”, by Akio Fukamachi.
– Tetsuya Nakashima and Koji Takusho’s have worked together previously, on “Paco and the Magical Book”.
– Actor Joe Odagiri has starred in other films, including “Adrift In Tokyo” and the Korean hit “My Way“.
– Actress Miki Nakatani worked with director Tetsuya Nakashima on both “The World of Kanako” and “Memories of Matsuko”.