by Mara Norman
Cinema Adrift: The opening scene of the film secretly foreshadows the structure of the entire film. Could you talk about the genesis this scene?
Kei Ishikawa: The story is based on a novel but actually the first and last scene do not exist in the original novel. It’s completely made up and it did not exist until the very end of going into production. But we were wondering that there was an element missing in the whole structure of the film. And actually the character of Tanaka played by Tsumabuki also does not exist in the novel and we weren’t quite sure who this character was. We needed a scene with him in the opening so when I came up with this idea of the opening even the actor Tsumabuki was questioning that maybe it was a little too much and we were quite doubtful. But this scene allowed us to see a great backbone of the character.
CA: Yes, it worked brilliantly. That leads to my next question: When Tanaka is interviewing the woman with the baby and she says, “The killer is empty.” I thought about that after having seen the film twice now and all the characters have an emptiness to them. Was that present in the book or another thing you added?
KI: Yes that is original to the film and not the novel. The novel is more of a traditional mystery thriller but in this opportunity we had a scriptwriter. We found the storyline very interesting but we also questioned the point of making this story into a film and we felt we needed to incorporate a message, our own voice. So when you said “the emptiness” that’s something we came up with and we drop hints of our own voice throughout the entire film without being too obvious.
CA: I felt it wasn’t a traditional thriller, those other moments that come in are beautiful. I read a piece you had written about the movie that he is kind of a Great Gatsby character but he’s almost more damaged than a Gatsby character. How did you start fleshing that idea out?
KI: I didn’t intend to make a straightforward crime thriller as I said before but in questioning what the backbone of the story was – which was interesting on its own – I came to a conclusion that it’s a story of a social hierarchy that most interested me. And there the question of what is the end point when climbing the social hierarchy. In that sense I created a modern day Great Gatsby situation in Japan. I wanted to gather such emotion to the audience. This is something I worked with the actor Tsumabuki.
CA: People [at the Q&A] talked about the scene with the hands and for me I felt like I had never seen that in a film to portray abuse. It was an amazing approach, I really appreciated the abstractions as they came in. Do you think that came from your own aesthetics? You captured something that is very hard to capture.
KI: In regards to that scene I did not feel it was appropriate to express that scene straightforwardly and in a way it felt more real to me in abstraction. So as for the music, I had a feel for it in my mind with the cuts, the mood, and the music. Actually for that scene the DP, main actress, and I call it “The Dance Scene” because it needed all those elements to come together.
CA: I had never seen that in a film before. I think people will use that now.
CA: Another scene I thought was great was the one with the stairs at the pool party that you revisit later from another character’s viewpoint.
KI: I would say the key element of that set were the actual stairs and not necessarily just the summer house. We were wondering if this even exists in Japan: a summer house with such a glorious staircase. But to me that choice was very important and luckily it appeared. Visually speaking there is a Kurosawa film called High and Low where Mifune is going to a higher elevation to think about a crime. That was something that was in my mind when creating the scene and I wanted to add that physical element that was key.
CA: Who are your influences?
KI: Especially for this film?
CA: Yeah let’s stick with this film.
KI: Okay, maybe that’s easier. For this film of course we watched Gone Girl by David Fincher. We watched an early film by Villeneuve, we watched Kurosawa’s High and Low, and other to develop the suspense structure. We watched a lot.
CA: You’re kind of turning the genre inside out and the pacing you said you did it like five short films. How did you come up with idea? Was it easier to break it into little pieces since this was your first feature?
KI: So I have done numerous short films and my producers have sarcastically called me “The Master of Short Films” because it was difficult for me to complete a feature film. I just couldn’t do it. But in that process I’ve seen so many directors that flop with their first feature by cramming too much into their film by being too ambitious. As for me there was an element within me that things were getting out of control. But with the idea of completing five short films somehow that was calming and I felt that I had a better grip. I realized I could do as I had done before and I feel that it was an important decision.
CA: How did you come to work with Office Kitano?
KI: I first met with the producer of the film to pitch another story that I had in mind but that didn’t go too well partially due to budget and also the film market is very particular and it wasn’t very suitable. However we still wanted to work together.
CA: It seems hard to get Japanese films distribution in America. Does the global market come into the discussion of budget?
KI: For this film?
CA: Or in general for Japan.
KI: Yes in Japan film budgets are very tight. In Japanese cinema there is a big problem that we these two extreme directions of very, very indie films and big budget but really stupid commercial films. We don’t really have any in between. It’s not a good situation for the audience.
CA: Did you feel you had the freedom you wanted working with Office Kitano?
KI: Well I had great pressure because I don’t have my own team so most of the crew came from team Kitano which means he’s really the master and I’m just a newcomer, a nobody and they were like, “Okay, can you do this?” But in the end they were very professional so I’m very proud of what we had done.
CA: Thank you for time. I look forward to your next film.
KI: Thank you very much.
Special Thanks: Emma Griffiths for coordinating the interview.