Just like how director Sherman Ong had to do without understanding the Japanese language when making the movie, and robbed of a communication tool, relying on his other senses and instincts, I had to struggle to convince my mind not to trust the signals sent by the eyes when interpreting the visuals of the movie. Seeing is believing, and having the eyes see something different will lead to the obvious, innate understanding that we're dealing with totally dissimilar issues, characters and motivations.
Which is not the case of course, but it's a war on the senses to continue convincing myself that the character in question is still the same, despite having the face, build and voice differing from time to time. While an exercise in production pragmaticism with constraints in place, Sherman has crafted a very delicate movie touhing on the issues of the modern woman in terms of love, marriage and even their dreams and fears. Imagine having 2 actresses for the character of Junko in the same movie, which probably could have been easily dealt with.
But 4 actresses for the character of Momo, the bento delivery girl, in the same movie, and interacting with a combination of the Junko character, it gets baffling and definitely not a pleasant experience to sit through (yes, there were the unfortunate walkouts). But if you can challenge yourself to transcend conventional story telling methods, especially with changes to the portrayal of characters from within the same movie, then you're in for a real treat as you now have to participate actively in blocking out mixed messages telling your mind to react differently, to try and convince yourself that it's the same person who, well, just look different. You'll have to work hard at looking past norms and conventions set in interpretation, in order to not get frustrated with it.
For those without a clue, it might be difficult to follow at times with no established markers such as addressing by name. However, if you manage to tackle the challenge put forth, then Hashi is a contemplative, and reflective tale, dealing with contemporary women issues on love and life, with classical arthouse sense and sensibilities. Through conversations over meals, secrets are shared and often leads into building the backstory of the characters involved. It's very Japanese like in its moments of restraint in expressing feelings, and what I would think to be very artistic with its style adopted, utilizing the still camera and long takes to allow the story to develop within an unmoving frame.
The characters too are crafted not without personal flaws, and I thought it allowed for a more faceted, and fascinating look at each character, especially with the change in facial and physical representation. Often it's like putting on masks, where we present ourselves differently depending on who we're interacting with. For instance, between Junko and Shino, Momo, if I recall, is represented differently, each time she takes it upon herself to deliver Junko's bento personally.
However, I felt that my own limited capacity of understanding these issues, perhaps because they're women issues for the most parts, didn't allow me to click instantly with the ongoing storyline. But for the visuals employed, and to experience something totally different from convention, then Hashi would get my vote as a test of one's ability and threshold to challenge one's norms at interpretion.
There was a Q&A session after the screening with director Sherman Ong. As usual, I have paraphrased (for the better I hope) for clarity and readability. For those who are spoiler wary, please read something else. You have been warned.
Q: Could you tell us about how the film came about?
A: I was in Japan as an artist in residence, and part of my residency program, I had wanted to make a feature piece. There's a pragmatic reason why there were different persons casted in the same role, because most of them are working and are students, so they can't commit to the entire filming schedule. Also, 80% of the folks who turned up for the auditions turned out to be women, and therefore it became a women-centric story.
So it became a contemporary story about women and the issues they faced, and could have been set anywhere. The stories were actually from the cast, and they were playing themselves. To find out more about them, I had to ask them very personal questions, and at one stage my interpreter was reluctant to translate those personal questions because it was not the norm to do so. I gave ideas to them and the story structure, and they had a role in crafting what to say, and how to say it.
Q: Is it meant to be a documentary or a narrative film?
A: I feel that it's a mix of between both. Things like the dreams in the movie, were their own. I had to give one person's story to another person so that those who were having affairs, would not be found out! I have also made a photo series from it, and I had to remove the names. I had set out to make a fictional piece, though the process is like a documentary's.
Sherman also shared that Momo's character reflects the young Japanese of today, without holding down permanent jobs, and hopping from one to the other. He also wanted to show that these values are quite similar because of globalisation, regardless of language.
Q: Could you shed light on how the film footage you shot were used and determined during editing, and what were the ideas which you poured into the film?
A: The structure started with a 10 page scene breakdown with descriptions and about 50 scenes. I figured if one scene would take up to 2 minutes, then I would have about a 100 minute feature. As you would have noticed, some of the takes are quite long - the first one was about 6 minutes long. The actresses were given about an hour to write their thoughts down for the scene, and it was done in one take. In this film, it's usually the first or second take used. Was it confusing?
Sherman revealed that it was not deliberate to have casted different actresses in the role of Momo, because most couldn't commit their time for the entire production, and he took it further by having a lot more actresses playing the same role.
Q: What was the reaction to the film like in Japan?
A: Most surprising thing for the audience was, and many felt that the essence of the film is so Japanese, but it was a foreigner who made the movie. Probably because I had used feelings rather than language to make the film since I couldn't speak it. Film is after all a visual medium and sometimes language becomes secondary.
The Bangladeshi guy was actually another artist in residence who wanted to appear in the film, so I tried somehow to include him. The musician boyfriend was also the real life boyfriend of the actress, so that helped in not needing to break the ice between strangers.
Q: What was the reaction to intimacy in the subject matter?
A: I had always thought the Japanese were more kinky haha!
The movie was shot over 12 days, and with no crew, the camera tended to be static.
You can read more about Sherman's thoughts from an Interview I conducted earlier, or drop by the blog (address provided in the link below) to ask him questions / leave comments direct!
Official Hashi Movie Website with behind the scenes / production stills
Sherman Ong’s Personal Website
There will be 1 more screening of Hashi at this year's SIFF on 13 April Sunday 7pm at Sinema Old School. Sherman will be in attendance for the 6 April session, and on 13 April, the director, producer and actress will be in attendance! Tickets are still available!
Book your tickets now by clicking here:
13 Apr Screening
The SIFF Singapore Filmmakers Interview Series
Kan Lume, Writer-Director of Dreams From The Third World
HAN Yew Kwang, Writer-Director of 18 Grams of Love
ENG Yee Peng, Director of Diminishing Memories II
Sherman ONG, Screenwriter-Director of Hashi
James LEONG and Lynn LEE, Directors of Homeless FC
Lionel CHOK, Producer of To Speak
Harman HUSSIN, Director of Road to Mecca