Sunday, August 31, 2008

[Japanese Film Festival] Summer Vacation With Naomi Kawase / Every Japanese Woman Makes Her Own Curry

Summer Vacation with Naomi Kawase is Tetsuaki Matsue's take on the production process of Shara, coming off something quite like a making-of documentary, but somehow offered a lot more than just the usual behind the scenes look. Here, he was given access to cast and crew, with permission given by director Naomi herself to have a free reign to capture the entire process, and to talk to almost anyone on set.

In this film though, we also get to see some of Kawase's earlier movies, where she candidly shares in an editing suite, some of the bloopers that she had made in them. Even a scene in Shara is not spared, though truth be told, I wasn't even aware of that bit of blooper, until she pointed it out - if you pay close attention, there was some alternating between the usage of a microphone, and a loudhailer.

We learn a number of trivia about Shara the movie from Tetsuaki's movie, such as how male lead Kohei Fukungaga was actually a real life street musician plucked from the streets by Naomi to star in her movie, and how Yuka Hyyoudo was selected from more than 1000 applicants for the role of Yukie. For the most parts it played out like a usual making-of, with scenes from rehearsals, and on set happenings being the order of the day. Having Shara the movie shot chronologically, this documentary also follows the same chronological order, starting from 20 Aug 2002 to 28 Aug 2002, where the film was shot in a total of 8 days.

I had thoroughly enjoyed being able to witness how the famed Basara street festival scene was filmed, and to listen to the beat of the drums in the excellent music used for that scene. It's not hard to imagine that actually was shot during the real festival, where the crew rounding up very game members of the public to join them in their film version of the celebrations.

Come to think of it, watching how Tatsuaki successfully managed to capture the emotions of everyone, how different the feelings were on first and last days of production, made me reminiscent a little of my own experience extended to me by Malaysian filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad, where I was on set at the start of her production of Mukhsin, and on the set at the end of Muallaf. The feeling toward the end was one of relief, happiness, and plenty of hugs, some sad that their working days together on a common goal had come to an end, but you can feel that deep sense of camaraderie that is undeniably present in everyone, and the resolve to one day meet up again soon, to work toward another common goal, another film.

The payload of this documentary actually came toward the end. As we see through Tatsuaki's eyes, he painted a very shy picture of Kohei, in how he had changed after a pretty girl had given him his very first kiss. In fact, he even composed a song right after that, and while yet reluctant to share it, Tatsuaki managed to coax it out of him. And Yuka, you can tell, is no fool too, even before we come to the final interview, you can observe that she's playing it rather coolly, and I'd bet she has a fairly good idea that Kohei did develop some feelings toward her as the shoot went on. I thought it was a bit cruel too with her being quite nonchalant about it, but I guess if one's not interested, then one will try as best as one can not to reject and hurt other's feelings outright.

So while Summer Vacation started off with some inclination of trying to discover any budding romance between the leads in the movie for real, while there may be some suggestions in real life, the reel one certainly didn't manage to translate and cross over to the real one. I'd suggest to watch both Shara, and Summer Vacation, to see and experience it for yourself.

In Every Japanese Woman Makes Her Own Curry, Tetsuaki Matsue documents 3 encounters with 3 women, who had agreed to cook curry rice for him. He has developed a liking for curry rice ever since it was made by his first girlfriend, and in this personal documentary, it almost seems like a food travelogue program as he goes from place to place to meet up with the women, each of whom cooks a different type and style of curry.

Shot in Nov 2002, it's actually quite formulaic and follows a template - he meets up with the woman in question (first being Eri, then Nakanishi, and lastly Mika his girlfriend), and they go shopping for specific ingredients. They then proceed back to her apartment, and the cooking begins, before savoring the delicacy in the private confines of home, and always with an accompanying beer. They share great conversation throughout the evening, before retiring for the night (no, nothing raunchy here!). The next morning, the curry rice is made into breakfast, as it does seem that it will taste better if left overnight.

It's nothing fancy in the presentation, but if you're looking for an explanation or deeper insights into this film, then you might want to read on in Tetsuaki Matsue's Q&A and panel discussion after the screening, as transcribed below.

Right: Tetsuaki Matsue

Tetsuaki Matsue was in attendance at today’s screening, and confessed that as he was slightly embarrassed by his earlier movies, decided to wait outside the screening hall rather than to sit through it with the audience. He had wondered why the festival would want to showcase these 2 particular films, until he had realized the theme of this year’s festival. Thankfully he made it back to the hall after the screening for a panel discussion, and here’s an excerpt of that discussion, starting off with a brief introduction to his films screened this morning:

Tetsuaki Matsue (TM): How Every Japanese Woman Makes Her Own Curry (EJWMHOC) came about, I was asked to do a 30 minutes self-documentary as part of an assignment. I was told to just do a theme that I liked, so I thought about making a film talking to women that I liked. As a documentary I don’t know if it was interesting for you, as I was filming it, I wondered if my own responses going into the film would hopefully be interesting for an audience. At a deeper level, the documentary told of how I felt about the 3 women in my life, and my relationship with them. I’ve made almost 30 other documentaries, but this one is special.

Q: We know that the final girl featured is your girlfriend, but who were the first two?
TM: The first lady featured, it was actually my first time meeting up with her, and spending some personal time together. She was someone I met at a function. The second one, I had spent a lot of time hanging out with. What’s special is that it would have been near impossible to do what I did without a camera, as it was difficult to get into their homes, and have them cook curry for me etc, so the camera actually helped in my cause! (laughs) In Japan, when we think of curry rice, it’s always that it tastes better the next day, so that allowed me to stay overnight at their place! I went shopping for ingredients with them, go to their homes and cook, and it was roughly the same content for each segment, with the difference being the kind of relationship I had with each of the ladies. If you were to measure the length of the footage against the segment length of each girl, the first lady had about 5-6 minutes, as it was my first time meeting up, and we didn’t have much to talk about.

Q: How has your perception of women changed, and if you were to make a film about women, what would you choose to spotlight on?
TM: I now look at them through a younger, childish perspective. Each time I see EJWMHOC, I would be embarrassed because I was trying to be macho, and a big man, and I’m so embarrassed about that. Last year in my new documentary Dotei Wo Produce (The Virgin Wildsides), I had some 20 year old virgin boys who I provided a camera each, and made them do a documentary – I was interested in the Otaku subculture - and wanted to learn more about it, and the point at the end of the film is to get them to confess their feelings for the girls who they like. So now when I look at my work, I’m regressing back to life as a teen and relearning about the world.

Q: Why did you use a young boy as narrator for Summer Vacation (with Naomi Kawase)?
TM: When Shara was filmed, it was exactly this time of mid-end August. The movie was filmed in 8 days, and for me, despite some documentaries I have made, I still considered myself inexperienced, and to be on the set of a fictional feature film was a new experience, and I went in with nervousness. Surprisingly, the production was almost like a documentary since it went chronologically, and we were filming in Nara, and it was very quiet on set, and it was very enjoyable for me to be able to witness that. I stay in Tokyo, and the trip to Nara reminded me of my junior high school vacation. I wanted to go in to see, learn, observe and to enjoy, so the young boy was chosen as a narrator to represent me. As you can see, over time I developed close relations with Kohei Fukungaga (who played Shun) and identified with him a lot, and I tried to get closer and draw him out.

Q: You’re Korean-Japanese, how do you feel operating in what is essentially a homogeneous society?
TM: When I made Annyong-Kimchi, it was the first time I was aware I’m a Korean born in Japan, so I wanted to explore that in the movie. I had my citizenship when I was young. Each of us has our own experiences, and if you have 100 of us gather and to talk about and share our experiences, it will all be different. So there’s a huge array of different views on being Korean-Japanese in Japan. I went to Japanese schools, all my friends are Japanese, and my mindset is very much Japanese but I must admit there’s a small part of me inside that is deeply aware that I’m not fully Japanese. But if you ask me if I’m Korean, I definitely cannot say that I am. It’s hard to explain in words how I feel but in my films, my genre is Japanese films. In EJWMHOC, the green curry is done in the Japanese way, and when you eat it, you might still think it’s Japanese curry, so that’s the way it is.

Q: It is common in the shooting of a making-of documentary, that it adopts a 3rd eye function. How do you organize and could you tell us more of the interaction process with the cast? You do interact a lot with the main crew, and it’s not easy being an outsider shooting what they are shooting?
TM: In a usual documentary, my film would have a lot of NGs because it’s too close. I always ask close relationships questions to get them involved in the process. This particular documentary is special because the director Naomi Kawase had allowed me to film parts of it when normally it wouldn’t be allowed for the usual documentary style. Why it was so was because she didn’t want me to make just another normal making-of film, and wanted me to tell the story through my eyes. The crew was experienced to making-ofs and had done them before. I could actually get close to the team and get a closer feel of things. I stayed where the crew stayed, slept in the same place too. In most making-ofs, you have to take an objective stance but I hate those type of documentaries, so I’m grateful for the experience given to me by Naomi Kawase to do this.

If you’ve seen the movie, during the Basara street festival scene, I actually appeared in one of the shots as I went about doing this documentary! I recently did another making-of documentary for a film with Ken’ichi Matsuyama (of Death Note). If I did it in the same way as I did this, they would say no and I would not be allowed to keep asking to interview the cast. The days to shoot the making-of will also be scheduled, with all questions vetted and prepared before hand. But that’s the normal way, which is harder for me. I had to approach it differently to make it interesting for myself.

Q: What do you think of Naomi Kawase’s style in her personal documentaries, and her reaction to the documentary you did of Shara?
TM: Once Summer Vacation was done, it was screened together with Shara some 3 years ago with the lead actors at the screening. What Naomi Kawase said to me, was that it was really my perception and viewpoint which was really captured. I’ve watched her documentaries even before I made my own, and frankly I love her documentaries more than her fictional films. Why I liked her documentaries is that she makes it look like a fictional feature film. In a lot of them she had captured the moment, of the reality of the situation. Her camera just happens to be there, capturing the emotion of the scene. Naomi Kawase’s approach to documentaries is different – If she doesn’t have a camera she won’t understand what is happening, so she brings a camera to understand. I like people who do that, who produce things. Currently my style is to go in with the camera, to capture reality and to create a story from there. As such I am able to change reality into my story in a way that is interesting.

Q: Were you trying to rekindle the romance between the leads in Kohei Fukungaga (Shun) and Yuka Hyyoudo (Yukie)? It was heartbreaking because there was no clear answer in that.
TM: It’s not something I was trying to rekindle or make happen, but I had a feeling that was what Naomi Kawase was hoping for. On the first day, after listening to Kohei, maybe he has a feeling of liking for Yuka. After the kissing scene, which was Kohei’s first kiss, I thought something had changed in him, a change Kawase might be hoping for. When making the documentary I didn’t have a goal. I went into the set to feel the atmosphere, and trying to capture that, putting them together in a story as I saw it. So at the last scene, I knew he was very shy and can’t express his feelings, so I had to step in and ask Yuka. It seemed that for the guy it was an important feeling, but to the girl, she was quite casual about it, what with her eating of bread when answering my questions!

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