Monday, April 02, 2012

[HKIFF 2012 Interview] A Conversation With Shinobu Yaguchi, Writer-Director of Robo-G

It isn't everyday that you get to meet one of your favourite film directors in person, and get a 15 minute window to have a quick conversation before the International Premiere of his latest film takes place. Shinobu Yaguchi was in Hong Kong to introduce his latest film Robo-G, and to interact with the audience in a post-screening Q&A, and I've managed to get a window of opportunity to speak with him before the festivities started.

Many thanks and gratefulness to the Hong Kong International Film Festival, Vera and Cici of New Point Marketing and especially Mr Shinji Sakoda, General Manager, Licensing & International Business Affairs, Pony Canyon Inc, for his immense help in bridging the language barrier as the volunteer translator between myself and Shinobu Yaguchi. The interview was conducted on 23 March 2012 at UA Cityplaza.

Stefan S: Thank you Shinobu-san for agreeing to and making time for this interview. You have been credited for perfecting the zero to hero, feel good film formula. How did you develop and create that?

Shinobu Yaguchi: I want to make the protagonist's image, so that from the audience point of view, they can feel that "it is me". It's unlike making the hero a "Hero" in the beginning, as I want to create the image of the protagonist such that he may not even start from zero, but even from here, minus, then in that way the audience can feel, oh it's me, or this image is just next to me, and can feel close and attached to the protagonist.

Stefan S: That's an interesting way to craft it the way you do, that even other filmmakers see and start to adopt almost the same formula for their films. Are movies like yours considered more mainstream or festival fare in Japan?

Shinobu Yaguchi: It doesn't matter. I've never thought about it that way, as long as the film can make it and play in the theatres.

Stefan S: I haven't seen Robo-G the movie yet, and will be doing so later tonight during its International Premiere. Robots have lately been explored by other filmmakers in other countries such as the 2 huge Indian blockbusters on robots and artificial intelligence. What provided you the inspiration for making your own robotics or artificial intelligence related movie?

Shinobu Yaguchi: There have been many robot movies from Hollywood and elsewhere, and it's never my intention to compete with them. It's not that way. The reason why I made this film is because of the inspiration I felt from the ordinary Japanese manufacturing companies that try to make and develop their own humanoid robots.

Stefan S: In the movie, a man takes the place and goes inside, pretending to be the robot and this poses interesting questions, and I would like to ask if this is a message that robots, no matter how sophisticated, cannot do without human input, program or instruction?

Shinobu Yaguchi: You'll be surprised when you watch this film tonight. This film is not the film about robots. The way I see it in Hollywood robot movies, many of them try to reach out and show that the finest robots can be made nearly human. However this film is more about the people and developers who are forced to develop robots in a short span of time, and in attempting to make their creations real, they've to resort to relying upon and putting a person into the robot to make it robot-like. This film is about the developers and the people behind the robots, and not about the robot itself. Moreover, like Honda or Sony which are big manufacturers that are trying to make and develop their own robots, there are also smaller companies in Japan nationwide that are also developing their own, and with this as a background, I thought that this film and concept will work will for an audience.

Stefan S: Youth is something key in your previous films, and although you have used an elderly person in Robo-G, he's still very young at heart. What is your fascination with the theme of youth that's being revisited frequently in your movies?

Shinobu Yaguchi: I wanted to see what is the total opposite image for a person who is tasked to fit inside a robot suit. From that idea, I decided to pick up from the thought of an old guy in it, which could be a total mismatch, and this opposite can be humorous.

Stefan S: Now that you made a film about robots, what do you hope the field of robots and artificial intelligence would one day achieve in the future beyond being stuck at research labs and science fairs as depicted in the film?

Shinobu Yaguchi: Developers of robots seem to want to develop robots as house mates, in supporting roles. In my film Robo-G, this robot creates many problems for the people surrounding it. But under these trouble filled circumstances, the people involved in these crucial situations have to develop themselves in order to survive well in those circumstances. In the future, because of that, it may seem perhaps that "useless" robots may even be used to make human development better, like Robo-G.

Stefan S: And as always I usually like to round the session up by asking, what is your next film project, if you can share and divulge?

Shinobu Yaguchi: First of all Robo-G has to be a big hit, then it's possible to get another chance to work on a new project with sponsors coming on board. My desire now is to make Robo-G a big success.

Stefan S: Thank you very much, and I wish Robo-G all the best and success during its festival circuit run, and in its commercial release as well!

You can read my review of Robo-G here.

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