ASIAN FILM - Article
17:00 - 27th December 2014, by David West

New Kids On The Block

This year, Third Window Films introduces British audiences to the work of three debut directors, Nagisa Isogai, Kosuke Takaya, and Hirobumi Watanabe. NEO met all three at the Raindance Film Festival to hear about their unique experiences.

Nagisa Isogai’s twisted short films My Baby and Lust Of Angels were made while she was a student at The Film School Of Tokyo. My Baby concerns the deadly rivalry between two sisters. “I wanted to show the cruel side of women as much as possible because I know that women can be really cruel,” she says. “It’s not a true story, but My Baby is like a very exaggerated version of how I felt about the relationship between me and my sister. I actually kept it a secret from my family for about a year after I made my film.”
Fortunately, Nagisa’s younger sibling has taken everything in her stride. “I was telling her, ‘This isn’t about you, it’s an exaggeration.’ We get along really well, honest.”

In Lust Of Angels, Nagisa tells another dark tale – about a group of schoolgirls out for revenge. “My friend used to go to an all-girls school and there was a flasher on the train. All the girls started making fun of the flasher. One girl got really violent and beat him up. That was the start of the story and I expanded it from there.”

The script won first place in a competition at The Film School Of Tokyo. The prize money combined with Nagisa’s savings and a little help from her grandmother enabled the movie to go into production. The director says she learned a lot from making My Baby that helped her with her second venture. “When I was directing My Baby we had rehearsals so many times,” she says. “What I wish I could have done differently, when we had rehearsed, there’s that one time when you could get the best take. I should have stopped there and gone for a take, but I wasn’t sure if I’d got it right or not. Next time I could pick the right moment better. And I need to trust the actors. I was able to bring that to Lust Of Angels.” Not many young filmmakers have their work showcased on the other side of the planet and the experience has energized Nagisa. “As soon as I came here, I’ve got the urge to make a new movie,” she says. “I’m saving up.”

New Directions In Japanese Cinema is an annual programme designed to foster fresh talent by selecting five aspiring directors and helping to bring their ideas to the screen. Kosuke Takaya’s comedy Buy Bling, Get One Free was produced under the NDJC initiative, but before becoming a director, Kosuke worked in the Film Commission office in Fukuoka.

“I had to write a 30-minute script, that was the first step,” he says. “I researched the past winners of the scheme and I saw there haven’t been many comedies. I thought, okay, I’m going to go for comedy so I might have a chance to be selected. In terms of why I chose fashion, I really like fashion and I thought it’s very accessible to everyone.”

Buy Bling, Get One Free is about Naoto, a Harajuku resident whose dreams seem to have come true when he’s approached to become the face of a new designer label – but the company has other plans for him. “I find it fascinating that if you walk through Harajuku, people have number tags on them and they’re walking like they’re on a catwalk,” says Kosuke. “It’s like they’re in London Fashion Week.”

Being selected for the New Directions scheme meant Kosuke was surrounded by industry veterans through every step of the process. “I had the same cinematographer, Katsumi Yanagijima, who works with Takeshi Kitano,” he says. “The art direction was handled by the art director who did Seijun Suzuki’s films, Noriyoshi Ikeya, so it was amazing who I got to work with.”

Kosuke found his cast by asking everyone who came to audition to bring a favourite item from their wardrobe to talk about. “The lead actor was a first timer too,” says Kosuke. “The rest of the cast were really experienced, like the crew, so those guys improvised a lot and helped the lead a lot too because he’s a newcomer. It was similar to my situation as a first time director surrounded by an experienced crew.

“The Managing Director from the production company told me, if you flop using all these amazing people in the crew, you might as well quit filmmaking!” he says. “In the end I think I can say it has been a success – I’ve had the chance to come to England for this film festival and the Managing Director said it’s okay, so I feel like, phew!”

Hirobumi Watanabe’s debut feature, And The Mud Ship Sails Away, chronicles the life of Takashi (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), a NEET living in a small town whose lazy life is disrupted by the arrival of teenager Yuka (Ayasa Takahashi), who announces she is the sister he never knew he had. “The model was myself, actually,” says Hirobumi about the inspiration behind Takashi’s character. “I couldn’t find a job, I didn’t have anything to do, I was stuck at home. So maybe I was a NEET! The difference between the main character and me is that I was on a mission to make a movie. I started working as a lifeguard at a swimming pool and I saved up. It was a really low budget but I made the movie using my own money.”

Hirobumi, who names American independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch as one of his idols, wanted to stay close to home for his debut production. “Apart from the main character and his friend, who are both actors from Tokyo, the rest of the cast are from my local theatre company in my home prefecture,” he says. “The other main role, the grandmother, she’s actually my grandmother. The reason I chose local actors is because the centre of independent filmmaking is always Tokyo. I wanted to prove that even an independent movie from the countryside can be good.

“Because of the budget, we decided to do one scene, one shot, so in order to do that we had to rehearse a lot,” Hirobumi says. “As for my grandmother, I couldn’t control her at all. She improvised everything. I never knew what to expect from her. The only thing I asked her to do, I said, ‘Just sit there and sleep.’ She was supposed to be always sleeping but, once the actors started talking, she really wanted to join the conversation so she started talking.”

Hirobumi does not paint a terribly flattering portrait of life in his home in Toshigi Prefecture. How have the locals reacted to his film? “It was screened in my hometown and some people just held their heads like, ‘Oh my God!’ But some of the people loved it,” he says. “I don’t know if it makes sense to carry on filming in the same place or not. I’ve already got a reputation as the most foolish person in my town. I’m happy to be showing my hometown honestly and some people will appreciate that, I hope!”

Discover the next generation of filmmakers on New Directors From Japan from Third Window Films.

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