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Cinema

Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Sakebi

movie posterKiyoshi Kurosawa is one of the best-known genre filmmakers that Japan has been exporting for years. Using intriguing, absorbing and enthralling topics, the fifty-year old-Kobe-born-director, has translated traditional Japanese features into international comprehensive elements. With success such as Kyua (Cure, 1997), Karisuma (Charisma, 1999) and Kairo (Pulse, 2001) he, very well, represents a generation of Nipponese artists that, without compromising with the inflated taste of western audience, suggest a new, yet very embedded, way of reproducing fear. We have met the director at this year’s edition of the International Film Festival in Venice, Italy. His new film Sakebi (Retribution) was presented in the section Out of Competition.
A story about a meditative and solitary gumshoe that, confronted with puzzling murders of a methodic serial killer, is forced to face ancient fears and new demons, which are often not only part of his imagination. Kurosawa used brilliant actor, and old-time friend, Kôji Yakusho as detective Yoshinoka. His style is linear and smooth, the atmosphere raw and creepy, and the build-up to climatic edges and twists is, as always, impeccable. Mr. Kurosawa cherishes a particular “sweet tooth” for brilliant locations, and once again he demonstrates how the simple charm of abandoned depots, rotten terminals and smelly dumpsters can lead to an extreme unknown anxiety. In the following interview, the director talks about traditional Japanese horror elements, the insisting proliferation of American remakes and his inspirations as an artist.

Martina Palaskov Begov (MPB): This film seems to have a much more personal approach not only towards the theme but to the characters too, in the way they relate to the situation. How did you work the details of the narration and the film itself during the preproduction stage? How did you work with your actors?

Kiyoshi Kurosawa (KK): I did not employ any special methods or techniques. It’s a genre film, a horror picture, with a ghost, but the ghost itself is not monstrous or an extraterrestrial entity. I chose a beautiful actress and the character she plays is pretty much alive. But the ghost’s point in the story is not to scare the living. I spoke with the actress (Riona Hazuki) about my intentions. I wanted to explore the dense and complicated relationship there between the ghosts, the dead and the living. I tried to keep this intention consistent throughout the whole film. I can’t say I used any specific method or expedient in terms of direction. With the actors too I haven’t specified particular crafts or methods. Of course all have their individuality and personality. We spoke about the story, the plot and the characters and they did come up with very interesting humane expressions and ways of relating to the character. But the one thing I wanted to make sure would come across is the “reality” of ghost. The feeling that this ghost used to be alive, used to be a living human being was very important to me and had, as I said, to come across.

Ichise Taka, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Riona Hazuki

MPB: Tell us about the script and how rigidly you followed it.

KK: Of course there was a script and we basically followed the most of it in principal photography but still, with quite an interesting beat. It’s the atmosphere of the locations, the condition of the actress itself, and if you shoot on location, as I usually do, also the climate and the weather, the light, everything is important. All these elements influence me a lot when I shoot and clearly modify the result of the project itself. Of course we followed a script. But in a way, I felt I was shooting a documentary, for how I shot it, the changing elements and for the subject of the film too. I can refer to changes also regarding the unexpected reaction of the actors. Unexpected in a good way. They sometimes make me gasp. Or sometimes they come up with lines that were not on the script. They don’t do it consciously. It’s nothing planned or intentional. It just happens out of the blue, something I cannot control. In a way, I think this is the biggest difference between animated films and live action: the spontaneity.

Kôji Yakusho

MPB: Let’s talk about the choice of Kôji Yakusho, a very talented actor that you use so often in all your films. Do you think of him as your alter ego?

KK: I always say this about Kôji Yakusho. I love to work with him. We get along very well. We, coincidentally, are the same age, we share a lot of tastes in common; the way we feel about certain moments. Our values are very similar. He is very easy to work with. We get each other without talking too much. I have made very different types of films with him. But, every once in a while, in some films, I feel I’m very much reflected in the characters and the protagonist, in those cases, usually, the character has a split personality, a dual personality, or dual aspects to them. Some of my characters are obsessed about living in this contemporary society, baring a sense of uncertainty, a fear about the way they live their life. That is me, myself. And when my protagonist has these types of characteristics (which is maybe once in a couple of films) I actually gravitate towards using Mr. Yakusho, because he understands what I am trying to do. My sentiment is to show that people are like this, we do live like this; he gets it. He has been, as you pointed out, in many of my films. He has this amazing gift of being able to portray this sense of uncertainty, a sense of unease, which, even though I am the director, I cannot really put into words. And I am happy to see that it comes across. It’s interesting to see how the character ages as Mr. Yakusho does. Not sure how long we will be able to collaborate in these terms. I hope we can go on for as long as possible, because I will never be acting in my own films. But it’s true that when he stars in my films, he does represent part of who I am, part of my fears and peculiarities.

movie's scene

MPB: Let’s talk about the genre: the horror film. Though horror films and horror topics have been part of Japanese tradition and history, there has been a particular interest in developing the genre and the narrations [kaidans (“stories of strange things”)] in Japanese cinema of the ‘50s. How much did these Japanese horror classic films influence you? And how do you position your opinion towards the proliferation of a great number of American horror remakes: one of them being the remake of your beautiful Kairo (Pulse, 2001)? Do you think the traditional and sometimes very specific identity of the genre might be lost in the remake of the films?

KK: Traditional Japanese ghost stories have been very popular within the story telling even before cinema was born, through the kabuki theatre and other means. In the ‘50s there was a great boom, and the film genre exploded too. In the ‘60s and the ‘70s, I reckon, there has been a great interest in the horror genre all over the world, not only in Japan. I was a little too young and could not see all the films that came out on the big screen, but the films that came out before the 1960s, in Japan and Italy and all over the world, did influence me a lot. Some directors like: Mario Bava, Terrence Fisher and the Hammer Productions, from France, Eyes Without A Face, of Georges Franju, and a lot of filmmakers from the United States: Roger Corman and… well, I could go on forever.
As far as the remake is concerned, I am sure my producer, Mr. Ichise Taka, can explain better the situation. I have not seen the American remake of my Pulse. I have not been involved at all in the production, so I cannot really comment on this film in particular.

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