By Johan Nordström and Doris Lang.

Momoko Ando, born in 1982, is one of Japan’s hot and upcoming new directors, whose debut film Kakera: A Piece of Our Liferecently had a simultaneous release in England and Japan, after first having played the festival circuit. Momoko Ando, the daughter of actor-director Eiji Okuda and essayist Kazu Ando, and sister to the rising new actress Sakura Ando, hails from a family steeped in the arts. She herself graduated from the Slade School of Fine Art in London and furthermore pursued film studies at New York University. After this, she returned to Japan where she started working as a assistant director on various films, before finally taking the step of becoming a director herself.

Her debut film is a finely tuned meditation on what it means to be loved and to love, regardless of boundaries and social constructs, and portrays the burgeoning lesbian love affair of two young women. We met up with Momoko Ando for an intimate interview in her father’s office, nestled amongst the chic modern private homes in Tokyo’s Akasaka neighbourhood. During our talk she elaborated on her art, her confrontational directing techniques, differences between Japanese and European audiences, and differences in Western and Eastern views on homosexual relationships.

Film International (FI): Could you tell us a bit about the background of the film, how you came into contact with Erica Sakurazawa’s manga Love Vibes, and how the film came about?

Momoko Ando (MA): There was this female Japanese producer who had the rights for the comic and she was looking for a first-time female film director who was interested in doing a girls’ love story. That was her concept. I met her at the Montreal Film Festival a couple of years ago, when my dad was there with his film, and she remembered me and approached me.

Actually, I always wanted to make my first film from my own original story, not a novel or comic adaptation, but I kind of thought when I read the manga that because it’s such a short story it leaves a lot of creative freedom. I also thought that there is no point in making anything into a film if it is a literal adaptation. I think that recently there are many films in Japan that are based on comics or novels that all are exactly the same as the original manga or novel, and then what is the point of making it? It’s all about people losing their imagination. Even more so when it is a comic; it’s almost like a storyboard and I just don’t understand the point of making it into a film.

But with this comic, since I didn’t want to do that, I thought that I could make it into a quite original story, since it was so simple, and also that what the girls were saying in the book was quite beautiful. I just wanted to keep the essence of that, and then build on it. And also Erica Sakurazawa, the writer of the original manga, was very okay with me changing things in it. She also had the same idea that if someone is making a comic into film she wanted it to be completely different. So I ran it by her: ‘Do you mind if I change it completely?’ and she was like ‘No, that’s okay.’ However, I did send her the script when I had finished it and she didn’t have any problems with it.

FI: Turning to the subject of the film’s two main characters, could you tell us a bit about your casting choices for the two lead actresses (Hikari Mitsushima and Eriko Nakamura)?

MA: It was quite difficult because it took me a while until I found them, and it was all through auditioning. It’s like a puzzle; it’s not good enough that they are separately good for the part, they have to fit together well, and that didn’t work out for a long time. When it finally came to the point where I really had to find someone for the parts, I had the idea of casting the characters against type. And then they came in: Hikari, with a very strong character, hadn’t done any quiet parts before. Now I think she is doing quite a lot of very similar roles to that of Haruko, but before Kakera she had just finished Puraido (Pride) and before that Ai no mukidashi (Love Exposure) and they are both really hardcore characters. And she didn’t know how to press her emotions and her energy down. In contrast, Eriko-chan is very quiet. Eriko wasn’t really sure why she was doing [the part], probably she knew but she was just so controlled by her doubts and couldn’t really see herself in the role.

FI: For whom do you think it was harder to act against their ‘natural’ character?

MA: Both! In a way the director – actor relationship is almost like boxing. When you go into the ring, obviously you want to give it your all, and for me that kind of energy was the most important thing. Now once in the ring, Hikari kept trying to hit me with all her energy, trying to beat me up, all the while I kept sidestepping her blows, wearing her down.

As for Eriko, however, I’d punch her really hard. I’d push her up against the ropes, and when you are against the ropes you really only have two choices, to go down or fight back, and I knew that she wouldn’t go down, but come back at me. And when I pushed her like that, that was the time when she really started to become the character.

FI: Could you tell us a little bit more about your ‘punching’ techniques?

MA: [She laughs]. I wanted to find a button I could press that would make her explode so I asked her if she had ever gotten really angry or had had any really dark feelings in her life and she basically hadn’t had any, ever. That innocence was important as well because if she were someone who had too much darkness in her, I think that the character of Riko would risk becoming a bit too sexual and that would have ruined the balance in the film. I wanted Riko’s character to be very clean, always newly washed clothes and white shirts, and so on. So I realized that probably Eriko had never had a proper male experience, she had probably had relationships but not something that was crazy, that hits you really hard. So I figured that men, or perhaps I should say males, more in an animal sense, is something that she probably can’t handle very well.

I didn’t do many rehearsals with Hikari because I didn’t want her to feel comfortable, I wanted her to be more on the edge, worrying. So during rehearsals I usually sent her home, and although she kept asking about what she should think or feel with regard to certain scenes, I just replied something vague and told her that she is an actress and that she can do it.

As for Riko, I asked her to stay in the studio and for her to read from the scripts randomly while walking around, starting from a normal voice, but gradually getting louder and louder, and angrier and angrier. Then I asked the assistant directors, who are all male, to also start to read randomly from the scripts in really loud voices. It got to the point where the male voices were getting really loud and then Hikari had to try to be even louder. And I also asked one of the guys to start pinching and poking her with his fingers, and pulling her hair a bit, and then they all started to do that, all the while they were shouting really loud and close to her ear. All this made it so that she started to get really angry, trying to swat them away by her hands all the while she was trying to keep reading. Towards the end she just started screaming and shouting and hitting back, and that was what I wanted. After that she started to cry, but I felt it was really good because I had never seen her like that, and she told me that she had never felt that angry or annoyed towards anyone in her life before. After that she asked if she could go outside the studio to calm down, so she went outside where she ran screaming around the car park to calm herself down. That was how I got the emotions from her, and I asked her to keep that feeling, and I didn’t do it again.

FI: Did you learn these directing techniques from your previous experience as an assistant director?

MA: No, I think that I probably picked it up from my father. I think that there are probably two kinds of directors. I know some directors who try to have a line between themselves and their actors, almost like an invisible wall. Sort of like I am a director so I direct you with my words, but I don’t try to go inside your head. That’s one way to do it and I think that there is nothing wrong with that approach, and some people work like that. But I think that my father directs by trying to go inside the characters’ privacy to get the emotions that he wants. And I feel that I am probably more like my father in that respect. Also I am genuinely interested in people’s feelings; that’s why I write my scripts, and that is why I want to direct films. And I think that it is important in life not to try to avoid things, but instead to push through them, confronting them head on. So that is how I direct.

FI: It seems that in modern Japan, for women the concept of being cute is almost like a must that society demands of them. Some of the scenes with Haru, like for instance when we see her hairy armpits and when she has her period, seemed to be almost a deliberate attempt to deconstruct that kind of social construction.

MA: Yes, this was definitely done deliberately. It’s interesting, Hikari told me that someone had asked her after she had finished Kakera what kind of character she had played, and she answered that she played an ‘animal’ part, that she didn’t feel human. And in a way she is right, but I think she is actually really cute in the film, she is like a little animal. Not cute like an idol, because I don’t think that is realistic. When I am on the train I see many pretty girls with all their make up, but when they are tired or not working on keeping their appearance up, they are just average and if feels like they don’t know themselves. In contrast I think Haru is quite realistic. This is another interesting thing, when I was talking to Hikari after the shooting she told me that usually when you are an actress or actor you want to show your good side, you want to do your best and appear your best in the film. But in Kakera, Hikaru said that every scene, everything that exists in Kakera, is the stuff that she doesn’t like about herself, all out. But that’s good.

MA: You have lived both in Japan and in the West, do you perceive any difference in the two cultures towards homosexual relationships?

FI: Yes, sure. I think that the male gay scene is big in Japan and more out in the open, and you see for instance male transvestites often on TV and so on; however, girls are more underground. I think it is the same as any discrimination, whether it be the colour of your skin or your sexual orientation. When I made this film, I gave interviews for lesbian magazines and such. I felt that they played a part in creating some of the boundaries and isolating culture, because they often asked questions like “So have you ever been in love with a girl?” and what I think of lesbian culture, but that wasn’t really what I was trying to say. I wanted to say that what was important isn’t if it is a boy or a girl but who is in front of you. So in the case of Kakera it just happened to be a person of the same gender. You have to take it as it comes. I think it is the same case if, for instance, you fall in love with someone who is, let’s say, your grandfather’s age; that would probably also be perceived as not normal by the surrounding society. So it’s the same thing: it doesn’t matter who it is, it could be an old guy, or a very young guy, or someone of the same gender.

FI: So you believe that the Japanese lesbian community plays a part in putting up these walls?

Yes, I do. I actually felt really uncomfortable when I went to lesbian clubs for research in Japan. The reception and the impression I got there was almost the exact opposite of what I wanted to say with Kakera. In London I feel that people have a more easy attitude, like ‘Oh, it happened to be a girl’. It doesn’t really matter, and there isn’t the same need to define yourself as either a lesbian, or as bisexual or anything else. But in Japan there seems to be a need to categorize it more and that is why I think that it ends up resulting in more discrimination.

FI: Haru and Riko’s relationship is depicted in such a chaste fashion that it is almost open to discussion whether their relationship is consummated or not. Could you elaborate about your thoughts behind this?

MA: I just felt that it wasn’t necessary to show their sex scenes. I didn’t want to see it, and I think that you don’t have to see something in order to be able to imagine it. But on the other hand, this is one of the reasons why I felt that I had to shoot Haru and Haru’s boyfriend’s sex scene quite graphically and violently, so that people can imagine it.

I didn’t want only to show this film to lesbian people, and people who understand this culture. I wanted it to be a normal love story, it just happened to be two girls. Also, some people in the audience might have problems with seeing same-sex scenes, and I didn’t feel it to be necessary for the film’s story to put it in. If I had felt that it was necessary I would have put it in, though. But from what I had written and from the original comic I didn’t feel that it was necessary to show it. It’s up to the viewer, if you want to imagine the sex scene then you can do that, and then probably you don’t have any problems with same-sex love stories, but if you do have problems with it and don’t want to see it or imagine it, then you don’t have to.

FI: Haru and Riko and their relationship come across as kind of sweet and innocent, whereas Haru’s boyfriend in contrast is depicted as a selfish jerk. What were your thoughts behind this?

MA: Yes, that is exactly what I wanted. First I had an idea that I should have the boyfriend character horrible but played by someone lovable. But then I felt that I should have a big contrast between the girls’ relationship and the relationship with the boyfriend, not to say that all men are horrible and girls want something different, not like that. Just to make it easier to understand the two girls’ relationship better in the span of two hours’ time I felt it was very important to create a big contrast. Also, that is why I really wanted to put in the last scene of the boyfriend with the flowers in the pocket, so as to give him back a little bit of decency, and in a way save him. [She laughs]. Because I don’t think he is all that bad, I mean all boys are like that when they are young. Probably he is really nice with his friends and it’s just his relationship with Haru in which he behaves the way he does. People can really behave differently depending on what kind of people they are with.

FI: Yes, you also get the impression that for Haru she doesn’t seem to know really why she is together with him.

MA: Yes, well you know, people ask me why she doesn’t break up with him, why she is together with him. Well, there are always so many reasons for not breaking up with someone. Who knows, maybe he is a sex god… Joking aside, you know there are so many people who can’t leave an abusive partner, so I am sure Haru had her reasons, I just didn’t feel the need to show them in the film. […] He is actually partly based on my Japanese ex-boyfriend.

FI: The scenes when Haru’s boyfriend forces himself upon her are depicted quite graphically. Were they difficult to shoot?

MA: Not really, the actors were very professional. When it came to scenes like that Hikari was completely focused on set, and so was Ken Mitsuishi, the actor playing the role of the boyfriend. I think it was more difficult to shoot some of the scenes with Haru and Riko, for instance the scene when Riko is talking about X and Y chromosomes, which was shot as a long take. For them to keep that level of intensity towards each other, them both being heterosexual in real life, was very difficult. Especially Riko had a real difficulty with concentrating throughout the scene.

It was actually easier to shoot the scene when she gets really angry at the bar, which was also shot as a long take, because she knew how to bring out those emotions. I did only one shot, to get the intensity I wanted, instead of doing it again and again.

FI: That scene was really great, could you tell us a bit more about it?

MA: Yes, I actually find that scene really hilarious. And I really love it because of the different reactions it invokes in the audience. Some people in Japan really find it hard to sit through, and they get really emotional. Whereas some people find it really funny, so they start laughing. It was really interesting observing the different reactions within the same audience.
Also, the way I shot it was that I told Riko that it’s only acting, so when Haru slaps her it will only be a fake slap, so I drilled her on how to avoid the hit and still make it look realistic. Then I told Hikari that she had to hit Riko really hard, really slap her, which made her really excited. And since it was only one take I practiced with Hikari how to do it properly. I think it worked out really well, physically, mentally, emotionally. I think it’s all connected.

FI: During one of those scenes, when Haru lies passively on the floor, the television in the background is showing old documentary WWII footage, almost as a comment on the violence the boyfriend is perpetuating. What was your thought with regards to this scene?

MA: My thought was more or less what you say: It is a violent scene, and it’s all connected; the violence, the control over people, the scenes of war on the television. Another scene which uses the theme of war, although in a different sense, is when Haru and Riko are watching fireworks in the evening, and Haru says that it reminds her of war, and Riko replies that it’s beautiful.
In that scene I didn’t mean to say that war is beautiful. The line is not an answer to what Haru said, it’s about the power of life that is beautiful. I am against war, but at the same time when people have to fight for their lives, there is a beauty in that energy, when they give their all in order to survive. It might be an extreme example but I think that the face of someone who is fighting for his or her life might be one of the most beautiful ones, because their energy is completely directed towards the will to live. I think that people should show more of that kind of energy in their everyday life, because you never know when it will be over.
So those kinds of thoughts were all in that one line saying ‘Beautiful’. And that’s also linked to that video. It’s actually a Nazi video.

FI: You lived in London for around 8 years and studied at the Slade School of Fine Art. Could you tell us a bit about what you got from your background in the Arts and how that has affected your way of filming?

MA: A lot actually. I think it’s quite easy to understand what I’m trying to do with my filmmaking through my pictures.

FI: Have you had any exhibitions here in Japan or gotten into any art galleries?

MA: Yes, while Kakera was showing. You know the magazine called SwitchSwitch had a focus on Kakera, like six pages. And they have a Switch-Gallery. Like a café and bookstore at the same time underneath their publishing office (the Rainy Day Bookstore and Cafe). There, I had an exhibition of my lithographs and gave a talk session about four times. And the last one was with a band called The Loyal We. I used their song in my film. They are American girls and came all the way, so that we could have a small live session and talk.

FI: Do you also play?

MA: No. But I used to be in a band, actually. A crazy thing happened. I was in that band in London and I also wrote songs and did the vocals. And when I came back to Japan, I went to Spiral Records, because I had to wait for a friend and had to kill some time. Spiral Records has a CD store. I just picked one CD up, because it was a recommendation, a compilation of London music culture and I listened to the first song and it was MY voice and MY song! The reason I split with the band was, because the guy who was working with me was such a dickhead. And he sold the song without asking me for permission.

FI: Is that even legal? It’s your song, your voice. What about copyrights?

MA: I sent a letter from my lawyer saying: ‘All the rights are mine.’ I didn’t want anything back, so I just asked them to stop selling more of them. I was okay with the copies they had so far.

FI: Did you get a reply from the record label after you sent a letter from your lawyer?

MA: Yes. They were sorry, but I didn’t wanna make any trouble. God, can you imagine that shock? I just went: ‘What the fuck?!’ Hearing that this was my voice. I felt so shocked.

FI: Are you credited on the record? Is your name written down, like ‘Vocals: Momoko…’?

MA: You know what? The fucking annoying thing is: His name, and the other guys name plus ‘dot dot dot’. I was ‘dot dot dot’!
At first, I wanted them to sell the CDs with my name properly on them. But it’s not the record company’s mistake. I felt sorry for them, because they obviously believed what the guy said and it was just HIM who was awful.

FI: You debuted as the mysterious ‘dot dot dot’. But were you satisfied with the song? Would you like to see it released properly?

MA: Well, it’s the same as with my paintings or my film. I feel like I’m looking at my vomit or as if I’m naked. Because I really try to be honest and don’t lie about myself and that’s something like showing your vomit to people. It’s always kind of embarassing.

FI: What prompted your return to Japan? Did you ever consider staying in London or trying to work in film there?

MA: Yeah, but then I felt there was no point because I’m Japanese. I wanted to stay in London longer, but nobody really needed me there! Some of my friends stayed and I know some people who lived in London for 30 years and who didn’t achieve anything. Just trying to be something. But, if you can’t do something in your own country, then I think it’s difficult to do anything anywhere.

FI: Even though the film is set in Tokyo, the setting feels very international. Almost as if it could have been any big city. Could you talk a little bit about this?

MA: I didn’t want to show particular places that people could recognize. I just had one scene with the Tokyo Tower, because that’s actually something I used to see every day when I was little, because I used to live just underneath it. When directors  use the Tokyo Tower in their film, they are probably not from Tokyo, because it is so symbolic. I think that showing places which are recognizable will limit people’s imagination. It’s not about being a tourist film. It’s not about ‘Tokyo’ the city.

FI: The film music is scored by James Iha, once with The Smashing Pumpkins. Could you tell us how this came about and also about your approach to the collaboration. What kind of input you put in and so on…

MA: I was a huge fan of James Iha, or the Smashing Pumpkins, when I was a teenager, and I used to actually even wait outside their gigs and I went to their last gig at Wembley Arena or Tokyo Spiral! I was chasing them! I was writing the script while I was listening to the Smashing Pumpkins, because it’s sometimes easier to bring your memories back when you listen to music that meant a lot to you during that particular time. Then a friend of mine was organizing a private party for James Iha and she didn’t know that I was a big fan of James, but she called me and asked me, if I wanted to come too. I just shouted: ‘What the fuck?!’ ‘JAMES IHA? You said JAMES IHA?!’ and she just said: ‘Yeah. I mean, if you’re busy you don’t have to come. I was just calling to ask if you want to get drinks…!’ and I answered: ‘No, I’m on my way RIGHT NOW!!’ But I didn’t have the guts to go there by myself. I actually asked my MOM to come with me, because I couldn’t think of any of my friends who would want to come, because they were all busy. We went there together and it was a sort of club-night. There were many people, but they were all from the fashion and music business, so there were none of James’ fans around. I sat down and he sat next to me. I remember my mom saying: ‘Talk to him! You should talk to him!’ And I just told him, that I’m a big fan of his and that I went to their last gig in London. He started talking to me and asked me what I do and I told him that I make films and that I was just writing a script for my new project and so forth… Then, my best friend who was organizing the party came and introduced me properly to James.

It was actually really good that I brought my mom with me, because I was already satisfied enough with the fact that I could speak to him and say that I was a fan and she suggested that I should ask him to do the music for the film. At first, I had my doubts, but she insisted and said: ‘He’s not gonna be so horrible. He seems to be a nice guy and you’re not gonna die from asking.’ I gave him my name card and he replied to me one week later that he was interested in the film concept. So, I sent him my sketch book, because the script was written in Japanese and I thought I should approach him quickly while he was interested. From that, he probably could imagine what kind of film I was going to make through the drawings and he liked it and said that he wants to hear more about the film. I decided to translate the script in five days; no sleep and all by myself. And then I flew to New York. All just in one week. I met him at a café and thought that he’s first going to read the script and then decide and that it’s going to take a while. But James came and the first thing he asked was: ‘So, what kind of music do you want?’ I told him that he should read the script first, but he said that it’s fine, because he had seen my drawings and that’s why he can trust me and wants to make the music for the film. And I thought: ‘Wow, this guy is crazy.’

FI: Well, I guess that’s artistic integrity. Seeing your pictures probably made him think that you’re a ‘real’ artist and that he could trust you.

MA: And obviously he was rich enough, so it wasn’t a matter of money. I told him, that I really don’t have any budget, so it was fine for him that I just gave him the studio fee. In New York, we only had one week including the engineering time, so he had only five days to compose. He wrote 25 tracks within these five days and he only works from 11am to 8pm.

FI: So, you were with him when he composed?

MA: Yes, and it was really amazing. I don’t know how he writes, because he doesn’t actually write everything down. I think, he gets the sound in his head and he doesn’t even rehearse. He plays all the instruments. He just says: ‘Okay, let’s do it. I think I got the idea.’  So, it was really quick and I didn’t have to explain anything. I said something really weird, like ‘Some kind of dried mustard, but Japanese mustard, but dried..’, something like that. And he goes: ‘I think I know what you mean.’ And then he’d write the song exactly as it was in my head. It was almost as if he was reading my mind and it was so easy to work with him. Obviously, I was a big fan, but it was my film and so if I had a problem, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell him.

When I watched Kakera for the first time, I was really scared and worried about how it was going to come out.  It’s like looking at myself naked everytime I see it, but I watch it and I can actually enjoy it because James’ music is on the soundtrack. And because I really respect the music that he wrote for my film, I can actually enjoy watching my own film because at the same time, somebody else’s power and energy is there and it’s not just mine. It’s mine, but at the same time it’s not mine anymore. It’s also Hikari’s and Eriko’s and everyone’s.  But I think James’ music was the part that made me realize new things about my own film the most. There are a few scenes to which he wrote completely different music than I was expecting, but that made me see the scene from a completely differnt point of view and also made me see what I really wanted to say with that scene. He brought out what I felt. And that’s how it should be when you’re working with someone. Creativity doesn’t work like mathematics. One plus one doesn’t necessarily have to be two; it can be infinity. And we have already made plans to collaborate on my next film.

FI: Kakera was simultaneously released in England and in Japan. How did this come about?

MA: I was just lucky!

FI: In London it was distributed by Third Window Films…

MA: Right. Third Window Films had already distributed quite a few independent Japanese films. One of Third Window Film’s representatives was also at Raindance. He just recently told me that he liked the film and that’s why he picked it, but that had nothing to do with a business economical relationship. Then we had the idea that if we released the film at both places at the same time, it would give it more meaning. It was probably the first time that an independent film [from Japan] opened both in London and Tokyo at the same time. Also, ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) is a place I have a lot of respect for. I used to go there often when I was a young student and I used to dream that maybe one day, I might release my own film there. But, you know, that was sooo far away! So, it was really nice to go back there with my film that I put all my teenage memories into.

FI: The film has been screening for a little over a month now. How has it been received so far and are you satisfied with the reception it has gotten?

MA: I am really happy. Because, I believe that the number of viewers for a good independent film increases at the end, while with typical blockbusters, or star system films, it’s high at the beginning and then it gradually decreases towards the end. But in the case of a good independent film, it takes about two weeks until it really starts, because it’s actually driven by word of mouth. People talk about it. And that’s what I think happened in the case of Kakera.

FI: Did you find that the reception of the film was different in Japan and the West?

MA: Comparing the reception in London and Tokyo, I think it’s better to be criticized than to be ignored. Luckily, all the reviews I got in the big newspapers so far were really good. And, you know, they are usually really hard on films. There were sometimes people who said that they didn’t understand the film, but the interesting thing is, that a few middle-aged office worker-type men came up to me after the screening at Eurospace [Japan] and said: ‘This is my third time watching Kakera, because I just don’t get it, but I really want to understand each scene and what you’re trying to say! So, today I found out that probably in this scene you meant to say this and that…?’ and I said: ‘Yes, you’re right! That’s what I meant’ and he goes: ‘Yes! I got that today!’ But that’s amazing! When people really don’t get it, then they usually don’t bother to watch the film again.

Here in Japan, the average reaction is, that people seem to be very excited when they come out of the cinema and they want to talk about it, approach me and then they say: “I’m sorry. I had so many things I wanted to say, but now I don’t know what to say. I liked it, but I don’t know what to say.”  To me, this feels less like the reaction to a film, but rather to a book, like when you read a novel and you don’t get it and you read it over and over. I think that’s a quite good reaction.

I think that by the end of the day both audiences got what I was trying to say; however, maybe the audience in Japan has a tendency to try to think and analyze it more. But I think that when I showed it in Europe I felt that the audience perhaps was a bit more open about the concept of the film. When I screened it at the Stockholm Film Festival, it was compared to the film Show me Love (Fucking Åmål), which I didn’t mind. I think that what I tried to say through my film was similar to what Lukas Moodysson was trying to say through Show me Love.

FI: Where do you feel most at home?

MA: Well, I want to be where I feel I am needed. And at the moment I don’t feel that I am needed in England although I have all my friends over there. I feel that probably it will take something like ten years before I feel needed to go back to England.

FI: How was it going back to England with your film?

MA: For me it was a huge thing. England is like a second home for me and to be able to go back to England with my film, four years after I left, and have it premiere at the Raindance Film Festival was just a huge thing.

FI: Lately there has been an increase in the number of female film directors within the Japanese film industry. Do you believe that it is harder for women to get ahead within the film industry than it is for men? And do you think that there is any special reason for the current increase in women active in the Japanese film industry?

MA: I think it was really late when they opened the door for female directors in Japan. But it is the 21st century and a female film director just recently got the Oscar for Best Film. So, I think, people have to give this space to female directors. When I am being interviewed they all seem to be really scared of and sorry to ask the question: ‘How do you feel being a FEMALE director?’ I asked them why they feel so scared to ask me that and apparently so many female directors don’t like to be asked that question. They get really angry and say that it doesn’t really matter that they are female and some even seem to reject an interview when they are categorized as a female director. But I think, they probably just have enough money to advertise.

And film making is not like selling bras or shorts. Your audience could be kids, male, female; anyone could watch it. So, why not have a female director, or a gay director? But, I think, first you‘ve got to understand your gender before you can talk about yourself, because it’s something that you can’t choose. Just like you can’t choose your parents or neighbours. There are so many things in your life that you can’t choose. I don’t mind being categorized, because often that’s who I am. I think that every opportunity you get to talk about your film is nice. I want to have more people to go and watch my film, so that’s why I do advertising. Some so called independent directors – not only female – seem to categorize themselves as ‘independent’ filmmakers and they don’t try to advertise their films commercially because it’s sometimes cool to be underground. But I don’t think so, because what you want is to have as many people as possible to come and see your film. After all, the goal is the cinema and your work and you shouldn’t stray from that path.

Johan Nordström is a Doctoral Student at the Department of Theatre and Film Studies at Waseda University, Tokyo. He also works as a freelance writer and a film curator.

Doris Lang is a research student at the Graduate School of Social Sciences, Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo. She also works as a freelance writer.

Read Nordström & Lang’s interview with Ogigami Naoko here.


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