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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Watching Hong Sang-Soo films, discovering Miwa Nishikawa. Researching for new short film.

My posting here had been erratic because I've spent the past few days trying to do some research for my writing. I intend to do another short film, and this isn't the ambitious one-taker that I've been talking about last month (I'm planning to do that in Malaysia instead). The ideas for this new film came during my time at the TIFFCOM, and I continued playing around with it in my mind when I was in Rome, and then Malaysia.

During conversations with coursemates, I've half-jokingly said that I would adapt SNOW COUNTRY by Yasunari Kawabata, but instead of having a man and a geisha, I'll update it so that it'll be about a middle-aged salaryman and an Akihabara maid (or a waitress in a maid cafe). I just had images of two lonely figures traversing down the empty streets of Akihabara (which, unlike Shinjuku and Shibuya, seems really empty and isolated at night) The reason why I thought of using an Akihabara maid is because they are often figures of ridicule by the non-Otaku crowd, and the sight of Akihabara maids trying to give out tissues and leaflets to disinterested people at the streets always feel a little poignant to me. So why not try to examine a person behind the cute costume? After all, the 'subservient maid' is just a role they play at their workplace.

My last film, LOVE SUICIDES, almost had zero dialogue, so to keep up with the personal principle of making each film as different from one another as possible, I intend to make this a dialogue-driven character piece. Of course, by doing that, I will also need to spend an entire night at Akihabara finding the right places for the shoot. Ideally, I would also like to interview a maid to research my role, and I wonder whether I want to do such an interview because I saw the protagonist of celebrated Korean auteur Hong Sang-Soo's WOMAN ON THE BEACH doing the same thing. (the film's about a director going to a beach resort to write a script, and picked up a woman for 'interview' because she 'reminded' him of someone and he wanted to 'develop the female role based on her')

And that's what my research had been about. Aside from meeting up with some friends who could possibly help me with this shoot, I was recommended by Ming Jin to watch some films by Hong Sang-Soo (a favourite of his) because I may have been trying to attempt something similar to his. Therefore Ming Jin thought it was better for me to watch the master of such works so I would know whether I were attempting something inferior (and avoid it). And so I watched his films, WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN and WOMAN ON THE BEACH, both are films about relationships, not in a glossy manner, but in an awkward, realistic manner. Most men in the films are loutish, while the women seem to be the more sensible ones, yet despite clearly knowing the flaws and questionable intentions of the men they were with, they stuck with them, as if they had some sort of martyr complex, an incisive reflection of a culture focused on social status and power?

(Note: posters of Hong Sang-soo films look deceptively like glossy, star-studded studio romantic comedies, but they're not.)

They are not easy films to watch (between the two, I preferred WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN), but Hong Sang-Soo's depiction of characters and the situations they face are interesting and unique, and somehow, they actually remind me more of James Lee's 'LOVE' trilogy (I've only seen the first two films, BEFORE WE FALL IN LOVE and THINGS WE DO WHEN WE FALL IN LOVE, I liked the lead actor of BEFORE WE FALL IN LOVE, Chye Chee Keong, so much that I wrote the dad role in CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY with him in mind, and was shocked when he was the one who contacted me after I posted a call for casting online!). I share Martin Scorsese's thoughts about Hong Sang-Soo's multi-layered storytelling skills in the video below.

When talking to Ming Jin on Gmail chat, I've asked what would happen if I couldn't find any Hong Sang-Soo films, which other director's works can I use for reference, and he mentioned Hirokazu Kore-Eda, who directed NOBODY KNOWS (the then-14 year old Yuya Yagira won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Fest for the film, making him the youngest in history to do so) and is also an alumni of Waseda University, the uni I'm going to. Kore-eda's a sensitive director who has a good eye for details in characterization and subtle storytelling, I've not seen NOBODY KNOWS, but I've seen his HANA, which I enjoyed. In my attempts to find a Kore-Eda film to watch, I ended up stumbling upon the film SWAY (Yureru ゆれる) by Kore-Eda protege Miwa Nishikawa starring Jo Odagiri and Teruyuki Kagawa (after seeing so many films with him this year, the guy has became one of my favourite actors).

Another harrowing film, but immediately I knew that Miwa's another filmmaker I'm going to keep an eye on because, like Hong Sang-Soo, she also showed me more possibilities with character studies in cinema. She's also a Waseda alumni! I'll probably want to find more of her other films. She's probably only the first Japanese female director I know about aside from Naomi Kawase (okay, there's also Sundance NHK winner Aiko Nagatsu too, whom I met at the TIFFCOM, I'll be looking forward to her debut feature, Apoptosis... I wonder whether she'll help me out with my script development too, hm) Yes, one can say that if I really wanted to study the characters, I should hang out with Japanese people instead of just watching films, I don't refute that, but when you only have a rudimentary grasp on the language, you'll probably end up NOT knowing what you were observing. I like my Chinese subtitles, thank you. You'll hear more about my film soon, I hope.