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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy 2010!

I'm now hanging out at Tsukui, new year has come, waiting for Maiko the Producer's mom to prepare some soba (apparently it is Japanese tradition to eat soba during new year!).

2009 had its ups and downs, but for me, they were mostly ups. Hopefully 2010 will be better, for me and you all!!!

EXHALATION shoot day 3

Last night, I shot the remaining scenes for my new film EXHALATION.

This is lead actress Kiki Sugino in her uniform (in the film she works in a Pachinko shop).

Kiki in her Pachinko worker uniform

It was fitting, and also entirely what I hoped for, to leave the ending as the last scene for the shoot. (although most film shoots are shot out of sequences, I generally prefer to leave the ending for the last).

So here's me, Torigoe the Sound Guy, Maiko the Producer, Kiki, setting up for the scene. Hayasaka the Cinematographer were off to get a different lens for the film.

I provided two options for the cast and crew: Either to do the scene with two different cuts, or go for a bravura long single take. They all opted for the latter. I was happy.

Last scene of the shoot

(It was the last day, and the scenes I shot were quite few, so didn't manage to take any more photos)

I have already checked the rushes after the shoot. Not going to make any pompous declarations, but I don't think the film will suck. :D

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

EXHALATION shoot day 2

Early in the morning, when I returned to the location for the shoot of my new film, EXHALATION, it struck me that i was going through the last few days of 2009.

It was rather apt that, in a year which I would consider a breakthrough for my filmmaking career, I would end it while making a film.

As my team started setting up dolly tracks in the forest for the first scene of the day, I felt slightly overwhelmed by the scope of the production.

I've actually never seen real dolly tracks like that before. 3 years ago in my student film at Perth, GIRL DISCONNECTED, I used PVC pipes as tracks. It was the same earlier this year in Ming Jin's WOMAN ON FIRE LOOKS FOR WATER, (which we used sparingly because the PVC pipes weren't even).

Then they were setting up the jib arm too, it was something I've definitely never used in any of my previous films before.

In fact, when all these while my filmmaking was about maximizing limited resources, it was hard not to feel bowled over by the sudden increase of possibilities opened up before me. And to think that I initially visualized the scene as handheld herky jerky shots because, I underestimated the resources that I had for the shoot!

In the second photo below, where I was pondering in a very ponderous manner while the team was setting up. I was actually thinking: "Wow, dolly, jib arm... what am I actually gonna do with them? Wow! Stay cool, stay cool, stay cool!"

Me setting up a shot in the forest

I wondered what to do with a jib arm

The shoot lasted til the night.

Shooting a scene in an abandoned building

In a discussion with my main actresses and producer

And in the end, the toughest parts of the filming were done. It was pretty dark at night and I couldn't even see some of the team members posing for me when I took the photo.

the EXHALATION film crew after a long night shoot

It is 10:54 am now. The next shooting location is Shibuya. Gathering time is 3:30pm. Today I shoot the beginning and ending of the film, and a few short scenes. And then it'll be over. Can't say that I'm not excited!

Monday, December 28, 2009

EXHALATION shoot day 1

The 3-day shoot for my newest short film, EXHALATION, had just started. It's the biggest production I've ever taken (yes, even bigger than KINGYO).

Some photos from the film shoot today. I have only 4 hours to sleep before I get up at 5am for day two of the shoot.

The crew arrived at the location at 8:30am in the morning. Everyone started preparing.

EXHALATION crew preparing for shoot

EXHALATION crew preparing for shoot

As for me. I spent the time either going through the script and schedule with Maiko the Producer.

Me going through the schedule with Maiko the Producer

Or making fun of her height.

Me saying something to Maiko the Producer

Occasionally I gave out manly screams to motivate the team.

"I'm the King of the World!"

Once my two main actresses, Kiki Sugino (also a producer of my film) and Shinohara Tomoe, were ready. I started giving abstract instructions.

"Both of you, when you speak... I want your words to simmer!!! SIMMEEEER!"

Directing the actresses Kiki Sugino and Tomoe Shinohara

"Remember!!! SIMMER!!!"

Me giving instructions

Preparing another scene with my two actresses

Friday, December 25, 2009

Yakiniku Christmas Dinner

I remembered last year's Christmas, it was a quiet one. I miscalculated that Ueno Park or Senso-ji Temple would be open for Christmas, but I was wrong. It was a peaceful but somewhat melancholic experience.

I kinda assumed that the same would happen this year. Perhaps I would just head off to one of the cinemas and watch AVATAR alone, but something else came up, and all of a sudden, I found myself at a Yakiniku restaurant called Buchi, in Shibuya.

Buchi, the yakiniku restaurant in Shibuya

... with An-chan (KINGYO production assistant, 3PM supporting actress), and Kong (who was celebrating the completion of his new short film that starred KINGYO main actress Luchino Fujisaki, and shot by KINGYO cinematographer Josha as well).

An-chan enjoying the appetizers

And Liu Jing (assistant producer of THE WHITE FLOWER).


Yakiniku, for the uninitiated, means 'grilled meat' in Japanese.

We order raw stuff for grilling.

Meat prepared for grilling

Although I've been to numerous Korean BBQ restaurants in Japan since I've moved to Tokyo, I think this might actually be the first time I was in a Yakiniku restaurant!

I like it most when things burst into flames.

Kong takes photos of stuff burning


Click here for embedded video

Kong and An-chan enjoying the sight of stuff burning

Occasionally we have to put some ice cubes to cool things down.

Some ice cubes to cool things down

Then there were more inferno.

Click here if you can't see embedded video

We were stuffed.

With Liu Jing

25th of December, 2009. I was in a Yakiniku restaurant, with three of my friends.

Me, Kong, Liu Jing and An-chan during Christmas 2009

I don't celebrate Christmas. But it was a great meal.

There was dessert.


Dessert is good

Yes. Merry Christmas.

LOVE SUICIDES picked up Best Director award at China Mobile Film Festival 2009

(I've announced this on Twitter and Facebook a few days ago, but haven't actually done it here, so here you go...)

Just to share some good news. I picked up the Best Director Award for my short film LOVE SUICIDES at last week's China Mobile Film Festival in Shenzhen.

Accepting the Best Director award at China Mobile Film Fest 2009

I was the only filmmaker with two short films in competition at the festival, LOVE SUICIDES and the more-heralded KINGYO.

Even so, I always felt that LOVE SUICIDES was a casualty of KINGYO's popularity. Despite having its world premiere at Paris Cinema Film Festival in July, and then being invited for competition at the Festival internazionale del cinema d’arte and Split International Film Festival, the media attention garnered by KINGYO after its Venice Film Festival selection turned LOVE SUICIDES into an afterthought, or a footnote, of my own filmography.

[Love Suicides] The woman (Kimmy Kiew) is pensive

And then, when FLEETING IMAGES unexpectedly won the Grand Prix earlier this month at the CON-CAN Movie Festival, I feared LOVE SUICIDES had been pushed even further into obscurity.

Therefore to be given the award was a very pleasant surprise. It's an unbelievable month to end an unbelievable year. Four awards for three different short films in one month? Wow, just wow. It also mean that all four of my short films had picked up an award of sorts since their release, it's inconceivable.

Holding the Best Director award trophy with dad after China Mobile Film Fest 09 awards ceremony

But I'll cherish this moment while it lasts.

Not winning awards, but that I can still make films.

3 days from now. On the 28th. I'll be shooting my new short film EXHALATION. My 7th short film of the year.

(will chronicle my adventure in the China Mobile Film Fest later, along with my brief exchange with Korean actress KU HYE SUN, actress of BOYS OVER FLOWERS)

KINGYO reunion party

Yes, it's Christmas, but let me post some long overdue blog entries for now.

The KINGYO team had a reunion party on the 15th of December, right after the CON-CAN Award Ceremony.

Actually, it's more like a 'wrap party' instead of a 'reunion party'. Although we finished the shoot for KINGYO almost a year earlier (principal photography was done by the end of January 2009), none of us had the chance to really had a 'wrap party'. None of us were able to be at the same city at the same time, so it was great to finally have something like that.

Here's part of the team.

Part of the KINGYO team here
(from left to right: me, Kawamura-san who borrowed us his house for the shoot, still photographer Zhang Xiaolei, production assistant Seki, lead actress Luchino, production assistant An-chan, Lia the Artist/ Assistant director, Maiko the producer and Linto the post-production technician)

Yup, I was holding the trophy fan that CON-CAN Movie Festival gave me.

Slavek the composer and me (holding my CON-CAN Movie festival trophy)
With Slavek the composer (he also did the music for my upcoming short, AFTERNOON RIVER, EVENING SKY)

Don't think there'll be any more photos of me posing with the fan though since I've placed it (along with my other trophies) in the university lab for display.

And here's Takao Kawaguchi and Amane Kudo, who played the doomed husband and wife in KINGYO. Not so doomed here, happily.

Kingyo's doomed husband and wife: Takao Kawaguchi and Amane Kudo

Takao had never seen KINGYO prior to the screening that day as he had been busy touring around the world for his performances most of the year. He was actually in Venice during the Venice Film Festival in September, like most of us, but he also had a performance there. Good that he had finally seen the film!

Didn't really take that many photos that day because I was busy, ah, eating. But here are some videos.

(Click here if you can't see embedded video)

(Click here if you can't see embedded video)

Before the toast, I said that I was happy to be there with everyone again, and what a film we had a made together, and what a nice journey it had been going through in the festival circuits. In fact, I was going to head off to Shenzhen's China Mobile Film Festival the following day where KINGYO was in competition (... along with my often-overlooked short, LOVE SUICIDES) too. So hopefully we would have more parties and gatherings of this sort again.

The next morning I headed off to Shenzhen.

(KINGYO trailer. Click here if you can't see embedded video)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The CON-CAN Movie Festival Awards Ceremony and Ando Lab screening in Waseda

Last month, the people of CON-CAN Movie Festival decided to hold an awards ceremony in Waseda University because, aside from me, another award winner Nishihara, was also a Waseda student.

A couple of stuff happened, and my professor Ando, who was already planning for a public screening of productions from our lab, made this a joint event with CON-CAN Movie Festival.

The event was held last Tuesday (15th of December), just a day after the screening in Keio University.

Once again, the four award-winning films of the CON-CAN Movie Festival were screened. Along with six productions from the members of Ando Laboratory.

The event began with the Ando Laboratory screenings. The films screened were:

1) Kong's debut short film CENSORED (I took some really nice photos of the production)

2) Zifeng's short film BUBBLES (shot by THE WHITE FLOWER cinematographer Niklas)

3) My often-underrated and overlooked short film LOVE SUICIDES

[Love Suicides] The girl (Arika Lee) plays with the red balloon

Then there was a break. Then the rest of the films screened were:

4) MIURO by Erika Matsushita (cinematographer of my 'lost' short film, 3PM)

5) A documentary called SHAOLIN KUNGFU, edited by ZiFeng and Yang Yang that also picked up an award at the Eibunren Awards.

6) My KINGYO... not going to talk much about it.

That was followed by the CON-CAN Movie Festival events.

I managed to meet Junko, who did the wonderful Japanese translations of FLEETING IMAGES. Here's a photo of me and her, with Ando-sensei.

With Ando-sensei and Junko the translator

CON-CAN Movie Fest jury member and filmmaker Naomi Kawase left a video message commenting on each of the four award-winning films. Here's when she commented on FLEETING IMAGES:

(click here if you cannot view embedded video)

A (very) rough (and possibly inaccurate) translation:

"In 10 minutes, the director made it clear what his thoughts were. And the title gave an idea what the film was about as well. The images were very beautiful."

After that, jury member and film critic Chris Fujiwara came onstage to talk about the role of short films and film festivals. To him, the main purpose of film festivals is to educate audiences.

Jury member Chris Fujiwara gives a speech

Here's Nishihara, winner of Best Fiction Film.

Best Fiction Film Award winner Nishihara

And here's Monica, Special Jury Prize winner.

Special Jury Award winner Monica Gallab

I finally went up to retrieve my award.

Receiving the Grand Prix award

And then I gathered myself to give an acceptance speech. Not realizing that I looked like an idiot then.

My acceptance speech at the CON-CAN Award Ceremony

I finally revealed that I actually knew about the CON-CAN Movie Festival since 2005, during my days in Perth. At that time, I had just made my ah, home video, FORCED LABOUR (... you can watch it here, but it's not for the faint of heart), and thinking that I had just made a supreme gangster film, I went around to look for short film festivals that I could submit the film to.

That was probably how i found CON-CAN by accident. Yet when I looked at the films selected by the festival, I was shocked by their quality and production values, and I knew I wasn't ready. And that was why I decided to stay in Perth for another year to do a one-year course in filmmaking. Therefore Chris was right, I was indeed one of the people educated by this festival.

Since then I continued making short films, hoping that one day I could make a short film worthy of the CON-CAN Movie Festival. So it was a tremendous honour, and surprise, to be there, picking up the Grand Prix award.

FLEETING IMAGES was a one-man film, but I wouldn't have gotten it done without the help of my Chinese translators, but most importantly, it was my 2007 trip in India that gave me something to say. To see the school of the visually-impaired children and also the nursing home of the Tibetan refugees, I was reminded of the world's imperfection. We all live in an imperfect world, that's why we all have something to say, perhaps that is why we exist.

But saying that, I feel a little hesitant about my self-importance, therefore I can only assure you that I am humbly dedicated to my arts, and to be standing here, before others who are chasing after the same dreams as well, I am inspired. Therefore I will continue to make films.

So that was what I remembered about my largely-improvised speech. I don't have a video of it, but An-chan does, so I will get it from her later. (UPDATE: added video)

Giving an acceptance speech at the CON-CAN Award Ceremony

click here if you cannot see embedded video

And after that. A party was held. Many came. I was suddenly approached by a few people who turned out to be ex-staff members from CON-CAN 2005, they told me that they were very moved by my speech, not expecting what they did back then could lead to what I'm doing right now.

It was a great night.

Here's me with Juan the videographer and Yumi the photographer.

With Juan the videographer and Yumi the photographer

Then with CON-CAN Movie Festival director Tanimoto.

Tanimoto the CON-CAN Movie Fest director

My trophy.

My CON-CAN Movie Festival paper fan trophy (front)

My CON-CAN Movie Festival paper fan trophy (back)
The CON-CAN logo

I then headed off for the (much-delayed) KINGYO wrap party. (couldn't have that because main actor Takao was always touring around for his dance performances, and I went back to Malaysia the day after the shoot back in January). More on that later, yup.

The CON-CAN Movie Festival Screening in Keio University

I just got back from Shenzhen, China, two nights ago. Was there a couple of days for the China Mobile Film Fest, was mortified to be reminded again that Facebook, Youtube, Blogspot and even Twitter were blocked, hence the lack of updates. I picked up an award from the festival, but I'll get back to that later.

Last Monday (14th of December, 2009), I headed off to Keio University for a screening of FLEETING IMAGES (watch entire film here) organized by the CON-CAN Movie Festival. My film, along with 3 of the award-winning films of the festival, were screened. But that night, only me and Monica Gallab of Belgium (Special Jury Prize winner for NICE DAY FOR A PICNIC, film embedded at the bottom of the post) were present for the event.

This is Yumi the Photographer, she studied French literature.

Yumi the photographer

There wasn't anything to do as they were setting up the screening, so I went out to check the rest of Keio University.


Keio University

Corridors of Keio University

Keio University, and my university, Waseda, are arch-rivals, especially in baseball. The annual Keio - Waseda baseball match is usually a major event, I heard that if Keio wins it, Keio students and fans would flock in Roppongi (not sure) to celebrate, if Waseda wins, Shinjuku will be infested by the Waseda fans and students.

The screening was held in a classroom.

Special CON-CAN screening in Keio University 2

Keio professors Sugihara and Sato were here to give an introduction first.

Special CON-CAN screening in Keio University

That was the first time I ever got to watch the other award-winning films in their entirety. I was more surprised by the enthusiastic response for FLEETING IMAGES, since that and LOVE SUICIDES are among my most divisive films. People either liked it, or hated it. Poetic to some, pretentious to some others, unflinchingly sympathetic look at poverty to some, poverty porn to some others. Perhaps Sebastian said it best, it was a film that was more suitable for Japanese sensibilities.

Here's a video of the Q and A session held after the screening. Moderated by the two professors and with Tanimoto the festival director doing the translation.

(click here if you cannot see embedded video)

The following day, another CON-CAN Movie Festival screening was held in Waseda University, along with its awards ceremony. I'll get to that in my next post.



Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My return to the ruins of Sun Hills Hotel and Fujino

Back in May, I explored the ruins at Sagamihara. It was an unforgettable adventure that stayed with me, so I decided to return to the ruins of Sun Hills Hotel again, for location scouting.

Before that I went past the beautiful Tsukui lake.

tsukui lake

tsukui lake 2

tsukui lake 3

Got carried away there.

Anyway, I felt a strange feeling of warmth and familiarity when i returned to the cursed and possibly haunted ruins of Sun Hills Hotel.

Entering the ruins of Sun Hills Hotel

This time I felt good because I got to take photos of it with my more badass camera.


Sun Hills Hotel

Windows (Sun Hills Hotel ruins)

View of Sagamiko Lake

Another way into the ruins

Broken glasses (Sun Hills Hotel ruins)

balcony (Sun Hills Hotel ruins)

Surviving plants

There was a bamboo forest nearby. Perfect for the epic martial arts scene that I haven't written into my script yet.

bamboo trees

bamboo trees 2

Continued exploring the town of Fujino because I didn't do that last time.

houses in Fujino

Fujino map

The Tsukui tunnel was built before World War 2.

Fujino tunnel

"The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country."

No train and no snow though.

Fujino tunnel 2

"April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers..."

Mysterious gate
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