YOU WOULD expect a family drama that involves one character suffering a terrible disease to be heart-wrenching, bordering on melodrama.
But Japanese director-screenwriter Yûya Ishii’s “Our Family” (original title “Bokutachi no kazoku”), the film adaptation of a semi-autobiographical novel by Kazumasa Hayami about how a family copes with its matriarch’s life-threatening illness, deftly uses humor as counterpoint to the weight of the film’s serious subject matter.
He and producer Takuro Nagai graced the opening of this year’s Eiga Sai Japanese film festival, where their movie was shown. They also participated in a forum after the screening.
The 32-year-old Ishii holds the distinction of being the youngest Japanese filmmaker to have his work sent to the Oscars; his 2013 film “The Great Passage,” about an eccentric linguist who becomes a dictionary-maker, was Japan’s entry for the 86th Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Film category.
In an interview with Inquirer Lifestyle, Ishii and Nagai said they made “Our Family” at the point in their lives when they began to think of having a family and raising children.
They shared their thoughts on the film’s reputation of bringing audiences to tears as well as the challenges faced by the new generation of Japanese filmmakers. Excerpts:
Why did you make this film?
Nagai: The story is an adaptation of a novel whose author was the same age (34 years old) as I was when we started producing the movie. It was a time to think about having a family and imagine how we would be as parents. It would be our generation’s time to have a family and children. That’s what attracted me to the story.
How did Japanese audiences react to the film?
Naketa: In a culture in which people are not very emotional, naketa is a very good reaction.” (The direct translation in Filipino is nakakaiyak, said Nagai and Ishii’s interpreter. The Japanese word refers to being deeply touched or moved emotionally that one would be inclined to cry.)
Does that further support the film’s reputation of making audiences cry?
N: We didn’t create the movie to make people cry. Another general reaction is it has made audiences realize they have to take [better] care of their families.
What kind of impact do you think you’ve made on Asian cinema?
Ishii: I’m not sure how much influence Japanese cinema has had on Asian cinema and vice versa because each has its own set of ways and [have been] shaped [differently]. Having said that, I feel I can still contribute in a little way. The fact that I am here in the Philippines to show my movie and perhaps meet Filipino directors who might come to Japan [for us to collaborate on projects], I think those would be little things I can do to make some kind of difference.
What is it like to be a young filmmaker in Japan? What are the challenges?
I: In my early 20s I was very lucky because at the time a lot of people were willing to invest in young directors. I was fortunate enough to have those kinds of investors and stakeholders to help me out. Unfortunately, young directors now have distant reinforcement support.
How did the loss of support happen?
I: Generally, the Japanese movie industry is now at its low point and so there are fewer producers willing to bet on younger, inexperienced directors. It would be too much of a risk.
How were you able to adapt to these changes in the film industry?
I: I was very lucky and fortunate that I was given the opportunity [early in my career] to go out of Japan [to promote my films]. But I feel that if younger generations of directors cannot follow my generation’s footsteps, I am worried the Japanese film industry might end.
Eiga Sai, the annual Japanese film festival organized by the Japan Foundation Manila, is running until July 19 at Shangri-La Plaza Cineplex, Edsa cor. Shaw Blvd., Mandaluyong. It will continue July 14-19 at the FDCP Cinematheque, Davao; July 24-26, Abreeza Mall in Ayala, Davao; Aug. 12-15, UP Film Institute, Quezon City; and Aug. 19-23 at Ayala Center, Cebu.
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