Interview: Director Kayoko Asakura Talks ‘It’s A Beautiful Day’
‘I made it a precedence to try and create a very visual form of storytelling!’ (Kayoko Asakura)
Kayoko Asakura is a writer, director, editor and producer. She took on these roles collectively for her first short entitled Off Season released in 2010. Her other work includes the TV movie Kaidan shin mimibukuro hyaku Monogatari (2010) and the short Hide and Seek (2013), a things-are-not-what-they-seem story about a girl who takes private koto lessons. But Asakura’s most ambitious work so far is her debut feature film It’s a Beautiful Day, an American and Japanese produced graphic slasher flick with undertones of social alienation and racism. Since its premiere at the Yubari International Film Festival in Japan on 22 February 2013 reviews have been favourable and is a clear example of Asakura’s strength and talent as a storyteller whose future in film looks set to shine.
DJ is honoured that Asakura has taken time out of her busy schedule to talk about her latest film It’s a Beautiful Day.
Special thanks to Andrew and Kazumi Kirkham of Silk Purse Enterprises.
Interviewer: Spencer Lloyd Peet (Diverse Japan Editor-in-Chief)
Please tell us a little about yourself. When and where were you born and how did you become interested in film?
I was born in Japan. I spent my school days in several places in the west. Since graduating from high school I returned to Tokyo to attend university and have lived here ever since. Since childhood I loved to watch films. “E.T” was my first cinema experience.
Do you have a particular favourite film or genre?
I have many favourite films. I especially love horror, thriller and fantasy. “Texas Chain-Saw Massacre”, “Out of the Past” and “Arizona Dream” are my 3 special films.
It’s a Beautiful Day is a very strong debut feature film. Where did the inspiration and concept come from?
Thank you very much for giving your attention to that point. I thought I would like to make a slasher horror film, which had a main female character being a serious killer. I wanted her to be an unusual female character. I mean she is not very feminine. So from this standpoint I had the idea for the story of this film.
Why did you decide to make your debut feature film a horror story?
Simply, I love slasher horror films.
How long did the film take to make and what was your budget?
As much as I know, I think 10 to 15 million Yen (£63,000 to £95,000).
What challenges did you face during production?
The cast are all very competent actors and well suited to their roles. Did they all have to audition or were some specifically hand-picked?
Mainly, the cast were decided via auditions except Ms.Kkobbi Kim, Ms. Nanako Oshima and Mr. Akihiro Kitamura. I was very lucky to have such a wonderful cast.
Was the title song ‘It’s a Beautiful Day (To be Alive)’ composed by Dave Boyle written specifically for the film or had it previously been recorded?
I had the image of “What a Wonderful World” when I was writing a script, so I asked my crew to find the music which created a similar atmosphere. When I heard Dave’s song, I decided immediately that is was a perfect song for my film. Actually, the English title is “What a Fucking Wonderful World”, the same as the Japanese title. However, I wanted to use the title to match in with the lyric, so I decided “It’s a Beautiful Day” for the title.
The road sign ‘Beware Thieves & Loose Women’ made me chuckle. Does it actually exist or was it created for the film?
I asked the designers to make the sign “Beware of Robbers”, and they gave some other ideas. Then, the one phrase caught my eye, “Beware Pickpockets and Loose Women”. It was an actual signboard in America, probably in a bar. I really loved that phrase, and I thought it would be fun for it to be stood at the roadside deep in the mountains.
The locations and landscape gives the impression that the film was more expensive than it actually was. The setting was ideal. What can you tell us about the lodge where the students stayed, how did you know about this place and was it already furnished or was the interior décor designed specifically for the film?
I had never been to Los Angeles before. A Line producer helped me to find some of the locations, and then I decided on Los Angeles for filming. The lodge already existed as a rental at a site. We changed the interior for the filming.
The opening sequence shot shows the vast landscape illustrating the remoteness of the area and symbolically matches the detachment Ah-Jung (played by Kkobbi Kim) the student from South Korea feels towards the Japanese students she is travelling with. Is this form of personal isolation something you’ve had to deal with yourself at some point in your life?
Stepping back and looking at it impassionedly, I think it depends on our own mindset as to whether it is best to keep at a distance or to move closer. When we feel alienated, as a matter of fact, we may have decided to distance ourselves. With that kind of meaning, I meant to describe the human relations that everyone could possibly experience in their life.
Being a horror film it incorporates some very nasty scenes of mutilation. How were these scenes worked out, were you particular about which body parts to amputate? Was it a team effort or were these your ideas or that of the special effects department?
Basically, all of the scenes for splatter were my idea. Special Effects Make-up artist Kazu made my dream come true.
The film touches upon religion, Christianity in particular, especially in one of the mutilation scenes where we see Hirono (Shijimi) bound up in a crucifixion pose, but you don’t delve too deeply into the subject matter unlike many other horror films, just enough to give some background story into the upbringing of the two brothers Henry (Adam LaFramboise) and Victor (Julian Curtis) and the origin of their unstable minds – their now dead abusive God-Fearing mother being the main cause behind their psychopathic behaviour. What kind of research or study did you do on the upbringing of serial killers and other psychopaths and are the brothers based on anyone in particular?
When I started to write the script, I researched Christianity and bloodthirsty killers. However, these killer brothers suffered a harsher fate later on in the story. So I decided to describe them as ordinary American men, rather than typical bloodthirsty killers.
Language and the importance of understanding one another, be it through verbal or physical communication, seem to be at the heart of this film. Were the scenes where the mouth of Kenjiro (Tomoyasu Abe) and the tongue of Masanori (Akihiro Kitamura) are maimed a visual reflection on the psychopathic brothers’ frustration or even anger towards the language barrier and them not being able to verbally communicate with the Japanese students?
Although I had completely forgotten about it before you asked this question, you reminded me that was what I was thinking about just before I wrote the script. However, I tried to get rid of everything from my mind when I started writing the script. I made it a precedence to try and create a very visual form of storytelling. Eventually, the only two students who could speak in English, had their mouths and tongues mutilated, as you pointed out. It is probably a coincidence, but on the other hand, it might be a necessary consequence.
Although language and culture can separate people, the gruesome attacks seen in this film highlight the fact that no matter how different we are from one another, be it the colour of our skin or the language we speak, underneath we are all the same, we all bleed red blood and we all feel pain. Is this something you are purposely trying to get across or is this a personal assumption on my part?
I think blood is impartial for all of humanity. I believe it is so absurd to quarrel over race or a nation. I am very happy to know that you felt so when you watched this film.
Through the dialogue between Aj-Jung and Takako (Chika Kanamoto) during the campfire scene it would appear that the film is making social commentary on how the educational system overlooks the fact that the rich parents of many Japanese students can easily buy their child’s way through international schools and collages via backhanders without them ever needing to learn to speak English – all they’re really concerned about is being able to put on their résumé that they have studied abroad. Is this something you are strongly against?
Japanese student’s utterance is a deformation of materials that I discovered when I researched for writing the script. They are taking an optimistic view of life without efforts. However, I am sure that unpleasant realities must be waiting for them in their future.
The film premiered in Japan at the Yubari Film Festival on February 22, 2013. How was it received?
It was really wonderful experience for me. During the screening, some audiences had to leave the cinema. Maybe, some people could not stand the gory scenes or got bored. Yet, many audience members ran to me after the screening, and they said that the film was so good! I got a really good reaction from most of the audience. I felt very happy.
What do you hope western audiences will appreciate most about this film?
For both Japanese and foreign audiences, I would like them to feel the stateless chaos, which is mingled with many nations and races.
Is horror the genre you’d like to specialise in or do you plan to venture into other styles and types of film?
I would like to watch all sorts of films as much as I can. But, I have to say they would need to include some essential elements.
What project[s] are you currently working on?
I have planned a new feature film. It will be a thriller horror. A girl appears to be a normal person but, in fact, she is a bestial ghoul.
Well, I for one look forward to seeing that. Thank you.