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Interview: Film Director Akira Osaki

“My films won’t all be about losers, I do want to make something different in the future!”  – Akira Osaki

Akira OsakiAkira Osaki is an independent filmmaker whose latest production, Obon Brothers, was screened in London (represented by Third Window Films) as part of the 23rd Raindance Film Festival. Hailing from Gunma prefecture in Japan, Osaki is a humble and friendly director, who has worked predominantly as an Assistant Director. Much like the lead character in his film, Takashi Kitano , Osaki was looking for his big break in the Japanese film industry. Having made his first film, The Catch Man, in 2006, it took nearly ten years for him to be able to release his latest film. This frustration at the film industry is used as inspiration for Obon Brothers, and the comedic way in which the film approaches this topic is part of its charm. Diverse Japan was lucky enough to catch Mr Osaki during his stay in London to discuss his film.

Interviewer: Roxy Simons

Interpreter: Sayaka Smith

There were many similarities between Takashi’s life and your own, was there a reason why you decided to use your own experiences as inspiration for the film?

My debut film, The Catch Man, didn’t do well. It didn’t become a hit or anything, but despite this I was given an offer from a producer to make a new film. For no reason whatsoever, though, the project was called off so Shin Adachi (the scriptwriter) and I were frustrated about that, and we didn’t have any work or money. We were talking together after this happened, and we realised that we only have ourselves, so we thought about us and began writing about our experiences – that became the film.

You’ve worked with Adachi-san before on The Catch Man, how did you two develop the story of Obon Brothers?

I met Adachi in 2000, and we were introduced by a friend who was the assistant director of one of the projects I worked on. After The Catch Man, what we did was talk about everything, nothing major – it was just a trifle talk, and I told him everything about my life. About how I was a loser, and the relationship problems I had, and everything else. Then Adachi picked the funny stories and wrote the film, so it was that sort of progression. I told him all about my life, and then he wrote the script based on that, and added his own things to the story.

Obon Brothers

Obon Brothers directed by Akira Osaki

Is there a particular reason why you decided to film Obon Brothers in black and white?

Everyone has asked me why I decided to do it in black and white! There are five reasons why. The first, is that the idea didn’t come from me, it was the cinematographer called Masami Inomoto, who suggested it first. I was surprised by the suggestion, and then we went to the location and I became convinced that we should go with black and white. Black and White also ensures that the characters and their characteristics stand out because you don’t see all the colours. This story is very raw, so I kind of neutralised this rawness by deciding to use black and white. It also stimulates the audience imagination, because people will have to rely on their imagination. As it was filmed in the Japanese countryside there are a lot of unnecessary colours everywhere, so I decided to make it more cinematic. People began to believe that I was copying old-style Japanese films, but that wasn’t the reason. A funny thing has happened recently though, I have been told by the audience that they think a certain object is a certain colour – they made their own decisions about that. So I found it very funny to hear that, they were asking me about the characters clothes so it was interesting.

What was it like working with the cast, and in particular Shibukawa Kiyohiko?

The producer comes from Gunma, I come from Gunma, Shibukawa comes from Gunma and Kohiki Okada, who plays Takashi’s best friend, also comes from Gunma. So we really wanted to make the film about people coming from Gunma and I think it went really well, I didn’t know Shibukawa well because I hadn’t worked with him before but I thought he was perfect for the role. In the end, it all went really well.

Obon Brothers seemed to have a lot of spiritual elements in it, and even the title brings to mind Japan’s O-Bon festival. Was this deliberate?

It wasn’t really my intention to put traditional Japanese customs and things in the film, but in the end there are so many of these elements put in the film. You know when Takashi prays at the shrine? Well Adachi does that 365 days a year. So that story already started from Adachi, but I just wanted to show the ordinary life of Japanese people so I didn’t pick anything extraordinary. For instance, when the brother picked a fortune that’s a fairly normal for us to do in Japan, but people overseas see it in an interesting way. It wasn’t my intention to include so many spiritual elements in the film though.

You’ve worked as an Assistant Director for several films, how does this compare to directing your own projects? Do you prefer working as a director?

I definitely prefer directing everything myself, but, having said that, when I was an assistant director I was proud of doing that job and I really loved it. I worked with some amazing directors, and so many of them were great at what they did. I learnt a lot from them. But, at the same time, it’s different being a director than an assistant director, and being a director is more enjoyable.

Were there any directors, in particular, that influenced you after you worked with them as an Assistant Director?

Takeshi Kitano and Nobuhiro Suwa were the most influential directors for me, and I was an assistant director for them for a long time. Their direction is amazing – I don’t copy it, but I took loads of influences from them. Another director I like is Hideaki Anno, Isshin Inudo, and Kazuo Kuroki are directors I really admire as well. I can’t pick anything in particular because I learnt so much from all these directors, but Takeshi Kitano and Nobuhiro Suwa were my main influences.

There was a brief period in your career where you weren’t working as an Assistant Director, were you working on Obon Brothers at this time? How long did it take for the film to be made?

I was working on it from 2007 to 2015, it took 8 years to become a proper film! It’s been a long time, and it took so long because of funding issues. We are independent filmmakers, and not many producers were willing to give us money. So just getting all the funding I needed took a while. It’s all about money.

Would you agree that the Japanese film industry has changed, in that the majority of films produced are adaptations or blockbuster productions?

Yes, I do agree with that. There is such a difference in Japanese cinema – on one side there’s these huge budget studio films and on the other are the micro-budget movies. We don’t have anything in the middle, and I think that’s a problem. We are going to have to do something about it, and we should try to make some change to how the film industry is now, it’s just too far apart.

Do you know about that?

Yes, there are only some independent Japanese films that are imported to the UK, and most of the films I have seen in the cinema have either been anime or blockbusters.

That’s boring!

I know.

You know, the lead actor in the film, Shibukawa Kiyohiko is really against studio movies. So although he is a really big name at the moment, and he gets a lot of offers, he tries not to be in any films that normally plays in the cinema. He keeps himself low-key, despite the fact that he has so many offers. So those people exist, and those filmmakers exist as well.

Shibukawa was also in That’s It, which is also at Raindance.

Yes, Shibukawa likes to act in independent movies rather than studio blockbusters.

Some companies have turned to fund-raising websites like Kickstarter so that they can make their products (Third Window Film’s Lowlife Love, and Mentat Studio’s Under the Dog for example), do you think this will be the future for independent filmmakers?

You know, the end credits of the film was endless because I had to thank so many people, there were more than 300 individuals and companies that gave me money for the project. So I didn’t do Kickstarter, but I myself asked people to gather some money for me. So, like Kickstarter I had perks that started from £15, £25, £50, and people donated money and I had to add them to the end credits. So I had to do it myself, and I think that there are so many people doing these kinds of things these days.

This may be left up to the audience, but do you think that Takashi’s new film will be green-lit?

I think he will at least make one film, which will be really good. He may make more films, and there are so many people asking me if there is a chance for a sequel because they want to know what will happen to Takashi. If I make a sequel though then I think he will fail!

Are you working on any new films?

Yes, I am thinking about making three different films. I haven’t started anything, but with all three I am talking with Adachi because so I won’t be working with anyone else. But all three films are about losers, and pathetic men’s stories. So no one is going to get any success, they’re all going to fail.  My films won’t all be about losers, I do want to make something different in the future, but for now I will make these kinds of films.

Interviewer Roxy Simons with Akira Osaki

Interviewer Roxy Simons with Akira Osaki

Author Profile:

Roxy Simons is a journalist who has been in love with all things Japanese ever since she first set her eyes on Sailor Moon at the age of five. Since then she has become fascinated with the culture, cuisine, and history of the country, and has a particular obsession with Rurouni Kenshin, Shaman King, and Bakuman. When she’s not watching things to review or playing Touken Ranbu, she can be found plotting her next trip to Japan.

Websites: www.mainichientertainment.com, www.viewofthearts.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/viewofthearts

Twitter: https://twitter.com/roxysimons

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