Japan Cuts 2012 Interview: Toshiaki Toyoda Talks Monsters, Manifestos & Moviemaking

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Japan Cuts 2012 Interview: Toshiaki Toyoda Talks Monsters, Manifestos & Moviemaking

Arguably one of the most fascinating filmmakers working in Japan over the last 15 years, Toshiaki Toyoda was recently in New York to present his latest film Monsters Club to the audience at Japan Society's Japan Cuts. Our correspondent, The Lady Miz Diva, had the chance to sit down with Toyoda and talk about the inspiration behind Monsters Club, a veritable poem laid out on celluloid. This interview is being cross-published at Diva website The Diva Review.

The Lady Miz Diva:  What is it like for you to present "Monsters Club" to a New York audience?
Toshiaki Toyoda:  Well, the Unabomber {Ted Kaczynski} is not very well known in Japan at all, but that's different in America, I'm sure.  Yesterday, I was in Greenwich Village in The Big Lebowski specialty store speaking with the shop owner; he said that he hates the Unabomber and he was very saddened to hear that he was a Star Trek fan and that put him off.  So I started to wonder if the Unabomber is really a hated person in the States?  And of course, I was inspired by the Unabomber's manifesto, but Monsters Club is not a story about the Unabomber.
LMD:  What kind of research did you do into the world of mad bombers and terrorists like the Unabomber?
TT:  There are a lot of books about the Unabomber in Japan, and of course I researched online, as well, and I saw his documentary on Youtube.  But what intrigued me the most was the story about the Unabomber's brother being the one who reported him to the police.
LMD:  Is that where "Monsters Club" began, when you found this out about the Unabomber's family?
TT:  What intrigued me about the Unabomber was the story about his family, and of course this film depicts a lost family.
LMD:  Was there any significance to the fact that the main character, Ryuichi, and his family were wealthy?
TT:  I thought it would be a good contrast because he's living in a mountain lodge right now, so there's this huge contrast between his affluent family and where he is now.  And of course he sends out bombs to groups like the Japan Society. {Laughs} Or the Rockefeller Fund.
LMD:  "P", the white-covered figure in the ghastly clown make-up that haunts Ryuichi is a stunning and disturbing image throughout the film.  Where did the design for "P" come from?
TT:  Pyuupiru, the actress that depicted the monster is actually an artist and that's part of his {her} work.  She plasters herself in meat, and she did it much earlier than Lady Gaga.
LMD:  What was the inspiration behind meshing Pyuupiru's art into your storyline?
TT:  Actually, Pyuupiru, the artist, he's a she, now.  She's a transgendered artist.  She's legally changed her name to a female and she's married to a man, and this aspect of her performance is all about transformation; not only transformation of her body, but her face, as well.  She takes a lot of self-portraits, as well, and I felt I could achieve the idea of transformation {with her art}.  She's quite well known in Europe and she's had a lot of exhibits and I anticipate that she'll be doing a lot of shows here, as well.
LMD:  The climactic scene of Ryuichi walking through the crowded streets of Shibuya with the paint peeling off him is beautiful.  How did you get that shot in the heart of Tokyo amidst all the pedestrians who clearly don't know what's going on?
TT:  Well, that's the reality of Tokyo; people will ignore you even if you're famous.  I mean, we were making snow breeze through the atmosphere and nobody really stopped.  That was a very long shoot, as well, that particular scene.  We stopped the traffic, we had to work with the red lights; it was crazy.  It took three or four minutes to shoot each time, but usually the red lights only stop for two minutes.  We actually did three or four takes and a police car arrived, so we had to get out of the way.
LMD:  You didn't get permission to shoot?
TT:  No, you cannot get permits to shoot in that particular spot in Shibuya.
LMD:  You've worked with Eita before.  What was it about him that made you cast him as Ryuichi the mad bomber?
TT:  So, Eita's debut film {Blue Spring} was the film that I directed, but he became known to the world through TV series and commercials.  He's known as this bright, very innocent, straightforward man, but my impression of him isn't that.  He's much more naïve and there's aspects of him that are psychologically dark, and I wanted to bring that out in him.
Actually, during the shooting of the film, Eita's father killed himself, so it might be the last time you might see Eita performing to such a profound degree.
LMD:  Speaking of the darkness in Eita, there's so much darkness in this film, though there's a hopeful note.  Do you feel as a filmmaker, it's your responsibility to present thought-provoking or controversial subjects to an audience?
TT:  I feel that is very important to make controversial or thought-provoking films, because it's a rare opportunity these days to be able to do that and I'm glad I have this chance.  I mean, I'm going to get back on track to my more entertainment {-based} films, but I always consistently want to take the time to make personal projects like this.
LMD:  Your fans know you took a break from filmmaking for a few years.  Did coming back after such a long time change your perspective as an artist or the way you approached filmmaking?
TT:  At that time, I was actually living alone on a mountain, so I think that time really inspires me.  But in general, not really, it didn't really change me.  The reason for that is though I was away for four years, I wasn't actually sitting back and relaxing; I was preparing my films and doing a lot of different activities, as well.
LMD:  Part of this year's Japan Cuts film festival is a tribute to the late actor, Yoshio Harada, who you worked with on "9 Souls".  Can you talk about Mr. Harada?
TT:  He was a father figure for me.  There was a festival in {Aoyama?} prefecture and we would always go together.  He passed away on July 19th and the time that 9 Souls premiered in Japan was nine years ago on July 19th.  So, eight of us who were doing 9 Souls will actually do an event in Tokyo on July 19th.
LMD:  Will you tell us about your next project, "I'm Flash"?
TT:  I'm Flash is leaning more towards entertainment films.  Of course, while at the same time it's an entertainment film, it depicts the theme of life and death, so it's a tribute to Harada, as well.  I gathered all the actors that I met at his funeral.
LMD:  What would you like for people to take away from "Monsters Club"?
TT:  Well, it's an art film, not an entertainment film, and it's a very poetic film, so it's sort of like you take what you will, but at the end of the day, I hope it energises people.
~ The Lady Miz Diva
July 15th, 2012

As an added bonus, Diva and Japan Society were nice enough to allow us to re-publish Toyoda's note on Yoshio Harada, translated into English, as well as a photocopy of the original hand-written note in Japanese.

Introduction for the Screening of 9 Souls
July 19, 2012 @ Japan Society

Along with the staff, the cast of 9 Souls and Yoshio Harada's family, I am very happy that 9 Souls is being screened in New York on July 19, the first anniversary of Yoshio Harada's death. Today, I will be at a screening of 9 Souls in Tokyo, with 8 of the cast members. So I am sorry that I am unable to attend the screening in New York.
9 Souls was released in Japan 9 years ago, on July 19: as it turns out, it is the same day that Yoshio Harada passed away.

This made me to feel like there was a magical connection and made me realize the distinctive character of the film.

Yoshio Harada was like a father to me. On the movie screen, Yoshio Harada will live on forever. I haven't seen all the films that he appeared in. That means I still have something to look forward to.

Please enjoy 9 Souls.

Thank you for coming to the screening today.

Film Director Toshiaki Toyoda


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