Tokyo 2013 Interview: Watanabe Hirobumi, The Not-So-Foolish Piggy, Talks AND THE MUD SHIP SAILS AWAY

Writer; London/Tokyo (@seven_cinemas)
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Tokyo 2013 Interview: Watanabe Hirobumi, The Not-So-Foolish Piggy, Talks AND THE MUD SHIP SAILS AWAY
And the Mud Ship Sails Away is an entertaining indie comedy set in Tochigi prefecture, a few hours north of Tokyo. It stars Shibukawa Kiyohiko as Takashi, an unemployed, unmotivated slob who one day gets a visit from a girl claiming to be his dead father's daughter. 

The film is directed by Watanabe Hirobumi and is the first film made under his own production company Foolish Piggies Films. The film was made with a crew of just four and with a cast of friends and family, including the director's own 96-year-old grandmother and with his brother and company co-founder, Yuji. I sat down with the director to talk about the film and his new production company.

In the program notes it says you made the most 'Tochigi-esque' film ever, why was this important to you?

Because its my hometown, it's where I grew up.

Do you want to continue making films about Tochigi, have you got more stories you want to tell from there?

Any films from Foolish Pigs will be based in Tochigi and I already have a few ideas.
Its not that I want to particularly promote the region but as it is my hometown I'd like to depict the culture and the people, how comical they can be, how funny and sad they can be and I think I will be able to continue to do that.

So you have no plans to move to Tokyo?

If there are any lucrative offers sure I would move to Tokyo but I guess in the end what lies at your core is from your hometown.

Do you think you represented your hometown well in the movie?

I would say that first of all this film comes from my own past experiences, living with my grandmother, with a bit of fiction. In answer to your question I think I have been able to depict the comedy of the people who live in Tochigi.

Do you think if you hadn't started making films you might have ended up like the characters in this town?

With regards to leaving my hometown or not, I did come to Tokyo for 8 years but I wasn't able to feed myself so I sort of ran back home. For one and a half years I kept looking for work and I finally got a job as a lifeguard at a pool and that's how I tried to gather the money together to shoot this film because I never wanted to give up on filmmaking.

So you made the company Foolish Piggies, where did this name come from!?

It was not me who named the company it was Tengon Daisuke who is the son of Shohei Imamura. Tengon is my mentor, he has been since my student years and even now. We came up with a name and showed it to him and he said 'don't try to be cool, you are fat and you are a fool therefore you should be named as such! But also there is the spirit of being stupid, of being unafraid. You have to have that sort of spirit in filmmaking.

It also alludes to one of my past projects, I don't think there's an English title for it, hachigatsu no karui buta, which alludes to Imamura's Pigs and Battleships so there's some of that in there too.

What was the cool name?!

The first name we came up with was from 'la mancha' from the story of Don Quixote, so 'la mancha films' but Dengon said "Don't be cool, you're a pig, go with this".

Did you make this company to concentrate on producing your own films or will you use it to produce for other people?

I really haven't thought that far yet. This film was made by just four people and so if audiences empathise with what we do and want to join us they are more than welcome as long as someone is passionate, wanting to become a director, or grow into a director we would like to work with them absolutely.

So there are no plans for a next film right now?

We do want to embark on the next project as soon as possible. There are some ideas boiling right now, an idea about making a sequel about the main character of this film but at the same time there have been offers for me to work as an actor. We don't know quite how things are going to turn out at the moment yet.

You say there were four people making it and the cast was mostly family and friends?

The lead actor Shibukawa Kiyohiko, an actor who we did two theater productions with and the friend in the film is an actor we brought in from Tokyo. The rest are local people and the grandmother is my actual grandmother!

How was it working with the local, non-professional members of the cast?

I cast amateur actors, and even my own mother appeared in the film. Regardless of whether they were professional actors or non-professional I think it's their quality as a human being that seeps in to the performance and that is what most matters.

A theater production called Gekidan 36 Kei was a very heavy part of our production and what did catch our attention was there were some people talking behind our backs and saying a local theater production like that are not going to be able to make a film. In response to that kind of thought about local regional productions not being able to make a film, we sort of showed a little revolt. I hope that the picture provides an opportunity for people who want to make regional based films, now is their chance.

How did your grandmother feel about being in the movie?

She saw the film and was very perplexed wondering why she was in there. She was laughing and said it was interesting and when I told her that this film was going to be shown in Tokyo to people from overseas she was very happy.

Why did you decide to shoot in black and white?

Budget constraints and I thought that black and white was appropriate for this kind of film. Another rule that we made was one cut per one scene, when you have budget constraints and time constraints the issue was how to make a good comedy and that's how we came up with these rules.

What was your inspiration in terms of other films and directors, did you look at anyone in particular in the making of this film?

The film directors I respect are Kurosawa and Imamura so the issue with this film was how to make a really good interesting comedic film with a limited budget so in that sense Jim Jarmusch, I really studied his films and the British director Tony Richardson .

If budget wasn't a problem what film would you like to make?

My imagination is limitless but there are many many films that I would like to make but I would say something that is based in Tochigi that is an ensemble piece that has a lot of violence and that is heavy in suspense and comedy along the lines of Shohei Imamura.
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Shibukawa KiyohikoWatanabe Hirobumi