Japan Cuts 2015 Interview: Director Irie Yu Talks HIBI ROCK And JOKER GAME

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Japan Cuts 2015 Interview: Director Irie Yu Talks HIBI ROCK And JOKER GAME
Since his 2009 love letter to hip-hop, 8000 Miles screened at Japan Cuts, director Irie Yu has remained a festival favourite. This year, Irie brings us two films, Hibi Rock: Puke Afro and the Pop Star, starring the excellent Nikaido Fumi, and the splashy spy caper, Joker Game.


The Lady Miz Diva: How did you become attached to HIBI ROCK?

Irie Yu: 
The film is based on a very popular manga in Japan. The producer of the manga, and he approached me with the project.

Fans worry whenever there is a manga adaptation that the live-action film will be faithful to the original material.  What were you careful to cling to regarding the source?  Were you in contact with the original mangaka, Enokiya Katsumasa?

The original manga actually depicts the entire story from the time that the band members are in high school, all the way to when they start working overseas in America.  The movie is just a segment of that journey, so I did communicate with the original manga author and that's how we decided to just take one part.

I haven't read the manga, but after that answer, is it safe to assume that there will be a sequel?

{Laughs} For me, I'm most sympathetic and I feel more attracted to stars who haven't made it big yet, I think I'm more drawn to the story, as I was in this film.  But I'd love to shoot a film like Jersey Boys one day. {Laughs}

Did the actors actually sing and play their own songs?

Yes, they are singing and playing.  So, as you saw in the film, in the last scene, they're singing in a storm, so the rain was getting into their mouths.  It was crazy.  The water was filling up their mouths as we were shooting.

Japan Cuts first came to know you for 8000 MILES; another story of a band which had two sequels. There was RINGING IN THEIR EARS, which centers around a concert, and now HIBI ROCK.  What is your interest in musicians?  Did you originally want to be one?

I think songs and the lyrics of the songs function in the same way as the dialogue of the film.  I'm very much interested in how a song or a film is communicated through a person, through the audience.  I think that the way a song is received is very similar to how I shoot a film and how I'm interested in how the audience reacts to my films.  Of course, I, myself, don't want to be a musician - rather, I can't be a musician, but I have all the admiration for musicians.  I wish I could play the drums. {Laughs}

A lot of directors I speak with listen to certain types of music as they direct or edit.  As so many of your films are based around music, do you do that and does the music you listen to follow the type of music depicted in a particular film?

Actually, the only time I listen to music is when I am writing the screenplay.  So, if I'm writing a hip-hop film, I listen to hip-hop.  If I'm writing a rock film, I listen to rock.

I don't think actor Nomura Shuhei says one complete sentence at a normal tone of voice in the entire film.  How did you encourage him to keep up the massive amount of crazy energy he's got in the movie?

So, I think there a lot of roles in movies these days that are either smart, or they are sophisticated, but I wanted to do an about-face on this film.  I wanted him to be as anarchic and crazy as possible, and I asked him to give me 200% all the time.

Nikaido Fumi was here last year and stole everybody's hearts.  You worked with her on RINGING IN THEIR EARS, and she was very excited about this film when I spoke with her.  Please tell us about working with Miss Nikaido?

When I first worked with her, she was only 16 years old, and in Hibi Rock, she was 20, and in that duration of four years, she grew up so much, it was amazing.  In speaking English, she's better than me. {Laughs} And she also works with many different Japanese directors, so she absorbs very fast and quickly from them.

She's ridiculously good as the A-Pop singer.  Did you have her work with a real choreographer?

Yes, I did find a choreographer before the filming began, and I asked her to train with the choreographer. I think it's very rare for an actress to be demanded to learn the choreography by heart and to perform on stage, but she brought it home.

JOKER GAME is here at Japan Cuts, too.  This is a very different type of film for you.  Was this the biggest budget you had to work with?

Yeah.

How did you become attached to JOKER GAME?

That film was also adapted from a novel, and they were looking for director, and I received the offer,  I love spy films, so I had to do it. {Laughs}

What was it like for you to create a Japanese James Bond?

{Laughs} Of course, the 007 series, the Bourne series, I'd always admired all these films, but the challenge was how close I could get to those movies that I so admired?

It takes place during the early days of World War II, which is still a touchy subject after 70 years.  Did you feel you had to tread carefully in the ways either the Japanese military or the American/Allied forces were depicted?

I wasn't actually concerned about the reception in Japan, I was more concerned with how the British people would receive it. {Laughs}

As I mentioned, JOKER GAME is a departure for you; there's the spy drama and there's action.  What was the most challenging aspect for you?

The most challenging for me was this movie was predominantly shot in Singapore and Indonesia, so 20% of the crew was Japanese, but the rest were a foreign crew.  So to command this international production was the biggest challenge for me, including British actors and Australian actors.

Your main character is played by Kamenashi Kazuya, who is a huge star in the idol group, Kat-Tun.  Were there any restrictions in working with him?

I was not interested in idols, at all, whatsoever, but he completely changed my mind once we began filming.  I think he went through a lot from an early age to where he is today.  He had to endure so much, so he shows so much concern for staff and the crew members.  He's very caring.  And of course, in Indonesia nobody knew who he was and they would look at him like, 'Who's that guy?' But there were looking at him training and working on his English every day, and just seeing him being so dedicated brought our whole team together.  The whole team wanted to work hard for him.

Every morning we would sit down and eat the same breakfast together, Kamenashi-san included, and we would also eat all of our meals together in the same place, so that had a real sense of togetherness.

After such a big budget production as JOKER GAME, what is next for Irie Yu?

I've adapted a manga and a novel now, so I'd really like to go back to my original screenplay.  I'm going to make an attempt at a noir film; a little darker this time.  I'm writing right now, so I'll probably be able to start shooting next year at the earliest.


This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.
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Japan Cuts 2015Joker GameKamenashi KazuyaNikaido FumiNomura ShuheiYu Irie

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