Japan Cuts 2013 Interview: Toyoda Toshiaki Talks I'M FLASH!
A surefire favorite around these here parts, Toyoda Toshiaki is now also a bonafide staple of NYAFF and Japan Cuts, as he's screened his last three films there. And it all seems a sure thing that he'll be returning every year with one. Diva Velez got the full scoop when she sat down with Toyoda earlier this month to talk about his latest I'M FLASH!, a film that tackles the themes of death, family, religion and idol-ism with as much fervor as it does philosophy. [ed. Ben Umstead]
Toshiaki Toyoda: Before we start, I have to apologise; I got off the flight [from Japan] two or three hours ago and I'm completely jet-lagged.
The Lady Miz Diva: Well, thank you for being here under those conditions. Last year, during our interview, you said, "I'll be back next year with 'I'M FLASH'." Does keeping your promises like that get you into trouble?
TT: I completely forgot that I said that. The Central Park concert was amazing last year, so I think I'll come here every year.
LMD: What was your inspiration to make "I'M FLASH!"?
TT: I made this film in 2011. It's the year of 3/11 in Japan. The actor Fujiwara Tatsuya called me after 3/11 and said, "Let's get a drink together," and what he told me, "Within this year, I have to make a film with you." And he told me that his company will supply the funding for the film. But to be honest, after 3/11, I had no idea what I should film or shoot. And I think it sort of lacked character or class to shoot something about the earthquake at that time.
What shocked me the most was, of course, the casualties, and also my beloved friend [actor] Harada Yoshio had passed away, as well. And I thought not only for my own salvation, but for everybody else I should make a film about death, and I wanted to incorporate that with the gangster film I had been thinking about.
If I'd had a little more budget to work with, I would have definitely had a little more guns and shoot out scenes. I'll have some more of that in the next movie.
LMD: I hadn't connected it to 3/11 when I watched it, but that furthers my curiosity if this was a comment on religion or people who find comfort in those religious shows or evangelists?
TT: Yes, I definitely feel that at a time of crisis a lot of people turn to the wrong type of religion.
LMD: I guess Fujiwara's evangelist is the wrong type of religion.
TT: [Laughs] Yeah!
LMD: Was Fujiwara's character directly based on those people who take advantage of their believers?
TT: What inspired me was the story of this Hare Krishna devotee who started out as a guru at age 15 and then moved to California, and then started a religious cult when he was 20. He has this very handsome, sophisticated face and think there's something similar about him as Fujiwara.
LMD: Last year, you said "I'M FLASH"! was leaning more towards being an entertainment film. What made you think that? I think it simmers along nicely before coming to a full boil like your previous films do.
TT: I think last year I had already finished I'M FLASH! and I had already began Crows Explode, which is more like a genuine entertainment film with a big budget. It's a silly little film, actually. It's pretty fun.
LMD: Like "Monster's Club", which played at the festival last year, "I'M FLASH!" deals with the story of a family corrupted. Does this theme fascinate you?
TT: We all have families. I think in film or in any sort of narrative, family and death are just indispensable parts of a story. Of course family connotes a lot of joyous things, as well, and family is to be cherished. But what I love about making a film about family is that I can utilise actors of all sorts of generations.
LMD: I thought casting Fujiwara as the debauched evangelist, Ryu, gave the role a bit more depth. I saw some parallels considering how famous Fujiwara was as a teen idol and the need to keep the guru's reputation pristine. Was he happy to play this dark character?
TT: He was very troubled. He was very confused as to what to do. But he was also very entertained by playing the villain. He's not an idol, at all. He's not what I would call an idol: He drinks a lot. He's a complete alcoholic. [Laughs]
Is this your third film with Matsuda Ryuhei? What is it about Matsuda - his style of acting, or personality - that makes you want to continue working with him?
It is our third film together, but there have been numerous projects that we had intended to do together, including a 10-miunute short film together. So just as Kurosawa had Mifune, I have [Matsuda]. I think there's something similar about us. Not the face! [Laughs]
LMD: There've been quite a few actors you've used repeatedly. Do you feel you are creating a Toyoda ensemble?
TT: Yes, definitely, but so were Kurosawa, Ozu, Oshima. I think it's an old, traditional style.
LMD: Keeping in mind your work with Matsuda in "Blue Spring," I have to ask about your return to high school with "Crows Explode".
TT: I was told not to talk too much about that.
LMD: Can you tell us if because the two previous films are so closely associated with director Miike Takashi, whether you had complete freedom to make "Crows Explode" as you liked, or were there things from the previous films you were asked to stick to?
TT: I don't like Miike's films at all. So I forged ahead with my own style. I changed the cast entirely; so that's completely different. I would love for you to see it as a brand new film.
LMD: I love the soundtracks in your films. I once asked Wong Kar-wai if he was a frustrated musician because of his great use of music in films, he told me he was more like a DJ.
TT: [Laughs] That's great! Very smart.
LMD: Are you a frustrated musician?
TT: I'm from Osaka, and when I went to Tokyo, I went just with my guitar and my belongings. So I think if I weren't a filmmaker, I would have definitely been a musician. But it's because I have cultivated such personal relationships with all sorts of different musicians that my films and music is kind of interrelated.
LMD: Right into your casting of "I'M FLASH!"?
TT: Nakamura Tatsuya. He's actually a legend of the Japanese rock clubs. He's a rock god.
LMD: Is the music we hear in your soundtracks close to what you have in your head as you're creating a film?
TT: Yes, even at the onset of this film, I knew that I wanted to work with Nakamura Tatsuya. So it begins with the drums and it ends with the drums. And Nakamura Tatsuya saw the film and as he watched the film, he improvised and he worked on the score and it's almost one take. He's a genius.
LMD: The mansion and beach setting is almost like another character in the script. It's obviously expensive, but so desolate. Was that what you were looking for in that location?
TT: I knew that in the last scene when he submerges into the ocean, I thought that that would have really reminded everybody of 3/11. Everybody died in the sea, of course. That's why I went to Okinawa, and I found a sort of a music hall; a facility that looked like something straight out of Greek mythology. And when I approached that area, I found huge jars and there were a lot of skulls of things and I knew that this was the place where I had to start shooting.
LMD: Since the last one was so prophetic, what is the message you have for our readers this year?
TT: I'll come back with Crows Explode.
This interview was cross-published on Diva's website The Diva Review.