L'Etrange 2014: Sono Sion Talks TOKYO TRIBE And All Things Etrange

Contributor; Paris
L'Etrange 2014: Sono Sion Talks TOKYO TRIBE And All Things Etrange
This past Monday, L'Etrange Festival brought together Sono Sion and 500 hyped up fans for an absolutely electric screening of Tokyo Tribe. Though the French speaking audience learned at the last minute the print would only have English subtitles, it didn't dampen their enthusiasm or, from what I could tell, understanding of the film one bit. Chalk it up to Etrange's stellar audiences and Sono's madcap vision. The director stuck around for questions after the film, and then turned up again a few days later for a quick press conference that ScreenAnarchy had the pleasure to attend. Below are some of the highlights.

On his definition of "Etrange" and his most memorable festival moment 

That's a tough question, but with regards to "etrange" I think more about that which is immoral, that which is out of the ordinary... Something like an amusement park, that's not so strange. Self-consciously 'off' places like circuses and haunted houses, I don't find them strange at all. What interests me is when those traces of the bizarre creep into our normal, everyday life. 

At the screening the other night, Alejandro Jodorowsky was the first person in the theatre and had come expressly to see the film. After the film, he sent a personal message to say how much he appreciated it. I was really enormously moved. 

On changing a major character's motivation [Spoilers] 

In most manga in Japan, when there is a big rivalry between two characters, it is almost always a story of vengeance, of reckoning with the past. I think in the original, one killed the other one's girlfriend, is that it? That's something we see too often and was starting to bother me, and then I had this idea... 

In Japan, we're seeing more and more racism, tensions with our neighboring countries for completely stupid reasons, and so I wanted to ironically mock that. I wanted to show that root of these conflicts, like most conflicts in the world, could be very stupid. So that's why the roots of my war ironic and mocking, that why it is due to men comparing penis size. 

And I also wanted to make a film that was above all fun, not to fill it with anything too heavy. I wanted to make something light. I want audiences to approach it as if they were going to a club. 

On adapting a manga 

For Tokyo Tribe, the version that you see is the only cut. The film is a manga adaptation, it is a project the producers brought to me and I accepted. I have a few other manga adaptations in the works, but afterwards I don't plan on doing any more. I feel creatively it's not as interesting. I ask myself, why should I begin with a story written by somebody else, when I can make up my own stories?

So I made it because it made more an interesting experience, I wanted the challenge of adapt an existing manga. Tokyo Tribe the manga is twelve volumes long, and takes place over the course of many months. It's next to impossible to put all that into an hour and a half to two hours of film. To tell that story you would a six-hour television series. 

I also looked to West Side Story for inspiration. When I was watching it again, I thought the scenes of song and dance were wonderful, but where it stopped for story it was very boring. I thought the film could have easily been song-and-dance all the way through.

With Himizu, the producers had proposed doing a manga adaptation, but of none what they were offering really interested me. Himizu was a manga I sought out and brought to them myself. Then during the writing phase, the incident in Fukushima took place, and it felt natural to include it at the end of the film. 

When I'm adapting a manga, I'm not interested in doing a straight adaptation. I still need to bring my sensibility and touch, but of course that can sometime draw the ire of fans, which is probably another reason why I'll adapt less going forward. Manga fans in Japan can be very unhappy when you stray too far from the original books. Their reactions can be pretty intense. But often manga characters have such improbable haircuts and styles of dress, and if I translated that directly you'd feel as if you were at a cosplay convention and I'm not interested in making that kind of film. 

On his breakneck schedule 

It has been only year, but shooting Tokyo Tribe already feels like a long time ago. When talking about it, I almost feel like I'm talking about a girl I've long since left. It's funny; it is as if somebody asked, "remember that girl you dated five years ago? Tell us all about her!" 

Since then, I've already shot two more films. Love and Peace is completely done, and with Shinjuku Swan I am finishing the sound. As soon as I get back I start shooting a science-fiction film that I'm preparing at the moment. And I have three more projects for the rest of year that I'm putting together at the same time.

Making Tokyo Tribe felt like the general process of making a film. Perhaps Love and Peace is a little closer to my heart, but it is nevertheless a film I'm very proud of. 

On seeing his international star rise

I don't know how to answer that. When I look at my fellow Japanese directors, I notice differences. I never went to film school, for instance. It was my love for cinema, not even Japanese cinema, but from around the world, that pushed me to make films, and faintly I'm aware that it left me with a more twisted, offbeat perspective than my colleagues, but beyond that I'm not sure what else I can say. 

Each film I make has its own set of producers of distribution deals, deals that I usually don't have a say in. But it is always surprising to see how far the films travel. I was never the director who got the most attention, so to see any one of them get the exposure at festivals like this is a joy. 

On myth-making

In America, there are so many superhero movies right now, but of course there is no real Spider-Man or Superman. In Japan, these larger than life gang figures fill that same role. Same as the extravagant schoolgirl figure, it's not something you really see in life. There's not any social message. You really have to consider the characters in my films as Spider-Man, Superman like figures.

Have you noticed that the gangs usually fight each other barehanded? It is something like a law in Asian films that the characters will go at it empty-handed. Firearms are not allowed in Japan, anyway.
It's funny because of all that, tourists will sometimes arrive in Japan and ask the hotel reception, "where can I find Ninjas?" and the reception of course won't know what to tell them. And they'll continue, "No no, I know they stay hidden, but just between you and me..." 

On his surprising favorite film 

My number one has got to be Babe, without a doubt. Then probably Battles Without Honor and Humanity by Fukasaku Kinji. I would have liked to include that at the festival Carte Blanche but as there was already a retrospective at the Cinematheque, we weren't able to get it. But really, Babe. It's not all a joke. Various magazines and revues often as me to present my favorite film and I always go back to Babe

On his absolute favorite food

Curry rice!

Fred Ambroisine contributed to this story.

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