MAN FROM RENO: Dave Boyle And Ayako Fujitani Talk Murder, Mystery and Miss Marple

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MAN FROM RENO: Dave Boyle And Ayako Fujitani Talk Murder, Mystery and Miss Marple
Man From Reno is the latest from director Dave Boyle, a move away from the cross-cultural comedies in which he made his name. 

A stylish neo-noir, the film features dual plots in which a Japanese crime novelist is drawn into a world of murder and mystery resembling the plot of one of her own books. Meanwhile, a small town sheriff investigates the disappearance of a man found alone and disorientated on a foggy road. Boyle leads the audience on a tour through the tropes of noir cinema; a missing suitcase, a lover vanishing after a night of passion, hired goons and intimidating hotel room visitors as the plot twists and turns without ever descending into cliché.  

Superbly shot by cinematographer Richard Wong and featuring fine performances from stars Ayako Fujitani (Ritual, Tokyo!) and Pepe Serna (Scarface), Man From Reno is a well-crafted take on the mystery genre.

Currently playing select locations around the United States, if you haven't caught the film yet be sure to check the website for details. You can read the ScreenAnarchy review by Ben Umstead here.

Catching up with Dave and Ayako at the recent Osaka International Film Festival, I had the opportunity to talk with them about the film and its inspirations.

ScreenAnarchy: Dave, what are your links to Japan? All your films are based around the country in some way and MAN FROM RENO continues that trend.

Dave Boyle (DB): There's no real link per se its just that I was a Mormon missionary in Australia when I was aged 19 to 21 and assigned to a Japanese community there and so I learned to speak Japanese. I was naturally interested in learning more and keeping up my language skills so I changed to a Japanese major when I went to university. 

It wasn't like I always wanted to make movies before that, but I guess it was the whole write-what-you-know thing. It wasn't so much that I thought that I know about Japanese culture it's just that my first movie was a very secularly disguised version of my experiences in Australia. 

When I made that it was just like a snowball effect from there, and I just kept meeting great Japanese actors and stuff and wanting to base my films around them. Then eventually I met Ayako on my last movie and you know, she just did a cameo role for me but we got along and we wanted to do something different...

ScreenAnarchy: Were you put together by producers for the purpose of the movie or were you moving in the same social circles and met through friends?

Fujitani Ayako (AF): We had a mutual friend, and I said "It's so hard to get a job as an Asian actor in America". I was complaining a lot to my friend and he said "Oh, you should meet Dave"!

DB: And I just happened to be making a super low budget movie called Daylight Savings from a couple of years ago and yeah, I didn't want to ask for too much but I asked if she could do a small part in the film and luckily she was cool with that.

DB: Yeah, I ended up liking what she did so much I put in another day of shooting so I could get more of her in the movie. Then with the next movie I had decided I wanted to build it around her and Pepe, because they are two people I really like.

So had you decided at that time that you wanted to make a movie together in the future?

DB: Kinda... I did
AF: I did!
DB: I guess it was just kind of understood!
AF: It's funny before I met him I didn't see his movies but the moment I met him it I kind of knew that it's just a feeling like I would enjoy working with him. He's got the talent so I was right.
DB: We hate a lot of the same things, which helps.
AF: Haha, yeah that's 

What do you both hate?!

AF: Oh, man... Overacting.
DB: Overacting, that's a big one. We generally hate over-dramatization in general. Whether it's in real life or on the screen.

Do you think you find that more in Hollywood or in Japanese cinema?

AF: Both!
DB: It's kind of everywhere.
AF: It's kind of everywhere, isn't it?
DB: Yeah, it's like sometimes when people who know how to do it, when they make movies that are over the top then it works, but those notes aren't in my repertoire. The few times that I've tried to do it I've crashed and burned so badly that I always have to err on the side of... you know... its like when you make a movie you cant really hide who you are, your personality. I find that low key is the sort of the pitch that I have to aim for in order for it to work at all.

Ayako, you don't seem to produce a whole lot of films even though you must get a ton of offers. What is it that makes you want to actually come out and work on a film?

AF: Actually, I'm up for any kind of movies, any kind of roles if it's interesting. Like comedy or horror, it doesn't matter. But I think that... people think that... I'm difficult or something. They will know I'm the easiest person ever to work with once they work with me, but before that if they don't know me because of the movies I've done or something I just don't get offers. 

I'm not saying no to any projects, I just don't get offers. It just happened to be all these interesting directors and interesting roles and I think I'm lucky to have had that opportunity in my life but at the same time because of those strange roles I've played people assume I'm difficult or that I'm saying no to regular movies or something which is not true actually. I'm open to regular movies too!

You said something before about the opportunity's available for Asian actors in Hollywood. It's a big conversation right now about diversity in the film industry, especially with the recent Oscars controversy. Do you believe there is a lack of opportunities?

AF: I don't know... I believe so. If we ask some like really professional media critic or something they can maybe tell me a different story or history but I do believe that like thirty years ago or forty years ago we couldn't believe that a black person could be a big lead in a studio movie, so it's like one of those things. 

 Not just one black person did the hard work so many different black people worked so hard that audiences are kind of used to watching different characters in movies, but it takes time and it's the same for other nations I guess. So for Asians, especially with American people they still kind of think of them as scientists or ninjas or geisha's and that's it. They're just not used to seeing them as regular characters so if you look at audition sites there's just so few roles for Asian people.

What did you think about the recent mini-controversy where Scarlett Johansson was picked for the lead in GHOST IN THE SHELL?

AF: Well she kind of looks like that character! Well I do wish, since it's a Japanese animation, we have a chance to get an audition but that's not the case. I understand. It's business.    

This film is based around a thriller/mystery novel, these kind of things seem a little old fashioned now, INSPECTOR MORSE, MURDER SHE WROTE, that kind of thing. They're very quaint but they're still extremely popular in Japan. What do you understand of the popularity of this type of thriller/mystery novel in Japan and how was it incorporated into the film?

AF: What's that writer... Akagawa Jiro, yeah, he's like super famous and so everybody knows him, but I read his stuff when I was 10 maybe. I agree with you it is kind of old fashioned. There are different kinds of mysteries that young people like and old people like.

DB: It seems the ones that do really well in Japan are what we think of as like, I don't know, the cozy mystery genre? Like Agatha Christie's Miss Marple that kind of thing, where we have a very harmless protagonist and while there's murder and stuff it's usually pretty tame. It's Colonel Mustard in the library with the pipe or whatever! 

I read a lot of Japanese mystery novels translated into English. I do really like the old Seicho Matsumoto novels and Akimitsu Takagi and people like that. It's funny with the Japanese mystery novels they seem to have a charm to how focused they are on the deduction part of it. It seems the really popular and 'legendary' Japanese mystery novels have these crazy long passages of people parsing out clues. 

I guess in making Man From Reno, what I really wanted to do was the American hard boiled where you're just thrust into this story where you have no idea what's happening and then that kind of cozy Seicho Matsumoto mystery where it has this kind of warm fuzzy feel and there's danger around the corner kind of thing. I myself am a mystery addict, I watch and read everything, I started from Encyclopedia Brown when I was a kid to even now where I'll read whenever I'm traveling, I'll always be reading a mystery novel. But yeah, I kind of wanted to play with the formula and mash up the two different styles and see what comes out.

It really works in that sense, the sheriff part is very Americana with the vast open lands and the small town cop, it's reminiscent of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN in a way, that kind of feeling. And the Japanese side has more of a sense of putting the pieces together.

DB: It's like her story is the amateur sleuth kind of story and his is the more police procedural but then the story itself when you boil it down it's pretty silly but what I wanted to do was, one of my favorite things is when you tell a silly story but with a completely straight face. We wanted to take it seriously and take the characters seriously even though what we were doing was a battered old paperback novel.

Was it difficult to write the script because it is so different from your previous films, in terms of plotting the scenario and working in the twists and turns?

DB: Yeah, it took awhile. Fortunately as an avid reader of these types of novels I kind of know as an audience what I want to see but I like getting it to that point where I felt it ticked off all the boxes to kind of satisfy the other mystery fans like myself and so that it also does something new and unexpected. That took a long while. 

Me and the other two writers worked on it for a long time and we actually cast Ayako and Pepe pretty early on so Ayako's read probably like 3 or 4 different versions of the script and it changed a lot. It really evolved over time, it was a learning experience but now I love working out the intricacies of those types of labyrinthine plots. It appeals to the kind of crossword puzzle fan in me I guess.

So you think you're going to stick with this genre in the future then?

DB: Yeah, I think so. The next few things that I'm doing are not as mystery mystery as this one but they still have a similar kind of 'what is going on?' kind of mystery plot to them.

Ayako, you wrote a screenplay with Chan-wook Park, A ROSE REBORN, are you going to continue scriptwriting?

FA: Well I learned a lot from doing that and I do think there's so much fun writing new scripts. I want to write with him (Dave) and we've been talking about that.

In the thriller genre?

FA: Doesn't matter, if he says so, right!? I don't know if I have a talent for that. Writing is sort of my thing since when I was little but I never really did script writing. It's like a different part of the brain I think but still it's writing so maybe I would like to practice more and go down that path now. 

Did you have any input on the script being that you are a writer and you're playing a writer?

FA: Well, especially the Japanese dialogue part. I think in the beginning I only said one thing; that I really like the story but that it felt that my character was a little bit less guilty how can I say...

DB: She felt like the character could be darker is basically what she said. That was like the most exciting thing an actor had ever said to me, because it was like "Alright, lets go for it!"
Because I mean obviously you understood the tricky balance of what we were trying to do because there is the, you know, comedy in it but still we were going for the feel like this could be one of the Inspector Takabe books her character is writing. The fact she was excited about making the character darker that was like catnip.

FA: So yeah, just those two things: darker and the Japanese dialogue.

DB: The Japanese dialogue was huge. Before we went through a few translators and then right before we started shooting Ayako and I just sat in a room and worked on the dialogue the whole way through, and then when Kazuki came in the three of us sat in a hotel conferencing room and spent all day rehearsing and kind of changing the lines, even doing some minor improvisation exercises to get it to the right place where it still worked for the story but wouldn't feel too weird too Japanese for viewers.

Did you write the Japanese dialogue yourself when you were doing the script and then show it and...

DB: Haha, no! I write it in English and then two of my friends in New York, one of who is a script supervisor in the Japanese film industry had a go at translating it and we were trying to get it to the point where not only did it not feel like a direct translation but it just felt like a Japanese script. They got it to a certain point and then in rehearsing with the Japanese actors we tried to take it one step further. And Ayako really came through for me on that.

FA: We made a huge change in the jail scene; we even changed the character because of the dialogue, which was a pretty interesting process. At the beginning we were trying to stick to the script and the character was more weak, a crying young Japanese girl but it just didn't work at all.

DB: It didn't work at all. It worked okay on the page in English but then in Japanese it just all fell apart. When we working on the translation we realized if we didn't make the scene just one giant information dump if we have the girl add a little more conflict to it, we could add more interest to it. Not go for the tear jerky stuff or the stuff that could very easily tip over in that direction.

Yeah, she's more of a Yankee character now which makes sense that she would be involved in something like this. So originally she was an innocent and the idea was that she got pulled in?

Db: Yeah the original idea was probably so ill defined that I don't even know what... (both laugh)
But when the idea came she's a Yankee girl suddenly it all came together not just for us behind the camera but also for Shiori the girl who played her because we sent her that and it was a few weeks before we had to shoot her scene and she was like "Oh wow! All of a sudden this character makes sense!"


SPOILER ALERT

It was really well cast, Kazuki Kitamura was great but were you worried when you cast him that he actually looks like a killer?!

Both laugh!

DB: I didn't worry because I knew that whoever we cast in that role, at least the Japanese viewing public was going to know he's not dead he's coming back, not too spoiler alert, I think that what we wanted to do in the writing is that even if you knew going in that he was the bad guy you could still enjoy it that there were still surprises to come but he and I actually talked about that quite a bit because he was like "Kao ga kowai kara" (My face is scary...), he's like "the audience is going to know". He had a lot of ideas about his wardrobe and his hair and everything and also he wanted to turn up the charm from the beginning of the movie.

FA: He had to be convincing for my character to kind of fall for him.

DB: We didn't want to shoot him in a way that was too sinister you know because the movie always kind of sticks to her point of view anyway so we were careful to present it in as natural a way as possible. But at the same time it's always one of the pleasures with these kinds of movies, looking forward to someone like Kazuki coming in and doing the psycho thing.

END OF SPOILER


You worked with Pepe Serna before, who is amazing, is this his longest role?  

DB: Yeah, he likes to joke that he's been in 100 movies and 300 TV shows and he's probably been in more than that. He's died 400 times on screen because he's always... you watch his demo reel and it's him getting shot and maimed you know, I mean the guy is such a legend among people who are character actor aficionado's but I always just had the feeling that he'd be awesome in the kind of role that goes to Robert Duvall. 

The kind of crusty taciturn stone faced leading man . I think that he found it really fun and freeing to the discovery that when you're on the screen from the beginning to the end of the movie you don't really have to do much to hold the attention, you just kind of let the lines in your face do the talking. He's usually very exuberant in most of his roles and that's what hes like on set too.

CO'K: Did you see UZUMASA LIMELIGHT? With Fukumoto Seizo? He's the 10,000 deaths guy, so he beats him by a few!

DB: I worked on it, I was the post-production supervisor, haha!
FA: I've worked with him before.
DB: Yeah that guy's been killed... it's funny because both films where produced by the same production company, and both of them have taken guys who have made a career in supporting roles and then finally stepping into the lead.

How did you go about creating the look of the film? From the opening scene where the old sheriff is driving in the fog the film is so atmospheric and really helps to create the tension and mystery. Did you have a strong idea of how you wanted it to look from the start?

DB: From the beginning, my cinematographer's name is Richard Wong and he lives in San Francisco and has for his whole life, which is a great resource first of all. He and I, right from the beginning, just had a very specific idea of how we wanted it to look. We talked a lot about... I think when you think of film noir you think like black and white or high contrast and we wanted to go the opposite direction and do a low-con look. 

In my conversations with Rich and the production designer Katie Porter we talked a lot about the color brown and just giving it a burnished look without going too far, it's like a very slightly heightened reality without making it too precious or anything like that. The other thing we talked about was using still frames we decided ahead of time we were only going to put the camera on the shoulder and go handheld two or three times in the whole movie and we decided where they were going to be and the rest of the time we treated it like we were making this in 1942. 

We put the camera on the dolly and the occasional zoom not withstanding, kept it very classical and stuff. Now, Rich is such an energetic and fast collaborator, we had a really good time working no it.

What do think of the state of neo-noir cinema? There's not so many really good ones getting made anymore, when there is something good they tend to stand out.

DB: It seems to have moved over to the TV space a lot. I think there's still a hunger for this kind of movie, or for series in general, whatever sub-genre of mystery they end up feeding into. I think that a lot of times especially now when you say film noir people think of movies with guys in fedoras, like every year a movie will come out that's a kind of jokey private detective movie. 

Those clichés have been around so long its almost like they've been parodied so much it's hard to do it without being too silly I guess, so for us the thing we felt was a strong enough angle was the team up of a young Japanese novelist and a elderly Latino sheriff. This was a combination of characters we hadn't seen before and also just the tone we wanted to bring to it. It's still meant to be sort of funny but it's serious. 

There's a fine line we were trying to walk and we felt like we had something to bring to this genre.
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Ayako FujitaniDave BoyleJapanPepe SernaJoel ClarkMichael LermanKazuki KitamuraYasuyo ShibaCrimeDramaMystery

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