One of the most interesting films I saw at Fantasia this year was Amiko, the debut feature of Yoko Yamanaka. In addition to the film being a new twist on the recent wave of films about teenage girls, it stands out as being made by such a young director (20 years old) with no formal training. Yamanaka clearly has a natural gift for storytelling, and for setting her story before the camera in a unique way. I sat down to chat with the director about her vision and her views on teenage girls, representations of women, and the state of Japanese independent cinema.
ScreenAnarchy: There is a certain stereotype of Japanese schoolgirls that is quite prevalent in film - giggling, vapid, girly - have you been aware of this?
Yoko Yamanaka. I’ve never seen a character like Amiko in movies so there is certainly something in myself to oppose against it. There might be some good films with categorized characters but I don’t really find them interesting. I want to make something I find interesting myself.
SA: Why did you decide to have no adult characters in the story?
YY: I have a rebellious feeling towards adults. We filmed without any adult older than 20 years old; all the staffs were between 18 and 20. I didn’t want any adult to get involved to the project. Adults have been obstacle for me in university, and I never trusted any grown ups in my school age including my parents. But I was 19 years old when I filmed Amiko, just before becoming an adult. So it was a representation of my last rebellion.
SA: Who is Amiko to you? Do you see her as a kind of ‘every girl’, or more of a specific experience?
YY: Probably not « every girl »… When I show this film to my former classmate from high school, I don’t really win their empathy. Of course, probably there are some girls who empathize with Amiko though. But I think someone like Amiko can be anywhere, in any region. I wish she would take my film in her hand one day, in a DVD shop or somewhere.
SA: How did you prepare for the shoot? Did you storyboard the scenes, or did you work in a more independent style, just following with the camera?
YY: I didn’t have a storyboard at the beginning. I started from thinking about the story. I’m not good at starting writing in script form, so I wrote in novel way and transformed it to a script. There were some parts that conditions didn’t allow us to make it as planned in the script. In that case we decided only the shooting date and gather actors and a camera, and decided the rest on the spot. We made several scenes like this, especially after Amiko goes to Tokyo, like the dance scene for example.
I wrote longer script at first, but during the editing process I removed unnecessary parts. There are about 3 scenes that I completely removed.
SA: How do you view the future of independent Japanese cinema? Is there encouragement of it, or is there too much focus on large budget projects?
YY: There are some theaters, which screen independent films actively, and there are more and more young filmmakers comparing to before. The equipment like cameras became easy to get too. But for example, I have an impression that those adults let me shoot for now because they find me interesting, and if I fail in the industry they’ll probably go with another young filmmaker, instead of educating me.
So I think we shouldn’t count on adults, and we’d better make a team with young directors to work together… but I don’t feel it will happen. I find there are very few institutions, which can raise the young new faces.
SA: What projects are you working on now?
YY: I have nothing concretely going on yet. Actually, with the appearance of many young directors, we are all in hurry to make new films. I try not to worry about what others make, take time to film what I want to film, and make good movies. I don’t want to do a mass production of trash because of the impatience. This is what I think about feature films. I filmed my first short film last month, and maybe it is good to practice by making many short films.