New York Asian 2018 Interview: Breaking Taboos with DYNAMITE GRAFFITI's Director Tominaga Masanori and Star Emoto Tasuku

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New York Asian 2018 Interview: Breaking Taboos with DYNAMITE GRAFFITI's Director Tominaga Masanori and Star Emoto Tasuku
The New York Asian film Festival 2018 is underway, and its opening salvo is a dive into the porn mag industry of the 1970s and 80s.  Director Tominaga Masanori and actor Emoto Tasuku spoke with LMD about DYNAMITE GRAFFITI, chronicling the life and crimes of Japanese provocateur, publisher Suei Akira. 
The Lady Miz Diva:  What was it about Suei Akira’s life that made you think it would make a great film?
Tominaga Masanori:  This is a story that took place a long time ago.  We’re talking maybe three or four decades ago, when Suei was young.  It’s his story.  This includes myself, but I think there’s a lot of points of reference that can be taken from this story for young people.  So, I thought that his life had a lot to offer to viewers.  
LMD:  According to the films that this festival has shown over the past few years, there seems to be a cinematic embrace of old style pornography; Pinku eiga, Roman porn, and now Suei’s magazines.  Did you have a sense of that nostalgia, and that have any bearing on the timing of the project?  
TM:  In Japan, we don’t have as many biographical films as you have here in the States.  I think all the ones that I’ve seen from the US are very interesting, and they put a lot of effort into telling the stories of people from their past.  In Japan, these sorts of movies have become harder to make, so I think I had a sort of longing to make that kind of movie with an older setting.  For example, many of the films that Martin Scorsese makes; I thought, ‘How does he make these kind of films?’  That was where my interest began
LMD:  Emoto-san, you’ve made many films, but am I correct that this is your first time playing a living person?
Emoto Tasuku:  Yes, that’s correct.
LMD: Did Suei-san personally contribute anything to your performance?  Did you confer with him?
ET:  I did meet him once before filming.  We actually went out to eat and drink together; so that was an occasion we had.  As well as before the actual filming started, he was on set for a period of about five days:  He was there to sort of supervise the veracity of whether we had accurately depicted the era that we were trying to portray.  
So, of course, having him, this larger-than-life person on the set was something that made me very nervous as to what he would think of me, but as time passed, I was able to become a little bit more comfortable and open and really appreciate the fact that he was there, and so I took advantage of him being there to really observe him and learn about him.
LMD:  Right at the beginning of the film, there is a great moment that establishes Suei’s character perfectly:  It’s when he’s in the police station, going page by page through his dirty magazine with the vice officer, marking all his offences.  Right after being asked, “Are you mocking society?” Suei contritely agrees with everything the officer says, and then spins around in the swivel chair with a big, manic grin on his face.  Was that in the script, or an adlib?    
ET:  That actually wasn’t in the script.  It was something I received as a direction from the director that he definitely wanted to put in.  The reason being is that we’re looking at the magazines, right, and the policeman is saying what he can do and what he can’t, and he’s getting very angry.  Suei wanted to do something else so that the policeman would get angry at him for another reason, which is why he does the rotation in the chair; to just sort of change the angle of the story.  But this was actually something that the director heard had actually happened in real life, so he included it.
LMD:  What do you think was Suei’s motivation in challenging the law over and over?
TM:  In terms of his lawbreaking, this is something Suei thought of.  He always pushed things to the limit -- this might be an issue, this might not -- but he did this so that his readers would be happy.  This was his motivation.  
So, every month in his magazine, he would print something that he would be sure to anger the police, and the police are very serious -- the role they have is serious -- but they were not necessarily always on top of things.  So they would get mad sometimes, and sometimes they wouldn’t; it wasn’t consistent.  But every month, Mr. Suei would be going to the police, and in the course of him going every month -- this was portrayed in the movie as well -- but they became close in the time they spent together.  So, the police were getting angry at him, but at the same time, it was almost like they had a playful aspect to the relationship, as well.  
For us, looking at his actual story, we were thinking, could this be possible?  Is this a relationship that could actually happen?  Every now and then in movies, we do see depictions of times where the police become involved and they provide some guidance or directions –Oshima Nagisa’s IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES, is a movie that has that sort of portrayal.  In the case of this story, Suei would be going every month, and he signed, saying, “I will never do this again. This won’t happen again.”  So, it became almost a habit, it was something that happened so regularly.
LMD:  Emoto’s portrayal of Suei Akira is fascinating because Suei is such an amiable, good-natured guy, yet there is the very cold growing disconnect that we see in his treatment of the women in his life, and as the story progresses and things become more hectic with his magazine.  Can you talk about crafting that layered performance? 
ET:  The director and I had a discussion at a coffee shop; we went over the whole script together -- this is before filming.  We went over the first scene to the very last scene, and I just listened, basically, as the director told me his direction, what he would like the movie to be.
The image for the first half of the movie is something that anyone can relate to; the story of someone’s youth.  But the movie changes tones in the second half to a story of suspense.  And what suspense means is that the person himself -- Suei Akira -- becomes a mysterious figure, we sort of don’t know what he’s thinking in the second half of this movie, which was what the director told me how he wanted to do this.  So, the first half is these ups and downs of youth, and then he’s transitioning to a more mysterious image.  
In terms of when that change takes place in the movie, it’s during the meeting when we’re all sitting in a circle, looking at the porn magazine, and my hair is short.  It’s the first scene where my hair is cut very short.  So, that is the point where you see the transition in Suei’s personality, and when that scene was over, the director said to me, “This is where we’re going to move into the transition; where he becomes mysterious or monstrous.’  It’s the short hair.
So, when I made the transition, what I was conscious of is, you did not want to know what Suei was thinking.  The direction I received was that if anything, his thinking would be mysterious, but he’s thinking in a not-so-good direction.  So, if something seems like he was thinking in a malicious way, that’s okay.  The director said what’s not okay is if I made it too apparent what he was thinking, or if I made it seem like he had a very nice expression on his face, that was something he did not want.  He wanted it more in a malicious direction in the second half.
LMD:  This is the story of a person who broke taboos in a rather conservative society.  Do you see parallels, or perhaps hope that people might take some inspiration to push boundaries during recent conservative times? 
TM:  I’m not sure if the movie’s era was more conservative than the era we’re in now.  It might be the case that we are in a more conservative era at this time.  But in terms of the porn magazines that are made currently in Japan versus the ones that were made at that time, they are actually quite different.  But, per se Mr. Suei, himself, he didn’t aspire to be a publisher of pornographic magazines -- in the movie, this was also depicted -- but, he wanted to become a graphic designer.  That was his true aspiration.  So, he actually wasn’t that interested in porn, but in the interest of having fun at his work, he wanted to be able to produce his magazines for a long time; that was his motivation.  So, he had a very strange balance in terms of how he carried on his life.  But if porn was his real focus, he wouldn’t have been able to do the things he was able to do.  
In terms of his actual individuality, for us, that was a big source of inspiration.  What we felt in terms of his life story, his inspiration was something we wanted the audience to feel, as well.  So, if there’s anything I that could say about it to viewers, maybe it’s not to give up so easily.  Or perhaps, if you think in a different way, or try in a different way, you can actually do something that’s very interesting.  I actually feel that I wish I had known about Mr. Suei’s story when I was younger, because I didn’t encounter him until I was 30 years old.
LMD:  Emoto-san, this is not the first film you’ve made that took place long before you were born: Your debut was A BOY’S SUMMER, set in 1945.  What did you learn that you hadn’t known before, living in Suei’s skin during the 1960s-1980s?
ET:  I actually really am a big fan of movies.  I watch all different kinds of films, but I was not aware of Mr. Suei before I made this film.  For Akira Suei, the man, the legend, what I knew of him was from his commercials where he cross-dresses, those late-night commercials.  So, I was like, “Oh, it’s that old guy,” when I saw the picture of him, I realised that’s who it was.  So, there was Mr. Suei’s very strange, interesting story.  
But in terms of what I learned, I thought, ‘Wow, there goes a person who could really do all these interesting things that he had done.’  In terms of the era, when I was in my teens, there were a lot of Roman porn films that were very popular.  This was during the 80s, and there is this area in Tokyo called the Golden Gai; when I was 18, I was able to go see these movies and actually feel and sense what they were about.  So, in terms of that, that was something that I had a bit of familiarity with, so it helped me create the character.  It was not difficult.
LMD:  I’m interested in the depiction of the women in this film, and Suei’s connection to them.  I feel like you don’t connect Suei’s real feelings about his mother and what she did, but we see the result in how badly he treats all the women in his life.  Was the lack of depiction of Suei’s feelings about his mother intentional?
TM:  In terms of the main character and how he felt about his mom, I think you’re right, that I didn’t depict that very clearly.  But the last scene is actually for his mom; before she commits suicide via dynamite, she goes back to check on her kids to express her feelings for her children.  This scene was actual shown twice during the film; the first time, it’s explained in his monologue, what he’s saying is, “Was it that my mom was a ghost, or did I see her in my dream?”  It wasn’t clear what that was.  
I put that exact same scene in the end of the film.  At that point, we understand that it wasn’t a dream, she wasn’t a ghost; his mom did really come back to him.  That’s why show the scene twice.  We never hear the main character saying that he loves his mom -- there’s no “I love you,” or anything like that -- but I did that to show the importance of her existence in his life.
LMD:  What has been Mr. Suei’s response to the film?  I feel like he wouldn’t hold back his opinion.
TM:  {Laughs} As Emoto-san said earlier, Suei-san was on set for some of the filming.  During that time, he was so interested in the fact that were making a film out of his life, he was like, ‘Make as much as you can.  Make more, make more.’
In the beginning though, when he looked at the script, he found a couple of points which he said, “That actually is slightly different than what happened in my actual life.”  So I said to him, “I understand that it might not be factual, but because we’re making a movie, we want to make it as interesting as possible, so there might be slight changes.”  Once I said that, he was like, “That’s great. Then do what you have to do,” and he stopped pointing out what was accurate and what wasn’t, and he actually enjoyed himself.  
So, I think that actually reflects his background as a magazine editor; because he was willing to understand that it was his own life, but for the purpose of the movie, we would be arranging it to make it more interesting.  As long as he thought it was interesting, he was willing to give us the green light.
LMD:  How do you feel about showing DYNAMITE GRAFFITI in New York City?
ET:  I am both happy, and at the same time nervous at what the reaction is going to be.
TM:  I’m very much looking forward to tonight’s screening.  I’ve actually been looking at the portrait of Martin Scorsese that’s behind your head the whole time we’ve done this interview. {Laughs} That’s all that’s in my head, because I really respect him. {Laughs} The interesting thing about his films, is that he did a lot of biographical films, and he did some of very important, legendary people, but some of them are just the people whose lives didn’t necessarily deserve to be depicted.  Deplorable people, things like that, GOODFELLAS, WOLF OF WALL STREET are some examples of that, but he makes them for viewers, because it’s going to make an interesting movie out of their life stories, be they really good, or really bad people.  I think a movie is the same thing.  You wouldn’t necessarily call Suei a respectable person, or an outstanding figure; but at the same time, we wanted to make the movie.
In Japan, unfortunately, as I mentioned, there are not as many biographical films.  The ones that tend to be most prevalent are the ones about somebody who was very prevalent, or very famous, or very inspiring -- the beautiful story; there are not many that stray from that.  But recently, little by little, there have been some that depict horrible people, horrible incidents in the same way that Scorsese has made movies about people or stories that are maybe not the most respectable, or the lives that they have led, but this is also is interesting.  So, that was why I wanted to make the movie that I made, and I hope that here in New York, a lot of young people come to see the film.
This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.
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Dynamite GraffitiEmoto TasukuInterviewJapanese CinemaNYAFF 2018Tominaga Masanori

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