Japan Cuts 2018 Interview: KUSHINA Director Hayami Moët, Star Hirota Tomona and DP Muramatsu Ryo Create a Secret World of Women

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Japan Cuts 2018 Interview: KUSHINA Director Hayami Moët, Star Hirota Tomona and DP Muramatsu Ryo Create a Secret World of Women
An invasion of a secret world of women sets the stage for high tension in Director Hayami Moët’s Kushina, what you will be.  At Japan Cuts, director Hayami, star Hirota Tomona, and cinematographer Ryo Muramatsu spoke with LMD about the art and inspirations behind the film. 
 
The Lady Miz Diva:  Please tell us about the inspiration behind KUSHINA, what will you be? 
 
Hayami Moët:  It actually is inspired by the relationship that I, myself, have with my mother.  There’s is one facial expression that she had made had made a lasting impression on me, and that was all that inspired this film.
 
LMD:  Do we see the facial expression in the film?
 
HM:  Of course, it’s a different person acting, so it’s different. {Laughs} But we did shoot a facial expression that I wanted to capture.
 
LMD:  The look of the film is stunning.  The nature images are beautiful, and we feel immersed in the world of the mountain commune right away.  Tell us about the visual design you had in mind, and what you wanted it to convey?
 
Muramatsu Ryo:  The director originally suggested that she wanted to take this film almost as if they were shooting a painting each time.  And so, after reading the script, I felt that this was a very appropriate way of approaching the film.  So then, together, we would visit museums, and look for motifs and ideas.  That was the process of heading into filming.
 
HM:  In shooting the film, I was thinking about, why place the camera somewhere?  What should be happening within the frame?  These questions I had in my head.  And then we did indeed go to the museum as our DP is saying; there we found an artist called Frederic Leighton.  In his paintings, there are a lot of details, and there is a lot of storytelling that happens within the frame:  There is a lot of wonderful lightness and darkness, a lot of contrasting that was present, and those things had inspired us a lot.
 
LMD:  With that beautiful imagery interposed with the shots of Sokou’s rosary.  Was she looking for a sort of paradise?
 
HM:  First of all, thank you for noticing the rosary, because not many people do notice it up front.  So, I thank you for that. {Laughs} Of course, she is, within the film, sort of the most modern, urban character that appears in the film.  She’s also very knowledgeable.  But regarding her Christianity, this is something that she didn’t choose herself, it was, in fact, coming from her mother; so, it might not be the best way to say that it was sort of almost forced on her, but it was at least passed on to her from her mother, the idea of Christianity, and being Christian.
 
And so, because that was sort of passed on to her, she doesn’t quite realise the binds that come with it.  Therefore, through these binds, she is uncertain about where to find happiness, or where to find beauty, or how to find them.  So, she is traveling to seek these things out.  Through that, she meets the people of the commune, and as you notice towards the end, she leaves behind the rosary; which symbolises almost letting go of these binds.  Through that, perhaps she is able to seek and pursue and accept love, as well.
 
LMD:  Director, the character, Kagu, has a very delicate balancing act in her place in the commune.  What made you sure Hirota-san was the person to play her?
 
HM:  So, yes, it was a long and difficult road into finding the perfect actress for this role, because I knew it was a difficult role to approach to begin with.  I had actually met Ms. Hirota before, through a different film, through an audition.  I had known about her, other people in the industry had suggested her to me, as well.  But at that time, I, myself, wasn’t quite sure what Kagu as a character was going to end up being like.  So, I knew that whoever I worked with, I would have to build the character of her together {with the actress}.  
 
So, when I finally did speak to Hirota-san about this character, I was very drawn to her eyes: Her eyes are so beautiful, and they were glasslike, and almost fragile; and in her eyes is where I really saw Kagu, as a character.  So, Hirota-san, has quite characteristic features, and also seems as if she is a very strong character, when you look at her physical features.  However, when I did see her eyes, I did see this fragile weakness in there, and through those layers, I felt like I found Kagu. 
 
LMD:  Hirota-san, Kagu is so mysterious to me.  It feels like she’s on a tightrope all the time, in that she can’t let her feelings show, and has to always be subservient to her mother, the commune leader, Onikuma.  Please tell me how you first read her?
 
Hirota Tomona:  When working with the director, we actually didn’t talk too much about the role, itself.  In fact, I’m hearing a lot of these things as we talk after the film has been made.  Of course, as you know, the film has an almost all-woman cast; it’s a film with a lot of women, but the character isn’t just about the fact that they are all women.  And Kagu, as a character, I wondered whether she was a woman, or a man, or human, or a nonhuman.  I felt that she had this ambiguity to her in many ways.  So, I thought about all these ambiguities as I went into the role, and I tried these out, and I was seeing whether I would get an okay from the director.
 
LMD:  So, a lot of testing happened on camera?
 
HT:  Yes, I think that’s true, not only for myself as Kagu, but the other characters, as well.  They stood in front of the director, in front of the camera, and sort of saw how things went.
 
LMD:  That is a very free and unusual directing approach.  So, how much of the script or an outline did you have, and how much did your actors fill in?
 
HM: {Laughs} So, the film itself was actually shot very close to the original script, to begin with.  I did make notes in it, but I’m not sure entirely how much was really communicated through those?
 
HT:  Sure, the dialogue, in fact, is exactly almost how the script came.  What you see onscreen is the same as in the script.  However, Mr. Muramatsu, here, and the director together had created a picture within them, and through the location made these pictures.  And so, it felt like walking into these pictures when I went into the set.  
 
Honestly, when I was reading the script, I didn’t quite get the world that I was supposed to live in.  It wasn’t something that was communicated to me necessarily through the script, itself.  But it was when I walked into the location, that I finally saw and felt the world that I was supposed to be in, and that’s how I acted within the world, and how I was able to act in the world.
 
HM:  On set, I actually didn’t talk much to the actors.  In fact, I was looking mostly at the monitor when we were on set, because I wanted to make sure and make these decisions about whether the world existed within the monitor, within the frame.
 
LMD:  I’m curious about her affect after a particularly big moment.  Why is Kagu so blank during this climactic scene?  What was going through her head at the time?
 
HM:  I actually did not give a specific direction about her reaction.
 
HT:  Yeah, that reaction was my decision, actually. {Laughs}
 
HM:  Regarding the scene, I actually had a conversation with Ms. Ono {Miyuki}, who plays Onikuma, about the fact that this was probably not the first time that {something like this has happened} in this world, and that they are probably quite used to it.  And to have that idea, actually made a lot of sense to me within the film.  And so when Hirota-san brought this expression within the film, I didn’t even ask her to change it.  
 
LMD:  Director, you not only directed KUSHINA; you were the writer, art director, costume designer, and editor.  Was that your preference, or was it how it worked out?  How did you know your decisions were right? 
 
HM:  My taking all of those roles within the film was for both reasons; in that because I do trust my own intuition, and therefore, I wanted to do what I felt was necessary, what I wanted within the film.  But then there was, obviously, the budget side, as well, that constricted whether we can hire certain staff, or not.  So, it was a bit of both.
 
And regarding clothes, and the art direction; it was about building the environment together, also with my actors.  In fact, sometimes people cut the clothes, or changed the clothes a little bit.  Sometimes the actors themselves did the clothes, as well, in that way.
 
HT:  We, as actors, decided that we wanted to do whatever Hayami-san wanted to do.  This wasn’t something that the actors all decided together, but we all felt that we would just do whatever she wants, and we weren’t going to question those things.  And it worked out very well that way, that everybody felt that way.
 
HM:  With Muramatsu-san, we had a lot of good communication going between the two of us.  Therefore, I could leave the set and location to him, while I took care of other backstage necessities, whether that was costumes, or art direction, things like that.  And I do feel that this film was created with the two of us working as a close team.
 
LMD:  I’m curious about the age difference of the women in the commune?  You have either women who are middle-aged, or past breeding.  Then you have women who are young enough to be affected when the male photographer, Keita, shows up.  Then they seem at a loss as to what to do with pubescent Kushina.  Was that separation of generations intentional?  
 
HM:  It is in part to show how the environment, or the system within the commune works.  By showing various ages, you are sort of able to see the operation, and how they are able to exist.
 
LMD:  I sense that KUSHINA was a very different filmmaking experience for each of you.  Hirota-san, you’ve worked on several films prior to this; what was different about acting on this project?  Muramatsu-san, what has this taught you as a cinematographer?  And Hayami-san, what has making KUSHINA taught you about yourself as a filmmaker?
 
HT:  Regarding the sort of worldview that I achieved, I didn’t necessarily find a new worldview through working on the film.  However, I was purely trying to find out how this film is going to turn out when I was on set.  
 
Regarding the acting, I wonder whether I overdid the acting within the film?  I wanted to show something that came more from the inside; a nuanced acting.  And I felt that perhaps I overdid it.
 
MR:  This was actually the first time I was actually shooting a film; so everything that happened really was a new thing for me.  Of course, there were things we talked before we went on set; but then, once I was on set, I would start to wonder whether I was making the right decision in the things that we were thinking about.  But then, I would go back to sort of the first things that we talked about -- the first intuitions -- and now, after seeing what I had taken, I feel very much that my first intuitions were often correct.
 
HM:  Through my work with this film, I realised that I’m not very good with sensitive things.  For example, I would believe that a good director is able to communicate with their actors very well, and work with people live and in the moment.  That good directors are able to bring out certain elements about the actors in a live setting.  I’m not very good at that.  
 
So, whenever the film started to stray away from my original image, I had trouble sort of recovering from that straying.  So, I want to learn from this experience to communicate better, and bring out this live element from people.
 
This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.
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InterviewJapan Cuts 2018Japanese CinemaKushinaKushina what will you beMoët HayamiRyo MuramatsuTomona Hirota