Japan Cuts 2018 Interview: THICKER THAN WATER Director Yoshida Keisuke Talks Sibling Rivalry

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Japan Cuts 2018 Interview: THICKER THAN WATER Director Yoshida Keisuke Talks Sibling Rivalry
In director Yoshida Keisuke’s Thicker Than Water, sibling rivalry lasts far beyond the playground.  At Japan Cuts, director Yoshida spoke with LMD about family ties, jealousy, and sadistically teasing the audience.
 
The Lady Miz Diva:  As with most of your films, you wrote the story and screenplay for THICKER THAN WATER.  What was its inspiration?
 
Yoshida Keisuke:  It wasn’t necessarily that I was inspired by one thing or another.  This film is actually my eighth film.  But what I did want to do was talk about a new emotional thing that I had never really dealt with before, which was jealousy, or envy, which is apparent in the film.  When thinking about what emotions I haven’t dealt with yet, it was through cancellation that I figured out that jealousy was what was left, and so, that was where it all began.
 
LMD:  I think a lot of people might watch this film and immediately wonder whether this is somewhat autobiographical? 
 
YK:  I actually have an older sister, myself, which, to me, doesn’t feel like the same relationship that’s present in the film.  So, it’s not necessarily there.  
 
However, I did have a working partner, who was a person I worked with for very long time.  He felt to me like an older brother and a younger brother at the same time.  I felt like I wanted to extrapolate on this relationship a little bit.
 
LMD:  I think you’re going to have quite a reaction to the film’s opening scene.  I thought there was a mistake in my screener, at first.  Did you mean to jostle the audience that way?
 
YK: {Laughs} Regarding that opening sequence, I do believe that there is a little bit of a trend in Japanese films to have that kind of cinema available, especially in the way they’re advertised.  And I feel a little bit of danger in that trend of having that kind of advertisement of films.  
 
So, it was sort of my black humor to have that in there at the beginning.  I believe that a lot of Japanese audiences, when they saw this film in the theater, they were sighing, because they were saying, ‘Oh, another trailer like this.’  So, that was sort of my joke. {Laughs}
 
LMD:  That sleight-of-hand in the beginning kept me on my guard and made me wonder if the montage of Yuria and Kazunari’s date wasn’t some weird dream.  However, after realising that it was real, it put me in awe of Ms. Enoue Keiko’s commitment to her role.  She gave her all and then some to her portrayal.  How did you and she create her character?
 
YK:  Ms. Enoue has the ability to read into scripts very well; so, she actually brought a lot of her character by herself to the film.  That said, regarding the dating scene, I think it’s a shot in a way that maybe suggests that it could be a dream?  However, I do feel almost that if Ms. Enoue’s character and physique was your stereotypical cute character, it would’ve just looked like a normal, beautiful scene, or at least be thought that way.  And so, that idea of subverting the viewer’s expectations was sort of a sadistic idea on my end.
 
LMD:  It’s interesting that you say that in Enoue-san brought a lot to the character.  Was this her first film?  Was there anything in some of the outrageous things that we see her do onscreen that perhaps she demurred at, or said ‘I can’t do this?’
 
YK:  Generally speaking, she, herself, is a comedian who works with a lot of skits.  And so, because she does a lot of skits, she does tend to have an over-the-top way of acting.  I wanted her to start acting in a way that was closer to realism.  
 
So, in order to get to that balancing act, what I started to do was a subtracting in the direction that I gave; but again, she is a very intuitive person, so she really understood that very quickly.  So, even though it is in some way, acting for the first time for her, she has done acting within her work, through her work with her skits, so it was easy to work, in that sense.
 
Regarding the scene where she dances, I asked her to dance in a way that it could be a little bit cringey, and she sort of made up that dance, herself.
 
LMD:  But she dances great!
 
YK:  {Laughs} I think within her work in comedy, she had been doing some dancing, already, so probably it wasn’t so new to her.
 
LMD:  Actually, her dancing gave me an observation about Yuria.  She is convinced that her loneliness is because she isn’t good looking, but she also doesn’t do much to help herself.  She’s got the sister who could give her some tips on fashion and makeup.  Yuria’s smart, and a great dancer.  She seems to want to blame others for her unhappiness, but avoids facing her part in it.  Is that assessment correct?
 
YK:  Regarding her looks, sure.  I think one thing to be said is that her younger sister is said to be cute all the time.  She has to hear that all the time.  And that, in itself, is constraining Yuria in many ways, and perhaps that also makes her project her own ugliness onto herself, and see herself as ugly, even though she’s very skilled in many ways.  I think she’s unable to see her own happiness, and see her own skills, because she’s viewing herself through this light.
 
LMD:  Nobody in this film is what they seem.  For all her brains, Yuria is hateful toward her sister.  Mako is petty, but defends Yuria.  Takuji is a thug, but desperately wants his family to love him, and Kazunari really is a terrible person in the guise of a salaryman.  
 
Normally, when layers like that are revealed, it means the characters will move to a better place at some point in the story, but again, there’s some sleight-of-hand, and they snap back to form.  Is that your comment on human nature?
 
YK:  After all, at the end of the movie, you sort of hear them talk about how people don’t really change, at least so quickly.  So, sometimes I watch other films where the change really happens, I think, ‘Well, isn’t that too much of a change in such a short period of time?’  So, fundamentally speaking, I sort of think people don’t change all that easily.
 
LMD:  It’s interesting that the ones who at first outwardly seem like the trash people -- Takuji and Mako -- are actually the most noble.  Was that intentional?
 
YK:  Yes, it is on purpose in some ways.  I try to incorporate people’s pros and cons at equal amounts in my films, and so, this is sort of a matter of order of whether you see the cons first, or the pros of these people first.  To me, I sort of intuitively have this measurement of what that balance should be.  
 
Personally, I can’t love a character without any flaws.  It’s not necessarily deceit that I’m doing here, but I do find that showing both of these elements makes for a better story.
 
LMD:  The film rolls along as a comedy for the most part, then there’s a strong twist that very dramatically changes the tempo of the film.  How did you judge the timing and duration of that climactic moment, so that you wouldn’t lose the audience? 
 
YK:  Regarding that, it’s a lot to do with my own intuitions of what really works.  There is that scene where the ambulances cross each other, and that, to me, was sort of this arrival scene that I wanted to arrive at:  It was a goal for myself to end up in, where we see Takuji, as well.  That, to me, was the last stop, the place where I wanted to arrive.
 
Knowing that was the last stop, I think I did do a little bit of a calculation to see how far back you can start to get there.
 
LMD:  Is that why it was important that the timing of the big incidents parallel each other? 
 
YK:  Regarding that parallel moment, it was sort of a cinematic inspiration that I had.  I do believe that the film, itself, has a very strange balance:  Of course, there is that opening sequence that you see, and the balancing that I do here.  
 
I feel like is not textbook material.  If you think about the climax of the film, to me, that is where you see the film in motion, really coming out.  But, I feel like people are wondering, ‘Wait, you’re going to start doing this, here?’ and questioning that.  But, to me, that imbalance is interesting.
 
LMD:  There is such a flow between the actors, even when they’re trying to kill each other.  Did you have them spend a lot of time together?
 
YK:  So, generally speaking, these days because I’ve made a few films, myself, before actors actually appear into my film, many of these actors had already seen my previous work, and therefore, sort of know the tone that I try to achieve through my films.  So, they come in knowing what I’m trying to achieve in a lot of ways.  
 
Regarding Mr. Kubota {Masataka}, who is one of the actors, who I believe is the best experienced actor within the cast; he also knew about this tone, and the actresses, who are less experienced than him with acting, worked to meet him where he was at.  It was never that the women didn’t know where to go, or what to do in these instances, because they knew, and they saw this as one of their goals.
 
LMD:  Regarding that scene that parallels with close similarities on both sides; did the sister team and brother team of actors watch what the other was doing, as they were flip sides of each other’s coins?
 
YK:  Regarding the ambulance scene, specifically; the thing is about the ambulance, we shot it within these black cloth overhangs.  So, they actually were near each other when everything was happening, and everything was shooting.  Even the scene inside the ambulance, itself, they were, in fact, together for a lot of the times.  So, they were at the very least, checking each other’s acting on the monitors, maybe even watching each other.
 
Regarding the fight scenes, I’m not sure whether they did see each other’s acting, or they saw it through the monitors.  What I do remember is that I tried to remember the temperature of the fight scenes, so that there was a good balance between the two fight scenes, so that it wasn’t like one fight scene seemed more heated up than the other.  I tried to keep those two balanced as much as possible, it was something I thought about.
 
LMD:  What is next for you?
 
YK:  I have already finished shooting a film, actually.  The English title is likely going to be Come On, Irene, and it is a story about a man who hasn’t been able to find love, and he’s in his forties, and he ends up purchasing a bride from the Philippines.  It’s complicated even more with the fact that the man has a very strict mother, who is very judgmental about a lot of things.  This is actually based on a comic book that I really like.
 
LMD:  What would you like the Japan Cuts audience to take away from THICKER THAN WATER? 
 
YK:  I spoke earlier about people having no change, to be unable to change in a lot of ways.  Also, the film does deal with the emotional jealousy.  However, I find a little bit of happiness being able to feel these emotions to begin with.  
 
The partner that I spoke about earlier, who I used to work with, he actually passed away.  To me, that partner, I often fought with, and so, in looking back, I feel it there was happiness in the fact that you have somebody that you could even fight with.  If the characters themselves had, in fact, died; if a death had happened, I think the story would’ve been a completely different kind of story, the film itself.  
 
Again, I want to just repeat how there is happiness in being able to have that person to fight with; to have that rival.  I also do think often about upon looking back on some of the things that you’ve done, or the things that you have, you are often able to find happiness by looking back.  
 
Sometimes, also understanding your own constraints, or your own smallness in character, can also lead to discovering something new, and to maybe perhaps give moments and think about what kind of person you were, and that to me, is something I’m interested in.
 
This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there
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窪田正孝Enoue KeikoInterviewJapan Cuts 2018Japanese CinemaKubota MasatakaThicker Than WaterYoshida Keisuke