Japan Cuts 2019 Interview: BLUE HOUR's Shim Eun-kyung on Crossing Into Japanese Cinema

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Japan Cuts 2019 Interview: BLUE HOUR's Shim Eun-kyung on Crossing Into Japanese Cinema
Debuting at age nine, Shim Eun-kyung went on to become one of South Korea’s most bankable actresses, starring in hit television dramas, and box office blockbusters like Sunny and Miss Granny.  Moved by her love of Japanese cinema, Shim immigrated to Japan to make films there.  
 
At Japan Cuts 2019, Shim spoke exclusively with LMD about her new horizons, and new film, Blue Hour, a story of an unusual friendship. 
 
 
The Lady Miz Diva:  As someone who enjoys your South Korean films and dramas, I hoped to meet you someday, but I never expected to do so at a Japanese film festival. 
 
Shim Eun-kyung:  Yes, I actually think it’s quite strange.  I’ve been working as an actor in South Korea...  No, well, actually, I’m really a Korean person acting in Korea.  So, when I decided that I would work in Japan and make Japanese films, I’m actually really surprised that this film is here at Japan Cuts, a festival for Japanese film only.
 
It really makes me feel that movies transcend nations.  And it gives us opportunities to speak to people from all around the world.
 
LMD:  I think the natural question is, what drew you to want to make films in Japan?
 
SEk:  I’ve always had this ambition to work in films outside of Korea, in many different places, but one of those places happens to be Japan.  I have a lot of interest in Japanese culture, and I have been influenced by Japanese filmmakers; the names that come up are Kore-eda Hirokazu, and Shinji Aoyama.  Those are two filmmakers that I consider an influence.  
 
Now that I get to make Japanese films, it makes me really happy, but it is also very strange, and I kind of can’t believe it to this day.  But it is such a great chance for me, and I am just really trying my best.  I don’t even know how to explain it, but I just have to say I am really lucky.
 
LMD:  As someone who speaks with a lot of Asian artists, I sense that often their managements seem unprepared for international interest, while the talent themselves are excited to collaborate with overseas artists, and meet global audiences. 
 
Was that part of your motivation to work internationally?  Why did you decide to actually make the jump?
 
SEk:  As actors, I think that many people want to work in different countries for many different reasons, but, myself, in particular, I want to have as many experiences as I can; and these experiences are what build up my ability to act.  So, if I receive a chance to act in a place other than Korea or Japan, I just want to take it.
 
LMD:  You are here with the film, BLUE HOUR.  What attracted you to this project?
 
SEk:  First of all, I think it’s a story about women in this current generation, and I‘d say that it is pretty rare to see a film that is just about women, and so, I immediately knew that I wanted to do it.  I think that the script is really solid, and conveys the director’s feelings very directly.  And it’s a story about adults today.  
 
Also, the character of Kiyoura, she is so evocative; she has many different feelings.  She experiences loneliness, but on the other hand, she is very humorous, and knows exactly how Japanese humour works.  And so, I knew that I would be able to express many different feelings through my acting.
 
Also, the director is extremely talented, and I knew that together with this director, we would be able to make something great.
 
LMD:  Tell us how you created the character of Kiyoura, and what you thought of her when you first read the script? 
 
SEk:  For Blue Hour, I feel like it was such a collaboration between the actors and the director.  I really worked with her to build this character, and I think that’s clear in the film.  This character is kind of interesting, because her name is Japanese, but we don’t really know where she’s from.  She has kind of like a manga character-like quality to her.  
 
One thing is, I would never try to say that she’s either a Japanese character, or a Korean character:  The things that I focused on were just her being; what she might feel or do in a certain scene.  To put it bluntly, she’s a very strange character. 
 
LMD:  Why do you think Kiyoura and Sunada are friends?  We’re told they’ve known each other for a long time, but they are such opposites.
 
SEk:  I really don’t want to give too much away, but I think that when you watch the film until the end, Kiyoura’s presence become clear.  Yes, Sunada and Kiyoura have a relationship, and yes, you’d call it a friendship, but actually this is a story about one woman.  I just really don’t want to give it away, so I’m struggling not to say too much. {Laughs}
 
Kiyoura, to me, of course, she comes off as Sunada’s kind of strange friend, but if I were to say that if you represented Sunada’s soul, that Kiyoura actually shows one part of it.  She is a very multifaceted character.  It’s as if Kiyoura is able to speak for the pureness in Sunada’s soul.
 
LMD:  Because we don’t know much about Kiyoura, did you work with director Hakota Yuko to create a backstory, or make up one on your own?
 
SEk:  As far as backstory, I think maybe I made one up on my own.  I didn’t really receive a backstory from director Hakota, but in the film, Kiyoura appears quite suddenly.  The most that the director would do, was direct how I should act, or how I should play the role.  
 
For instance, she would suggest a lot of ad-libs, and in fact, there are a lot of ad-libs in the film.  She would ask me to ad-lib when {co-star} Kaho wasn’t prepared, in a way surprising her, and a lot of my role was pulling out the character of Sunada.  So, as far as Kiyoura‘s backstory, I think that was something that I could sometimes imagine while I was on set, but I can’t say for sure where she comes from.  But one thing is for sure, and it’s that she loves Sunada.
 
LMD:  Was ad-libbing a new experience for you?
 
SEk:  First of all, ad-libs are really difficult.  It’s really hard to time them in the correct way for each scene, because you run the risk of ruining it.  So, it’s actually something that you have to think about very thoroughly.
 
I hadn’t adlibbed a lot before in my films, but the director really wanted me to try them out in this one.  So, it was actually that I had to read the script really carefully, and immerse myself in the scene, so that once I was on set, they would come out naturally.  But in short, ad-libs are very difficult. {Laughs}
 
LMD:  You have literally grown up in the South Korean film industry.  Many times when actors make films overseas, they find that working with an international cast and crew gives them a different perspective, or approach to their own work.  
 
Has this opportunity to work in Japan given you a different point of view about acting?  
 
SEk:  I think, first, just describing the differences, the mood on the set is very different.  For instance, in Korea, to make a feature film, it might take three or four months; but in Japan, it’s more common for movies to take a very brief amount of time.  In fact, Blue Hour only took two weeks to shoot. 
 
First of all, the conditions on set are so different, and I have to match my acting to those conditions.  I threw myself into the script, and was reading the script in order to build my character; and through that process, I learned a lot.
 
Just by reading Japanese dialogue, I learned to feel a lot of new things, and thought, ‘Oh, this is how I can build my character.’  In fact, I felt I kind of felt a little self-critical about how I’d been building my characters before.  So, all in all, I would say that working in other countries is a huge learning experience for me. 
 
LMD:  You have a lifetime of film experience, and meeting you now, I see that you have a very focused point of view about movies, and a deep curiosity in how they are made.  Have you been inspired to make films of your own, perhaps as a director, or writer?
 
SEk:  When I was a child actor, I definitely had the dream of becoming a director, but you can say that I kind of gave up. {Laughs
 
I think that directing is a really difficult job.  In order to make a film, a director really needs to have a message that they want to convey to the audience.  I’m still a little inexperienced, and I’m quite young, and I don’t know what I want to express yet; so let’s just say that I’ve put it to the side, and right now I just want to focus on acting. 
 
LMD:  What is next for you?
 
SEk:  As you know, I’ve been working in Japan for a bit, and I’ve been there for quite a long time, but I just really want to keep working between Korea and Japan, and I’d kind of like to have parallel careers between the two countries. 
 
There’s a movie that I’ve been shooting for about a year, and that’s going to come out next year.  It’s in Japanese. 
 
This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.
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Blue HourHakota YukoInterviewJapan CutsJapan Cuts 2019Japanese CinemaKahoKorean ActressShim Eun-kyung