Interview: Take Masaharu on Directing THE NAKED DIRECTOR Season 2

Featured Contributor; New York City, New York (@TheDivaReview)
Interview: Take Masaharu on Directing THE NAKED DIRECTOR Season 2
Brash and shocking as the subject it is based on, Netflix’s The Naked Director shows no sign of modesty in its second season. 
Delving further into the 'fall' part of the rise and fall of porn industry pioneer, Muranishi Toru, the series’ lead director, Take Masaharu, talked exclusively with LMD about the risks of taking a darker turn, how tried and true methods saved shooting during the corona pandemic, and the enduring inspiration of Tokyo street legend, Shinjuku Tiger.  
The Lady Miz Diva: Congratulations on season two of THE NAKED DIRECTOR.  How did you feel coming back to this hit series?
Take Masaharu:  I’m very glad that I could do it, because the original schedule didn’t match, so I had to pass and I was very sorry.  But in the end, I managed to come back, so I am very, very happy about it.
LMD:  As we know, many shooting schedules had to be changed or abandoned during the pandemic.  One of my favorite sayings is “Adversity breeds innovation.”  As you filmed during the pandemic, were there different techniques or approaches as a filmmaker that you will use in the future?  
TM:  The one thing we really had to change in a big way is that because of the corona pandemic, we couldn’t shoot much on location, so we had to use the set.  And actually, originally in film, we use a lot of sets; this is where the filmmaking can shine.  But so far, because of the budget and because of various reasons, we have been away from it.  So, this time, because we had to use the set because of the pandemic, we could go back to what we were really good at in the beginning, which is doing it on the set.  
I think maybe from now on, we can go back to where we started.  Maybe I can say this is thanks the pandemic, or because we tried to overcome the adversity caused by corona; I think we can go back to where the films can shine, which is to shoot on set, of course with some computer graphics.
LMD:  The way you are talking now makes me think there might actually be a season three?
TM: (Laughs) I would like to do it, but Mr. Yamada, he had to put on a lot of weight, so maybe it would be difficult for him.
LMD:  When I interviewed Ando Sakura-san as she premiered 100 YEN LOVE at the Japan Cuts film festival, she mentioned having to take real punches and hits in her role as a boxer.  Yet, she was very cheerful about it.
THE NAKED DIRECTOR’s amount of nudity and graphic (simulated) sex is unprecedented in a project starring actors of Yamada Takayuki-san’s calibre.  It seems like you have a magic key to getting huge talents to do incredibly uncomfortable things on camera.  
Please talk about creating a safe space for these actors to literally bare it all, and perform scenes that would have been unheard of for stars just a few years ago.
TM:  Well, we do a lot of planning with the staff about how to shoot, and we really prepare the set before the actors come in.  So, we create the shooting set to be 100% ready.  I don’t really do testing or rehearsal, so often when the actors come in, we can start rolling the camera almost right away. 
Sometimes, we don’t even do the testing.  And so for that, we know where the camera should be, the position, and how we are shooting; we all plan it beforehand, so that everything is very ready.  So, when the actors come in, we can just start shooting.  I think that’s very unusual.
LMD:  While we have plenty of nudity and sexual content, the ladies display full frontal, but Yamada-san and the other male cast does not.  Why is that?  Is there some sort of rule that prohibits men being seen fully nude?
TM:  Well, there’s no rule or regulations, but maybe the reason is that because I am a man, maybe I wanted to shock.  I wanted to grasp the moment where the actresses are really shining.  So, that’s what I was really interested in, shooting that moment of the actress.
For the male actors, I think I wanted to grasp a different moment, because of the dramaturgy of especially season two.  Originally, we were not focusing on adult video, either, but season two, even more so; we are more away from adult video.  It’s a different kind of dramaturgy, so that is why I think I wanted to see the male actors shine in a different moment than nudity.
LMD:  While season one started quite audacious and bubbly, almost like a French farce, toward the end, there were already inklings that things were going to get bad.  For example, Toshi’s increasing drug use, Muranishi’s growing refusal to listen to anyone, or give proper attention to Kuroki.  
The three episodes I’ve seen from season two are much more dark and serious.  I’m a bit afraid about what is going to happen to the characters I enjoyed.  Was there any hesitation that the emphasis on the downfall of Muranishi’s empire might isolate the audience?  
TM:  When I first started season one, actually, I was even thinking of ending it with the ending of season two, because I thought it was the most interesting ending.  Also, I thought it was really interesting to capture the flow of the 80s bubble economy that has burst.  In the 90s, the Japanese economy went downhill.  So, I thought it would be interesting to show that.
That’s what I was thinking in season two, but when I started season two I already knew that I wanted this tone.  And I understand that you watched up to episode three, and if you go on to episode four and more, there’s going to be more happening; it may be harder for you to watch.  I have to ask the unsuspecting audience viewers to really put up with different emotions, because I’m cornering all the characters into very harsh places; but bear with it, and please watch until the end.  
After the cliffhanger, each character has their beautiful place, so please wait until the end, and please have that expectation that each of them will go to their own places in a very nice way.
LMD:  Through Netflix’s millions of subscribers in 190 countries, THE NAKED DIRECTOR became such a hit around the world that you were able to produce season two.  Surely, for Japanese audiences, the series has both a pop culture and a societal nostalgia.  Are there cultural aspects that you worry international viewers might not understand?  For example, I had to look up what Kuroki’s conch shell whistle meant from season one. 
What do you think people outside of Japan are reacting to, or connect with that made the series so internationally popular?
TM: (Laughs) Well, actually, I didn’t understand the meaning of the conch shell whistle, myself, in the beginning, but in creating season two, and certain scenes, it made sense to me.
In making the drama, I’ve been watching all kinds of films, not only Japanese films, but also European, American -- film from all over the world, whether it was new or old.  I’ve been trying to adopt and integrate what I thought were very interesting components, or elements from various movies that I’ve been seeing. 
So, what’s important for me is surprise, rather than understanding what it is.  To answer your question, I wasn’t worried about all the details not being understood.  And also, Netflix’s people would check the script, and would tell me whether it works or not.  But also, they basically told me, “Okay, you make the film as you normally make.”  So, I just trusted myself in making my own film.
LMD:  When I interviewed Yamada-san in 2011, he was very clear about how he responded to the different styles of his various directors.  How do you work with him and the cast?  Are you a director who welcomes collaboration from your actors, or are there strict guidelines you adhere to?
TM:  All the characters in this drama are such strong, powerful characters.  So, the actors, I would like to understand how the actors approach each role, and that is the basis.  And plus, sometimes, maybe I just let them do it, or I sometimes ask them to add something, or suggest something different, but the basis and foundation is the approach by the actor to that role.
And especially in The Naked Director, we have such first-rate actors, so when I did the casting, 80% of my job was done.  They just gave to me.  I had a lot of expectations from the actors, and I just concentrated on myself in getting what they are giving.  In taking what they’re giving me.
LMD:  Kuroki, and others of Muranishi’s actresses adore their vocation, and see it as their true self-expression.  Junko works her way up from make-up artist and stylist, to becoming an artists’ manager, and then a director.  THE NAKED DIRECTOR gives the impression that all they are thrilled to be working in porn during a time when for most women, being identified as a porn actress, would have ruined them.  
While times have changed, and many women freely choose pornography as a career; for generations, the porn industry was known as mostly a mob, or yazuka-run enterprise, with many of the women onscreen either not fully willing, or exploited in other ways.  In the first season; there is a scene where the yakuza, Furuya, shows Toshi his dungeon, where he literally imprisons young women, hooks them on drugs, and makes them his personal sex slaves, but it doesn’t really connect to Muranishi’s activities.  Was that negative aspect not the case in Muranishi Toru’s films, or was it an editorial choice not to dwell on that facet of the world?  
TM:  I don’t really know everything about Mr. Muranishi, but from what I read about him; all the documents and talking to people who knew Muranishi, it looks like he took really good care of the actresses.  And when they made a lot of money, he shared it with the actresses.  
But at the same time, I heard that around Muranishi-san, maybe he was mistreating the male staff.  That he was more violent toward men.  
Historically, there was a lot of harassment going on.  In the media, in the regular TV, or the regular film industry, there aren’t a lot of women; whether it was a make-up person, or actresses.  So, the women were very suppressed.  It’s a very male-dominant world.  However, in the adult film industry, you need actresses.  The adult video world doesn’t exist without actresses.  And especially, Mr. Muranishi was treating the actresses very nicely.  
Of course, there are other ways, we call from A-to-Z, there could be very different treatment; a very wide range.  I don’t know about other adult video companies, but his company, Diamond Visual, they were making a lot of hits, so they were making lots of money.  So, all the efforts and the struggles actresses went through were in a way paid off by getting more guarantees, or more money, or getting recognition.  Some of them became stars, so, they were well rewarded.  So, I depicted those actresses around Mr. Muranishi; that they climbed the ladder together with Mr. Muranishi.  
However, in season two, his attitude toward the actresses starts to change, and starts to be more negative.  And especially after the latter half of season two, because he’s not treating them nicely, a lot of people are leaving him, so you will see that.
LMD:  One of my favorite scenes in this new season is a showdown between Muranishi and his main producer and partner Kawada, where Muranishi argues that he cares more about his workers than Kawada does.  To me, that didn’t feel remotely true.  I’ve now watched 11 episodes about this character, Muranishi, and I still have no idea who he is.  I think the only human emotion we see is in the very first episode of season one, when he catches his wife in bed with another man.  After he adopts that over-the-top selling style in the first episode, you never see anything but that again.
He is such a shell, I wonder if there is anything inside other than the obsession to bend others to his will?  He actually reads to me as deeply sociopathic.  How did you initially read Muranishi, the character in the script, and how did you plan to get the audience to care about him?
TM:  I don’t think he’s a very special person.  And when I started taking on this project, I thought about how I should depict this character, Muranishi Toru, who is the adult video director.  But as I was making this, something that I realised was that he was just a salesman of English lesson material, and later he became a director; and that transformation, is something that I am familiar with.  I was nobody, and I became a film director:  I went through that transition over thirty years, myself.  
So, I thought I could depict the story of somebody becoming a filmmaker; the isolation, the solitude is something that I can depict.  So, that is what I wanted to depict in season two.  And also, all these emotions – everything that you go through when you are trying to make your artwork, including human relationships -- all their ups and downs, and all the emotions – that, also, I wanted to depict in season two.
LMD:  What does the character on the bike with the pink feathered hat that sails through the background of every episode represent? 
TM:  Actually, he is a newspaper delivery guy who wears a tiger mask.  Tiger Mask is the mask of an old professional wrestler.  That man on the bike (Shinjuku Tiger) is actually there.  Since I came to Tokyo, over thirty years ago, he is always there.  
Everything has changed in Shinjuku: It doesn’t look like how it was thirty years ago, but the only thing that didn’t change is that guy.  So, that’s why I filmed him.  He loves film.  He came to see 100 Yen Love in that attire, so I’m sure he’s watching The Naked Director, as well.
LMD: As I’ve read, you had determined this to be the final season of THE NAKED DIRECTOR.  What were some of the important messages you wanted to leave the audience with as the series closes? 
TM:  Well, my message to the worldwide audience, is, first of all, and most of all, please enjoy this film.  Under this pandemic, everybody suffered.  We are suffering, you are suffering, everybody is suffering.  So, laugh when you feel like laughing.  Laugh at him {Muranishi} when he is just wearing underwear, and also, if you feel like getting angry at him, or being mad at him, be mad at him.
He is quite horrible.  As incredibly bad as a person can be, but still, it’s a life he is living.  It’s important that you’re living.
The Naked Director Season 2 is now streaming exclusively on Netflix

This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos, there.

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Japanese CultureMorita MisatoNetflixTake MasaharuThe Naked DirectorTVYamada Takayuki

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