Yusuke Iseya & Takamasa Kameishi

1 July 2003

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Sometimes enthusiasm can be the most powerful force in cinema. Case in point: actors Yusuke Iseya and Takamasa Kameishi. Their film Kakuto, directed by Iseya and written by and starring them both, was made under the auspices of producer Hirokazu Kore-eda, with whom Iseya worked as an actor on After Life and Distance. An energetic and empathic portrait of youth, Kakuto went on to be shown at the highly esteemed Tokyo FILMeX festival, as well as competing in the Tiger Awards competition at the Rotterdam Film Festival. A meeting with two of Japan's most promising young filmmaking talents.

What's the origin of Kakuto? Did it start with your desire to direct a film?

Iseya: It started because we really wanted to make a film ourselves. At that time, about three years ago, Kameishi had just broken up with his girlfriend, so I tried to cheer him up and I asked him if he wanted to work with me on a film project. We wrote a kind of synopsis together and a week later we started having meetings with some people, with that synopsis as a kind of calling card. We also asked advice from Hirokazu Kore-eda, since I worked on his films and know him. Through that process it developed into a real project.

Kameishi, what were you doing at that time, three years ago?

Kameishi: I was working as an actor and model. My two brothers run a clothing brand and shop, so I helped out with that too.

Iseya: We were both already busy with other things, but we wanted to develop a film project together and make a film, even if it would take us a long time to realise it.

What was Kore-eda's involvement? Kakuto is not really a typical Kore-eda project.

YI: During the development process, when we asked his advice, he decided to come on board as producer. Of course we were really happy, because from working with him in the past I know I can really trust him. We started pre-production only six months after he became involved.

TK: The entire shooting period was only thirteen days. Before that we discussed the screenplay with Kore-eda several times and did some rewrites. He gave his okay on the final draft only two days before we started shooting, so rewriting the screenplay happened simultaneously with pre-production, the casting, the costumes, etc.

This is your debut film, but the script contains a lot of characters and a lot of locations. It's quite a complicated project to take on as a first film.

YI: Actually, for me it seemed quite easy. I never felt it would be difficult, we just thought that that type of story structure would be fun to watch for an audience. The backbone is just about somebody who loses a packet of marijuana. In the beginning we thought this would only be enough for a thirty-minute story, so in order to expand that into a feature we had to add subplots and additional characters. Of course we had to show what those characters are like and how they look at life. As long as the backbone was strong, as long we shot the subplots with care and as long as we edited everything the right way, the audience wouldn't get bored. We felt that this was the best way for us to make our first feature film.

How did you two collaborate when you wrote the script?

TK: Each of us wrote an episode, then we discussed how we could connect them and finally bring them all together at the end. There are many patterns for constructing a story, but for us this seemed like the most intriguing way.

YI: Taka-san wrote the basis of the story and the subplot about the cop, and I wrote the subplot about the crazy young guy. This character doesn't really have a lot of story to explain his character, but I wanted to have him say some interesting lines. The three main characters didn't change so much from how they were in the beginning.

picture: Kakuto

The story is about young people. The characters are younger than you are in real life, but the difference is not that big. Did this make it easy for you to write, direct and play those characters? I imagine it's an age group you can still very much relate to. At least that's what I felt from the film, the characters feel very genuine.

YI: That's true, they are easy to understand for us. Actually, we added several elements that came from our own experience or from those of friends. I really threw up in Taka-san's car once (laughs).

TK: People have always complained about the behaviour of young kids, that's not something recent. But I think that behaviour hasn't essentially changed over the years. The feelings and thoughts you have at that age are essentially universal. I notice that when I look at the kids around me in my own life.

YI: I was really lucky to be able to make this film at this young age and without having any experience. In that situation, what is your aim? For me it was to make a film that only I could make. To show the reality that only a young person can show, the authenticity. I feel the work of young filmmakers has a real freshness that communicates with young generations more than movies made by older people. I feel confident about being able to make an appealing film for that young generation.

With that in mind, what do you feel about the work of Akihiko Shiota, who you've worked with on Harmful Insect (Gaichu, 2001) and whose usually has adolescents as his subject?

YI: I like Shiota's films a lot, especially Harmful Insect. But in his work there is Shiota's clear vision of young people and the young actors try hard to understand that and to enter his poetic world. It's like a particular image of youth created by an adult. But with my film, I am almost the same age as the characters and also we chose actors who had similar personalities to the characters. That's a big difference.

Could you explain a bit more about the origin of the title Kakuto? I believe it's a composite word that can mean two things, is that correct?

YI: It came from when I was in the second grade of university. I was in this art group at the time and it was in that period that I came up with the word 'kakuto'. I noticed the double meaning, that it could mean both 'awakening person' and 'awakening city'. Since then I've been thinking of projects for which I could use the word.

TK: When I was writing the screenplay, I had an idea for a title, but it was a really bad one because I don't have that sense for coming up with good names (laughs).

YI: Yes, wasn't it Christmas Eve, or something? I really hated that one.

TK: Then he proposed the title Kakuto. It sounded good and the meaning related to the subject of the film, and also the things he did in that art group in university were really interesting. So it was an easy decision.

YI: Actually, you can use the title Kakuto for just about anything (laughs).

Kameishi, you play a young yakuza in the film. Since you also wrote a big part of the script, do you have a particular liking for yakuza films?

TK: I prefer films about human beings. But recently I had an idea for a yakuza movie, so I made some notes that maybe I'll come back to later. The protagonist is a yakuza, but the story is more universal. It's not about action, but about a sad yakuza character. I did act in a yakuza film before, called Shura no Michi [dir: Keiichi Ozawa, 2001]. The atmosphere on set was like a different world for me. It was like being back in my university sports club, a very strict hierarchy.

Tell me about the casting of Susumu Terajima. It's really a tailor-made role you cast him in.

TK: We thought of him from the beginning. Only he could play that character. But that goes for many actors in Kakuto, it was the same for Atsushi Itoh and Teruyuki Kagawa and the characters they play. Terajima-san is a very nice person, a guy with 'jingi'.

YI: The yakuza roles he's played in the past were really transient; he always seems to die quickly. But Terajima-san himself is very endearing and pure, and also very manly, which is very appealing. So when he acts he brings that particularity to the role, which makes the character he plays very touching. That's something I like very much about him. He's a great actor.

picture: Kakuto

Kameishi, do you intend to continue combining scriptwriting with acting in the future?

TK: Yes, why not? The experience of acting in Kakuto was a lot of fun. It was tough sometimes, occasionally I was nervous before takes, but on the whole it was fun and an interesting experience. In general, it's important to have such experiences in life, so I would like to continue if I get the chance.

As for writing, I started when I was 17 years old. At the time there was this film playing that everyone was talking about, but when I finally went to see it myself I was really disappointed. I thought I could write a better screenplay than that, so I simply started writing. And I've been doing that ever since.

Does that go for you too, Iseya? Do you want to continue combining acting, modelling, directing, designing [Iseya designed the poster for Kakuto - TM], all these different things you do now?

YI: I think acting and modelling are kind of the same thing. They're different, but the motivation you need is kind of the same. But the other things like designing and directing, these are kind of separate types of activities, they are more subjective. In the coming years I would like to continue doing these things, but this year I would like to concentrate more on film. On acting but also on a second project as director, which I'm thinking about now.

I think from now on, because I directed a film myself, whenever I go to a set as an actor my point of view will change. I will observe more and think about the different aspects of making the film. When you make a film, it's essential that you can transfer the atmosphere on set to the film. Every director has his own way of achieving this, so I would like to observe that aspect too.

Do you make your choice of directors to work with as an actor based on how educational or inspirational they can be for you as director of your own films?

YI: Yes, the directors I work with definitely inspire me. Working with Kore-eda has been a very valuable experience. I wasn't so conscious of it when I made Kakuto, but I realise now that especially in terms of working with actors, I have been influenced by Kore-eda's methods. I don't think my way of directing is similar to his, but there is definitely an influence.

The difference between us is the starting point. He meets people and observes them and this inspires him to write the characters. But for Kakuto, also because we didn't have a lot of time to prepare, the screenplay came first and after that we started looking for actors who had similar personalities to the characters. But I did ask the actors not to actually play their roles. I didn't want them to act, their performance had to come from within themselves. The characters had to be extensions of their own personalities. That aspect is similar to Kore-eda's method, I think.

Would you continue working in this way in the future?

YI: Probably I will change little by little. Watching some of the scenes in Kakuto where I directed the actors in this way, I can't really tell that I achieved what I wanted. I want to continue using this method so that hopefully I will become better at it and be more satisfied with the end result. That doesn't mean I want to control the actors, but that I want to improve my direction while incorporating the actors' suggestions.

Kameishi, what's your impression of Iseya as a director?

TK: He's very reliable on set. Before shooting we worked in a very small group, basically just the two of us plus Kore-eda as producer. But when shooting started, it of course became a much bigger group. But Iseya really showed great leadership. The atmosphere on set was really good, largely thanks to his personality. Even if he sometimes made an oversight due to his inexperience, the actors voluntarily wanted to help him solve it or make up for what he lacked. Especially Atsushi and Hassei, and also Terajima and Kagawa.

YI: Whenever Terajima and Kagawa came to the set, the atmosphere immediately changed. They generated a lot of energy and were really helpful. Kameishi's role, aside from being an actor, was to cheer up and motivate the other actors. One day we were planning to finish shooting at midnight, but it took us until the next morning to get what we wanted. Terajima and Kagawa were there too, and they said "No problem. We can wait, just take your time." So they were very helpful just through their attitude.

The use of digital video was doubtlessly the result of the low budget, but you seem to have really benefited from it in terms of its mobility. There are a lot of movements and angles in the film that would be a lot more difficult to achieve with a 35mm camera. And that mobility really adds to the film's energy.

YI: Thankfully the result came out like this. But going into the film, we didn't really consider the advantages of DV. We didn't really have time to contemplate each and every angle. We had to compromise, but it was necessary to prioritize the things that could be compromised. So if we had shot the film with a 35mm camera, the film probably would have looked very different. If we had shot this film on 35, we would have needed twice as much shooting time. So if we had shot it on 35mm and we would indeed have had more time as a result, we would have been able to try more things we wanted and the film would look different.

Would you say that you discovered the advantages of DV through the making of Kakuto?

YI: Yes. In the beginning we didn't think of DV very positively. It felt like we simply didn't have a choice given our situation. But it turned out that DV was very convenient to use. You don't have to make the actors wait so long while you prepare, you can use effects easier and in general you can just do more things for less money. So in every way, DV fit this project really well and I've come to like the format a lot more than before. But I still prefer the image of 35mm to DV, so if I have more time for the next film, I'd like to use 35mm. Or 70mm (laughs).

picture: Kakuto

There seems to be a spiritual element to the film as well.

TK: We talk about many different things together, spirituality, politics, girls, or just insignificant chatter. All those subjects are related to each other within our field of interest and we can't see them as separate things. Also, Yusuke's interests change all the time. Once he discovers an interest in spirituality, he will suddenly become a very spiritual person, which will have an influence on me. So we'll speak about this subject for hours or even all night until the morning. At the same time, we write screenplays together, so it naturally finds its way into the script. So the film becomes like a box of toys, with many things mixed inside. But I think that's the advantage of youth, we are responsibly irresponsible. That's one of Yusuke's good aspects too.

YI: Thank you very much for looking at it in such a positive way (laughs).

Is he right?

YI: It's completely like he says. Actually, there is one screenplay I wrote before Kakuto and in that period I was really into spirituality, so in that script this element is even more present.

TK: Sometimes he says completely different things compared to what he said the week before. He always surprises me. Sometimes I agree, at other times I don't, but the fact that he changed his mind always means we can continue discussing ideas. Creating a story in that way is a lot of fun.

And what's your latest interest?

YI: The strongest man in the world. Whether such a guy really exists or not, I'm not sure, but I'm interested in the concept of an invincible man: physically, mentally, socially, whatever. I'd like to write a screenplay about that subject, because today in Japan there are very few men like this. We don't have a role model to admire. The two of us are discussing this subject now for our next project.