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Friday, Dec. 8, 2000

Yimou on the long run

"The Road Home" was the closing film in the Cinema Prism section of this year's Tokyo International Film Festival, and Zhang Yimou flew into town at the last minute to address the sold-out audience at Bunkamura's Orchard Hall, many of whom were still wiping away tears as the lights came up. Looking relaxed and content, the director graciously answered questions from his fans.

On casting the lead role: "Zhang Ziyi, who plays the main character, is still a young, upcoming actress. This is her first film. Actually, the first time I met her wasn't for this film, but for a commercial I was making. In the end, we didn't make that one, but about six months later when I went to make this film, I was looking for a girl to play this part, and after auditioning many girls, I recalled her. I wanted to find a new, fresh-looking actress, and she fit the part. At the start of the shoot, Ziyi was not a very good cook. But we left her in the village for about a month, and she had to cook all the time, so in the end, she actually became pretty good. Finally, she was able to make pretty fine shao-bin (fried negi cakes)."

On his change of style: "A director does not want to make the same type of film over and over again. No one wants to be redundant. What I wanted this film to be was more poetic, and simpler. It's a very simple story; it's not complicated in the sense that there's a big drama or anything. It's a movie that anybody can watch and understand. But actually, this kind of simple film is very difficult to make, especially to make it seem realistic. My direction to Zhang Ziyi was summed up in four characters: run, wait, watch and listen. That's all I shot in making this film, so you can get a sense of the challenges I faced."

On why so many of his films take place in rural settings: "I'm often asked this question. I like the countryside better because there are more pure emotions that one can feel, in terms of the relations between people. And when you go to the bigger cities in China, it's just like any big city, like in Tokyo. There's not a lot of big emotional moments that one can feel compared to the countryside."

On whether the film made him cry too: "I have a deep, personal connection to this film, because a year before I began this one, in 1997, when I was in Firenze working on a film, my father passed away, and I was not able to be there. I have many sad memories of that. So yes, by the end of this film, even just listening to the soundtrack made me emotional."

On the long scene in which Zhang Ziyi runs to catch up with a departing wagon: "Running is very similar, in a sense, to filmmaking. A filmmaker wants to transform his dreams, his imagination, into film. So I'm always moving toward that dream, in making it into the actual film. But when you see the completed version, you're never really that satisfied with it, you always think that there's something more that can be done. So the result really is not important; it's the process, in terms of trying to get there, like running."

On the film's location: "The place where this film was shot was a place that I happened to pass by with a friend about five years ago -- it stuck in my memory as a fantastically beautiful place. In this region, though, the seasons change very quickly sometimes. We had already been shooting for about 20 days, and the leaves had been all green, when a frost came, and they all turned yellow overnight! So we had to run around shooting the covering shots of leaves all over again, for continuity. So some of you may have noticed, there were some areas where the leaves were green, and some where they were yellow."

On whether the way to a man's heart is through his stomach: "Until 10 or 15 years ago, that was the case: Women would cook for men to try and get their attention. Now, it's just the opposite -- men cook for women."

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