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Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2001

Unearthly entertainment

Kiyoshi Kurosawa on the making of 'Kairo'

Kiyoshi Kurosawa is God's gift to film journalists. He speaks slowly and distinctly, in a rumbling baritone, weighing each word -- and giving even the most fumble-fingered reporter time to get everything down. He is also patient with questions that, after the 20th media interview, he has heard 20 times before. When I met him on the set of "Kairo" last spring, he was nearing the end of the shoot and was in a receptive mood, if decidedly eager to get to his lunch.

Somehow the story of the film reminds me of "The Ring" -- the dead invade the world of the living via a technology that is still alien to a lot of people.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa (right) on the set of "Kairo"

"It's a coincidence. A script writer on 'The Ring,' Hiroshi Takahashi, has been a friend of mine going way back. We think alike, and our ways of approaching this type of horror film are similar. So perhaps it was inevitable that 'The Ring' and this film should resemble each other. . . . But when it's finished it's going to be quite different."

The Internet is an important motif in the film: Do you think that humanity is being absorbed into the Internet, as the film seems to imply?

"No, not absorbed, but we are being flooded with information from the Internet. It's not simply information, though, but a kind of message from a world that is a bit different from the real world. That's also true of radio and TV -- you're in your home, living your ordinary life, but by turning these things on you're connecting to other worlds. When I think about that, I get really scared, especially in the case of the Internet -- you don't know where all that information is coming from. That, to me, is a lot scarier than radio or TV."

At least with radio and television, you don't have viruses.

"That's true. So that's the idea I had five years ago -- a kind of ghost story, to put it in a word. But if it were an ordinary ghost story, just having the ghosts appear would be boring. It would be like 'Ghostbusters.' (laughs) Or it could be like the traditional Japanese ghost story, like 'Yotsuya Kaidan,' in which the ghosts appear and frighten human beings. Then at the end they fulfill their mission, whatever it is, and go to heaven. That's the usual pattern for that kind of story. But in this story, the ghosts come from another world and, after they enter this one, they stay -- they don't go back.

"That's often the case in my films. Something happens that has a big impact on reality -- and reality itself changes and doesn't return to what it was before."

You seem to be making a statement about the present state of Japanese society, not just making a what-if entertainment.

"That's right. This film is not just about the ghosts; there's another story as well, one about the isolation of human beings. Because we're isolated, we want to connect somehow -- with someone on the Internet, say. Or it could be on the telephone. It's all the same. But even when we meet someone in the flesh, we still have this feeling of isolation. At the same time, even when we're home alone, we want to assure ourselves that we're connected somehow. When the ghosts appear [in the film], they're also isolated. They also want to connect. That's a big point in the story."

So the problem is not the technology itself, but the basic nature of human beings.

"That's right. I'm not simply saying that isolation is wrong. Even though the people in the film are living in isolation, they connect with each other. In the end, although only one person survives, they still want to live. So it's not a depressing film." (laughs)

Do you want to make "Kairo" more entertaining than your last film ("Charisma"), which was rather serious?

"Yes, that's the idea. I want as many people as possible to see it, especially the ones who don't usually go to films. It's not the kind of film that gets sent to foreign film festivals. If they invite me, I'll go, but that wasn't my intention in making it."

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