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Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2001

Epiphany in a puddle


By MARK SCHILLING and MAMIKO KAWAMOTO

Mamiko Kawamoto and I interviewed Katsuyoshi Kumakiri and his two stars, Susuma Terajima and Yuriko Kikuchi, at the press suite of the Focus on Asia -- Fukuoka Film Festival, where "Sora no Ana" was screened to a full-house crowd. Kumakiri was agreeably sincere and Kikuchi becomingly modest, while Terajima had the kind of electric presence that made me want to hang on every word.

Your second film "Sora no Anna" is quite different from your debut feature "Kichiku" (1997), but I also felt that there are links between the two films.

Director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri

Kumakiri: In my first feature, I wanted to show physical action in a very obvious and straightforward way, like chopping off heads and limbs. But I wasn't completely happy with "Kichiku" because the story lacks emotional depth. So in "Hole in the Sky," I put more emphasis on the emotions than on the physical actions. What I mean is that I wanted to portray physical violence in "Kichiku" and emotional violence in "Sora no Anna" -- the feeling of losing yourself when you are too caught up in your emotions. Personally, I think that the emotional pain in "Hole in the Sky" is more painful than the pain from physical violence in "Kichiku."

How did you come up with the story and the title "Sora no Anna"

Kumakiri: I feel that a film project works best when I have a clear visual image of the film -- a kind of "This is it!" moment. One day, I had an image of a puddle reflecting the sky, and that's how I came up with the title "Sora no Anna." I've always wanted to make a love story about a loser who doesn't have the guts to do anything, but suddenly reveals his true nature, pouring out his hidden feelings as though removing a mask, including the feeling of anger. I had a clear vision of the story, but some details came to me after I had thought of the title such as the setting in a lonesome highway restaurant and the character of Ichio as a loner who hardly ever leaves the place.

Why did you choose Terajima for a leading role?

Kumakiri: I liked Takeshi Kitano's "Sonatine" when I first saw it in college. I particularly liked the character that Terajima played in the film, a man who is a ruthless yakuza, but has a good nature. Ever since I saw the film, I've been a big Terajima fan and I assumed that he would be similar to the characters he played.

Taeko is dumped by her boyfriend and feels like a loser, but in the relationship between Taeko and Ichio, the roles are reversed and Ichio is the weaker one. Can you tell us more about their relationship?

Kumakiri: In a romantic relationship, we sometimes don't have a clue what's in our partner's mind -- we become totally baffled. I think the one who is more confused and nervous is the weaker one in the relationship. I wanted to describe this complex reality of relationships.

At the end, the audience doesn't know what's going to happen to Ichio, whether he will look for Taeko or not. How do you want the story to end?

Kumakiri: I may sound a bit cruel, but this kind of thing is rather trivial in the context of his life. So I end the film in a "c'est la vie" way instead of taking it too seriously.

Terajima: The film doesn't need to have a clear-cut ending, the way most Hollywood films have. It can have many different interpretations. I would like the audience to feel the complexity of Ichio's feelings and love in this film. Ichio receives a letter from Taeko, but the film doesn't say too much about what she has written in it. The letter is something very personal and special, and I don't think it's necessary to have a voice-over of Taeko reading the letter, the kind of thing you see in Hollywood films. Kumakiri knows exactly how to handle this kind of scene.

"Sora no Anna" was screened at international film festivals in Rotterdam and Berlin this year. What was the reaction of the foreign audience to the film?

Kumakiri: I had some very good reactions, particularly from older people with a lot of experience in life and love. I was very happy when an old lady came up and told me she had had this kind of relationship in her life. At the Berlin Film Festival, a man in the audience said, "Thank you for this film. I learned a lot about what goes on in women's heads." I thought, "Hey, I've found Ichio in Berlin!" (Laughs.)



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