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Wednesday, July 6, 2005

A prize-winning directorquite happy to have a laugh

With his short-brimmed hat and carefully trimmed goatee, Kenji Uchida looks strikingly like the private investigator played by So Yamanaka in "Unmei Janai Hito."

News photo
Kenji Uchida

In our interview at the headquarters of Pia -- the media company whose Pia Film Festival launched his career -- Uchida looked faintly bemused by the attention his success at Cannes had brought him -- or was that fatigue at his umpteenth media interview for the day? His laugh, though, verged on a teenage boy's giggle -- and came in reassuringly frequent bursts.

I saw the film twice -- once wasn't enough (laughs). Was that your intention -- to make people want to see the film again and again?

Not really. I wanted it to be easy to understand. But I'm glad you think it's a film people will want to see more than once (laughs).

Was there a specific reason for the circular story line, for not telling the story linearly, from A to Z?

I wanted to show how different people have different ways of looking at the same incident. I thought it would be interesting to show all the different points of view, one after another. That was the reason for the structure -- to make the audience understand how interesting those different perspectives are. When you have an appointment with someone, you usually don't know where they they've been or what they've been up to. Perhaps a chance meeting has opened up a new world for them. In the film, an ordinary salaryman named Miyata has encounter like that. It's not all that exaggerated. It's the sort of thing that often happens in real life. I wanted the audience to see that sort of thing unfolding from God's point of view.

Speaking of God, did the audience at Cannes see the film as embodying Eastern philosophy -- reincarnation and so on (laughs).

No, not that I could tell. But when Maki and Miyata are apologizing to each other over and over, the audience started laughing kind of strangely (laughs).

Do you want to stay with comedy for a while -- or branch out?

I'm not so particular about the genre. But I don't want to make the sort of film that chooses its audience. In other words, films that only a select few can understand. I want to make films that anyone can understand and enjoy. I like well-made films by people like Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock. Their scripts, especially, are really great. With a good script and good cast, you can't go all that wrong. Movies cost a lot of money to make. It's better to make them as perfect as you can at the script and casting stage, when they don't cost a lot of money.

Given that you spent a year writing the script you probably had a clear idea of what you wanted to see on the screen. How close did you come?

That's hard to say. The film is full of faults, but the actors gave me exactly what I wanted. So in that sense, I'm really satisfied with it. We only had two weeks to shoot and only a short time to prepare. So given all that, I'm happy with what we were able to do.

Did making this film help you to graduate from amateur to pro in your own mind?

Not really. I didn't know what I was doing. Fortunately, I had a lot of experienced staff around me who helped me a lot.

The film is not quite what people abroad think of as typically Japanese.

I was surprised that it got invited to Cannes (laughs).

I'm thinking in particular of the gang boss, Asai. He's always smiling, well-mannered -- not what you would expect of a yakuza (laughs).

Yes, people at Cannes told me that they had never seen anything like Asai -- he's totally different from their image of the yakuza. They found him interesting.

What are you making next? Not a comedy?

It's a suspense film, but it has comic elements. It's comic suspense.

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