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Friday, Dec. 16, 2005

Stripping it down, thriving on basics

Born in 1970 into an acting family -- his father is butoh master Akaji Maro and his brother is rising star Nao Omori -- Tatsushi Omori served as an assistant director for Junji Sakamoto and Kazuyuki Izutsu before working for producer/director Genjiro Arato on "Akame Shijuha-taki Shinju Misui" in 2003 -- and getting his first chance to direct on another Arato production, "Germania no Yoru (Whispering of the Gods)" He took time to talk to The Japan Times.

News photo
Tatsushi Omori

"Germania no Yoru" is set in a Catholic monastery, but it didn't strike me as a critique of Catholicism per se.

My aim is not to criticize the Catholic Church. Instead, I use it more as a metaphor for Japanese society. The world of the monastery is a microcosm of the larger world outside. I don't consider ["Germania"] to be a "Catholic film."

One of the problems of Japanese society now is the sense of isolation so many young people, especially, feel. That's a big theme of the film.

Yes, it is. Human beings are basically alone and I wanted to express that sense of isolation in a cinematic way.

In making a film you use actors and a camera, but there's a separation between the two. The camera can't get inside the actors' heads and tell you exactly what they're thinking. Also, the audience is looking at people on the screen they know nothing about -- there's a certain distance between them. Finally, there's a certain distance between the actors as well. I wanted to maintain those various types of distance, within the world of the film.

Also, when an actor tries to "act," there's a gap between what he is and what he's acting. But if an actor just stands there, he can still reveal what his character is like. In the scene where Rou is holding a pipe across his shoulders, you can get a feeling for what he is thinking, even though he's not telling you. But to get that feeling you need time -- so I give the audience the time they need, with long cuts. If I had cut too quickly, the audience wouldn't have time to think.

You underline the sense of isolation with the setting, which doesn't seem to be in any particular place.

The film was shot in Iwate Prefecture, but I didn't want to identify the location. I didn't want that -- that's why I didn't shoot in a place with a well-known mountain in the background. Seeing something like that gives the audience a sense of security. I didn't want that, so I got rid of all identifiable landmarks. I wanted the audience to feel insecure.

You also cut explanatory visual transitions to a minimum -- sometimes it's hard to tell if the story is flashing back or still in the present.

The film is hard to understand in places (laughs). But I wanted the audience to be interested in the hard-to-understand bits, not shut them out. I want the audience to wonder why -- to try to come to grips with what they don't understand.

You don't judge Rou or the other characters in terms of good or bad.

There's no good or bad as such in the film -- everything is mixed up. Also, there' s no clear-cut resolution. That's the way life is. There's a kind of strength in knowing that. Rou is a symbol of that strength. He keeps going no matter what. He has the strength to live. It was very important for me to show that. He's always listening to a portable radio, but the "whispering of the gods" he's hearing is really coming from inside him. In other words, he's not just repeating the thoughts of others -- he's thinking his own thoughts and acting on them. That's where his strength comes from. He doesn't trust the words of others.

The monastery stands for Japanese society at large -- and Japanese society accepts an American-defined global standard, but why? That "standard" is often completely meaningless in a Japanese context.

A lot of recent Japanese films deal with the problem of communication -- how young people find it difficult to say what they're really thinking. That seems to be your theme as well.

The hero, Rou, can't communicate well with words -- he prefers actions. He's not a hikikomori -- a guy who shuts himself up in his room -- he's stronger than that. He prefers violence to words. With Sister Theresa, the nun, he uses sexual violence because he can't communicate his feelings well.

Did you have everything worked out before you started shooting ?

Of course, we had a script, but finding the right settings was extremely important. My cameraman and I were very particular about that. We were using long cuts, so we had to get the backgrounds exactly right. We looked for settings that were cinematic.

We paid a lot of attention to details -- the color of the walls and so on. As much as possible we tried to convey emotions in images -- so the images had to have real power. And if we didn't get the camera positions, lighting and so on right, the power wouldn't be there.

What about your producer, Genjiro Arato? He has a certain style that seems to carry over from film to film.

Mr. Arato is the sort of producer who tells the director to make the film the way he wants. He says that a director can only connect with an audience when he is making something that is truly his own idea.

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