This interview was conducted on 2021/11/2.
To see the complete texts in mandarin, please refer to 販賣空氣的魔法師：《Drive My Car》導演濱口竜介專訪
––––When it comes to “body,” you have often referred to John Cassavetes, a director you admire. You have also spoken, in other interviews, that compared to Western cinema, the Japanese seem to exhibit a “motionless body,” which is why you arranged a dance scene in Touching the Skin of Eeriness (2013) and body performance training in Intimacies (2012) and Happy Hour (2015) to get Japanese body “moving.”
However, when it came to Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021) and Drive My Car (2021), you seem to have given “the body” a somewhat different performance? For instance, in Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy’s second part, when the professor faces the female student who is reading aloud standing while blocking the door, there’s an action of him getting up and leaning forward to open the door. In Drive My Car, whenever the male protagonist’s wife “gets her body up” to tell a story or make love, her body exudes power and a sense of mystery. These actions may seem simple but resonate deeply with the film’s overall storyline and metaphor. I would really appreciate your take on thoughts you gave to the concept of “body” and whether your perspective on “body performance” changed at all?
HAMAGUCHI: I still admire John Cassavetes to this day—his works display free body movements that offer the audience room for imagination—which is what I aspire to do. This has never changed.
However, while livings the U.S., I was deeply impressed by how the Japanese body movements and language differ from that of Western culture. Western languages are inherently melodic, so that when you talk, it naturally brings about body movements. But with the Japanese language, especially the standard Kanto dialect, it seems more like a derivative of bureaucratic languages—not only does it not encourage body movement but instead suppresses them. This is a trait of the Japanese language, and as an artist myself, I “passively” take on such trait and apply them to my works.
As for the actors’ bodies, I generally let them play it out naturally, so that during rehearsal, they can interact and explore their relationship with each character and the space they need for it; only then will I provide my thoughts as the director. Of course, for the “Japanese,” I tend not to make characters display unnatural movements—why does this character exhibit this movement? That being said, if the performance carries messages, I will of course still use them in the film. Yet on how to present bodies, most of the times I rely on the actors’ performance itself.
Interestingly, when you mentioned the “getting up” movements of Oto, Kafuku’s wife in Drive My Car, I suppose your meant specifically the sex scene. This does affect how I direct the sex scene, because pragmatically, in filming, we wouldn’t do too many takes for a sex scene; after all, both the filming schedule and actors are under pressure, so there isn’t room for many remakes. While I do allow the actors to arrange their own movements, I’d hope to get a shot of their faces as much as possible during filming, especially with Kafuku and his wife—even when they’re making love, they don’t make eye contact—which is a crucial demonstration of their relationship. Having to consider all these factors—camera angling or actors’ movements—I wasn’t working with too many options, only choices of making the best judgement.
—— You say that you let actors freely express their “body,” yet I also noticed that, in Drive My Car, there was a scene between Takatsuki and Janice Chan, a Taiwanese, both auditioning for the play Uncle Vanya. The shot transitioned from a medium close-up from the chest up to a full shot showing both actors—quite an extreme edit. In another scene including Kafuku and Takatsuki, when Takatsuki’s about to engage in a fight with somebody, Kafuku tried to break it off, and this scene also displays similar shot transitions and editing. Here, the handling of “body” seems to differ from the “free expression” you just mentioned. Could you elaborate on your thoughts in these scenes?
HAMAGUCHI: I think when I talked about “natural” before in terms of performance or venue, I was relating to the more classical, traditional “three-sided stage”in American theater—the stage set is designed with three sides of sceneries, in which actors must move reasonably about, and the fourth side is reserved for the camera. However, one way in which Japanese film differs from the American is its “four-sided stage.” A classic Japanese film exists as a 360-degree world. If the stage revolves around 360 degrees, then how would you manage to change the audience’s perspective or the anticipated camera angle? More often than not, the “change” or “cutaway” is accomplished through “characters looking back.”
This is why I approached these cases like the “360-degree world” Japanese films of the past—with a peculiar approach. In modern cinema, there are more exterior shots, so the placing of camera location replaces the “four-sided stage.” If I want to create the effects of a “four-sided stage,” all I need is to find a cutaway timing of characters looking back, and I can fabricate such spatial impression. At the same time, I hope that such design gives the audience something “fresh,” or “intriguing.”
—— I often find how moving the female characters are presented in your films. In the original book that Drive My Car was based on, the author Haruki Murakami’s “female absence” and “female mystery” emphasize more towards “lack” of women; nonetheless, you are able to highlight the “female” part in your films. I wonder how do you balance the depiction of female characters?
HAMAGUCHI: I appreciate your interpretation, but I’m in fact not particularly trying to amplify female characters. I regard every character with equal respect, and by “respect” I mean that I believe every character’s actions are self-justified. Their judgement call must have been based on a series of experiences that led them to “the present.” It’s just that the film can only capture moments of—and the audience can only access— “the present.” The characters must have undergone buildups, so I imagine that, for each character, what led up to their current action and what helped shaped their current personality.
All in all, I believe that the reason people view my films as “emphasizing female depiction” is that, when I work on a piece, I take note to reflect our current society. I think art and reality are indivisible.In fact, in today’s society, compared to men, women tend to be perceived as sensitive and strong while men are nicely protected. This world is friendlier towards male survival, so in their moments of action, they often act unconsciously. By contrast, women are often sensitive towards incoming information and even face direct difficulties, making women self-aware of actions they take. This is reflected in each character’s action; as a result, female actions seem more “visible” in the characters. Overall, I think this reflects the reality of our society.
—— Speaking of “reality,” I find it intriguing that besides your pursuit for “transparency” in acting, I also find a “sense of transparency” in your films. For instance, when studying a painting, the brush strokes may tell us directly about the artist’s emotions—and that’s very immediate. Yet with literature and films, the audience are inevitably aware that the artwork is a product of transition. When I study your “brush strokes,” I sense both the potency of your transitions and their “transparency”—which is incredible. This was my first impression of “transparency” in your films.
As for the second “sense of transparency,” you just talked about reflecting reality, and yet characters in your works are seldom cynical—even when put under bleak conditions, they are always portrayed as continuously creating, carrying on living, or demonstrating the creativity of life itself. In comparison, some of your favorite directors, like Eric Rohmer and John Cassavetes, their films often carry emotions of alienation, bitterness, or egotism; yet you are capable of polishing emotions with spirituality. I think this is an unbelievably amazing trait, and I’d love to hear more of your feedback on this topic.
HAMAGUCHI: If you were aware of the artist’s presence, wouldn’t that be “opaque”?
—— It’s a “sense of transparency,” like that of a “transparent bubble!” (smile)
HAMAGUCHI: I feel like in the earlier days of cinema, like the traditional, classic Hollywood movies, the creator hides behind the work, and the audience wouldn’t normally perceive the creator’s presence. There was no such thing as an artistic style or directing style because it was all about the work itself. The “creator hiding behind their work” is a more classical interpretation, and because I have done significant research on that era’s American cinema, I’m quite fond of this style.
I wish that when the audience are looking at my images, they are experiencing what is happening on site instead of perceiving my presence—although the creator unequivocally exists. Although I must say that, compared to previous generations, today’s audience are more demanding. After all, cinema has revolutionized through the numerous years and works, and the audience can easily distinguish film from reality. Many also compare whether “these things are realistic enough.” In my opinion, the audience’s debate on “degree of realism” is a destructive action because the relationship between a film and its audience is the entering of an agreement—I am inviting you into this cinematic world.
On the flip side, since audience nowadays are so clever and demanding, when I make a film, on one hand I hope the audience finds it natural; on the other hand, I approach it completely as an artistic creation. When I treat the film as an artwork and the audience also views it as an artwork, this sometimes helps the audience receive the work better, expanding their acceptance.
I don’t consider myself to possess “positive energy.” However, when you mentioned Rohmer, it is true that many view his films as lightweight and romantic, treating them only as romantic movies—and yet I do believe Rohmer’s films to be strongly critical. He is a very strict director whose films often assert stiff perspectives like “another person is solely their own person, so no one person can judge another.” His films from later years emphasize expressively that “it’s impossible for an individual to change the whole world.” He takes many tough perspectives.
In fact, I feel like I’ve applied his spirit in my works, except that I never explicitly express my opinions; instead, my films focus more on “reflecting” problems occurring in our reality. I don’t volunteer direct critique; what I do is simply record what I witness. For instance, there are numerous encounters and coincidences in life—some good and some bad—they happen simultaneously, so I don’t “filter” them. We see wonderful things in our world but also cruel ones, and both must coexist to satisfy what we call “the reality.” If we refuse to see the cruel side, then we won’t see the good side either. It might be my lack of filtering that allows my films to reflect both sides, which is probably why people feel they can perceive the good side when watching my films.
 For reference, see Acting in Front of the Camera (カメラの前で演じること). In the book, Hamaguchi describes acting as a pursuit for “clarity” or “transparency”; acting in front of a camera allows the performance to “reach into the infinite gaze of others in the future” (未來の無限の他者の眼差し)
0 comments on “An Interview with director Ryusuke Hamaguchi”