Visiting the International Film Festival Rotterdam for the 4th time, Japanese actress, producer and director Kiki Sugino is busier than ever. A member on the jury of this year’s Tiger Awards she has a lot of screenings and meetings to attend to, but was able to make some time to meet me in the press room of the festival to talk about her latest project, Hotori no Sakuko, internationally released as Au revoir l’été.
How is the festival up till now?
I came here on the 24th, so I’ve been here for 4 days now and still have seen only half of the films I have to review for the Tiger Awards. So I’m still in the middle of things.
Yes you are a member on the Jury of the Tiger Awards this year, can you tell us a bit about that?
We are with 5 jury members in total, and we discuss the nominated films. There are many different opinions, so we’re kind of wondering how we are going to solve this (laughs). It is something that brings forth some anxiety but is also fun, so I am enjoying it.
Next to being a member of the jury, you are also here with your latest film that you have produced and also have a small role in, Hotori no Sakuko. It is a Japanese movie but the international title, Au revoir l’été, is French. Why was the choice made to give a French title for its international release?
Before this film, I had already worked together with the film’s director, Koji Fukada, on a film called Kantai (2010). When we were working on this film, we also choose Hospitalité to be the international title of the film. We did that because the film was inspired by French philosopher Jacques Deridda’s idea of the term “hospitalité”. This time as well, we chose a French title because it seemed to fit the director more as he is inspired and influenced by the French Nouvelle Vague movement. Next to this, in a country were people have almost no vacation, we wanted to create a film that feels like a vacation. So instead of an English international title, we felt that a French title would be able to achieve this better.
You play a small role in the film yourself. How was this character established in the script?
My character in the film is someone who rebels against her parents, but, as I saw it, is very friendly towards other people. But basically she is the opposite. She is like, a person who doesn’t see things straightforward like other people would do but approaches things more from another side. She is different from what I have done before in my other films, so it was very interesting. There is a scene in the film, where in the script there is a lot of dialogue and my character just keeps talking and talking. Normally in a long scene it is a conversation between two persons, but in this case it’s was just me talking and talking. That was a lot of fun.
Was the character especially written for you?
The director created that character with me as a kind of inspiration (laughs). Like in Hospitalité, there is a scene where I hit a lot of people. It is said that a violent scene fits me, so this time as well, I don’t hit that many people as last time but still a few. The director wrote that moment in the script for me (laughs).
I noticed at the credits that a song that is featured in the film was sung by yourself. Can you tell us something about that?
Originally, I started as a singer in Korea. Before I started acting in Japan, I sang for about a year. During these days I was already thinking that once I want to make a musical film. The song that you hear in the film was something that the director really wanted to use. He was thinking, who should sing it? Finding someone would be troublesome so it was more convenient that I would sing it. So that’s why in the end, I did it. The film’s sound designer lives in New York so when I was there during a film festival, I went to his studio and recorded it. It was fun.
Last year, you were at the festival with a film you produced and also starred in, Odayaka na Nichijo. This film is about the aftermath of the triple disaster that took place in Japan on the 11th of March 2011. Nuclear power and the dangers surrounding it are a central element in that film. In Au revoir l’été this element of nuclear power plants is also present. How did this theme ended up in the film?
The problems surrounding the nuclear power plants in Japan is clearly something that you can’t ignore and close your eyes for, I think. Especially, I was born Hiroshima. My grandfather fought in the Second World War and my grandmother was present in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb fell. So from that time onwards, things like radiation, peace and war, are very sensitive topics. After the 11th of March, radiation became a big problem in Japan again and there are a lot of people that don’t want to see what is going on. They act like they don’t see what is happening and focus on their own lives. There are more of those persons than I thought there would be. But it is a topic that is very present in Japan so it is something that has to be told I think. So I again made a film where the radiation theme is present. Just like me, the director feels and sees this current issue and wanted to include it in the film. It is not the main theme of the film but it is present in the background.
Like you mentioned before, this is your second project with director Koji Fukada. Do you have any more projects planned in the future?
Before making Au revoir l’été, we had plans to make a period film and a collaboration with France. For one year we kept wanting to make these films but we realized that it would require a rather big budget. So we decided to make a film that would only be a bit bigger than our last production, Hospitalité. It meant taking things one level up basically. Then after we had made this film, maybe we could take the next step upwards and create something bigger. So I want to work together with him again, but when we will have the opportunity to do so, I don’t know.
Up till now, you are an actress, producer and are also now working on your first film as a director. Which of these things do you like doing most?
I like them all. I love cinema so, from now on I want to keep doing all of them. I don’t mind if I can’t be all when making a project. Being just the producer of a film or act in a film, or only be the director of a film: it’s all fine to me. (Thinks for a moment) It is difficult for me to choose just one. I like to express and create something. Now that I think of it, I might like discussing about, and the process of setting up, a project. Within the work of a producer, next to just financing, I like the creative part of the job. And actually now after being a director for the first time, I felt like I don’t want to be a producer anymore (laughs). Being a director is lot of fun. As a producer you have to really do a lot of extra things, right? I was thinking like, I don’t want to do that anymore but I will continue doing it anyways I think (laughs). But next to this, I think I have to learn more as an actress as well. I have been thinking about going to an acting school, and also as a director I still have to study a lot. So I’m considering going abroad to study about these things.
What part of making a film do you enjoy most?
(Thinks for a while) I think the filming process. I am probably most happy when I’m acting or directing on set.
Are there certain themes you like to put in your films?
I want to exceed something; go beyond borders. This can be real borders, as in countries, but also issues like gender. Anything is ok, as long as it is going beyond certain borders. And of course, peace.
How was the experience of directing your first film?
It was really very exciting. It was very hard, I didn’t have any time to sleep. It was my first time so I was a bit nervous. I wanted to do it, but was nervous. But that the work of a director is this much fun, it might have been the biggest adrenaline rush of my life up till now (laughs). For example it is fun to work together with the cameramen. To create what you had imagined, to make the camera move certain ways, and to see what you had imagined acted out in front of you, it was really exciting.
What is the next step, do you have any ambitions you would like to pursue?
I want to make a musical film in Japan. I really want to do that. In, I think it was 1930s Japan, there was a certain kind of musical films that were made. Even though you had those films in the past, there are hardly any musical films made in Japan. Maybe it doesn’t fit Japanese people. Films like West Side Story or Les Miserablés, the kind of musicals where people suddenly burst into singing, that kind of musicals don’t fit Japanese people I think. So I want to make a musical that fits the Asian persona. Like, in stead of people suddenly bursting into song, letting it come up slowly, from a conversation, and slowly turning into a song. Something like that, like that they don’t really dance, but move in a certain, more low-key, way. That kind of musical film I want to make.
I would like to thank Sugino-san for making time in her busy schedule during the festival for doing this interview. For my review of the film Au revoir l’été, you can click here. You can find the trailer below.