Toshiaki Toyoda hardly needs an introduction to fans of Japanese cinema. Since his debut in 1999, with “Pornostar”, he has been acknowledged as one of the most original filmmakers in the country. With films like “Blue Spring”, “Hanging Garden” and “9 Souls” he became internationally known, as his films continue to screen in festivals all over the world.
On the occasion of the release of Toshiaki Toyoda: The Early Years by Third Window, we speak with him about his films, his career, the Japanese movie industry, the fate of the characters in “Unchain”, and many more subjects.
In “Unchain” you focus on a character that could be easily characterized as a “loser”. What was the appeal to focus on Kaji? Did he acknowledge his failures?
“Unchain my heart”, are the words that Kaji lived by. Kaji is an artist that lived by those words. The appeal was that I also wish to live that way, even if I have to break the law. Kaji was never afraid of his failures.
Do you follow on his and his friends’ lives? What are they doing now?
Kaji still lives in the slums. He would sometimes get drunk and cause trouble. That gets him arrested from time to time. He is battling mental illness and has been sent to mental institutions numerous times. He would often call me from the hospitals.
His friend, Nagaishi has grandchildren now. He works under harsh conditions doing physical labor in the slums. He’s living a happy life regardless of this.
His other friend, Nishibayashi is also doing hard physical labor. His wife had been sick for a while, but she’s recovered and is now healthy. He’s raising a happy family with a son.
Garuda Tetsu runs three boxing gyms where he trains young boxers. He also has two sons now.
Do you enjoy watching sports like boxing, kick-boxing, etc.?
I wanted to become a Karate Master when I was a kid. I was serious about staying in shape.
Most of your films feature characters that live on the borders of society, misfits one could say. Why is that?
Because I can not fit into societal norms and am a misfit myself. People who can fit into this society seem strange to me.
Music plays a very important part in your films. How do you combine the two?
I just hear the music as I watch the images. It just comes to me.
Which is your favorite band?
You also direct music videos. What are the differences in the two mediums, and which one do you prefer directing?
Music videos are for fun. Creating pictures for music is a work that I enjoy doing. Making music videos is of course different from making films, since when you create films you are adding music to a picture.
Many of your films feature multi-character story lines. Do you find it easier to have many characters in a film? How do you coordinate the actors? In general, how do you cast the actors to play in your films?
The multi-character stories come very naturally to me. In order to coordinate the actors I try to connect with each one, individually, and communicate with them as much as possible. Regarding the casting, I am more interested in the way the actors have lived their lives rather than their acting skills.
Among all those that have played in your movies, is there anyone that stands out?
The several actors that made their debut in my films (editor’s note: for example, Kiyohiko Shibukawa).
Is there any actor you would like to cooperate with, but haven’t until now?
Edward Norton. I hear that his Japanese is great.
Most of your films feature a combination of the surreal-supernatural with reality, with the two of them eventually colliding. Can you elaborate on that?
The collision of reality and the supernatural is the natural way of the world, as I see and feel it.
You have adapted manga and novels, but also directed your own scripts.Which one do you prefer?
Making films is easier when there is a script. I can enjoy the process as a director. Creating a film with an original script takes time, as there is the big task of also being the writer. However, this is what excites me the most.
In “Monsters Club”, you cooperated with Pyuupiru. How did that occur?
Pyuupiru is a good friend of mine. We had been discussing on how we could work together one day. We also worked together on stage last year.
In “I’m Flash” you deal with the phenomenon of the “new religions”. Is that still an issue in Japan, and what is your opinion on the matter?
People are increasingly drawn to religions in a chaotic world filled with anxiety and disparities. The whole world has been heading this way, particularly because the issue of death is something no one can escape from.
Taking up where Takashi Miike left off with “Crows” is a challenge, since both his films were quite good. Did you perceive it as that, as a challenge?
It was a big challenge for me to direct a film in a massive marketing system. I am not interested in Takashi Miike’s Crows.
The cast was different from these two films. Did that help or was it more difficult for you?
It was quite difficult. However, I am lucky to have met new and young actors.
What is your opinion of the Japanese movie industry now?
It’s an industry that only deals with manga adaptations and best seller novels. The future looks bleak as long as there are is no interest from younger audiences.
What are your plans for the future?
I have been preparing to release a new film in 2018.