Morigaki Yukihiro was born in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1983 and started making documentaries while at university. He is a well-known commercials and TV drama director who has won awards at Cannes Lions and ACC CM Festival and his short film Clockwork Couple won the best film of the 2014 FOX Movie Premiere Short Film Festival.
On the occasion of his debut feature film, “Goodbye Grandpa” that screened at Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian cinema, we speak with him about the film, the concept of family, the problems youth face in the country, priests, the Japanese movie industry and other topics.
Apart from films, you also direct commercials, TV dramas and documentaries. How have these capacities shaped your style as a filmmaker?
My curiosity is never satisfied until I get to know what I am interested in, so I learned and experienced many ways of movie expressions. As a film maker, I think those experiences are really becoming my strength. In TV commercial industry Japan, you can experience the latest technologies and techniques of shooting, lighting, and CG graphics, etc. Most of the time, there are strict time limitations on a shooting schedule due to the actors’ very busy schedule, so we require instant judgement and quick direction. That trained me very well that I can now direct a TV series which needs to be quickly shot, like a TV commercial (well, in Japan, it’s like that).
In documentary film, the most important thing is how much you can express reality in a film. That is all what I think about while I make documentaries, and that made me able to feel people’s real voice, overview the society and figure out problems. All those experiences are helping me as a film maker.
Family dramas seem to be one of the most common genres in Japanese cinema. Why is that?
Well, I think that is not happening just in Japan but world widely. In my opinion, that is because every single one of us are naturally unable to escape from the strains of family. So eventually, the theme is the most common in all of us, and there must be inexpressive, deep feelings which are different in each of us. The shape of “Family” is very interesting, because it changes as time period goes, but also doesn’t change in any time era. We can still discover new issues in the union which we call family, and I think that is why many of films are about family.
The young people in the film, and particularly Yohei and Yoshiko, seem troubled about their identity, their relationship with their parents and their future. How common is that in Japan?
When I was in my 20s, I remember I was like them, wondering and worrying about that kind of things. The scriptwriter Sahoko Yamazaki, who wrote this movie is the same age as me so I could sympathise with those characters very easily. I see young people nowadays are taking those issues more seriously than we used to. I think that’s because it feels like the weight of rules of the society is becoming lighter and lighter, like a trend in my opinion, for example parents divorce, it is “not a big deal” as it was anymore, it happens often everywhere.
Yoshiko feels guilty about having sex while her grandfather died. Can you elaborate on this concept?
I did not direct the sex scene as a significant thing that caused Yoshiko’s feeling of guilt. We feel guilt when someone whom you care for, dies while we are having pleasure moment, which can be anything such as eating delicious food or etc. In the story, it was sex for Yoshiko. I wanted to show her feeling of guilt as a feeling that everybody would feel when a caring person dies. And the fact that she feels guilt by having pleasure moment when her grandpa dies shows young people’s poor experience of death. This is the first death that Yoshiko had to deal with, and this feeling vanishes as she gets older because she eventually will experience funerals repeatedly. We grow up and admit death as a part of our life, in that process. Yoshiko and her boyfriend have sex again in the middle of the story. This scene is very important because it shows she got over death and grew up.
Kaoru faces prejudice for not getting married and not having children. Is this something that happens frequently in Japanese society?
In Japanese society, I feel single women at her age are still biased. However, I believe women are the center of the world. I wish them to be more active in our society so I included Kaoru’s character in the film to encourage women like her. I know many of my friends who are like her, actually. Kaoru’s problems are existential, because we live in a society where women can work hard like men. A lot of women work very hard and earn enough money to live by themselves comfortably, but at one point, they realize they have turned 40 already. And they start to think it’s not worth to force themselves to spend time with someone they don’t love. I feel many of those women do not marry, despite the fact that the idea of having a baby still lingers somewhere in their mind.
Single middle aged men are even becoming targets of bias in Japanese society now days. As time goes by, I believe there will be less problems like this, but there will be other issues that will pop up, such as declining birthrate and dying alone, etc.
The film seems to portray the priest as individuals that care too much about money. Is that your opinion about them?
Of course I know there are wonderful priests in the world, but the priests in the story are σηαπεδbased on my mother’s experience. When her sibling died, what they did was show her funeral plans and costs. The image of the priest driving an expensive car is from a TV show that I watched, which was about the life of a famous Japanese priest and I remember she was driving a really nice big car. Also, I remembered when I was a child, I was very curious about the job, and wondered if priests are public servants? Are they self employed? Is this a job someone can make money by praying? All of those thoughts shaped the way the priests behave in the story.
The aging population of Japan and particularly elderly senility is a recurring theme in the country’s cinema. Is the problem so significant?
I think it’s very important. By considering the problems of aging population and their care, we question how a “family” should be. Is this a cause for a family to collapse? Or is this something that brings the family together more tighly? I think we cannot separate this issue from the theme of family.
Despite the fact that the film deals with serious issues, you retain a light-humoristic style throughout. Why did you choose this approach?
I think there are no right ways in movies. I even think I haven’t understand what a movie is yet. So I believe making a film is the same as invention. Inventing 0 to 1 is the hardest part, but I always search for new ways to direct or something that no one has done yet. Because of the seriousness of the theme of social problems, the tone of a story will be gloomy eventually. But I realized not many of films based on this kind of story are shot humorously, and I took advantage of that. I thought by showing this kind of social problems humorously, I could draw the attention of people who do not care about that kind of stuff and make them think about it. And another thing is, my approach on the theme of life and death is not as heavy as people think it is supposed to be. Death is a part of our life for me, so I want the audience to understand that by directing Yoshiko and her family humorously and ironically a bit is as how normal life is like to be.
Can you tell us a bit about the casting process for the film? Was it difficult coordinating all these actors? How did the cooperation with Miki Mizuno came about?
Casting process was very hard…I approached the casting as a puzzle, like if this character is the mother, then that character should be her daughter and that character her son and so on. I wanted to retain reality in the film so I simulated scenes by imagining existing actors and actresses in my head over and over. In that process I figured if the sister of Mr. Iwamatsu and Mr. Mitsuishi was Mrs. Mizuno it would be funny somehow and would fit to the script. I believe it succeeded , I want to thank all of them. If even one of them wasn’t able to be cast in the film, I was thinking of redoing all the puzzle from the beginning.
Can you tell us about the location the film was shot? Any memorable episodes during the shooting, good or bad?
Good episode first. We shot this film in Kumamoto, Hitoyoshi town, a very peaceful country place. There were many rivers in the town too. People in town were very cheerful for my film, I wouldn’t be able to complete it without their cooperation. They served Bento with my name on the case, they served B.B.Q. on the day off for all of my staff. It was very fun and I can’t forget about it.
I can’t think of bad episodes though, if I have to say one, the heat of summer in Kumamoto was really terrible. When we were shooting in the field, the cameraman got sick because of the heat and had to stop shooting for a while, so we all took a nap together. Well, that is a good memory now.
What is your opinion about Japanese cinema at the moment?
I’m afraid to say this but I feel that it is hard to try and make new things in Japanese movie industry today. Japanese novels or manga from bookstores are more likely to be made into movies. If you think about the business model, it is understandable; if you make a movie out of a novel or a manga that are already famous then you basically don’t need so much money for advertisement. However, if you look at the past, not all the great movies were made like that. There are many great scenario writers who can write original stories for the big screen but sadly, it seems their work is valued very little. A movie becomes a movie when there are people who watch it, I understand that, but is it really all about the number of the spectators? I am struggling with these thoughts. Poor payment to film makers and staff is another big problem in this industry. (Not all of the cases, but most of the time.)
Through this movie, I had a chance to get to know French and Korean movie companies. By talking to them, I realized there is a big difference between Japan and their country. These countries tax movies to protect the industry. I was jealous, honestly.
I hope more original movies will be made and distributed to movie theatres, so people get to see them, as it was before. I mean not all the movies based on books are bad, because they are not, I’m just thinking it’s amazing if film makers have their back so they can try art films or original films more often and freely. I believe that, in this way, Japanese movie culture will be cultivated profoundly. But I also think there are more serious problems than introducing movie tax in Japanese society. It is just my opinion so I don’t think I am right, but I’m hoping so.