Kenji Yamauchi was born in Tokyo in 1958. In 1983, he joined the Dentsu Eiga (Film) Company (presently Dentsu Creative X). Since thenm he started shooting TV commercials, winning many awards for his efforts.
In 1992, he became a freelance script writer, penning numerous scripts for TV commercials, TV dramas, short films, web dramas, etc.. In 2004, he started his involvement with theater. He launched the theater company Shiroyagi no Kai, where acts as leader, playwright and director. Yamauchi’s remarkable theatrical works include “Koritsu no Yusen” (nominated for the 58th Kishida Drama Award) and “Trois Grotesque” (winner of the 59th Kishida Drama Award) among others. In 2011, a film version of his play “Being Mitsuko” was released nationwide in Japan and was nominated in the Warsaw Film Festival. In 2015, his second feature film “Her Father, My Lover” was nominated in the Tokyo International Film Festival, Shanghai International Film Festival and so on. In 2016 his third feature film “At the Terrace” (a film version of his play “Trois Grotesque”) was nominated in the Tokyo International Film Festival for the second time.
We speak with him about his films, career, the comparison between theatre and cinema, and a lot more topics.
“At the Terrace” screened at Japan Filmfest Hamburg
You were first a director of theatrical plays and then films. How did this transition occur, and what are the differences between the two mediums? Do the actors work differently in the two mediums? Did you find it easier to direct “At the Terrace”, which is an adaptation of your own play, “Trois Grotesque, or “Her Father, My Lover”? Which is the easiest to do? Which one do you prefer doing?
As you know, the film “At the Terrace” is based on my play “Trois Grotesques”[It was played at Shimokitazawa 9 months before film shooting]. But, actually, the film is not “based on”, it is that play as it is. I have not changed one word and did not add anything. And the cast is exactly the same.
My second film “Her father, My lover” [You saw it, thank you] is not based on a play, I wrote the script from the beginning. However, the cast are almost exactly the ones who act in my plays. Actually, I decided on the actors first, and then I wrote the story. I cannot write without knowing who my actors are
Movies and plays are two separate things for me. I wish to do theatre plays with elements that are only available in the theatre, and write screenplays for elements that are only available in movies. So ,“Her Father, My Lover”, for me, is just a movie, not theatre, although many people who saw that film don’t think so.
I have made 20 theatrical pieces in 13 years, but I have only made 3 films, and the third one is “At the Terrace”. So, I am planning to study cinema, and deepen my own knowledge about movies from now on.
Before writing plays, I have been shooting TV commercials for more than 20 years. So, the shooting procedure is familiar to me. I shot “At the Terrace” in 5 and a half days, using 3 cameras (cheap digital). We did rehearsals during daytime, and shot every night. The editing, however, took 2 months. Needless to say, ultra-low budget is the reason. However, the actors responded perfectly, so it was possible to shoot in this period.
In “At the Terrace”, the pace is very fast, with people talking rapidly and the camera having to change focus all the time. How did you manage to maintain that rhythm? Was it difficult for the actors?
Actually, I did not have to direct the actors so much. The direction, the speed of the dialogue, etc, were already set from the theatre play in Shimokitazawa.
Kei Ishibashi, Kami Hiraiwa and Takashi Okabe were on both of your latest films. Why is that?
Kei Ishibashi and Takashi Okabe are two actors who have been on my stage plays many times. They do not appear on TV dramas or mainstream movies so much. However, as I said earlier, I am always inspired by their character, and they are always keen to study their role as much as possible. Kami Hiraiwa is more famous as a comedian in Japan, but I think I succeeded in drawing out a new aspect of her acting.
What is your opinion of the Japanese movie industry, at the moment?
Japanese commercial/epic movies use the same actors over and over again. Furthermore, I think the Japanese movie industry is in a bad bad bad situation.
What are your main influences as a director, and can you name some of your favorite films?
I was influenced……first, Luis Bunuel, and of course, Bergman, J.Cassavetes, and I love Woody Allen, E.Rohmer, Hong Sang soo ….. I don’t like P. Almodovar very much, but I adore his “The Skin I Live In”.
This film is very close to the image/opinion I have about love.
What are your plans for the future?
Currently, I am writing a script for my next movie. It is about a woman prostitute, who is not conscious of it. Furthermore, at the end of this year, theatre is waiting for me, a new play.