Masato Ozawa is a Japanese film director. He made his debut in 2011 with “Komorebi”, while his second film, “Kazakiriba” was the Best Picture Award from Jeonju Film Festival.

On the occasion of his third film, “Lost Serenade” screening at Japan Filmfest Hamburg, we speak to him about the film, its difficult theme, Japanese cinema, and many more topics.

“Lost Serenade” screened at Japan Filmfest Hamburg

Your films often deal with difficult subjects. Why do you choose to tell these particular stories?

I couldn’t find my own place in life when I was young, because I grew up in an incomplete family. Moreover, I became a hikikomori, because I lost my way after dropping out of college. Therefore, I can understand completely the dilemmas of people who can’t join the mainstream for some reasons.

If people like me derail from society even once, they are forgotten by the public and are forced to face their own loneliness and poverty. People who live their own life properly in society regard them as slackers and avoid them, as I mentioned before. The lives of outsiders like that are very hard, especially in Japan, because it is a racially homogeneous nation and Japanese tend to worry about decency and appearance to the public. These people struggle with their lives, constantly, and, with my movie, I would like to shed light to the people who try to live in the dark fringes of society.  

If a lot of people manage to understand the actual situation and background of the aforementioned, and get rid of the prejudice by watching my movie, I am quite sure that they will be able to understand, even just a bit. That is why I shot this film. 

What do you see as the advantages of drama as opposed to making a documentary on these issues?

First of all, I absolutely think that I couldn’t make a film like “Lost Serenade” as a documentary. This movie had to be a drama to to express the damage directly, despite the fact that I was able to shoot the actual circumstances of a sex crime. 

Of course, I’m also interested in documentaries, but it depends on the theme. In some cases, a documentary is better for putting out a stronger message.  However, in documentaries, you cannot control the way the events and the main subject unfold. On the contrary, in fiction, you can create stories and worlds from scratch. You make a story as deep as possible through metaphor, structure and direction. Nothing is impossible. Therefore, I feel fiction is more attractive.

You have written and directed all of your films to date. How important is it to you to have that kind of creative control over your projects?

I think that, not only movies, but various arts are able to create worlds. Artists create worlds that are inside their minds through novels, paintings and music, in order to externalize these worlds. For me, making movies was the most suitable way to express what I usually feel.

I don’t mean that I would like to be a movie director exclusively, but I feel that I couldn’t be a spokesman for others. Writing a script, directing a movie and editing it by myself to visualize my own imaginary world is necessary for me to be able to perform my tasks.

The script and characters feel very authentic in “Lost Serenade”. What was the research process like for this film?

I thought I should not express this theme about sex crime and child sexual abuse lightly, as if it was just fiction. Additionally, I was aware that  expressing this theme entails great responsibility. So, I searched for as much information as it was possible. 

Actually, I talked with a person who suffered from sexual violence. And I read as many notes regarding sex crimes and child sexual abuse as possible. Moreover, I read and studied specialized books and psychology books about PTSD, the victims of those crime have experienced.

With such a serious subject, were there any difficulties in getting this film made?

It was difficult starting this project. There was no film production company that supported my proposal. So I decided to collect the production cost by crowdfunding.

At first, things did not work out as I expected, but its reputation spread by word of mouth through Twitter, and eventually, I managed to achieve my goal, thanks to the cooperation and support of people that understand my opinion and theme.

Nevertheless, because the production cost was even higher, I sought out cooperation from a producer for fund raising. And finally, I managed to make this film.

At times “Lost Serenade” is a very uncomfortable watch. What do you hope audience’s reaction to the film will be?

Certainly, it is true that, maybe, many would feel my movie is very uncomfortable. However, I think it is obvious that many victims are suffering beyond our knowledge, and for a long time in the real world.

My goal was for the audience to understand for themselves what Kaori has gone through, by watching this movie.  Through this experience, I would like to tell the audience how deeply their scars run, from sex crime and child sexual abuse.

Especially in Japan, a very popular pornographic concept  is about a woman who is raped in an imaginary situation. According to this video, at first, the woman is struggling against the criminal, but eventually, she accepts it after she feels ecstatic. Unfortunately, it is true that some men misunderstand that this concept is for real. It is often said that some criminals were influenced by pornographic videos like that

Most men don’t know the details and the actual situations of sex crimes. Women understand that sex crimes are a common problem, compared to men who regard this problem as fiction. They judge the sex criminals as “Monsters” and try to erase them from society. However, sex crimes and child sexual abuse are possible to happen anytime, anywhere, and it is not strange if someone we know happens to be part of a crime like that. It is possible that one can become a criminal, anytime. 

With my movie, I would like to draw attention to this crime, particularly by men.

The two lead actresses, Nori Sato and Uwa Ishibashi, deliver incredible performances. What was the casting process like for the movie? In general, what do you search for in the actors you cast?

I selected Nori Sato and Uwa Ishibashi through auditions. Regarding the audition of Kaori, who is the main protagonist, I gave her the scripts of some scenes before the audition and let her perform. First, the most important point was how deeply she was able to understand this theme. Next, I valued whether her performance was good or not.  Nori Sato’s performance met these two conditions completely.

On the other hand, regarding the audition for Yuu, I tried to let her act some of the themes that I gave her. There were so many children that perform like adults, but her performance was so natural and relaxed. That was just the performance that I wanted. Therefore, I casted her for Yuu.

And then, we rehearsed to improve their performances, to make it more real and natural, for about one month. We made efforts to discuss with them about the parts, with no explanation. Sometimes, I let them act based on their background and life circumstances..

(Ex: Why did Kaori had an affair with a college professor? / How did they nurture their love to each other and How had they end? / How did Toshio and Yu deal with each other, usually? /What was Yu feeling about Toshio? / Why did Toshio abuse his daughter sexually? / How about Toshio and Shinobu? and so on.)

Anyway, I took a lot of time to build each relationship.

What is your opinion of the Japanese film industry?

I really should not boast.  However, I don’t think that I would like to watch Japanese movies, as a movie lover. I don’t find Japanese movies very interesting at all, because there are many that are the same, romantic films for teenagers or based on novels and manga.

It seems like the industry specializes in collecting funds and I am fed up that there are many movies like that, that carry the favor of the audience. Also, we don’t doubt this situation at all, and we watch movies passively.

I feel a sense of danger, obviously, and as a result, the value of Japanese movies has declined. Unfortunately, cinema and TV are not much different in modern Japan.

Who has influenced you the most as a filmmaker? Which are your favourite movies?

When I started to study film, it was for a short period, but I studied under director Florian Gallenberger. 

His teaching is my base and index even now. Influenced by him, I started to watch Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne and I was shocked. If I had to choose, I would say my favorite movie is “The Son.” directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

It’s not specific for now, but I am concerned with the issue of foreign workers in Japan. 

Japanese government does not permit foreign workers in the country except for unskilled ones On the other hand, young Japanese people tend to avoid the industry,  which is suffering from chronic shortages of personnel. This tactic extends to the the agriculture industry, the stock-raising industry, the manufacturing industry, the sewing industry and so on. Therefore, a skill training system for foreigners was established. This system was meant to accept the foreigners not as workers but as trainees, with a deadline of three years. The purpose was for the Japanese government to provide them the opportunities to study about advanced, Japanese techniques, and let them bring back these skills to their own countries, after graduation.

In theory, it seems like that this system is perfect. However, foreign workers are considered only a source of cheap labor and this system causes sweat labor, forced labor, like slave trade. Not only the bar association of Japan and the human rights organization of United Nations, but also American government criticize this system, harshly. In spite of this situation, this system is meant to expand and as a result, it will also extend to the nursing care profession.

I cannot believe that there is actually modern slavery in a developed country like Japan, but I want to make this fact into a movie in the near future, and would like to communicate it to the world.

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My name is Panos Kotzathanasis and I am Greek. Being a fan of Asian cinema and especially of Chinese kung fu and Japanese samurai movies since I was a little kid, I cultivated that love during my adolescence, to extend to the whole of SE Asia. Starting from my own blog in Greek, I then moved on to write for some of the major publications in Greece, and in a number of websites dealing with (Asian) cinema, such as Taste of Cinema, Hancinema, EasternKicks, Chinese Policy Institute, and of course, Asian Movie Pulse. in which I still continue to contribute. In the beginning of 2017, I launched my own website, Asian Film Vault, which I merged in 2018 with Asian Movie Pulse, creating the most complete website about the Asian movie industry, as it deals with almost every country from East and South Asia, and definitely all genres. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.