Newcomer director Natsuki Nakagawa made an appearance at NIPPON CONNECTION in Frankfurt to present her debut film “She is Alone“. We took the opportunity and talked with the aspiring filmmaker about film studies, university and her strong female lead character.

She is Alone” screened at Nippon Connection

You graduated from Rikkyo University and studied filmmaking, psychology and Cinematic Arts. As I understand, “She is Alone” is your thesis film. When did you decide to study film? And how much do film and psychology interact?

I wanted to learn how to make a film after I graduated from college. I thought about making a movie from a young age. However, I actually wanted to make a movie when I was looking for a job. The name of the department at my university can lead to misunderstandings because of its name. My department is further divided into psychology and cinematic arts. The department I belonged to is called the Department of Body expression and Cinematic arts. I learned the philosophy of film rather than psychology.

In that field, I learned about people, things that interact with people, and ways of time. I cannot say that I studied in that area deeply, but when I made a film, I came to think more deeply about how the time in the film flows.

You also did the short film “Projection” (2017) as a class assignment for the Graduate School of Film and New Media in Tokyo. What do you think of the Japanese film scholars? Do you think the university offers a good, practical approach for getting ahead in the film industry?

The nice thing about making films at university is that there are friends who make films together and that you can always get comments from the professors. Both seniors and juniors can be involved in your future work. In particular, at Tokyo University of the Arts, the film staff’s role is divided into areas, allowing the director to concentrate on his work. It also gives me a budget for making movies. Of course, I cannot say that I’m successful yet, but it gives me the opportunity to try.

Depending on the result of the work, there is also a possibility that you can be active in the film industry. But, like my university, Tokyo University of the Arts, there aren’t many universities that put out a film budget. Most students come up with their own movie budgets and rarely find investors. I think it would be easier for film students to focus on their work if more universities provided a budget. Budgeting puts a lot of pressure on film students.

“She is Alone” deals a lot with social structures (e.g. school, parenting) and adulthood. Did you intend to comment on the current social structures with your movie?

I did not intend to mention the current social structure, but I wanted to present a girl who is a victim of that environment. I might have wanted to think about how to treat a girl exposed to the situation.

For your debut feature film you worked with cinematographer Akiko Ashizawa. She is famous for her work with Kiyoshi Kurosawa (“Loft” 2005, “Tokyo Sonata” 2008). How did you meet her?

Akiko Ashizawa was introduced to me by my professor at Rikkyo University. He is a film director, Makoto Shinozaki, and was a junior at the same university as Kiyoshi Kurosawa and has worked with Akiko Ashizawa before.

Akari Fukunaga does a very good job as the female lead. What were your instructions for her? Did you have any special preparations for rehearsals? In general, how was the casting process like for the film?

I chose her from an audition. I talked with her about the script, but there was almost no misunderstanding between me and her about the character Sumiko. I asked her to play a character that is quiet and has sorrow and a strong anger in the heart. I think it is a character that suits her very much. I did a rehearsal, but I asked Akari to play almost as she wanted. When her performance deviated form my image of the image of the character, I corrected it. However, she acted as the character I imagined.

“She is Alone” won the Skip City Award. How important is it to win such an award and how would you describe the situation in Japan for someone who wants to become a director? Is there a big support for talents?

Directors who have won this award have the impression that they will also be active in commercial films. It would be nice if my recognition as a movie director increases, but for the moment I have not received much benefit. In Japan, for directors who have won awards at film festivals, it will be easier to receive assistance for their next work or to work in commercial film. However, in Japan, subsidies for movies are much lower than overseas.

Any ideas for future projects?

I’m thinking of two projects. First movie is a suspense plot, set in the mountainous area of Japan. Then, I would also like to make films about people who are not gender sensitive.