Ever since his debut feature “Hazy Life” Japanese director Nobuhiro Yamashita has been a regular at many film festivals, including Nippon Connection. Many of his films are concerned with outsiders within Japanese society starting, from youths to the unemployed, so essentially people who feel left behind in Japan. His film “Hard-Core”, an adaptation of the manga series by Caribu Marley and Takashi Imashiro, is screened at this year’s Nippon Connection.

We sat down with the director to discuss his feature, his inspirations and his opinion on Japan’s relationship to robots.

Hard-Core” is screening at Nippon Connection

This year’s Nippon Connection deals with the topic of outlaws and outsiders in the Japanese society. Considering this background, do you think of yourself as an outsider or outlaw director?

(laughs) No, I am quite a normal person. However, within the Japanese film industry I am indeed a bit of an outsider.

Yet, given this feature and your film “Over the Fence”, just to name a few examples, you seem to have a certain predilection towards outsider characters. In the case of “Hard-Core” also outlaws.

Yes, this is true. These are interesting characters because they feel they do not belong to the society that surrounds them. They are disconnected and left behind, which makes them interesting for me.

Besides the manga series, which other inspirations did you have when you started working on “Hard-Core”?

Not much. I mostly stuck with the manga and the film. However, I was also inspired by similar outsider characters, such as the ones portrayed in Dennis Hopper’s “Easy Rider” and other titles from Hollywood from the 1960s and 1970s.

Given the manga series is from the early 1990s and your film is from 2018, why did you not use CGI for the robot character and stayed with the rather cartoonish look.

First of all, I am not that good with CGI to be honest. At the same time, I did not want the character to look and feel modern. I wanted it to feel friendly and human, but also kind of useless and “uncool”. The design of the robot was always supposed to be rather child-like.

It’s interesting because Japanese society has a certain relationship when it comes to robots if you think of them being utilized as waiters or even nurses in retirement homes. In how far is your film a comment on this particular relationship.

Well, the characters in the film accept the robot as one of their own immediately and form a certain community with it. However, I did not have that specific kind of relationship in mind when I was making the film. As I said before, the main source for the film was the manga series.

Since you mention the character in the film, they have a very unique chemistry. How did you find these actors for these roles?

Luckily, the casting process for “Hard-Core” was quite easy since I knew both actors quite well. I also knew they both love the manga so when I approached Takayuki Yamada about playing the role of Ukon in my film one of his first responses was that I had to cast Yoshiyoshi Arakawa as Ushiyama. Again, because I knew he also felt the same way about the manga, he eventually agreed and I had my main protagonists.

Ever since I watched Takeshi Kitano's "Hana-Bi" for the first time (and many times after that) I have been a cinephile. While much can be said about the technical aspects of film, coming from a small town in Germany, I cherish the notion of art showing its audience something which one does normally avoid, neglect or is unable to see for many different reasons. Often the stories told in films have helped me understand, discover and connect to something new which is a concept I would like to convey in the way I talk and write about films. Thus, I try to include some info on the background of each film as well as a short analysis (without spoilers, of course), an approach which should reflect the context of a work of art no matter what genre, director or cast. In the end, I hope to pass on my joy of watching film and talking about it.