Photography by Mary Francis Gomez

Hiroyuki Tanaka, or Sabu, was born in 1964 and originally studied to become a musician before he eventually changed into the acting and later on into the directing profession. Ever since his debut feature “Dangan Runner” Sabu has gained attention of critics and audiences alike. As director he has made feature such as “Monday”, “Blessing Bell” and “Happiness“. Currently his 2018 feature film “Jam” is screened at many international festivals, for example, New York Asian Film Festival.

We sat down with the director to talk about the inspiration for his film

Jam” is screening at New York Asian Film Festival

Photography by Mary Francis Gomez

What was your inspiration for “Jam”?

The three leads were determined right at the start. So, I met with each of them and created an image based on those meetings.

I worked with Sho Aoyagi, who plays the character of Hiroshi in “Jam”, for “Mr Long” and then we went to Berlin Film Festival. At the festival he was wearing a tuxedo and looked like an enka singer, so that made me want to make him play an enka singer.

Noboyuki Suzuki told me he wanted to play something manly and that “Umizaru” [an action film directed by Eiichiro Hasumi] was his favorite movie. If you translate the movie’s title it means “monkey in the ocean”, so I decided to make him an “ikezaru” which would be a “monkey in a lake”. In the film his character swings a hammer around and lands in a lake in order to help his mother.

Keita Machida was really charming and seemed nice, but I also sensed a bit of creepiness. I thought it would be interesting to have a character becoming increasingly creepier the more serious he tries to do things.

And by the way, I have already written a script for “Jam 2” which is really, really funny. But I am not sure whether it will become a movie or a TV series.

The film seems to refer to early works like “Monday” and “Dangan Runner”. What fascinates you about subjects like fate and coincidence?

I really like my early works and I wanted to see if I could still do something like that. And so this is what I went for.

Given your predilection for these themes, how much of the scenes we see on film is based on improvisation?

There is actually no improvisation in my films. What you see is written in the script. If the actors did that, that would mean I am losing because they think they are funnier than me. (laughs)

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.