Born in 1980, Daisuke Miyazaki started making films when he was student at Waseda University. In 2004, his thesis film “The 10th Room” won the Grand Prix at New York University’s KUT Film Festival in Japan. After graduating from college, he has worked for Leos Carax, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Kunitoshi Manda. “Yamato (California)” is his second feature film.

On the occasion of his film, “Yamato (California)” screening at Five Flavours, we speak with him about music, his recent film,  Japanese society and many other topics.

Why did you decide to become a filmmaker? 

I liked art in general so it was a natural thing to start filmmaking because you can combine all art forms into one. The 2nd golden era of Hollywood, when I was a child in the 80’s and also the art house film boom in Japan when I was in college influenced me as well.

You have worked with Leos Carax and Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Can you tell us a bit about these collaborations? Are there any differences between the way the Asian and the European filmmakers work? Any similarities?

All directors have their different styles of directing but I think the fundamental is quite the same everywhere, how to move the actor. Both of the directors above doesn’t put so much pressure on the actors. Instead they have a high skill for making the atmosphere and the crew and the cast show the best of what they already have.

What inspired you to direct Yamato (California). In general, what inspires you to make movies?

I was really into hip hop music those days, so that is one reason. Music and social topics inspire me a lot. Another reason is that I wanted to show the real Japan, instead of the Fujiyama Geisha kind.

Do you still listen to hip hop?

I only listen to when I go to an American hip hop club for example. Right now hip hop is huge in Japan, but I like the underground stuff more, like the ones presented in the movie, so I prefer the American ones.

Your film has now screened in festivals all over the world. Are you proud of this success, and did you expect it when you were shooting the movie? 

Since it was kind of an international topic, I hoped, but I did not expect it would show in so many festivals. I only wanted to screen it in countries between two powers, like Korea and Poland but what happened is more than I hope for, so I am lucky I suppose.

What was the reaction of the audience towards your film in the various festivals?

So far, quite good,  lots of people said that they want to see what I do next, so I guess that is pretty good.

It seems to me that “Yamato” has eclectic aesthetics. The scene where Rei first has dinner with Sakura’s family feels like an Ozu film for me. But at other moment, it is more postmodernist, like the first time we see Sakura rapping in a dumping site, a Japanese national flag is always visible behind her. How did you decide the visual style of the film?

As a postmodernist, I wanted to do a mixture of many styles by sampling them in a hip hop manner. In a world which doesn’t have a god or social rule, which is even called the era of post-truth, to show the diversity of shots and directing, felt real and right for me. And also, film should be free from anything.

It’s interesting to see a Korean-Japanese actress being cast as the surrogate of Japan, why did you decide to cast Hanae Kan in the lead role? Furthermore, what was the casting process for the film like?

I really liked her as an actress so that was the first reason. I realized she is Korean-Japanese later, which I think suited the theme very much. But even if she was not Korean, I would have offered her first.  Since we didn’t have so much money, I wrote her letters to get her in. It took time but it was worth it. In my opinion, she is the most passionate and talented young actress in Japan. I had Hanae in mind already so I had to find a girl that would fit her, make a good balance. 

Hanae Kan seems to be present in almost every scene of the movie. Why did you choose this approach?

I wanted to focus on one character, to have a main character and I am a fan of her, so I enjoyed watching her acting. So that is the reason I kept increasing her time in front of the screen. I could not cut any scene because I really liked her acting in them.

Hanae Kan and Nina Endo give wonderful performances, especially in the scene where they have a big fight. It starts as playful but ends up bitter and sad. What’s like working with both actresses? To be more specific, how did you direct them in that scene?

My directing is similar to the directors above, so I give them space to reflect their real life and move as they want. Only when it is too much or they get off the rail, I suggest them the way to go. Since both of them had an interesting background and are interesting as individuals, it was an amazing experience for me to direct them.

Music plays a big part in the film. The music in the scene where Sakura meets with a mysterious rock band and finally finds her voice is amazing. What is the name of the band playing? How did you come up with the idea to combine instrumental rock music with hip-hop? 

The band is called Gezan and is a successor of the noise rock bands from the 60’s, which cooperated with the students movement and tried to make Japan independent. The interesting thing is they used an art form that came from US and tried to be free from US. I think music made in US, like hip hop or blues or jazz have the same kind of a background. They jack the art form the ones that rules made and try to counter them. That is the romantic theme that’s been repeated in the film. So, my idea of the scene was to combine the music of the marginals in that scene.

It’s exciting to see an independent film dealing with the reality of U.S. military base in Japan; however, after watching the film I was surprised that there is almost no mention of Okinawa. I was curious that is it a deliberate choice to focus exclusively on mainland Japan in “Yamato”?

There are some references by Kenzo and Kiko in the film to show our mental distance between. In my opinion, Okinawa is included into Japan as a nation, but it has a totally different background from Japanese history or culture. The Ainu race in the north is the same. It is a violent discussion to include them in the group of Yamato. Of course I see them, I go there pretty often since I believe there is a reality only people living around the base can know, but Okinawa is much more complicated than any other area in Japan and I will need more than two hours to express about it.

What is your opinion of the Japanese film industry at the moment?

I think it’s miserable. They threw away their strong points which is the mid sized films. There are so many big budget comic based or high school kids film that no one will remember next year and there are many talented art house directors at the same time who do not have enough budget to produce something which has at least the same quality to screen at theaters. The industry is closed to the international industry and quite conservative, just like the country itself, just aging without any clue that is getting weaker and weaker.

Which are your favourite filmmakers?

Asghar Farhadi, Lav Diaz, Diao Yinan, Ruben Ostlund, Na Hong-Jin, Andrea Arnold, Paolo Sorrentino, Lynne Ramsay, Carlos Reygadas, Amat Escalante, Mia Hansen-Love, Fritz Lang

Can you talk a little about your next project?

One project I am starting is about the Ryohingya people. They are from Myanmar, they don’t have any nationality,  they are Muslims who live in Myanmar, but were kicked out by the Muslims there, so they are spread all over the world. They live in a small town in Japan, north of Tokyo, so I am thinking of shooting about them, in Japan.

So, it will be a fiction film, not a documentary?

Yes, fiction, but it will have many elements from a documentary .

The other project will take place in Yamato again, so it will be kind of “Yamato 2”. There is a project housing there, where more than 1800 people live, and almost no one speaks Japanese, everyone speaks Chinese, Vietnamese even Spanish, because they come from places like Paraguay. It’s a drama about these people.

Do you plan on cooperating with Hanae Kan again?

I hope so, but she is quite picky, so I will have to ask her. But we have a very good relationship, and I think she would like to work with me again, so… maybe. 

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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.