Mother: Interview with Bong Joon-ho


Format: Cinema

Screening on: 14 November 2009

Venue: BFI Southbank, London

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Writers: Park Eun-kyo, Park Wun-kyo, Bong Joon-ho

Original title: Madeo

Cast: Kim Hye-ja, Won Bin

South Korea, 2009

128 mins

Part of Bong Joon-ho retrospective, 2-14 November 2009

Korean Film Festival

1-18 November 2009

Barbican + BFI Southbank (London), Manchester Cornerhouse, Nottingham Broadway

Korean Film Festival website

A dark tale about a mother who will go to extreme lengths to save her son, and a stunning blend of bewildering intensity, daring artistry and storytelling magic, Bong Joon-ho’s Mother was one of the highlights at the London Film Festival in October. Gladly, it is now already back on the big screen in the UK as part of this year’s London Korean Film Festival, playing at the BFI, which is hosting a retrospective of Bong’s small but remarkable oeuvre so far. Mother features a striking central performance from Korean TV actress Kim Hye-ja as the vigilant mother whose 28-year-old son, a shy and mentally impaired young man, finds himself framed for murder. Although there is no real evidence against him, the police are eager to close the case, and his mother has no alternative but to get involved to prove his innocence. But how far will a mother go to save her son? And how did one of South Korea’s most promising young filmmakers, who recently smashed Korean box office records with monster movie The Host (2006) approach such a topic?

Pamela Jahn had the pleasure to take part in a round table interview of Bong Joon-ho at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival in May, where Mother had its world premiere in the non-competitive Un Certain Regard section.

Q: You’ve been working on this film for almost five years, yet it seems fuelled with burning passion from beginning to end.

A: Yes, I had the general idea for the story even before The Host and I wrote a first synopsis in early 2004. That was also when I first met the main actress, Kim Hye-ja. And the fact that we could finally work together as director and actress was an unbelievable experience for me. So even while I was working on The Host and on the episode I contributed to Tokyo! (2008), in the back of my head I was already working on Mother too.

Q: When did you make the decision to cast Kim Hye-ja in the lead role?

A: It was not like the usual procedure where after writing the script I start looking for an actress who might fit the role. It’s this actress who really inspired me and got me to write the story in the first place. She is not very well known abroad, but in Korea she is an almost mythical actress, like the ‘mother of the nation’, and I had been a fan of hers since I was little. The first time I met Hye-ja it was a little surreal actually, she was almost like a dreamer. She was completely different from what I had seen on TV. So in reaction to this I wanted to show her in a role that is completely the opposite of her TV appearances and express her personality from a different point of view, looking at the hysteria and madness that lie beneath the surface of her great gentleness and warmth.

Q: How much influence did Kim Hye-ja have in the development of her character in the film?

A: I met her on a regular basis while writing the script, often several times a month, and I took some pictures that helped me a lot writing the story and developing her role.

Q:Did you also have Won Bin in mind for the role of the son while working on the story?

A: No, it was only after I finished the script that I started looking for an actor to play the son. For this character I wanted someone who would fit with her, but also someone who could make her completely mad, and Won Bin turned out to be the perfect match.

Q:In both its tone and narrative structure, Mother is very different from the films you directed before, like Memories of Murder (2003) or The Host. Why this shift in direction?

A: In Memories of Murder I wanted to represent Korean society in the 80s when it was under military dictatorship, and I liked the fact that I was dealing with a number of different themes like the family and the system, and I was exposing Korean society and the military regime by looking into the serial killings. But I got a bit tired of what was mainly a stylistic exercise and a general denunciation. So in Mother I wanted to tell a story that could be seen almost as if through a magnifying glass where the light is so concentrated that it can burn paper. I wanted to find the essence of the story. So the relationship between mother and son is the focus, and every element in the story, from the murder in the village to some other minor incidents, is there to explore this relationship in its entirety. But if you look at the film on the whole, it is not just about motherhood and their relationship, it also hints at something greater again.

Q: Did you feel a lot of pressure while making the film given that it was your follow-up feature to The Host, which was the biggest box office hit in Korean film history?

A: To be honest, I am a little bit uncomfortable with that, and I really hope that there will be a Korean movie coming up soon to break the record. But it didn’t bother me while I was making Mother because I started working on the project way before The Host came out in Korea, so I could maintain the tone that I had intended for this film in the first place.

Q: Mother is very distinctive in style, especially in the way attention is paid to colour and locations, but there are also these wonderful moments when the mother somehow becomes isolated from the background. What was the main focus in terms of the aesthetics of the film?

A: I wanted to put the character in an extreme situation and find out how she would react. That was the most important thing for me, so everything had to fully focus on the mother character, including the style and look of the film but also the music. We had some wild discussions with the art director about the clothes that she wears and what colour could best describe her character and her thoughts. I think that the opening scene shows this very well – her madness and the feeling that she is completely out of this world. She is wearing these weird purple clothes and she is hiding her hand in her pocket. Then we hear the sound of her cutting herbs and we see blood on her finger… so, basically, it’s all in there: the fate, the tragedy and the madness. These are the main elements I tried to express in that first scene, but they also stand for the film as a whole.

Q: How is your relationship to your own mother? Did she serve as an inspiration here?

A: Well, she didn’t kill anybody [laughs]. Actually, she hasn’t seen the movie yet, and I am very excited but also a little bit worried because she also has a tendency to obsession. I mean, I am 40 years old and she is still constantly worried about me. So, yes, in some way my mother also inspired me in making the film I guess, but not primarily. And don’t tell her I said that.

Interview by Pamela Jahn

53rd London Film Festival Round Up

Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno


14-29 October 2009

LFF website

As always, the London Film Festival acted as an advance preview for some of the big releases coming out in the next few months – including Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, John Hillcoat’s The Road and Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control. We will have full-length reviews of those films on their release, so here we have to chosen to concentrate on the surprises and unknown pleasures of this year’s festival.


Following his success with monster movie The Host, South Korean director Bong Joon-ho returns to less commercial territory in his fourth and possibly best film to date, pouring his genre-defying talent into a dazzling psychological thriller that is both a disturbing family drama and witty detective story of sorts. Mother features a striking central performance from Korean TV actress Kim Hye-ja as the vigilant mother who will stop at nothing to protect her grown-up, mentally impaired son. When the emotionally fragile Do-joon is accused of murdering a high school girl and lazy policemen squeeze a questionable confession out of him just so they can close the case, the feisty widow sets out to prove his innocence, investigating the mysterious crime herself. Pushing past the bounds of conventional film noir, Bong elegantly wraps his superbly twisted narrative in stylistically assured, smartly composed scenes while creating an atmosphere that is somewhat ironic and wonderfully sinister at the same time. A festival favourite worldwide. PAMELA JAHN

Showing as part of the Bong Joon-ho retrospective at the BFI Southbank, London, on November 14.


Blending the acute paranoia of the best dystopian science fiction with the noir futurism of Blade Runner and Dark City, Metropia is a brilliant little gem. In a permanently dark Europe where life is mostly confined to the underground and cycling has become an extreme sport, an everyman named Roger starts following a beautiful and inevitably mysterious blonde woman who may be able to explain why he’s started hearing voices. The stunning, innovative animation creates a richly detailed world that is both fascinatingly strange and disturbingly familiar. VIRGINIE SÉLAVY


Winner of the audience award at the SXSW festival, 45365 is a surprising discovery. A low-key but moving documentary, it weaves together the storylines of the inhabitants of Sidney, Ohio – from the high school kids on the all-important football team to the police in their patrol cars, the judge running for re-election and the local troublemaker and his damaged mother. Created by local filmmakers Bill and Turner Ross, the result is a subtle, intimate look at both the highs and lows of life in a small town. The film’s cinéma vérité aesthetic is brilliantly rendered; refreshingly, the young brothers reject the traditional narrative voice-overs and talking heads that so many documentaries rely on, instead letting the often lyrical visuals speak for themselves. It’s a tender, loving, and utterly captivating film. SARAH CRONIN

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

When I saw an ad for this last year, I was mystified. Now I’ve seen it, I still am, in a good way. How Werner Herzog ended up helming a kind of remake of Ferarra’s film, starring Nicholas Cage I don’t know, and don’t really want to. I prefer to think of it as a product from an alternate universe where Herzog does this kind of thing all the time. What you need to know: it’s a blast, and funny as hell, with Ferrrara’s gritty tortured Catholicism tossed in favour of wilful absurdity and a plethora of lizards. Cage is terrific, with a lopsided gait and a crackpipe laugh, torturing grannies and shaking down football stars, screaming one quotable line after another. I watched the whole thing grinning like a loon. It’s every cop show cliché reflected in a hall of mirrors – wholly indecent fun. MARK STAFFORD

Dogtooth (Kynodontas)

The well-deserved recipient of the Un Certain Regard prize at this year’s Cannes festival, Giorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth is an inventive and riveting film that blurs the line between the real and the utterly grotesque and is infused with a science fiction feel. The story (the less you know, the better) takes place almost entirely within the confines of a spacious family house, inhabited by a married couple and their three grown-up children, who have never set foot outside and are confined to the ludicrous universe created by their parents’ cruel games and peculiar educational methods. Opting for fixed, meticulously framed shots and a dazzling, yet unhurried visual style, Lanthimos gradually reveals the details of this twisted, self-enclosed world while crafting a consistently troubling atmosphere of hilarious otherworldliness and lurking evil. Full of amazing twists, dark, silly humour and irreverent spirit, Dogtooth is an obscure mini-marvel not to be missed. PAMELA JAHN

Planned UK release.

44 Inch Chest

Colin (Ray Winstone), is lying, drunk as a lord, on the floor of his trashed house, listening to Nilsson’s ‘Without You’, on repeat. His wife (Joanne Whalley) has revealed that she loves someone else and he isn’t taking it well. His crew of dodgy old geezers (John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Dillane, Ian McShane) decide something must be done, so they kidnap the young loverboy and arrange for Colin to administer justice. Malcolm Venville’s 44 Inch Chest has much going for it, a great cast on cracking form, crisp photography, a meaty script by the writers of Sexy Beast, a bravura cinematic opening, and… and I really wish it didn’t all feel like an unsuccessfully retooled stage play, mainly confined to a single room, full of unreal speechifying, and with an unsatisfying conclusion to boot. Still, just hearing these actors delivering this biblically profane dialogue is a pleasure, and the thing gets pretty damned trippy and intense as we go further into Colin’s fractured mind. MARK STAFFORD

UK theatrical release: 22 January 2010.

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno (L’Enfer d’Henri-Georges Clouzot)

The long-lost raw footage of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s unfinished 1964 big-budget psycho-thriller L’Enfer is still intriguing and dazzling to look at, infused with swirling lights and blue-lipped, cigarette-puffing fantasy temptresses. A real shame, however, that although director Serge Bromberg has managed to speak to quite a few members of the original crew, this behind-the-scenes investigation has so little to say about the reasons behind Clouzot’s failure to complete the film. PAMELA JAHN

UK theatrical release: 6 November 2009.

Paper Heart

If you can put up with that whole lo-fi home-made cutesy indie scene (Demetri Martin, check, Gondryesque cardboard puppet sequences, check, naïve acoustic pop songs, check) More to the point, if you can put up with whiny-voiced scrunch-faced munchkin Charlyne Yi, then the neat central conceit of director Nicholas Jasenovic making a documentary about the search for true love destroying any hope of true love occurring by swamping a budding potential romance with his desire to film fake love clichés (kooky montages, walks on the beach, trips to Paris) will work for you. And a whole series of games with reality and illusion will open up. I can appreciate it’s a stretch. Aside from the ‘fake’ romance with Michael Cera (check) stuff, the ‘real’ documentary throws up some singular characters and amusing stories. Up to you. MARK STAFFORD

UK theatrical release: 6 November 2009.

Hollis Frampton: Hapax Legomena

The LFF offered a rare chance to see Hollis Frampton’s Hapax Legomena series of seven films in its entirety. A central figure of American avant-garde cinema of the 60s and 70s, Frampton was a supremely sharp film theorist and a witty, cerebral filmmaker. Together with Zorns Lemma, Hapax Legomena is Frampton’s most well-known work. The first film, (nostalgia), from 1971, is one of his most accessible and pleasurable, presenting a series of photographs that are burned as a narrator recounts memories and anecdotes relating to each image. The twist is that the photographs and the narration are out of sync, allowing the film to explore the relationship between image and sound as well as the nature of memory. The following six films take as their point of departure a similarly formal set-up to investigate image, space, perception, consciousness and ultimately, life. VIRGINIE SÉLAVY


The one-line sell for this claustrophobic little war movie runs ‘Das Boot in a tank’, and for once that’s pretty damn accurate. Based on writer-director Samuel Maoz’s experiences, it’s about the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon (as seen in Waltz with Bashir), and we the audience are trapped with four ill-prepared and uneasy crew inside an armoured box dripping with sweat, muck, dog ends and soup croutons (don’t ask). We only know what they know, which is precious little, only see what they can see through their sights, and apart from the opening and closing shots of the film, we are very much inside the tank for the tight 92-minute running time. Tempers fray and victims mount, unwelcome guests are received and everything falls apart. It’s heavy-handed in places, and a little clichéd, but it feels authentic: grimy, stinky, delirious and chaotic. It works. MARK STAFFORD

Bluebeard (Barbe Bleue)

After a disappointing venture into romantic costume drama in her previous film, The Last Mistress, Catherine Breillat returns to the festival this year with a gentler and more personal work than before – a younger sister herself, she focuses on sibling rivalry. Originally scripted and produced for French television, Bluebeard is a subtly suggestive retelling of Charles Perrault’s fairy tale about an ugly and extremely wealthy lord whose wives disappear after a year under mysterious circumstances until he falls for the much younger Marie-Catherine who agrees to marry him in order to escape the shadow of her beautiful, talented older sister. What makes this understated, low-budget film a pure pleasure is the bold, teasing dialogue between the two sisters in the film’s framing plot, set in modern time, in which Catherine, the younger girl, thoroughly enjoys terrifying her older sister Anne by reading her the infamous tale from a book in the attic. Playfully grim and increasingly disturbing, with a wonderfully cruel narrative that hints at the fiercely, sexually provocative spirit of Breillat’s previous work, Bluebeard slowly inveigles you before hitting you hard. PAMELA JAHN

Planned UK release.

Samson and Delilah

In a decidedly Third World aboriginal community in central Australia, we watch gas huffing ne’er-do-well Samson and dutiful Delilah start an awkward, almost wordless teenage relationship. Warwick Thornton’s fine film sets up a world out of repeating daily rhythms and rituals (a chugging ska band, ants, solvent abuse, an unanswered telephone, taking wheelchair-bound Nana to the health clinic), and then upsets it to devastating effect. Our young couple go on the run and end up on the streets of a nameless suburban sprawl, where bad things happen. Samson and Delilah is visually accomplished, funny and moving, putting the audience through tension, fear, and despair before delivering a moment of sweet heart-tugging release. And then it carries on for another half an hour. Ah well. MARK STAFFORD


If it hadn’t been for Antichrist, Filipino director Brillante Mendoza’s second feature Kinatay might well have been the most controversial Cannes entry this year. To a large extent filmed in real time and adopting a detached, observational style, Kinatay depicts the kidnapping, rape, murder and dismemberment of a drug-addicted stripper as seen through the eyes of a participating police academy student. This is certainly not a film for everyone, but it is a bewildering and uncompromising screen experience that explores very murky moral territory. PAMELA JAHN

We Live in Public: Interview with Ondi Timoner

We Live in Public

Format: Cinema

Release date: 13 November 2009

Venues: Greenwich Picturehouse, Odeon Panton St, Ritzy (London) and key cities

Distributor: Dogwoof

Director: Ondi Timoner

USA 2009

90 mins

What do you do next, once you’ve won a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival? Well, if you’re Ondi Timoner, you make another documentary and you win the Grand Jury Prize again (making you the only individual to have won the gong twice!). The first of those two films, Dig! (2004), charted the mixed fortunes of two bands, Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols. While she was making it, Timoner was also working on her latest award-winner, We Live in Public, a documentary shot over many years about the antics of Joshua Harris.

You probably won’t have heard of Harris, but some believe he predicted the future of the internet, not just by creating one of the first live streaming web channels,, but also by conducting experiments on exactly what people would be willing to sign away for their five minutes of fame. One such experiment featured in the film was set in an underground New York ‘bunker’, where more than 100 people agreed to live in the month leading up to the millennium. The bunker was packed with cameras that followed every move made by the dwellers, who were also subjected to regular humiliating interrogations. Electric Sheep‘s Toby Weidmann met Ondi Timoner to find out more…

Toby Weidmann: How did you first meet Joshua Harris?

Ondi Timoner: I had worked at for a little while on the Cherry Bomb show, just to pick up some extra cash while I was making Dig!. My initial impression was that he was something of a buffoon, that he was a businessman trying to buy his way into the art world. I certainly didn’t know whether he was a visionary or not – time is required to prove that. He didn’t sit around making verbal predictions either – he didn’t know what he was doing himself. But I did think he was somebody who spent his money in very extraordinary ways and I appreciated that. He affected people’s lives in that way – he was out buying bunkers in the middle of Manhattan when other people were buying houses, and that’s cool. But I didn’t know what to think of Josh…

TW: Did you have any inkling at the start how the story would pan out?

OT: I follow my subjects like I followed those ‘choose your own adventure’ books as a kid. That’s how I live my life. I have a gut feeling about certain things at certain times and so far I have been lucky enough to be picked for the gig…

TW: You are part of this story though, because you were there in the bunker, weren’t you?

OT: Yeah. Josh called me and asked whether I wanted to document cultural history. I said: ‘Always, but what do you have in mind?’ He said: ‘I can’t really tell you that, I can’t articulate that because I don’t actually know. It’s kind of unfolding, but I’ll provide you with whatever resources you need to do the job right.’ So I walk over there and they have these men moving all this metal into the building, which they were using to build the ‘pods’. Inside, there’s a guy hanging surveillance cameras from the ceiling. I asked what he was doing and he said he was putting 110 cameras in this place. And right there, I was like, ‘I’m in’. The first thing I did was to get a multiplex system so we could put all the cameras through one machine, allowing us to record the cool images, from the living pods you see in the film to the four ‘walkie’ cameras I had going, so we could ‘walkie’ out what was going on in different spaces in different rooms. We used this system as the eyes of the place. That was crucial but we still had no idea what it was all about.

TW: The film nearly wasn’t made when Harris pulled the plug on it after you edited a rough cut of the bunker material in 2000. How did it get back on track?

OT: After we won at Sundance for Dig! in 2004, I got an email from Josh asking if I was interested in finishing the film, and I really wasn’t because by then it was less relevant. But he wrote to me a few months later, and he said he would give me 50% ownership and full creative control. I thought that was a pretty good deal, and I also felt it was an opportunity to finish what I’d started – especially with no end date attached to the project. So I caught up with those who were in the bunker, and with New York post-9/11. But I still didn’t know what the film was about until I saw Facebook and read my first status update. Then I realised the bunker could be a metaphor for the internet. The only thing I was having a hard time with was the neo-fascistic elements of the bunker, because the internet doesn’t feel that way – it doesn’t feel like you’re under interrogation, it feels like you can be yourself. Then I realised that that part of the metaphor was crucial because Josh was testing the limits of how much people would be willing to give up to be a part of this. They would answer 500 questions, they would submit to these interrogations, and that became like the terms and conditions that you just accept on the internet. You never read them. Facebook owns all our content. As Josh says in the film, ‘everything is free except your image – that we own’.

TW: Are you a fan of the internet?

OT: Yeah, sure, but as powerful as it is for good, we’re paying a price. I think we’re only just becoming aware of that now. The film is definitely a dark vision of it, but it’s important to present the dark side. For a lot of people the film serves as a wake-up call. It’s a shock and it provokes all sorts of reactions. I wouldn’t have told Josh Harris’s story if it wasn’t a metaphor for all of us. There are incredible aspects that the internet brings to our lives, but our identity and our relationships are changing, and a lot of it is more superficial because we can communicate with 500 times the number of people at one time, and we can’t possibly communicate as deeply. Are your Facebook friends your friends? I don’t know, maybe you should go have coffee with them and find out. I really dislike that term – ‘Facebook friend’ – and I think it is dangerous to call them that. If that’s what friendships have become, then we have a problem.

TW: It’s being released theatrically and on DVD, but will it also be available for download? Given the subject matter, it seems well suited…

OT: It is going to be available to download, but it has to be available for the Oscars and they are old school [ie, it needs to be released theatrically first]. We feel it’s an important film, but maybe it’s a little edgy for them… We’ll see. We’re at least going to give it a shot. Dig! was disqualified from the Oscars because it went on TV too early, so we can’t put the film on the internet until then. But it should be a huge stunt when it does happen and it will be exciting to see how it does. There is a potential for We Live in Public to blaze a trail.

TW: What are you planning on making next?

OT: The story of Robert Mapplethorpe as a narrative. It’s perfect for me, right? I’ve met the Mapplethorpe Estate and I have the exclusive rights. Eliza Dushku, the actress, and I are producing it. It’s about him and his relationship with Patti Smith and about how he acted as a cultural lightning rod, pushing the boundaries of art, even beyond his death. I’m really excited about it. It’s called The Perfect Moment. I’m also engaged to make a documentary called Cool It, about the controversial environmentalist Bjørn Lomborg. He wrote a book called Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming about global warming and economics and what we need to prioritise. It’s more of a political documentary and very different from the other films I’ve made.

Interview by Toby Weidmann

Kakera: Interview with Momoko Ando

Momoko Ando

Director: Momoko Ando

Based on the manga by: Erica Sakurazawa

Cast: Hikari Mitsushima, Eriko Nakamura

Japan 2008

Screened at the 17th Raindance Film Festival

Part of a Raindance strand on Japanese Women Directors

Date: 30 September-11 October 2009

Venue: Apollo Cinema, London

Raindance website

Kakera – A Piece of Our Lives is an effervescent debut from first-time Japanese film director Momoko Ando. An exploration of sexuality and youth, the film follows the intense relationship between two girls as they partly fumble – and partly hurtle – towards adulthood. Meeting Ando in a Soho coffee bar during the Raindance Film Festival proved a similarly madcap and engaging experience for Electric Sheep‘s Eleanor McKeown. Punctuated by cigarette breaks with her mother and Ando’s views on the sex drive of the elderly (apparently it’s better news for the fairer sex…), the discussion of Kakera was long and lively, and the director gave a passionate explanation of the film’s ideas and aesthetics.

Eleanor McKeown: One of the best things about Kakera is how you capture the intensity of the relationship between the two young girls – how did you prepare the actresses for that?

Momoko Ando: The interesting thing is that the girls who play Haru (Hikari Mitsushima) and Riko (Eriko Nakamura) are completely opposite characters in real life! Riko, for example, is really slow and really sweet. I wanted to do that kind of casting because I think girls have both sides inside themselves, both really shy and outgoing. I thought if I could bring out the actresses’ deep characters, it would probably be stronger than using how they already are in real life. I tried to ignore Hikari completely and make her really depressed and lost throughout the whole process. She got really angry and shouted at me, but that’s exactly what I was waiting for. Haru is supposed to be someone who doesn’t know what to do in her life.

EMK: Halfway through the film the character of Haru starts to gain confidence…

MA: That last shot of Hikari looking through the window at the birds during the blackout, that’s what she’s really like! I told her, you’ve already got that energy, but in the future, you will probably have to play characters like Haru, so you can’t let all your energy out all of the time, or people will think you can only do that kind of acting.

EMK: The film comes from a comic book by Erica Sakurazawa. How much of the book did you change to make it into a film?

MA: It’s a really simple story. I changed probably 80% of it. The characters had really nice dialogue and things they wanted to say in the comic book so I picked that up. I struggled quite a lot to make it more interesting because the comic book doesn’t really explain what the characters are like or their background at all. Riko isn’t a prosthetic artist, for instance. There are just two girls, a middle-aged woman and the boyfriend. So the characters are there but you don’t understand what they are.

EMK: How did the author feel about her book being made into a film?

MA: Well, the comic book is quite old. She wrote it 10 years ago, and it’s not very long, so she was quite open about it being made into a film. We got on very well, I explained to her how I felt about the comic and she felt very comfortable, I think.

EMK: The film is very intense but there’s also a certain amount of distance when dealing with the central relationship. How close did you feel to the material and characters?

MA: I was drawing on painful stuff from my past when I was writing the script and directing the film. I was definitely engaged with the whole thing, but at the same time I didn’t want to make it too deeply connected because life’s sometimes not like that. At that age, you’re probably not connected that much with life and reality because you’re too young to understand people and how deeply they feel things. I wanted to create that weird, surreal mood of youth.

EMK: The film has a really strong visual identity, especially for a debut feature. How did you plan the aesthetic?

MA: The look was really important to me. As it was my first feature film and I was only 26, I thought it would be more interesting if I worked with a cameraman who was older, probably like my dad’s age [Ando is the daughter of actor and director Eiji Okuda] – someone who makes films in a proper, old-fashioned Japanese style. If I’d worked with a young cinematographer who feels exactly the same as me, that would be more common. I decided to work with this cinematographer who’s worked on many 70s and 80s low-budget movies. He’d never worked with young film directors, especially not female filmmakers… We both thought that would be a cool plan. That’s probably why the film looks quite traditional.

EMK: You studied at the Slade College of Art in London before moving into filmmaking full-time – how do you think that influenced your visual sense?

MA: It’s something that’s quite difficult to explain, like describing a smell! You’d have to say it’s like a rose but if you don’t know what a rose is, it’s quite difficult to know what the smell is! I never really felt connected to Japanese culture. I always felt like I stood out, not always in a good way. It’s probably the same in any country but I felt more confident when I came to England, I just felt so comfortable… Also, I liked punk music.

EMK: How did you work on the soundtrack?

MA: Well, I was a crazy, huge fan of the Smashing Pumpkins when I was living in London and I happened to meet James Iha. It just worked out perfectly because what I wanted for the film was something similar to what I used to listen to when I was a teenager and James wrote the music! I knew he would write really beautiful music. It’s never depressing, always really touching and beautiful. James worked with the drumbeats first. We decided what sort of tempo we wanted for the movie and that’s why it feels like it’s all connected, always with the same beat.

EMK: How did you write the script? Did you write it as a linear story? Did you work on the dialogue first or visuals?

MA: It was definitely much more visual. I’m writing the script for my next project at the moment [which follows a female home-help drawn into becoming a prostitute for elderly gentlemen] and it’s completely original. You might think I’m weird, but I remember my dreams when I wake up and I just write all those things down. I always have bits of weird stuff in my notebook. Then I start to read it back because I kind of forget what I’ve written. And I think, ‘Oh, this is quite interesting stuff I’m writing!’ Then I decide on the concept for the next movie, what I really want to do in the film, and I start picking stuff, adding, omitting… like in cooking!

EMK: Do you think of Kakera as a woman’s film? How consciously did you decide that you wanted to treat gender? Did you have something specific to say?

MA: Yes, of course! I always dreamt of becoming a filmmaker who was quite masculine and was able to make movies like the Coen brothers – very manly – but I just found that impossible because I’m a woman and the way I think is female. Once I’d decided to make a very female film, I had so much to say. I was so conscious of gender. I had one positive message – it really doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, it’s more important how you live your life as a human being. In Japan especially, I think young girls and boys aren’t really conscious of who they are or what they are like… I was just so frustrated looking at these people: I believe you should think about how you should live your life as a good person. It’s not about being a good woman or good man.

EMK: What are your plans for the future?

MA: I’m going to be promoting Kakera because it’s going to be opening in Japan in Spring 2010. I’m halfway through my next script so when I finish it I’ll start looking for funding. Kakera is only my first film and I think that if you can’t keep making films you’re not really a director. I hope I can carry on making films. That would be amazing!

Interview by Eleanor McKeown

The Non-Commissioned Officers’ Film Jukebox

The Non-Commissioned Officers

There are many reasons for wanting to start a band, but doing so in order to promote a film is pretty unusual. When brothers Jordan and Eric Lehning were drafted in to act in indie zombie romance Make-Out with Violence and compose the score for it, they went beyond the call of duty and formed a band to help raise money for the film. The moody synth-pop of their Make-Out with Violence EP (Make Mine), full of teenage longing, eerie sounds and melancholy voices, is certainly a tantalising foretaste, and if the film is on a par with the music, it is well worth checking out – watch the trailer. Below, Eric Lehning tells us about the films that have inspired him.

1- Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
This is the best movie ever made. For months after I saw it, I thought I was supposed to become a Bedouin. Sitting there in front of the TV with an A&W root beer in my hand saying, ‘The desert calls me’. Thank god I realised it was the medium of film that inspired me. I would not make it on camel’s milk alone.

2- Blazing Saddles (1974)
Hatred has never been funnier. The way Mel Brooks smashes the N word in your face like a pie just deflates all of its malicious power. I don’t know if it’s easier for a Jew to get away with that than a honky but I’m so glad he did. My favourite line is: ‘A tollbooth!? Somebody’s gotta go back and get a shitload of dimes.’

3- The NeverEnding Story (1984)
This is a great movie to see as a child. Right off the bat the hero’s horse drowns in mud. The scene where he’s crawling through the swamp and is saved from the wolf by the Luck Dragon still makes me misty. That dragon became an incarnation of art for me as a kid. A benevolent force that dispels fear. When Fantasia is just asteroids and the Ivory Tower appears from the void, the music cue gets right on top of me.

4- Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)
Mishima should be in the Smithsonian. This is one of the most coherent, precise films ever made. It’s a movie about the Japanese artist Yukio Mishima made by Paul Schrader. The guy’s whole life is about the harmony of art and action (pen and sword). Philip Glass’s score is in a class of its own.

5- Ghost Busters (1984)
Something about really smart people scared stupid makes me feel alright about everything. Rick Moranis’s rant about the ‘form of the destructor’ is something I used to have memorised until I got a little too comfortable with a girl I was sweet on and just spewed the whole thing out over dinner. I knew I was blowing it but I was transported and had to go all the way. I went there… alone, and subsequently forgot the monologue.

6- The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
What is so strong for me about this episode of the Star Wars saga is that you could watch it without knowing anything about the other films and be left with a total sense of that world. It’s the most legit sci-fi/adventure movie of all time. Wanting to be Harrison Ford is why I don’t have a Southern accent.

7- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
2001 is more than a fantasy or a genre film. It’s about the relevance of soul when put in the context of evolution. Nothing else makes me feel as human or as alien as this movie.

8- Blade Runner (1982)
Ridley Scott’s vision of the effects of overpopulation and a civilisation on overdrive is still the industry standard when imagining the near future. What’s so impressive to me is that you could actually see all those big hairdos coming back by 2016.

9- Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Most love stories aren’t really about love, they’re about being smitten. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton are so vitriolic with each other, but as soon as an outsider challenges them they become a monument of solidarity. Virginia Woolf is the best movie that’s ever been made about staying together. The damage two creatures of flesh do to each other as they attempt to be one.

10- The Dark Crystal (1982)
There’s plenty of logistical reasons why more puppet movies haven’t been made. There’s only so much Frank Oz to go around I guess. And Jim Henson’s dead. I watched this movie just the other night, and the scene where all the Skeksis are chewing down is a gross/intriguing sensory overload.