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An Exclusive Interview
with Kiyoshi Kurosawa
(Part I)



As the spotlight filmmaker of this year's San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa is well known by the international audience as a master of horror film. Since the success of Cure in the late 1990s, Kurosawa has continued to make films that helped secure his prestige as one of the most porminent directors currently working in Japan. We're glad to have the opportunity to talk to director Kurosawa. In this interview, he mostly talked about his latest film Tokyo Sonata, an award winner at 2008's Cannes Film Festival, and he also mentioned his collaboration with his favorite actor Koji Yakusho, as well as some thoughts on remakes.

Special thanks to SFIAAFF and Larsen for making this interview possible.

Please enjoy the interview!

* The interview was originally conducted in English and Japanese with interepetation provided by Mr. Taro Goto.

Who is Kiyoshi Kurosawa?

Kiyoshi Kurosawa, born in 1955, is a Japanese filmmaker who started his career in the 1980s.

Kurosawa graduated from Rikkyo University and made his first film Kandagawa Wars in 1983. He worked on low budget V-cinema (direct to video) and tackled with the genres of pink, yakusha and many others in his early days.

In the early 1990s, Kurosawa won a scholarship and studied films in the United States. Later, he returned to Japan and in 1997 he made Cure, his first internationally acclaimed work. The film was first premiered in Tokyo International Film Festival and later earned him a best director award at the Yokohama Film Festival.

Since then, he became a well known figure outside of Japan, his films were screened at Berlin International Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival and many more.

To date Kurosawa has made more than 20 films, some of them include Cure, Serpent's Path, Revenge: The Scar that Never Fades, Revenge: A Visit from Fate, Pulse, License to Live, Eyes of the Spider, Charisma, Bright Future, Retribution and Tokyo Sonata.

  Kiyoshi Kurosawa  

Tokyo Sonata

Cinespot: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us. Let's begin with your latest film Tokyo Sonata. Many describe this film a departure or a turning point of your previous established career as a horror film master. So does it really signify such a departure and can we expect something different from you in the future?

Kurosawa: Many people mentioned this so called departure from horror film, and it is true that I went through a string of making films of genre, and I did want to do something very different, and indeed this film has a very different story from the horror film I made, but at the same time, I have made a lot of other films before, like yakusa films, other genres, including some other family dramas that are not too different from Tokyo Sonata. So I don't think there is a big change that I was going through. But I do feel I can use this opportunity to tackle with new theme and new story that I haven't done before.

Cinespot: What struck me is that the female characters in the film seem to be much more determined and independent than the male characters, like the wife who has her own way to solve problems, and also the piano teacher who is so firm about her divorce decision, while the male characters are more vulnerable and hesitant to make important decisions. How do you see this gender issue presented in the film?

Kurosawa: I didn't intended to show any male or female difference or gender gap, of course we only have one primary female character in the film, that is, the mother. But then, she is in a rather special circumstance, the other characters in the family are male, and are dealing with problems that are external to the family, like jobs, in contrast, she is stuck at home, there is nothing outside the house, she has nothing to face but herself, so her journey is one where she looks inward, and has to confront herself and that gives the impression of her strength.

Cinespot: In this film, and a lot of your other films, the diegetic world is always presented as very cold and alienated, there is not too much close interaction among people. Does it reflect your view on contemporary urban life?

Kurosawa: It is true in a sense that there is not too much interaction among people in my films. The alienation of the people is mainly triggered by social problems like poverty and war. In our society, that is what is happening around our world. People are influenced by greater forces of the exterior world and they have to look inward to confront themselves. It is a joruney of inward discovery.

Cinespot: So you mentioned social problems. Did your background in sociology help you shape up the story?

Kurosawa: I have been asked this question a lot (laugh). The truth is that my background in sociology has nothing to do with me making films in reality. When I was at school, even though I majored in sociology, I also joined the school's film club, so I ended up spending most of my time at the club watching and making films instead of going to class. So in a sense, I am more influenced by the films I have seen.

Cinespot: When I looked at the first half of the film, like the interaction of the family members, the camera angles that is lower than eye level, and also the flat composition inside the house, the style reminded me of Yasujiro Ozu's film. Is it intentional? Did Ozu play an influence on you?

Kurosawa: I am always an enthusiastic fan of Ozu, but when I made Tokyo Sonata, I tried to stay clear of resembling Ozu and his films. However, when the film was done, I was shocked to find out that some of the shots are so similar to his. It is interesting though, when someone makes a film with anything resembling Ozu's style, people begin to talk about him and immediately say it is copying; while if someone utilizes the style of Akira Kurosawa in the film, people see it as basic and fundamental cinematic techniques. I think Ozu is way too influential in a way that when others make family dramas without an intention to follow his styles, people will still see it as copying or under his influence, so it just makes you feel a little scary when you are making a family drama.

  Kurosawa and Goto  

In part II of the interview, director Kurosawa continues to talk about his filmmaking experience as well as his favorite actor Koji Yakusho. Please click here to go to Part II!