At the St. Petersburg International Cultural Forum in Russia on November 15th, 2018, film director Kiyoshi Kurosawa participated as a guest, speaking about his thoughts on his own films for participants from Russia and other countries around the world.
The forum was created for the open exchange of opinions from those involved in the arts, culture, public institutions, and the private sector. Mr. Kurosawa attended as a guest of the Cinema section.
JFF Web Magazinegot an exclusive look at the manuscript of Mr. Kurosawa’s speech. We’re publishing this valuable manuscript alongside striking images.
Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Born in 1955 in Hyogo Prefecture.
He began shooting 8mm films in university, and made his commercial film debut in 1983 with Kandagawa Pervert Wars.
After that, he attracted global attention with Cure (1997), and won the 54thCannes Festival FIPRESCI Prize with Pulse(2000).Since then, he has received high praise both at home and abroad for films such as Bright Future(2002, In Competition at the 56thCannes Festival), Doppelganger(2002), Loft (2005), and Retribution(2006), which was officially screenedat the 64thVenice International Film Festival. He was also awarded the Jury Prize (Un Certain Regard) at the 61stCannes Festival and Best Film at the 3rdAsian Film Awards for Tokyo Sonata(2008). Tabi no Owari, Sekai no Hajimari (Japanese title) is scheduled for release in summer 2019.
Nice to meet you all. I am Kurosawa, a film director from Japan.
The name Kurosawa probably reminds you of Akira Kurosawa. It is indeed a very famous name.
When I visit abroad, people often ask me if I am a son of Akira Kurosawa. I will say this first: I am not related to Akira Kurosawa. I hope you are not disappointed.
Kurosawa is a common name in Japan, and I rarely think of my name. However, when I am abroad, I realize how influential Akira Kurosawa is. And by this point, you have probably remembered my name. I am so lucky to have this name.
Today, I was offered an opportunity to talk about film here in Saint Petersburg. I am honored, but a little nervous at the same time.
The reason I am nervous is that I have only done lectures at film schools in Japan for a small group of students aiming to create film, but never one abroad and to such a varied group.
I have thought a lot about what I should talk today. However, I do not have much to share besides films, to be more precise, the making of films.
Many of you are probably more interested in seeing films rather than making one.
I hope that my talk helps you see films you have watched from a slightly different perspective or contributes to further increase your interest in film.
Well then, let’s start the main topic.
For the lecture today, I chose the title “Digitization of film and the essence of film that appears from it.”
I would like to talk about what has changed in film through the digitization of film technology, and how film directors deal with changes in film production.
You might not know much about the digitization of film since the films you see at the cinema do not appear much different than the films you saw in the past.
However, almost all the films you see in Japan, Russia, and anywhere around the world have been digitized today.
In principle, the same moving image you see in YouTube on your computer screen is projected onto the big screen at the cinema as a film.
However, it is also true that the film appears unchanged since before. Why is that?
It is because the majority of those involved in film production as well as the technicians around the world try really hard not to make the changes obvious to the audience.
If we project the digital image as is, it will look completely different from the film we are familiar with. Therefore, filmmakers use various techniques to make the quality similar to those of regular films.
What I just said might make you think “What is the point of digitization?”
While it is said that digitization techniques have greatly changed film, filmmakers are making enormous efforts not to change it. You might think to yourself: If that’s true, then don’t go through the hassle of digitizing it!
You are right. I completely agree.
However, the film industry cannot sustain itself by simply making films. The completed work needs to be distributed, costs needs to be cut, the copyright of the work needs to be protected, and so on. All these complications regarding film production almost forcibly push digitization although the filmmakers are pretending that the quality is the same and nothing has changed through digitization. That is the current situation of film.
What is the “conventional quality of the film” that the filmmakers seek to protect? This is the main topic of today’s lecture.
First, let me introduce two episodes that I encountered in the process of shooting films during the early stages of digitization.
The first episode is from the film Charisma, which was shot in 1998. Back then, we still used actual film to shoot, and digital technology was used to combine computer graphics into live action shots.
I was trying to shoot a scene that involves dynamite installed on a big tree trunk exploding.
The actor acted in front of the real tree and the explosion CG was added to the tree afterward.
While both the quality of CG and the actor were not bad at all, the completed scene appeared somewhat awkward.
However, since everything went as planned and no one could specify what exactly to fix, we left the scene as it was by thinking “This is probably the best we could get from CG integration.”
A few years later, I finally found the reason why this scene failed. A certain discomfort that I felt came from the perfect steadiness of the camera at the time of the explosion.
If a real explosion occurs, the camera, no matter how well fixed, would move slightly due to the shockwave and the shaking ground. This tiny instability of the camera was not considered when we shot the scene.
Furthermore, if an explosion occurs, the operator behind the camera must also move a little, and by instinct, try to fix the camera angle towards the explosion. This was not considered either during the shooting.
If we create an explosion scene with CG integration today, we not only take the shaky movement of the camera and the angle correction into consideration, but also digitally create the dirt and dust that flies onto the lens to make it look as if a real explosion occurred in front of the camera.
Such techniques to digitally imitate the vivid reality of live action is common today both in live-action and animation film. However, no one in Japan thought of it back in 1998.
There is another episode from the early digitization period.
This is from my work Pulse (Kairo) in 2000. We still used actual film in the shooting. We were shooting a scene where the main character walks on the street and looks up unintentionally to find a person on the tower jumping off from it.
The camera first captures the main character from right to left. As the actor stops to look up, the camera moves up so that the person on the tower appears in the frame.
To integrate the person falling off from the tower, we had to shoot a few identical shots of the person about to fall off from the tower.
It was the first time that we used a motion control camera in the shooting. This camera saves the motion of the camera as it is handled by the operator in the computer and repeats the exact same motion.
First, the camera pans from right to left following the actor walking at slow speed. What surprised us was when we repeated the movement of the camera through motion control.
While the operator sought to handle the camera smoothly following the person walking, the actual motion of the camera was not smooth at all, but awfully unstable, swinging unnaturally and leaning unexpectedly.
The operator was so shocked and lost confidence.
We first suspected malfunction of the computer, but it was functioning just fine.
Even more surprisingly, when we checked the walking scene shot in the awkward camera motion, the actual footage appeared perfectly smooth. There was nothing wrong with the operator’s skill.
What we found from this experience was that the camera needs to move unsmooth just a little bit to naturally capture the person walking. If the camera moves perfectly smooth like a machine, it would never have been able to capture the motion of the person smoothly.
What I learned from these two episodes is the following.
A camera is a machine that captures the reality in front of it exactly as it is. When the camera is focusing on an analog reality, it is affected by an analog human being called an operator, who stands behind the camera, even though the effect might be very subtle. When implementing digital technology during film production, we cannot express reality without carefully calculating what is behind the camera.
In fact, these two are pretty much all I have regarding the relationship between film and digital.
Digital technology is useful, but the film is what captures the reality. The camera is placed in the middle of reality, and the operator behind it is affected by reality. Unless digital technology fully expresses these elements, it cannot make a film.