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Film Festival in the Philippines – Nori Koizumi Interview

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The Japanese Film Festival took place in the Philippines on the 4th of July. We invited the director of “Chihayafuru”, Mr. Nori Koizumi as a guest to give a special speech. He attended the opening ceremony and had an exceptional time with the movie fans throughout the events at the university and at the theatre. We interviewed him after the event.

I felt that the audience here had a much stronger vibe, compared to audiences at events in Japan.

――How did you enjoy being a part of this year’s Japanese Film Festival in the Philippines?
It was very fun! Honestly, I didn’t expect that so many people would see the films and I think, based on their positive reactions, that they really enjoyed it. (I hope! Haha). I felt the audience here had a much stronger vibe compared to audiences at events in Japan. I really appreciated that here in the Philippines we were able to screen all three movies in the series of “Chihayafuru” at the same time, which is something that hasn’t really been done in Japan.

At the event, you were asked where the title “Chihayafuru” came from.
Technically, it is not “Chihayafuru”, it is read as “Chihayaburu”. However, it is spelled “Chihayafuru” in Hiragana, and it is formally written “Chihayafuru” on Hyakunin Isshu Karuta, too. According to the manga artist of “Chihayafuru”, Ms Yuki Suetsugu, the main character Chihaya Ayase mispronounced it as “Chihayafuru” when she was a primary school student.

Chihayafuru part 3 depicted “connection” across the different time frames.

――Did you have a theme or idea that framed the movie prior to shooting part 3 -musubi-?
Part 1 shows the sense of teamwork and cooperation drawn by the process of becoming members of the team throughout a series of team competitions and the fates or fortunes of each character, whereas part 2 developed the story focusing on their individualism and identity and the fact that each member has a strong connection with other members even though they were physically separated. Those two are the stories of commitment amongst people living in the same time period, while in part 3 – musubi-, I emphasised the connection across different time periods. It can be described as the correlation of inheritance across time – from generations thousands of years past and thousands of years into the future to Chihaya’s current junior members and future members yet to come. However, it was not a conscious decision made from the beginning to carry this theme into the movie, it honestly only came to my realization during filming.

―――― The game scenes looked so real and really keep the audience on the edge of their seats with excitement!
Playing Karuta itself is not hard for anyone with the right amount of practice. However, there are actually a lot of subtle manners and etiquette around the way in which players can possess cards and it takes time to get used to these unspoken customs, which experienced players unconsciously grasp. Things such as styles of how to hold or order cards are not officially ruled, but there are certain actions and moves that people who have played Karuta for a long time know never to do. Because of this, I had to really consider the subtle unruled techniques as crucial in order to make the movie more realistic.
Honestly though, shooting the game sequences where cards are being taken by players was extremely hard because if the actors delay their move to grab the card just that little bit too long, it looks like they intentionally haven’t gone for it. So in order to make the move look legitimate, both actors must be in perfect sync with each other’s moves. During shooting I would be yelling at the monitor “faster!” or “slower!” however there are subtle time lags between the camera doing the filming and the monitor we are looking at, so it made it really tough to film these scenes.

(C) 2018 “Chihayafuru” Film Partners (C) Yuki Suetsugu / KODANSHA LTD.

I didn’t select Mackenyu at first.

――Many of the cast members in this movie have now become famous in Japan, haven’t they?
The cast hadn’t been decided at all when we started to make the movie. Suzu Hirose as Chihaya (the film’s main character) was the perfect choice and had a great reputation as an actress on the verge of her big career break. It was her first main role and so she was hesitant and thinking “Do I really deserve this role?” haha. She was an excellent choice and in reality, there is no such person like the character of Chihaya in real life. I thought Shuhei Nomura was great for acting the awkward character of “Taichi”. Taichi is really like a knight in shining armour in the Manga, so Shuhei felt a lot of pressure as he knew he wasn’t that kind of person in real life. I saw Shuhei putting so much effort into acting like a knight, but I said to him it would be better to portray him more like a regular guy. Taichi is the type of person who struggles with always seeking something and being never satisfied with what he has, so the audience can really emphasise with him. Shuhei is really good at portraying this type of flawed character, the kind of guy who also struggles to find love. Haha. I cast Mackenyu Arata as Arata Wataya through casting auditions. He had just arrived in Japan from the States and I thought this guy was really cool. But, actually, I didn’t select him at the first audition. After a while, he contacted me and said: “Can I have another chance?” Honestly, I also really felt he had higher potential as an actor, so I said okay, and agreed to see him again. I was astonished at how much his acting skill had improved since the previous audition and asked him how he did this. He answered that he was passionate about playing the role of Arata, so he had asked many experienced actors to teach him how to develop his acting skills. I could see his potential and passion and was willing to bet on him for this role. He worked hard to acquire the Fukui dialect and practice Karuta, which helped him to form the character of Arata.

――Did you do anything special after you decided on the cast?
1Well, as expected, they didn’t know each other well at the beginning but through practicing Karuta together they were able to really get to know and get along with one another.
By the time we got to filming, they had all become close friends.

I want to do something new and someday want to come back to some coming-of-age stories.

――So finally, tell us about your future plans and ambitions.
The Chihayafuru series is now complete so I would like to explore a vast range of genres of films including thrillers and science fiction. I want to do something new and someday want to come back to some coming-of-age stories.

◆Profile:Mr Nori Koizumi
Born: 20th of August, Tokyo, Japan
His career as a film director started with the movie “Midnight Sun” in 2006. In 2008, he directed the movie “Gachi☆Boy” that did well not only in Japan but also gained acclaim at overseas at international film festivals. In 2010, he worked with numerous famous actresses including Yu Aoi, Kyoka Suzuki, Yuko Takeuchi, Reina Tanaka, Yukie Nakama, Ryoko Hirosue in the movie “FLOWERS”, and in 2013 he discovered the young actress Sakurako Ohara for the Movie “The liar and his lover”. For the movie “Chihayafuru” he was also the scriptwriter and his initiative of hiring and supporting relatively young actors as well as his meticulous style and ability to direct a range of different emotional scenes have earnt him a great reputation in the industry.

◆Movie: Chihayafuru Part3 -musubi- Directed by Nori Koizumi Screenplay by Nori Koizumi Based on Chihayafuru by Yuki Suetsugu
Starring: Suzu Hirose, Shuhei Nomura, Mackenyu Arata, Mayu Matsuoka, Kento Kaku, Miyuki Matsuda and Shun Kunimura.
Two years have passed since first-year student of Mizusawa High School Karuta Club, Chihaya Ayase, and her friends fought a fierce battle with the Queen, Shinobu Wakamiya.
Since then, Arata has left playing Karuta but, inspired by Chihaya’s continued passion for the game, has decided to return and create his own team to come up against Chihaya in the national tournament. New members have joined Mizusawa High School’s Karuta club and the now third-year Chihaya prepares for her final Karuta battle at the national tournament when suddenly the team captain, Taichi, quits the team…

◆Japanese Film Festival In Philippines
Presented by Japan Foundation Manila

Opening and Feature Films
3. CHIHAYAFURU Part.2Special Screenings in Collaboration with other Japan Foundation Projects
4. Of Love & Law (EIGASAI × Cinemalaya × EYES for Embracing Diversity)
5. SEVEN SAMURAI (EIGASAI × The Spirit of Budô: The History of Japan’s Martial Arts)
6. When the Curtain Rises (EIGASAI × Manila Notes)Other Selected Films
7. Let’s Go, JETS! From Small Town Girls to U.S.Champions?!
8. Rudolf the Black Cat
11. Memoirs of a Murderer
12. Tora-san of Goto
14. ReLIFE
15. Daytime Shooting Star

Venues and dates

4th to 8th July/4th to 5th and 15th to 18th of August

12th to 15th of July

27th to 29th of July

9th to 12th of August

23rd to 26th of August