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JFF India: Dance with Me – An Interview with Producer Daisuke Sekiguchi

Audiences excited about this Japanese musical film. Taking to the stage at the 3rd Japanese Film Festival in Mumbai.

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The 3rd Japanese Film Festival in India (JFF India) presented by the Japan Foundation, is touring across 7 cities in India over the 2019-20 season – the largest number of cities in the history of this event. For the Mumbai Screening of Dance with Me (2019), the Producer of this film, Daisuke Sekiguchi (Warner Bros. Japan) made the trip from Japan to join in the festivities. Directed by Shinobu Yaguchi, whose past works include Water Boys (2001), and Swing Girls (2004). This film was his first foray into the musical genre, and his fourth time teaming up with the producer Mr Sekiguchi. We received a variety of questions at the Q&A session following the screening, and were able to catch up with Sekiguchi after the event to reflect on his visit.

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<Details about Dance with Me>

The protagonist of the film, Shizuka is an office lady who has hated musicals from a young age, however is placed under a hypnotic curse which makes her dance whenever she hears music. Following this, her body uncontrollably dances to the various tunes playing around town which lead to the ruin of her love life and her job. Will Shizuka’s life ever return to normal? After shining through the movie’s auditions, Ayaka Miyoshi took on the lead role of Shizuka, alongside a multifaceted cast including comedian Yu Yashiro, and singer-songwriter and model, Chay.

<Post-screening Q&A>

Audience Member 1: I loved Yaguchi’s Swing Girls. Are you thinking about filming a sequel?

DS: Since Yaguchi wrote the script as well, it really depends on him. If he decides to work on a sequel, then it definitely will go ahead.

Audience Member 2: I think it is quite rare to see a musical film from Japan. Were there any difficult aspects of working on this film?

DS: It’s true that there aren’t many musical films made in Japan, so I studied as much as I could from scratch by watching a lot of musical films from countries such as India and the United States. I think it would be fair to say that Dance with Me has also been inspired by Bollywood films.

*“Bollywood” is a portmanteau of “Bombay”, the former name of Mumbai (the heart of the Indian film industry), and “Hollywood” (the heart of the American film industry).

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Audience Member 3: What was the theme that kickstarted this film?

DS: It started with a conversation with Yaguchi about wanting to produce a musical like that of an Indian film. However, I didn’t really consider it the theme for the movie. Even so, I figured if Japan was going to be the setting of the film, I wanted to incorporate realistic aspects of Japan.

That was how Dance with Me came about. Japanese people have a tendency to be too serious and work too hard, which often makes them lose sight of their dreams. I hope I was able to get the message across about how important it is to have dreams by telling a story of the protagonist finding her own dream in Japanese society.

Audience Member 4: Is the final piece different to how you first pictured it to be?

DS: Dance with Me is the fourth film that Yaguchi and I have worked on together. I have known him for over 20 years, and since I am quite close to him, I feel as though he did a good job creating the film based on the script of what he first pictured it to be.

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Audience Member 5: I think the cast was perfect. What was the casting process like?

DS: It was almost all done through auditions. For example, the woman who played the assistant to the hypnotist (Yu Yashiro) is actually a comedian, and this was her first time appearing in a film.

<Private Interview>

How did you feel about Dance with Me being screened in India?

DS: India produces the greatest number of films in the world, and can also be referred to as the heart of the international film industry. Honestly, I was extremely anxious about showing my film to an Indian audience. However, I came to Mumbai because I saw this as a great opportunity to show Indian audiences that Japanese cinema is also attempting to make films like this.

What are your thoughts after being there for the screening and participating in the Q&A session that followed?

DS: I’m glad everyone that watched was able to enjoy the film with such warm perceptions. At first, I thought people were merely praising my film to be polite, but after receiving such deep questions about the film’s content at the Q&A session, I realised that the people of India were able to understand the movie well. In Japan, if someone thinks a film is interesting, there is a tendency for others to be influenced by their opinion. However, I feel that Indian people project their own lives into the movies as they view them.

What in particular left an impression on you?

Daisuke Sekiguchi: While Dance with Me is a film depicting the characters as they grow and develop, it was made to be interpreted in different ways. I was quite pleased that the Indian audience was able to grasp this. For example, I heard someone say that they were moved by how the female protagonist quit her job to live her life her own way. I was touched because the audience members really did understand the movie!

Last year, Weathering with You was the first Japanese anime film to be officially released for general screening in India. Will Japanese films continue to spread in India from here on out?

Daisuke Sekiguchi: As a film producer, of course I have the desire for the Indian audience to watch Japanese films. However, I think there are a lot of obstacles, such as cultural and language differences. Even so, I would like to one day overcome these obstacles to offer more Japanese films to the Indian audience.

Would you like to produce a film in India if an opportunity arose?

Daisuke Sekiguchi: I’ve always wanted to make a film or series about the interaction of different cultures, much like Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003). After stepping foot in Mumbai, I am imagining a film where a Japanese person comes to India and grows.
There are currently a number of projects in the pipeline being co-produced by Japan, Europe and America. I don’t believe that the hurdle for Japanese people to visit Europe or America is high, however there is a much larger difference in cultures between Japan and India. That’s why I think there would be a lot of interesting episodes and touching moments for a protagonist living in India. For example, I believe there would be a completely different barrier for a love story between an Indian boy and a Japanese girl, compared to one between two Japanese people. I think it would be interesting to produce something like that.

As explained by the producer Sekiguchi, Dance with Me is a masterpiece that follows in the footsteps of Indian, European and American musical films whilst superbly offering an insight into the realities of those living in the current Japanese society. The passion beaming from the crowds of moviegoers who flocked to the cinema in the musical-film mecca of India was a clear indicator of the enthusiastic reception to the film. As a fellow moviegoer myself, I look forward to the next movie that will leap across language and international borders with ease.

Interviewer:Kazuya Takahashi/Editor:Emi Ishigami

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