The Japan Film Festival closes with the final screening of Miwa Nishikawa’s touching drama ‘The Long Excuse’. We spoke with Director Nishikawa about the film and her career up until now.
We’re privileged at Japan in Melbourne to have the pleasure of meeting the lovely Director Nishikawa on her trip to Australia for the screening of her film ‘The Long Excuse’ during the Japan Film Festival. Nishikawa also wrote the novel by the same name that the movie was based on. ‘The Long Excuse’ marks her seventh film to date, and has made its way around the globe at various international film festivals.
The film also is the closing film for the Japan Film Festival in Melbourne.
If you don’t mind, could you please introduce yourself?
Nishikawa: “My name is Miwa Nishikawa, Japanese director of the feature film ‘The Long Excuse’. Which is now showing in Japan. I’m currently visiting Australia for the Japanese Film Festival.”
Is it your first time being involved in the Japanese Film Festival?
Nishikawa: “Four years ago I brought the movie ‘Dreams for sale’ to Sydney, and since then it’s been four year since releasing a new film, so I’m back again with ‘The Long Excuse’.”
What are your thoughts on the Japanese Film Festival?
Nishikawa: “Last time, I felt like there were quite a lot of Japanese people who came to watch and noticed that there were quite a lot of Japanese people living in Australia. As I expected, if you’re living here as a Japanese person, your chance to see Japanese films must be rare, and many attendees had said they had been looking forward to it. However, this time, I feel like there number of Australian attendees has increased since then.”
Interviewer: I agree, I feel like it has built up steam over the years and become increasingly popular with Australians as well.
Nishikawa: “It’s definitely not a bad thing, rather, I’m happy to hear it. If they’re able to get a taste of what Japan’s culture is like and what sort of people live there I think it’s a good thing. I’ve received quite good feedback from Australians as well this year, so I’m pleased.”
During the filming of ‘The Long Excuse’, were there any difficulties or problems you encountered?
Nishikawa: “If there was anything difficult it would have to be directing the child actors. The children involved in the film had no previous acting experience, so they weren’t very good at it. The actor who played Akari is exactly the way she appears on the screen. I guess unless you’ve met her, you wouldn’t know, though. But really, she was so fickle! She would quickly lose focus.”
Interviewer: I guess when you work with children, it’s a much different experience, right?
Nishikawa: “Up until now, I’ve only ever worked with experienced adult actors and it was one of those moments where I truly understood how much easier it was to work with them over kids. I also realised how much of a mistake it was to assume that when working with children everything would go as planned. But in experiencing it and hitting those obstacles is where I was able reflect upon where my ways of saying things weren’t quite right or where I should have just waited a little longer for them to come around. I feel like it was an experience that all the adult staff members were able to grow and learn from by being a part of it. Although it was difficult, it was really enjoyable.”
I had heard that you were mentored by Director Hirokazu Koreeda during the filming of ‘The Long Excuse’, but how did this come about? Did you already know Director Koreeda?
Nishikawa: “I was one of Koreeda’s assistant director when he was making the feature film ‘Afterlife’. I was in my fourth year of university and wanted to work in the film industry, so he made me assistant director for his film. From then on, he has been somewhat of a film making master to me and allowed me to help with other films too. Since then, even after I, too, became a director, we have shared our scenarios with each other, given each other opinions when it comes to editing and such. We set up an office together, and have known each other for nearly 20 years now. Now, we both work together as directors and give each other advice or second opinions. However, when it comes to filming, Director Koreeda only really tends to just pop in and see how it all looks. It’s just that whenever we’re having trouble deciding on things like casting…”
Interviewer: “Of course, it must be better talking to someone you know you can trust when it comes to making those decisions.”
Nishikawa: Definitely. Especially when it comes to planning out the technical side of things, like how exactly to shoot a scene and how to bring a film to international audiences. These days, those are the aspects in which he usually mentors me for the most part as he is more experienced in those fields.
As the author of the novel upon which the movie was based, what made you decide to turn ‘The Long Excuse’ into a film as well as a novel?
Nishikawa: “When the idea came into my head, I had already decided to turn it into a movie. From the very start, I thought it would be a good idea. Usually when I form these ideas, I start off by writing down a scenario and, you know, when it comes to novels, you don’t have to consider a budget, time and aren’t bound by any restrictions, so you can write whatever you want. For example, if you were to include all the back story such as, under what circumstances the couple met, how they fell in love and got married into a film, it would take many minutes or even hours to portray on the screen. But in reality, if you don’t think about those things or portray them to some extent, you wouldn’t be able to make the film. If the story doesn’t have the various backbones that make up the story behind the film [it will not do well]. So, I decided to write out everything I wanted to write in the novel first without having to worry about any time or money restrictions, and being able to focus on getting the logistics of the story laid out clearly before making the film.”
Have you taken the film to any other international film festivals? How has it been received?
Nishikawa: “Before coming here, we took the film to the Toronto International Film Festival for its world premiere. After that the film went to Asian countries such as Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and in Europe, we screened it at the Rome Film Festival, which became our European premiere. I think most people have embraced the film warmly, no matter which country we took it to.”
Is it your first time in Melbourne? What sort of impression do you have of Australia so far?
Nishikawa: “As mentioned before, I attended the Japan Film Festival in Sydney four years ago, however, it’s my first time in Melbourne. As I only just arrived in Melbourne about 3 hours ago, I haven’t had much time to experience it. I arrived, had lunch and came straight here to ACMI. I’ve only had a brief walk around, but Melbourne has a different atmosphere to Sydney. Melbourne feels a bit more classic, relaxed and has a strong personality to it. I had heard it was a very cultural city, so I was expecting many of the people watching the film to be quite cultured and felt a little nervous.”
And finally, what would you recommend about Japan to the people of Melbourne or what do you think is appealing about Japan?
Nishikawa: “I feel like Japan’s quality of hospitality and service are very high, people are often willing to go above and beyond to please customers. Japanese hot springs are also wonderful. When you go on a trip in Japan, traditional inns that also have a hot spring are great. It’s also a very safe place, even if you drop your wallet, most of the time it will come back with all its contents intact. I recommend you visit a place where you can see beautiful views of the ocean or where you can see mountains from your hot spring bath.”
If you haven’t yet read our previous interview with Yukiko Mishima, you can find it here!
The closing screening of ‘The Long Excuse’ is scheduled for the 4th of December. Tickets are available here: https://japanesefilmfestival.net/film/the-long-excuse/
‘The Long Excuse’ (As per the JFF website):
Length: 123 mins
Classification rating: Under 15s must be accompanied by an adult. (Contains theme of adultery and mild sex scenes.)
In Japanese with English subtitles.
“The transformative power of empathy in a time of mourning”
Closing film for Melbourne and Sydney.
Celebrity author Sachio and his supportive wife Natsuko have an amicable marriage that lacks passion. While Natsuko dies in a bus accident, Sachio is in bed with a younger woman. Forced to play the role of a grieving widower in front of media, he is more shocked by his emotional disconnect to her death. Unable to muster any genuine sadness for his wife’s passing, he’s at a loss for how to proceed with his life.
Eventually he meets Yoichi, whose wife perished in the same bus accident. Unlike Sachio, Yoichi is devastated and in denial. For unfathomable reasons Sachio volunteers to help take care of Yoichi’s children while their father is out working long hours as a truck driver.
The Long Excuse is a touching drama that closely follows its characters and their transformation, prompted by empathy and death. Director Miwa Nishikawa, who was mentored by Hirokazu Kore-eda (After the Storm), beautifully orchestrates joy and sadness, creating a film that is emotional but never overbearing. Featuring stellar acting by Masahiro Motoki (Departures) as Sachio and Pistol Takehara as Yoichi.