Director of ‘The Tokyo Night Sky is the Densest Shade of Blue’, Mr Yuya Ishii, sat down for an interview with us during his fleeting visit to Melbourne for the Japanese Film Festival 2017. ‘The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue’ was inspired by a collection of poems, and described on the JFF website(link) as a “Modern day romance between imperfect people”. Ishii’s film is that and a whole lot more. With the focus on young people moving to big cities, the film depicts the fluctuations of playfulness and sadness often seen in young people these days. As the film doesn’t adhere to typical Hollywood conventions it maintains a strong sense of realism.
There is a current trend of manga and anime being turned into [live action] films, and rather than worrying about whether it will sell, I thought it would be nice to create a film with a story that reflects the feelings of people living in this day and age.
One of the more prominent messages in the film is one of hope, and a message that has resonated well with audiences so far.
As for the overall reaction in Japan and overseas, Ishii finds that they seem to follow different trends. While Japanese audiences have a tendency to get caught up on which famous actors are appearing in a film, audiences overseas tend to focus more so on the narrative, so the questions audience from countries outside Japan ask in interviews tend to vary. Ishii had a chuckle at his own comment, assuring us that neither type of reaction was necessarily bad, the varied reactions he says is what makes film enjoyable for him. He realised that leaving the country enabled him to look at his films, Japan, as well as himself objectively, a phenomenon he notes that he may not have been able to experience had he simply kept his film releases within Japan.
When you’re always in Japan… it’s not something you can really experience. It’s very interesting.
Depending on the quality of the film and whether he could get future films translated Ishii hopes that he will be able to continue bringing his work overseas.
If I was to limit myself to only [working and releasing films in] Japan, I think that would be a mistake.
Fearing that only ever working in Japan and especially in Tokyo would create a feeling of entrapment or become stifling, Ishii has set his sights for branching out to film overseas as well. This lead to the discussion of Hollywood films, Ishii mentioning that he would likely never make a CG heavy film where some suited hero busts out of the rubble to save the day, even though he thinks those sorts of films are interesting in their own regard.
There are a lot of people [in the world] who couldn’t become heroes, (comparatively more so than those who could) … I want to represent heroes and ordinary people evenly.
When we asked Ishii what made him decide to become a film director, he laughed heartily. It was question he has been asked on more occasions than he could keep count of, but happily answered us. As it was a question with an answer that changed and matured over time, he told us that all his previous answers beared some truth to them, even if his intentions changed over time.
There are many reasons, but if I was to state one, I felt like something was missing.
Ishii then recalled his teenage years, and much like any person in their teens, he wanted affirmation for his expression. While young people these days have Twitter and Instagram that are easily accessible to anyone, his expression was film. Unsatisfied with current films he has seen, Ishii mentions that if he did not feel this way, he would likely have not felt the need to express himself or bring something new to the table when it comes to film.
Some of his early influences was Chaplin, namely ‘City Lights’, he alludes to the film being one of the earliest influences that led him to watch films more actively and consciously.
Of course, there are others, but Chaplin was the first.
We asked Director Ishii for his thoughts on how Japanese films rank compared to the rest of the world, with surprising result. Despite Japanese film gaining some traction especially in Australia with films such as ‘Your Name’ coming to mainstream theatres, Ishii believes that when it comes to film, Japan is still lagging behind the pack. However, with successful and widely popular annual events promoting Japanese films such as the Japanese Film Festival, we can only hope that will change in time!
When films like ‘The Great Passage’ gain some publicity, people start comparing it and saying my other films are similar and I don’t want to be bound by that image.
If you can’t already tell, Ishii is a very ambitious film director and with confidence believes that he can bring new innovations in to the industry. He is not one to be bound by genres, even genres he has had experience with in the past, Ishii hopes in future to keep breaking down genre norms and go out of his way to shake things up.
When Noel Gallagher from Oasis was asked why he likes Japan, he responded with ‘Because it’s crazy’. I’m probably the same.
One of the questions we like to ask interviewees from Japan is what they think is attractive about Japan from a foreign standpoint. Ishii’s response was met with much enjoyment. There are likely a number of people outside of Japan who love the country and the people for their uniqueness. And the delightful film director himself, thought that although Japan can be a bit weird, when looked at from a different perspective, he could understand how that aspect may be regarded as charming.
Ishii had arrived in Melbourne the day of the interview, after coming from Sydney the previous day. As it was his first time in Australia, we were eager to hear his thoughts or impression of Melbourne.
It seems like a carefree lifestyle, everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.
In closing the interview, we asked Director Ishii if he had any sort of message for the Australian public who would go to see his film or plan to in future, and this was his response:
“After all, this film is about Tokyo, and Tokyo is like any big city with a name like Sydney, Seoul, New York, Berlin, and the like… I think that’s what’s good about these places is that they don’t feel like they have a sense of universality. Going back to ‘crazy’ and ‘lively’ Japan, but from an everyday perspective, there is currently a sort of pain from living in a large city, and I wonder what should be done about it. Of course, it’s something you can pretend not to notice… [and] you can live on lying to yourself, but I think it’s really there. I can’t pretend it’s not and I think that it’s something that we should be looking out for, [along with] the reason for or cause.
“What I’m trying to say is, I feel that this is a unique film about Tokyo, but I feel like to some extent Australians will understand it, and even for those who are not living in the city, I hope that they can understand that foggy feeling.
That is something that is happening everywhere.
The trailer and additional information about Yuya Ishii’s new film can be found via the JFF site via this link. (link) http://japanesefilmfestival.net/film/the-tokyo-night-sky/
We would also like to convey our gratitude to The Japan Foundation Sydney and the Japanese Film Festival for granting us an interview.