Interview with Akinori Ikuse, Director of Out of TOKYO 202x [OAFF 2022]

A mood of optimism radiates from Akinori Ikuse’s 14-minute short, Out of TOKYO 202x, a time travel movie where two people from the future, Rika (Ucyu Imagawa) and Shin (So Morozumi), spend time together after meeting on the grounds of the Tokyo Olympic stadium. Their shared experience is both romantic and hopeful as they get swept up in the cheer and the happiness of an event that was surrounded by controversy given the Covid-19 pandemic. Benefiting from actually being shot on location, Ikuse brings viewers the sight of crowds of onlookers as well as special events like a fly-past by Japan’s Blue Impulse aerial acrobatics team. Beyond this, he manipulates the look and sound of the film to vibrantly convey the intense atmosphere of the occasion.

Ikuse took part in an interview where he explained the making of the film, his filmic inspirations, and what it was like to shoot on location at such a historic moment. This interview was conducted with the help of staff at the Osaka Asian Film Festival and via the invaluable translation of Takako Pocklington.

Can you explain the background of the film?  

The setting of the film is Tokyo 2020 which was held in Tokyo. I was very impressed that Tokyo 2020 was going to be held and that the preparations progressed positively, despite being mired in controversy due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I wanted to capture this excitement in a film and started to think about the storyline. What I wanted is to depict that the opening day of the Olympic Games would be significant for the future. If we could leap through time with advanced technology, I would like to make people in the future experience the day, keep it in their memories and feel jealous of us. I wanted to make a story like this and decided to make a film.

How did you come up with the story and the idea of tying it together with the Olympics?

I work in the video advertising industry. It has become possible to collect analytical data for marketing and advertising in real-time. This data consists of analogue data like surveys and questionnaires, to website access, GPS movements, purchase records, TV viewing records etc. Therefore, it is becoming important how much we can understand and connect to the vast amount of data lying scattered around. AI or deep learning are thought to be predominant in present-day analyzation technology and I think that they will expand further.

The starting point of the story is based on a future where everything is data-driven. Then, the story begins like this: what if TOKYO202x, which was held during the pandemic, is the genesis of a world connected with other worlds in different eras by data…

What was it like to film outside the Olympic stadium and how long did the shoot take?

The filming took only one day and it was the day of the actual opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020. Before that, it had taken two days for location hunting. We did location hunting again to grasp the situation as Tokyo was placed in the Covid-19 state of emergency and came under strict rules. After that, we checked the schedule of the opening events of Tokyo 2020 on SNS before we started actual filming.

For the first scene in the film, we were on standby with the actors at a place where we assumed the Blue Impulse would fly past at the beginning of the ceremony to let the actors feel the atmosphere at the location. We discussed things like how people from the future would experience this event realistically, even though they already know what the day was like or how people would behave. Concerning the events like the fireworks and drones, we captured them in the same way.

The atmosphere at the national stadium on the day was electric. That was more than I had expected. People gathered to try to capture the moment. No one seemed bothered by us filming because there were many cameras from the media. We were surprised that the perfect situation for filming miraculously came out.

Why did you choose the actors and how did you work with them?

The screenplay was being finalized while the program of the opening ceremony for Tokyo 2020 was unveiled. I asked Ucyu Imagawa and So Morozumi to play the roles when I almost finished writing the script. I cast Imagawa first. I thought she would stand out in her demeanor at the opening ceremony as she acts as a person from the future. Consequently, I cast Morozumi as a man whom Rika will admire. He has a unique quality as well. I found it interesting to see that he managed to make her change with every take. I was convinced that they would be able to experience (perform) the day realistically.

I had strongly hoped that Tokyo 2020 would be held, although there was uncertainty and controversy. I told the actors about my principle idea that the future is a utopia and Tokyo 2020 is a significant event for that future. We discussed how they would act as “people from the future who already had a perception as to what the day is like but experience it realistically”. And also, what the world is like in the future or what sort of future they came from.

I really appreciated their efforts. They brilliantly performed under such uncertain circumstances.

Can you explain how you came up with the visual and sound design and can you also explain your intended effect with them?

I discussed with the cinematographer about filming under these circumstances. We assumed that we wouldn’t be able to connect the shots taken in the crowds on the day, then planned to use different methods, such as frequent use of long one shots or close-ups on the actors while capturing a wide field of view by using a wide-angle lens. We could imagine that the visuals might be quite outlandish. The editing also has a tactile, rough element to it, which created a fascinating effect that is both realistic and magical.

The scene with a rough texture is also effective in terms of the image of leaping back and forth in time within a digitized world. Concerning the sound design, we focused on the two protagonists’ voices. I tried to convey “the future memorized Tokyo 2020” to audiences in a way that it might be real.

Who is your biggest influence as a filmmaker?

I admire Wong Kar-wai. I was particularly inspired by some scenes in Fallen Angels. I referred to the scene where Takeshi Kaneshiro scorched away on his motorbike on the motorway and the tense scene at the outset of the film where the frame was shot in a dropped frame of the town. I considered what is happening in the background or how the scene affects the story. I think he has always been the greatest inspiration to me.

What do you want audiences to take away from the film?

I think the past is always important to us whenever I watch this film. However, it also has a paradoxical aspect because you cannot see how significant it is unless you think back from the future. I have realized that my feeling towards the past contributed to this film. Things that the future would memorize but we have never seen, things that would change the universe but we have not yet experienced. That should be the thing that Tokyo 2020 tried to achieve. I want audiences to think about these ideas.

Out of TOKYO 202x was shown at the Osaka Asian Film Festival on March 12 and March 16.