Interview with Coming Back Sunny Director Noriko Yuasa

Noriko Yuasa is a director who hails from Okayama, Japan. She graduated from Tokyo Metropolitan University with a BA in Architecture before she entered Kinoshita Production, in 1999, to train as a TV Drama Director. In 2013, she went freelance as a director/producer and, since then, she has worked in both TV drama and film, specializing in project planning, directing and producing.

2015 saw her make her theatrical feature film debut, Udagawacho de matteteyo (Wait in Udagawacho), a romance which was released nationwide. This was followed by a brace of short films which showed growing confidence in her visual storytelling and approach to narrative construction, starting with Looking For My Sunflowers (2014), a story of a salaryman experiencing a shot of nostalgia in his hometown. This was followed by Girl, Wavering (2015), which used contrasting colours and poetic imagery to initiate severe tonal changes in a dramatic story of a high school girl’s life. The next film, Ordinary Everyday (2017), was a psychological horror set in downtown Tokyo that used visual and aural tricks like suddenly swathing the screen in vibrant colours to create an off-kilter atmosphere with ambiguous threats that burst out in a bonkers climax.

Yuasa’s works all feature vibrant use of colors and this factors in with her latest work, Coming Back Sunny, a short film about first love as experienced by a color-blind schoolgirl which pops and fizzes with different colors that are used to emotionally expand the story.Yuasa recently raised funds through Kickstarter to help pay for festival fees to bring the film to more audiences around the world but this campaign came at the start of the Covid-19 crisis which saw film production and exhibition around the world postponed, cancelled or forced to go online. This was something of an unprecedented event for the global film industry and so, this interview, conducted by email, was a chance to talk about the film as well as find out how the crisis has affected Yuasa’s project, and the importance of festivals.

I first saw you at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018 where you showed Ordinary Everyday. I was really impressed by that film and enjoyed it tremendously. I regretted not interviewing you then so thank you for this opportunity. How are you doing during Covid-19?

During COVID-19, I was, of course in Japan, and I refrained from going out and I worked at home. The biggest event was the crowdfunding of my latest short film “Coming Back Sunny”. Even though the world is in a difficult situation, we have raised funds to apply for screenings this film at many international film festivals. Also, although the preparation for my next feature film has been delayed, I was making a pitch deck and modifying the script while staying home.

I enjoyed Coming Back Sunny. Just like with Girl, Wavering and Ordinary Everyday, I was impressed by your control of the visual style of the film. I would describe it as sensuous. I find it engaging to watch. How did you develop your style?

My professional work skills are definitely based on my experience and directing experience in Japanese TV drama. However, my visual style, which is my writer’s character, is influenced by many films. The film that had the greatest impact on me was Hana-bi directed by Takeshi Kitano.

After seeing this work, I decided to become a movie director at the age of 20. Obviously the most important thing to me is that I want to make a movie like a poem. For that reason, I try to draw with the most suitable method.

Coming Back Sunny was originally part of the omnibus movie called Seishun Kaleidoscope which was released last year. Could you talk about how you came to be involved in the project and why you describe it as your favorite film to date?

First of all, Coming Back Sunny was to be produced for another project. It was a surprising coincidence that I decided to participate in the omnibus movie. I was invited by the producer on that film because another short film was unable to be included in the omnibus movie project.

Coming Back Sunny was a challenge for me. I wanted to make a love story for the first time with an original script. As a result, I have surpassed the three short films I have made so far and it has become my favorite. I am very grateful to have been able to write the script, shoot, color grade, edit, and challenge the music.

Where did your idea for the story come from?

The most orthodox ideas for Coming Back Sunny come from Romeo and Juliet, but the major image for my film is based on a story where the main character turns into a slug. It is a story of reincarnation, written by Osamu Tezuka, the most popular manga artist in Japan, which I read when I was a child. Nobody knows who is connected by fate. I wanted to make such a love story. In fact, I even suggested to my co-writer that the boy appearing in the last scene may a non-human creature.

Due to the cut-up nature of the story, it feels like this film was developed by editing down from a feature. My question is, how much did you film and did you have a shot list which you stuck to?

This work is just a short film. However, I thought it would be good for it to look like a part of a feature film as you said. Just as this story goes on, it’s clear that the stories of the characters will go on. The filming was only for 3 days, so there was no shot list I stuck to.

Color is an important part of the film and the editing is very dynamic. How much time did you dedicate to post-production elements like color grading and editing?

Offline editing took about 3 weeks intermittently, color grading took about 1 month, and the entire post-production took about 7 weeks. I think post-production is more important for film making than shooting, so basically this is my post-production schedule.

We are living in extraordinary circumstances where festivals have had to be cancelled and productions postponed. Could you talk about the impact Covid-19 has had on you?

Film festivals have been cancelled or postponed. However, they are also active online. So I did crowdfunding to apply for more international film festivals than my previous film Ordinary Everyday, and I have already applied for about 50 film festivals. However, my next feature film has been greatly influenced by current events. With economies around the world in a serious situation, it is very difficult to raise funds. I originally wanted to shoot in November 2020, but that won’t come true. I am currently collecting funds and aiming for January 2021.

How valuable would you consider physical editions of festivals for your films?

Of course, I would like to consider all the possibilities if my film could be selected in film festival. The most valuable thing in physical editions of festivals for me and my film is the ability to meet and expand contacts.

Could you have waited until next year to try the festival circuit?

I can’t wait. As long as the world situation is moving little by little, I will continue to act and to try the festival circuit.

Some doubt the impact of online film festivals. How do you consider their impact? How do you envision physical festivals starting again?

For upcoming film festivals, I think there will be a mix of real-world versions and online versions. Actually, I personally have felt this trend was happening before COVID-19. I think that the real-world versions and online versions will increase the existence and value of the each other. Also now, I feel that the speed of change has accelerated. However, I think there may be a problem with premiere screenings. Festivals need to set the rules properly. For example, when a movie is selected to be shown online, will it automatically be shown as the World Premiere or International Premiere? Many film festivals still have many regulations regarding eligibility for screenings which prevent us from even applying in the first place. There is no way that the situation can change day by day. Therefore, I would like festivals to offer the chance of screenings equally to us filmmakers.

Due to the state of emergency declared by the Japanese government, there are different schemes to support the film industry in Japan such as Mini Theater Aid and I think the government offered grants to artists. Are you getting help and support?

For now, I haven’t benefited from that kind of support, but I’m going to move on to get a grant because the next feature film will need funding.

What sort of advice are you getting from other filmmakers?

I’m doing research on public funding so I’m getting information about it.

Do you have any final comments for readers?

From the beginning of July, my producer Mika and I will start the crowdfunding for my next feature film project, Performing Kaoru’s Funeral, via Kickstarter. We will also carry out efforts with cooperation all over the world, not only from Kickstarter but also from overseas media and people involved in film festivals, general supporters and peer to peer. We named this activity “World Circuit”. While continuing to work as a big event to make this film with people around the world, we are planning to recruit participants and promoting PR and financing until this film is completely distributed. A YouTube channel will be opened soon and, we hope that many people will join us.

More details on Noriko Yuasa’s latest project can be found here.