North Shinjuku 2055 is the latest film by Daisuke Miyazaki, a director who has regularly attended the Osaka Asian Film Festival with such youth-focused works as Yamato (California) (2016), Tourism (2018), and Videophobia (2020). His latest film is a sci-fi short that lets the audience listen in on an interview between an investigative journalist (Tatsuya Nagayama) and a North Shinjuku kingpin given the moniker K (played by the rapper GAMI) as they discuss the history of the titular district.
On paper, watching a conversation might sound boring, but the film’s experimental style is surprising and impressive. It really sparks the imagination as images are relayed almost entirely through still images à la Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962) and accompanying sounds consisting of the musicality of the voices of the two talkers and also a myriad of street noises that create a strong urban atmosphere. Beyond this burst of originality is a depth to the vision since it extrapolates the history of the area and broader current-day social issues that affect it, while imagining how they will have developed by the year 2055.
Thanks to the invaluable efforts of translator Takako Pocklington, Miyazaki kindly took part in an email interview where he discussed capturing photographs and working with his two actors in order to bring a unique sci-fi short to the screen.
My first question is, where did the idea come from and was La Jetée an inspiration in any way? Was that how you settled on the visual style?
First of all, there was science fiction original story that would cost a lot of money if I made it into a film. However, when being realistic on budget, I thought if I produced it in this style, it would be possible to achieve it and present a new style of film. The original story was much more entertaining than La Jetée. I thought about how I could use artistic style to bring it closer to the theme of “the boundary between form and content”, which I am interested in.
Can you talk about the writing process for a film dominated by still photographs and a winding conversation?
The dialogue in the script is almost true to the original story, so I didn’t add any lines to it. If I had to say, I removed a few parts from the original story. Since the dialogue in the original story is interesting enough, I used lots of trial and error to find out how I could make the voices reading the script and the conversation itself not sound tedious, and how to make their voices sound like a piece of music.
Can you explain how you got so many still photographs and how you selected them?
I spent nearly a year taking a large number of photographs in different places. I used 35mm gelatine silver film. I drifted around Tokyo searching for scenery that matched my images and took them shot by shot. I accidentally exposed some rolls to light when I changed them though. I then had the finished films developed in Tohoku area [Northeast region of Japan] and digitized in a studio.
Can you expand a little on the sound design? It was very atmospheric. You must have spent a lot of time capturing audio and mixing things together. What were the elements that you most wanted to highlight?
I think all sorts of movies shot on film are edited digitally nowadays. However, as I shot it on film (an analogue process), I also wanted to pick up the noises on site in an analogue manner. Also, since this movie was inspired by the image of being discovered by people from the future, I asked the sound designer to use an open-reel tape recorder – a rather big machine. He carried it around everywhere and collected the sounds in analogue, then mixed them digitally. We also converted the dialogue recorded in digital to analogue. Repeating this process enabled noises to be amplified and emphasized.
GAMI cuts a distinctive figure in the film. How did you first encounter him and what was it like working with him on the film?
GAMI is “a man of his word” rapper and I have been a great admirer of his since I was a student. I first met him on the set of a movie. He remembered that I said, “Let’s make a film together sometime”. I showed him my film Yamato (California) and then we started interacting with each other. I get nervous every time I see him as he is not only a great musician but also a person of outstanding character. However, I believe in what I have cultivated so far and went all out to work with him. Therefore, I have had unforgettable and incredible experiences working with him
Tatsuya Nagayama is great as an investigative journalist. How did you get him into the role?
The managing director of the office that GAMI belongs to had introduced him to me. He also appeared in my recent short film “I’ll Be Your Mirror”.
Did you rehearse a lot and did you allow the actors to modify their roles?
We didn’t rehearse much when filming but did rehearse countless times when recording the dialogue at the studio. I asked them to change the speed of speaking or the pitch of their voices. I assumed they would get annoyed with me, but they didn’t give up on me. I was glad that we stuck it out because this film is all about the tone of the dialogue between the two characters.
I enjoyed seeing themes of crossing class and cultural boundaries that was persistent across many works in the festival. It is frequently present in your own work and you used it to expand the fiction of the world.
Well… I would find a world where everything is the same abnormal and would want something to be done about it. In Yamato, where I live, all sorts of people like South Americans, South Asians, Chinese, and Americans, live peacefully together. Some filmmakers might use these elements as a tag in their films to get a prize at film festivals but I find it more meaningful to present my real and ideal world, one which consists of multiple cultures and multiple points of view like Yamato. I would be happy if our world was like this in the future.
What is North Shinjuku like now and what does it mean to you?
North Shinjuku is and has always been a chaotic place where you should keep your guard up all the time. That is why you could bump into something you wouldn’t usually encounter. North Shinjuku is also a place where you can see the future.
Also, the final track was perfect. It was a great way to end the film. Thanks for your work!
North Shinjuku 2055 was shown at the Osaka Asian Film Festival on March 11 and March 16.