Yukari Sakamoto is an indie director who started making films while she was studying Philosophy at Sophia University. Her film Obake was part of MOOSIC LAB2014 and won the Best Actress and Musician awards. After that, she studied editing at the Tokyo University of the Arts, Graduate School of Film and Cinema where she majored in film and directed music videos. Since then, she has been the assistant producer on the the major feature Eating Women (2018) and directed part of the omnibus movie 21st Century Girl (2019).
Sakamoto’s latest work For
Rei derives some of its details from the director’s background to create a
deeply personal picture of a modern young woman navigating complicated
feelings. The titular protagonist (An Ogawa) goes to philosophy class and lives
with a kind boyfriend, but the trauma of her parent’s divorce has caused an
ambivalence towards the people she should be closest to, and herself. This is a
feeling that gnaws away at her over the course of the film which is shot in a subjective
style to analyze this young woman’s attempts to understand herself.
Sakamoto sat down at the Osaka Asian Film Festival to talk
about the making of the film, how she translated her background onto the screen
and some of the design choices she made. The interview was conducted with the
help of interpreter Keiko Matsushita and transcribed with the help of
translator Takako Pocklington.
Thank you for
agreeing to do the interview. I thought the film is visually interesting and
beautiful. My first question is about yourself. Why did you want to become a
That is difficult to answer. I have liked films since I was
at high school. I liked Takeshi Kitano. There was nobody else that watched such
artistic films in my class. At that time, I might have found a niche for myself
in films. So, I had hoped to make films in the future. However, I studied
philosophy at university and got off track with filmmaking. But I thought my
potential has been widened by having studied philosophy.
You mentioned Takeshi
Kitano. Is he an influence?
Yes, his visuals. Visual, cut or color. I like some of the
coldness that exude from the visuals in his films
Why did you want to
make this story in particular?
This is based on my own story. I didn’t have any intention
to make a film from my own experience at the time when it happened. However, as
time went by, I was becoming increasingly eager to shoot this experience.
So you used your own
experiences of studying philosophy as background for the character.
Yes, I used philosophy as a trigger to help Rei explore
herself. I had been feeling claustrophobic in the academic world, so I wanted
to shoot a scene that showed Rei when she couldn’t fit in with her class.
mentioned at the very start of the film was about perspectives
That was my thesis
Oh, it’s based on
your graduation thesis!? It is very complicated. How do you want the audience
to react to the philosophy at the start?
I wanted philosophy to serve as the trigger for Rei’s
journey. However, in the end, Rei realises that there is no answer to who she
is in the philosophy class. What do philosophy and other studies give people? I
wanted the audience to think about that.
Quite interesting. I had to rewind the film to write down some dialogue to think about it. In terms of writing the script, did you create backstories of the characters?
The actress [An Ogawa] is really good. She likes improvising
as well. There was a script at first, but I gradually modified it and also
inserted some new ideas whilst shooting and finally the main character was
completed. She became a completely different character from what I had first
You wrote the
dialogue but the dialogue changed during improvisation.
I had never done that kind of thing before, so I really
Were there lots of
rehearsals to get to that point?
I made much of the first take, so I did rehearse some scenes
but not whole scenes.
Could you talk about
casting of the actors?
As the main character is important, I chose an actress I
really liked. I auditioned others and tried to cherish their own
characteristics, so I did write for the actors for some parts in the film.
In terms of An Ogawa,
why did you select her?
She has got something very different from what I have (in
terms of characteristics). I tend to reflect myself on the protagonist and try
to find someone similar to me. However, this time, I wanted to bring someone
who is different from me into the story. For example, she (Ogawa) is very
cheerful, but I am gloomy. I wanted to have someone who has different
characteristics to act this role.
It’s a bit like the
philosophy at the start of the film- different perspectives are used to create
the final character. Why did you select Amon Hirai as the boyfriend and Seiji
Kinoshita as the father?
I selected them by audition, but couldn’t make decisions
until the last minute before shooting. In hindsight, I liked their faces
including Ogawa-san. I maybe like their visual appearance.
There is interesting chemistry between father and daughter and you said there was lots of improvisation on the set. Did you allowed two to work with each other to create the scene?
No, I didn’t allow much. I wanted them not to get too close.
I wanted to create the real tension between a father and a daughter who have
lived apart. But even if I didn’t ask them for this, the actors themselves were
aware of it. I think they always kept a good distance.
How did the actors regard
They seemed to partly understand me and the script but also
not understand. No one in the film had the same experience as I had, so they
probably weren’t fully convinced (of their acting) and also they seemed to be a
bit tense with me.
Maybe the tension
aided the atmosphere in a positive sense. There was really good acting. But one
of things stood out for me was visual sign design. Did you storyboard for the
I made a storyboard, but didn’t always follow it.
The camerawork, I
thought it was subjective to Rei’s experiences. For example, Rei talks to her
boyfriend but her vision is elsewhere just as the audio indicates she’s not
listening to him. You shot only her mouth or feet in some scenes. Why did you
use that kind of subjective cut?
One of the reasons is because I wanted the audience to have
her perspective since this is Rei’s story. Perhaps some people have experienced
their lover’s face being blurred while thinking about something else or
daydreaming like Rei does. I poured these sensations into the beginning of the
film and wanted the audience to find out about Rei who is a bit unique. I
wanted the audience to gradually feel Rei’s emotions with their own bodies as a
It’s very strong
which is easy to identify with the visuals. When Rei walks to her father in
restaurant, the music that plays is Erik Satie. Are you a fan of his music? Why
did you select that piece?
I like it. The instruction for the performance of the piece
is, “slowly and solemnly”. I thought that this instruction suits this film.
Very melancholic. And
then the music abruptly stops when she is talking to her father. What did you
want to convey with that break in sound when the music stops?
The cut would pull you back to reality. Maybe sensuous.
There is a part which I think about and a part I don’t think of at all.
There’s a lot to engage with which makes the film really worth watching. And
Rei act put lipstick on. What did you want to signal with that?
That action is significant. Rei’s appearance is usually
sloppy like how she wears hoodies. She dresses sloppily. But she dressed up for
the first time when she was going to meet her father and she was a bit excited.
It might sound strange but she has got a sort of admiration for him in romantic
way. She wanted him to regard her as a mature woman.
Like creating a
The scene was supposed to be a bit more romantic but it
ended up like that. It should be depicted as romantic relationship between
father and daughter.
The editing becomes
erratic towards the end of the film. How did you design the scenes?
I strongly wanted to insert the cut after I finished
shooting the film. My original image was like…Rei walking in a forest and I
inserted the sound of her “breathing” for the first cut and it lasted till the
end. I was fully convinced of using this idea at the editing stage.
(To the interpreter) And I believe you had questions about clothes?
Interpreter: Yes, the costumes. Rei wore red when she
went to see her dad and also went home. She wore bright yellow when she ran
towards the station. And in the last scene, when her boyfriend came to see her,
she wore blue. I’d like to ask if there is any intention with those colors?
Oh I’m delighted (that you noticed it). This is a story
about a girl becoming an adult. I thought that red suits her and blue means she
has become mature. However, I wanted to treasure her naiveness, so yellow
indicates her immaturity.
What do you hope to
convey in this film?
That’s a bit difficult to answer. It’s vast.
What sort of film do
you want to make next?
I have been writing stories based on my own life, but in my
previous works, the protagonist has always gone in a different direction from
where I intended to, in positive ways though. So, I’d like to make a film about
someone who is completely different from me.
Okay, now I can answer the previous question. It has been
hard for me to talk about the topic of a broken family because for my
generation- unlike previous generations – parents’ divorcing has become common,
so talking about parents’ divorcing is kind of cliché. I thought I should write
about a family in a different form. I have never felt comfortable with films or
dramas depicting ordinary families. I also hope this film will deliver a
different image of a girl from other films in the past.
If I have a final
question… I am interested in what Rei’s boyfriend’s place in the story
How did his character look to you?
He was supportive, I
think he was very honest as well. Rei asked him “why you are with me”. His
answer was very honest. Maybe he wasn’t totally in tune with her. He didn’t
understand his girlfriend and try to soften his answer for her security
Exactly! Maybe that is from the actor’s own characteristics. The actor has a little weakness in his demeanor. He looks like a softy. He doesn’t have a typical male demeanor. Well, once again I’d like to talk about gaze. I managed to add another perception by inserting his presence in the film. How you would see Rei, how the audience would see Rei from his perception. You might look at Rei through his perception. He was basically present for the sake of Rei, but from the middle part of the film, he also started to change. His weakness has gradually turned to strength, which is what I was hoping to convey.
For Rei was shown at the Osaka Asian Film Festival on March 10.