Born in Hiroshima in 1981, Genta Matsugami is a film director who operates the creative production-house16 bit.inc. He graduated from Osaka University of Arts in 2005 and his graduation work won a prize in the Pia Film Festival Award of that year. Demolition Girl is his debut feature. It has already distinguished itself on the festival circuit, first at its world premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival in Utah in January, where lead actress Aya Kitai won an honorable mention for her performance, and then at the Osaka Asian Film Festival in March where it scooped the JAPAN CUTS award. This means it will receive a screening at the JAPAN CUTS festival in New York in July. It has easy to see how the film has impressed audiences as it presents a refreshingly honest and concise depiction of working-class life in Japan.
The story of Demolition
Girl focuses on a high school student named Coco (Kitai), who seems trapped
in her small-town existence because of her poor background and a family who
drag her down. Despite being working-class, she aspires to go to university in
Tokyo, seeing this as a way out of poverty. University is tough to enter and
expensive so she needs to work hard whether by studying or dabbling in the
fetish industry by making illicit “crush videos”. The audience will root for
her as they see the obstacles she faces and her determination not to give up
and audience engagement is hooked by a persuasive performance from Kitai in her
acting debut (she had previously won the MissiD 2017 Fantasista Sakurada
This is a film that displays class consciousness for
contemporary Japan as Matsugami tells a compelling story of someone displaying
determination in desperate circumstances at a time when poverty is on the rise,
small business are going bankrupt faster than ever, and social mobility is
flatlining. It also presents a defiant female lead, an inspiration at a time
when people are under intense pressure in and outside of work.
Genta Matsugami took time out after the second screening to
talk about the background of the film and the casting of actors in an interview
conducted with the help of Keiko Matsushita and later transcribed by Takako
Jason Maher: What was
your inspiration for this film?
There are several factors. It was three years ago when I started planning this
film. I have been feeling everything is not right in current-day Japan, perhaps
in the entire world. Problems in Japan have become prominent especially after
3.11 (the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011). It is because grown-ups are
hopeless, that’s why contemporary Japan is hopeless.
The main characters are teenagers, high school girls who are
forced into a difficult situation although they shouldn’t need to take any
responsibility for it.
However, there is no point just being depressed about it. We
need to get over it and keep living. I wanted to make a film with a message
that, “even so, we will live on”.
So why did you choose
to focus on working-class characters?
There are lots of working-class people in Japan. If there is
no hope for working-class people, then there is no hope for the country. I
would rather depict their lives than some well-off people’s lives. People with
lower incomes struggle for their lives. It is a serious problem. I thought if I
avoid depicting it, I wouldn’t be able to render my message to the audience.
Would you say that
the themes of the film are hope and aspiration?
I don’t want to divide grown-ups and children into
structures but obviously, the grown-ups should be blamed for creating the
current situation. It is not the responsibility of teenagers’ and yet they will
suffer social damage. I thought if I didn’t portray it, I wouldn’t be able to
portray hope itself.
Casting of the
characters is very important.
Yes, it was very important, because if I made a wrong
choice, I wouldn’t have been able to convey my messages fully. I took time and
carefully chose the people.
How did you discover
Aya Kitai and what did you see in her as an actress?
I asked many people. Then I just looked for someone by
myself because my budget was tight, then luckily found her in Tokyo. The first
reason I chose her is her face. It is not only that her face is beautiful but
it also has a strong characteristic and I had the vision that she would make a
strong impression on the screen when I first saw her.
Her father is played by Yota Kawase. It was important for him to have a charm and gentleness to his character because the main character’s situation is so bad. How did you go about casting him?
The character, the father, is a total waste of space. If he
is just a scumbag, the viewers would see him as a hateful person but I believe
that even if a man is useless, the man can still be humane and somehow lovable.
I think the father’s characteristic worked well for a total balance in the
film. And, since Aya Kitai has no acting career and this film is her first
film, I thought if some veteran actors supported her, the film would be firm
and look realistic.
How did you prepare
the actors for their roles?
It depends upon the person because each actor has different
careers and styles. For Aya, I asked her just to try hard rather than be
concerned about acting skills. Even if she tried to act technically, she
wouldn’t be able to gain skills so easily. What the viewers get impressed by is
her sincere attitude towards acting.
What sort of research
did you do?
Firstly, I thought I needed to do proper research about
crush videos, a motif of the film, because I am not a crush video fan or a
creator of crush videos. There are lots of things I didn’t know about, then
some acquaintances put me in touch with a director of crush videos and I
watched some crush videos as well. However, of course, I was not making a
documentary film so I pondered how I could insert crush videos as a drama
component into the film.
Did you do
storyboarding for the film, because every shot is perfectly?
I have never drawn storyboards because I can’t decide what I
want to do without seeing actual performances at the location. I need to see the
presence of the actors on the set, how things look like through the camera or
angle of the shot.
And, I want to value cameraman’s sensitivity or feelings.
Yes, it’s really
impressive because you used a variety of different techniques.
Ah, that wasn’t me. We have an excellent cameraman,
You were at the Slamdance Film Festival in America with this film. Have you noticed a difference between the way that Japanese audiences and Western audiences react to this film?
Today’s screening was the Japanese premiere of the film, so
it is a bit hard to say, but I didn’t see much difference in the audience
reaction between here and US. In the US, I received a nice comment from the
audience saying it was a nicely balanced story and very interesting. And the
main actor, Aya Kitai, her presence was brilliant.
Do you think it is
important to display working-class life?
Yes, It’s a reflection of society in Japan. The social
condition of the country is clearly reflected on there.
Are you inspired by someone
like Ken Loach?
Yes, I really like Ken Loach. But please take this comment
as a joke, I wanted to avoid my film being like a lecture so I took a different
approach. I respect Ken Loach though…
It’s a good approach,
it is a good film. One last question, what would you want audiences to take
away from the film?
It’s not a happy end but it wouldn’t leave you just with
despair or a pessimistic view of life. I would be happy if the audience has a
positive thought for their life when they see the main character’s strength and
She never gives up
and that’s the main thing. Thanks for the interview and thanks again making
this film. I hope the next screening goes well.
Jason Maher is a UK-based film fan and freelance writer. He has combined the two to write about films at his blog Genkinahito as well as writing for Anime UK News the movie magazine Gigan. Having grown up watching films from Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, he has developed a love for East Asian cinema and specialises in writing news articles, reviews, and has even been known to occasionally interview a director or two. He spends his private time learning Japanese, watching films, and hanging out with friends and family whom he bores with film trivia. He can be contacted via Twitter.