Interview with Good-bye Director Aya Miyazaki [OAFF 2020]

The life of twenty-something woman Sakura (rising star Mayuko Fukuda) changes when she quits her office position and takes a job at a nursery. This impulsive decision puts her in the orbit of a girl named Ai whose father, Shindo (Kohei Ikeue), seems to be struggling to raise her without her mother around. Again listening to her inner impulses, Sakura gets involved with the two as she subconsciously works through various feelings related to her own fractured family. Little does she realize that this process will lead to the reconfiguriation of her relationship with her parents. 

A minimalist psychological piece, Good-Bye is the third film from director Aya Miyazaki and it received its world premiere in the Indie Forum section of the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020. One of the youngest directors at the festival, Miyazaki only started making films while studying at Waseda University where she learned under the supervision of Hirokazu Kore-eda and Tamaki Tsuchida. She currently works for a movie company but took time to appear at OAFF to introduce and discuss her latest film. 

The interview was conducted with help from the interpreter Keiko Matsushita while the translation and transcription was made with the help of the interpreter Takako Pockington.

Thank you for doing interview. My first question is why did you want to become a film maker.

I hardly watched films before I went to university. However, I had a chance to take a course related to films at Waseda University. I became interested in films after that. The style of the film lectures was mainly to have discussions with directors and producers. I took more of an interest in films from the perspective of producing them. Then I went to a film school for six months during my second year and directed a short film of about seven minutes long at the school.

I merely had an interest or got absorbed in particular things but after this experience I wanted to keep making films. Then at my third year at Waseda, I took the video production course in which lectures are given by director Hirokazu Kore-eda and Tamaki Tsuchida. You would plan, produce and show films in this course. While showing our films in and outside the campus, I realized that I wanted to keep doing this more.

Could you talk about the biggest influence on you as a filmmaker?

As someone who was hardly interested in film, Shunji Iwai became the first big name that I recognized and I chose to watch his films. Then it was Hirokazu Kore-eda. I watched his films and, at the same time, learnt from them through his lectures. I think I was influenced directly and hugely by him.

So you are mainly influenced by Japanese films?

Since I started watching films, I intensively watched Japanese films during my college days. I have some favorite foreign films and directors, especially Asian ones, but I think my film making is rooted in Japanese films.

Is this your second film?

Strictly speaking, this is the third one.

Your last one, yogoto, was screened at the 2017 Ca Foscari Short Film Festival. Did you attend the film festival? How was the experience?

I didn’t attend the festival for the competition. I shot the film as a part of academic project during my third year, then I had a chance to go there as the university had already submitted an entry for the festival. My film was introduced as a work by a Japanese university student and was one of the four feature films shot by the students at Waseda shown at the festival. To begin with, everything was arranged beforehand, so I attended the film festival as if I was going on holiday. I was simply excited to have my film shown for the first time in public. However, once I got there, I realized that the primary purpose of attending the film festival is to communicate with the local staff or audience and also I should have prepared well for promoting my film. I reflected a lot after that.

What sort of things did you learn from that festival?

This is Good-bye’s first screening. I haven’t arranged any screenings after this festival or submitted it to film festivals anywhere else yet, so  I will perhaps submit it to film festivals within this country and try to make new connections for my next project. I think what I experience in film festivals would be the same either at home or abroad, so I will try hard with this for the year.

For your third film, you made it at Waseda university and you studied with Hirokazu Kore-eda. Could you talk a little about that experiences?

There were about thirty students in the course. Each student had to bring up his or her project plan and give a presentation in front of the lecturers and other students. During the presentation, you would be asked questions and given comments by lecturers and the students. You do this practice several times. Your project is finally selected in a competition in the course, then you write the script and film and show it.

At first, you learn the way of getting ideas for a project, for example, ideas from news or a motif. You have to think about where you get ideas from. Once you have presented the project, you receive comments about the project, then, film it and show the rushes to the lecturers. You receive comments again like “It could have been better to put the camera here in this set layout.”

You learn step by step. As for the teaching style of director Kore-eda, I was given a lot of comments during the script writing process. He does not like using “by chance”. He says you shouldn’t make the characters move for your own convenience. He does not encourage the use of dialogue either. For example, a protagonist has something in his/her mind, how would you express his/her thought? Students tend to use dialogue to make the characters to express what they are thinking because students are not used to writing itself, but the director would say,” Do you really need the dialogue there? If you do that, it will turn into an explanation of his feeling. If I were you, I would express it with his actions”. You would get comments about these kind of things, so you gain the most at this writing process.

Why did you want to make this particular film?

I am often asked a question like what I want to convey in the film, but to be honest, I don’t make films because I have a particular aim or message to convey. I simply enjoy the whole process of making a film – getting inspiration from our daily life and picking it up to frame it, then writing a script and shooting it.

I was quite interested in how you filmed the nursery scenes with the children. It reminded me of Etre et avoir, the French film.

If you thought the nursery scenes were like a documentary…Those children were not brought there from agencies for the film, they actually go to that nursery which I visited for the location hunting. I gathered the children to introduce Fukuda-san and Igeta-san, saying “you will have these teachers during this spring holiday” on the day of shooting. I actually shot the scenes during their spring holiday, so they had their usual nursery routine with the new teachers while I was shooting. That’s why you thought the scenes were like a documentary.

Is that little girl an actress?

Ai-chan belongs to an agency. I took her to the nursery and asked her to play with the other children. She was a bit tense at first but she soon settled in smoothly. Children can easily adjust in that environment. 

Could you talk about casting Mayuko Fukuda?

Fukuda-san has been acting since she was little. I hardly watched films or TV dramas before I went to university, but despite this I always thought her presence and acting talent is noticeable. After having got an idea and starting writing, I got a vague image for the main character Sakura. Fukada-san came into my head immediately and connected to my impression from her performances in the past. She simply matched closely with my image of the character, someone who can pick up skills easily but doesn’t focus on anything or someone who is in between the state of a child and adult. I was writing the script whilst thinking about how Fukuda-san would be just perfect as the main character including her age. By the time I finished writing the script, it seemed like I had written it for her because only her face was in my head during while writing.

I was wondering that it might be tricky to offer that role to a popular actor?

Yes, I thought it would be difficult to ask her, because this film is an independent film and the film crew are young. However, I wrote this for the actor and thought I couldn’t help but to offer it to her. So, I sent the script and my previous films to her to consider. I feel like my dream has come true.

Could you talk more about the creation of the story and preparing Fukuda for her role?

I had a chance to chat with Fukuda-san after she read the script. She said “I can’t see the emotional flow of the protagonist clearly, maybe the audience might feel the same as me, because she has very little dialogue. She seems apathetic but suddenly behaves daringly. It is hard to understand her abruptness, isn’t it?”

Then, I precisely explained it to her as follows, “Please imagine that if the father, whom she hasn’t seen for ages, has unconsciously been present in her mind, then Shindo came up in her new circumstance. His scent or, words or demeanor accumulate in her and that gradually remind her of her father, then her feelings for her father increase. You might think that her behavior in the last scene was daring but that is because her emotion is steadily developed.

Could you talk more about any directorial techniques you used in the film?

Half of the film was the scenes with children. I considered how to insert those children, who were totally oblivious to acting or filming, into the scenario. For example, there was a scene with children having a nap. They are not toddlers, they are at a pre-school age, so they don’t usually have a nap at the nursery. I didn’t have a nap when I was at nursery, so I do understand them not being able to understand what it is like having a nap with friends at nursery. I thought they wouldn’t understand it well even if I explained about what the nap time is like. Some of the staff used to go to nursery for toddlers and explained to me what it was like. Then I thought about it from the perspective of a child who has never had a nap with friends at nursery. “Let’s play a game”. I divided them into two groups and asked them to put mattresses on the floor, then to lie down and pretend to sleep. If your group managed to do all of these tasks quickly, your group is the winner. They really enjoyed the game. I tried to make myself think from the perspective of the children and that helped us to shoot the nursery scenes.

How did you interact with the more mature members of the cast?

I just communicated with them naturally. I am young and don’t have much life experience. I tried not to be intimidated by them, but if there was anything I didn’t know, I just honestly said I don’t know…I approached them in an honest manner. 

I was quite interested in the theme of behavior. How it’s imprinted on children by adults. Could you elaborate more about what you wanted to say about it. Children learning behavior from adults, so was Sakura affected by copied behavior from her parents?

You mean, putting lipstick on or fussing about with Ai’s hair? The children were all extras except the girl in the film, but I picked some children to focus on and named them as characters in the script—such as So-kun whom Ai likes or Sara-chan. Girls tend to be mature for their age and even at that age, they try to copy adult’s behavior. This story tells how Sakura becomes a mature woman while coming to terms with her father. I wanted to depict that in both her appearance and inner self. I also hoped to depict that her story connects to the children’s copied behavior from adults.

Do you think it’s possible Sakura and her mother could have remained in their situation if Sakura had not taken the job?

Yes, because the place, the nursery and the person, Shindo, were the trigger for Sakura because they reminded her of her childhood and father and that made Sakura gradually change both in appearance and mentality. Her mother who was watching Sakura’s change also decided to stop clinging to her daughter, husband and the house that contained these people and let them go. These changes cause a separation. The protagonist of the story is Sakura, but as I had a theme of depicting “a new form of family”, I also tried to quietly depict the emotional change of the mother who had been beside Sakura and watched over her.

Good-bye was shown at the Osaka Asian Film Festival on March 9 and 14.