Interview with On the Edge of Their Seats Director Hideo Jojo [OAFF 2020]

Some cursory research into the career of Hideo Jojo will turn up a whole slew of movies that ranging from pink films to V-Cinema. Jojo got his start in filmmaking by producing 8mm movies while studying at Musashino Art University before he entered the industry as assistant director on pink films. His directorial debut, Married Women Who Want a Taste (2003), won the Bronze Prize and New Director Award at the 2003 Pink Grand Prix. To date, he has written and directed over 100 works and won awards and fans in Japan and internationally. His career is as varied as it gets and recent titles include the screenplay for Neko Zamurai (2014), directing the horror movie Corpse Prison (2017) and even a Gachi-ban movie (2008). With such variety, it stands to reason that he would be able to direct a charming youth drama based on a stage play.

On the Edge of their Seats is based on an award-winning stage play created by a theater group from a high school in Hyogo Prefecture. It takes place during a hot summer’s day at a baseball match between high school teams in a tournament that leads to a final played at Koshien Stadium. Being able to play at Koshien in the final is a big dream for all high school baseball players in Japan and it often comes up in films. However, it’s not so much the drama happening on the field of dreams that is the concern of the film but what is going on with five characters in the stands as they work out some dramas that have occurred in their final year of high school. As they interact, they reveal some of their feelings and help each other learn to look at life more positively. The film is a real charmer built around some lovely characters and brought to life by a charismatic cast who are perfectly guided by Jojo’s sharp direction.

Hideo Jojo participated in an interview at the Osaka Asian Film Festival where the film received its world premiere. 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 the interview. Why did you become a filmmaker?

I always liked films. I watched all sort of films including Roman Porno and pink films when I was at high school. Around that time, I thought that being a film director would be cool. However, I didn’t know how to become a director so I thought, I like pink movies, I can enter from there, so I walked into a pink film production company and asked them to let me work. 

You have a background in pink films and V-Cinema, why did you choose to work on this project?

No, not just pink films… I was introduced to this work by a producer named Takatoshi Naoi. We have known each other for twenty years, ever since I first worked as an assistant director on pink films, and he liked my first film so much. Ever since then he kept suggesting to me that we should work together but we never made it happen. He suggested it again for this project and this time showed me a video of the high school play is based on. Actually, before seeing it I thought we wouldn’t make it this time, either. I was very impressed with the movie he showed and enthusiastically agreed with him that we should do this.

How was the play’s script adapted into a film script?

It was originally a high-school play, then it was made into a commercial play. The initial project was to connect with the play. There were some changes that had been made in the commercial play from the original high school one. There were only four people in the stands in the original play, the teacher was added as a character and the scenes in the corridor were also inserted. We decided to add the brass band parts in the film version. I roughly discussed the storyline with the scriptwriter and, in the end, sorted out the script by myself. There are three different scripts and the script for the film is the third one. The characters were hugely changed and the storyline was also massively broadened, but I decided to make a border that the film shouldn’t be broadened beyond.

Stage plays can be very static, even when they are adapted into film. This one is very dynamic because of camera movements. Was there a lot of storyboarding?

I don’t usually plan the cuts precisely, which means, I don’t write a storyboard. I wrote rough line cut notes on the script but improvised most of the time whilst watching the actors acting and directing like, “Okay, can you move like this next?”

As for the last cut of the final scene, I aimed to shoot that way beforehand, but regarding the rest of the film, I let the actors perform whilst discussing it with the cinematographer. I am the sort of director who improvises at the location. I didn’t tightly set up shots. I did plan briefly with the film crew beforehand though.

How long did it take to shoot?

I shot the film in five days, but we cancelled a half day because of a typhoon and did another day, so, all together it was about six days. We shot the film only during the daytime and we shot it in a very short time.

Lots of people are shown in the audience in the film. How did you direct them?

There weren’t as many people as you think you see on the screen. If you watch carefully, you can see the same faces in different cuts. I explained to them about what the scene is going to be about, something like “a batter strikes the ball and has safely reached the second base”. I hung a ball at the tip of a pole and made them look in the direction the ball was moving.

How did you cast the film?

This film followed the play. It comes from a project where the aim was to make both a film and commercial play based on the original high school play. The film is a part of the play. The original high school play was performed by actual high school pupils, but the commercial one was performed by professional actors. We cast the same actors. So the casting was already arranged. A male actor was replaced by a different person though.

There’s lots of metaphors connected to baseball. Do you think will the film still translate well to cultures where baseball isn’t so important or isn’t played?

I myself am not so keen on either high school baseball or the professional league, but I used to play baseball when I was in a little league in elementary school. If anything, I was more likely to be at the corner of the stand like the characters in the film, so I put my empathy for the characters into the direction of the film. Apparently, the writer of the story is a high school teacher called Mr. Yabu and he wrote this despite being unfamiliar with baseball.

I think that there are lots of nuances that could be difficult for people in other countries to understand because high school baseball and Koshien are unique to Japan’s culture. I made this film mainly for Japanese audience. I didn’t particularly consider promoting it abroad. However, this story is about the people cheering in the stand not about the baseball game, so I think audiences [abroad] will be able to empathize with the characters.

On the Edge of Their Seats was shown at the Osaka Asian Film Festival on March 8 and 9.