HomeInterviewsInterview with Randen: The Comings and Goings on a Kyoto Tram Director Takuji Suzuki [OAFF 2019]
Interview with Randen: The Comings and Goings on a Kyoto Tram Director Takuji Suzuki [OAFF 2019]
30 July, 2019
If you travel to Kyoto, then it is highly recommended that you try travelling from scenic Arashiyama to the bustling city centre by the Randen trams as they cut through many areas. They also prove to be perfect setting for three intersecting stories in Randen: The Comings and Goings on a Kyoto Tram: a writer named Eisei Hiraoka (Arata Iura) has travelled from Kamakura to Kyoto to research supernatural stories but, instead, relives memories of time spent in Kyoto with his wife; Kako Ogura (Ayaka Onishi), a shy local woman helps an actor from Tokyo named Fu Yoshida (Hiroto Kanai) practice speaking with Kyoto dialect; Nanten Kitakado (Tamaki Kubose), a high school girl from Aomori, who falls for a local train otaku (Kenta Ishida).
unlike many other Japanese films of late, Randen: The Comings
and Goings on a Kyoto Tram creates a magical atmosphere of heightened romance and
folktales that could only take place in Kyoto. It was the opening film of the
2019 edition of the Osaka Asian Film Festival and recently played at JAPAN CUTS
2019 in New York. I had the chance to interview director Takuji Suzuki, who
revealed how the film was a put together with love and care by a team which
included Kyoto University film students and local people living along the
Jason Maher: How did
you join the project?
Takuji Suzuki: One of the film’s producers, [Nobuyoshi] Nishida-san, brought it up
first. He lives near the randen station Omuro Ninnnaji. There is Goju-no tou [a
five-storied pagoda] in the area. He asked me to make a film about randen in
the style of a love story. I wasn’t living in Kyoto at that time but he might
have heard that I teach in the city.
involved. Could you talk about that?
First, I became an
associate professor at a university and was making commercial films as a
university project with a team called “Kitashirakawa-ha”. This enabled me to
use some of the budget from the university project for the making of this film.
I then thought I could raise money through crowdfunding and also use
crowdfunding as an advertising tool to bring people together while shooting the
film in Kyoto. For example, I needed lots of extras for passengers on the
So, it was a deliberate
tool to help make this a “community film”?
In terms of that, I
think that the best way of producing film is to make the people from the
community who are involved discover pleasure from taking part in it and give
them something to take back home, so they are not just being used as a tool. I do not consider filmmaking as a business. This is my fundamental ideology for making films.
However, since this film was not made with my own money, I also have
responsibility as a producer to recoup the money I spent on it.
There are various scenes where people from the community are watching home videos. Are they actual Kyotoites? Those were things taken from real families?
Some are family films
with their precious memories and I also borrowed archives kept by people who
reside in the local area used by Randen.
How did Keifuku Randen
tram company get involved?
Keifuku Randen Company
never asked us to make a film. It was like our one-sided love for Randen. To
start with, they were dubious about us – why we wanted to make a film about the
trams. That’s why we had had no tie-up or full co-operation with them. We just
filmed without causing disruption to their timetable and passengers. However,
after we made a request for them to operate a specific tram at specific time on
a specific day, the company developed an understanding that we were working
seriously on making the film and started to support us. But we never stopped
There was only once,
for a fantasy scene. We were allowed to shoot inside a tram for 2 hours while
it was stationed at a platform after finishing its operation for the day. We
could only manage to shoot using a basic cutback/cutaway though. We also filmed
scenes inside an actual running tram that we had paid for. We shot the scenes
while the tram was operating between its departure and final station.
When you first started shooting without the help of
the tram company, was it hard to get scenes perfect? Because you had to have a
specific tram arrive at specific time?
Yes, it was hard. I
hadn’t experienced moving a train to fit in with shooting and there was nothing
for me to compare it with… It was rather difficult to make a decision, if we
should wait for the next tram or just compromise and use what we shot, because
it took an hour for the same tram to come back to the place where we were.
However, actually, everyone’s concentration was rather high, so I think I could
draw advantages from the circumstance.
I think we might be
able to approach an essential idea that can be attributed to the film better when
we can’t control the situation. It would be better for filmmaking when we say,
“I can’t control everything”. There might be a future for films only if we have
It’s like fate.
Oh, certainly! Fate is
a very important theme of this film. I don’t want to use the word but actually
it is an important keyword. I have just thought right now that it was actually
unexciting as we already knew which tram would come next. I mean, Randen
operates trams with different colours but we knew beforehand what colour tram
would come next as we had requested information the day before. But, with
hindsight, it might have been better shooting without knowing it.
Your script features many different scenes that segue between reality and dream. How difficult was it to write?
Maybe I didn’t separate
them like, “is this reality or isn’t it?” in my head while I was writing the
script. But I thought, from my experience, it would be risky if we shoot the
film with a script written only from my point of view. So I delegated to
[Hiroshi] Asari-san, who joined our team as a chief assistant director, to
amend the final draft of the script.
It was not quite
rewriting… it was something like adding lines or perhaps translation. He
understood well what I wanted to do and translated it on my behalf. He would
intercede like, “It would be easier to convey what you want to say to others if
there were some additional lines like these here”.
The most fantastical
elements are the Tanuki and Kitsune. Is that a real legend?
and Tanuki legend was made up. If you understand it as demons in Japanese
folklore, that’s fine. I didn’t want to depict the Kitsune and Tanuki only
within a tradition or typical Kyoto way. I wanted to depict them in a broader
There was a
great author called Kenji Miyazawa who wrote a story about trains for children.
Have you heard “Night on the Galactic
Railroad”? And also a novelist, Taruho Inagaki, who spent his later life in
Fushimi in Kyoto. What they wrote connects to music by Morio Agata [Randen’s
composer]. They wrote about a unique sense somewhere between nostalgia and
future. The fantasy I have drawn from by including the Kitsune & Tanuki
might be closer to modernism although it differs from retro-future.
definition of fantasy is not something beyond a door or filter, there is no
switch between reality and fantasy. For example, you might have a partner and
might be troubled with her or him. You could be walking whilst thinking about
it, then look up at the sky. Suddenly your reality could have turned into
something different. For example, films by Theo Angelopoulos, the Greek
director, are often shot in extremely long takes. In his films, some strange
thing would happen within one take, a decade might suddenly fly by within one take.
I think his technique could connote all methods of filmmaking. Things we see
now are already only an illusion.
want to make something fuzzy. I want to make films like a rare animal or things
without clear definitions but it might be very risky as I don’t know how much
an audience would understand it.
It is really entertaining. It’s like
entering a dream. My final question, what is your memory of Randen?
film, you will see a station called Katabira no Tsuji, where there is the junction
between the mainline and Kitano line. When I was a university student, a time
when Kyoto was still an unfamiliar place for me, I heard a song titled “Waiting
for an Alien at Katabira no Tsuji”. It was composed in the 80s’ by Morio Agata
who did the soundtrack for Randen. It
was the first time for me to hear the name of the station and I didn’t even
know it was one of the stations visited by the Randen trams but with this film,
I could make the connection between them. In the film, I used a real legend, not a
made up one, about Katabira no Tsuji. The name Katabira no Tsuji was derived
from the legend. I have borrowed this tale in the film. The image of the legend
was overlapped with the scene at the subway of the station.
I feel now as if my
mind has been left sleeping there (in the subway in Katabira no Tsuji). That
place is a key part of the film, I think the heart of “Randen” could be there.
This long journey of making the film had started from the song. It was the song
and the legend about Katabira no Tsuji that kept encouraging me to make this
film. I have tactfully merged a scene that indicates the legend into the film. I
think to make a film in a particular town means to make a film of the area. My
desire to get closer to the heart of the area, which is not visible, would be
an important method/step to capture the area itself. The purpose of the film
was to shoot the area and to search for the legend was one of the steps.
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.