Takuya Misawa hails from Kanagawa and is a graduate from the Japan Institute of the Moving Image. He worked on various film productions as crew including as assistant director to Koji Fukada on Au Revoir L Éte (2013) before making his debut feature with the Kanagawa-set relationship comedy drama Chigasaki Story (2015). Produced by Kiki Sugino’s Wa Entertainment, it made waves on the festival circuit for not only for its well-engineered story of a group of academics and students stuck together at a beach resort but also its directorial style which evoked Yasujiro Ozu. Four years on, Misawa’s second feature The Murders of Oiso demonstrates a complete change of tone despite again being set in Kanagawa.
Taking place in another seaside town, The
Murders of Oiso is a noirish slice-of-life story set in the picturesque
location of Oiso. It concerns how small-scale corruption is revealed when four
friends, Tomoki (Haya Nakazaki), Shun (Koji Moriya), Kazuya (Yusaku Mori), and
Eita (Shugo Nagashima) confront the crimes of the people around them and
themselves after the death of an influential man in the town. The construction
company they work for is used for illegal activities, Eita’s girlfriend far
worse abuses are revealed.
Using a number of different narrators and
multiple perspectives to reveal what is going on beneath the pretty exterior,
the film features lots of twists, turns and social issues and asks for viewers
to pay attention. Working with a Hong Kong film crew to create an unusual atmosphere
for his actors, Misawa has made a unique and challenging film that brings the
audience into worrying space. The film won the Japan Cuts Award at this year’s
Osaka Asian Film Festival and it will play at the festival in New York later
this year. Misawa took the time to have an interview to explain more about the
story, creating the atmosphere and how he got his cast to perform.
did you come up with the idea for this film?
After finishing my first feature film, I
thought it was not enough for me to look at social issues and I wanted to bring
my critical thinking about Japanese society to my next project. I wanted to
look at labour form and gender balance in The
Murder of Oiso. I didn’t want to show those events directly. I wanted the
audience to focus on the process of how to recognise the issues of gender
balance and so forth.
you say gender balance?
For example, Kazuya, the main character, I
think he’s a typical Japanese male who has the value of homophobia and
misogyny. That’s why he’s jealous of Eita. Kazuya also looks down on women and
he regards women as a kind of enemy who will break the relationship with his
doesn’t want Eita’s girlfriend in the workplace and he actually touches her at
But we never see it.
deliberately leave things ambiguous.
Actually we never watch the moment he
touches her. Maybe we can assume he touched but that moment we cannot see. That
touching and the violence, we just assume and expect.
like to look at things indirectly. Why do you favour that style?
So, as I said about bringing my critical
thinking about social issues, we never see social issues directly. We only
recognise them indirectly from maybe a newspaper or website or an article. We
read and listen to information and we expect or assume something as we make a
point of view.
it’s like replicating an average person’s awareness of social issues. It’s an
interesting technique and you use non-linear narrative to establish that. How
difficult is it to write in that style?
Super difficult and maybe it’s also a hard
film for the audience to watch. I try to keep the emotions of the character,
even with murders happening, because it is messed up, but the emotions I try to
keep. For example, Tomoki keeps trying to keep Shun beside him.
the gang together.
The aftermath of the event actually tells just as much as seeing the event. How did you work with the actors to prepare for the roles and act out different scenes?
I kept two points in my mind on the
location. One is eye line, the line of sight of the characters. This is very
important to show each relationship. Even if they are alone, if someone looks
down we can imagine their interior thinking. The second is the rhythm of the
dialogue. You know this film has many layers. By the way, did you recognise
that I was writing in the film?
you are in the film? Yes, you also speak.
Oh, thank you. This is one layer and then
the woman’s narration, and there are two or three layers. Each layer comes and
goes because I wanted to make an artificial feeling so I asked each character
to perform their dialogue blankly. Don’t make it too natural. Try to avoid
realism. I wanted it to have a weird, unnatural feeling. For example, an actor
changes the tempo of how they say something.
have a female voice for narration, you appear in it and I initially thought the
film was also from Tomoki’s point of view since he has an overarching role and
view of what is going on and, at the end, he wakes up and it is like a dream.
Why did you choose to use different layers as a framing device?
Similar motivation. I wanted to make the
audience think about what the narrative is. What is the story. As I said,
people read the newspaper and catch the information and it affects their
thinking. If I say this information is the story, I want to make not only one
narrative line but others so the audience can, or need, to think more about
what happened in the film. What is this story? So I wanted to make the three
layers, especially because I write things in the notebook but the woman’s voice
speaks. I want to try and imply that the man writes, the woman talks but they
are one voice. Maybe they are a different twist in expression and thinking about
you have any concerns about how an audience engages with it?
I am still concerned. Despite that, each
character’s emotion is enough for the audience to keep watching. I just hope
that the audience doesn’t give up.
quite interesting having a non-linear and multi-perspective story. The
experience is quite suffocating. I feel like I am in this town and everybody is
connected and implicated in a general criminality. Is that the sort of
atmosphere you were going for?
Yes, but I want to mention that I created motifs like the bell ringing with the door and cutting the heads off characters in the frame. I talked with the cinematographer Timliu Liu to create some motifs in this film. I hope the audience connects each motif.
So you have, for the four central characters, you pick relatively unknown actors. Yusaku Mori, who plays Kazuya, has more experience than the others. Why did you select him and how did you build up the chemistry of the actors?
I met Yusaku Mori five years ago at the
Osaka Asian Film Festival when I showed Chigasaki
Story. He was here for Fires on the Plain and I met him at the
festival’s welcome party. At that time, we said “hi, bye” (laughter) but I kept
watching his performances on TV and in movies and I felt his performances were
quite good. When I needed to choose the cast, four main characters, the three
guys had to be relatively tall while Kazuya, while he is the most powerful in
the group, he is a bit short and it’s a good contrast but this is a minor
point. The most important thing for me when choosing the cast is good
communication, on set and before shooting, when we talk about the script and
character, it’s very important.
You allowed the actors to explore the
We shared a kind of common sense. Five years ago, even though we shared five minutes, I knew Yusaku had good communication skills.
His character is very layered.
On the one hand he is a bully on the other hand he is also a victim of
circumstances. You deliberately made him sympathetic.
It’s kind of like a coin. He is a victim of the family as the
only son who must succeed in the family business and he felt pressure and that
stress makes him a bully.
An aspect of duality to this
character and the town also has duality. On the surface it is beautiful and
ordered but on the other hand it has dark social issues. Is this a comment on
Yes. I want to mention one thing. I said I want to bring my
critical thinking to Japanese society but Japanese society also means myself. I
also have the same problems and same issues. In this respect, this is why it’s
very hard to write the script because I was sometimes a bully and sometimes the
bullied child and also felt pressure from my family and community. Actually, I
grew up in a similar situation to Kazuya.
It’s just a general aspect of
the human experience and how we can be both good and bad.
In terms of the visual style, you mentioned you talked to your cinematographer about capturing certain things. Did you storyboard it? How hard was the visual design?
We didn’t have a storyboard, we just talked and made a memo
each night. Timliu Liu also from Hong Kong and he came to Japan before location
scouting and he stayed in my home for three or four nights and we talked about
this film. I remember he asked me to make a character bubble, a character map
and mark out directions of emotions, to make it clear.
So it was getting the emotions
of the characters and then you can decide how to shoot the scenes.
I asked him not to be too realistic or make it too close to
the emotions of the characters. I wanted some distance.
The use of Dutch angles made it
feel like a noir.
A noir, yes.
And, there’s a lot of tension
from a horror tone when Shun walks through Ito’s house with the menacing
flashback and there’s the sound of vinyl scratching which sounds menacing. It’s
great audio design? Could you elaborate on how you used it to relay the story?
The sound design team were also from Hong Kong and they were
excellent. I asked them to help create a noir feeling, a bit of a horror
feeling, but don’t make the audience too scared, don’t use make the sound too
meaningful. Like with the bell ringing, I wanted similar sounds and the
soundtrack to have the same motif as the melody. It’s very abstract. I shared
my image of this film. This film is like a spiral shape. Repetition but
something different. They heard this request and made the sound different.
I didn’t mention before but some action happens out of frame.
Sometimes we may not understand what happens out of frame. For example, at the
warehouse, Kazuya may be touching Eita’s girlfriend but I told them about each
event but don’t make it too meaningful.
How did Oiso as a location help
with the story of the film?
I think this film didn’t show it directly but Oiso has a lot
of historical connections to the modernisation of Japan. For example, Hirobumi
Ito, the first Prime Minister of Japan, and Shigeru Yoshida, another Prime
Minister, both had houses there. Other key guys related to Japan’s modern
history had a second house there and some citizens in Oiso are proud of that
and other historical things. I think it’s similar to Japan for me. The location
is actually beautiful, it’s very small but there are various locations,
seaside, countryside, mountains. At the same time I felt like the place was a
bit ruined. The wind keeps coming from the sea and metals rust and this image
fits in with my image of this film. It also takes place in the autumn.
Beautiful colours but the leaves are going to die or be reborn.
Eiji Iwamoto’s music is really good. You worked with him on Chigasaki Story. Can you explain more about the music?
Actually, he’s not a professional musician, he’s an
ex-professional. He also lives in Chigasaki and we were introduced by friends.
In this production I told him that with this film I want to make the music have
an impressionistic motif and I asked him to watch the Nagisa Oshima film, A Treatise on Japanese Bawdy Songs (aka Sing
a Song of Sex). That film also has different layers and Oshima also used
impressionistic music. It’s not similar but it’s all about developing emotion
through the music until the last song.
It’s a very good track, I
wanted to download it.
Maybe I can put it on Spotify (laughter)
It would be very popular. Would
you say Oshima is an influence?
Before I wrote the script, Oshima was. Nagisa Oshima also
described Japanese history and social systems so I wanted to write something
like Nagisa Oshima.
It’s good to tackle subjects in
such ways for the diversity of subjects in Japanese films. Do you have anything you want to say to the audience?
The theme is about inner thinking, something people may not
know. It’s about the expression of inner thinking.
Thank you for doing the interview.
The Murders of Oiso was shown at the Osaka Asian Film Festival on March 7 and 14.