One of the highlights of the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020 was VIDEOPHOBIA, the latest work of Daisuke Miyazaki. A frequent visitor to Osaka, many of his works are youth-focused, with Yamato (California) (2016) and Tourism (2018) being screened at the festival. His films frequently capture the cultural zeitgeist for young people as young women with smartphones navigate various issues to carve out their own niche in the world. Yet VIDEOPHOBIA comes completely out of left-field as it’s an existential horror movie where technology drives a young woman into a fog of paranoia and fear.
Filmed around the less well-known areas of the city of Osaka and shot in black and white, it is a deeply unsettling experience as we witness melancholy 20-something Ai (Tomona Hirota) have a one-night stand with a stranger only to discover that a highly explicit sex-tape has been made of the encounter. It is a shocking discovery that plunges her into a panic that gets worse the more technology manipulates and alters her perception of herself. Things get so bad that she begins to question her own sanity and identity, realizing that the only way to rectify her situation is through total dissolution of her character. The audience is prompted to think about various social issues as Miyazaki pries apart the cracks in contemporary life and how incessant exposure to technology alters how we perceive ourselves. Full review here.
Miyazaki sat down to discuss the making
of the film, the real-world topics that form the basis of the story and how he hopes
the audience will engage with it amidst the ironies of our always-connected
social media landscape.
Why did you create the film?
One day, I was thinking about what
happens to all of the photos and digital data, like video and text, that I’ve
been using for expression in my life after I die. I thought about the many
possibilities of my data left in this world and I felt that it was a bit of a
curse of our digital culture, the internet world. That was the first idea.
In Japan, there were several big
news stories about revenge porn and that kind of topic but usually I try to
avoid those obvious topics because I don’t want to make my film only about one
thing. Usually, I start with a simple topic and spread it wider. This time I
thought I should use revenge porn as a digital curse that happens in this world
and see where it goes with this device called film which can last forever, like
even after we die.
It’s quite insidious how
technology is so widespread. We all have smartphones with cameras and we are
all encouraged to take pictures and live online.
Yes, I think so. When I was a kid
I didn’t like my picture to be taken so much, probably because I didn’t like
myself and didn’t want to see myself objectively. I just wanted to keep myself
as something that nobody could determine, something flexible and moving all the
time. When I was called to take a picture with friends, I tried to avoid it all
of the time but recently everyone takes your photos and uploads them everywhere
and tags you in them and it happens every day so it seems that everyone has
forgotten about that awareness and the scary part of taking each other’s
pictures so that’s one theme of the movie.
What did you want the main
character, Ai, to represent in the film? Is it a younger generation that take
technology for granted and doesn’t necessarily think about the dangers?
Ai represents a typical Japanese
female or male. She’s female but men are pretty much the same. They work, go
home, use the internet and sleep. That’s a typical lifestyle, not only for
Japanese but modern humans. But, for me, a character just telling the story is not
enough for modern cinema. I wanted to challenge the boundary of cinema. I
wanted her to be an observer of herself and this world. She doesn’t realize her
surroundings until she gets into trouble, but I wanted her to be like a mirror
of this very strange world. A broken world where most incidents are true and
fake at the same time. A post-truth world. There’s no rule or obvious truth in
the world she sees in this movie but that’s how I feel about this world right
now. Like, Donald Trump tweeting every day about national secrets.
The character is naive, she
trusts some guy she met at a club so easily. Should we have sympathy for her?
I think the main thing is that
people should look at her as a mirror. They should look at her and think about
how they live their own lives. My film is like modern art, it’s very interactive.
Instead of sympathizing with the character, I hope audiences think about how
they are after watching the movie. A critic I met in the lobby, she said she
didn’t know what to say about the movie but she had been thinking about it for
a long time. I think that is the way that I want the audience to take the film
and understand the character.
Had you worked with the lead actress Tomona Hirota previously?
No. Actually, she appeared in one film
that a friend of mine shot in my home town, Yamato. She was the main character
and I went to the set as a producer and I really liked her face. It’s a very
unique face that reflects a lot and when she didn’t speak, when she was silent
in the scene, I liked it more. So, I asked her to appear in my film.
How did you prepare Tomona for
the graphic nude scenes?
The first thing, I had to go to
her agency and give them the script and I said, “There might be some nude
scenes and it might be her first.” In Japanese movies, there is lots of
unnecessary nudity. It’s quite stupid and shows what the director’s personality
is like. It’s simple porn. I told the agency very honestly about the reason we
need nudity in the film and how it is connected to the core idea of the movie.
Also, I didn’t want to avoid the scene without showing anything because it will
weaken the shock value of her video going around. And her agent and Tomona
herself said they totally understood what I was saying and that there would be
no problem if there are such artistic reasons. I think she was nervous when we
were filming. Everybody was nervous because it’s a nude scene but I think we
did it well. I wanted to do it like Cronenberg, like A History of Violence,
not totally sexual but something like a machine making love.
And when you get to the moment
she discovers herself on the internet, it’s like POW, you feel her shock. But
the build-up makes it seem like the threat and exploitation of technology is
everywhere and it is a matter of time before she falls into a trap. You take
lots of shots of surveillance cameras to build up the atmosphere of technology
being all encompassing.
I, myself, am very aware of those
cameras everywhere. These last ten years it has increased so much and many
people are caught by them. For example, on Halloween night, there were many
kids playing around and flipping cars and the police checked all of the
surveillance cameras which filmed them coming from the station and on the train
and going all the way back to their house and they arrested them because they
had all the footage, from Shibuya to their house, which is like three hours
away. That’s kind of crazy. Now there is technology that can identify you
through your bone structure. Everyone is watched by everyone all the time and
that should be a pressure for normal people but somehow, most people think,
surveillance cameras are good because it keeps them safe. I feel stressed by
cameras every day. I wanted to show that kind of paranoia in the movie so I
took many high-angle shots to show the main character’s paranoia about being
seen by someone or being laughed at by someone. Maybe even the surveillance
camera was laughing at her after watching the leaked video.
Later in the film, the
character is transformed and then played by Sumire. How did you meet her?
It’s a funny story but I didn’t
actually show that it’s her [Ai] in the film, I wanted to leave open the
possibility that Sumire is somebody else, a bit like David Lynch’s Lost
Highway. Anyway, I asked Tomona, “Is there someone your size that looks
like you that could maybe star in this movie,” and she said, “I don’t know but
my room-mate is an actress and she’s as tall as me and maybe she could do the
role.” So I contacted her agent and met her. She looks kind of plastic, like a
robot, but in a good way, and I asked her to act like that. I thought that she
would fit the translated Tomona since they both know their habits and
body-language because they have been living together for a long time.
Fortunately, she fit.
Sumire’s portrayal of Ai is
completely different, really confident with her boyfriend, but the final shot,
Sumire is looking directly at the camera and is radiating paranoia.
I don’t say for certain that it is
Ai. She probably changed her outside self and nobody knows the original her but
she hasn’t changed what is inside. For me, that last hand is the gentle touch
of her nice boyfriend but even if her nice boyfriend touches her, she probably
has a nervousness from what happened. I didn’t want to make a simple ending.
People might think it’s the guy from the club who has come back again or maybe
that guy had plastic surgery to become the boyfriend. Maybe AI can be the
boyfriend. There are lots of possibilities in that ending. Many possibilities
is one of the things of the modern world and it can all be true. That way of
thinking can be very nihilistic and violent at some point because in that
environment, everyone is correct so we could just concentrate on ourselves and our
opinions which is a very sad and isolated thing. I hope the ending is showing
something to overcome that nihilism.
You can’t say for certain Ai is
being portrayed Sumire. So there is that interpretation that she could be
She could be crazy. The last girl
could be someone who is not connected to Ai at all. There is a lot of space for
interpretation and that makes the film interesting and cinematic and modern.
In terms of the theatre scenes where the acting instructor is trying to get people to portray different characters, to lose their original identity and transform. That’s what you are trying to say?
Yes, exactly. That scene is like
the metaphor of the whole movie. Everyone says you should be yourself, you
should express yourself but no one knows who they really are and that was my
kind of challenge with this film, asking the audience, “OK, you are telling
everyone to be themselves, but do you know who the hell you are?” (laughter)
Normally, when we try to be
ourselves, we use other people’s perspectives and judgments as a basis.
Of course. We live like a mirror
among ourselves. Sometimes we forget about it and become one way forcing
something to each other.
You had a Henrik Ibsen play, The
Ghosts, can you explain how it’s tied into the themes of the film?
This is what I always do with my
films. When I think of something and translate it into something, like
language, it changes from my original image and if I change it into English,
it’s going to change again. So, in every process, everything changes into
something else. I think it’s the same with money. Money changes into an item
and that item changes into some other item and I thought that Ibsen’s play was
talking about that. Those kinds of metaphors where money, trade and language,
they shed their qualities, that’s what I felt when I was reading the play. This
film is about that, who you are and what is the original you. Aren’t you
trading something and aren’t you using many masks when you are living in this
world? I think this story is connected to money and capitalism as well.
You’ve shot in Osaka but it’s
in less glamorous areas like Nishinari and Tsuruhashi. Can you explain why you
I’ve been to Osaka like, every year, to visit the Osaka Asian Film Festival or while working, and let’s say, the Umeda area or the Nakanoshima area, they are quite modern and we don’t watch it on TV so much because it’s not the traditional Osaka image. Dotonbori is the traditional image but it’s very touristic and while I did shoot in Dotonbori a bit, I shot it from a boat and a few shots on the bridge. I knew there were much older and interesting locations in Osaka that should be exposed in cinema, something not done recently but seen in films by Oshima and Kumashiro, the old great directors of Japan. I wanted to use these areas to show a totally different side of Japan and a totally different side of Osaka and I also wanted to make a kind of homage to Oshima and Kumashiro with this film.
Why did you shoot in black and white?
Osaka is famous for being a colorful
and shiny city but, for me, it is quite black and white. Also, it’s the theme
that I mentioned. The world is very black and white right now, there is no grey
so I wanted to show the exposure latitude
of the grey, that there is a lot of grey in the world. That’s why I chose black
and white. Also, digital is 0 and 1. That feels kind of like black and white,
so how can I show something between 0 and 1. I did some camera test and the
water areas of Osaka were the main location. Filming the water in color was not
so interesting but in black and white, it was very interesting. It was like
filming something very cursed.
The film is topical and it is
something people around the world can relate to. What has audience reaction
been to it?
It’s interesting because when I screened it to my crew and cast, I would say that 40% of the audience were like, “we didn’t understand but it’s great and we were shocked,” and then there was another 40% who were like, “we didn’t understand and it was shitty.” When I screened in Montreal [at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema], I think 30% of the audience was like, “Oh my God, this is great. I don’t know how to explain it but it’s good.” and the rest were like, “No, we don’t understand it at all.” The first screening at Osaka, I was expecting 80% of people saying nothing because they don’t understand the film and 20% of people thinking, “oh, maybe it’s me in this movie,” and feeling very connected to the film but, after the screening, so many people were tweeting what they thought about the film and the scene that they liked, so somehow the Osaka audience are very sophisticated. They understood well when it came to this film so I’m very lucky was what I felt when I saw the reaction on the social media.
VIDEOPHOBIA was shown at the Osaka Asian Film Festival on March 7 and 10.