Interview with yes, yes, yes Director Akihiko Yano [OAFF 2021]

I wish I were better at writing about acting because every now and then I watch a film where the performances are so astonishing that I am held spellbound and profoundly moved. In those situations, I want to wax lyrical to do justice to what I have seen. Of course, every other aspect of the film counts, too.

When I watched Akihiko Yano’s ensemble drama yes,yes,yes, I was not quite prepared for the performances, which are raw vulnerable, surprising, and realistic. Yano worked with his cast closely and stripped away most movie artifice to extract phenomenal performances which convey the emotionally intense situation in his script. The story concerns a family reacting to the news that the matriarch Sayuri (Nahoko Kawasumi) may die. This sets off emotional chain reactions that cause conflict, particularly with teenage son Takeaki (Kazuma Uesugi), before healing can eventually occur. It is a heartfelt story and it feels real. Indeed, it made me cry multiple times and provided a feeling of catharsis. I not only took in its lesson of learning to appreciate and love those around but thought deeply about people in my own life.

Thanks to the invaluable help of translator Takako Pocklington, I was able to interview director Akihiko Yano via email. He kindly explained the background of the film, working with the cast, and his design choices.

Why did you write this film?

I got a niece recently. When I saw my parents, whose faces and hands are wrinkled, holding her, I suddenly realized that they are old.  There was a contrast between the new-born baby and my old parents. I felt like it was looking at a cycle of life and it made me feel extremely depressed. I really wanted to pour these feeling out in a film.

What is the meaning of the title?

The title contains the meaning that all things should be affirmed. You need to accept everything to keep living. I have put this thought into the title. To emphasize this, the word “yes” is repeated three times.

Each of the actors portrays their characters really well. How did you discover them and why did you select each of the actors?

I was already familiar with everyone, except the young actor who played the main character. Those three actors’ faces were already in my head when I was writing the script. I thought they have some kind of humble, universal and homely demeanor, so I offered the roles to them. They have brilliant acting skills and responded to my requests with sincerity. The main actor was chosen by audition. I am very happy with him playing the role of Takeaki.

There is a real sense of intimacy between the cast. A technique used to create relationships for films is to get the actors to spend personal time together and create backstories. Did you ask them to spend personal time together or rehearse a lot together?

The lead actor (Uesugi) lives in Miyazaki prefecture but the rest of the actors live in Tokyo, so we did rehearsals together for three days. I prepared the core performance with three of them first, then I traveled to Miyazaki and did rehearsals with Uesugi–kun whilst directing the other three actor’s parts.

Were the actors allowed to ad lib or were they sticking to a script?

I asked the actors to stick to the script apart from one scene. The scene at the hospital in the beginning of the film was played ad-lib. I didn’t want to compromise the integrity of the film, especially because this film has little (spoken) dialogue.

There are many physically and emotionally intense scenes in the film. Can you talk about what it was like on set?

I tried hard to direct the actors carefully. I explained the scenes repeatedly to not only the actors but also the other staff before shooting it. The more I explained, the better the actors focused on acting and it created a tense atmosphere. However, I also think that laughter on set is crucial to make a good film, so I tried to tell jokes whenever I could to keep the balance of tension and release.

What was the toughest part of the shoot?

The toughest part of the shoot… it was solitude. The director is alone. I suffer from panic disorder. I had a panic attack several times during the shoot. I was taking medication and tried to hide it from people around me. I hardly slept whilst making the film since I was also working on visual design. It was physically hard as well. There was nothing easy.

Why did you choose to have the film’s visuals in black-and-white?

I wanted to make the story visually simple. By getting rid of color and expressing it in black-and-white, it makes the audience focus on the actors’ performance more.

Takeaki’s phone call with his mother is absolutely heart-breaking. Were they both actually talking to each other to get that performance?

Yes, they were actually talking to each other on the phone. I shot the scene in the same room.

Did you storyboard all of the shots or was it spontaneous?

I usually create a rough storyboard. I usually use several cameras to shoot (I used two cameras for this time). The main camera, which I used, focused on the full picture following the storyboard. The other camera moved to capture the movement of the actors. I tried to frame the film both in a cinematic picture and a picture that focuses on the actors at the same time.

What do you want audiences to think about after watching this film?

I want audience to re-acknowledge their own feelings for their loved ones. I believe that you would be able to cultivate a feeling of respect for other people if you live your life with love. I want them to feel love.

yes, yes, yes was shown at the Osaka Asian Film Festival on March 8 and 11.