Interview with Yusaku Matsumoto, Director of Bagmati River [OAFF 2022]

Bagmati River received its world premiere at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022. It is the latest work from director Yusaku Matsumoto, a talent who broke onto the international film scene with Noise (2017), a drama set in Akihabara and based on a stabbing incident. It focused on the travails of working-class kids and their families to show how such a thing could happen. Matsumoto’s latest work turned out to be quite a departure from what audiences might associate him with as he takes them to Nepal in the company of rising actress Junko Abe of Still the Water (2014) who plays a young woman seeking to confront the disappearance of her brother in the mountains. Also backing up Matsumoto in this Nepal-set film was Kentaro Kishi, a cinematographer and actor (amongst other things) who worked on and appeared in Noise.

In order to get some background on the film, I interviewed Matsuoto via email thanks to the help of festival staff and through the translation services of Takako Pocklington.

Thank you for making the film. I saw Noise when it screened at Raindance Film Festival, so I was very interested in seeing Bagmati River. I was moved by Natsuki’s story and felt that the film effectively conveyed a sense of mourning. You have eloquently talked about your reason for making the film as a way of coming to terms with the death of your friend Kuriki Nobukazu. Could you talk a little about his effect upon you as a filmmaker?

I first met Mr. Kuriki at the preview screening of Noise. He liked the film and gave us a lot of help for the film’s release. As we grew closer, he asked me if I could go to Mt. Everest with him and make a documentary film. I gladly said yes. Whilst climbing there with him, I realized how magnificent nature is and how tiny humans are. I felt that humans are part of nature and we are given life by nature. Human death is a natural part of nature. The Nepalese perspective of life and death, which I learned through Mr. Kuriki, has had a massive impact on me.

Can you give some details on the production process such as whether you used storyboarding and how you prepared Junko Abe for her role?

I didn’t create a storyboard since there are many unpredictable things when shooting abroad. I went to Nepal with Junko Abe and the crew and we discussed what we felt in the location before we shot each scene. Junko and I also spent lots of time together talking about how to shape her role before shooting. We also thought about Natsuki’s backstory, which tells us what brought her to Nepal.

Could you explain how you worked together with Kishi Kentaro on the screenplay and on location?

Mr. Kishi had joined me at Everest to shoot the documentary film about Mr. Kuriki. He then joined the team at the scriptwriting stage and came to Everest with me again. We spent quite a great deal of time together discussing the script and then went on to shoot it.

Junko Abe gives a powerful performance that felt real. Why did you select her and how did you work together on the role?

First, the role required a high-standard of ability to speak English. Junko speaks English fluently and has experience in filming abroad. I have always considered her a top-level actress with good acting skills. I had thought from the planning stage that she was the only person who could play the role. Her character was developed mostly through discussions. We discussed the film, shared our ideas and gradually shaped the character of Natsuki.

What was the most difficult part of the shoot?

Unexpected things occur when you film in an unfamiliar place with local staff. Scenes would take more than twice as much time as they usually would when filming in Japan. I found everything was much harder than shooting in Japan. In addition to that, we were filming in mountains at a high altitude – over 4000 meters high. If you stay there for a long time, you end up getting altitude sickness, so we had to descend before getting to that point. That was the toughest part of the shoot.

What meaning do the mountains of Nepal and the Bagmati river have for you?

A way of living life in the midst of the magnificence of nature. A means of accepting life and death.

What do you hope audiences take away from the film?

Everyone will experience losing someone special to them some time in their lives. That is extremely painful, but we must keep living strongly. I would be happy if the audience can find hope in the main character’s attempt to accept the death of her loved one and move on.

Bagmati River was shown at the Osaka Asian Film Festival on March 12 and 15.