Interview with The Modern Lovers Director Atsuro Shimoyashiro [OAFF 2020]

Atsuro Shimoyashiro was at this year’s Osaka Asian Film Festival with The Modern Lovers, a sexually explicit story about two former lovers reuniting, raking over their past relationship and realizing their regrets. His path to the festival is an interesting example of an indie film warrior. After dropping out of college, Shimoyashiro studied at the Film School of Tokyo and has had an interesting career working in music and indie movies. He directed films like Walk in the Room (2016), which was selected for TAMA NEW WAVE and the Kanazawa Film Festival 2017, and Voyage Garden (2018), which was selected for O!!DO Short Film Festival. He has also produced music for films, including two by Shinji Imaoka, Long Goodbye: Private Detective Kurinosuke Furui (2017) and Reiko and the Dolphin (2019).

The Modern Lovers is something else. A hip movie with an atmosphere choked with longing, lust and a little bitterness. Due to the nudity involved and its brief story, it brings to mind the pink films of the Roman Porno genre despite being an indie drama. There seems to be some creative connection since legendary pink film director Shinji Imaoka makes a brief appearance in a bar scene and Shimoyashiro has collaborated with him. It may be tempting to see Shimoyashiro as a new generation of pink film director but he is firmly on the indie side of things, as he explained when he sat down to talk about The Modern Lovers and his inspirations. This interview was conducted with the help of translators Keiko Matsushita and Takako Pocklington.

Thank you for doing the interview, the first question of which is… how do you describe the film?

It is a story of a man who used to make films. I also went to a college of filmmaking and there are people around me who used to make films but have given up. I don’t think of it negatively, giving up your dream, though. This story was made by people whom I met… it’s difficult to explain.

What would you say the message of the film is?

Life goes on even if you have failed something you wanted to pursue or even if you succeeded in something you want to pursue… Even if you linger in the pain of failure or you give up with a feeling like ‘that’s it”, you can’t move on until you finish going through all of these processes. I think that is the cruelness of life but I wanted to choose cruelty [as a theme of the film] and I think this is also a form of happiness.

It’s a bit like Reiko and the Dolphin?

I got involved in Reiko and the Dolphin as a music composer/producer. I have worked with director Shinji Imaoka quite a few times, so I may have brought a similar nuance to this film but how I address [the theme] is slightly different. I was working with same crew, though.

So, there’s no inspiration from Shinji Imaoka?

I think I have got some inspiration from him as I like his old pink films or NIKKATSU Roman Porno. By the way, I like director [Tatsumi] Kumashiro’s NIKKATSU Roman Porno very much. I think there are not many films which have NIKKATSU Roman Porno style or its atmosphere nowadays, so this film is a bit like an homage to those films.

Could you describe the writing process?

I had a rough idea for the plot. I would take notes when I heard some episodes and I was moved, then I added those kinds of details into the story. It took two years, collaborating with my friend Naoaki Akamatsu. We occasionally met up and discussed it. We took rather a long time.

Why did you select these actors?

Ryu Morioka played a lead role in one of director Imaoka’s films [Long Goodbye: Private Detective Kurinosuke Furui]. I produced the soundtrack for that film and made a song for Morioka to sing. That was the first time I met him. He used to direct films when he was a college student. He hasn’t shot any films since then, though. I considered him as an “our side” sort of actor who could understand a director’s feeling. That’s why I thought he was the right person for the role.

Kawakami-san is a so-called AV actress but I happened to find her with her photo book. I didn’t know that she was acting when I first saw her in the book. I thought she has really colorful facial expressions and checked her films. I realized that she is also a good actress. Then I offered her this role, because I thought she would want to act in normal films not in porn films and she accepted it enthusiastically.

There’s lots of nudity. Could you tell the story without it?

I don’t think so. I have been making independent films but this was my first long feature film. I had never shot nude scenes, so I felt if I made a film, I wanted to shoot nude scene.

How did you prepare the actors for those scenes?

Nanami Kawakami, is a natural worrier. I am rather laidback. Even at the preparation stage, she was concerned about details and threw lots of questions at me, then we spent quite a bit of time for preparation. On the contrary, Ryu Morioka, I have worked with him before. He was fine after just a brief meeting, then the scene was shot like that. I don’t know which acting approach is better.

Were there lots of instruction from you to the actors during the shoot?

We hardly had a conflict among us during the shoot, but of course there were some scenes where I corrected their acting and also there were some scenes when they gave me their ideas. However, basically, I advised and explained to them how I was going to shoot… like “I’m going to shoot in this way for this scene”. I only had a limited time so shot smoothly and efficiently.

You have a great set of character actors like Nagiko Tsuji. Could you describe the casting process for those supporting roles?

I have known her for about five years. I worked with her twice or so on music films which I made in my college days. I have involved myself in music films more than ordinary films but I had asked her to appear in my film if I ever made a regular film. Eventually, I got a chance to make a film and I asked her to be in it.

Tomoki Kimura is a leading actor in Naked Uncle [also screened at OAFF 2020]

I met him at a reception of a film festival. A middle length film I made was nominated at the film festival. It was four or five years ago. As he has been in lots of indie films and we both love films, we would bump into each other at a cinema or go for a drink. He really likes alcohol, so I thought that kind of character would suit him, then offered the role to him.

You were also in charge of music. What musical influence do you have?

Recently, Japanese 80’s city pop. Eiichi Otaki, Tatsuro Yamashita. However, I haven’t had input on any film music lately. I focused on making this film last year, so I feel completely burnt out.

You had a film in Kanazawa Film Festival. Was that your first feature film?

I can’t say that is my first…. It was a middle length about 50 minutes.

Is there any difference between this film and that film?

There are huge differences on budget. When I shot the film at that time, the staff were all my college friends. They volunteered and were not professional actors, just amateurs. I didn’t even know how to shoot and everyone started giving their opinions. However, I managed to complete shooting the film. It wasn’t smooth at all though…

How long was the shoot for The Modern Lovers?

Six days.

Six days? So, that meant you knew exactly what you wanted to shoot.

Yes, I shot it very efficiently and followed the quick shooting method of pink films. But they usually shoot in four days, so I took a bit longer for this film.

For you, is there a gap between pink films and regular dramas?

I like pink films because there is freedom in film making like in indies films. Maybe it is different nowadays, but it used to be a platform for young rebellious directors to be able to do whatever they want with less restrictions.

You were inspired by Pink films and you worked with Shinji Imaoka. Do you see yourself, perhaps, continuing in that genre?

Imaoka-san used to make pink films at a company called KOKUEI. This company doesn’t make pink films anymore. If KOKUEI still made pink films, I would like to be a director that belongs to them. I think it would be better for me to work as an independent director.

My final question. Were there any films you were influenced by when making The Modern Lovers?

Tatsumi Kumashiro’s Bitterness of Youth. It was a part of Roman Porno from TOHO. Kenichi Hagiwara was a leading actor.

So that’s your biggest influence?

It’s a film with the theme of the end of youth.

The Modern Lovers was shown at the Osaka Asian Film Festival on March 7.