Director Yukisada bypasses stagnant film industry by setting latest work in China

By NORIKI ISHITOBI/ Senior Staff Writer

Moved by a sense of urgency about the future of Japanese cinema, leading filmmaker Isao Yukisada joined hands with companies in China to make his latest film, “Five Minutes to Tomorrow.”

“The time has finally come for Japanese to go beyond borders to make movies,” said Yukisada, the director of such films as “Go” and “Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World,” among many others.

His latest film was already showing in China in autumn last year on about 4,000 screens. The number is astonishing, considering the total number of movie screens in Japan is just about 3,300. With the Chinese film market in a growth spurt in recent years, the country is garnering close attention across the world.

The setting of the story, based on a novel by Takayoshi Honda, was changed to Shanghai to make it a Japan-China co-production.

The story centers on a Japanese man, played by Haruma Miura, who meets Chinese twin sisters. He becomes attracted to the neater and cleaner-looking older one, while the younger woman is a more sensual type. One day, tragedy strikes and one of the sisters dies.

The film then moves forward into the mystery surrounding the identity of the surviving woman, but ultimately leaves the audience to answer the question themselves.

“The most important thing I wanted to say was that human identity is ambiguous. But that was exactly the reason why this film couldn’t be made in Japan,” Yukisada said.

The director started working on the film adaptation project about seven years ago. A major film company showed interest in the potential feature film, as it would be helmed by a proven hit-maker and based on popular writer’s novel. But when executives discovered that the ending would leave things up in the air, they became reluctant and said today’s audiences would not understand it.

“The production side requires a clear story. They see audiences as fools. They even made it a story about a murder case, asking me, ‘So, which one of the sisters committed the murder?’ ” Yukisada said with a wry smile. “They only drop bait to the point where they have located fish with a fish-finder. Given the way Japanese movies are made today, you can’t catch a big fish.”

Though more than 600 Japanese films are produced every year, more than when the industry was in its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, most of these are low-budget films made possible thanks to the digitalization of video cameras.

“We are in a time when only a handful of directors can earn a living (from making films),” Yukisada lamented.

However, with the notable director blazing a fresh trail at home and abroad, a growing number of filmmakers may be inspired to follow suit.

By NORIKI ISHITOBI/ Senior Staff Writer

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