Sabu was in town to introduce and talk about his film CHASUKE'S JOURNEY, which concerns an angel who comes to earth to save a girl destined to die. Its one of Sabu's best films and in danger of becoming one of my all time favorite films.
A couple of quick notes about this interview:
Sabu doesn't speak English, or he doesn't speak it well (When I met him in 2011 at the Japan Society he indicated that he didn't speak English) so all of the questions were translated in and out of English. Nobu being the supreme gentleman that he is gave his questions in English so that I could understand what he was being said. Only occasionally would he slip into Japanese to clarify something that was said.
All of my questions and Nobu's questions are more or less exactly what we said (or what the transcriber says we said).
All of the statements credited to Sabu are the words of the translator.
The entire interview ran approximately 25 minutes and was done minutes before the screening of Sabu's film in a theater across the street from where this took place. When the interview took place neither Nobu nor myself had seen the CHASUKE'S JOURNEY.
|Sabu introduces CHASUKE'S JOURNEY|
NOBU: Just warming up. Do you want to start?
STEVE: You go.
NOBU: This is actually based on a novel that you wrote. I was curious about the difference between your novel and the film, the content of it. That's the...
SABU: What changed is the setting. In the novel, it's not set in Okinawa. It's just set in a metropolitan city. There are also more characters in the novel compared to the film.
STEVE: I'm curious, all the larger films are very spiritual. Your early films, like DRIVE, BLESSING BELL, MONDAY there's a very strong karmic relationship. How close is that to your personal belief? Is it of your reflection of what you believe?
SABU Yes I think so, for sure.
NOBU: The novel's illustration was done by Katsuhiro Otomo who created "Akira". I was curious to how the relationship got started and how did he get him to actually do the illustration on his novel?
SABU: My relationship with the director Otomo, the director of Akira, is that his first live-action film, WORLD APARTMENT HORROR I had the starring role in that film. That's why we have this relationship. We just meet maybe once or twice a year.
The publisher, when I was writing this novel, asked me to contact him so that I could ask him to draw the cover image. I actually had to make the call, but fortunately, he said he was very agreeable.
STEVE: I'm very jealous [laughs] .
STEVE: You've made some films that are not based on novels. You're working from novels. Which do you prefer, working from the novel, like "Kanikōsen" -- you smile, am I saying that right? -- Kanikōsen, where you're working from a classic novel, whereas some of your other films are not based on novels. They're just something you came up with or a screenwriter came up with. Which is better for you?
SABU: I would say that adopting from my original story is much more fun. It's much more enjoyable for me.
NOBU: The main actor is Kenichi Matsuyama. He also worked in a movie called RABBIT DROP or...I don't know the English title. "Usagi Doroppu". How's it different this time around? Obviously, it's been a long time, but how did Kenichi Matsuyama becomes an actor that he is now, that is so different from the previous film that he's working with?
SABU: Before, with Usagi Doroppu, BUNNY DROP in American title, was a manga adaptation. His character was this straightforward depiction. He just did how he was depicted in the manga.
This time, it was based on my original work, and he had a lot of action scenes. He played a yakuza. He's always told me that he wanted to play a role that was based on my original work, so I think he was much more enthusiastic this time than before.
STEVE: I know a lot of the actors in your films show up again and again. Do you like to work with the same actors over and over again, or would you prefer to work with new actors?
SABU: I would like to work with new actors and especially crew. I try to work with new people as much as possible, but when it comes to actors, I feel a little limited in my choices. I just end up working with the same people.
NOBU: This film actually was handled by the Office Kitano, who handle most of Takeshi Kitano's films. I was curious, because his film is oftentimes recognized in foreign film festivals, was it a conscious choice that you team up with Office Kitano for this one because you're targeting film festivals around the world?
SABU: This film began because of my correspondence with Mr. Ichiyama, who works for Tokyo FILMeX. He's also very closely associated with Office Kitano. He made the introduction, so I was very fortunate.
STEVE: One of the things that runs through most of your films is, there's always some of these gangsters. I don't know how to phrase this. Why do you seem to be so fascinated with gangsters and bad guys? There's always somebody chasing somebody. There's always the bad guys are gangsters who always seem to be somehow involved in everything.
SABU: In regards to yakuza, I think they're very easy to use in action scenes. Of course, they're also recognized worldwide as this very symbolic, evil character. I like to use them often. In regards to the running scenes, in these days in interviews, people ask me all the time and comment on the other running scenes. I feel as if it's expected of me by now. It's sort of a fan service now.
|Sabu during the post film Q&A|
SABU It's been four years since I've been living in Okinawa. For the first time, I've been witnessing all these festivals that are rooted in the community. I'm so intrigued and fascinated by them, so I always wanted to use them in my films. Here was my chance. It fit with the story, fortunately.
In regards to the difficulties of shooting in Okinawa, I heard a rumor that it was very difficult to use them as extras, because people there are very relax and they're very chill. I heard that it's very difficult for them to commit to a time. I didn't really know how many people would be there until the day of the shooting.
I also heard a rumor that they would take a lot of bathroom breaks and just leave and not come back. Fortunately for me, it worked out quite well. They were very dedicated, and the fact that the actors were there really invigorated them. There was a good sense of kinship and community.
STEVE: I'm curious, you've done work for television. You did TROUBLE MAN which is 12 parts, I believe, for television. It's 6 parts or 12 parts. Do you prefer working in television where it's something like a long form, where you can fill several hours, or would you prefer to do a shorter?
SABU Working in television had its benefits. I quite enjoyed it because there's a story that's fitted to TV. To be honest, I prefer film, working in film.
NOBU: I want to ask you a question about Director of Photography Daisuke Sôma. He'd done HELTER SKELTER and the TOKYO TRIBE which is also at the festival. I was curious to how's the collaboration working with, to set out to do the creation that in his mind?
SABU I worked with the Director of Photography Sôma for Kanikōsen, previously. I remember that he was very quick on his feet. He has very quick footwork. He's very agile in that way, and he was very easy to communicate with, too. It was great to work with him again.
NOBU: I think he also adds to the second unit.
SABU: Sorry, sorry. Second unit, yes.
NOBU: He used to work in the second unit.
SABU: As you mentioned, he worked in the second unit for Kanikōsen . Since then, he really debuted as DP and has been very much in demand. It's wonderful.
STEVE: I have to apologize. I haven't seen the new film, so that's why I'm focusing on his older films.
I'm curious, there's a lot of us in the US who know you and know your work. A lot of people don't, which is a shame. This is a weird question. How would you sell yourself or how do you think we should present your films so that more people can discover you?
Even a lot of Asian-film fans are just discovering you this year at NYAFF or did so when the Japan Society had your retrospective. It was like, "Why haven't I heard of him? This is the first time I've heard of him." What do you think we can do to try to get you more attention here?
SABU: I guess I can just say that...I do get offers to shoot films in the US, so I know I should be more proactive about that. I know that I just need to work harder to be more famous.
NOBU: This one's selected at the competition for the Berlin Film Festival. He's been around a lot of film festivals, but it's not the competition on a significant top-three festival. How's the competition like, in your perspective, this time around? How's the reception at the Berlin?
SABU: As always, my films do get a very warm reception from the audience, because I always hope that...I always intend my films to be enjoyable for the audience. This was my eighth time in Berlin, but what I can say is my experience with the competition, it was completely different from the previous times.
Competition is an entirely different experience. Every time the audience was roused or were having fun, I knew my award was getting further and further away from me. This film is a little manga-like in a way. I know that in Berlin, especially for the competition, they prefer more films that deal with social issues and so on.
I was just surprised that it even got in, in that sense. At the same time, I really respect and appreciate that Berlin is reaching out to find these new films, like mine.
If you want to read the Unseen Films back catalog of reviews for the films of Sabu follow this link.