With his biting black humor, minimalist storytelling, and character-driven tales about slackers, director Nobuhiro Yamashita has been a recent Cinema Strikes Back favorite (previous coverage here). At the recent AFI Dallas Film Festival, correspondent Blake Ethridge had the chance to catch up with him and discuss “Linda Linda Linda“, his upcoming film “The Matsugane Potshot Affair“, his segment in “Ten Dreamy Nights“, as well as to see if he had finally been able to see Richard Linklater’s “Slacker” (a film to which people have always drawn thematic comparisons). “Linda Linda Linda” incidentally is now out on US Region 1 DVD courtesy of Viz Media (www.viz-pictures.com).
CSB: When the producers first brought you this Angel-award winning script, what was it that made you finally decide you wanted to do it?
Nobuhiro Yamashita: Truthfully, I thought, “why me?” because I’ve been doing a lot of films with guys and this movie is all about girls. Why me?
CSB: Did your university days, and being in bands, help lead you to say yes to this project?
Nobuhiro Yamashita: I tried to be in a band but I quit. I didn’t pursue my music then in my college life and quit. Because of that, I tried to do deeper research about bands and music. In that sense, it really helped because I had to talk to a lot of people and be more careful and diligent to be truthful to a band movie.
CSB: Talk about the pre-production of the film and working with the actresses in forming their characters.
Nobuhiro Yamashita: We had a vague idea of characters and then, as we developed the characters, we were doing the audition process. So as we met girls we started molding characters more to fit the girls we selected. Once we decided on one girl, we would call her back to the auditions. Then, as we worked on molding her character, we would add each next girl selected to this audition group until we then had the entire band. This is how we developed the group and the chemistry of the girls. There weren’t many actual rehearsals before the filming.
CSB: I definitely felt that with Linda Linda Linda Linda, and especially with, say Yu Kashii’s performance, you could see very real characters breathing in the actresses, not the usual cardboard characters I see in movies.
Nobuhiro Yamashita: My first three films are all about these slackers. These guys who aren’t good for anything. I write for movies with an actor in mind, so I try to characterize people in my script to fit this real person. This is probably why I get this feedback that characters become more like a real live person.
CSB: Any interesting anecdotes about the making of Linda Linda Linda?
Nobuhiro Yamashita: The most memorable to me would be working with a Korean actress (Bae Doo-Na). Korea and Japan are very close. However, the attitude towards filmmaking is totally different. So that was a new experience.
CSB: Was that a tough sell for you getting an actual Korean actress to play Son’s role?
Nobuhiro Yamashita: Actually, I didn’t think I would ever end up working with a Korean actress in the first place. During the process of developing the project I came up with the idea of working with Bae Doo-Na. I didn’t think we could get her but she actually said yes. So that’s how it happened, and it wasn’t always in the beginning so I was the one that came up with the idea. Of course, right after we found out she wanted to do it we found out that she was actually expensive and we had to fly her out. It was a tough thing afterwards to deal with but we made it happen.
CSB: When adapting the screenplay how much of your own personal high school experiences did you put in? For instance the Kokuhaku scene we see in the film.
Nobuhiro Yamashita: It wasn’t so much that I myself actually experienced the episodes we see in the movie. I was around those people that were experiencing and actually doing kokuhaku with girls. I was actually the boy you see peeking through the window in that one scene in the movie (laughs) instead of the boy confessing his love to the girl.
CSB: How did James Iha of the Smashing Pumpkins become involved with the film?
Nobuhiro Yamashita: It was a connection through the music producer of the movie. She asked if I might be interested in him doing the music. I listened to his music and really liked it, and that’s how I decided to use him.
CSB: Was there any point in the film where we see the girls actually playing live?
Nobuhiro Yamashita: No, nothing was recorded live. It was all pre-recorded. During film production it was too tough with cutting and editing and all that stuff. It was never a live performance. The sound itself was pre-recorded and added later.
CSB: Was Linda Linda Linda always the main song or were there other possibilities you considered?
Nobuhiro Yamashita: Linda Linda Linda is such an iconic song done by the Blue Hearts. Everybody knows it. When you hear the Blue Hearts, it’s the song that first comes to peoples’ minds. It was always the first choice for the main song we were going to use. (With respect to) other songs (in the film), we did have many choices we had to go through.
CSB: Speaking of the Blue Hearts, have you ever gotten any feedback on whether any members of the band have seen the film?
Nobuhiro Yamashita: No feedback other than that I heard one of the wives of a Blue Hearts members was seen at a screening of the film at one point.
CSB: I’m curious if you can talk about Ten Dreamy Nights (Yume ju-ya)? I’m seeing this film next month at Nippon Connection and am curious to know more about your segment in it.
Nobuhiro Yamashita: It’s a very weird movie. I think it would be very tiresome to watch the entire Ten Dreamy Nights. For my part I collaborated with a comic book writer. It’s very weird because it’s about a dream and I wanted to visualize the [kind of] dream that people actually have. So that’s what I tried to do.
CSB: So it would be weirder than a hand in a box and the Ramones showing up?
Nobuhiro Yamashita: (Laughs) It’s even weirder than that.
CSB: I’m also curious about another film I’m seeing at Nippon Connection, The Matsugane Potshot Affair (Matsugane ransha jiken).
Nobuhiro Yamashita: Linda Linda Linda was the very first movie that I made that was very very different — it’s kind of like a feel good movie with all the girls. Because of that film I wanted to make something completely opposite of that. That is how I came to Matsugane and with it I wanted to dig into the dark side of humans.
CSB: One of the Midnight Eye writers said it was like Blue Velvet meets Fargo.
Nobuhiro Yamashita: (Laughs) Yeah I hear that a lot. I like both films. Also, I really like the song that plays during the end credits of Matsugane so please stay and listen to the music. I really like the music.
CSB: What film are you working on next?
Nobuhiro Yamashita: Right now I’m finishing up with one film (Tennen kokekkô) that is about the love story of a boy and a girl in junior high school and their love story in a small town. It’s a really small town as the entire school population is seven students and that’s about how small the town is. I’m finishing this up right now. It’s another feel-good movie based on a short comic story. It will be released this summer in Japan.
CSB: Your minimalist style has often been compared back to Richard Linklater’s Slacker and I was curious if you’ve been able to see that film yet?
Nobuhiro Yamashita: I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve never been familiar with it but I know people have always compared my films with it. Interestingly enough all my movies have been called “slacker” movies. Because I depict human beings that are slackers, that are not mainstream, well-received people. It is different characters that I write about. In Japan, my films are called slacker films as they feature people who are anti-social and have a dark side. I find it interesting that even though I didn’t know there was a movie called Slacker, people compare my films to [Richard Linklater’s movies].
CSB: What films or filmmakers have had the biggest impact on you?
Nobuhiro Yamashita: I’ve been most [often] compared with Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismäki. I like those two directors but I don’t think I’ve ever been influenced by them. I watch American movies so subconsciously. Those are the ones I’ve connected with the most.
CSB: What was the film or moment that made you decide to be a filmmaker?
Nobuhiro Yamashita: It was Takeshi Kitano’s film Violent Cop. When I saw that film, with all due respect, I thought that I could do it too. I didn’t think that it was that much work that I had to do to make a film. So I thought I could do it to. “Even a Japanese filmmaker can make an interesting film” is what ran through my mind when I saw that film.
CSB: Do you have any personal favorite film that you feel is under appreciated and that people should rush out and see?
Nobuhiro Yamashita: There is a filmmaker named Watanabe Fumiki. He has his own projector and only goes to local culture centers and not in theatres. Very local and small cultural centers and that’s what he does. The films that he shoots and screens are maybe too much propaganda. What he does in terms of getting his film out there is very interesting and inspiring for other filmmakers in terms of getting the word out. It’s very scandalous with the amount of propaganda, and he gets arrested and fights with right wing group. What he does is very true to what he believes and I think that is very cool.
* A huge thanks to Chiho Mori, Executive Director of The Asian Film Festival of Dallas for her stellar translation during the interview. The Asian Film Festival of Dallas 2007 dates are August 23-30th (www.affd.org).
* Thanks to Roland Domenig of Institute of East Asian Studies at Vienna University for his help with identifying Watanabe Fumiki. My notes on this question are currently in my lost luggage (which hopefully will be returned to me some day).
* Thanks to Midnight Eye (www.midnighteye.com) for their invaluable resource on Japanese cinema that makes researching films and directors incredibly easier.
* Thanks to James Faust, Senior Programmer for AFI Dallas (www.afidallas.com) for programming Linda Linda Linda and bringing in Nobuhiro Yamashita.
::: Linda Linda Linda Official US Site
::: Linda Linda Linda Official Japanese Site
::: Linda Linda Linda IMDb Profile
::: WE LOVE BAE DOO-NA
::: Nobuhiro Yamashita IMDb Profile
::: The Matsugane Potshot Affair Official Site
::: The Matsugane Potshot Affair IMDb Profile
::: Ten Dreamy Nights Official Site
::: Ten Dreamy Nights IMDb Profile
::: Tennen kokekkô Official Site (has a trailer available)
::: Tennen kokekkô IMDb Profile
::: AFI Dallas
::: Midnight Eye Interview with Nobuhiro Yamashita #1
::: Midnight Eye Interview with Nobuhiro Yamashita #2
Filed under: Movie News and Movie News: Japan and Movie News: USA and DVD News and DVD News: USA and Contributors: Blake and Film Festivals: News and Movie News: Interviews and Film Festivals: AFI Dallas and People: Nobuhiro Yamashita and Movies: Linda Linda Linda (2005) and Movies: The Matsugane Potshot Affair (2006) and Movies: Tennen kokekkô (2007) and DVD Companies: Viz Media