With focus on the universal themes of revenge and love and the topical themes of the delinquency and desensitization of anguished youth, “Confessions” is a showcase for top Japanese stage, film and television actress Takako Matsu who plays the lead role of a middle
school teacher who accuses students in her class of murdering her young daughter. Following the disturbing accusation, the teacher avows that the students will pay for their actions for the rest of their lives; her ultimate revenge reaches the bottom depths of their already damaged psyches.
Last week we interviewed Genki Kawamura, the producer of “Confessions”.
Cinema Without Borders: The film is adapted from the best-selling novel “Kokuhaku” by Kanae Minato. What interested you about the book that made you decide it would be good subject matter for a film?
Genki Kawamura: Normally one laughs and cries at mainstream Japanese movies with their inevitable happy endings. I had always perceived this to be unconvincing because entertainment should not only celebrate the goodness in life. Then I came across this deeply dark, grave story questioning the ruthlessness of human beings without providing any redemption at the end. When the story comes to an end the readers are left to ponder the ways they must face the uncertainties and malice that surrounds them. When I was thrown off by the lack of a definite conclusion to the story, I realized I should make a film in order to understand and react to the story in my own way. Moreover, I was moved to share my initial reaction to the book with audiences through the medium of film. I knew for sure then and there that a movie, which allows the audience to find its own answers, would indeed become a splendid film.
CWB: How different is the film from the book?
Genki Kawamura: The original novel consists of 5 separate monologues or confessions. First we had to take the confessions apart and the piece them back together. To bring the novel to the screen, every confession was to be scrutinized in the scripting stage. That is to say, the words of an individual could not be trusted. The five characters who make the confessions state what they saw and felt, yet there are lies embedded within. Whether it is due to ego or just for sheer convenience, the truth sometimes escapes a confession. Words can be deceiving. Thus, in a way, the film approaches the original story with a critical set of eyes, where it visually depicts the story balancing the truth and fiction of each confession.
CWB: How did you come to work with director Tetsuya Nakashima?
Genki Kawamura: About the same time I had obtained the option rights to the original story, the director, Tetsuya Nakashima had similarly read the story and had also sought the rights to the book. I knew that he would make this story into a wonderful film with his sense of imagination thus we met up and commenced on scripting right away.
CWB: What was the initial reaction to the film in Japan?
Genki Kawamura: In the beginning, the reaction seemed to be generally confused, people not knowing how to react. Right after the movie ended, the theatre would be dead silent where no one would even utter a word. That was very common. However, once they left the theatre and settled down at a different location like a restaurant, comments on the movie would flow out endlessly. This phenomenon gradually grew in Japan through the Internet and twitter, and made the film into a tremendous long-term hit. A film void of a conclusive message, one that may seem to abandon the audience all together, is in fact a movie that makes one think, discuss and then discover his own message.
CWB: How challenging was it to make this film?
Genki Kawamura: The biggest challenge for the film was the audition of the thirty-seven 13-year-olds to play the students. As most of the selected thirty-seven members had no previous acting experience, it was also as hard to direct them. However, the director had felt that the importance of being thirteen and to be attuned with what they experience daily was far more important than any acting skills. Further, there was much criticism about the subject matter of juvenile delinquency and the violent retribution by a schoolteacher with which the movie dealt. To be able to maintain an objective perspective about the subject matter was another challenging aspect in making this film.
CWB: The film is very well cast; can you talk about the casting process?
Genki Kawamura: The thirty-seven 13-year-olds were all selected from an audition of more than 500 candidates. We thought the audition would never end. Takako Matsu, the main actress and daughter of a well-known kabuki actor, had been recognized for her refined and sophisticated image, something quite the opposite of what she had enacted in the movie. We had chosen her for the role of the teacher as her poise and the gracious bearing was what was essential in maintaining the objectiveness needed in the movie. Of course, I am very thankful to all the cast members who, despite the risks of performing such roles, had carried out their parts with so much confidence.
CWB: What were the most memorable moments during the making of the film?
Genki Kawamura: I must say the most memorable moment was when the flu became an epidemic among the 13-year-olds and one by one they fell victim to the sickness. In the end, almost half of the 37 members had to stay home. I sincerely admire Mr. Nakashima for continuing on with the shooting even when his intended shots were compromised.
CWB: Can you talk about the choices made regarding the visual style of the film?
Genki Kawamura: In representing the fine line between truth and fiction in each confession, the image also had to pursue the ambiguous borderlines of reality and fantasy. The climax sequence of the rewinding clock and the reassembling of the mother’s body from the explosion epitomize this, where the boy’s imagined reality coincides with what is truly happening and the borders mesh together.
CWB: What makes you different from other producers in Japan?
Genki Kawamura: I am 31 years old. For me film, anime, manga, music and art were all entertainment. And I grew up engulfed in a rather secluded world of Japanese sub-culture. Thus when I produce films, it is not in the context of making it film-like but instead to squeeze in much varied Japanese cultural sense and to bring about a new definition to film. This I believe is unique to me as a Japanese producer and what distinguishes the movies I have worked on to contain universal aspects, which attracts attention globally.
CWB: When do you start thinking about your next project? Do you wait until the current one is finished?
Genki Kawamura: I constantly drive myself to take on contrasting themes. Hence right now, as I had produced a film on malice, I am fascinated by goodwill. Working on dysfunctional families had brought about my interest in family ties. That is why I am now producing a film that deals with both that, goodwill and family ties. It is a 3DCG animation called “Friends: Naki on Monster Island”. Next for me will be something opposite again, maybe a suspense based on the most brutal murder in Japan. In pushing myself in opposing directions every time, I think I will become aware of something new.
CWB: What will be your next project?
Genki Kawamura: My next project is a 3DCG animation called “Friends: Naki on Monster Island”. The story is based on the most touching Japanese folk tale, which tells of a little boy’s days and eventual parting with monsters. While it is a family picture, it is not a movie in which you can laugh, cry and sit back to a happy ending. In this day and age, I believe that a simple happy ending for everyone simply does not exist. In order to gain something, one must let something else go. This is the type of family picture I hope to make. In a way, I seek that the movie will very much be like “E.T.”, the very first movie I had seen when I was 3 years old which became the most influential movie.