Toshio Lee talksTida-kankan

Takashi Okamura stars in a story on keeping reefs alive

Toshio Lee talks ‘Tida-kankan’

(C) 2010 ‘Tida-kankan’ production committee

Koji Kinjo was the first person to successfully transplant and spawn cultured coral reefs, and in 2007 was awarded Japanese government prizes from both the Minister of the Environment and the Prime Minister. The film ‘Tida-kankan,’ hitting theatres on April 24, is a detailed look a ten year period of Kinjo’s life as he struggles to revive the reefs.

Toshio Lee, well known for the film ‘Detroit Metal City,’ directs Takashi Okamura, one half of comedy duo Ninty-nine. Actress Yasuko Matsuyuki, who has won awards for ‘Hula Girls’ and ‘Yogisha X no Kenshin’ (‘Suspect X’), joins playing the role of Kinjo’s wife.

Kinjo’s story of coral reef revival is an ongoing one, but Time Out Tokyo asked director Toshio Lee why he decided to make a movie about it.

TL: People, when they talk about themselves, only really say good things, don’t they? But Kinjo was different: he told me a lot about the mistakes he had made. It was really interesting. He is someone who deserves our confidence and I think he is an amazing person. While other Japanese cities continue to be Westernized, Okinawa is surrounded by the sea and is an incredible part of Japan. It’s as if the people there have the kind of social ties to each other that Japanese people used to have, and as if a primeval composure and strength still exists there. I think that’s why people like Kinjo – who initially seem a bit crazy, but ultimately can make miracles happen – still exist there.

It does seem like just listening to Okinawan people talk makes you feel more relaxed.
TL: Exactly. I think people these days are always comparing themselves to others to see who has the advantage, but if you are in Okinawa the act of comparing yourself to someone else seems meaningless. That’s why I’m so glad I chose Okinawa as the setting for my film. It made me realize that places like that still exist. Many people say it’s a therapeutic island, but I think it’s not just the beautiful scenery, but also the nature of the people there that makes it a healing place.

Do you think Tokyo has little of the kind of therapeutic essence those people have?
TL: What’s interesting about this film is that there is an extreme division between people who say they really like it and those who say it isn’t very good. In other words, for those who are looking for something new, some kind of new sensation, I haven’t done anything new in this film, so they are left with the feeling that it isn’t very good. But those who are looking to see something that is more universal can identify with it. In the cities, most people think that constantly looking for new things is a good thing. But fads like that have an expiry date; after a while you are left with nothing.

In this film there was really one theme that I wanted to explore. I wasn’t looking to make a film about the environment. I wanted to convey the message that whether or not your life is fulfilling is completely up to you. For example, even if you have no money, your life can become rich in other ways. Kinjo was lucky enough to come across something that he really wanted to do which gave his life meaning. But it isn’t just that. There were also people around Kinjo who supported him and even if they didn’t have anything they wanted to do themselves, I think the act of supporting made their lives richer. So anyone really can lead a fulfilling life. I think it is best if my audience can identify with that point.

Myself, I want to make films that make people say, ‘That was pretty good.’

Why did you choose Takashi Okamura to play the role of Kinjo?
TL: I chose him for the way he talks more than how he looks. Okinawan people have a hesitating way of talking, don’t they? The way Kinjo speaks is pure and honest and straightforward, and it has a slight sadness about it. When it came to transferring those qualities onto an actor, without even thinking about it, Okamura just sprang to mind. He isn’t an actor, and when he thought about playing a serious role he kept on saying, ‘What am I going to do? What am I going to do?,’ but I told him, ‘Even if you don’t play it seriously, just act in a normal way and you can become Kinjo.’ I thought even if someone who could do anything like superman played the role of Kinjo it would just be boring.

Previously when I interviewed you, you said that being on location filming was like being in heaven. How did you feel about it this time?
TL: Sometimes I also refer to it as a festival. It’s because the film crew are crazy. If you convert their salaries into hourly wages, then these adults are getting paid for their work in mere hundreds of yen an hour. It a collection of crazy people who, when we’re filming in the middle of the night and I say ‘Let’s do one more take of that to get it right,’ will say, ‘That’s a great idea!’ and start to film. And Kinjo is crazy too.

Yeah, he’s ‘coral reef crazy’!
TL: Exactly! So to change the world, knowledge, money and strength may be important, but becoming a little crazy is also really important too. I think becoming crazy is when you believe. So I think being on location with a film is amazing. It could be my directing techniques or the skill, or lack of skill, in the acting, but I think if you really put yourself into what you are doing then you can communicate something. What I always say is that I want to make a film which places more value on impressions than information.

You were in Okinawa for the duration of the filming. Do you have any necessities when you are on a trip?
TL: FM radio. AM is also OK, but when you take a walk while listening to local sounds, the scenery changes. The first time I realized that was about twenty years ago when I was in the Los Angeles airport and I happened to hear classical music coming from the radio. The entire scene around me seemed to be moving in slow motion, and it looked really cool. Scenery changes when it is combined with music. It allows a completely different interpretation of a place compared one based on the knowledge you get from books and travel guides. I think you can understand places on a much deeper level.

That’s why when I was choosing the theme song for this film I listened to a lot of music at sea. So when I listened on the ocean to songs that sounded good in a room or in the car, they ended up losing to the impact of nature. The pop music I think doesn’t lose out to natural surroundings is that of Tatsuro Yamashita. When I asked him for music, I asked just one thing. I said: ‘I want you to make your take on ‘What a Wonderful World’.’ I asked him to make a melody that would last forever, because I’m going to make a film that will last forever. I really want you to watch the film until the very end and listen to that song. I think the feeling it has of ‘Right, I’m going to keep on going,’ is wonderful.

‘Tida-kankan: umi to sango to chisana kiseki’
Opens: Sat 24 April
Showing at Shinjuku Wald9 and other cinemas
Distributor: Showgate
Copyright 2010 ‘Tida-kankan’ production committee

By Akiko Toya
Translated by Virginia Okno
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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