With Journey of the Tortoise receiving a glaring review on this blog, we were very interested to sit down and have a chat with Tadashi Nagayama about his past, his present and his future. With short and to the point answers, Nagayama provides an interesting insight in his work and the influence of having become a father.
Nagayama Tadashi was born in 1983 in Kanagawa, After his studies at the Tokyo Polytechnic university, he worked as an assistant cameraman before directing his first full-length feature in 2012, TOBIHI. This narrative immediately won a prize at the PIA Film Festival, underlining his promise and his talent. After working on commercials and as a freelance director/camera man, Nagayama luckily returned to the silver screen in 2016 with journey of the Tortoise.
Psycho-cinematography: Can you tell us how you became a director?
Nagayama Tadashi: After studying about movies at university, I worked as a filming assistant, while making my first movie with my own funds. My second movie ‘Journey of a Tortoise’ is also a movie I made with funds I collected myself.
I usually make a living as a director of promotion movies for companies, CM [commercial movies] and so on, and as a cameraman.
P-C: After graduating, you worked as an assistant cameraman. How did that experience change you and the way you direct?
N.T.: When designing a picture with the cameramen and the lighting technicians, we can talk more concretely then ordinary directors. I know about the equipment, from the camera to the lenses and I also know how to shoot. It is an element that makes [framing] scenes go smoothly, but on the other side I also have the feeling that it can be a hindrance.
In the beginning I often felt concerned about the technical details, but then I couldn’t focus on directing. By gaining experience, by being together with trustworthy engineers, I’m now able to give them the responsibility of the technical things when we are proceeding with the scenes.
P-C: Journey of the Tortoise is the first full-length feature to win a prize. You actually won the Grand Prix at the Yubari film Festival, with a money prize of ¥2,000,000. Can you tell us more about the experience of winning that prize?
N.T: Of course I was happy with myself, but I was even more pleased with the reactions of the audience, due to winning that award. There were a lot of people supporting us from a distance and the news of the award even caused some people to shed a tear. I really thought I was good at making movies.
Also, the 2 million yen was not really a prize, but support money for next project. At that time, I also felt that a great but difficult journey was starting.
P-C: Of course, by winning that prize, your next project will be screened at next year’s festival. Can you already give some information about that project?
N.T.: My next project is a feature film that will be around 90 minutes long. I will give you some fragmentary information. The average age of the cast is around 50 years old. Laughter and sorrow, fear and anger, … I’m aiming for a movie that evokes as many emotions as possible. The nuclear power plant accident of 2011 also influenced the movie.
P-C: Between light my fire, which was selected for the Pia Festival in 2012 and Journey of the Tortoise there is five years. What did you do in those years and how did it influence your latest movie?
N.T.: Just at the time of the announcement of my previous work, my son was born. While making a living to raise my child, I was saving money for my movie. Actually, I was desperate to earn money decently with freelance work, so I could support my family. Furthermore, the existence of my son influenced the idea of Journey of a Tortoise.
P-C: You told that the story was based on a true story and your real experience, can you explain which stories and experiences you tried to translated in your movie?
N.T.: The character of the son of the main character has an existence similar to my boyhood. I felt I didn’t belong at school so I was always at the library reading books. What I wanted my father to do then and, now that I have become a father myself, what I want to do if my child has problems is included in the movie.
Moreover, it is a fact that I had a turtle when I was a child. And, one day, that turtle suddenly disappeared.
P-C: Journey of the Tortoise tells something about the difficulty men can have to be seen as a father with authority for their son. How you see the authority of the father in contemporary Japan?
N.T.: Being a strict father is outdated. I think the image of a father who wields his authority has become severely criticized. In Journey of the Tortoise, the dignity of the father was not a conscious theme.