For 2018, we might have found the director that, in our opinion, shows the most potential for the future. While our review of her debut-narrative Amiko (2017), which screened at Fantasia Fest, has yet to be written, we can already present the interview we conducted with her. Even though this interview remains a written document of the spoken word, it is not difficult to feel Yamanaka’s personality shine through the various answers she has provided us.
Psycho-Cinematography: You’re so young, yet you already present your first feature film. Can you explain us your desire to become a movie-director?
Yoko Yamanaka: My parents were elitist and I was defying them since I was very young. So I was firmly determined not to get an intellectual desk-work profession, which my mother wanted me to. This decision made me interested in arts, and movies happened to be something I felt familiar with at the time when I thought of my career. It wasn’t that I just wanted to get involved to filmmaking. I thought a director could decide everything… I don’t know if it’s true… but it was the reason that I wanted to be a director.
P.C.: A little more specific now. As you skipped university to make this movie, as you had to make this movie, it seems like there was an urgency to tell this story. Can you elaborate on this?
Y.Y.: I actually was a serious student at university for about 6 months, and just stopped going there without notice. I officially quit the school before the Berlin film festival, but I just abandoned my classes until then. I had finally come to Tokyo to work on film-making but I felt the environment at the university was rather an obstacle for me. For example, the school didn’t lend equipment to make films outside of the class. Also, when I wanted to use a technique that I had not learned, my teacher told me not to because we hadn’t learned it in the class yet. I stopped going to the school because I didn’t know why I should go anymore. Meeting many students with no ambition made me sad too. I had some good friends in my class who helped me make this film, but there were very few of them. I stayed at my place to think alone, and just kept watching films. It was a hard time for me.
When I lived in my hometown Nagano, I was bored and didn’t have many people to talk to. I thought that I, if I went to Tokyo, could be in an ideal cultural environment. Realizing I was wrong made me completely devastated. But I didn’t want to remain buried and I wanted to find a solution.
P.C.: Did you need more stimulation?
Y.Y.: I knew that I could just go find stimulation if I was not satisfied by my environment. But I also realized that I couldn’t take actions so fast. It made me think [and made me realize that] I have to try hard and live strong.
P.C.: Where did the idea for this narrative come? Your own experiences perhaps?
Y.Y.: It’s a frequently asked question. There is almost nothing that comes from my own experience in this story. It’s not rare to have a delicate family relationship around me though. Having no adult in the film might be a reflection of my displeasure to teachers and parents in my childhood.
I have a habit to keep notes of good words that I find in my daily life and stock them, some ideas [for the story] come from it.
P.C.: Displeasure to teachers in childhood?
Y.Y.: I have resentment to all the teachers in my childhood. But I realized after growing up that people with bad experiences in school life don’t become teachers. That’s probably why many teachers can’t even imagine that some students hate school.
P.C.: An inevitable question, how much do you and Amiko have in common?
Y.Y.: We are both adventurous and don’t have an intention to stay in a place. We don’t choose the easier way. And we take action on impulse, like doing things before considering if it’s possible or not.
P.C.: Making a first movie is never easy. What were some of the biggest challenges for you? (e.g production-wise).
Y.Y.: It’s impossible to make a film completely alone. And I’m not good at soliciting others and working together. I like doing everything by myself. Probably, I should better be a novel writer. So it took a lot of courage of me to offer the jobs, … etc. But [in this way] I also learned that it’s important to share the work with others.
P.C: After experiencing the process from start to finish: what would you do different for your second project?
Y.Y.: It is bad to do things on impulse. Often I wasn’t prepared enough.
Another thing is, I was very lucky to have my first film screened abroad, and I had the chance to experience the process of making the subtitles too. But in my film « Amiko », I had many dialogues which were too long to fit in the subtitle regulation. So those dialogues were translated differently from the original. That’s something I realized this time, so maybe I should consider it.
P.C.: Will you make a film thinking about translation?
Y.Y.: Well, I don’t need to, but it was something I found interesting.
There were also many elements that went against my will, by having a producer for the first time and [because] some adults from a film agency [got involved]. Probably they let me do [it more] freely compared to real commercialized films, but even then, there were some elements that made me feel uneasy.
P.C.: The scene where Amiko tells that Japanese cannot dance spontaneously feels like a subtle commentary on contemporary society. Do you think Japanese culture needs more spontaneity?
Y.Y.: It must be about the dance scene. Yes, I do think so. For example, it is very hot now in Japan because of the extreme weather [P.C.: smilingly nods], but it happens that people do not use air-conditioner in schools and offices, even if they have one. Because the elders say « we were OK without air-conditioner in our time » and the younger people do not want to fight with them. But it is just too ridiculous if we don’t say anything and die because of not using the air-conditioner. So I think we should change it from that level.
P.C.: Related to the previous question, what is your opinion about tatamae and honne in contemporary Japanese society?
Y.Y.: Talking about myself, my mother is Chinese and I don’t really try to endure and hold back what I want to say in my life. Sometimes I look at others and think « are you still doing that? ». It’s not healthy to hold what we want to say. All the Japanese people seem unhealthy to my eyes, both physically and mentally. And this problem exists since long time ago, doesn’t it? When will it change? We are at the end of Heisei period!
P.C.: Are there directors that influenced you? If so, how did they influence you?
Y.Y.: For Japanese directors, I watched movies by Sion Sono when I was a Junior-high and high school student. It was very energetic. Its energy was incomparable with other Japanese movies. It was my first time that I thought « this director will die if he doesn’t keep making films ». But I really started to get interested in films when I watched « Holy Mountain » by Alexandro Jodorowsky, a movie I borrowed from my art teacher in high school. Before that, I was only watching happy ending movies, or blockbuster tearjerkers, or classic selections like « Schindler’s list ». That film by Jodorowsky opened my eyes. It was such a weird film with no particular outline. Since then, I started renting films beyond my comprehension. That was the beginning.
P.C.: This movie truly proves your talent. So I’m eager to know. Are there already ideas for a next project? If so, can you give our readers a teaser?
Y.Y.: For my next project, I’d like to base [the story] on my own experience in primary school. It was the most hellish period in my life. I was closing of my mind, and was surrounded by weird adults like teachers, old ladies in my neighbourhood, … etc. I find children around 12 years old, the age before junior high school, very dangerous. They do unimaginable wild things because they can’t make a distinction between good and bad. It’s not only about me. For example, I had a friend who made a goldfish lack oxygen. That’s what interests me about children. In the future, I’d like to research it thoroughly so I can make a film about it.
P.C.: Thank you for your time.