Interview with Lisa Spilliaert

1) N.P is based on a work by Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto. How did you encounter this work, and what inspired you to adapt it?
I first encountered Banana Yoshimoto’s works in my aunt’s bookshelf when I was a teenager in Japan. Amongst many other Yoshimoto works I read N.P and it has always fascinated me in the following years, even after I moved to Belgium. N.P became a subdued undertone in my life, as I gradually rediscovered many motifs that intersected with my interest – translation, fiction vs autobiography, genealogy and kinship.

2) The most immediately striking element of your film is that the dialogue is never heard, but read in boards, like in silent films. Why did you choose to deliver it this way?
This approach allowed me to highlight the physical presence of the words. With the abundance of voices, I wanted to undermine the cinematic reality and thus make the viewer aware of the different narrative layers.

3) Nevertheless, the film is not completely silent, as sounds are heard in relation to what is seen onscreen. Can you comment on this choice? How did you elaborate the soundtrack?
We first finished the narrative editing without any sound. I wanted to be ready with the image-lock before I started working on the sound. After having fixed a narrative line as a starting point, we further investigated the structure with a sound designer.
One of the most important structural decisions was to use a combination of environmental sound and foley during the conversations, to emphasize the idea that all the voices are stolen – although it’s not a rigid system, as we also used different music pieces on some conversation scenes. We also used complete silence on most of the monologue intertitles and the “translator” scenes that have yet another status.

4) Considering that voice was not going to be one of the elements that they could use, how did you work with the actors?
With my confidence in each of their own personalities related to the roles, I gave the actors a condensed script and asked them to articulate it in their own words, allowing the freedom for improvisation. I wanted to concentrate on the spontaneous interactions and growing dynamics between them in an organic way.
That was for example interesting between the two main actors who play Kazami and Sui; Clara Spilliaert’s tranquil appearance as Kazami versus the deliriously controlled body movements of dancer Mikiko Kawamura as Sui.
Afterwards we did refine the script during the postproduction.

5) You chose to film N.P in long, mostly static shots, eschewing classical editing. Could you comment on this choice?
With great support and contributions from the camera crew I could focus on composition during the shoot. My background in photography may be one of the reasons I often used static framing. Through years of reading the book N.P countless times I developed a detailed imagination for each of the scenes, which made it evident for me how to construct and depict the story.
For the travelling shots I put my trust in Hiroshi Ashikaga who was handling the camera. Those shots bring minimal yet crucial vividness in the narrative. With all the material I looked for a good synthesis in the editing that expresses the right feeling that radiates from within the story.

6) It seems that translation, but also relation from one culture to another, is deeply at stake in your film. Could you comment?
During the text editing in postproduction I had the feeling of entering the forest of translation again. I had the original text in Japanese in my mind, and the dramaturge Sis Matthé had different translations (Dutch, French, Italian…) of the novel N.P as a reference. The enriching process of experiencing the various degrees of (dis)harmony between the original and the different language versions, led us to reconstruct the narrative.
Throughout the entire film you see a recurring character that comments on the phenomenon of translation. These parts differ from all other scenes, as the character looks straight into the camera, welcoming to meditate on the complexities of language and translation. The aim here is to reflect on the impossibility of the return to the “original” which is being mirrored by the incestuous relationships between the protagonists.

Interviewed by Nathan Letoré