• First Film Competition



Hikaru Uwagawa

In Madrid, a young Russian woman lives alone with her eight-year-old son since his father left them to “hunt for treasure”. In San Sebastian, a Japanese traveller meets a young Basque woman; they spend time together, she introduces him to her friends, but she knows that one day he’ll leave again. In Maniwa, a young man goes home to his family for the Obon ceremony in honour of his grandfather. Each stand-alone story follows on from the previous one.
Hikaru Uwagawa is Japanese, and spent some of his life in Spain. He uses the displacement and peculiarities of living abroad in his filmmaking – polyglot filmmaking that plays with literature. The works of Homer and Joyce form a discreet backdrop; the film is written between their lines whilst playing on these departures. While it’s tempting to seek out characters from The Odyssey in Ulysses’ protagonists, there’s no need to know much about the legendary Greek hero’s adventures to enjoy watching the succession of these three melancholy strolls where the hazy mood of the soul rubs shoulders with the joy of the encounter. It’s also pared-down filmmaking that elegantly frames the minimalist plots in each episode. The dialogue among them revolves around the motifs of the memory of home, with its connotations of family and the land of one’s birth. And it’s no coincidence that in the film’s third song, the director takes centre stage with his grandmother Kazuko-Tiresias preparing the Obon, like Ulysses reaching the kingdom of the dead. A tribute to deceased ancestors and his own family – in short, a film about rites of passage.

Louise Martin Papasian

Your film takes its title from Joyce’s famous novel and the name of the hero of The Odyssey, some of whose adventures are evoked through key details and themes, even if the interpretation remains very free. Where did your desire to follow in the footsteps of these texts through cinema come from? How did these works guide you in the conception and realization of this project?

During my four years studying filmmaking in Spain, I became very conscious of my home by living as an immigrant. I began to realize that I have conflicting feelings of wanting to go home and at the same time not wanting to. Then, upon reading The Odyssey, I realized that the protagonist Ulysses may have the same conflicting feelings until he returns home, and I decided to make a film about this complex feeling toward home as a parody of Homer’s Odyssey, as James Joyce did in Ulysses.
I think what James Joyce’s and Homer’s works have in common is the limitless openness of their interpretations. Therefore, I wanted this film to be as open to interpretation as possible. In addition, Ulysses has already been used as a reference for many works of art. The process was to refer to those references and incorporate them into the methodology of the film. For example, the novels of Milan Kundera were particularly influential in this process. Although I didn’t use a script for this film, in the process I created diary, dictionaries, collages, etc. to guide the film.

The film is made up of three episodes (or songs? Or fragments?) set in Madrid, San Sebastian and Maniwa in Japan. Why did you choose these locations? And why, in the editing, did you choose to go from one to the other without transition?

The three locations of the film were where I lived at the time, and I worked on the film living there; we shot in Madrid in 2020, San Sebastian in 2022, and Maniwa in 2023.
Regarding the transitions in each episode, at first each episode was preceded by an inter title indicating its correspondence with The Odyssey. However, as I was editing the entire film, I felt that the inter titles in the middle inevitably disconnected the emotional experience of the film that had been building up to that point, and also the disadvantage was that the audience would feel that they wouldn’t understand the film if they didn’t know The Odyssey. For these reasons, I finally decided to eliminate the inter title. By eliminating the inter title, I think the film is more open to interpretation as to how it corresponds to The Odyssey. And I think that even those who have no knowledge of The Odyssey can enjoy the film as a cinematic experience.

Each episode features several characters, some of whom we assume to be non-professional actors, coming from the filming locations. How did you go about casting and working with them? What was your working method?

The actors in each episode were decided upon as I actually met and became friends with them in the locations. Before the idea for the film was even conceived, in 2020 I was working with Alevtina and Dimitri in Madrid, filming each of their reenactments of their daily lives. Somehow they seemed to overlap with the Penelope and Telemachus of The Odyssey, and the prototype for this film was created. I met Enaitz when I was working on this project at EQZE in San Sebastian, and we started shooting together when my friend Izumi came to visit me in Spain.We shot one scene a day, and the next day we watched the material and decided what we wanted to do next, discussing it with the crew and actors. That experience was really exciting for me and I wanted to develop this method in Okayama episode. In Okayama we filmed at my grandmother’s house with her family. We filmed and started to edit together with the crew repeatedly, and then we discussed and found what we needed for the film very intensively.

From one place to another, and even within the same location, we hear several languages spoken, in a very natural way. What interested you in this multilingual aspect?

When I lived in Spain, I was very interested in the musical aspect of non-native languages spoken by foreigners, including myself. This is connected to the musical charm of each language, and also the physical response in the form of gestures changes depending on the language. I wanted to record these differences with a camera.
Furthermore, in Europe there are many opportunities to hear different languages in daily life, but in Japan, where I grew up, such opportunities are very rare. So I think it is a very nice to be able to hear many different languages in one film experience.

After two short episodes in Spain featuring fictional characters, the action moves to Japan, to your family home, where your grandmother is preparing an Obon ceremony in tribute to her late husband. Why did you choose to include this directly personal, almost autobiographical dimension?

After living in Madrid and San Sebastian and making films with people I met there, I lived for a while at my grandmother’s house in Okayama. My grandfather passed away just when I was in Spain, so I never got to meet him before he died. So it was very natural for me to come back from Spain and make a film about him. The stories told by the characters in each episode are their true stories. I was very interested in their memories. In that sense, the Okayama episode is exactly the same as the other episodes. I don’t belong to that place in Okayama. In the research process of the Okayama episode I discovered their stories.
I decided to act in the Okayama episode because, in thinking about the film, I thought it would be good to have a structure in which someone who doesn’t belong to that place listens to the story of my grandmother and my mother and tell the story from his point of view, and also I thought that being in the same position as them would help them to be relaxed in front of the camera.

Each fragment seems independent of the others, yet at the same time forms part of a whole. When did you opt for this narrative construction? Do you plan to continue Ulysses with other episodes?

I had many discussions with many people about the unity and coherence of this film. From the beginning, I wanted to experiment with the fact that three inconsistent episodes can become one film through correspondences with mythology, so I was conscious of avoiding creating conversations and shots as repetitive motifs as much as possible during filming. And it was very important for me to find a flow in the film as a poem apart from the storyline. As clues to this, things and people that don’t exist now but still exist in people’s memories play an important role for each character. I think this feeling of remembrance underpins the entire film.
I don’t think Ulysses is over with this film. I still feel that I can make a new film inspired by Ulysses and The Odyssey. However, I would like to make it as something completely new, not like a replica of the previous film.

Interview by Louise Martin Papasian

  • First Film Competition
16:3026 June 2024Variétés 1
09:3027 June 2024Cinéma Artplexe 3
21:0028 June 2024Artplexe 2

Technical sheet

Japan, Spain / 2024 / Colour / 73'

Original version: Russian, Basque, Spanish, English, Japanese
Subtitles: English, French
Script: Hikaru Uwagawa
Photography: Hikaru Uwagawa, Avery Duncan, Keisuke Sekino
Editing: Hikaru Uwagawa
Sound: Nicolás Auger, Joan Pàmies Lluís, Ryo Yoshikawa
Cast: Alevtina Tikhonova, Dimitri Tikhonov, Izumi Ishii, Enaitz Zulaika, Hikaru Uwagawa, Kazuko Hara

Production: Hikaru Uwagawa
Company: Elías Querejeta Zine Eskola
Address: Tabakalera · Andre zigarrogileak plaza, 1 Donostia / San Sebastián, Spain
Telephone number: 0034 943 545 005
Contact: hikaru.romantico@gmail.com

A Portrait of the Young Man as a Young Man / 2019 / 10min