• Flash Competition


Yu Araki

Yu Araki
A traditional Japanese home, filmed in frontal frames, in the style of Ozu. As a soundtrack, the Apollo 11 moon landing archives. A Japanese commentator takes over and announces the forthcoming programme: the real-time two-person commentary of a wedding ceremony on the Nagasaki moon base. Why Nagasaki? Because Puccini set the wedding of American officer Pinkerton and geisha Cio-Cio there in the first act of Madama Butterfly, and because Honeymoon is an exuberant and explosive variation on this opera. Why the moon? Because this filmic bomb is literally science-fiction, and because space-time distance sharpens the eye for the experience to come. Via an analysis of the ceremony as a tableau vivant, the experience consists in a both highbrow and crazy deconstruction of “Japanism”, namely the fascination of 19th to early 20th-century Europe with Japan. Yu Araki replaces Puccini’s original husband and marriage officiant with two Japanophile historical figures: eccentric photographer Adolf de Meyer and American anthropologist Frederick Starr. Ethnology, etymology, history, onomastics: as the people in the tv control room explain the tableau vivant in details, the dialogued commentary turns into encyclopaedic frenzy, exegetical wirework. The core of this deconstructivist experience is the seiza, that is to say the formal way of kneeling on the floor, a mandatory if slightly uncomfortable position in ceremonies. When the characters finally stand up, their stiffened walk reminds us of that of Apollo 11 explorer astronauts. The film ends with this brilliant idea, this zero-gravity ending to a film which combines the invention of minimalist burlesque with the most generous sharing of intelligence and knowledge.
(Cyril Neyrat)

Interview with Yu Araki

Your film is based on a discrepancy between the set it is supposed to take place in, a lunar base, and what we see on screen, a simple Japanese-style room. Could you comment on this discrepancy ?
I haven’t received a formal education in so-called « dramatic film-making », and have basically made my films until now as a self-educated director. But the one thing I have learnt until now is that « the discrepancy creates the drama ». In the case of this particular work, it would have been perfect if we could actually have filmed on the Moon’s surface, but for various circumstances due to budget and other things, we had to give the idea up.
It was not possible to go to the moon, but I did know from Sen no Rikyuu, who delved deep into the spiritual world of the Tea Ceremony, that the alcove of a Japanese-style room can express a whole microcosm. It just so happens that I’m writing this interview in Kyoto ; you can also get the sense of a microcosm in the stone garden of Ryoan-ji temple, and there’s a connexion.
Evoking something that isn’t there based on something on screen, making people imagine something where there’s nothing : that’s the kind of film that I yearn for. When you want to connect in your head what you see with something far removed from it, a new image comes to mind, and the experience of that image is the ideal.
When I write that, I feel that it is a very cool thing to say, but in reality, my script wasn’t ready until the actual day of shooting, and I added the entire narration in post-production. First, I had the basic elements of what I wanted to shoot, then based on that I worked out the setting and details ; since I shot it this way, everything is off-kilter in very strange ways.
Some of the structural discrepancies, such as for instance the use of Puccini’s « One Fine Day » at the end, are intentional. On the stereo sound, from the left, you hear Geraldine Farrar singing on a 1916 recording, and on the right, Miura Tamaki singing on a 1917 recording. I used it as a symbol in the climactic scene of the film because I made what lurks in the gap between two companions from different countries and cultures into the theme of my film.
And while there is that kind of discrepancies, the one thing that will be completely synchronized will be between people watching my film sitting in the traditional japanese way, and the main characters waiting sitting in the same position !

Three characters from different countries and time periods interact. Could you tell us more about those three characters and why you chose them ?
It’s because I made this film for the exhibition held about the 150 years of Franco-Japanese exchanges. Three pictures became the occasion for me to start conceiving the film.
The first is a self-portrait of Adolf de Meyer taken in 1900, when he really visited Japan (https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/271722). When you look at this vintage picture closely, you see that white dust is seared into the print. When I saw that, I immediately felt a visual connection between the two homophones in Japanese, « seiza »the japanese style of sitting and « seiza » the constellation.
The second picture is a 1911 picture of Frederick Starr (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Starr) sitting in the Japanese manner and wearing a Kimono. He looks stylish in a Kimono, and seems used to the Japanese way of sitting. The fact that his name happens to be « Starr » also brought back to me the idea of constellation.
The last is the album cover for Scott and Rivers, the J-Pop album that Rivers Cuomo, the singer for the American band Weezer (whose Pinkerton, by the way, was a favourite of mine which I listened to often in high school), recorded in 2013.
When I lined up these three pictures, it felt like the differences in each of these persons’ feeling of distance to Japan was expressed in their posture as they sat; a drama that would let me handle Japonism in my own way had manifested itself.
Scott and Rivers were the ones closest to us in time, but as Adolfo Do Meyer was born in 1868, Frederick Starr in 1858, and John Luther Long had published Madame Butterfly in 1898 (Madame Butterfly is the only fictional character in this list, but it’s considered that he used a real person as inspiration), I found it very fertile to imagine a fiction in which these three characters could cross paths during the Meiji Era. The influence of Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, which I had seen before, was maybe important in imagining a structure in which real characters and fictional characters appear on the same screen.

We never hear the actors on screen. Instead, we hear three voices, those of the radio broadcasters commenting what we see onscreen. Why did you choose to narrate your film in the format of a radio broadcast ?
As I explained above, the script was the last thing I did. As all three people who appear on screen are non-actors, giving them the burden of having for example to memorize lines was an option I’d ruled out from the outset. Moreover, the sound hadn’t been recorded properly during the shoot, so I wondered how to turn this around, and I hit on the idea of this exchange between the reporter and the commentators.
For example, when you watch golf on the television, there’s a certain lag, and it’s ok if you don’t have the sound from the actual track. As the setting is the near future, in which remote technologies such as Zoom have progressed, we thought that it would still be good to have this delay in the relay from the moon, and decided to give it this form. The sound disturbance is heavily influenced by the video from NASA’s Mars Rover mission Perseverance, which I saw last year.

You always shoot your actors frontally, and never use close-ups. Why this very particular set-up ?
It’s a homage to the picture of Adolfo Do Meyer which I mentioned just now, and which was shot from the front. On location, I did shoot a few close-ups, but as I quickly shifted the work’s general direction towards that of a documentary, I didn’t use them in the final work. I instead use the close-up shots I filmed in the teaser. As it shows details that aren’t picked up on in the main work, it’s as if it had become an independant short film. You also understand the riddle in the title when you watch it, so please have a look : https://vimeo.com/562089544

The last shot of the film is in slow-motion, with the commentators finally falling silent and music playing over the action. Why this choice for the climactic moment ?
In fact, the whole of the film was shot at a rate of 120 frames per second, but only this last shot was reconverted at the native rate. The behind-the-scenes story is that the shooting took place at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, in october 2020, and we were very meticulous in our care during the shoot. In order to avoid the so-called « Three C’s » (closed spaces, crowded spaces, and close contact), I thought that filming in one long take in slow-motion, with many cameras, would also be easier on the actors. There’s a lovely garden just outside that room, and I made sure the filming crew worked from out there during the actual takes. You could say that it’s a film born of a creative use of the particular constraints of filming in the particular conditions of 2020. As for the fact that the commentators watch in silence, isn’t it linked to the etiquette that « opera is watched in silence », and doesn’t it express their respect towards that beautiful aria ?

Interview by Nathan Letoré

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Technical sheet

Japan / 2021 / 29’

Original Version : Japonese.
Subtitles : English.
Script : Yu Araki.
Photography : Kenichi Negishi.
Editing : Yu Araki.
Sound : Ichiro Fujimoto.
Casting : Taro Nettleton, Qinhua Yang, Jack Mclean, Kosuke Matsunobu, Toshiaki Hicosaka, Tomoko Inoue. Production : Nami Yamabana (Pola Museum of Art).
Filmography : Fuel, 2019. Mountain Plain Mountain, 2018. Wrong Revision, 2018. Bivalvia: Act I, 2017. Road Movie, 2014. Angelo Lives, 2014. 971 Horses + 4 Zebras, 2007.