• GNCR Award  
  • International Competition



Yukinori Kurokawa

After some misunderstanding, Sakaguchi is hired to make a tourist guide video on Tobako (a fictitious name for Kawaguchi) in the outskirts of Tokyo. This element in the script sparks off a fanciful wandering strewn with unexpected meetings. First with Kitagawa, thanks to whom Sakaguchi landed the job. Then with a seamstress, and then with Yoshino, with whom a half-hearted romance emerges. Thus the narrative unfolds, in halts and swerves, espousing unexpected meetings, and offering the strolling character an opportunity for displacements from one place to the next. The deserted town has come to a standstill – the shooting took place during the lockdown – and this acts as a metaphor for the idleness of the characters. Garden Sandbox is light and nimble, whereas its main character hasa limp. Her demeanour and her stiff body exude a peculiar quality, somewhat comically at odds with the setting. Apathetically playing along, the young woman gleans from each character some pieces of information about the town and, then, touch by touch she delineates its picture: ultimately, the place comes acrossas a post-industrial locale whose foundries are now obsolete. Sakaguchi’s very meanderings lead her to a rich family’s house for a sewing lesson. In this pivotal scene, the lady of the house invites her to don an upper-class wedding dress. Through a gesture both radical and powerful, which itself informs the dynamic of the film as a whole, a gleeful snip of the scissors transforms the item of clothing into the ultimate chic of haute-couture design. What weaves together this truant escape whose motifs and fabric seem inspired by Jacques Rozier’s films, a crumbling industrial heritage and the transforming of a traditional wedding dress? With Garden Sandbox, whose title is a reference to the type of sand used in the foundries, joyfully and playfully, Yukinori Kurokawa interrogates the concepts of mutation and (re)use as sources of boundless possibilities. (Claire Lasolle)

Interview with Yukinori Kurokawa

You draw up a portrait of the town of Tobako, which is none other than the fictional double of Kawaguchi City, a town in the suburbs of Tokyo. Where did your interest in this city come from? Why did you feel the need to fictionalize it ?

The Arakawa River, which runs along the border between Kawaguchi City and Tokyo Prefecture, floods every time a typhoon hits. The Shiba River, a tributary of the Arakawa River that flows through the Ryoke factory district, the location of this film, also used to flood heavily and was a threat to foundries with furnaces such as cupolas. About half a century ago, the Ryoke Sluice Gate, featured in the movie, was opened and the Shiba River drainage channel was completed, protecting the town from flooding. Japan is a flood-prone country, especially in recent years. The original idea for this film was originally set in a town that had become a half-ghost town due to river flooding. What I am interested in is how we can be protected and survive just at the extremity, even if the real society is already a dystopia. Rather than creating an image of ruin, I’m aiming for a film that becomes an asylum. Although the number of foundries in Kawaguchi is decreasing year by year, Fuji Industries, which was used for the shooting, is still in operation. There, Toyota auto parts and pumps for dams are cast. Those industries are the infrastructure of our society, and although we are not aware of them in our daily lives. People say that Japanese industry is on the decline but the “objects” that protect our lives are still being made somewhere. Kawaguchi is the place to see them. Several images overlap here. In this place, which is an integrated residential-industrial district, the casting foundries are disliked by new residents for being smelly, dirty, and noisy, and the sites of closed foundries are cleared. The residences were built on a sandbox of amnesia. On the other hand, sand is an indispensable resource for casting, and it is extracted by cutting down mountains. The resources are limited, and extracting them also leads to environmental destruction. There seem to be various contradictions here in surviving at “the water’s edge”.

How did the project start? What were the steps that led to making the film?

The film project began in the spring of 2021, but I began making a documentary film at this location in 2020. I had no previous connection to Kawaguchi, but the encounter with a picture book by a friend of mine, the painter Fumika Inoue, led me there. The picture book, titled Time of Blue, is based on her childhood memories of the Ryoke Foundry District in the 1970s, and humorously depicts a young girl playing in the alleys around the casting foundry and in a house that is integrated with the foundry. The foundry district, which was still wealthy at the time, was lined with cupola stacks, the river was dirty with sludge, and the girl played with metal shards even though there was a chance she could get hurt. One of the inspirations for this film is this girl playing around like Buster Keaton. Above all, Time of Blue reminded me of The Blue of Distance, written by Rebecca Solnit and a poem, In Between Time, an unfilmed project by Nicholas Ray. I went with Fumika to the place where the picture book was based, walked along the river, walked through the town, and saw the casting foundry between the houses. The old house where she spent her childhood was still there. We became friends with the craftsmen, and we started making an independent documentary as co-directors, with her drawing pictures and me shooting.

This film was made in a confined area of Japan during the pandemic. What was the shooting like and how did this situation influence the film and its story?

After six months, Covid-19 disaster began, and at the end of the year, one of the foundry buildings, including the old house where Fumika had lived, was destroyed by fire and the land was cleared. I regretted the fact that I had not yet done almost all of the filming of the residence and foundry, so I decided to film at that site, hoping to preserve it before any other building was erected. Some of the staff members objected to the idea of going out of Tokyo to film in the midst of Covid-19, but that was the only thing I asked them to do. I did so out of a sense of mourning for the people and places that had disappeared, and more specifically, for the “film” and the “objects” that had been lost. For our location shoots under Covid-19, we made a rule that if anyone wearing a mask on the streets was caught on film, we wouldn’t use those takes. The reason was that they would become noise in our fiction.
I refrained from filming inside the casting foundry while it was in operation, because of Covid-19. The footage inside the foundry will be in our documentary film that we are still editing, which I hope you will be able to see someday. So, this film is still in the middle of its journey, and may be an interim report, a postcard, or a message in a bottle that will never reach anywhere.

What were the writing principles of the film? What were your sources of inspiration?

In Japan, there is a lottery called “Amida-kuji,” ghost-leg lottery, where you draw some lines vertically and some horizontal in between, and if you zigzag from top to bottom, you will end up with winner/loser. I decided to structure this film that way. You wonder from the entrance to the exit. Whenever I ask the main writer Ikuhiro Yamagata to write a scenario, I always request that as long as there is a beginning and an end, he can do whatever he wants in between. “Tobako” means ten boxes in Japanese. The name of this fictional town was conceived by Ikuhiro. In these boxes, I put in the stories I heard in conversations with the craftsmen of the foundry, the quotes from the books we read, and more.

The film focuses on a few characters. Who are the actors? How did you work with them?

Personally, I always refer to the films of the director Jerry Lewis, who I admire. When I watch his comedy films, I feel the danger of the plot collapsing in sync with the danger of his own physicality collapsing. Therefore, I still sense tension when I watch them, and I think there are many hints for making films. This time, I ordered Marino Kawashima, the lead actor, to watch the scene where Kelp is scolded by his president in Jerry’s The Nutty Professor. I rarely show his films to my actors because if I show them his acting, many of them will misunderstand that I am expecting this kind of over-the-top acting, and they will either refuse to do it or just imitate it, and no matter how much I tell them otherwise, it would be too late. I told Marino to see Lewis’s acting and do it her way. Marino is wonderful. She reflected nicely towards the camera. Kazuki Niiya, a Spanish-language film researcher who acted with her, said that Marino was like Ana Torrent in The Spirit of the Beehive, and that is it. Since each person’s physicality is different, it is a question of how to maintain a sense of tension without killing the person’s physicality, including improvisation, while at the same time keeping the film from breaking down. This is why I still watch classic films.

Could you tell us about Kinokoya, the bar in which one of the scenes takes place and which was already used by Kyoshi Sugita in Haruhara San’s Recorder (FID 2021)?

Staff meetings, rehearsals, and costume fittings were held at KINOKOYA. KINOKOYA is a small café-bar in the suburbs of Tokyo that my partner and producer Yumiko Kurokawa opened three years ago. In Japanese, “KINOKO” means mushroom and “YA” means bar, so KINOKOYA : mushroom-bar. But “KINO-KOYA” also means cinema-hut (“KINO” : cinema and “KOYA” : hut). It is a mini-space that hosts independent film screenings, cine-club style gatherings, and sometimes live music and public talk. Some independent film directors shoot their films here. Kyoshi Sugita, who happens to live nearby, is one such director. Many of the young filmmakers, actors, film critics, and film researchers gathering here in this way have become involved in Garden Sandbox. The existence of KINOKOYA has led to encounters and casting that would not have been possible under normal circumstances. What is important is to create an asylum where people can gather in the suburbs and distance themselves from the centralized concentration (of film production and screening), which is one way to survive. Anyway, the first KINOKOYA film was made with the participation of both professionals and non-professionals.

Interview by Claire Lasolle

  • GNCR Award  
  • International Competition

Technical sheet

Japan / 2022 / Colour / 70’

Original version : japanese
Subtitles : english
Script : Yukinori Kurokawa, Ikuhiro Yamagata, Emi Kobayashi
Photography : Yasutaka Watanabe
Editing : Kunihiko Ukai
Sound : Gen Takahashi
Casting : Marino Kawashima, Kazuki Niiya, Yukino Murakami

Production & distribution : Yumiko Kurokawa (KINOKOYA)

Filmography :
Village on the village, 2016
Aru shikai no ijyouna ai, 2010
Yoru no thaigokyoushitsu, 2009
Hoteru shimai, 2008
Inran seiho no onna, 1997.