Akira Kurosawa Did you see Madadayo?
Katsuhiro Otomo I did. I thought it had a fairytale-like quality. Because among my generation, mention teachers and inevitably what first springs to mind are "bad role models" and "loathe the bastard.
Otomo It struck me as a film made with no expense spared.
Kurosawa Money was spent in odd places. For example, the slope in front of the teacher's house. Soil was brought in for that.
Otomo I suspected as much (laughs).
Kurosawa What a perfonnance. Every last clod trucked in. But It gives a very different feel to what it would've had on the flat, wouldn't you say?
Otomo True. Then there was the rubble after the air raid. That was amazing too.
Kurosawa With that, I wasn't at all happy with what the art department came up with, so redid it. Initially they just threw together a pile of charred stakes and burnt corrugated iron. But that's not good enough. What did this house look like before it burned down? It must have had foundations. And what were the supporting columns like? Bum those and it will look real, so I told Art to do it properly so it did look like that. They proceeded to come up with various materials. If you put it together with say, these as the stairs of the apartment, and see here how just the handrail remains, it becomes quite interesting.
Otomo I see,
Kurosawa Then you have the scorched earth. Before making a burned-out building, first you have to blacken the soil. Where (George) Tokoro and (Hisashi) lgawa are searching for the cat, it would have been quite a mission to blacken the entire area. So we decided to do it up, metaphorically, to about Mt. Fuji's fifth station, or fourth perhaps. as that's black with volcanic ash.
Kurosawa The moon was interesting too. Let's see, we took a big reflective sheet about the 10 size of one-and-a-half tatami mats, attached a crane to it, and took it right to the back. There are lights on both sides of the camera, and when we flicked those on it reflected and shone.
Otomo I just assumed it was a composite.
Kurosawa Not at all. I'd ten the actors "The moon is coming out now" and switch on those lights. The moon would then suddenly appear in the distance, giving everyone quite a start (laughs).
Otomo There's that "Madakai" party scene in Madadayo, right? Each person, starting from the end, stands up and speaks. one speaking in English, one reciting rallway station names. Then everyone is shown dancing along, followed by a scene where they're carrying a coffin on their shoulders. To me this scene felt very musical.
Otomo Yes, musical... As I watched it seemed to me that the party itself was composed musically, as in this is the first movement, here's the second, and so on.
Kuroaawa If you were to ask what film resembles, I'd say music. Both film and music are temporal arts. So it is possible to put together a film like a symphony, with the first movement to here, then from here the second, then the third. the fourth and so on. In addition. music has three elements: rhythm, melody and harmony.F ilm too can be approached in that way.
Otomo That's true.
Kurosawa Well, to be honest there's no need to think very logically about it - a good director is born with a particular personal sense of rhythm, a way in which their films flow. So (Mikio) Naruse has his, (Yasujiro) Ozu his, and (Kenji) Mizoguchi his own particular flow.
Otomo And the way a film is edited can change it quite a lot, can't it? Kurosawa True. Remember the scene where Tokoro and lgawa sneak into the teacher's house? My son saw that and said, "They're taking their time aren't they?" Because we know the layout of that house we shoot it thinking well, this is how long it would take to go, for example, from the bathroom along the passage and out into the garden. But thinking about it, you don't really need that. The layout of the house is Irrelevant to those watching. Editing the scene with that In mind tightened it up considerably. Mucking about because something actually takes a certain length of time doesn't make it an y more real, and one has to adjust the time and present the scene with a fixed rhythm.
Otomo Using and cutting time correctly can be tricky.
Kurosawa Yes, so one could say the secret of film fies in where to start each cut.
Otomo When it comes to determining the camera position, to what extent do you issue instructions?
Kurosawa I might say how many millimeters for the lens, or to move the camera like this or that, but most of the time it's OK to leave cameras A and B, which always wori< in tandem, to just get on with it.
Otomo How many types of lens do you have?
Kurosawa From 20-something mm to 1000mm. Although I don't use the 1000mm lens on set. The further away the camera, the sharper people's expressions when you do a close-up. They look incredibly real. For instance, take the scene on the beach with the red Fuji in Dreams.
Otomo Yes, I know the one.
Kurosawa The camera there is so far away as to be almost out of the actors' sight. Which is why the actors on the cliff and the background sea slot together so well. The force of the waves out at sea is highlighted.
Otomo Do you also use wide-angle lenses?
Kurosawa Almost never actually. There's something about them that gives me the creeps (laughs). Occasionally I do try using a wide- angle, but it just doesn't feel right. At most I'd pull to about 75mm I guess. From time to time I'd use a 50 or 60, but there's just something not Quite right for some reason.
Kurosawa Have you already made a movie?
Otomo Yes, one. I really, really wanted to be a film director.
Kurosawa Why don't you give it a go then?
Otomo Maybe I should (laughs).
Kurosawa Just be sure to keep your sense of humor about the whole thing.
Otomo I'd certainly like to (laughs).
Kurosawa Years ago when Toho was dominated by communists, a lot of people made a distinction between artist and artisan, as in, "He's an artist, but that guy's a craftsman." I got into a lot of arguments about it, because to my mind, artists are in truth artisans. First you have to become a real artisan. It's only when you work through being an artisan and come out the other side that you count as an artist. Works of art, ceramics from way back, the really good ones are anonymous creations. They're made by genuine craftsmen. To me it seems that became corrupted when people started to sign their names on things.
Otomo I see.