Fukada Koji and Tsai Ming-liang talk about the challenges of filmmaking in Japan and Taiwan – Screen International | Episode Movies

Award-winning directors Fukada Koji and Tsai Ming-liang expressed concern about the state of filmmaking in Japan and Taiwan and at a stage talk at the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF).

Tsai, whose films have won top awards in Cannes, Venice and Berlin, reflected the rich era of Taiwanese art cinema that began in the 1980s with the emergence of directors such as Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang before making the move to Genre films lamented making a profit.

“It was a great time for Taiwanese films, but in recent years, the industry is more interested in monetizing genre films and so on,” Tsai said. “But it’s great to see talented young directors like you and Ryusuke Hamaguchi coming out of Japan.”

Fukada added that while the situation in Japan may look good from the outside, he believes things are far from ideal. “I think it’s a difficult environment for young directors here in Japan,” he said, citing recent efforts – in which he plays an active role – to get an organization like the French National Center for Cinema and Moving Image (CNC) to set up in Japan.

Fukada described the same period of 1980s Taiwanese cinema – including the films of Tsai himself – as a major influence on himself and other directors of his generation.

“When I saw your movie Vive L’Amour, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, can you make films like this?’” he recalls. “Until then, I thought films needed a definitive climax, but you helped me realize that you can leave things to the audience’s imagination.”

During their hour-long discussion, part of the festival’s TIFF Lounge series, both directors lavished praise on Europe’s cinemagoers, as well as institutions, for their arthouse taste.

“In Asia, audiences are mostly interested in entertainment films, but in Europe, they are used to watching art films,” Tsai said.

Fukada agreed, citing Europe’s high level of film literacy, including elementary school film studies classes. “There are often more people in France who are willing to see my films than in Japan, which makes me a little conflicted,” said the director. “I think it’s important to educate people in Japan about films from a young age.”

Despite the financial pressures in their respective fields, both directors stated their intention to continue making films in their own way.

“I’ve never had a big hit, but looking back at my filmography, I’m satisfied,” Tsai said. “I feel like my films will last a long time.”

“I also want to make films that will last long after I’m dead,” Fukada agreed. “After all, so many films from the past touched me.”

Approach to style and actors

TIFF celebrates Tsai as this year’s Featured Director with screenings of several of his films, including Rebels of the neon god and Goodbye Dragon Inn. Fukada received the same honor in 2020.

The two directors, meeting for the first time, began by sharing their admiration for each other’s work.

harmonium really touched me,” Tsai said of Fukada’s film, which won the Cannes Jury Prize in 2016. “I really believed in the characters and felt a lot of empathy for each of them.”

Fukada was equally gushing about the veteran Taiwanese director. “I’ve been watching your movies for decades,” Fukada said. “I would like to go back in time and tell my younger self that one day I will share a stage with Tsai Ming-liang.”

The two directors, who may have been brought together by the festival programmers because of their similar film styles, shared their philosophies about creating calm, realistic films.

“What’s most important to me about films — what I always want from them — is sensitivity,” Tsai said. “I want audiences to believe that people like my characters could actually exist.”

The director added that while he’s known for realism, “I also like to incorporate some surreal elements into my films because I think we all experience surreal moments in our lives at times.”

A big factor in the style of their films, directors agreed, is how they work with the actors.

“Actually, I don’t argue that much with my actors,” Tsai said. “I think the most important thing is to create the right atmosphere for them. My films rely more on atmosphere than dialogue, so creating that environment for them is crucial.”

Fukada commented that in Japan there is often not much time to prepare with the actors for a shoot, but he tries to make his films an exception.

“Meeting with the actors before the shoot really helps build trust,” Fukada said. “Acting isn’t just about fitting a director’s image into a scene, it’s about communication. I think this is where the reality of a scene emerges.”

The TIFF Lounge talk series will continue throughout the festival, which runs through November 2nd.

Quotations are translated from Japanese. Tsai Ming-liang’s quotes were transmitted through a Sino-Japanese interpreter.

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