Something a little different from the standard Pure Love Renaissance fare of gushing about KyoAni’s Kanon or pledging undying love to Horie Yui (Manabi Straight is leaching into my dreams), is this week’s look at a short film created by a group of junior & senior high school English teachers in Northern Japan. It shows an interesting perspective on various things Japanese in a unique way. HD spoke with writer Kevin Davies and director Liesje Kraai. You can check it out at YouTube. There are some minor spoilers below however, so you may want to watch the short first.
HD: Why did you make “Travels In The Orient”?
KD: Well, Liesje knew one of the organizers of a new film festival/competition that was being held in Philadelphia (USA). The festival is called Project Twenty1, and the idea is that 21 teams will complete a 10 minute (or shorter) film within 21 days using a secret ingredient.
LK: I had heard that a lot of the films being submitted as a part of Project Twenty1 were going to be either dramas, thrillers or horrors. So, I decided our team should try our hand at comedy to lighten the mood. It also best showcased our surroundings, being the only team from Japan.
KD: So, Liesje had the idea of us getting together with some of the really talented people we know here and making something. This movie came about because I thought we should do something that wouldn’t be hindered by our lack of even semi-professional cameras or microphones. This way, the low-quality actually worked for us. Plus, the fact that it wasn’t a single narrative allowed more than one writer so that we could utilize the group better.
HD:How did you come up with Nigel Woolcock?
LK: Nigel Woolcock was a character dreamed up by the writers, so I`ll just say it came from their sick, little minds.
KD: I just wanted some way to use Japan. We were the only team competing that was outside the US and I figured we should take advantage of that. Plus, we all live in or near Sendai, which is a pretty big city here and it would be a shame not to film there. So, I just figured we culd make somthing that shows Japan while making fun of Western ideas about Asia.
All of the Chinese music in the beginning probably wouldn’t even be recognized as a joke by the majority of Americans (well, at least a lot of them) because they really don’t know much about Japan. (Kevin is American, folks — Shipon) So I had to come up with a character that was completely out of touch with reality and, well, I don’t know… I think British accents sound smart and it’s funny when people who seem smart are really stupid. That’s as cerebral as I got for this.
Smart sounding + stupidity = funny.
HD: Was it difficult to shoot a short film around Japan?
KD: Not at all. At least, I didn’t think so. For the most part people just ignored us, which was perfect since we didn’t want anyone hamming it up in front of the camera. In fact, there’s a scene where the Japanese people are meant to just walk past Johnny as he tries to get directions frantically and it came out perfectly because that’s exactly what they did.
LK: You`d be surprised how little Japanese people pay attention to a large group of foreigners. Our biggest problem was toting all the equipment around.
KD: It was a little uncomfortable filming people while they ate and there were a couple times where it seemed like someone was going to come tell us to stop. But we just got a lot of short shots of different restaurants and kept on the move so that wasn’t really a problem either.
In America people would have been acting goofy when they walked past the camera. We probably would have had the bird flipped at us more than once, I’m sure. And restaurant staff would have been a lot quicker to come tell us to stop and chase us away. So, actually, I’d say it was easier to do it in Japan.
Much easier than the time I tried to make a movie in a shoppng mall back in the states and was thrown out by Mall Security.
HD: How has the film been received?
KD: Well, we weren’t able to go to the actual screenings for Project 21 due to a nasty case of “being in Japan” so I can’t really say how it went down there. I’m told by a couple people that it was generally well received. It got a decent amount of laughs and even a loud groan at the appropriate moment (hint: it’s very near the end of the movie).
LK: I`ve been really happy with how its been received. We had a good audience response at the Project 21 screenings and I have received several messages and emails from people who loved it.
KD: As for friends and co-workers and acquaintances here in Japan, everyone seems to like it. Some people have really enjoyed it a lot.
HD: Have any Japanese people seen it? How have they reacted?
KD: So far, I haven’t heard anyone complain about it being racist or anything. Everyone seems to get the joke.
I only know of one Japanese person that’s seen it, but I’m sure others have. The one guy I know saw it really liked it.
I plan on showing it to my Eikaiwa (English conversation — Shipon) class next week and doing the whole lesson around it as a way to explain humor, so we’ll see how a bunch of middle aged woman react to it at that point.
HD: What do you think their reactions will be?
KD: I really think they’re going to enjoy it. They seem to have a pretty good point of view for things and, once I’ve explained the basic joke of the movie, I think they’ll have some fun with it.
Of course, I can probably count on them to just enjoy seeing Sendai and saying “Oooh, I’ve been there.”
Shipon lives in Northern Japan where evil lurks on every street corner & everybody uses their karate skills to use chopsticks.