Thursday, December 03, 2009

Sono Sion: cinematic contrarian

A selection of the most interesting quotes from an interview back in February by online mag Hogaholic with "Love Exposure" director Sono Sion:

Hogaholic: Suggesting meaning in the spaces between dialogue and ruminating on it is often described as cinematic. In Japan especially, it's widely viewed as a good thing.

Sono Sion: That's right. In fact, there are lots of films like in Japan. But I'm a contrarian, so I want to go in the opposite direction. It makes me feel "anti-Japanese film" (laughs). If Japanese films were all chatty, I think I'd make ones that focused on the silence between words. However, right now there's a glut of that kind of film, so I do things the other way. I don't know if this is a great example, but I think the people who make those films take a firm stance like "There might be 36 colors, but black's all I need". But that kind of austerity isn't for me. I've got the kind of personality where if I have 36 colors, I want to use them all. I want to try all kinds of techniques. These days, there's a school of thought that regards narration as crude, but if it's the best option I wouldn't hesitate to use it. After all, narration is a fine traditional cinematic technique.

HH: There are a considerable amount of homage-like scenes in this film. One of the most obvious would be [male protagonist] Yu dressing up in drag as Sasori, which of course is a reference to the "Female Convict Scorpion" series.

SS: You could even say there are too many. Directors like Tarantino deliberately and explicitly insert them as if to say "this is dedicated to that scene from that movie", but with me it's more of an automatic process. There's absolutely no intention to say something like "This one goes out to Sasori and Toei". They just appear naturally. This time around, personally speaking, I wanted to make a film with a virginal quality, and there was an element of wanting to make something with the kind of aroused excitement I felt when I was a virgin. Basically I wanted to make a film that provided the kind of excitement I felt when I was still in junior high and high school. That's why homages to the films I watched back then ended up in it. I myself didn't notice until afterwards. Yesterday, I watched [Brian] De Palma's "Phantom of the Paradise", and there's a kind of homage to it in "Love Exposure". But while I was shooting it, that didn't occur to me at all. Yesterday while I was watching "Phantom" on DVD, I realised for the first time that "Hey, I made an homage to this" (laughs).

HH: I get the impression that you pay a lot of attention to the feelings of your actors. Is that because you're a director with acting experience?

SS: I haven't done much acting lately, but that might be true. Also, I like John Cassavettes, and he's the origin of my directing style. Cassavettes was a director who had experience as an actor, and that influenced his method of direction. His influence is probably quite significant.

SS: This doesn't apply only to Japan, but producers these days, once they have a hit with a particular actress, they only think about how far they can stretch out that success by continuing to use that same actress, saying "she stars in your next film" without putting any thought into it. They work within what you might call their comfort zone, and won't take a chance on uncovering some new unpolished gem. The result is that you get four or five films a year starring the same actress. That's abnormal. If Japanese films continue down this road, they'll definitely suffocate. A producer's role should be something like a day trader, but they only treat casting like a safety mechanism that aims to recycle past successes. That's why you end up seeing the same faces all the time. Doing things that way, new talent will just stay buried. This isn't a good situation. I believe in my own eyes, and I want to keep on searching for actors with future potential.


  1. Hey Don,

    Thanks for translating and putting this up. We just had a very successful screening of LOVE EXPOSURE last Friday, here in LA. The best thing about it was the the majority of the people had never heard about the film -- or were neccesarily into Japanese films in the first place. And yet, they were universally floored by the film.

    Sono's comments here are unusually candid, I think, and offer some good insight into this masterpiece.

    Thanks for putting this up!

  2. Thanks for reading Nick. A good audience for a screening of a four-hour foreign language movie that most people have never heard of? You're definitely doing something right.