mercredi 10 février 2010

2010 February interview with Sono Sion

On Februray 5, during the festival Voir l'invisible, cinema L'Ecran in Saint-Denis (close to Paris, France) showed Sono Sion's Love Exposure for the first time in France. The following day, Suicide Club was shown with the presence of the director himself. He gave the following long interview where he talks about this career before Suicide Club, Tokyo GAGAGA collective, his film Hazard, French literature, his new film Cold Fish and the shooting of Lords of Chaos, a film dealing with Norwegian black metal musical scene and satanism in the 1990's.


How long do you stay in Paris ?

Three days, I leave tomorrow. I came here for the festival and tomorrow I go to Norway to shoot my next film, Lords of Chaos. I will look for places to shoot and cast people for supporting roles.

Will Jackson Rathbone play the first role ?

It's almost decided but supporting roles are not booked. The Lord of Chaos project started last year in Los Angeles.

OK. We'll talk about Lords of Chaos later. First of all, I'd like to congratulate you for Love Exposure which is a great film. Still, it was not shown in France except for this festival. Why that ?

(laughs) I don't know. Maybe because of the lenght of the film. Cinemas can only show it twice a day.

But the film was shown in the U.K. And in Germany.

Yes it was but I don't decide this kind of things.

Who does ?

Buyers and distributors do. If there are no distributors, the film can't be shown. In France, no distributors wanted to pay to show Love Exposure. That's it.

Still, everytime the film was shown, critics were really good. They even said that Love Exposure was the best film released in 2008. Aren't you frustrated that your film doesn't encounter a larger audience in more countries ?

Of course I am but what can I do ?

In France only three of your films are available on DVD... So we're obliged to download them illegaly on the Internet. What do you think about that ?

That's because I am not popular here. A DVD boxset called Before Suicide Club including all my early films will be released very soon in USA. So you'll find films like I Am Sono Sion, Bicycle Sighs or The Room. All my early films. All these films are already available in Japan.

How's your situation in Japan ?

Hopefully in Japan one can easily find my films ! If it were not the case what will I do ? But in the same time, In Japan, I am considered as a very special director. I don't encounter a great success but at least I am free to do whatever I want. If you want to be mainstream and gain success, you must follow the rules. My films are not "middle of the road", I am like a misfit. People politely accept me. Let's say they tolerate me.

How do you chose your actors ? You often direct people from J-pop, girls and boys bands. They are not professional actors. By the way, the actress Hikari Mitsushima is very pretty.

It is true that my actors often come from the musical scene but they're not very famous idols. I am pleased to see that they become famous after they act in my films. For instance, Hikari Mitsushima was awarded several times in Japan for her performance in Love Exposure. So her celebrity has increased and she can continue her career.

You began your career by writing poetry with the collective Tokyo GAGAGA. What was all about ?

When I was seventeen years old I wrote poetry before shooting 8mm films. I did this until I was 21 years old. After my first attempts in cinema I decided to go back to poetry and create the Tokyo GAGAGA movement. At first one could consider this as simple street demonstrations but basically people wrote poems on flags and walked in the street waving thoes flags. There was no political or social meaning, no clear message. Policemen often came to break these "demonstrations" but like there was no law to to ban us do so, they couldn't arrest us.
Was it inspired by the Dada movement ?

It really had nothing to do with art nor performance. About 200 people were walking down the streets and I think none of them considered it was art. It was more like a crowd heading to a punk rock show. It wasn't politic, there was no revendication at all. One could outwardly view this as a revival of 1960's demonstrations but we were just enjoying writing and showing poems in the streets. I was shooting GAGAGA ! GAGAGA !

What does that mean ?

It's the sound of the soul. It doesn't mean anything.

It reminds me the lettrist movement created by Isidore Isou in the 1950's or the scat in jazz music. It's pre-eminently a phonetic work.

Yes, exactly. That's it.

What did you want to do when you decided to quit poetry and begin cinema ?

It's two differents things. At first I quit cinema to create the Tokyo GAGAGA movement. I already released several films including Bicycle Sighs and The Room. Then I created Tokyo GAGAGA. When I got bored I went in San Francisco for a year. I wrote the script for Suicide Club.

Speaking of Suicide Club. I know in Japan suicides are quite common even among teenagers but the collective suicide thing is a fiction isn't it ?

Of course it's a fiction. There are not such collective suicides but the year after Suicide Club, in 2002, one discovers the existence of websites where dozens of people decided to commit collective suicides. I don't know if these people watched Suicide Club but let's say that I fortelled what could or would happen.

About your way to shoot films, I remarked that there's a lot of scenes shot with hand-held camera in the guerilla shooting style used by Hisayasu Sato, that is shooting in public places without any autorisation.

That's right. The first sequence in Suicide Club is shot in the guerilla shooting style. But of course, after a moment, people working in the Shinjuku station noticed it and asked me to stop it.

Speaking about Hisayasu Sato, what do you think about pinku eiga [Japanese erotic films] ?

I watched a lot of pinku eiga but they're not an influence in mly work. I rather like european erotic films like Emmanuelle or swedish softcore erotic films. I also like Russ Meyer films. When I was young, I saw a lot of european erotic films.

Is it true that you directed two pinku eiga and that you used to pseudonym to dot it ?

I shot one classical pinku and a homosexual one but I don't remember if I used a pseudonym. To be frank they were not pinku like the films distributed by Nikkatsu. They were both pure porn films. Of course genitals were pixelized because of japanese censorship.

Do you like the photographer Nobuyoshi Araki ?

Yes I do. We know very well each other. We are friends and we sometimes we have drinks together. One day I asked him to act in myfilm called Utsushimi. I did it on 2000, one year before Suicide Club. This film is a semi-documentary about Araki and his work. In the same time, it's also a erotico-dramatical fiction.

What french directors do you like ?

A lot. I don't know which one pick up. I like René Clément even if he's not my favorite one. When I was a student I liked Jean-Luc Godard films a lot.

Godard is Swiss, he's not French !
(laughs) Alright ! So I'd say François Truffaut. I also like Robert Bresson who directed The Trial of Joan of Arc in 1962. It's really a great film.

It's strange because Robert Bresson is quite austere, almost jansenist, He's the opposite of your style.

Yes but directors I like have nothing to do with my own style. And I like absurd and weird directors like Paul Verhoeven. Robocop. Showgirls is one of my favorite films if not the fovorite one.

What about the japanese cinema. I know that you hate Ozu.

The japanese cinema turned bad and less spectacular becuse of Ozu.

But your last film Be shure to share is a simple family story just like in Ozu's films ?

It's true but I did it for purpose. I wanted japanese critics say "Sono Sion can make a beautiful film when he wants to do it" because they were really harsh with Love Exposure. So with Be Sure to Share they said "It's alright, Sono Sion is now a mature director".

But Love Exposure won an award in the Tokyo Festival ?

It's true but it was the audience award. Most of japanese critics thought it was a coarse film.

Did they ? On the contrary I find this is a very pure film.

I agree with you. Love Exposure is a very pure film.

About the themes and the meaning of your films, one can say that according to you people can't really live et express because of institutions, whatever they are, school, family, church or society. You seem to laud extreme individualism even anarchism.

One can be free within institutions but one have to get rid of these institutions and of one self institution. To quote the french poet Paul Eluard, when you're an adult, you have to institutionalize people, to find an institution in everyone, vice versa. The ideal is to be free within the institution.

In the begining of Strange Circus, you quote a phrase from Huysmans decadent book Against Nature [original title : A Rebours]. This book tells the story of an aesthete who decides to live totally isolated from the society and create his own world. It's another proof of anarchism.

Yes it is and this year I plan to shoot a film dealing with Oscar Wilde and the Marquis de Sade and include elements from Joris-Karl Huysmans and Georges Bataille's books.

Do you like french literature ?

I love it. I love Jean Genet.

From the names you quote, I can tell you like rebels !

I like french poets like Guillaume Apollinaire and François Villon.

So not only rebels but even convict people !

(laughs) It's true that few of them went to jail ! Whatever, I like french literature.

Maybe do you plan to direct a biopic about one of them ?

No I don't, most of the biopics are terribly boring.

I am estonished you quote the Marquis de Sade. He's evoked in few pinku eiga and the main carachter of Koji Wakamatsu's When the Embryo Goes Hunting is named Sado. Is Sade that popular in Japan ?

I don't think Sade is really popular but the act of sado-masochism is very spread in Japan. But most of the people ignore that it comes from two authors, Sade and Sacher-Masoch. People don't care about literature, they only care this deviant sexuel act. Wherever it comes from.

Getting back to anarchism, in your Hazard, one of the carachter is fond of Walt Whitman's poetry which lauds more or less an anarchic and free future.

(laughs, no comments).

Hazard was shot in 2002 but was only released in 2005. What happened ?

A lot of things happened. I don't know if I can say it but the producer disappeared with the money.

Can I write it ?

Yes you can because that was a long time ago. Now I can talk about it.

I consider Hazard like a film a rebours of Elia Kazan's America America. In that film, the hero leaves Turkia to go to New York for a better life. In Hazard, a Japanese goes to New York but in the end he doesn't stay and comes back in Japan as a new man.

(astonished) Well, that's a personal interpretation of the film. This is an interesting point of view but haven't see America America.

This idea of a new man coming back to Japan is kind of a nietzschean idea, like the cosmic baby coming back to the earth at the end of Kubrick's 2001 : A Space Odyssey.

(laughs) Wow ! Nietzsche, no less ! Hazard is a curious film. I began to write a script based on a true event, a real sadomasochism murder that took place in the USA. The murderer lived in New York so I went there to shoot the film. When the shooting began I decided to get rid of the original script, that is a film about this murderer. I totally changed my mind and forgot about the SM murder. At the same time, I understood that the producer wasn't very honest. I also remembered the film Easy Riders, especially the part shot during the carnaval in New Orleans. It's shot with a hand-helled camera with any artificial lights. So Hazard was shot that way, without artificial ligths. I only reworked the lights during the edtiting. Hazard is the matrix of my current style.

That's why the picture is a bit "rough", especially during night-time scenes ?

Yes and it creates a New American cinema aethetic which is competly in phase with the subject of the film.

I find Hazard is a beautiful film.

Thank you. In Japan, all the critics hated it.

It's a sort of a paradox that the hero of Hazard goes to New York to find his own identity although an anti-americanism exists in Japan.

Most of the japanese people aren't anti-american at all. On the contrary, Japan looks for the protection of the USA.

But in the 1960's, the demonstrations began to criticize the american occupation in Japan since the World War II.

Today, it's the opposite. All the 1960's demands are over. On the contrary, people think it's not very smart to go aigainst the US politics. Japan is more and more conservative and being in good terms with the USA is its interest.

What do you think of the statut of minorities in Japan ? Korean, chinese or bresilian minorities for instance.

I'm not interested in these questions. I'm more interested in sex. Sex more than politic.

What about the mix of sex and politic like Koji Wakamatsu did in the 1960's ?

No. Sex served with an anarchic sauce doesn't interest me at all.

Let's talk about Lords of Chaos. The shooting should have begin last automn but it's now delayed. What happened ?

The shooting begins next month. It was delayed because I eeded to find money. But during this laps of time I managed to shoot another film entitled Cold Fish. I just finished to edit it.

That's great. What's the plot of Cold Fish ?

With Love Exposure, my shell exploded and now I have no more love. That's it. That's the film. I have no more love nor hope nor god. It's all over. All I have is sadness, despair, darkness and a world withtout any lights. I shot this film to cheer me up. It's inspired by the real story of a man who killed between 50 and 100 people, we don't know exactly how many people he killed nor we don't know how he did not to be captured and be free that long. He's a serial murderer who comited dozens of almost perfect crimes. Japanese police only found five corpses but thinks that he killed more people than that. The murderer is the only one to know exactly how many people he killed. In Cold Fish, the main character is not the murderer but another person that he manipulates. The film will released this year.

In France too ?

(laughs) I don't know.

If the shooting of Lords of Chaos begins next month, it means that it won't be ready for the Cannes festival.

I don't know, it depends not only on me but also on the people at the head of the festival.

Who proposed you to direct Lords of Chaos ?

I contacted american producers before directing Love Exposure because I knew I won't continue to work in Japan. So I proposed to these producers several projects and we all agreed for Lords of Chaos.

The topic is quite similar to the one of Love Exposure. It deals with another religious cult : satanism.

When I proposed several projects to the americain producers, one of them was a film with panties and pretty girls. That was Love Exposure.

Have you listened to black metal, bands like Mayhem and Burzum ?

Yes I did but I don't really like black metal music.

Have you met Varg Vikernes ?

No I didn't want to meet him. I prefer to keep my own vision of the character and not to be influenced by the real man. But I visited all the places where the facts happened.

I read Varg Vikernes wasn't very happy with this film.

He is not but that's the way he is. He likes people to talk about him. He sent a letter to the producer telling that if the film is shot, well I'd be shot. But he's only playing his own character. I guess he wants to make music again so if he kills me he won't be able to play music that soon.

Is it true that you will build five wooden churches in order to burn them ?

It's true. We are gonna build these churches and burn them. I am not anti-Christ but I don't lke the institution created in the name of the Christ. Not so long time ago, I was watching a american TV documentary where a priest from Vatican was asked if Jesus Christ lived today, would he live in Vatican ? He answered no because the Christ would hate Vatican.

Christ never said to create a clerical institution.


Do you know the book written by Jacques Ellul, Anarchism and christianism ?

No I don't. What's his name ? Jacques Ellul ? I may have heard about him but I don't know that book.

Last question, Lords of Chaos is your first english-speaking film including a famous american actor. Will you be now at last under the limelights ?

I prefer people dislike me. Camera is hard-on penis to me.

Will Lords of Chaos be shot by a hand-held camera ?

Yes, it will because camera is hard-on penis that you have to keep in hand. A penis can't stand still by itself, can he ? So hand-helding camera is important to me.

2 commentaires:

Jean Kabir a dit…

Thanks for the fabulous interview translation!

Anonyme a dit…

It never happened,this movie. Was it cancelled?

I want to watch this movie so much.