L ily Franky is a true multitalent, having found success as an illustrator, designer, essayist, lyricist, photographer, novelist and band vocalist. His 2005 autobiographical novel “Tokyo Tower: Okan to Boku to Tokidoki Oton (Tokyo Tower: Mom and Me and Sometimes Dad),” in which he described his relationship with his feisty mother as she was dying of cancer, became a best seller and was made into a hit film of the same title. He also appeared in the last film by cult legend Teruo Ishii, “Moju tai Issunboshi (Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf)” (2001), but he got his first starring role as the shoe-repairman turned courtroom artist in “Gururi no Koto (All Around Us).”
In person, Franky is the same low-key but alert and thoughtful guy he portrays in the film, with a warm baritone voice that suggests yet another career: late-night radio DJ.
I had thought you did your own drawings in the courtroom, but (director Ryosuke) Hashiguchi told me that wasn’t the case — that professional courtroom artists did the drawings. Was that at your request? Yes, in a way. I practiced (those drawings) at the request of the director, but they’re not like ordinary drawings, in that you can’t see the subject clearly. So instead you try to draw your impression of the defendant or the atmosphere of the courtroom. I tried it for about a month, going to court, but I realized that I couldn’t match the technique (of the professionals). My drawings were too amateurish, so I thought it was better to let the pros do it.
The conditions seem difficult — you aren’t guaranteed a seat, and even if you get one you may not have the best view. More than that, you’re making drawings of subjects you don’t like, murderers and so on. That was the biggest (problem) for me. The pros are used to that sort of thing. I may be better at art than most actors, but I’m not used to that sort of drawing. It’s not just a matter of being good or bad at drawing someone’s face accurately — it’s more about capturing atmosphere and character. The pros are looking for something that expresses a person’s personality.
I also heard that it took you three months to decide to accept the role. Were you worried about whether or not you could handle it? I was more concerned about (Hashiguchi) — it was a very important film for him. He hadn’t made a film in a while. Also, it was his first film that didn’t have a gay theme. I was willing to do it if he thought I could make a contribution.
A film belongs to the director, so you have to listen to him. If a director asks you to do a role and you agree, then you have to do it his way. He’s the one who decides if it’s good enough.
The story stretches out over 10 years. When you were developing the role, were you thinking of the entire period? When I read the script I was thinking about the whole story. The shoot was different, though. We shot the story of the couple in order. Then we shot the courtroom scenes. So for the first month, (Tae) Kimura and I were together all the time. Then for the second month I was doing the courtroom scenes. So I thought of those two parts of the film as separate. The audience may wonder how this couple is going to turn out (over the course of the film), but I didn’t really think about that. I just did my best to communicate what the director wanted me to communicate in a particular scene.
You had known Hashiguchi for some time before the shoot, so I suppose you had a certain trust in his judgment. Actually, I took the part because I wanted to see how he made a film. I was really impressed with the way he directed (each scene), so that made me trust him even more. I realized that this is how a director with real talent makes a film.
Did you have any problem working with a professional such as Ms. Kimura? Did you ever wonder, “What’s an amateur like me doing here?” Before we started shooting we spent a lot of time rehearsing. The director worked with us from morning to night helping us to get into the role of a married couple. So when we finally started shooting, I felt our being a couple as something natural.
Her character goes through a lot of changes — from being relatively normal to falling into a deep depression. Was it hard to adjust to those changes? Yes, it was. Kimura’s character becomes very troubled — and I had to react to that. So even during meals I tried to stay in character, so I could be natural (when the camera rolled). When she was depressed, I found it hard to leave the house (to go to the studio).
Did Hashiguchi give you a lot of detailed direction? I ask because some scenes seem very spontaneous, while other look more rehearsed. We did some scenes in one take, while others we did again and again. For example, the scene where I come home and find (Kimura) sitting alone, with the windows open and a typhoon blowing in — we did that one in one take. Hashiguchi came to me and said we only have one chance to do this right. Well, he didn’t say it in so many words — but that was the feeling he communicated.
For comic scenes, though, we had to get the timing and all that right, so that required a lot of rehearsing.
In the second half of the film, the mood brightens — there’s a feeling of relief that I suppose came from shooting in order. After all the dark scenes, you finally came into the light. Yes. We had been in a dark place so long, then we were eating meals together like a normal couple — it was a happy feeling.
Did you keep working on your own drawings while you were making “Gururi no Koto?” Yes, I’d go back home at night and draw, so there wasn’t much change in my work schedule that way.
Was your own work influenced at all by the film? Well, I make funny drawings that kids like. It was harder to do that — so in that sense I was influenced. It was hard to be funny.
Did you see the film for the first time after it was completed, or were you looking at the rushes? After it was completed. A regular actor will check his performance (when he see his own film for the first time), but I had just been watching films, not making them, so I watched it without paying much attention to my own performance. When it was over I thought, “What a great film (laughs).”