The daughter of actor/director Eiji Okuda and sister of actress Sakura Ando, 28-year-old Momoko Ando has a deeply international background, including a nine-year stay in Britain, as well as thorough fluency in English. In person she was also articulate, straightforward, and gracious enough to give The Japan Times twice the time her PR person had allotted.
Your film may look gay-themed, but it isn’t really.
Right. This film is not about lesbian anything — it’s more about finding your identity, finding who you are, who you love. I don’t think it matters if who you love is male or female, it’s more about how you see the person. The question is not “What is real love?” or what love is in general. It’s more important to first think about who you are. Then you can love someone or be loved by somebody.
The heroine is not happy with her boyfriend, not happy with college. Then she’s found by this strong-willed person. She feels this person has something that may fulfill her. She’s the kakera (piece) of the title.
Everybody’s searching to fill that missing piece in their heart. But it’s not something you can ever, ever fill. Maybe you can when you die — then you can say you’ve lived a happy life. Because people can never fill that missing piece, they have the energy and motivation to live. Maybe you can for one day, but the next day you’re not satisfied anymore because people constantly have more desire for love, for everything. So that missing piece, the kakera, is also something that gives you the power to live.
You based your film on a manga, but I understand that 80 percent of the script is your own creation.
It’s a very short manga — just one book. It didn’t show the background of the characters, so I had to add it. What I liked was some of the dialogue in the manga. It was very realistic for the audience, which is mainly girls, so I picked up some of it.
It’s not a lesbian comic as such, right?
No, that’s why I wanted to work with it. I’ve not been in love with a girl, yet, so I haven’t had any experience. But the original manga wasn’t about lesbians at all. It was a youth love story about identity, finding yourself. Sometimes life is strange and it just happens that the person the heroine loves is a girl. It doesn’t have to be a love story about two girls, though. I thought it was good material to work with because (the story) could happen to anyone.
Before seeing the film I thought that (Hikari) Mitsushima would be the aggressive one, but her character was 180 degrees different.
I did a lot of auditions but I couldn’t find the right girl. Toward the end, when I really had to (cast the film), I realized that Riko and Haru are not separate characters, they have to go together, like a puzzle. I also realized I should cast against type. Just about that time Hikari and Eriko (Nakamura) came in. Hikari had never done a quiet character before. She was always quite energetic. Eriko is usually quite quiet, very much like Haru’s type. She’s not always sure what to say. She’s changed after “Kakera,” though. (laughs) So Hikari came in thinking she was being called for Riko’s character. When I said she was being cast for Haru, she was like, “Oh, really?!”
It was right after she made (Sion) Sono’s film (“Ai no Mukidashi” (Love Exposure)), and I knew she had had a hard time, fighting with the director every day. Sono put a lot of pressure on her, which made her an actress for the first time. I think she was expecting me to direct by telling her what to do and giving her strict, rigid orders. I didn’t. I just told her that if she wanted to continue acting for a long time she had to learn how to save her energy sometimes.
I told her I was going to ignore her as much as I could and that if she felt lost, that’s OK because the character is lost too. So I just left her alone. I gave Riko as much instruction as possible, I told her how to do every little movement. With Haru, when I said “action,” she looked unsure about how she should do the scene, and that was what I wanted. I’m sure she was stressed out. Both of them, actually, but in different ways.
But Haru has this stubborn quality — she’s not as easily manipulated as she looks.
Haru is not weak. She’s definitely strong inside. It’s just that she doesn’t know herself. All these Japanese girls, I don’t think they’re weak, they just don’t know how to use what they’ve got. And also they’re scared of taking one step forward.
I think the mental and physical in people should be connected, then they can stand straight and tall. Sometimes when people do something physically, they can realize something mentally. It can be the opposite, too. But not many young people realize this. They just think and think and think and never actually do anything. So if you’re stressed out sometimes, just scream! (laughs) And you might realize something.
Do you think you have a different perspective on this material because you’re a woman?
Probably. In Japan, we have many female directors now. For a long time it was very difficult to become a director here if you were female. It was hard (for women) to be themselves, to stand up and say, “This is what I want to make and this is my style.” To get to that point, I think you can’t ignore your gender.
It’s something you can’t choose. Gender, your parents, your neighbors, you can’t choose them, right? There are definitely some aspects I can see because I was born female, I wanted to use that as a stepping stone so I can be myself. I know some directors who don’t want to be categorized as a female director, but I don’t mind — it’s a fact that I’m female. It’s just something I have to deal with. It’s the same as having the parents I do. It’s something I can’t avoid and escape from.
How does the international background play into it?
My identity is definitely Japanese. Identity is so important. I lived in England for a long time, but that made me believe even more strongly that I’m Japanese. I could never become English or American, or anything else. International people like me have to have their own identity. In my case as a pure Japanese. Otherwise, I don’t think I could ever be truly international.
It’s a good thing to go abroad because then you can share what you have at home and you can see from a distance your family, your friends, yourself, everything. So it was good that I left Japan and lived in England. I can see more clearly and I can appreciate what I have.