Director Yukinori Makabe has high hopes for his ‘Tokyo Sky Story’ at film festival

by Mark Schilling

Special To The Japan Times

A staffer of the Robot production house, where he has worked as an assistant director on entries in the hit “Always” and “Odoru Daisosasen (Bayside Shakedown)” series, 29-year-old Yukinori Makabe has also directed award-winning short films, including “The Sun and the Moon,” which beat out 250 others to win the Grand Prix of the Journey Award 2012 short-film contest sponsored by Louis Vuitton. His latest film, “Tokyo Sky Story,” will be shown at the Space 634 theater at Tokyo Skytreetown to celebrate the first anniversary of Tokyo Skytree, and as a special screening of Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia. At the Robot headquarters in Ebisu, a very young-looking, but poised and articulate Makabe explained how the film came to be made.

Did you feel any pressure after you got the commission to make the film?

First, I saw an ad calling for proposals for a film with the Skytree as its subject. It came from the Short Shorts Film Festival, which was recruiting ideas from everybody, not just Robot. I made a proposal and it was selected. There wasn’t a lot of time from the decision to make (the film) until the start of shooting. It was a tight schedule, so I didn’t have time to feel any pressure.

I saw the Skytree up close for the first time this year and it impressed me with its power, especially compared to Tokyo Tower. That also seems to be a theme of the film — that the Skytree can give you a kind of power.

The Skytree is already a year old, but I had never gone up it. When I got this offer, I went up it for the first time. I was surprised as how big it was. When I saw Tokyo Tower from the Skytree observation deck, it looked so small (laughs). But the main characters don’t go up.

Once they say “Let’s go up” that’s the end of the movie (laughs). I didn’t want to shoot images just of the Skytree. Instead, I wanted to show it from the viewpoints of various people — from junior high school students to a young couple. I planned that sort of structure for the film together with members of my film-study circle.

The winner of the Grand Prix is eligible for an Academy Award — is that an incentive for you?

It has a big significance, yes. Someone from our company, Kunio Kato, won the Academy Award for Best Short Animation with a film titled “La Maison en Petits Cubes” (2008). I think it would be really difficult to be nominated and win for a feature film, but the Academy Award for short films doesn’t feel so out of reach for me. Winning a prize isn’t everything, but it’s a big motivation to feel that the road to winning an Oscar is a lot shorter than it might be otherwise.

What kind of director do you want to be?

The film I made before this one (“The Sun and the Moon”) won a prize at an international film festival. So I want to be a director who makes films, long or short, that can be shown abroad.

“Tokyo Sky Story” screens as part of Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia 2013 at Space 364 at Tokyo Skytreetown on June 7 (3:30 p.m.) and 8 (1:30 p.m.). For more information, visit www.shortshorts.org/2013/tokyoskystory.