Having a laugh with Ryuichi Hiroki

by Mark Schilling

A veteran director of “pink” movies, Ryuichi Hiroki won critical acclaim for the 1994 youth drama “800 (800 — Two Lap Runner),” his breakthrough into straight films. He first collaborated with Shinobu Terajima — star of his new movie “Yawarakai Seikatsu — in “Vibrator,” a romantic road movie that swept Japanese film awards for 2003 and was widely screened overseas.

Like many other “pink” directors, former or not, Hiroki is a frank, unpretentious type, and during our interview the laughter flowed freely.

How much of Shinobu Terajima’s performance came from you?

Not much. She read the script in her own way. All I did was say things like ‘Maybe you should be a little more cheerful here.’ She encounters five men [in the course of the film] so I told her I wanted her to vary her expressions with each one. Her performance was more part of a group collaboration. In ‘Vibrator,’ it was all one-to-one.

The men she meets all have their appealing qualities, but they’re also all unreliable.

That’s right, they’re all a bunch of wimps [laughs]. I include myself in that group [laughs].

Would you call the film a mirror of Japanese society in that way?

No, no — or maybe. It’s a tough call [laughs]. But women are more in tune with the times than men. They are living with a firm sense of reality. Japanese women may look sort of quiet and dreamy, but they’re really firmly grounded. All women are. I get the feeling that men are just trying to keep up with them.

The first time I saw the film I wondered how you were going to tie it all together.

Exactly, exactly! That was the hardest part about writing the script. [Haruhiko] Arai really struggled with that. There are all these different stories — so what do you do with them? So we focused on the fact that Yuko shares all these memories with her cousin Shoichi, from the time they were both small.

Terajima expresses her character with more than just her face. The way she walks is also very distinctive.

She acts with her whole body, not just her face. She acts with expression in everything — in the way she walks and so on. All I did was tell her she was getting too carried away. I told her [the audience] would understand without the exaggeration.

Even the floppy boots that she wears . . .

Right, those boots. I liked the idea of her clomping around in those boots. She’s not one those girls who glides around. She’s not one who slips on boots using a shoehorn. She just crams her feet into them and then goes clomping around town taking pictures and them goes clomping home.

If you had pushed it too far, she would have just been this eccentric lady.

Right, right. There was a fine line, but Kamata’s the kind of town where you can get away with dressing like that. [laughs] Well, not ‘get away with’ — it goes with the town.

There’s something a little dangerous about the relationship between Yuko and Shoichi.

Yes, no doubt about it.

Even though they’re cousins . . .

They’ve had sex? They’re all right, though, even if they’ve had sex. They’re all right [laughs].

There’s a difference of opinion about that [laughs]. But when they part for the last time, they kiss. That really made a big impression on me as the kiss is so long and intense. Was that your idea or did it sort of happen spontaneously?

We decided from the start to do it in one long cut. Just go for it! Hey, it’s not a French kiss.

Shoichi wants to kiss her and she responds passionately.

That was a really tough scene. I needed about 10 takes. We were filming until morning [laughs]. It was a really important scene, so I had to get it right. I agonized over how [the audience] should see it. Is it the end? The beginning?

So you wanted that ambiguity?

Right. But it’s really the beginning. He absorbs all of Yuko’s weakness and then goes home to the countryside.

A new beginning . . .

A new beginning. I thought that would be all right, that both of them would accept it.

In your films that sort of ambiguity is . . .


Right, common!

You know all too well.

But that’s life.

Right. I’m living an ambiguous life. So maybe I should have called the film “Ambiguous Life” [laughs].

I couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for Yuko.

You should feel sorry for her. I feel sorry for her. If she’d only met a better guy.

A guy with all the good qualities of the men she meets in the film.

There actually aren’t many guys like that. So filmmakers think they have to put someone like that into their films. But reality is something else.

Read the film review
“Yawarakai Seikatsu”
Desperately seeking solace