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Konnichiwa, yall!  We had the exceptional joy to catch up with the filmmakers behind this years Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film, Departures {Okuribito}.   Director Yjir Takita and star Masahiro Motoki *sigh* sat in with our darling Megumi Sato of Tokyo FM and yours truly to discuss winning the Oscar, American audiences and blowfish testacles.

Kampai, babies!



Yjir Takita & Masahiro Motoki


The Lady Miz Diva:  What was it like for you to watch Departures for the first time with an American audience?

Yjir Takita:  I was a little nervous wondering how the audience would respond, but their reaction was even clearer than the Japanese audience.  I was convinced the movie spoke a universal language.

Masahiro Motoki:  Sitting right next to him, I could feel Mr. Takitas tension at the beginning of the screening.  It took a while after the screening got underway for him to settle in and relax even though the audience responded so well from the beginning.  

I heard that Americans dislike having to read subtitles; but they reacted to every detail, it was surprisingly refreshing to me.

YT:  I thought the response was almost the same as the Japanese audience, but in a few scenes, they reacted even more animated than the Japanese!  I guess they have such imagination.  They reacted as if they were actually in the movie themselves.  It was interesting.


LMD:  There are some very Japanese customs and traditions shown in Departures.  Were you concerned the American audience might not understand?

YT:  People live and die, its unconditional.  Aspects of the film are very Japanese, but it turned out to be a very universal tale the same anywhere in the world as in Japan.

MM:  It must have been very exotic for the American audience to see the backgrounds in the film; the shoji screens, the tatami floors and scenes in the local towns.  Also scenes of us eating imply that we eat living things so we can live on live birds, blowfish testicles.  This is nothing special for us Japanese, but it must look grotesque to Americans.  They reacted so vividly as if they were watching a horror movie!  I saw that and enjoyed the cultural difference, as well.

YT:  I felt the same; the tone of the movie became a little more scary.  I mean eating blowfish testicles is nothing special for us, but it looks weird for Americans.  Then they say it out loud, waiting for whats next.  It created expectations like a horror movie.

MM:  I dont think he meant to, but the scene where we place the old womans body in a coffin could have looked like a horror to them.

YT:  I saw these scenes with a totally new tension.  Ive seen the movie many times, but this time it was different.  I felt the mood of the audience on my back, absorbing it and thought, Theyre scared, arent they?


LMD:  Departures will open across the United States soon, do you have any expectations?

YT:  I want people from all different languages and backgrounds to watch.  If they understand, we can be proud of what were doing and be confident were doing the right thing. 

MM:  In Japan, I was impressed by the fact that a wide range of people watched this movie.  They enjoyed the humour in the film.  I think you can enjoy this movie reflecting on your own experience.  Everybody experiences the death of a loved one.  The film doesnt only give you sadness, but makes you appreciate life.  Its a positive point of view.  I expect each and everyone who sees the film will see their own story in it.


LMD:  Did you expect this film to win the Foreign Language Academy Award?

YT:  Not at all.  I was so surprised by the news that it was one of the 9 primary candidates.  Then it became one of the 5 Oscar-nominated films.  I was so happy just to attend the ceremony.

MM:  When we won, I felt like it was more than we deserved.  Nothing about me was an international actor.  I mean, when Mr. Ken Watanabe was nominated for the Oscar {The Last Samurai 2003}, I thought, It has nothing to do with me.  I guess I got a little closer now.  I used to think the American film industry was closed to other countries, so I never imagined wed cross over.  But this year, a film like Slumdog Millionaire won Best Picture, now I understand they are more open and fair showing such love of the movies. If you work in this kind of environment, you could be very well motivated.


LMD:  Do you think American audiences are more open to Japanese films?

YT:  I do think so.  American audiences are trying to be more open to movies from other countries.  It would be wonderful if they watched more films with many different cultures.  If so, more doors would open to us.


LMD:  What was the reaction in Japan after you won?

YT:  We got more people coming to the theatres.

MM:  I still feel the remaining heat now, but right after we went back after the Awards, I felt like we were the most wanted.  I was happy, but I felt wretched at the same time.


LMD:  What did you come away with as a filmmaker after making Departures?

YT:  Ive made lots of movies, facing the movie and committing to it totally.  For me, what I must deal with is creating the result; emotion, passion, will.  Those things can move people.  So now, I want to refresh my commitment and lose myself to film making.

MM:  No single movie can be made without so many people involved before and behind the camera.  I learned so much from Mr. Tsutomu Yamazaki, and I met so many people through this film.  Its interesting that the good chemistry of people always gives you something unexpected.  I was thrilled by the fact that we broke through the predetermined harmony and extraordinary things emerged.  I think its about movie making; I do appreciate that Im in this tough, modest, but interesting world.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

April 29th, 2009



Click here to read our movie review of Departures


Interview conducted at the DirectTV Tribeca Film Festival Press Center



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Exclusive photos by LMD

Film stills courtesy of Regent Releasing




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