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Hey boys and girls, , Japan Cuts granted us a lovely chat with the writer/director behind the delightful comedy, Rent-a-Cat.  Naoko Ogigami talked about filming internationally, the influence of art and traditional Japan on her work and the key to handling her large cast of adorable felines.

Dig it!



Naoko Ogigami


The Lady Miz Diva:  How do you feel presenting Rent-a-Cat before Japan Cutsí New York audience?

Naoko Ogigami:  Iím very excited.  I was looking forward to it. I received a warm reception during Kamame Diner.  Hopefully, Iíll hear a lot of laughter like I did last time.


LMD:  What was the inspiration behind Rent-a-Cat?

NO:  Iím a cat lover.  The initial idea came from one of my fatherís friends who is in his seventies and his beloved cat just passed away, but because heís still in pain, he canít quite get a new one yet.  So I heard about that story and that was the inspiration for the film.


LMD:  There is a very prominent cat in your previous film, Toilet, as well.  What do cats represent to you?

NO:  I always intend to put a cat in at least one scene of all my films as sort of a good luck charm.


LMD:  I think everyone is going to wonder about your four-legged stars.  What was it like to work with all those cats?  Were they trained animal actors? Were there any demanding cats that wanted more close-ups?

NO:  I thought that if I got all the cats from various animal productions that would cause an internal fight amongst the cats, so I decided to just use one animal production and got all the cats from the same production team.  I canít really ask them to act, so I just asked to be natural.  To be as they are.  Iím a cat owner myself, so I know their nature.  I know the way they are.  So instead of forcing them to do anything, if they wanted to go a particular way, I just let them go.  I let them be the way they are.


LMD:  What was it about your human star, Mikako Ichikawa, that made you feel she was your perfect cat renter, Sayoko?

NO:  Thereís a very curious appeal about her as an actress.  Sheís thirty-four right now and sheís gradually getting older and her performance is getting better and better.  I wanted to capture her sort of innocent boyishness in her that is still remaining before sheís a fully-grown, mature actress.  I wanted to capture that moment.


LMD:  In the US, women who are single and live with a lot of cats are sometimes termed as ďcrazy cat ladies,Ē and itís usually not a compliment, itís more like a stigma.  Does that comparison exist in Japan, as well?

NO:  Oh, yes!  It is often said that when a lady has a cat, she wonít be able to get married. {Laughs}


LMD:  How did Ms. Ichikawa come up with that bizarre voice Sayoko used when pushing the cart and calling out to rent the cats?

NO:  Maybe itís because sheís using the megaphone?  That tone that sheís mimicking in the film is actually very particular to Japanese culture.  Often when they sell hot, sweet yams in Japan, they have them in carts or in a big truck, and usually men that sell those use the speaker and use that voice.  Sheís sort mimicking that tradition.


LMD:  Thereís an almost comic book-like quality to the tone and framing of Rent-a-Cat.  How did you decide on the filmís tone and balancing the comedy against the more poignant moments?

NO:  This is not particular to this film, but for Kamome Diner, as well as Toilet, I always inject my own sense of humour into the film, but I actually make sure I depict the drama within the humour, as well.  People often ask me what genre is your film, and have no choice but to respond that itís drama plus humour.


LMD:  Since the movie is open-ended, is it possible we might see Rent-a-Cat Pt. 2?  You really hope that Sayoko ends up happily and gets her wish.

NO:  Itís often said that my films are open-ended. Instead of me posing a conclusion, I want to keep it open-ended, so that the audience can feel and enjoy the ambience of the end and think about whatís next.


LMD:  You studied film at USC and then worked at pretty much every kind of job behind the camera in a variety of projects after that.  What has that experience given you in terms of the films you direct?

NO:  One of the good things about studying in the United States is that I was able to objectively see Japan. Iíve shot in different countries including Canada, Finland, and of course, Japan, and every time Iíve been able to viscerally, physically experience that the goal of making a film is the same; something that we all share as a crew in different spots.


LMD:  Was that feeling what made you decide to study film overseas, being able to see Japan objectively and working with international crews?

NO:  Yes, that is my goal.  And I love to drink, so I would so I envision shooting a film in some island in the west or in Africa in the great wild, out in nature, or even in the urbanscape of New York City.  Iíd like to shoot everywhere and thatís part of my goal, as well.


LMD:  Are you most comfortable directing a piece that you wrote?

NO:  I canít direct anything else besides my own work.  I love to write and the sole reason I direct is because I want to back my own work that I wrote.  But in terms of working on set, itís not my strong forte.  I prefer to write.


LMD:  Who are your influences?

NO:  I donít really have one, but I do respect Yayoi Kusama, the artist.


LMD:  Does art register more on your vision?

NO:  They way she lives, I respect that better.  She also has very bright, pink hair.


LMD:  While working in Japan, have you ever felt any hesitation from investors to produce your films based on the fact that youíre a female?

NO:  Iíve never felt that it was particularly difficult.  Itís not that it makes it easy because Iím a woman.  Regardless of whether youíre a female or male director, financing is difficult for everybody.


LMD:  What would you like people to take away from Rent-a Cat?

NO:  I recently had children, so I really understand the feeling of loving and treasuring small things. I feel very sorry for people who cannot feel that way toward small creatures; people who abuse animals or children, even.  I feel that is a handicap, a psychological disease.  So, I really want to celebrate and communicate this feeling of treasuring small beings and creatures of the world.


LMD:  Would you please give our readers a message about what to expect from Naoko Ogigami in the future?

NO:  For Rent-a-Cat, I used a very Japanese-style house thatís since been taken down.  It was a very traditional style of architecture that had a tatami mat floor, and itís also remnant of the Showa period.  I was very focused on Japan for this project, but for the next one, I would like to shoot again in a foreign country.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 25th, 2012





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Film Stills Courtesy of  Paradise Cafe











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