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The director of such award-winning films as The Woodsman and the Rain and A Story of Yonosuke, ShŻichi Okita brings his latest, The Mohican Comes Home, a warm and unexpectedly humourous story of a family coping with illness, to the Japan Cuts film festival.  Okita spoke with me about his stars, pop Idol and fellow JCuts guest, Atsuko Maeda, Ryuhei Matsuda, and making a hero of the everyman.

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The Mohican Comes Home

ShŻichi Okita


The Lady Miz Diva:  You have a wonderful naturalness to the performances in your films.  With The Mohican Comes Home, it felt like there were scenes that had some improvisation as you were filming.  How strongly do you enforce the script on the set?

ShŻichi Okita:  Generally, I stick really closely to the script, but after numerous takes, the actors get used to doing the same thing, so we do vary a little. {Laughs}  They do try to add things and do different things.


LMD:  As she is here at the festival, will you please say a few words about directing Ms. Atsuko Maeda? What did she bring to the character of Yuka that you might not have seen before she was cast?

SO:  When I was writing the script, I was wondering who would be good for Yuka, and at the same time, I just happened to have an interview; it was a conversational interview between Ms. Maeda and myself for a magazine that we did.  I met her, and I had a certain feeling that she would be good for the role of Yuka.  When I went home and reread the script with Maeda-san in mind for the role of Yuka, it was very funny to me and humorous, so I knew it would work perfectly.


LMD:  In this film, you have Ryuhei Matsuda, Akira Emoto and Masako Motai, who have decades of experience behind them, and Atsuko Maeda, who is quite a bit younger than those esteemed actors.  Does the difference in experience or age change your approach as to how you handle the different actors?

SO:  Generally, I think itís all the same {Laughs}, but in the case of Emoto Akira-san, who played the father, he is a veteran actor.  He is an accomplished, legendary actor, so I just sort of amped myself up to be a match for him, as well.  I felt a certain amount of pressure. {Laughs}


LMD:  Youíve an enviable problem of having too many well-written characters.  I felt like I wanted to know more about everybody in the film, whether it was the younger brother, Koji, or the little boy with the trumpet who Emoto-sanís character takes to, or Yukaís family.  How do you balance your wealth of riches?

SO:  The foremost thing I think is to depict a humorous character that lacks pretension and is someone that you feel as if you can find anywhere.  When you place importance on those kind of qualities, I think you can depict a very attractive person.


LMD:  Please talk about your Mohican, Mr. Ryuhei Matsuda.  What made you feel he was right to place the brunt of the story on?

SO:  For me, I donít know, itís hard to say, but I think Mr. Matsuda, heís someone who doesnít try to portray himself as larger than he is.  He very much sticks to what he can do and does that to the best of his ability, and I like that very much.  As an actor, he doesnít feel compelled to explain too much and sometimes you donít know what heís thinking, but I think he has an understanding of what heís doing and who he is underneath it all.


LMD:  The scene I thought was most powerful was when father and son are sitting on the beach and because of the fatherís mind wandering, Eikichi {Matsuda} finally lets his emotions show, even in a subtle way, that he is about to lose his father.  Right after that, it occurred to me that Ryuhei Matsuda is someone who lost his own father {Yusaku Matsuda} to cancer when he was very young.  Did you get a sense of catharsis from Mr. Matsuda, or deep connection to the character with regard to this?

SO:  I think you might have to ask Mr. Matsuda about that.  Personally, I didnít think about that which you pointed out; Mr. Matsudaís experience, actually.  I know he was quite young when he lost his father, Mr. Yusuke Matsuda, himself, but I know in our conversations between Mr. Matsuda and myself, that he has a very strong realisation that his father was a great actor, and that comes through his awareness and art.  And when you see the pictures of them, they are so alike; they are splitting images of each other. {Laughs}


LMD:  In your previous films, The Woodsman and the Rain, A Story of Yonosuke, and here with The Mohican Comes Home, you show a fascination with the unlikely character coming into their own and finding their inner strength.  What is meaningful to you about this cinematic development?

SO:  Iím not sure what to say, but I think it also reflects back not just also on myself, but I think a lot of Japanese men feel this way, in a sense. {Laughs}  Generally, yes, you are right, I do love depicting the theme of men who have a certain awareness that they are living a very small existence, but they are compelled to be more courageous than they are because of something that happens along the way. {Laughs}


LMD:  In 2012, Japan Cuts featured The Woodsman and the Rain.  I remember wondering at the time how much of the meek director was based on the filmís own director?

SO:  Yes! {Laughs} As I wrote it, it just naturally became me.


LMD:  Of course, the MacGuffin in The Mohican Comes Home is the unseen, yet constant presence of pop Idol, Mr. Eikichi Yazawa, who the main character is even named after.  Did Mr. Yazawa have anything to do with this film?

SO:  {Laughs} No!  I did ask his permission, though. {Laughs}


LMD:  What would you like for The Mohican Comes Home to say to audiences?

SO:  Of course, the film has quite a lot of very Japanese elements to it, but the story of a son being right beside his father through his sickness; this story of a family is very universal, so I hope that is communicated to the New York audience.  At the same time, itís a very humorous story and I hope that everyone just enjoys it and laughs and has a good time.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 14th, 2016


Click Here for our Exclusive Interview with The Mohican Comes Home Star, AKB48's Atsuko Maeda


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