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A combustible erotic tale of two opposites drawn together by a shocking act, Netflixís RIDE OR DIE is determined from its outset to push envelopes.  Based on the landmark manga, Gunjō {羣青}, by Ching Nakamura, and starring Japanís It Girl, Dallas-born model, fashion designer/entrepreneur, Kiko Mizuhara {水原希子}, and former Gesu no Kiwami Otome drummer, Honami Sato {さとうほなみ}, Director Ryuichi Hiroki challenges the two actresses with this deeply intimate story of love and obsession that tests onscreen sexuality and gender norms.

The Misses Mizuhara and Sato were kind enough to Zoom in from Tokyo one early morning to chat exclusively with LMD about pushing their limits as actors, working with intimacy coordinators, and presenting a rarely-seen look at Queer life.

Dig It!

 

RIDE OR DIE

Honami Sato and Kiko Mizuhara

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  You are both at different ends of the spectrum in terms of experience in acting projects, with Mizuhara-san having over a decade of acting experience, while Sato-san is relatively new.  In either case, RIDE OR DIEís intensity could be considered risky for any actor.  What was it about the project that convinced you to take such a big chance?

Kiko Mizuhara:  For about ten years, I have been acting, but I have never really referred to myself as an actor for a very long time, although itís been ten years since I made my acting debut in NORWEGIAN WOOD.  Even with that film, Director Tran Anh Hung had found me in a magazine and he thought the feeling that I had as a person would really fit the character of Midori in that film.  I auditioned and I got the role, but that was probably because my personality was very close to the character of Midori, so it wasnít really about any skill sets that I had as a performer, but that is how I started my acting career.  That film was, as you probably know, very big: It opened doors for me in terms of people asking me to work on different kinds of things.  So, Iíve been in films, Iíve been in TV dramas, and so forth.  I also continued my modeling career because I love fashion, as well.  But I also felt that itís important to live your life, not just do your work, so Iíve been doing other things like traveling, as well. 

I felt always, in Japan, that if youíre going to call yourself an actor, that you had to be somebody that was constantly acting; whether it be on stage, or in films, and so forth, and I felt that I was not that.  It was sort of an inferiority complex, if you will.  I was lacking confidence in myself in terms of acting.  I was comparing myself to others in the past ten years, and that was when I received this offer to be part of this film. 

I felt that this is a character, Rei, that kills somebody for the person that she loves.  And itís a character that as an actor, you really need to give your all.  Itís a huge challenge to take on a role like this, and I wanted to sort of test myself as to whether I could do it, because I was also thinking of what my future as a performer.  As somebody who is going to express -- what I want to do, what I want to be -- and this was a character where I had to be emotionally so raw, and I wanted to see if I was able to do it, because that would also affect how I would see myself in the future as an actor.

 

LMD:  Sato-san, how did you read the bond between your Nanae and Mizuhara-sanís Rei?

Honami Sato:  From the first moment when Nanae contacts Rei, there is a sense of tension that continues throughout the film, I feel.  For Nanae, Rei is somebody who knows her vulnerabilities.  They have a past in which Rei had -- perhaps unwillingly, for Nanae -- helped her.  So, Rei was always a special person for Nanae, for sure.

They start this really awkward dynamic relationship at the beginning, but each of them becomes their crux, if you will, as the path unfolds.  Their path is a roller coaster, but emotionally, I think in all the scenes they are connected.  But itís really interesting, because with their dynamic, there are so many things about them that is incompatible, yet theyíre always together, and Nanae tests Reiís love for her many times, and yet, they are not able to part.

That tension that we had from the beginning, I think grows into something like ďI need you.  You are the only person for me.  You are the most important person in the world.Ē  I think thatís the journey that we were able to bring to the film.

 

LMD:  Along the lines of what you said, there are times when it seems like Nanae doesnít even like Rei, yet they have tied themselves together in this tragic dance.

HS:  When it comes to Nanae and as she feels towards Rei, I donít think that was romantic love.  It was more of a sense of happiness, just when she is with Rei.  And over the course of the film, Nanae tests Reiís love for her, and they would quarrel because of that, they would clash emotionally because of that, but I wasnít too worried about the dynamic there, because I feel that throughout the film the two characters just exist.  Everything organically comes from that.

I find that itís really interesting, the relationship between the two, because they are not exactly 100% compatible, and they feel like they donít completely understand each other, and yet, they kind of do.  And even if they donít understand each other completely, they canít be parted, of course.  Even if itís not going perfectly well, thereís a comfortable feeling that comes with that that I thought was interesting. 

Yes, of course, the film features many different types of people, including Reiís family, as well.  One thing I thought that was interesting -- this kind of departs from your question, Diva -- is that everybody in the film seems to be saying what they think is right for them, but it doesnít mean that the other person completely understands that.  I thought that was really intriguing.  And even with the central two characters, they feel like they are saying what is right -- their truth, if you will -- itís not like the other would completely understand that, and yet they canít be parted.  And I really find that relationship adorable in a way.


LMD: Regarding how much input he had to your performances, Director Hiroki stated in the press notes,  ďNot much. Their conversations are between two women, so it wouldnít help much for me to intervene.  I often observed them from a distance.  For example, I would ask them what they thought of a certain scene.  Even if they were unsure, I wouldnít offer them an olive branch.  I think they must have really struggled.Ē 

Iíve had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Director Hiroki, so I wasnít surprised to read this Is he telling the whole truth, here?  Please tell us about working with Director Hiroki.

HS:  Director Hiroki does say that he didnít say anything; that he didnít give us an olive branch, but thatís not really exactly the truth.  Because when we were struggling with our performances, he would ask me, what the character was thinking?  What the character was feeling?  He would be a guide for me, and this was from the rehearsals.

He also did mention to us that to be able to construct a dynamic like that between our two characters; that was the approach that he was going to take.  So, we knew that.  For me, it was more about him sort of pioneering the path that we were supposed to take, and that was my impression of him as a director.  When you talk to him, he would say sort of facetiously, or lie, and things like that, but anything that was essential, that was important, he would convey to us.  He was a huge help, I think.  I really am happy that Hiroko-san was the director of this film.

KM:  As Honami-chan was saying, maybe if Hiroki-san did not say this and that in terms of direction to the actors on the set, he certainly was a guiding light throughout the process.  Obviously, the story, the characters, it was a very specific situation; and so there are moments where we would hit a wall as to where we were emotionally, in terms of the characters.  You canít find an exit, and youíre frustrated, and youíre struggling and confused, and thatís when he would serve as a guiding light.  He was able to calm us in those moments.  He would tell us, ďRemember what was in the last scene?Ē and then, ďWhat are you feeling now as the character?Ē  And he was able to really calm us down.

That was really strangely interesting.  There was one time when I really panicked, and I was watching his face, and strangely enough, I started to calm down.  Maybe something was conveyed telepathically; he wasnít saying anything verbally, but I felt that he was saying ĎItís okay,í and I was able to calm myself.  He is, as Honami-chan said, always putting the actors first in any situation.  He is always thinking about us, and the environment for us. 

Obviously, on a film set, technical things can go wrong with the cameras, or the recording equipment, and with emotionally-charged scenes, like when youíre angry, or when youíre struggling; as actor you want it to be just one take, because it is really hard to do many takes of those kinds of scenes, and when thereís a technical failure in those moments, Hiroki-san would actually let the actors be irritated against him. 

We were really kind of happy about that; that he was on our side, or feeling the same way, or putting us first.  There are other directors who would put the technical stuff first.  There are also other directors who would want to shoot different material to be able to edit together and make sense in the editing booth, but Hiroki-san is not like that.  He is ďActor firstĒ, and he really is watching you; watching the actors -- what we are able to produce.  And that fact, that he is watching us, gives us a sense of security, as well, and Iím also glad that Hiroki-san was the director of this film, especially because he understood what it was as actors to have to be so raw.  He was able to give us a safe place, and he was able to guide us throughout.  And maybe I guess he was thinking that he did not do anything because of the way he wouldnít direct verbally too much on set, but I think he did, and I am very glad and grateful that he was there with us.

 

LMD:  Perfect segue.  I feel like Mizuhara-san must have a telepathic connection, too.  There are so many moments in RIDE OR DIE that are so intense, and really things weíve never seen in any Japanese film of this level before.  Every director, when they are making something that is groundbreaking, or boundary-pushing, has to create a trust, a secure space for his actors.  

Please tell us how Director Hiroki created a safe space for you, specifically during the love scene in the beach shack between Rei and Nanae?  What he do to make those moments feel secure for you?

KM:  Hiroki-san really worked to make sure there was a very safe place for us.  He would make sure that the set for those scenes only had minimal, or the most necessary people inside.  There was probably only four people, including the DP.  We also had an intimacy coordinator on this production.  There was her workings, as well. 

But, even if we didnít have an intimacy coordinator, I think Hiroki-san -- he actually expressed this to us -- he told us that he was going to create a safe space to protect us, and I think even if there werenít an intimacy coordinator, he would have done the same thing, because that is what he was actually doing.  Obviously, he was worried that technically, things would go wrong; that maybe the sound hadnít been recording, and so forth, but, nevertheless, he made sure made sure that he did the best to prepare the environment, and he put us first -- the actors first -- and we were able to do it in a very safe place.

 

LMD:  I think many Americans might know Mizuhara-san from her appearance in the Japanese edition of QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT GUY, so presenting different aspects of gay life is not new to you.  However, itís not common to see Queer characters at the centre of a Japanese feature.  Rei is a lesbian, who initially has a loving relationship with her girlfriend; but while that girlfriendís family loves and accepts Rei, Rei is closeted to her own family.  She is also in love with Nanae, who claimed to have no attraction to Rei when they were schoolgirls, but is not above using Reiís decades-old feelings to help herself.

Was presenting this story, whose main characters and others fall into different aspects of the Queer diaspora, to the worldwide audience that watches Netflix, part of your motivation for participating in this film?

KM:  Well, that there are different types of people in the world is something that I have always thought.  That is something that I have always felt.  But specifically about Rei, she is a character that was rejected when she came out to her mother, and obviously, that led to struggles, and it was really hard on her, and she decided that she did not have to come out to other members of the family.  But she finds Mika, who becomes her girlfriend, and they form a kind of a new, different-shaped family, if you will.  Mika is somebody who understands Rei, and she has this endless love for her.  So, sheís almost like motherly towards Rei.

So, what I really wanted to do with the character of Rei, was that I wanted to portray her as somebody who knows love.  Who is experiencing love.  That is something that I was very conscious of.  So, going back to the diaspora, and how there are diverse people in this world, that is something that is de facto: That is how the world is.  And if there are people who would recognise that through watching this film, that would be great.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

April 13th, 2021

 

RIDE OR DIE is Now Streaming Exclusively on NETFLIX

 

 

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Stills Courtesy of Netflix Japan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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