Interview with “Round-Trip Heart” director Yuki Tanada
On December 4th, the first snowfall of the year, we got a chance to meet and interview the popular Japanese director, Yuki Tanada. She came all the way from Tokyo to promote her film, “Round-trip Heart” or “Romansu” in the original Japanese. The film stars former AKB48 idol, Yuko Oshima and seasoned-actor Koji Okura. A slice of life film, the story follows the unlikely duo of a food cart pusher on the Odakyu Romance Car Hachiko Hojo (Yuko Oshima) and a shoplifting, failed movie producer Yoichi Sakuraba (Koji Okura) as they embark on a mission to find Hachiko’s possibly suicidal mother in the tourist hotspot of Hakone. We the audience get to see a very scenic side of Japan as the two main characters unwittingly get to know each other through their impromptu investigation. This movie is full of laughs, as well as some thought-provoking and even inspiring moments that make it a genuinely fun experience to watch. As both the script writer and director, Yuki Tanada did a wonderful job on this lovely independent film.
Directing a new movie almost every year, Tanada-san is certainly gaining recognition and esteem in Japan for her work and we hope the same will start to happen here in America as well. As a female in a mainly male-dominated field, it is easy to assume that her gender has been a hindrance for her, especially in a country like Japan which has one of the worst levels of gender equality in the developed world. However, Tanada-san maintains that she has never had trouble being a female in this industry, nor does she like to focus on the fact that she is a female director as many are wont to do. She feels being a female is nothing special and there are many other female directors in Japan nowadays too. At age 41 and with 15 years of experience directing, she no longer considers herself to be a new director by any means and so would like the focus to be on her work, not her gender. For our interview, we of course wanted to get to know a little more of this amazing director’s background, as well as some tidbits about the movie. She was very down to earth, and it was a pleasure interviewing her.
First off, thank you so much for coming to our city to promote your film! How has your trip been? We apologize for the sudden snow…
I flew into O’Hare yesterday and I am leaving tomorrow so it will be a short trip. But I had a nice dinner last night and walked along Lake Michigan this morning before coming here [to Wilmette]. Everyone has joked that I must have brought the snow…
Next, do you have any fond memories of family trips such as Hachiko had in Hakone?
Oh well, when I was young our family used to take road trips around Kyushu. I’m from Fukuoka, so we would take trips to cities in driving distance, such as Oita or Kumamoto. It would be the four of us together; my mother, my father, my sister and me. What I remember most is taking trips to the ocean where I’d enjoy watching my father go diving.
What was it like working with Oshima Yuko-san? As a former idol, was it different working with her as opposed to a traditional actor?
I had no qualms with her acting ability, but working with her was interesting. We had only two weeks to film everything this time around so for me it was very hectic. But at the end of filming Oshima-san said to me that she was surprised on how “relaxed” the filming schedule was. I was shocked to hear that! It goes to show how busy the life of an idol is if that kind of schedule is relaxing.
Wow, only two weeks? Is that a normal filming schedule?
(laughs) No, not really. It’s a fairly short window, but with this film’s particular budget that is as long as we could do.
You’ve directed movies adapted from books or manga as well as movies with your own original script. How did this film come to be?
Actually, this time I was approached to do a film starring Oshima Yuko-san. She had just graduated from her idol group and her agent wanted her to start acting so I received the offer to direct her first film. One of my colleagues who will sometimes write scripts for the movies I direct, Mukai Kosuke, is actually a fan of Oshima Yuko-san. Knowing that, I asked him to write a summary for this movie and I would base my script after it. Since I knew if I wrote a script without consulting him he would be angry (laugh).
When you decided to go into directing, were any of your family or friends against your decision?
(Seeming surprised) Oh no, no one was against it. Actually, I never asked anyone about it, I just went for it (laughs).
How did you get into the movie industry in the first place?
I was always interested in it and I was fortunate enough to go to a high school with a heavy focus on theater. In the beginning I was involved mainly with live theater, but my issue with theater is that the actors have to use large gestures and loud voice so that the people sitting in the back row of the audience can have the same experience as those in the front row. With film, everyone in the audience can equally enjoy movies no matter where they sit, and it allows for more subtlety. So because of that I chose to work with film instead.
What do you think about the title change for this movie? Were you involved in that decision?
I came up with the original title “Romansu” because of the use of the Romance car to Hakone but also because in Japanese the word romance still holds a very old-fashioned sense of the word. However, I was told that in America it might be taken in a more erotic way so they decided to change it (laughs). The translator came up with the new title.
How do you think American audiences will receive your film?
That’s something I’m looking forward to finding out today at the showing of this film. I feel that when Americans pay to see a movie they are paying to be entertained, to be excited or to laugh like they might watching a huge budget Hollywood film. This movie is very relaxed in comparison and while Japanese audiences are used to that kind of movie I wonder what Americans will think. But I am definitely looking forward to their reactions.
Do you have any advice for young people who might want to get into directing?
Well, all I can say is that no matter what hardships you might go through in life, know that those experiences will come in handy someday. For directors especially, you can use any hardships you have experienced in your work. For example, to girls who may have been dumped, take some relief in knowing you can use that experience to your advantage someday!
With that, we parted ways until the red carpet event at the Wilmette theater, where we had the privilege of watching the film with Tanada-san, as well as participate in Q&A after the showing. As Tanada-san mentioned in the interview, she was curious on how the audience would react to this film. I am happy to report that the audience loved it, there were many parts that got the whole theater laughing, and even a few gasps at certain scenes as well.
We at the Japanese Culture Center would like to give a special thanks to Sophia Wong Bocchio for allowing us to interview with director Yuki Tanada and inviting us again to another wonderful event put together by the Asian Pop-up Cinema.