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An exclusive Interview with visionary Japanese Director-Film Maker Shin Saito

"The greatest appeal of film is that it reflects the "now" of a society and an era"

Shin Saito is a visionary Filmmaker who recently won an award by his latest film "Eternal" at Manhattanhenge Film Festival Foreign Feature Film Category

Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that film making was not just a hobby, but that it would be your life and your living?

When I moved to Tokyo.

It is harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

Making a commitment to make a film with a friend.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life creating film ?

You should see Ozu, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Jun Ichikawa, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Hitchcock, Bergman, Angelopoulos, Eastwood, Tony Scott and John Woo films.

What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?

The greatest appeal of film is that it reflects the "now" of a society and an era, and that it changes the future of a society and an era for the better. I believe that the qualities that make films better can be honed by looking properly at society, politics and history.

What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?

"Blade Runner"(Ridley Scott) was purely a "live or die" proposition, and I felt like I saw what the movie should be about.

"Dying in the Hospital"(Jun Ichikawa) also showed that staring at death is the greatest tribute to life.

"The Remains of the Day"(James Ivory) taught me to be proud of my life, even if it means losing everything.

"A Better Tomorrow"(John Woo) also taught me how hard it is to keep the faith and how beautiful it is.

It is said that there are only six stories. Maybe twelve. It's all been done before. And we have seen it all. What do you do to keep it fresh? Is there anything that you can do to subvert the process to keep it original?

The movies I've seen, the books I've read, the music I've heard, are all my blood and flesh. They appear in my work, whether I'm aware of it or not. I'm not afraid of letting knowledge marginalize my originality. Originality should arise naturally, as long as we remember to respect our influences.

Films evolve through the creative process - sometimes most dramatically in the editing process. It's often really hard to reconcile the difference between what we desired and what we achieved. How have you encountered this and how do you move through it?

As for the acting, we carefully built the characters and tested and retaken them as many times as we could until the emotions were expressed naturally. I think that's what the pioneers of Japanese cinema did.

What inspired you to create Your film, Eternal?    How did you get inspired to make Eternal?

I came to Tokyo with my wife to make a film. If I suddenly disappeared one day, what would she do with her life? Will she be overwhelmed with loneliness? I wondered how she would feel when I was gone.

One of the direct triggers was when I saw "Solaris" (Andrei Tarkovsky) in an all-night movie theater. I was inspired to make such a film when I saw my deceased partner appear, looking exactly the same as he did in the real thing.

Another inspiration was a story my wife had told me about the toxicity of Whelk shells.

Yet another impetus was hearing Beethoven and Brahms conducted by Furtwängler.

What kind of  challenges you faces before production and after production of "Eternal"? Was any there any difficult moment to continue production? What was biggest challenge for you?

The most difficult part was raising the production costs. In Japan, where wages are low and the cost of living is high, production costs are always the most important issue for film production, regardless of whether you are a pro or amateur. We were able to cover part of the production costs through crowdfunding, but we were always on the edge of our financial situation, so we didn't have the mental space to do so.

We also had a hard time coordinating the shooting schedule because almost every crew member and cast member had a job outside of the film.

Can you tell about your Eternal Production? Budget, scripting, casting and location?

Budget: 1 million yen (about $10,000)Screenplay: Written in 10 months and rewritten 13 times. Casting: Kyoichi Komoto (as Kurusu) is a friend I met in the indie filmmaking community, who has directed and produced many films himself, as well as being an actor. Kimura Masami (as Harumi) is a stage actress in the small Japanese city of Matsumoto, and this will be their third collaboration.  Kana Godo (as Remi) is also a stage actress in Matsumoto and this will be their second collaboration.  Makoto Yamashiro (as Ruruko) is a 19-year-old rookie actress in Tokyo at the time of filming, and is an energetic, charming and hard-working actor. Location: Shot on location in Japan. About 40% of the film was shot in Matsumoto City. And 40% in Tokyo. The film was also shot in the Miura Peninsula near Yokohama.

Film, perhaps more so than any other popular art form, is the compromise between art and commerce. How has your art been shaped by both the money you have had or not had? Do you create with budget limitations in mind? Budgetary limitations were always on our minds and there were some compromises we had to make on budgetary issues. One of these was lighting, and since there was no budget to hire a lighting technician, the staff had to work hard and be creative with the lighting. If there is one more thing you think would make the film industry better, what would it be? What is needed is a better and more user-friendly public subsidy system to support film production. However, in Japan these days, subsidies are often cut off or reduced for films that do not meet the government's wishes, and there are moves to deprive filmmakers of the opportunity to show their films themselves. If the government's finances are too tight to subsidize films, there's nothing we can do about it, but at least we hope that they won't interfere with the production and presentation of these films.

Who is Shin Saito?

Born in 1972. He entered Yamagata University in 1992. While conducting research on detection devices for X-rays radiating from black holes, he directed 20 short films as a member of the film society in his six years there, including graduate school. Completing his graduate studies at Yamagata University in 1998, he began making independent films in 2001 while based in Shiojiri, Nagano. He has continued making films while based in Saitama since 2014.

His distinctive style blends character conflict, social messages, and humor. Rejecting the notion of making independent films as a step toward commercial filmmaking, he seeks a message and production process unique to independent film, regarding it as a different medium of expression to commercial film. With a directing style that involves making character outlines and refining the emotion through repeated rehearsals with actors, in principle he wants even very competent actors to build up their performances from scratch. This lengthens the production period, but he keeps on refining until satisfied, considering not being bound by deadlines a strength of independent filmmaking.

Filmography 2005~ “How many bytes is your trouble”(2005), “Cats hunter”(2006), “Soulmate”(2008), “Seba-su-chan”(2010), “Crime, Punishment and Freedom”(2012), “tick-tack-less”(2013), “The Only and Everything”(2016), “imperfect world”(2019) Co-director with Kyoichi Komoto (Directed the second episode of the three-part series).

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We wish best of luck Director Shin Saito on his journey.

Manhattanhenge Film Team, 2020

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