Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Kazuya Ogawa - Interview - Yubari 2011

Focusing on the people and side-stepping the politics Pink Subaru is a warm breeze of a movie that whisks you through its whimsical story. Set in an Arab Israeli town on the border to Palestine, it brings a very human element to an area we normally only view through the eye of news broadcasts. The film, like its cast, is a diverse melting pot of influences: A Japanese director, Italian Producers, Palestinian writers. It is this spirit of internationalism that lets the film break free of the shackles of its geography.

Director Kazuya Ogawa, originally from Japan、lived in New York for five years and is now based in Italy. Film in Japan had a chat with him about his first feature, his collaboration with Akram Tillawi, and filming in Taibei, on the Israel/Palestine border.

FIJ -So I’ve just got out of the screening of Pink and I completely forgot where we are, in Northern Hokkaido in snowy Yubari! I was expecting the warmth of the middle east.

KO-It’s the complete opposite.

FIJ -Could you describe Pink Subaru to me

KO - It’s a story about human drama, but human drama with a melting pot element. The story is very simple: it’s just a guy who is saving money for twenty years, and finally bought the luxurious Subaru legacy. It was his dream, but the next day it got stolen, and he went to find it…that’s it.

FIJ -When I was reading about the film, I thought it sounded like a very unique project. How did you get involved in it?

KO - So I was in Italy , I met a guy, Akram Tillawi who is the main character. We made a lot of projects together, he is a theatrical actor and director. We worked together and it was a very nice atmosphere between me and him. His wife is Italian, Gilliana Martini, and she is an opera singer. He did the theatre and I did the visuals, collaborating together. We also did a lot of school projects, teaching kids how to act or how to make a film, in Italy.

Finally, he invited me to go to Palestine, well not exactly Palestine, it’s Taibei on the borderline. The culture is completely Arab, but it’s on the border, so they have Palestinian passports. And, he invited me just for fun as a tourist, and so I went.

On the first day, first night, I heard a big explosion….Boom!...But! It was fireworks for a wedding. Afterwards I heard a lot of explosions, but they were always wedding fireworks; the sound of happiness. I never heard a bomb, but I heard the sound of happiness. This atmosphere, I want to bring it.

At the same time, I saw a lot of Subarus on the street. Everyone was looking at me because there are no Japanese, no Asians. I made a joke, “Don’t look at me! I am normal, there are a lot Japanese everywhere! I’m not special”

Then one guy, a friend of Akram Tillawi, told me the story of how Subaru became so popular in Israel and Palestine. At the time in the 70s when Israel was growing up. They needed transportation but there was nothing. And the car is transportation for private needs. Honda, Toyota a lot of companies tried to export cars to the region but they couldn’t because they were working and doing business with Arab countries, if they transport,It’s going to be bad for them. But Subaru, only Subaru, didn’t, and they began exporting. Most of the cars were Subaru’s, and a little bit Volkswagen, but almost 80-90% was Subaru at that time

FIJ -Even now today when you walk around Israel you still see Subarus?

KO - In Israel it’s about 50% now, but in Palestine it’s still about 80-90%. It’s because, they stole the car from Israel or bought it over there. But, things are a bit behind in Palestine, it’s like the ‘70s. Its why Palestine still has a lot of Subarus still.

So this feeling, the sound of happiness, and the Subaru story it's getting together. Me and Akram went back to Italy, and started developing the story. I made about twenty pages of the synopsis. We started developing this, and screenwriting. It took about one year and a half finally. Before screenwriting was finished I made a presentation to the Italian producers, his name is Mario Miyakawa. The primary production is Italy, and secondarily Japan, about 80-20. Mario liked the idea, and we started developing, and so on.

FIJ -When we see a film from this region it normally deals in the problems of the area. It was so nice to see a film just about real life, was that important to you?

KO - Very, very important. The first thing I decided, me and Akram, No Politics! Of course why there are Subaru’s is politics, behind the story is the politics, but we’re not going to show it. We’ve already seen enough. Sometimes…me, I’m not Palestinian, or Israeli, the people from outside try to analyze the problems, and this makes problems, because, it is very difficult to understand all the situations inside Palestine. This land has had wars for thousand and thousands of years. For them, war is just kind of there, it didn’t start two years ago. It’s a very, very beautiful country there; the food is fine, like the Mediterranean, the sun is great, the buildings. The people are very nice, very Latin feeling.

FIJ -You really captured the area, everything was bright and colorful. I felt like I could sort of see what life was like there. How long did you stay shooting there on location?

KO - Shooting was twenty-one days, and I was there for four months, total.

FIJ -How did you communicate with the actors? Did you use English?

KO - Most of them, Israelis speak English very well. Arabs mostly speak English well, sometimes a little hard to communicate, though. But my first assistant director he speaks Hebrew, Arabic, English, and Italian, because his wife is Italian also. He said Kazuya I want to speak Japanese, too. I thought perfect! I can call you to work in Japan, too. I speak Italian and English. English is better for me, but when I speak Italian I can bring more of my feelings. It’s the sound, so sometimes I communicated with him in Italian, when I couldn’t find the correct nuance in English, and that was perfect.

FIJ -How did you choose the cast, how did you find them?

KO - We met at auditions, I met two hundred actors and actresses. When Akram Tillawi was young he was in a school called Nissan Nativ, a famous acting school in Tel Aviv. I think the oldest one. So, he has a lot of connections between the school, and we met a lot of people from there. Michal Yanai who is very famous in Israel, the character from the Subaru dealer. She is very, very famous because she was on an Israel educational program so everyone knows her. After she quit this program there were a lot of scandals, drugs, sex, the complete opposite!

Dan Toren, who is the sushi chef, is also very famous, fifteen years ago he released an album which was a massive hit in Israel. Everybody knows it, but for the fifteen years since no hits! He’s a really nice guy.

FIJ -How did you find out about the underworld in the film? We see a sub-culture of car thieves, how did you research this?

KO - This came from the people in the village of Taibei. I was always in Taibei, for example, the nephew is really a thief. In the film lots of thieves helped us, catering for example. Or ex-theives, should I say. I didn’t need to research it was always there. Adel, the thief in the film, we shot in his house. He built this house with money from thieving.

FIJ -So did this film have a lot of real life in it?

KO - Yeah, at the beginning when they are having the party I tried to make them really party, they were really eating, drinking, cooking etc. The bars, there are a lot of bars in Taibei, everyone thinks Muslims are not really drinkers, but there are six bars in Taibei. We shot the scenes in them. The border between Israel and Palestine, we tried to do this in a documentary style. This is real life, I really liked the atmosphere there, it’s really comfortable. We were shooting, and taking photos there, and everybody says “come come come, drink tea”. It was always so quiet there.

FIJ -Were there any challenges of shooting on location?

KO - The market of Tourca, this a place where there are sometimes things like bombing, about twice a month. At that time there was no problem, but we brought a lot of crew and if something happened it would be a massive problem.Akram found a guy who takes care of everything, police, politics, crime, shops, everything. We’ve got him so it was fine. If somebody tries to bomb he can get the information.

FIJ -The making of the film is as interesting as the film itself! Pink Subaru told a story of a group of people of different nationalities coming together. How was this reflected in working with the cast?

KO - That was very difficult. Maybe that was the most difficult thing for the film, Palestinian, Israeli, Japanese, and Italian altogether. The good thing about the Japanese, always we can be a bridge between them. We don’t have strong religious ideas, we’re kind of neutral. Palestinians like the Japanese because we are very serious people. The serious aspect of our personality, Arabs really like, and Israeli people like the technology of Japan, for us everything is fine. But, four nationalities together is difficult. That is also the film itself, it is really kind of a miracle we made this film!

FIJ -A real melting pot like you said. You’ve lived in Italy, and your producer told me you’d lived in New York. How has that affected you as a director?

KO - Maybe because of that I made this film, itself. For me, of course, I’m not speaking perfect English, or perfect Italian but communication is more important. How to communicate, not how to speak a language; this is what I’ve learned in Italy and the United States. So maybe this idea makes it easier for me to gather people and direct them.

FIJ -The music of the film was very well chosen, Que Sara Sara in Japanese at the start, did you choose it all?

KO - I chose all the music. Que Sara Sara and the last song, Subaru I’d already deceided before making the film. Subaru was going to be at the start but in the end it was switched.I wanted to use the original version, with an orchestra but the version I used was just piano. A bit too much nostalgic maybe, but I really wanted to use an orchestra, boom boom chau chau chau like that! But the musician said, “I like this film you can use my song but not the original” It’s a very famous song. I don’t know why, but maybe he changed the record company, or maybe he just didn’t want me to use it, anyway it was a pity, because the original is better.

FIJ -You used Israeli music, and Palestinian music as well? Is that right?

KO - Palestinian music, no, it was Tunisian music, but, Israeli, yes. I used two Israeli songs, by Amil, a friend of Akram. Also, he played for me a song which I used.

FIJ -Last couple of questions, visually there were some nice touches. When he was driving to the Subaru place it felt like he was going to heaven almost. What kind of ideas did you have about the film visually?

KO - Like you said to me before, I tried to make a lot of dynamism, to show hope, happiness. This is why always tried to get the colour of some flowers in the frame. I tried not to get too many close-ups in the film, but when I did a close-up I did it very close. The face of the people over there is very strong, so when I used close-ups it was to express a moment that needed something like this. Akram, as Elzobel the main character, I never showed his face clearly before the car was stolen. When it got stolen, I showed the close-up. It’s okay people don’t realize, but intentionally I wanted people to realize the very strong feeling.

FIJ -Do you have any projects for the future? Do you want to stay working in the area, or tackle something new?

KO - I want to do something in Iceland, because Iceland is very similar to Japan; it’s an island, very homogenous, spring water, a lot of similarities. There is one thing very different, in Japan now the birthrate is decreasing, but Iceland is the highest in Europe, and this is the opposite. I want to make a bridge between these two things, I don’t know the story yet, but I really want to do it.

Pink Subaru is on limited release in Japan from April 16th this year. See it in Shibuya's Uplink Cinema.

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