Chicago Shimpo
Director Interviews:
Fly Me to the Saitama and The Air We Can’t See

• Asian Pop-Up Cinema, which has been introducing Asian culture and people through films, kicked off its eighth season with Japanese films, “Fly Me to the Saitama”, directed by Hideki Takeuchi, “Ten Years Japan” produced by Hirokazu Kore-eda and five young directors, and Japanese American film “The Ito Sisters” directed by Antonia Grace Glenn.

• The directors of the first two films appeared on the stage of AMC River East 21 to greet Chicago film fans on March 12 and 13 respectively and answered questions from the fans. The third film was screened on March 16 at the Wilmette Theatre. Chicago Shimpo had a chance to have interviews with the first two directors.

Interview with Hideki Takeuchi
Fly Me to the Saitama

• Movie “Fly Me to the Saitama” is an adaption of a 1980s manga created by Mineo Maya, but the manga story wasn’t concluded yet, so Director Hideki Takeuchi created two-thirds of the story to make it as a spectacular entertainment.

• Saitama is adjoining prefecture of northern Tokyo, and the people of Saitama have been mocked by the people of Tokyo due to Saitama’s low level of urban index.
• Once upon a time, Saitama people have awaited for arrival of a savior to abolish a passport system, which Tokyo has long imposed on Saitama to restrict inflow of Saitama people. Rei Asami (played by GACKT) returns from the U.S. to attend prestigious high school “Hakuhodo Gakuin” where Momomi Dannoura (played by Fumi Nikaido) has an absolute power as president of the student council and son of the Tokyo Governor.
• Rei and Momomi are feuding, but an incident makes Momomi become crazy about Rei, whose actual identification is Saitama. Momomi gets shock by Rei’s ID; however, he abandons everything and follows after Rei.
• Finally Saitama people stand up with Rei and fight with Tokyo for their freedom, and neighboring prefectures are inevitably involved. It’s a comedy film of hick vs. city slicker.

Q: How did you develop the story?

• Takeuchi: I’m a Chiba resident, the east of Tokyo, so I wanted to bring Chiba in the story because it’s not good that only Saitama gets the spotlight. I also thought that the film would become spectacular if I could bring Chiba and Saitama to fight each other across the Edo River.

Q: You brought a wide range of casting.

• Takeuchi: Yes. I think GACKT is 44 years old although he plays a role of high school student.

Q: How did you choose him?

• Takeuchi: The story discriminates against Saitama, so I had to make it more comedy like, and more fictitious. In this respect, GACKT completely fits this character because he himself is fictitious. If a serious actor played it, the film would become too realistic and dangerous. Moreover, who can wear such a cosplay like costume other than GACKT? All costumes were designed by Isao Tsuge, one of the top designers. I stuck to artistic factors of the film. It must be beautiful.

Q: Hakuhodo Gakuin and the auditorium, where Rei’s urban index was tested, are gorgeous. Where did you shoot the scenes?

• Takeuchi: The school was a banquet hall for weddings, and the auditorium was Beisia Culture Hall. Both are in Gunma Prefecture. We brought a lot of fresh flowers to decorate the auditorium. We spent a lot of money for it because we cannot make cheap settings when you make a crazy, unrealistic film. You must work seriously on every scene.
• I asked the actors and actresses to act seriously and do not try to draw laughter from audience. So the film turned so well, and that’s why you laugh a lot.

Q: A lot of people are in the fighting scenes. How many extras did you use?

• Takeuchi: I’m not sure. May be 5,000 or 10,000. Local people were so kind to bring decorated trucks, bikes, Yankee cars and many more. The same extras play both Chiba and Saitama fighters. It took two hours to move them to the other side of the river and change their costumes.
• It was the first time that Tokyo government permitted a road closure for shooting. So we could use four-lane road in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan City Hall and could fill it with extras.

Q: Saitama people are so insulted in the film. Didn’t they get mad?

• Takeuchi: We did many interviews with the people of Saitama, and most of them said, “You can do it more.” They were pleased to getting attentions from the world.

Q: Momomi, who falls in love with Rei, is a boy, but Ms. Fumi Nikaido plays his role. Is that a consideration for LGBT movements?

• Takeuchi: All works of the original manga artist are themes of boys’ love, so I had no choice. But boys’ love has not widely accepted in Japan, so I brought Ms. Nikaido as a boy; otherwise, the film couldn’t make a box-office revenue of 21 billion yen (about $188 million).

Q: How much were you satisfied with this success?

• Takeuchi: 150 percent!

Q: Thank you very much.

Interview with Akiyo Fujimura
The Air We Can’t See from Ten Years Japan

• Ten Years Japan depicts what Japan might be like 10 years from now by five conceptions, which were overseen by Director Hirokazu Kore-eda.
• Director Chie Hayakawa’s “Plan 75” suggests a modern-day “The Ballad of Narayama” in its depiction of people 75 years old and over being guided by the government toward euthanasia.
• Director Yusuke Kinoshita’s “Mischievous Alliance” introduces children in a special school district whose moral education is monitored closely by an artificial intelligence.
• Director Megumi Tsuno’s “Data” is the tale of a young woman living with her father who begins to explore her “inheritance,” her late mother’s personal data in digital form.
• Director Akiyo Fujimura’s “The Air We Can’t See” delves into the relationship between a girl and her mother, who have been forced to live underground due to air pollution.
• Director Kei Ishikawa’s “For Our Beautiful Country” paints a picture of a Japan in which a military draft system has been reintroduced.

Q: How were you selected one of the five?

• Fujimura: About 40 young directors submitted their own stories, and Director Kore-eda read them without knowing their backgrounds, then selected five stories including mine.

Q: The topics of the five are well balanced.

• Fujimura: Do you think which topic was the most popular? Interestingly a number of aging society stories overwhelmed other topics. Most audience of Ten Years Japan said that “Plan 75” was so realistic, and I thought that I saw a real situation of Japan after we made this film.

Q: Why did you pick the theme of nuclear pollution?

• Fujimura: I got an idea of underground life when I was in grade school. I watched a documentary film about children in Ukrayina, who lived under a manhole because it was warm. The film gave me a strong impact, and I thought that I would bring the image in a form of something someday.

Q: Nuclear pollution is a serious future issue, but I felt that the mother in the story, who urged her daughter to take dangerous actions by suppressing her curiosity, was also a big issue.

• Fujimura: There are many issues that I wanted to bring in the film. I don’t want to see mothers who take away dreams from children in the future. I described the mother as a symbol of such issue.

Q: The scenes of “The Air We Can’t See” are beautiful. Everybody carries lanterns, and living spaces are well lighted with light pink, green, purple, and so on. Where did you shoot the scenes?

• Fujimura: It is a ruin of a huge hotel in Fukushima. About 70 % of the hotel was completed, but it was abandoned after collapse of bubble economy. It is an immense hotel, so there were many interesting sections, and I was often lost in the hotel.

Q: What did Director Kore-eda say about your film?

• Fujimura: He said that the children were very attractive. I was very pleased to hear that. The two girls were among 100 candidates and selected by audition.

Q: I think that you are cute and attractive person. Have you thought of becoming an actress?

• Fujimura: Yes. I wanted to become an actress and belonged to a company when I was child. I had a chance to go to a shooting, and Erika Sawajiri was there. I felt strong aura from her and thought that I couldn’t win over her, so I have been working behind scenes. Now Erika is a big star.

Q: Could you tell us your future plans?

• Fujimura: Ten Years Japan is an international project, so I had opportunities to see overseas. So I want to try making films outside of Japan.

Q: Thank you very much.

Director Hideki Takeuchi makes the symbol of Saitama by his hands.

A scene from “Fly Me to the Saitama”, Momomi (Fumi Nikaido) (L) and Rei (GACKT).
Photo: Courtesy of Asian Pop-Up Cinema

Director Hideki Takeuchi

Director Akiyo Fujimura