Chicago Shimpo
Award Winning Film “Melancholic”
Screened in Chicago
Involved in Crime when You Peep into Bathhouse

• “A bathhouse has been a murder site where I started to work…” A film Melancholic was screened at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center on September 25, and the audience had their guts shaken up. The screening was a part of the Film Festival organized by Asian Pop-Up Cinema which has introduced Asian culture and society to the American audience through a variety of films produced by Asian countries.

• Melancholic is a darkly funny, suspense drama mixed with horror and romance. It won the best director award at the 31st Tokyo International Film Festival, Splash Division, which has awarded independent films and encouraged such film makers to leap forward.

• Melancholic is the first film produced by a production unit of “One Goose,” which was initiated by Yoji Minagawa, who played Kazuhiko’s role, the main character in the film. The two other members are Director Seiji Tanaka and actor Yoshitomo Isozaki. All three are the same age.
• When Melancholic was screened at Tokyo International Festival last year, the film caught the eyes of festival organizers from foreign countries, and was invited to the 21st Udine Far East Film Festival in Italy. The film won the best new director award in the Festival.

• A day after the film screening in Chicago, Producer and Actor Minagawa and Director and Screenwriter Tanaka talked about their film and activities.

Interview with Minagawa and Tanaka

Q: Could you tell us the story of Melancholic?

• Tanaka: Thirty-year old Kazuhiko Nabeoka has never got a job despite earning his degree from a top university in Japan. He happens to go to a bathhouse and meets Yuri, his high school classmate. Yuri suggests that he work at the bathhouse so that she can meet him occasionally. Kazuhiko applies to a job there with a little sweet feeling.
• One night, he wonders why some people are still in the bathhouse after closing hour of 11 p.m. and finds that the bathhouse has been offered as a murder site.

Q: Then?

Tanaka: Much worse, Kazuhiko finds later that his co-worker Matsumoto is an assassin.

Q: We want to know what comes next.

Tanaka: The bathhouse owner askes Kazuhiko to help clean the bloody floor and dispose of the dead, then pays him big money for silence. Kazuhiko feels, “Oh, I am needed,” for the first time in his life and plans to have a date with Yuri by using the money. It’s a story of a young man who grows up through his job. His job happens to be disposal of the dead.

Q: Minagawa san, you are very active and full of energy. How did you play the role of melancholic Kazuhiko?

Minagawa: It took me a long time to understand Kazuhiko’s conception. Since Kazuo must be alive, I tried to live as Kazuhiko.

Q: You initiated to organize One Goose to produce this film while you are taking risks. Where does your energy come from?

Minagawa: Yes. It’s all about risk taking. But when I think about myself that if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t enjoy my life and would live with a gloomy face. I want to choose a way that I could understand and satisfy my wish.

Q: How did you find Tanaka san as the Director?

Minagawa: I met him about eight years ago when we were 24 years old. He was a playwright, and I was an assistant stage director at that time. He was very expressive. He didn’t hesitate to speak out and was able to persuade others. No other person is like Tanaka in our generation.

Q: What about Isozaki san who played role of Matsumoto, assassin?

Minagawa: He dyed his hair in blond for the role of assassin, but he is usually a decent man with dark hair. He looks very different from the film.

Q: You worked hard to raise funds for the film.

Minagawa: Yes. Because I said, “I’ll take care of it,” and everybody started working around me, so there was no way to stop. Anyway I collected several million yen including my personal funds. ($1=about 108 yen)

Q: Tanaka san, how did you create the story?

Tanaka: At the beginning, Minagawa suggested making an action film, but with a limited budget and needed originality, we decided to focus on guys, who clean a murder site, but are rarely known about their existence.
On the other hand, I liked watching an American drama “Breaking Bad”, which was broadcasted in Japan, so I organized a story with the main character’s involvement in crime and other factors. The idea of bathhouse was added later.

Q: How did you find a bathhouse as a murder site?

Minagawa: Isozaki found it near his home, and I as the producer, went there to negotiate the deals. The owner of the bathhouse, Matsu no Yu, was a very good man and promised to give us his full cooperation. Usually bathhouses decline shooting if a story is negative such as a murder related one.

Tanaka: The owner also allowed us to use the sign of the bathhouse. It usually doesn’t happen.

Minagawa: He was in the late 40s, not such an old man. He had bought an old bathhouse and revived it.

Q: Tanaka san, you have been working at an IT company and shot the film on Saturdays and Sundays.

Tanaka: It was pretty busy. We worked on shooting after 11 p.m. and continued it until 9 or 10 a.m. We did it for five weeks, so it took 10 days, totally.

Q: Miyagawa san, the film Melancholic turned out very well. Choosing Tanaka san as the Director was a right choice.

Minagawa: Yes. I was thinking that I would never blame him if the film didn’t turn out well because I had a confidence in myself. I believe that the fact we did it is more important than the result of the film.

Tanaka: I would blame myself to death if the film turned out so badly.

Q: By the way both of you had impressive backgrounds. Minagawa san wanted to become a physical-education teacher, but you didn’t. Why?

Minagawa: I wondered why a college student, who just graduated from college, could be a teacher without any experience in the society. So I took some part time jobs to see the different world. One on them was showing up on TV or movies as an extra. I was watching a star who was being filmed and thought that it would be interesting.

While I was in college, I attended an entertainment school. After graduating from both schools, I worked as a model, then an actor in small theatres. After three years, I was annoyed by routine, so I went to Vancouver, Canada on my working holiday for one year. I stayed with a host family and attended a language school. About three months before my holiday ended, I bought a bike and decided to run across the U.S. When I arrived at Indianapolis from the west coast, I recognized that I lost my cash card, so I had to take a bus to complete my journey at New York. I think that I ran about 5,600 miles.
After returning to my home, I worked as actor in the visual industry.

Q: Tanaka san, you quit college and came to the U.S. to study.

Tanaka: I studied the script writing at the Nihon University College of Art. Instructors taught us script writing in the first and second year, but we had to practice it with instructors consulting in the third year and fourth year. I thought that it was wasting money because some of my instructors were close to me and gave me their advice. So I decided to attend a film making school in California for two years.

I believe that it was fruitful because 80 % to 90 % of my film making and script writing are based on what I experienced in the U.S.

Q: Melancholic premiered on August 3 in Tokyo. How are things going?

Minagawa: More than the expected number of audiences have come to watch the movie, and some audiences have discovered more fun parts of the film which we didn’t recognize yet.

Tanaka: As of today, 20 theatres have been screening Melancholic and 41 theatres across Japan are going to screen it.

Q: Do you have the next plan?

Minagawa: Regarding our next film, we want to work overseas. We went to ‎Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival in South Korea last June, and I myself went there to see streetscapes and the people in the country.

Tanaka: Skills of shooting, abilities of actors and actresses, quality of script, everything in film making in Korea is a top level in the world. As a film fan, I like Korean film. Recently Japan and S. Korea have been at odds with each other, but it doesn’t matter in the film world. I want to try my favorite parts of Korean film into my own.

Q: Thank you very much.

A scene from “Melancholic”. Main character Kazuhiko (L) and his colleague Matsumoto (Photo: Courtesy of One Goose)

Actor and Producer Yoji Minagawa (R) and Director Seiji Tanaka