From now on, Yu Irie is a film director who will lead Japanese cinema. The consensus that permeated Japanese society — getting a job after graduating school — began to change in his generation. A new brand of youth, who are called “freeters” or “NEETS,” began to step aside more often from that existing railroad in Japan, as they deliberately rejected the traditions of full-time employment. Mr. Irie depicts these outsiders, who are searching for another way to live in our society, as the main characters in his films such as the “8000 Miles” series and “Ringing in Their Ears.” It is because of his strong sympathy for these rebels who choose other possibilities that his stories touch and inspire the young generation, and are compellingly accepted by his audience as well.
“But I myself can sympathize with losers more than them. I like underdogs”
You are from Fukaya, Saitama. What was it like when you were little?Well, it takes about two hours to go there from Tokyo. There really was not much in the town, not even a movie theater or a live music performing space. When I was a kid, since there was really nothing there, I was running around, and also Nintendo was very popular so I was playing that.
Do you have a first memory of when you encountered film?I don’t remember the very first film that I watched. There was no movie theater in my hometown, but there was someone who brought a projector to my elementary school. One time I watched “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” in school and I got very scared of it.
When did you began being interested in film?When I was a junior high school student I started to watch movies more, and when I was in high school I started to be interested in filmmaking.
You learned filmmaking in college, but did you already want to be a film director when you got in?That’s correct. When I was in senior year in high school, the internet was not that common, so in a library or something I happened to learn that there were film directors out there and I decided to be one.
What were you doing after graduating college?I graduated my college without first looking for a job, like most people did, because I thought being a salaryman was not me. I was working at a picture making company for about one and half years, but after that I became a freelance film director and made commercial pictures while making self-financed independent films.
And then you made “8000 Miles” which was a smash hit in independent movie theaters. How were you inspired to make that unique film?I like Hip-Hop music and when I saw “8 Mile” I thought, “What would happen if there was a Hip-Hop movie in Japan?” That was the beginning. I thought it would be unrealistic in Japan if I depicted characters living in poverty and a severe family environment, so that I decided to write a story about people who got into Hip-Hop and tried to be rappers in a relaxed rural area.
Many of the characters in Hip-Hop movies are sexy and dangerous but the characters in “8000 Miles” are kind of like losers.Some of the Rappers in Tokyo and Yokohama look dangerous like American rappers, but I myself can sympathize with losers more than them. I like underdogs.
The members of SHO-GUN seem rather to be nerds than music lovers who got into Hip-Hop.That’s true. I remember the cast and I watched “Napoleon Dynamite” together before we started to shoot the film. I was surprised to know that there is a geek like that in America.
How did your work environment change after “8000 Miles” was accepted by many people and screened at many film festivals?By then I was just making self-financed independent films, but I started to receive offers to work on TV and other projects in films. While making the “8000 Miles” series, those things gradually happened.
“About the “8000 Miles” series, the tone of the first and second films are comical, but the third one suddenly became dark. I think it’s because as time goes by and the society changed, I myself changed”
After the second film of the “8000 Miles” series, you did not make the third film right away and made “Ringing in Their Ears” instead. Why did you not make the third film of the series after the second film?I was not able to write the script so soon, also my films were self-financed so if I didn’t have enough money, I would not be able to make another one. But I was very interested in the “Ringing in Their Ears” project and wanted to do it. I worked on that project for one year including the process of writing the script. It was really fun working on that film.
There are film directors who make three films in a row for a trilogy, but for example like Christopher Nolan and “Inception,” there are ones who take a break before making the third one. How did that break affect you?I believe if you make three films in a row, the story wouldn’t leap. Regarding Nolan, because he made “Inception,” his range of vision expanded and I had a feeling of it in my mind. About the “8000 Miles” series, the tone of the first and second films are comical, but the third one suddenly became dark. I think it’s because as time goes by and the society changed, I myself changed.
About that third film “Roadside Fugitive SR,” the characters themselves are comical like the other two, but what happens in the film is really serious. How did you reach that tone?Mighty, the lead character in the film, is trying to succeed as a rapper in the Hip-Hop scene in Tokyo. That situation is similar to my current situation. At first I was just making film leisurely, but people began giving me their opinions and advice, and my savings ran low. As I made the films, it also became more difficult to make self-financed independent films. Moreover, after Prime Minister Koizumi, the gap between rich and poor in the society started to grow wider, and, because of the world economic crisis, people started to be aware of the poverty in Japan. And then the earthquake on March 11th last year. Many issues that we were unaware of suddenly appeared like an eruption.
“I feel I’m deeply connected to them, or we share the same blood”
How did you feel when you finished the third film?SHO-GUN in the “8000 Miles” series is my alter ego, and I feel like their lives will keep going as my life goes on. If other problems happen to them or the society’s or my situation changes, I might want to write about them again. They are pursuing Hip-Hop and in my case my passion is film; in both ways there is no goal, so that I believe their story has not yet finished.
When you analyze them objectively, what is the strength of your films?I guess that’s the characters. They cannot be separated from myself, so I have affection towards them. I feel I’m deeply connected to them, or we share the same blood.
About your films, when they are seen in a movie theater and at home, they will give audience totally different impressions. Do you have any opinions on that?For the “8000 Miles” series we often used long shots, so I guess you will find the difference when you watch them in a movie theater and at home. If you see my films in a restricted environment like movie theaters, you will probably get an impression like, “How long is this scene going to continue?” That experience will give you huge difference of impression about my films. Even though you see other films, you share a lot of emotions with other audience members in a movie theater together, so watching movies in movie theaters is like an experience rather than just watching them.
In your blog, there is a post called “The reasons why I will leave Tokyo.” And I felt bad about independent filmmakers in Japan because they are not able to keep making films even though their films become successful. Are you still living with your family in Saitama?I’ve started to live in Tokyo again. I needed to work for some TV projects and was not able to go to work from Saitama, I had to live in Tokyo again. Before “8000 Miles” came out self-financed independent films were not shown at movie theaters so often, but now that situation has changed because of “8000 Miles.” So I wrote that post because I wanted independent filmmakers to be aware of the systems of movie theaters and distribution. At this point in Japan, people who run businesses get more profit than the filmmakers. For filmmakers, they feel lucky if their films have a chance to be shown at movie theaters, so people who run businesses tend to take advantage of filmmakers’ weakness.
“I thought it would be the best to be in balance; doing offered work and what I really want to do. My ideal is that I can freely move between commercial work and independent films”
I imagine you sort of took off the bondage when you left Tokyo. Did you feel relieved when you left?I don’t think I did. Saitama is not far from Tokyo, but I just couldn’t go to work in Tokyo from there because sometimes I had to work from 5 am. But I would like to live in more relaxed environment than in a small apartment in Tokyo. Today it’s possible to send huge files of images via internet, so I might want to try living outside of Tokyo when the infrastructure is complete.
What did you realize when you went back to your home in Saitama?I thought it would be the best to be in balance; doing offered work and what I really want to do. My ideal is that I can freely move between commercial work and independent films. Especially since there are not many commercial films that are interesting, so I would just do that to survive and when I get stressed out, I would go back to where my passion is. If there are huge budget films in Japan like Hollywood films, there might be some room for compromise, but Japanese commercial films don’t usually have a big budget, so if I really did not want to compromise on something, I would just make it as a self-financed independent film.
What kind of films influenced you a lot?Hollywood films like “The Terminator” are still living inside of me. Of course I’ve seen many Japanese films and European films, but American films are my biggest influence.
Whose films give you strong impression?That’s probably “Desperado Outpost” directed by Kihachi Okamoto, which I saw when I was in high school. The story takes place in a war zone during WWⅡ and Japan was in a desperate situation, but the film laughs at it. That positive force was possible because of film. I don’t think every laugh is necessary but what I love is a structured laugh.
Are there any actors whom you would like to work with?It’s possible to work with young actors in the future if I keep making films, but I would love to work with actors like Tatsuya Nakadai and Tsutomu Yamazaki as soon as possible.
What are the arts that strongly influenced you besides film?That’s probably books. I like novels, non-fictions, critiques, anything that is interesting.
Is there anything that you want to improve and also challenge from now on?I definitely want to improve my diet first. I should start to care about my health because I’m not in my twenties anymore. For work, I would love to make a bigger scale film. It would be great if I can control a project that has a lot of crew and a larger budget than I usually work on, and of course that should be the one that I really want to do.
text by Taiyo Okamoto
Director: Yu Irie
Cast: Eita Okuno, Ryusuke Komakine, Shingo Mizusawa, Jun Miho
Roadside Fugitive © 2012 Spotted Productions