On the last day of the festival, the Guest in Focus series turns to Kimi TAKESUE, director of the documentary 95 And 6 To Go.
When and how did you first get into filmmaking?
I was initially drawn to filmmaking during my college years as an extension of my academic interests in Cultural Studies and Women Studies at Oberlin College. I was first motivated to make films that explored Asian-American identity and addressed the lack of representations of Asian-Americans on screen. I was inspired to create complex and multi-dimensional representations of Asian-Americans that, ultimately, challenged dominant stereotypes or overall invisibility. Over the years my interests have broadened in scope, though my films continue to feature the lives of people who are marginalized, overlooked, or rendered invisible.
What were your first film projects?
My first film Bound explored a young Chinese British woman’s metaphoric journey of self-discovery. I used the metaphor of “wrapping’ to explore how an identity, defined around categories of race and gender, can offer empowerment and self-definition, but at what point does it become suffocating?
In my second film Rosewater, I continued on an experimental narrative path and made a piece about a solitary Japanese man who struggles to cultivate beauty in a bleak urban landscape. Lonely and dislocated, he drifts in and out of a dream state envisioning the promise of regeneration. Rosewater tells a story of hope sustained through obsession, ritual and, ultimately, sensuality.
Where did you get the idea for 95 And 6 To Go, and what story would you like it to tell?
95 and 6 to Go spans six years of shooting and it evolved in an unusual way. In 2005, I was in full development on a fiction feature film project–a cross-cultural love story about a Japanese ice-carver and an American cabaret singer set in York City. The project had considerable momentum, prominent actors were attached and it looked like it would soon launch into production.
When I was at the peak of development on the feature film, I was visiting my grandparents in Hawai’i and was shocked when my grandfather asked to read the screenplay. This was an enormous surprise since I had never seen him take an interest in anything “creative”. Not only did he read the screenplay, but he became engaged and invested within the project. While slurping noodles or munching on toast, he offered suggestions about a catchy title and happy ending. I started to film/document him because I saw new creative dimensions surface within him, that I had never seen before.
In 2007, after the death of my grandmother, I returned to Hawai’i to provide support and assistance. My grandfather was far from sentimental about her death, already keen to find a new companion. The optimism surrounding my feature film project had faded as I waited for the producers to secure financing. My grandfather expressed his fear of dying alone. We were both in periods of transition and emotional loss. During this time, we finally came to know one another; I offered him company and he offered advice on my film project. The fictitious screenplay became a vehicle for him to reflect about love, loss, aging, and perseverance. 95 and 6 to Go is also a film about an unlikely artistic collaboration between a granddaughter and grandfather and how an inter-generational bond is forged through art.
Were there any funny or difficult situations you experienced during the shooting?
Initially, my grandfather was adamant that I never show any footage of him publicaly. Part of it had to do with protecting his privacy, but it also related to the general Asian attitude that it’s impolite to air your “dirty laundry’. Despite his resistance, I still felt compelled to film him because it became an excuse for me to get to know him and appreciate him more deeply. I knew I needed to gather this footage for myself, as a historical and family document, but I never anticipated sharing it with anyone. In the end, my grandfather had an important change of heart and this is incorporated into the final film in a special way.
What do you think about the current situation of Japanese cinema?
As an Asian-American based in New York City, I don’t know too much about the current state of Japanese cinema. Unfortunately, not many Japanese films receive US distribution.
Which three Japanese films from the last decade do you think everybody should see?
Sadly, I can’t think of many Japanese films that I’ve seen in the last decade. Some memorable past films include Hana-bi (Beat TAKESHI), Nobody Knows (KOREEDA), and Suzaku (KAWASE). One of my grandfather’s all time favorite film’s was Shall We Dance?; my grandfather was also a ballroom dancer and enjoyed his waltz, rhumba and cha-cha!
Do you have an all-time favorite film, and if yes, is there a particular reason why it’s your favorite?
I love OZU films for their seeming simplicity but profound impact. His films resonate for a long time after viewing; I admire the patience of his filmmaking and his poetic and astute observations on family, relationships, and everyday life. Some viewers have compared 95 and 6 to Go to an OZU film which I take as an enormous compliment.
Who is the director/filmmaker that influenced you the most?
I’ve been inspired by a range of filmmakers: Abbas Kiarostami, Wong Kar Wai, Tsai Ming Liang, and Lynne Ramsay, to name a few.
Have you ever been to Germany before, and if so, what was your favorite/strangest/funniest experience?
In the early 2000’s I visited the Oldenburg Film Festival where I screened an experimental narrative film Rosewater, and enjoyed the festival very much. In 2011, I visited Berlin for the first time after screening my Ugandan documentary Where Are You Taking Me? at the Planete Doc Film Festival in Poland. We took a train from Warsaw to Berlin and, unfortunately, I got a terrible case of food poisoning. I suffered and spent days cooped up in my hotel room. When I finally made it outside, everyone was enjoying the beautiful weather in Berlin, eating outdoors and drinking cappuccinos, and I was weak and miserable and could only eat bouillon broth! It was agonizing!