Guest in Focus: Akiko OKU

Akiko OKU, director of My Sweet Grappa Remedies, born in Yokohama in 1968, studied at Meiji University and at the Film School of Tokyo. Initially working in television, she directed her debut feature IGAITO SHINANAI in 1999. After that, she completed six other feature films, including TOKYO SERENDIPITY in 2007, MONSTER in 2013, and FANTASTIC GIRLS in 2015. Her film TREMBLE ALL YOU WANT premiered at Tokyo International Film Festival in 2017 and was chosen as the best film by audience vote. It went on to be featured at multiple international festivals, amongst them the Nippon Connection Film Festival 2018, where the comedy was screened in presence of the director. Her film MARRIAGE HUNTING BEAUTY was the opening film of the 2019 Nippon Connection Film Festival. We are very glad she took the time to answer our  questions for our Guest in Focus series.

What was the biggest challenge while making your latest film?

I wanted to avoid making it too flashy. I devoted myself to carefully portraying the protagonist’s quiet and beautiful diary and her life. When we met and discussed the screenplay, ideas about creating an emotional climax came up, such as the protagonist experiencing some sort of heartbreak, or showing a scene where she visits her parents’ place. But I felt this would destroy the original novel’s qualities. I started talking about using the scene that I considered to be the most beautiful in the whole novel for the final scene, and from empathizing so much with the protagonist, I suddenly started crying like an idiot. It was really embarrassing. Jiro, the author of the novel and of the movie script, kept pointing his finger at me and was laughing his head off – but he agreed with me: “You’re right. Just carefully connecting her uneventful day-to-day life, it might turn into something amazing.”

NC20_cinema_My Sweet Grappa Remedies_05

How did the current crisis impact your work as a filmmaker? 

I was in the middle of shooting a new movie. We had to stop when the state of emergency was declared in Japan. Hopefully we can resume our work soon but the question is how to shoot the remaining scenes. In the end, they will be scenes that I, as someone who experienced this Corona crisis, create with other people in mind who also experienced this Corona crisis. There’s no way the remaining scenes won’t be affected in any way. The shooting conditions also became hard due to safety issues. I do not want to take this as an obstacle but as a new creative opportunity: Wait and see, I’ll show you scenes you’ve never even imagined before!

How do you view the image of women in current Japanese cinema?

It depends on the movie, so it’s hard to generalize. Even when I’m watching a really amazing movie, it still happens that I’m irritated because the way it portrays women seems like too much of a fantasy. Such as depictions of women where I want to shout: “You wouldn’t undress at that time”, or where I think “No way someone would utter these words” and so on. Some movies are simply brilliant, but can sadly still have these parts that seem wrong. I have certainly had enough of the image of women who “play evil games with men”. I’m a woman. I’ve never lived a different life than this life as a woman. Therefore, in movies I search for images of women that I want to see, and the images of women I create are the visions of women and images that I would want to see myself.

Japan 2019, 107 min
Watch the film HERE
 from June 9 to 14, 2020
at the 20th Nippon Connection Film Festival
Check out the trailer!








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