Yuka Yasukawa

Source: Courtesy of UniJapan

Yuka Yasukawa

Director Yuka Yasukawa is much more interested in characters with shades of grey than those painted in black and white.

“It’s easy to label someone who did something wrong as ‘bad,’ but when you imagine what led up to that point, you realize you might have done something similar too,” says Yasukawa, who studied film and video production at the Osaka College of Art. “Not being able to tell the difference between black and white enriches the experience of seeing a film and makes for lively discussion afterward.”

Yasukawa is one of four directors being introduced by UNIJAPAN at the EFM, as part of a project to support participation in overseas film festivals, commissioned by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan. She recently directed the feature The Nighthawk’s First Love, a film in which shades of grey are abundant. It is the story of a young woman born with a prominent birthmark on her face and a manipulative film director who wants to adapt her life story into a film.

It was especially the character of the young woman who inspired Yasukawa to adapt the novel for the screen.

“I was attracted to the fact that this woman with a birthmark wasn’t idealized or shunned, but portrayed as a real-life person with her own weaknesses and undulations,” says Yasukawa. In adapting the novel for the screen, Yasukawa also added shades of grey to the director character, making his motivations more complex.

Yasukawa, who counts Bergman, Fassbinder and Kiyoshi Kurosawa among her influences, is currently pitching an adaptation of one of her favorite novels, Ikirukisu. It is centered on a series of unexplained deaths at a junior high school.

“The interesting thing about the novel is that – even though the students are in a situation where they could drop dead at any time – they go about their normal lives,” says Yasukawa. “Now that the pandemic is raging around the world, it feels prophetic.”

The Nighthawk’s First Love was featured at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival, giving Yasukawa a chance to see how people from around the world responded to her work. The experience has inspired her to share more Japanese films, both her own and those of others, with international audiences.

“There are many cases in which talented [Japanese] directors’ films haven’t been seen abroad,” says Yasukawa. “I’d like to change the paradigm and get more people interested in Japanese film.”

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