Veteran Japanese director Junji Sakamoto began working in film as an assistant to acclaimed filmmakers Sogo Ishii (now Gakuryu Ishii) and Kazuyuki Izutsu nearly 30 years ago. He came to prominence as a director in his own right with a series of action-packed thrillers that had global resonance including Children Of The Dark in 2008, which dissected the adolescent sex trade in Thailand, and assassin blockbuster The Human Trust in 2013, which starred Vincent Gallo and delved into the dark underbelly of international monetary aid to Third World countries.
Following the Cuba-set Ernesto in 2017, Sakamoto has returned to Japan for the drama Another World, which is screening in Competition at TIFF. The film focuses on the hopes and dreams of three friends in a small rural village. Kino Films is distributing in Japan.
You have explored a variety of genres, from big-budget thrillers set around the world to more personal Japan-based stories. What inspired you to make Another World?
My last film Ernesto touched on the history of Cuba but after I did that, I wanted to do a smaller domestic story — something that I had not written about before. While writing a story set in a small Japanese town, I was inspired by a French film, Conversations With My Gardener, about human beings coming home. What interested me was the question: what happens when someone comes home after an incident — how does their life change?
In Japan, there is a lot of combat stress experienced by members of the Japan Self-Defence Forces (JSDF) and between 60-100 suicides a year. But this is not being admitted publicly. The image of the JSDF is one of [people] doing construction or building bridges. So I decided the film’s theme would be about the relationship between former classmates in a small town, where one is a traumatised former JSDF officer who has returned home.
The title came from the Japanese amateur cameraman Kiyoshi Koishi, who [during the Second Sino-Japanese War] went to China with the Japanese Army and took pictures of the elderly and children; he became an anti-war documentary photographer. One of his works is titled ‘Half World’, which can be read in Japanese kanji characters as ‘another world’.
A common theme running through your films seems to be invisible violence, both physical and emotional, and the impact of the past on the present.
The main character of the film, a charcoal manufacturer, is continuing his father’s job, but has doubts about his purpose in life while he sweats [at work] all day. In a way, he cannot afford to have a personal life; he has a hard time facing his wife and his son, and does not realise what’s going on with his own troubled and bullied child due to the complicated relationship he had with his [now deceased] father.
How did you cast Another World?
I wanted an ensemble cast, such as in a free jazz session where each instrument plays a different role while playing together. I started by deciding to cast Goro Inagaki as the lead and the others followed. I had met Kiyohiko Shibukawa before and, although I was working with him for the first time, he has a humorous character. I’ve been making films for a long time and I cannot do much with actors who just reflect what I want from the film. They have to bring something to it.
What ambitions do you have for the film?
I don’t mind if there is not much attention because it was really interesting to make this film. However, I don’t know how much the audience is aware of the trauma suffered by some JSDF officers, and so I hope the film will be able to draw attention to that.