Japanese filmmaker Takahisa Zeze is playing in Competition at TIFF with The Lowlife, which explores the world of adult-video actresses.
Takahisa Zeze, one of the Four Heavenly Kings of Pink (the group of filmmakers who kept alive in the 1990s the Japanese softcore style known as ‘pink’), is one of the most original Japanese directors, who has worked across both independent and blockbuster-calibre filmmaking.
Zeze began his career on low-budget pink films, injected by wit and humour, while his recent titles Heaven’s Story (2010), which screened at the Berlinale, and murder-mystery 64 (2016) have received acclaim from festival and mainstream audiences alike.
His latest feature, The Lowlife, will premiere in Competition at this year’s TIFF. The film explores the everyday struggles of a group of women working in the Japanese adult video (AV) business, as they deal with the complexities of family relationships and public disapproval.
What inspired you to make the film?
I was originally preparing another film, but this did not happen and after that we decided with the producer to make a film from a Kadokawa novel on the topic of adult-video actresses. I liked that the novel focused on the everyday lives of the AV actresses and not the insides of the industry. The novel had four short stories that were unrelated but I joined them into three connected storylines.
Although adult video is a well-known industry and part of Japanese society, it is still publicly frowned on. How did that affect your portrayal of the film’s main characters?
I started as a director in the pink film genre, which focuses on the portrayal of the erotic. During that time, I developed friendships with actresses in the pink industry. I did not have any prejudice nor was I looking down or disregarding the nature of their work. For me, pink film is just a special form of filmmaking.
The current AV industry has a close relationship with everyday Japanese society, with regular men and women working as performers. It also has almost a 40-year history since the 1980s, with the older performers having became mothers and their daughters potentially becoming young AV actresses as well. I was interested to explore within the film what has remained the same and what has changed over the years for women in general.
Family relationships are often at the core of your films. How are you approaching the theme in this film?
The family is a small-scale substance of Japanese society and both are interconnected by looking at each other. When I was in my twenties [Zeze is now in his late fifties], violence started to increase in the Japanese home and school with households disintegrating. Therefore, I continuously think about the change and violence in the Japanese society and the family.
The film features strong performances by its female cast. How did you discover them?
Many actresses who we approached declined to join the cast as they were fine with the sex scenes but not portraying the life of an AV actress. I had collaborated with some of the leading performers before; for the roles of the young high-school girls and the housewives, we organised an audition. The main trait I was looking for during the process was emotion and I based my selection of the performers on that.
Congratulations on The Lowlife’s selection into Competition for the 30th anniversary edition of TIFF. What role has the festival played for Japanese cinema and for yourself?
Tokyo is the capital of Japan and the Tokyo International Film Festival is important and friendly. A film that focuses on the world of adult video might be taboo for audiences with proper sensibility [good manners], but I am happy that a film of this type that portrays the real Japanese culture and the AV industry has been selected for the festival.