Tokyo Filming


Today Craig and I got a glimpse of the video footage Oliver Clark and I shot last week in Tokyo, for our new theatre show A Translation of Shadows it is looking good. Here is a blog post I wrote about that trip but didn’t post at the time.

Oliver Clark and I are on a 747 travelling back from Tokyo. We spent a week there shooting footage for a film that will be at the heart of the new Stan’s Cafe theatre show A Translation Of Shadows.

The filming process started with a conference between Oliver, Craig and me. We agreed that our film needed to be a story, but that this story should be very simple and easy to follow. There had to be space for the theatre show to engage with the film.

Shooting an hour long film in five days seemed over ambitious but an hour seemed the shortest length of theatre show we could get away with, so parameters were set. Oliver suggested we could shoot a maximum of three scenes a day. Craig and I came up with a story fifteen scenes long.

At the next meeting Oliver suggested each scene should have three events (sequences) in it. These should be clear. So Craig and I set to work on the film’s finer details. Here our previous experience of Tokyo helped. We remembered the overwhelming experience of Shibuya’s lights, sounds and crowd, we remembered unexpectedly finding a river behind a row of buildings in a concrete runnel, we remembered the open plan office at the Setagaya Public Theatre (SePT). I remembered the amazing fish market and the fabulous view from a hotel window. We agreed we didn’t want to remake Lost in Translation but knew we wanted to include some of our own disorientation in the film. So scenes suggested themselves from our previous encounters with the Tokyo.

At our next meeting Oliver pushed us to make the storytelling visual, to be clear and clarify what we are saying and how people would read the film.

Our plan was to shoot the film using contacts we had made in our previous visits. I had worked with a dozen theatre makers for a week in 2012, our main collaborator when we presented Of All The People In All The World there has his own company and SePT must have contacts.

We left things a bit late and casting become massively stressful as people were out of the country and on other jobs. Locating a fixer was almost more stressful, as a lead that seemed promising for about four months eventually pulled out. As time became terrifyingly short things started to fall into place. We cast our leading man first, an enthusiastic workshop participant and engaging actor Shohei Muro (I’d kept his card after the workshop, he was a first thought and fortuitously free). We realized there was a need for another actor working over two half days and a dancer who had also been on the workshop Ryuhei Uemoto was busy much of the week but could slot us in when we needed him. I knew I wanted the enigmatic Seiichi Tanisugi a third workshop participant to play the father. The female lead was a bigger problem as workshop performers were unavailable but with a web contacts contacted we eventually found Marie Kitagawa to complete the team.

The fixer problem was solved though a fortunate coincidence as the husband of our previous translator suddenly became available. As a production manager for music companies and a location scout for an advertising agency he could do the job so Satoshi Fukuoka joined the team and immediately swung into action.

On Tuesday we used our jetlag recovery time to get some establishing shots. On Wednesday we had a long production meeting, first with Satoshi and Lisa and then with the full team. This was hosted at SePT. We then zoomed off on a costume buying mission.

Filming started on Thursday. At Gaine Mae we shot footage on the streets and then on the subway. We moved on to shot Tokyo Tower, this was all easy despite a slight drizzle. We shifted to the Benshi shrine in the spectacular Asakusa Shrine complex at dusk. This worked better than we had hoped. That evening we shot the scene that was causing us, but particularly production manager Satoshi, the most stress. We pretty much bullied Satoshi into allowing us to go Guerrilla style into the busiest exit on the mega Shibuya station and film series of sequences there, including a physical manhandling that turned a few heads. We let things cool off, shot around the back of the station for a bit and then returned to the scene of our scuffle to complete the work we needed there. A long day concluded with a great shot of the secret river in the concrete canyon just around the corner.

Friday had a later start so Oliver and I shot some General Views of the massive fish market and some rather disappointing footage from the top of Carrot Tower in Sangenjaya. From the base of the tower we filmed Marie getting into a taxi. We then entered an extended period of negotiation with the taxi as we attempting to add a tiny bit of extra chaos into what already seemed like a chaotic city. Where British taxi drivers play fast an loose with most road traffic regulations trying to get some flex from our Japanese drive was much more difficult to achieve. Eventually we had to settle for a rather more tame traffic chaos moment than we had aspired to.

Back in Sangenjaya the SePT corridors and office were called into service, with us carefully shooting around late workers to achieve a deserted feel.

In Gaine Mae we entered an apartment we had hired to stand in for Marie’s flat. Having worked until 3am we abandoned the idea of filming dawn and called folk for 10am. The plan had been for Marie to spend the night in the flat so she could get maximum rest. Unfortunately, she grew a bit spooked by her accommodation and fled for home, which set things back for a slow start the next morning.

Morning scenes were shot in the flat. We abandoned ideas to re-shoot the subway sequences due to timetable slippages. Oliver and I returned to SePT to pick up a lost lens and to revisit the Carrot Tower, this time we paid eat in the more expensive eatery in order to gain a view of the City Centre and snag our spectacular city scape shots.

Oeno Park provided some more water based shots and then Shohei, Oliver and I cut loose to go Guerrilla again on ‘wandering through crazy Tokyo sequences’ as well as getting our ‘eating street food sequence’ shot surreptitiously from a distance with cunning and subterfuge.

We attempted not to work too late that Saturday night because on Sunday we had to be up early and across the city to Asagaya for a couple of sequences that were the most testing in the trying to make something look like something it’s not stakes. In fact as I type this I suddenly recall we failed to get one shot we had intended to take in order to make this sequence not look quite as dire as we had feared it would. Darn it, hopefully Oliver can edit around this, but it will never be the film’s best moment.

After Asagaya we drove down to the seaside on the Miura peninsula a couple of hours from Tokyo. Here the local Film Commission had set us up with a series of location. We got a classic sequence on the beach enhanced hugely by Seiichi producing a costume way better than the one we had bought him four days before. We had access to a broken down cottage yards away for the next sequence which worked beautifully.
Further up the headland on high ground we started shooting the film’s final shots, but encroaching dusk called a halt to proceedings. Cue an evening off. We got to hang out in a local hotel which has proper old style Japanese rooms with mat flooring, low tables, futons and sliding door/wall panels. We all loved it. We drank beer, sheltered from the rain on a balcony whilst I tried to play people tracks recommended in Julian Cope’s Japrocksampler: How the Post War Japanese Blew Their Minds On Rock’n’Roll. No one was very impressed but it cause a good deal of hilarity.

An good night’s sleep allowed for early morning filming in my bedroom, chosen for its excellent natural light.

From the hotel we moved to the fish market, where with much haggling and jockeying we managed to shoot some sequences that place the two lead characters in a tuna auction, which was a fantastic thing to see.

The day was beautifully sunny, which vindicated our decision to abandon filming the night before. We shot the final two sequences of the film efficiently in the Japanese countryside before moving to a train station, where an official from the railway company patiently watched us do our thing. As we were being charged by the hour to shoot in the station we worked with a ruthless efficiency honed by four and a half days of teamwork, suddenly it felt like we could do this for two months and make something epic.

A touch more Guerrilla filming on the way back to Tokyo wrapped it all up. Shohei showed us the bullet train which was very exciting but not as breath taking as Mount Fuji which we had seen first thing that morning across the water.

We were back in Shinigawa and our hotel rooms. Oliver dumped the final memory cards onto an external drive, which he cloned against disaster and gave to me. We bought as many of our team as could make it a thank you meal and we were done.

Two weeks before we arrived it looked like a totally impossible task but thanks particularly to Satoshi and Lisa it happened and we did all we had planned. It was challenging directing people performing in a foreign language, even when making a silent film, but it was fantastic fun. Oliver taught me a huge amount about film making and our Japanese film taught me a lot more about Japan, a country I still find compelling.

The next step is for Oliver to make a rough cut of the film for Craig and me to start making theatre around. We then expect to re-edit the film in the light of this theatre work and bounce things back and forth until 22nd April when A Translation of Shadows opens at Warwick Arts Centre for its World Premiere.

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