Jonathan Marlow: You were able to complete three films in 1998, two in 1999 and
another two this year. It seems as if you're always working. Do you have time for
anything other than filmmaking (or coming to festivals to speak about your work)?
Kurosawa Kiyoshi: In the past few years I have been able to make films at a fairly good
clip but, prior to 1995, I wasn't so blessed. I would often have to take work making a
television commercial or a dramatic television series. Sometimes, I would simply be
With Eyes of the Spider and Serpent's Path, you used the same pair of actors. For six
films you've used Yakusho Koji. In Doppelgänger, you're working with the idea of a
double and yet you've mentioned that one aspect of "the double" is "the actor" and
"the real person behind the actor." In a sense, is Koji your double in this sextet of
KK: [laughs] Yakusho and I are essentially the same age [Kurosawa was born on July
19, 1955; Koji on January 1, 1956]. In conversation I find myself basically holding very
similar values to him. Every few films I seem to have a story in which I am very
strongly reflected in the protagonist, kind of a loser middle-aged man. In that case, I
call on Yakusho. I've worked with him now in many of my films and for Doppelgänger
I tried to come up with a role for him. I really couldn't decide whether to make him the
victim or the aggressor in the film. I finally thought, "You know what? I'll just make
him play both parts." Any time you see an actor on the screen, you're actually seeing
two people. You're seeing the actor himself, in his physical reality, and you're seeing
the part that he's playing. In a way, it's not such a big step to ask the audience to
imagine that the same actor can play two different characters.
He's an exceptional talent. You allow him the freedom in Doppelgänger to show his
true range, from meek to maniacal.
I certainly couldn't have made the film without him. Although in this film, it's really the
split-off of the same person that he's playing. In films other than mine, career-wise and
age-wise, he's such a top star now he tends to get cast in positions of great authority
- playing the mayor of Tokyo, the police chief or whatever. I'm personally quite
opposed to this. I mean, he's much more attractive and charming as kind of a basic
loser, just like myself. In that sense, although I have him play two opposing roles,
neither of them are characters of great authority.
Is Kimishima [played by Yusuke Santamaria] also a double of sorts? He seems to know
the secrets of how to do away with doubles and he's brought in by the double. I wasn't
quite sure if there was some secret behind him.
He's not necessarily a double as such, but inevitably, the characters in my films show a
duality, maybe showing one side of their personality and suddenly they'll up and reveal
a completely different side. I mean, you could say the same of the woman [television
star Nagasaku Hiromi, making her film debut] in Doppelgänger as well. Suddenly she
shows a very different side. With Hayasaki, once they've split off to Hayasaki and his
double, each of them starts to show internally contradictory elements. My films have
always featured characters who reveal not just a single aspect of their persona but at
least one or two additional contradictory elements in their personality. Occasionally
people become confused by these very ambiguous characters. I finally decided, "What
the hell, I'll just split the guy in two and give him two distinct personalities."
You shot Dopplegänger completely in high definition and Bright Future was shot on a
combination of high definition and mini-DV. With Doppelgänger, you've disguised the
video and gave it a very filmic quality; in Bright Future, you're pushing the video out
very clearly. Considering Bright Future, were you always thinking of it as having a
visual quality that was very different than your other films?
Although I've shot lots of stuff on video that wound up on video, this is the first time
I shot on video and then transferred to film. I wanted to show just how different film
looks compared to when you shoot video and then transfer it to film. In addition [in
Bright Future], I printed without color timing so you really see the raw sense.
Additionally, I'd wanted to use the split screen effects for thirty years now, since I was
a high school student [used briefly in Bright Future and extensively, to great effect, in
Dopplegänger]. At the time, it was in the 1970s. You may remember some films,
particularly American movies starting in the late 1960s, with split screen images. Since
these films were shot on video and edited on a computer, I was finally able to afford a
split screen. If you try it with standard 35mm film, it is terribly expensive. I mean, film
has always been a struggle against various limitations. The limitations of money, of
time, of technology, and of course, of my own skill. Kaïro/Pulse, Bright Future and
Doppelgänger were really all made possible by the emergence of video technology.
That was part of the concept of Bright Future from the beginning?
It wasn't necessarily the first initial concept but I did want to try the video-to-film
transfer method. In Bright Future, I did a lot of camera tests to see what it would look
like and it was sort of an answer that I stumbled on, the look.
I don't know if you're familiar with Takashi Miike's Zebraman, or if you've had a
chance to see it, but there are quotes from several contemporary Japanese horror
films scattered throughout the film. Clearly Ringu, but there's a shot in the
beginning of the film that seems to reference Bright Future, where there's this
migration of seals up a river, which is the same as the jellyfish migration in your
film. There is also a sequence in the alien invasion where they're putting red tape to
tape off doorways, identical to Kaïro. It seems as if allusions to your films are popping
up in different places. I believe that Kaïro hasn't played in the US outside of film
festivals. Is someone remaking Kaïro?
I haven't seen Zebraman yet. I had no idea! Well, I guess Dimension, a subsidiary of
Miramax, has the rights [to Kaïro] technically. I really don't know if they're really
working on it or what the deal is. It's really out of my hands.
Ideally people will finally get a chance to see it.
It would be nice. Even a small release would be nice.
Fortunately, Palm Pictures is releasing Bright Future later this year. Horror films are
quite popular in the United States at the moment but there is something remarkable
happening in Japan, both in your work and in the films of other directors working in
the country. The original versions are considerably, predictably better than the
Hollywood film adaptations of the same, like Ringu Japan versus The Ring, the US
It is very gratifying to hear that. I think it's easy for those of us who live outside the
United States to hold the stereotypical notion that the United States is uniquely
isolated by a vision of themselves. It's nice to hear that there are Americans that want
to be exposed to other experiences.
The Sundance Institute awarded you a scholarship for the script that became Charisma
. Can you talk a little bit about the origin of this unusual story [involving a tree that
controls the fate of the world]?
I believe that I started thinking about the idea in the very late 1980s when
environmental issues began to be focused on. I think that we began to hear protests
about deforestation and, you know, sort of the call to stop cutting down trees in the
forest; it was a very clearly articulated position that was getting a lot of play. On the
other hand, of course, there were those people who felt that the workers who made a
living chopping down trees would lose their income and their livelihood. The more I
thought about who was right and who was wrong, the more this simple question
turned into kind of a Gordian knot and I realized this idea could form the foundation
for a film.
Storytellers rely on certain types of conflict to tell a story, whether it be "man versus
man," "man versus nature" (or "technology") or "man versus himself." You're the
only filmmaker I am aware of that consistently tries to incorporate all three in
essentially every film. There is the internal conflict. There's the conflict against the
outsider. There is always conflict with the surroundings, whether it be nature or
technology or the supernatural. Your efforts take these stories in directions that are
much more complex than other filmmakers' work. Is there a deep rooted interest in
trying to bring things into, I hate to say a "spiritual" realm, but something that's
definitely more involved than a traditional narrative?
When I start to make a film, I try to imagine a very straightforward, simple, basic
conflict. Two hours is a relatively limited amount of time in which to tell the story of a
life, so we start with a very basic conflict. It's a very efficient way to tell a story. I
identify this conflict and then I begin to study and ponder and think about it. The
more that I think about it, the more that I realize it's not so simple at all and the more
complex it becomes, and the more I realize that there is certainly no simple conclusion.
The best I can do is finish the film with whatever lack of conclusion I wind up with
and that may leave us with a very ambivalent conclusion, the results of which are that
I always have grown as a person and I have learned something. That's my approach to
When you made Séance for Japanese television, were you familiar with the Bryan
Forbes film? Had you seen his film, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, or were you only
familiar with the book?
Actually, no, I hadn't seen the film. Recently I saw it on a DVD, though without
Japanese subtitles, so I'm not quite sure what was going on in the movie.
It is one of the rare occasions where a remake brings out qualities in the story that
are missing from the original, perhaps because of the difficulty in dealing with the
subject matter when Forbes first made the film. There is a greater complexity in the
relationship between the man and the woman, an issue that is made quite clear when
they find the child and deal with keeping her hidden for a long period of time.
My sense is that the [original] film is quite loyal to the book. Both were created more or
less in the early-1960s. Forty years ago, marriage and kidnapping - and just sort of the
nature of life - were quite different. When I read the novel, I realized that it felt quite
outdated for a contemporary audience, so I adapted it quite freely. I think it's quite
different from the original. Probably my adaptation, forty years on, feels more
contemporary and appropriate to contemporary life.
If I'm not mistaken, all your films are shot in Japan. The exceptional Cure was your
first film to receive wide distribution in the United States. Seemingly the opportunity
now exists to produce your work elsewhere. Would you be interested in making a film
outside of Japan?
Yes, of course I'd love to, given the opportunity. But where? Which country, which
city, what kind of people? This is something that I really would need to research quite
carefully. I'm so familiar with the people of Tokyo that it's quite straightforward for me
to portray them. I'd really have to familiarize myself with people living in other
countries. But I really do love a challenge so I hope to someday. For now, I have just
about completed the screenplay for the next film I am planning to make. If all goes
according to plan, it's possible that it will turn into a tragic horror story. Of course, it's
possible that by the time I'm done, a tragic horror story may have morphed into a