Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Director's notes - a dialogue with 'limitations'


Hashi(はし) was one of the first words I learnt in Japan. Hashi could have 3 meanings in Japanese, depending on the written kanji, it could mean a bridge, a pair of chopsticks or the edge of something. In life, we always work with limitations. I made Hashi knowing the limitations I would face in terms of production crew and budget during my artist residency at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan.

The Fukuoka Film Commission helped to send out a call for audition for actors through their mailing list. I started with an initial idea and story structure. At the audition 80% who turned up are women. Except for 1 woman with theatre acting experience, the rest have no film or stage experience. As most of the women are working or studying, I am limited in time commitment as well.

Like breathing, the initial idea went through a natural catharsis as the story finds itself during the callback audition. After doing intensive and personal interviews with each of them through an interpreter, I wrote the script using the actors' own stories, my own inspiration from these stories and also the materials from my own research. The filming felt like a long workshop with the actors and the whole process was like making a documentary. I enjoy the fusion, interplay and synthesis between fiction and documentary, as they allow me to explore the limits of narrative filmmaking.

The story finally centred on 3 women from 3 age groups - Shino(50s), Junko(30s) and Momo(20s). Momo is a bento delivery girl who sends bento lunches to Shino and Junko who are colleagues in an office. Momo would always tell her dreams to Shino or Junko whenever she delivers their bento. Their 3 lives cross and diverge in oblique and tangential ways and the men in their lives are always present but hardly seen nor heard. The story revolves around issues of love, relationships, insecurity, death and the blurring between dreams and reality.

Why Hashi? Chopsticks, for the Chinese, the Japanese, and for me at least, connotes stability. When we are able to eat, things are somehow under control, in order. The Edge - unstable, unsure, at a loss, looking for a direction. Bridge - all humans need to make connections with another being at different times of our lives. At different points in our lives, we exist in all the above states of being - hence the title Hashi.

I started with a script of about 10 pages, mainly description and short dialogue with about 50 scenes. Together with the interpreter, I worked on the scenes with the actors using their own experiences. The actors would write their script in their own words in Japanese. The manpower limitations exert a natural force that gives form to the film. I recall the Taiwanese New Wave. The camera is stable, hardly moves and events just unfolds within the frame. The crew consists of 3 persons mainly - myself as director/cameraman, an interpreter who also helps to write the timecode, and the curator who doubles up as the soundman and Japanese dialogue supervisor. The boom was attached to a microphone stand on rollers. The film took on a form that was a consequence of this dialogue with 'limitations'.

Also, because of time limitations for the actors as they are either working or studying, I sought to take Luis Buñuel's methodology in That Obscure Object of Desire to its logical conclusions and to explore this 'suspension of disbelief' in films, which was also a key element of Japanese Noh theatre. I decided to have 2 actors playing Junko and 4 actors playing Momo. Shino was played by 1 actor and so Shino became the anchor for the Junko and Momo characters and as well as a focal point for the audience.

These limitations became a liberating force that allowed me to explore the nature of fiction filmmaking, and the artifice of fiction film acting itself where a role is normally played by 1 actor. If 1 actor could play a role, would it not be possible that the same role be played by two, four or more persons within the same time-space continuum of the story?

from the edge of the bridge
I hear the song of the whales
I break my chopsticks
and throw them into the sea

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