domingo, 22 de diciembre de 2013

The Revolutionary and the Orthodox in the Title Sequences for NHK Taiga Drama ?Yae no Sakura?

PingMag : Art, Design, Life - from Japan

Around autumn 2012 I got contacted out of the blue by Seiichi Hishikawa from Drawing and Manual. Its about the Taiga drama he began. Hang on. You mean, the Taiga drama the NHK year-long Sunday-night costume drama?! Hishikawa told me more.For the 2013 Taiga drama, twelve designers and video artists would be taking a month each and creating the opening credit title sequences. After Hishikawa saw what Yu Yamanaka and I did for the Tema Hima: The Art of Living in Tohoku exhibition held last year at 21_21 Design Sight he wanted to ask us to contribute. Needless to say, we accepted and our work was broadcast as the title sequence for the dramas episodes in November this year.But looking back, it seems to me that asking twelve different people to make the title sequence for what could be regarded as a national institution in Japan was a very risky thing. Thinking more about this, I began to wonder just how is the year-long Taiga drama even made in the first place and, in particular, what was the idea behind making the 2013 series, Yae no sakura, which was set in Aizu in Tohoku, currently being reconstructed in the wake of the 2011 disaster?This led to me sitting down with Taku Kato, who was the chief director for Yae no sakura, along with Hishikawa, who produced the title sequences, to discuss what happens behind the scenes when you are making a drama series broadcast every week for a year.Photo: Tada (YUKAI) Tom Vincent: Taku Kato, was this your first time to handle a Taiga drama series? Taku Kato: My third. The first was Hideyoshi [1996, about the life of Hideyoshi Toyotomi], which was a massive hit. It was a great experience, both with what we made and who I worked with. Ten years after that, I made Komyo ga tsuji with Yukie Nakama in the main role. That was when I met Seiichi Hishikawa for the first time. His work is incredibly striking. The frame is always beautiful wherever you stop the sequence. The attention to detail is very exact, its built up little by little. Seiichi Hishikawa: With the title sequence I really felt a lot was riding on me. Not only would audience expectations be stoked up by the opening intro but it would also fix the impression of the actual episode. Whats more, since this was a Taiga drama series, the same sequence would be shown at the start of every episode for a whole year. What appears at the start of the first episode would always linger in your impression of the drama.I have to make something which gives the audience the right feel of the drama series, even at a glance and even though I myself dont know what the drama will look like yet! TV: Roughly how many people were involved with producing the Taiga drama series? TK: Wow, I dont know. It must be several thousand if we include the people on location and the people in Fukushima who gave us their cooperation. SH: Well, there are over 300 the kids at the end of the title squence alone. [Laughs] TK: Well, thats a real exception, though. [Laughs] TV: This epic story is broadcast over the course of a whole year. I just cant imagine it. How do you proceed in making the production? TK: You have to take every moment as it comes. Theres no end to gathering together all the different pieces that go into making the series. If you think like you should collect 1,000 perfect pieces to make one big thing, then youll rush to gather everything and it turns out wrong. You have to judge each moment as it comes. Its then comes down to whether or not you have the ability to make those judgments. Its like repeating a process of deciding which piece for which moment.Photo: Tada (YUKAI) SH: It seems amazing to me watching from the sidelines. I want to see inside Katos head. Think about it. The part you are shooting right now might be used at the start of episode one but then the next time you might be shooting a scene that appears in episode thirty-something. TV: But normally we just think that you make it starting with the first episode. Is that not true, then? SH: Ultimately you have to shoot seasonally, otherwise it becomes winter and you cant shoot. So there are quite a lot of scenes shot in advance. Its incredible. TK: Yes, you do it with a lot of trepidation. You dont know how it will turn out. TV: These parts in advance have already been fixed? TK: No, theyre not fixed. TV: But is the script basically finished? TK: No, its not. SH: Like I said, its incredible. TK: We just do the parts that we know we have to do.But its not just about always making the decisions on how to do it. Not just me, the whole cast and crew share this axis about wanting to do things properly. This years series in particular is about the orthodox. Not in the sense of being normal but the canonical.This is because the way of life in the domain of Aizu was very pure-minded. Its tragedy was that, despite being very orthodox, it was branded as not. Recovering this Aizu orthodoxy is a key idea for bringing back the history of the Tohoku region.This is why everyones resolve was to shoot it properly, to use the very best equipment. This was the first Taiga drama to use F35 cameras. Ordinarily we use just a single standard lens for a TV drama but this time we selected the lens very carefully with the lighting. This brings out the historical orthodoxy.Its like this is all we think about. Building it up one by one, it can probably then all connect. To an extent, this is like a charm. Hishikawa also always talks about it like this, so thats why the title sequence images turn out that way. This is why the title sequence is also in tune with the same spirit as the whole drama series.Photo: Tada (YUKAI) TV: When do you actually start working on the series? TK: This year it was particularly late.Well, everything about the series came after the 2011 Tohoku disaster. In terms of timing, as well. The idea was somehow to set the series in historical Tohoku. From that we decided on the main character being Yaeko Yamamoto in May 2011 and this was then announced in June.But this choice wasnt just about getting a hit. There are several stories from Japanese history that everyone knows and which everyone finds interesting, but thats absolutely not the case here. SH: But setting it in Tohoku was really heavy. This was my third time to work with Kato and I feel like I know how he directs, but when I heard out of the blue that it was going to be set in Tohoku, I felt that there would be a lot to take on. We couldnt just brainstorm ideas casually.Photo: Tada (YUKAI) TV: As time has gone by, it has become a bit easier but this was two years ago, just after the earthquake. TK: Yes, thats right. SK: I had been working on Saka no ue no kumo with Kato and right during this there was the earthquake. At that time we were having lots of arguments about the poster. We just then were talking about making a poster that was more direct because of the way things were at that time. We had to think about a lot since the people of Tohoku would be seeing it and if it was too straight, it would be like rubbing salt in their wounds. We talked about whether we should make it seem like it was directly connected to the disaster. TK: There are also times when being softer is better too, of course, or a milder take on things. We had to think about how to deal with a story about Tohoku when so many people had suffered. And whats more, this is Aizu, which fought right to the end until it was completely defeated. TV: People dont talk about the Boshin War (1868-1869) so much. People think that no one in Japan died during the Meiji Restoration. They just remember the bloodless fall of Edo and so on. TK: Thats right. Thats how we learn it.Since the disaster there have been lots of debates about what is Tohoku. Norio Akasaka is the head of Fukushima Museum and works in Tohoku-ology, and he says that Tohoku has been trampled on throughout history; it is always trying to get up again but then there will always be another something that sinks the region. There was the power from the west, the Yamato Court, followed by the Kamakura shogunate, and then this time it was a natural disaster. The Meiji Restoration was the same.This has been kind of sealed up in all kinds of forms so you cant really turn it into a narrative. Actually, the system of history after the Meiji period is very strange. The earthquake happened at a time when regional politics had come to the fore with people like Osaka Major Toru Hashimoto saying that the post-Meiji central government was wrong, and now this is synchronizing with how people are saying that the way Tohoku has been handled after the disaster has been wrong.So quite a big theme is how when you open up the history that didnt transition smoothly from the Edo to Meiji periods, you can also see the way the government system today is warped.What I realized after working together on this project is that its not necessary to be soft because of the disaster. We need to present the history of Tohoku in a way weve never seen and you have to dramatize the people who appear in it properly. Thats why I was so happy when Yae Yamamoto appeared in the first episode. I wanted to cheer her on. I went to jelly when we were shooting.At the first location shoot Hishikawa also came along to take photographs for the main visuals. In the end, though, with this kind of thing, all I do is talk abstractly and its the artists who then make it real. I wondered what kind of main visual he would make if he took the photos. Even looking back, I can see why we used these ones.Photo: Tada (YUKAI) TV: This is amazing. SK: I knew there were lots of things involved and many approaches I could take, but I just went up there and actually snapped these pretty quickly. TV: Was this taken on location? TK: Yes, with blasts going off all around. SK: Yes, there were lots. It was quite a dangerous shoot because of it. I was just completely in the zone and kept going into places where I wasnt allowed to be. Things were exploding right in front of me and ringing in my ears, but I just kept on clicking away. [Laughs]Photo: Tada (YUKAI) TV: So this years Taiga drama series used twelve different teams to create new title sequences every month. I think this hasnt happened before, right? Why did you go with this plan? SK: At the time, it was still just one year on from the Tohoku disaster and I would overhear from all kinds of designers and directors that they had felt powerless when the disaster happened. TV: A lot of people said that, didnt they? SK: Including me, there wasnt something we could say we could have done. It was like we were at full capacity just dealing with ourselves. You can do grand reconstruction efforts and things that seem useful, but Im not so sure about all that.Artists and designers had a dilemma over whether they should just stay the way they were. So I asked some people close to me if theyd like to do a title sequence for the Taiga drama I was working on. I asked them if we could flex the power of designers and artists to do something for Aizu, Fukshima and Tohoku, and everyone responded well. I thought this might just work so I spoke with Kato about it, and from there I spoke properly with the teams and pretty quickly the twelve were fixed. So actually, it wasnt that much of a struggle to get them all together.Director / Cinematographer: Seiichi HishikawaFeaturing (January): Kazuyo OnoyamaDirector / Cinematographer: Seiichi HishikawaFeaturing (February): Ayako FukumitsuDirector / Cinematographer: Seiichi HishikawaFeaturing (March): WOW (Tsutomu Miyajima, Hiroshi Takahashi)Director / Cinematographer: Seiichi HishikawaFeaturing (April): Ransyu Yano, Yamada Orimoto Director / Cinematographer: Seiichi HishikawaFeaturing (May): Ena FuruyaDirector / Cinematographer: Seiichi HishikawaFeaturing (June): Tomoko KawaoDirector / Cinematographer: Seiichi HishikawaFeaturing (July): Genki ItoDirector / Cinematographer: Seiichi HishikawaFeaturing (August): Semitransparent DesignDirector / Cinematographer: Seiichi HishikawaFeaturing (September): TYMOTEDirector / Cinematographer: Seiichi HishikawaFeaturing (October): PARTYDirector / Cinematographer: Seiichi HishikawaFeaturing (November): Yu Yamanaka, Tom VincentDirector / Cinematographer: Seiichi Hishikawa TV: Why is it you did something so tricky with the all-important title sequence? [Laughs] SK: I think that designers and artists are revolutionaries. I believe they are the people who try to do something for the era.In particular, the people attracting the most attention are doing the same kinds of things as people long ago, and theres a power and secret hidden away there. I wanted the people with the same revolutionary spirit to be involved with the title sequences. Normally I would make one thing and it would be shown 48 times. But doing something different to the norm is what Yae Yamamoto also did in her life, and I thought we had to wow the world with something that wasnt the regular way of doing things.After I got the commission Ive read like crazy about Yae Yamamoto. It seems the more I read, the more she seems like an unusual person. And the more I had this feeling, the more I also felt that I needed to involve other people. We stirred things up by asking everyone to forget all the other Taiga dramas that had been shown till now.Photo: Tada (YUKAI) TK: I was in nearby Akashi when there was the Hanshin earthquake. This was 1995, where we had the Kobe earthquake in January and then the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system in February. The whole of society suddenly shifted its focus to the sarin attack and whatever the media was reporting. The people who lived in the temporary housing had all kinds of problems but they were forgotten about.On the other hand, the people who thought they could do something for the earthquake were judged within a very rigid set of values, such as whether they were volunteering or not. I also think that with Tohoku this time there will be two extremes amnesia or ossification, where it will be forgotten about or the actions themselves will become entrenched, like the idea of Tohoku supporting itself. The series is being broadcast after some time has passed since the earthquake and things have settled down somewhat. Of course, it is very sad when things get forgotten but even scarier that this is things becoming extremely fixed when it comes to interpreting the disaster.The power to change this axis of these values and interpretations always lies with artists. Thats why, though it was tough to get twelve different peoples title sequences, with twelve people we can displace the very rigid idea that Yae no sakura is a disaster reconstruction drama. I thought it was a real challenge but it was interesting to do. TV: You did lots of other things in the title sequences, right? For example, at the end there are those pink parasols.Director / Cinematographer: Seiichi HishikawaDrama Director: Taku Kato, Masae Ichiki (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) SH: First we gave the title sequence to twelve sets of directors and designers, but we ultimately came to the conclusion that at the start or end there would have to be some sort of image that would symbolize Yae no sakura. So we made a final shot for the title sequences that would do this and the first thing I did was make a storyboard with cherry blossom (sakura)-colored Japanese parasols covering the land.While we thought it would be really tough in terms of the schedule, Kato and I went to an old parasol maker in Kyoto and asked them if they could make around 400 parasols in a month, and they very graciously agreed to do it.Then we went to the City Hall at Aizuwakamatsu and asked about getting 400 kids together. Well take care of it! they said. And then loads of kids just turned up. We just thought we had to give it a try. This collaboration between craftsmanship from Kyoto and kids from Aizu has now become an anecdote linking the story of Yae Yamamoto.Because the kids had all come together for the shoot, though, we wanted them to write down how they felt then. This is the book we made it into. They wrote it to themselves, ten years from now.Photo: Tada (YUKAI)Photo: Tada (YUKAI) TV: You see lots of spin-off books for drama series, but its pretty unconventional for a book to be created out of the title sequence. TK: Well, its because there was a story behind it. TV: In the titles the names of the cast come up in calligraphy, dont they? TK: Its by Hicozoh Akamatsu [film title designer]. SK: It must have been so time-consuming to do. TK: Just how many peoples names did he write?! Akamatsu himself said that the characters he drew for Yae no sakura are in the image of an unbroken branch. Whatever quandary youre in, the branch wont break.Director / Cinematographer: Seiichi HishikawaDrama Director: Taku Kato, Masae Ichiki (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) TV: Can we see the final title sequence for December?Photo: Tada (YUKAI)Photo: Tada (YUKAI) SK: Ill provide some commentary about it. I first of all spoke with Kato at the start of 2012 and the idea was to make a title sequence. After that we werent sure about what to do so I tried doing a storyboard for what Id do if I was to make one, and this is it.The Japanese parasol becomes a pivot for storytelling and it is superimposed over cherry blossom. Cherry blossom [sakura] are something with a social nature, they are the spirit of the Japanese people, a unique Japanese community, and they are symbolically integrated into the parasols. One of our themes was also about where the borders of Tohoku lie, so I actually shot around Tohoku. I shot a timelapse around Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima. For this I used a parasol that could automatically open. TK: Yes, thats why it actually reflects the light. SK: I wasnt sure about whether to include it but in the end I also put in an image from Minamisoma in Fukushima. This is the parasol that opens automatically. And this went round all the regions in Tohoku.Photo: Tada (YUKAI)Photo: Tada (YUKAI) TV: An automatically opening Japanese parasol! Thats an amazing invention! And it really opens up properly. TK: I thought about this for the first time today but the image of Hishikawa making a timelapse video with this automatic parasol is pretty funny! [Laughs] SK: What was interesting was when I was shooting it an old farmer came over. What on earth are you doing in front of my field? Im doing a shoot, I said. The farmer then saw the parasol. Is it a Taiga drama? he asked. TV: He could tell! SK: Oh, you know? I asked. This was in the morning. And then he brought me some rice balls. [Laughs] TV: Wow! TK: That same kind of cheerfulness is also there in the footage. Its a hopeful feeling, you know, like its looking to the future. Its piquant.Photo: Tada (YUKAI)

 

 

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