Norwegian film Harajuku, by Eirik Svensson, opens with the suicide of the main character’s mother. She is a fifteen-year-old anime and manga fan, with dyed blue hair, that only dreams about leaving dark and cold Oslo behind to live in the city of her dreams, Tokyo. The young otaku evades her pain by evoking anime fantastic stories, dreamlike sequences that the film portrays through animation. The film is set on Christmas eve and reflects upon the figure of the absent father.
Why have you decided to tell this story about Oslo S?
When I was doing research I met with teenagers in the city centre of Oslo. Some of them where hanging out on a daily basis on the central station, and one of the girls I met was meeting her dad for the first time the same night I met her. Since that was the first inspiration for the film, it felt natural to keep the station and the teenagers hanging out there as part of the film all the way through.
Did you research on otaku tribes in Oslo for the film?
Yes, we did do research among the Japan/anime-inspired teenagers at the station and also around Oslo and Norway, especially for the visuals of Vildes bedroom at home and of course the hair, make up and costumes etc. I had also been to Tokyo and Harajuku myself a couple of times before and we had all seen some anime-films even before working on this film.
As much as this is a film about a 15 year old teen dealing with her most difficult times in life, it’s also about a repentant father. How did you get deep into both psychological profiling?
I always try to see the situations from each characters point of view in the films I make. Very little in life is completely black or white. For this film I continued the research by talking to young girls and women who had had dads that were never there when they grew up. By continuing to gather stories from real life we put the script and Vilde and Einars story together. Parts of the dialogue between Vilde and her dad is directly inspired by some of the conversations I have had with people.
How much are you also fascinated with Harajuku district in Shibuya?
I think my fascination has always been there ever since I was there for the first time more than ten years ago. But then little by little in recent years we have seen the colorfulness of Harajuku and Japan also influencing teenagers in Norway.
Both Harajuku and your previous film, Natt Til 17, deal with teenager struggles. Why are you interested in exploring youth universal issues?
I think teenagers at some point have to deal with basic human “grown up” problems that we all face in our lives. The main difference is that teenagers often experience these grown up problems for the first time and they therefore have no point of reference of how to deal with them. I find it interesting and one way of getting to the uncovered core of human emotions and relations. I also believe that teenagers need to be seen and understood by grown ups, and films are an excellent way of opening up, exploring and showing their world and what they are dealing with.
Why did you decide to relate the hardest passages with anime? In which anime authors did you find inspiration?
We decided to make some of the scenes in anime to get a stronger sense of Vildes inner life, her wish to escape reality. We tried to find a style of animation that would still be “soft” enough visually to blend inn well with the live action parts.
This groups of young people who are in the train stations are very common in the big cities, they are very visible, but we don’t “see” them. Is it something that you have reflected on? Do you think that your audience will now pay more attention to these tribes?
Yes, that’s exactly how I sometimes describe it myself! They are striking visually, but we tend to oversee them. At least the teenagers I met in Oslo are quite relaxed and generous to each other, and for some people the central station is just a place where they can be themselves. Everyone has their own stories, their own way of seeing life and by focusing on one single story I think it will be easier to recognize and notice them.
During one of the most hard, tense and moving sequences of the film we can hear Deilig er jorden. Why did you choose this Christmas song?
The whole film deals with the contrast between the thought of Christmas being the merriest time of the year and Vildes life falling apart. Christmas is all about family and being together, and this evening is the one Vilde feels the most alone. I think for a lot of people the expectations of holidays of being something wonderful makes it almost unbearable. Deilig er jorden is a beautiful song, and the choir singing it at the station is the same that sings on national television in Norway each Christmas. Deilig er jorden also translates to “The earth is wonderful”, which is the quite opposite of Vildes situation at that moment.
The film consists of several long scenes, such as the 15-minute dialogue scene between the girl and her father. Why did you make that decision that gives the viewer the feeling of living crucial moments in real time?
The core of this project has always been this first meeting between the girl and her dad. I really wanted it to be extensive in time to try to get close to the feeling of how it could have felt for them in real life/real time. They need time to just try to be casual, before the conversation escalates. And the scene needs time to get them both to open up to one another. I think that also influenced several of the other scenes, where time really forces the characters to stay put in the situation and we get to see all the shifts in them as the situations progresses. I find it intriguing, and I think it lets the film explore more of how we behave towards other people in difficult or complex situations and relations.
Do you consider this film for young people or about young people?
I think it might be both. It was important for me with the long meeting between Vilde and her dad and i realised it could be challenging for some audiences, but a lot of young people also seem to really embrace it.
What difficulties and what benefits brought not being able to close the busiest station in Norway for the filming?
The difficulties are obvious: Constant noise everywhere, very limited possibilities to control the light, no possibility to control the crowd etc. But the benefit is that I got to shoot the film on the location I wanted, it gives the film a touch of realism because it IS real, and of course we get a lot of character to the film by shooting during opening hours with all the people and life going on there.