Noticias Festival
Official Section interviews: Takuya Katô, director of ‘Fly on’

“Through the denial of the protagonist of my film, I wanted to talk about the tendency in current Japanese society to look the other way


Japanese director Takuya Kato presents his second feature film, ‘Fly On’, at Cinema Jove. This intimate drama, whose soundtrack is signed by Japanese singer-songwriter Eiko Ishibashi (‘Drive my car’, ‘Blade of the Immortal’), stars Watako, a woman who has just lost her lover in a traffic accident in Tokyo. She immediately decides to bury the trauma of this tragedy and continue with her life with her husband, but despite her attempts to appear normal, the loss of Kimura has left a deep mark on her.


– ‘Fly On’ is your second feature film, you are a filmmaker, but also a playwright and theater director.

– It is true that I usually work mainly for theater, where I write and direct. ‘Fly On’ is the second feature film I have made and until now my theatrical experience has been my main activity. In the future I would like to be able to continue doing both things in parallel. You could say that theater and cinema have in common that they normally allow you to look into private spaces, which generally cannot be accessed unless invited.

– What made you choose the cinema instead of the theater to tell Watako’s story?

– I also wrote a theater piece in which there was a character called Watako. It’s a little different than the movie version, but it’s a character that matured for a while.

-What happened to the other Watako?

– In the play, Watako feels guilty for the death of her lover, it is even assumed that she killed him. The play and the film are two sides of the same story. The Japanese title of the film means “to unravel,” and the title of the play means “to entangle.” At the beginning of this project, I wondered about the etymology of the word entanglement. I visualized this space in which there are two trajectories that converge and intersect until they can no longer be disentangled. The question was how to untangle this complicated situation. However, to untangle things we would have to be able to turn back, but continue exactly the trajectory we have followed until then. We cannot deviate even one step, otherwise we will become entangled again in another place. We can apply this notion to our lives. People of my generation sometimes have the impression that we can be expelled from society if we make a single mistake. There is a perpetual pressure, a choice we are constantly forced to make. You have to make the right decision or risk being pushed aside. Watako decides to take a lover, but after his death she is forced to decide what will happen next: she must choose whether or not it is a good idea to stay with her husband and why. All of these options we faced interested me and that’s why I wanted to treat them in two different ways.

– It is appreciated to find in ‘Fly On’ several well-known faces of contemporary Japanese auteur cinema: Haru Kuroki, Shota Sometani, and in the main role, Mugi Kadowaki. What motivated your casting choices?

– I chose each actor personally. The fact that they were already famous, that their face was familiar to the audience, or that they had acted in films that had circulated at foreign festivals was not a criterion at all. The choice was based on his performance and his ability to flourish in my film. For me it was important that the audience could identify with them or recognize characteristics of the people they know. I wanted to awaken a certain familiarity between the spectators and the actors.

In Japan, we always tend to sugarcoat things, even when talking to friends or to people who are quite close to us. We tend to tone down comments so as not to hurt others or undermine their integrity, and I think this is quite specific to Japanese culture. So I chose characters who could embody this specificity.

– The work on light and decorations, at the same time elegant and almost cold, contributes to translating in images this notion of moderation. Can you tell us more about these aesthetic options?

– I chose each location for filming taking into account the editing of each shot, I also took into account the choice of the image format, the choice of the lens and the distance between the camera and the filmed subject. I was careful to give the impression that we are spectators of the intimacy of this young woman and of the characters in general. That’s why it was important that we didn’t get too close to her.

It is true that it may seem quite cold, but I considered that distance to be important, because It had to allow the viewer to ask themselves the question of what they feel. Generally, when there is an emotion in a film, the camera tends to accompany, to be closer and closer to the person who is filming. I made sure to maintain a certain distance so that the viewer had space to ask themselves questions, to wonder what the character might be thinking. People’s behavior is unpredictable. We can never anticipate with certainty the decisions they will make. These staging choices somehow correspond to this mood.

– Watako’s story is tragic, but this restraint means that ‘Fly On’ never feels like a classic melodrama. What interested you about this paradox?

– It is true that the question of melodrama did not occur to me as such. When I wrote this film I had in mind the three poles that, for me, generally structure people and their reactions. On the one hand, what they think; on the other, their way of acting; and finally, what they say. These are three things that are often very different at first. Their convergence is something quite complex and unpredictable, and this is what will truly constitute the characters. I tried to capture it as precisely as possible.

– As a screenwriter, how did you make sure to maintain the ideal balance between mentioning enough and not saying too much?

– I think it was a matter of feeling. I would say that among the Japanese there is a notion of a line that we can approach depending on the degree of intimacy, but which it is better not to cross. We all instinctively have the notion of what we can say or not, of how far we can express ourselves. What can you say to your loved ones, your friends, or a husband you are more or less close to at the time the story takes place? These are the questions I had in mind when writing. In general, the text that we make the actors say tends to be in accordance with the emotions experienced by the characters. But I wanted to choose another device: focus on what the characters would say in this situation instead of what they really feel.

– This lag evokes the different ‘flashback’ scenes, which are never immediately announced as such, so it is only after a moment that we realize that we are no longer in the same sequence. What motivated this writing choice?

– I treated the flashbacks adopting the point of view of Watako’s character. It depends on the evolution of your feelings whether they are incorporated or not. This can cause confusion about where we are in the story, but I trusted it as a common thread. In any case, this is the structure I had in mind when writing the script. Take, for example, this airport scene at the beginning of the film. The husband is there to fix something, but Watako’s mind slips away, as if trying to run away from something. This is where your lover comes into the picture again. I wanted the writing to convey exactly how the memory comes to mind.

– In the first sequence, Watako is alone on screen while we hear a male voice in off-screen that we do not know if it is her husband’s or her lover’s. Why did you choose to open the film with this ambiguity?

– In this opening sequence, I wanted us to only see Watako because the movie is going to be built around her. Watako is a character who is in denial, who pretends not to see many things, such as that her relationship with her husband is falling apart, or that her mother-in-law asks them why they don’t do something. These are all realities that Watako refuses to see. I wanted that in this initial shot we could already perceive that denial from which she will little by little let go.

– Each character in ‘Fly On’ has their own way of speaking and expressing or not expressing what they feel. Watako’s husband is especially direct, but his sentences are so cold that in the end they do not express anything intimate. How did you approach his dialogues?

– In my opinion, Watako’s husband is a very strategic person, he tries to have control over her. To do this, he will always try to find ways to control it without her realizing it, trying to find formulas that will drown the fish. For example, in the scene in the hallway, he would like to try to fix things, make them better. He would like to propose a romantic date, but instead of taking the initiative up front and saying, “I would like to take you to this or that place,” he asks: “Is there a place you would like to go?” This devious formula, which avoids the main objectives of your question, is a way of taking control. In the airport scene, instead of saying, “We could have lunch together,” he says, “What do we do next?” This way of expressing yourself by making others choose is one way to have power over others.

– Among all the characters in the film, is there one who, in your opinion, manages to function better and express their feelings in a simpler way than the others?

– No (laughs). For example, Watako’s friend never tells her face to face what she really thinks about her relationship with her lover. As for the latter’s father, he feels a kind of frustration and concern about the situation. When he asks Watako for permission to talk about her with his son’s wife, he doesn’t think about the latter’s well-being or Watako’s, he thinks about himself. So yes, in my film every character has a communication problem.

– Like the first sequence, the ending is also ambiguous. Would you say it’s a happy ending?

– Yes, for me it is more of an optimistic result, since Watako ends up accepting to face the things that she previously tried to avoid. Finally she feels worried about what she is experiencing. Taking charge of your life, for me, is necessarily positive. This notion of feeling worried or not worried about things evokes the notion of melancholy defined by Freud. He compared this “loss of the ability to love what is around us” to a kind of grief, reminiscent of Watako’s journey. When I imagined Watako’s character, I thought that the reason she showed such detachment was because she was afraid of being hurt. Opening the floodgates of feelings would mean having to face the depth of your pain. This is common among those who want to protect themselves. The question I wanted to address through this film is the question of responsibility, the fact of feeling affected or not by the events we experience. I think that in Japan there is a great tendency to think that we are not concerned, that it does not concern us, what is happening beyond us.

Through Watako’s denial, I wanted to talk about this trend in Japanese society today to look the other way, to not want to see things face to face. I think it’s these small individual stories that allow us to talk more broadly about society. Loss is also a topic I wanted to address, but the issue of communication was especially central to me. The question of the verb, of the word, was also very important. Can dialogue help solve problems? Can the two spouses having a conversation be enough to fix things between them? They both make the decision to stay together or not, but will this discussion be the one that will allow them to be happy? Is conversation the best way to solve problems? Personally, I find it hard to believe that a conversation can solve everything, because to truly communicate with someone you need coherent intellectual reasoning, you need to be able to reason constructively. Sometimes our reasoning is good but not always in line with our feelings. In this case, is it better to privilege reasoning over feelings or just the opposite? I find it difficult to find convergence between the two.