“In this film I wanted to underline the beauty that sign language shares with boxing movements”
The hearing-impaired have a highly developed sense of sight, and that was what I started with. So I looked closely at boxing and gradually came to discover how beautiful its movements are. I did some boxing training myself with my lead actress Yukino Kishii and with Shinichiro Matsuura who plays the role of the coach. I also trained in sign language : in both of these cases, two people are encountering each other face to face.
– Although most of the time Keiko signs are translated to the audience via captions or subtitles, there are times where we have no intermediation. Why did you make this decision?
The part with no subtitles is a scene where two deaf actresses are communicating. I find their sign language wonderful. If subtitles were added the I’m sure that the beauty of the hand movements would be lost. In this scene, the viewer is encouraged to look at the actresses’ hands rather than the content of the conversation being played out in sign language.
– What’s the social comment on consequences of the pandemic on the closing of a long-established Tokyo gym in the film?
The pandemic has led to the loss of a great many lives as well as a great many venues and community areas. Cinemas, concert venues and restaurants and so on have been severely affected in Japan. Once this dynamic has been lost it is very difficult to rebuild. I think that one of the camera’s roles in this film was to record these disappearing spaces.
– The film was both set and shot during the COVID pandemic. How did it change your filming plans if so?
I started working on this project once the pandemic had started. I wanted to document this very restrictive period with a camera and make it part of the scenario. Because I had been thinking about this since the beginning, it did not involve any changes in the filming schedule. In fact, I was actually relieved that the Covid measures were working properly on set and that no-one got sick.
– In times of digital, you’ve chosen to use Super 16 film, a format that is falling out of favor, and is only used for specific productions because of its characteristic grainy look and its ability to horizontally expand the image and produce wider aspect ratios. What has this format brought to the film?
Its first effect was to protect the actors during filming. Boxing films are very physically demanding for actors. Using a digital camera would have surely meant that I would have required a lot of takes and would have exhausted the actors more than necessary. The limited amount of film meant that I had to edit the scenes accurately beforehand. In this way I managed to keep the actors in good shape.
Aesthetically speaking, it allowed me to create an effect which is not like a documentary but gives a softer impression, which is a bit nostalgic. The story required this quality and this beauty. I really was right to use 16mm.
– How important was it for you to underline the passing on of knowledge delivered between master and student?
I experienced the beauty of a type of communication which uses the movement of the body and the expressions on the face rather than speech. Training in silence is like a dance and highly cinematic. This story, about people of different generations and genders establishing such a strong bond, drew me in.
– How do you feel when being compared to master Ozu?
I think that this makes no sense if it is just because of our common Japanese nationality, but he is one of the directors that I admire the most. I am fascinated by his way of bringing acting to life within a strict framework. In Japan, there is not just Ozu, there are also masters such as Mikio Naruse and Sadao Yamanaka. I hope that their films will continue to be seen by generations to come.