Shozin Fukui is a Japanese screenwriter and filmmaker. His 1991 movie Pinocchio √964 launched an international cult following and years of debate over what the bizarre film might mean. Rubber’s Lover, released in 1996, continued to delight fans of avant-garde cinema and drew further comparisons to Lynch, Cronenberg and Zulawski. After time off the radar, Fukui returned in 2008 with The Hiding and will premiere S-94 in the summer of 2009. In this rare interview, David F. Hoenigman talks to him about writing and filmmaking.
Translated from Japanese by David F. Hoenigman.
David F. Hoenigman: What projects are you currently working on?
Shozin Fukui: I’m working on a movie called S-94 about a virus named S-94. I’m hoping to release it this summer. Actually, it’s my contribution to this year’s Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival.
DH: When and why did you begin writing?
SF: I began writing in university with the intent of making movies.
DH: What inspired you to write your first script?
SF: The first time I saw Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes/ Suna no Onna, I became interested in screenwriting, so I started writing.
DH: Any other influences on your writing?
SF: I was influenced by the thinking and methodology of King Crimson’s Robert Fripp.
DH: Does your writing have a distinctive style?
SF: Basically, I studied at school and at seminars and gradually my own original style came out. Because I personally direct my own films, I think my experience on set is reflected in all my subsequent writings.
DH: What genre is easiest for you to write?
SF: Science fiction and horror.
DH: Is there a message in your work that you want people to grasp?
SF: The madness humanity possesses.
DH: What book are you reading now?
SF: I read Kyūsaku Yumeno’s Dogura Magura over and over.
DH: Any current directors you find interesting?
SF: Not current, but Andrzej Zulawski’s work has always fascinated me.
DH: Can you tell me what you remember about the writing and filming of each of your movies?
Pinocchio √964 (1991)
It was my first script, and the film was made with the cooperation of my sub-director, who later become a director himself. Through the work we were continually making new discoveries. The production company was just starting up, and we had hoped to film on a low budget over a short period of time, but once we got started the budget swelled. In the end it took a half year to film, a half year to edit, and another half year to add the sound. It was my first time for everything, so I was learning as I went. I slept in the office with the film crew, we were literally all eating from the same pot, but the film was made without compromise. It was a bit haphazard but with the drive, enthusiasm and teamwork of the crew we got the movie done. During filming, through an on set car crash, I really became aware of the dangers of filmmaking. After that, I learned I had to plan everything with careful attention and be prepared for completely anything. It was quite a lesson for me.
Rubber’s Lover (1996)
I began to really enjoy writing screenplays and then rewriting them many times to explore the various possibilities. I’d assemble stories from the multiple versions, and from there decide which script was best. I gave special consideration to the actors’ lines, over half a year of research went into them. Because it was set in the near future, I developed my own new vocabulary. As I was filming I’d rework the script; small discrepancies had to be resolved. Some parts we could only figure out on set by running through them in rehearsal. The script evolved day by day as if it were a living thing. The filming –in a big way – far exceeded the experiences I had up to that point. More than just work, I felt spurred on by my own possibilities. Maybe I was somehow embodying the psychic themes of the work. Again it took a half year of filming, a half year of editing, and another half year to add the sound. Because I had experienced these time consuming tasks once before, I could get the film done just as I wanted it.
The Hiding (2008)
In order to produce an experimental work you must surpass the script and the methods you’ve relied on in the past. I was attempting to pull off something new. It was a feeling of wanting to further ingrain myself in the consciousness of the viewers. Naturally when you say “experimental” you’re aiming at a new form of entertainment. My style and methods developed, and the small crew made it a tight set through their diligence. Due to the progress of digital technology, one crew member was able to do multiple jobs at once. Because these methods evolved, in any given situation we were confident we could produce the movie. I was able to construct a new style I can build on in the future.
DH: Was there any feedback from critics or fans that you found surprising?
The Japanese Motion Picture Code of Ethics Committee declared “this film portrays lunacy.” Of course it got an “R” rating, but I think I achieved my purpose for making the movie. Film critics responses were mixed but that’s how I wanted it. Young contemporary art critics gave it good reviews. The Rotterdam Film Festival showed it, after that it was shown throughout Europe. When it was released in Japan, in addition to the theatre’s PA system we brought in huge speakers and “Explosive Live Screening” was born, transforming the movie theatre into a concert hall. Audience reaction was mixed but enthusiastic fans came back again and again. After that the VHS/DVD were released in Japan, Europe, and America.
Initially parallels were drawn to the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attacks, and later various other interpretations were attached to the film, in a sense it depicted the isolationism of Japan. It premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival, then in Japan and Europe. It was released on VHS/DVD in Japan, Europe and America. Its success exceeded my expectations, and made me confident my films could cross language and cultural barriers.
My favorite response said: “the world that women want” and “especially women can understand this world.” Up until then I had had mostly male fans, so these comments made me very happy. It premiered in Tokyo, is now screening in Osaka, and will continue to be shown as long as it attracts fans. Of course, I’m working hard to get the film into overseas film festivals. I was happy I could get the film into the Rotterdam Film Festival early this year. Currently I’m making preparations for the release of my new film S-94. I hope both films will be screened overseas.
DH: Do you feel the audience understands the content of your movies?
When it opened people didn’t really get it, recently in encore screenings I feel it gets a response. It reminds me of what King Crimson’s leader (Fripp) calls the “grating factor” -as years pass, if the work doesn’t wear out it means it’s the real thing. Always I want to have that at the heart of the movies I screen.
When it opened, the audience that gathered was quite different from the viewers I’d had before. Suddenly it was musicians, artists, performers, and club-goers. It was a new experience for me and infused me with confidence in myself as a writer. I felt that I’d received the validation I’d been searching for and that the movie’s release had opened new possibilities for me.
The reactions were different depending on the generation. The younger generation really got into it. It’s still being shown – I’m looking forward to more feedback. I’ll get back to you about it.
DH: Please tell us about the serial novel posted on your website. Are there plans to publish it?
SF: At this stage there are no plans. For filmmaking, before I write a script I arrange the ideas in my head and then write them down. So I may use this material to write a new script, but if there’s a possibility to publish it as a novel – I’ll give it a try.
DH: Will you write more novels?
SF: Because I really like to write, I’ll continue writing.
About the author:
David F. Hoenigman is the author of Burn Your Belongings.