- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
With his atmospheric period feature Mountain Woman (Yama Onna) in competition at the Tokyo International Film Festival, and the only Japanese director helming an episode of FX’s upcoming Shōgun remake, Takeshi Fukunaga looks well on the way to fulfilling the promise suggested by his feature debut, Out of My Hand.
Released in 2015, Out of My Hand followed a Liberian migrant’s journey to New York, used mostly non-actors, and won plaudits at festivals from Berlin to Los Angeles. A distinctly untypical first feature for a Japanese filmmaker, Out of My Hand marked Fukunaga as someone to watch.
The film, however, makes slightly more sense in the context of Fukunaga having learned his craft in the U.S., spending more than a decade in New York — taking a film production course at Brooklyn College – after a two-year stint studying in Minnesota.
“I studied filmmaking there, so my film language is deeply influenced by that…but my sensibility is Japanese,” Fukunaga tells The Hollywood Reporter, speaking before the Tokyo fest line-up press conference earlier this month.
Returning to his homeland three years ago, “to reconnect with my roots,” Fukunaga made his sophomore feature Ainu Mosir, about the indigenous Ainu people of Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan from where the filmmaker hails. He again used non-actors, many of them local Ainu, a group that has seen its culture destroyed, ignored and then belatedly recognized — a desperate and sad situation with echoes of the treatment of aboriginal peoples all around the globe.
Mountain Woman, Fukunaga’s third film, is set at the north end of Japan’s main island, an area that shares geographical and anthropological elements with nearby Hokkaido. “It’s inspired by and very loosely based on a collection of folktales called The Legends of Tono. Like folktales from around the world, they are like a time capsule of culture, customs, spirituality and the way people used to look at the world,” says Fukunaga.
As with his previous production, nature looms large in the film, along with an almost claustrophobic idea of community that spills over into oppression in the village at the center of the story. A linked theme is that of scapegoating, something Fukunaga feels came to the fore again during the early days of the pandemic in Japan outside the big cities.
“People who were infected were blamed even though it wasn’t their fault. They were looked at almost as outcasts from their company or community,” suggests Fukunaga. “Groups often look for a weak individual to sacrifice to save the majority,” he adds, referring to another central motif of the film.
Though the story is deeply embedded in 18th-century rural Japan, post-production was done in the U.S., and that, along with feedback from the international crew, should help make it more accessible to a wider audience, Fukunaga hopes.
Looking to the future, straddling different cultures and media looks set to continue being a feature of Fukunaga’s career. The director says he relished the challenge of working on Shōgun, from a “scale that was just humungous compared to shooting independent features,” through to the new experience of having a showrunner to answer to. The filmmaker said he is keenly aware that the original series from 1980, based on James Clavell’s 1975 novel, was nothing short of a broadcasting phenomenon in the U.S. that sparked an interest in Japan among many who watched it.
With one TV series on the way and another in the works, although he didn’t reveal details beyond its international scope, Fukunaga is also currently editing a documentary that returns to the topic of the Ainu people. But he will return to features, revealing that he’s also more than open to making another film in English if the right idea comes along.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day