Cannes: Naomi Kawase Talks Casting Former Model Ayame Misaki in 'Radiance'

Radiance Naomi Kawase Inset Getty - H 2017
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival/Dominique Charriau/WireImage

The Cannes veteran tells THR of throwing away the script (literally) and the significance of shooting in her hometown.

Exactly 20 years after Naomi Kawase became the youngest winner of the Camera d’Or, for Suzaku, the director returns to Cannes with her latest feature, Radiance. Four of Kawase's films have screened or competed at Cannes in the two decades since, including her Grand Prix-winning The Mourning Forest in 2007.

Radiance focuses on the relationship between celebrated photographer Masaya Nakamori (Masatoshi Nagase), whose eyesight is rapidly deteriorating, and Misako Ozaki (Ayame Misaki), a young narrator of movie voiceovers for the visually impaired. Nagase starred in Kawase's Sweet Bean (An), which screened in Un Certain Regard in 2015 and went on to be her biggest commercial success in Japan, while Misaki is a former model with more than a dozen films under her belt.

Kawase talked to The Hollywood Reporter about casting Ayame Misaki, deviating from her script, antique cameras and the importance of her hometown, the oldest city in Japan.

You cast former model Ayame Misaki in a key role. What was it about her that made you think she was right for the part?

The character of Misako has a kind of arrogance, doesn’t take any nonsense and always answers back to Masa’s character. At the audition, she had that kind of feeling about her, and also a very strong look in her eyes.

The main character uses an antique-looking camera that becomes a central element in the story
I'm a director from the analog film generation, and the Rolleiflex cameras [a high-end, range of German cameras] were particularly suited to portrait photography. They were twin lens reflex cameras where the photographer faces their subject with the camera held at waist-height, which I really liked the idea of.

The camera is stolen by fellow photographer Onishi after they go drinking together, what was the significance of that?
There is an element of jealousy from Onishi, who thinks he is no match for Nakamori's talent, but there is probably also the aspect that although the camera is important, it's time for the next generation of photographers and that Nakamori should give it up. It may look like simple jealousy, but though Onishi sees Nakamori as a rival, there is also affection there, and he can't get that out of his head while Nakamori is still walking around with a camera.

Were there any interesting incidents while you were shooting?

The scene on a pedestrian bridge when Nakamori loses his sight and the way that Misako looks at him after that was really important, but she [Misaki] couldn’t get the required intensity. It was after midnight and a really cold night, so her emotions had kind of gone flat. I explained its importance and said, “Shouldn’t she be gazing after him?” But she didn’t get it and replied, “According to the script she just says goodbye to him and goes home.” I told her the script doesn’t matter and threw my script off the pedestrian bridge. The crew said the flying script looked like a gull and are still cracking jokes about it.

Radiance features the music of Lebanese-French trumpeter and composer Ibrahim Malaaouf, how did that come about?
My film editor is Lebanese, though he lives in France, and he introduced me to the music of Ibrahim Malaaouf, who he has worked with on one occasion. The trumpet in songs like Beirut is so full of emotion. Ibrahim performed at the closing of Cannes last year and I met him very briefly backstage when I was on the jury for short films.

Nara, where you shot this time, is also your hometown and has played a major role in your filmmaking. What does the place mean to you?

Nara is the oldest town in Japan, where people have lived for more than a thousand years and was where the nation was formed. And that history is treated like it was yesterday — there are annual festivals that have been held continuously for 1,300 years. Those traditions are always passed on from person to person, so it’s like even those who have passed away were just there recently. For me, it’s not just about Nara as it is now, but its past and what it will be in the future, with us an axis for that. 

And you founded a film festival in the city?
We started the Nara International Film Festival in 2010, exactly 1,300 years after Nara became the capital. Launching a new festival in such a historical town was hard going because not many people accepted the idea at first. But gradually people have warmed to the festival, not just the films, but to the interactions with people who come to it from around the world.