Nakamura introduces 'Stranger' at Pusan


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TOKYO -- Mayu Nakamura may be Japanese, but she sees her homeland through a different lens. After attending a boarding school in rural England and universities in both London and New York, it is perhaps not surprising that she sometimes feels like a stranger when she is in Tokyo.

The benefit to her cultural detachment is that she is able to make an outsider's film with an insider's grasp of a country that still frequently defies understanding.

Nakamura's first short film, "Calling," won a Golden Remi Award at the 2004 Houston International Film Festival, the Cine Gold Eagle Award and was screened at short film festivals around the world. "The Summer of Stickleback" was her first feature movie project and premiered at the 2006 Pusan International Film Festival before being released in Japan in the fall.

This year, she is back and seeking funding for her next project, "Intimate Stranger," at the Pusan Promotional Plan.

"It is set in Tokyo and is a love story between a young Chinese immigrant and a Japanese woman whose son has committed suicide, and is based on genuine people," 34-year-old Nakamura said. Using both languages, Nakamura said she can start filming "within a couple of months" and believes the subject matter will appeal to a wider Asian and European market.

"One of the reasons why I changed the setting of the original story from the U.S. to Japan is because it seems to be easier to raise money here for domestic films, but also there are a lot of Asian immigrants who come to Japan as students and end up staying, but there is also a lot of friction between them and the rest of society," she said.

"There is a lot of focus in the media on illegal Chinese immigrants who commit crimes and I've met a lot of Chinese who live here and want to be portrayed as they really are," she said. "I had similar problems in London and New York. It can be very tough in those cities for people from China, the Philippines or other Asian countries."

The element of suicide in the tale that she has written is a major topic in Japan at the moment, with the suicide rate stuck stubbornly above the 30,000-a-year level, she points out.

"People don't want to talk about it, even when so many people are dying every year," she said. "On top of that, there's a social pressure to keep a suicide within the family a secret from other people because of the stigma, so think of all the families who are living with this trauma.

"Since coming back to Japan, I see people reading the paper on the train and they're just numb to the facts," she said.

Investors have proved a "little bit wary" of the project because of the subject material, Nakamura admitted, but she believes the story has not been told before and is confident it will find a backer.

"I look at a lot of Japanese films and festivals and I think they are becoming more inward-looking and have less interest in what's going on in the rest of the world," she said. "Post 9-11, other countries are making a lot of political and social films and I don't think Japan has woken up to the fact that it is becoming isolated in the world.

"When we look at our neighbors, such as China, we find that we don't really know them at all," she said.

Nakamura, a graduate of the film school at New York University, has meetings scheduled with a number of producers and distributors in Pusan, but would ideally like to work with a Chinese partner to attract Chinese actors to the title.

"I'm very grateful they have invited me to come back again this year and that they have this special interest in promoting young film-makers," she said. "I'm excited about the possibility of making a film that crosses borders and isn't limited by language or social issues."