A dreamy chat with Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa

By Tay Yek KeakMovies - 28 November 2013 12:00 AM | Updated 29 November 2013

A dreamy chat with Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa is so noted for his horror thrillers that one of them, ‘Pulse’ (2001), was remade into an American chiller of the same name in 2006 (starring Kristen Bell) and spawned two subsequent sequels.

‘Pulse’, written by Kurosawa himself, was a computer scare flick about ghostly spirits invading Earth through the internet.

The 58-year-old director (not related to the late Japanese cinema giant, Akira Kurosawa) started out directing Japanese adult movies and low-budget video films before studying filmmaking in the United States at a mature age.  

His films are often marked by a sparse, central mystery that viewers may find strange and puzzling.  

The nearest equivalent to describe his movies would be the films of a director such as Stanley Kubrick, although Kurosawa himself acknowledges more readily the influences of crusty old-school action directors Don Siegel (’Dirty Harry’) and Sam Peckinpah (‘The Wild Bunch’) along with horror-meister Tobe Hooper (director of 1974’s original ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’).

Kurosawa continued his horror trend with ‘Loft’ (2005) – about a spook in a suburban house – and ‘Retribution’ (2006), a bewildering chiller about a ghost that instigates a string of murders.  

Then, suddenly, in 2008, the director co-wrote and directed ‘Tokyo Sonata’, an unflinchingly stark drama about a fired Tokyo salaryman and his family, which ranks as possibly the best film about a relentlessly distancing and unforgiving modern Japan in a long while.

It’s still not enough exploration for Kurosawa though.

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A still from 'Real'

His latest film, ‘Real’ – based on the novel, ‘A Perfect Day For A Plesiosaur’ by Rokuro Inui – tackles a new genre: science fiction.  

Or to be more precise, sci-fi mixed with a psychological drama and a dose of fantasy.

Two lovers, Koichi (Takeru Satoh) and Atsumi (Haruka Ayase), enter into each other’s dreams to try to unravel the central mystery in their past which prevents them from waking up.

Somehow, an ancient plesiosaur (a dinosaur from the sea) pops up.

What does it all mean?  

It means that no matter what cinematic genre Kurosawa is adopting, he remains a director who always keeps his viewers guessing and thinking and feeling singularly fascinated, but somewhat puzzled.  

In a Skype interview with inSing, he tells us about getting real with his new film, which is now showing in cinemas.

‘Real’ is based on the novel by Rokuro Inui. Why did you decide to turn it into a film?

I’m very interested in stories that probe into the subconscious of people.  The human mind is the ultimate mystery because when you delve into it, you’ll make a lot of discoveries.

I wanted to film this novel so that I could find and explore the mysterious and unseen things that people store deep inside their minds. So deep that they might even forget about them.

Our dark secret, it’s there in our subconscious.  But we don’t know it’s there.

It focuses on a man who goes into the dreams of his comatose girlfriend, to try to wake her up. Is it about the connection between people through the elements of illusion and memory?

You’re correct to say that it’s about the connection between illusion and memory.  Actually, in the novel, it’s more about the distance between two persons – the unreachable, unbridgeable chasm.

I try to portray this in the movie, in the way the distance is going further and further between them in their minds. In their hearts though, both characters became closer through hope and determination. At its centre, I would say that ‘Real’, despite its sci-fi setup in a research facility, is a love story. 

'Real' trailer

What is it about the dark side of human nature that fascinates you so much?

I’m not just interested only in horror. I’m more universal than that. I’m interested in exploring what people are thinking about inside their minds and what they are truly feeling inside their hearts. That’s why this story in ‘Real’ suited me so much. 

I want to know all sides of the mind – happy, dark and anything in between.  I want to unveil what we’re really thinking about. The truth. That’s not just the dark side.

Yes, we have plenty of dark inside us. But we have a lot of happiness too.  My movies are not all dark, you know. Sometimes, people do laugh in them.

The story starts off as a dream-reality psychological mystery before turning more into a fantasy adventure with the appearance of the plesiosaur. Do you think audiences, especially non-Japanese ones, will understand this change in direction? 

The film does make a change as the plot shifts in a different direction. It’s the nature of the story. There are different elements at play in the progression of the story.

Yup. There's even a dinosaur in 'Real'

I’m not sure how the audience will react or how much they’ll understand. But for the main part where one partner is concerned about the other so much as to enter his or her mind, I’m sure the audience will understand this level of care and concern. It’s a very human thing. A very human feeling. Everybody understands this kind of love. 

What are your own dreams like? 

Haha. My dreams are not interesting at all. They are very boring. Most of my dreams, at least the ones which I can remember, are about how I’m going to shoot my films. A nightmare would be discovering that the script is blank. What should I do? I might wake up in a cold sweat. So it’s more real than being a sweet dream. My dreams are so realistic and so mundane as to be not even categorised as dreams.

Your last three films are very different in genre. ‘Retribution’ (2006) – horror. ‘Tokyo Sonata’ (2008)  – family drama. ‘Real’ – sci fi.  How do you decide which genre to do and are we right in assuming that your favourite is still horror? 

I like horror. The dark side of individuals is a fascinating thing to explore. But horror isn’t everything. It works only when there are other sides to the human condition. So I’m up to look at other genres too. I want to try other things I haven’t done before.  It’s a new challenge for me, like the realistic drama in ‘Tokyo Sonata’. Although I like horror the most, I don’t want to neglect anything I might try in future.

Your 2001 cult classic, ‘Pulse’, about ghosts coming into our world via the internet, was remade into an American version. Will you make a movie in Hollywood?

I didn’t know ‘Pulse’ was remade into an American movie. I haven’t seen it but I’m flattered. I have no plans make a film in America yet. But, like every director everywhere, of course it’s my dream to make a Hollywood movie. One day, perhaps. 

'Pulse' trailer

Tell us about ‘1905’, the big historical Sino-Japanese film you’ve planned with Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Shota Matsuda and pop star Atsuko Maeda in the cast. Will it be made?

That film, that idea and that hope was stopped even before anything could be done. It was stopped by political problems. There is nothing I can do.  

But if there’s a chance in future when everybody – all the cast, crew and everyone who loves it – could come together and proceed, of course I would very much wish to complete the film. It is a project very close to my heart. But it all depends on the political situation between China and Japan.

'Real' is now showing in cinemas