Just let me know whatever you’d like to ask me.
MF: Sure, I mean, I’m sorry I’m going to start with a very cliché question that’s probably very redundant, but just for people that don’t know much about how the film happened, if you can describe a little bit how the idea for the film came to you. And I know that there was a long process for writing the script and then you had to adjust it slightly in a very short amount of time, so if you can walk us through that process?
H: Sure, so when I- well it really is a long journey to be honest, from the very beginning when I thought of an idea to get to the last moment of you know ‘Here’s the movie!” But in the beginning when I was writing, I was always interested in the sexuality obviously, about female bodies, and how, you know women’s are very suppressed in our country, and also, you know, younger generations have been very distanced in actual relationships. So—because they find more connections through internet, to you know, not even having a real relationship because that would actually help them focus on their careers or their life or what not. So that was kind of just a little spark very early on. So I started interviewing a few people and one of the people that I interviewed was the comic book artist who does adult comic, and in that process I found that a lot of females—there’s a lot of female comic book writer who does adult comic and I thought that was interesting. And from that I got an opportunity to interview Kumashino (Yoshihiko), he was the other guy in the wheel chair, and he was somebody I met five years ago and we became good friends, and you know, in that moment I learned about sexuality and the sexual needs in the disabled community. I don’t like the word disabled so I’ll say differently abled. And I – you know, I grew up in a metal factory. My grandfather owned a metal factory where we made all the little parts in the cars and what not, and I was always, — there was a lot of people with differently abled, you know a person who has no legs, or no fingers, or what not—or cannot hear, were constantly working in the factory so I never thought there’s something different between me and them. We’re just humans with a little bit of different. Um , but then when I came to Tokyo, I realized that I don’t see people with disability in the city, and you know, they have to be somewhere, but they’re just kind of hiding. So I –from meeting Kumashino I learned that – most of the people—it’s really difficult for them to live in Tokyo, so they like to stay inside of the house or, etc. And so then, yeah, just in general I got to learn about the community of people with disability and how challenging certain things can be just to have a regular, you know, normal day time lifestyle. And then, a year would go by, and Kumashino asked me to go on an interviews journey, make a documentary for him, to go an interview all these people with something to do with sexuality and with the differently abled community. And one of the persons that I interviewed was Dr. Cohen who was a sex surrogate, a sex therapist, and also a surrogate for people with disabilities. And I got to talk to her and she was this bright beautiful, smart, 75 year old woman who looks like forty years old, and during that conversation she told me how female body works differently than male’s body. And how a lot of females use their brain in order for me- for them to have orgasm, and etc. And I also learned that the women who are paralyzed can give natural birth. And I thought it was such a beautiful thing, that you know, when you’re paralyzed you can’t feel anything, right? You have to time when you go to the bathroom because you have no urge to want to go to the bathroom. And you are able to do so, you are – even though you are in that physical condition, the human life just comes out naturally, you know, without mother’s help. And it’s almost like the baby’s just like “Alright,I’m ready to get out, so I’m just going to go in” you know? And I thought it was such a beautiful thing how the human body works and the, the precious life we all have. And so that was my—that was, that was one of the things that was so beautiful.
So I came back to Japan, I went back to Japan, cause I’m based in L.A., I went to Japan, whenever I got the opportunity, I start interviewing women with a disability, and thorugh that process I was able to interview you know, parents, from the mother who has kids with a disability to somebody who became paralyzed after their birth, of they were disabled from that moment they were born, and that kind of became the idea for this movie 37 seconds. But my goal was to make a movie about a girl who was trying to find a way to make her life, live the life that she always wanted to do. And she just happens to be in a wheelchair so that was always my kind of goal to make a movie about a girl. And for disability to be part of it. But also in our culture, like in our country, like I said, you don’t see very many people on a wheelchair around the cities, so I also wanted to let people in our country say “Hey, you know, our friends exist, and maybe if you have better understanding, and – you don’t have to help them 24/7, but if it looks like they need some help, it’s ok for you to reach your hands and say “you know I’m here for you to help.” And that was kind of my way of sharing the life of people with disability. And I made a movie.
MF: Yes, we were just talking, because Mexico is similar, and especially Mexico City, even to the point where public transportation is not well-equipped, things that should be adapted for people who are differently abled are not, so in a way your film is breaking a double taboo, one is the visibility of differently abled people, but also, we were just talking of how few films depict differently abled people, but also differently abled people in an erotic context. That’s just—we were talking about the film Touch Me Not, which was in Berlin a few years ago, but it’s really very very rare so it’s exciting that we have your film now. To set the example.
H: I’m glad.
MF: And then, I – how did you find your main actress?
H: Right, Mey (Kayama), so what I did, and you know, when I – literally when I came up with the idea, I just always wanted to reach out to people within the differently abled community because I thought the lead has to be a girl with a disability, otherwise why am I making this movie. You know? And if you can’t find somebody, then maybe the girl doesn’t have to be in a wheelchair, or you know, I was trying to figure it out. But so me and my team, we decided to reach out to about—close to a thousand organizations and facebook groups, to instagrams, to you know, just literally start sending messages saying “we have auditions! It’s an open call! Please share with your friends on your Facebook page, and let your friends know about this” and she found our open call audition ad on Facebook, and she decided to submit her pictures, and yeah, that’s how we found her. Yeah, and she looked—I have to say, you know, I was looking for somebody who was in her early twenties, but the pictures that I saw, she looked like 13, 14 years old. So I was like “argh, she’s too young” but you know, she wants to try it, let’s give it a try. And we basically- whoever wanted to audition, we basically let them come in and no matter what disability that they had, and I always thought, you know if one person doesn’t have a wheelchair, I can make it work, I’m the writer on it so, I saw about 50 people who came to audition through Osaka, Tokyo, Nagoya, and them some of the through Skype we auditioned. Cause some people couldn’t leave the house, and then yeah, there she was. She was the last person to come to audition.
MF: And I was thinking, something that really struck me about the film, is how you remain very faithful to the point of view of someone who has to navigate the world on a wheelchair. You know especially like the nightlife sequences, and I was wondering how having to inhabit that point of view—if that inspired a different approach to the actual filmmaking, like if it changed the dynamic in your crew, and that maybe in adapting to that point of view, you learned new ways of approaching the actual shooting.
H: Yeah, you know while I was looking for the – this is before we start auditioning and what not, I rented a wheelchair from a dear friend, and I went around-I mean this was probably, actually more than that, it was before, a year before I came back to actually start prepping for the movie. First I used my grandma’s old wheelchair, I ran around the city of Osaka—I’m from Osaka so, and then, that didn’t work because one of the tires was broken so, I was like “oh this isn’t working!” And then, so then I had to rent one, and I literally went from Osaka to Tokyo, and then see how it was to be in a wheelchair, you know navigating through the city, and it was very challenging. It was—in Osaka, and you see how people treat you differently. In Osaka, people are very friendly so if you get stuck, within like 30 seconds, you have all these people, from old women to young kids, everybody try to help you, and are like “are you ok?” “I’m ok! Thank you” and everybody helps. But when you go to Tokyo, NOBODY,
H: Everybody just keeps passing you, and I was like “Wow, such a –you know Tokyo is the first capital, and Osaka is the second capital, but how people are – groomed to be different.” And so when I was in Tokyo, I just felt very isolated, even though I was amongst thousands of people on a train, you now sit, and I literally had all these people’s butts and crotches around my face, and if there are too many people around, people look at me like “why are you here?” You know, “you are not being very helpful if you stay here, at least five people can take over your space.” So those things that I kind of experienced in my own way, and when I was writing the script that was very important for me to include that experience, and what it was like, and what is it like to be in the wheelchair going through the city, and also I – you know, when we were actually physically making the movie, we decided to obviously—we wanted to hire somebody who was with a disability and found her, and so we really—took time to make sure we have enough time to shoot. You know, that nothing was back to back, we always give extra time so that she can’t physically feel sickness or stress form the movie, and you know, and then also, again, when we found the house, I was on a wheelchair trying to see what her level, her eye-level is, and what is it to be living in a house in a wheelchair, with or without, so – you know, as a filmmaker it’s important for us to really experience what the lead is going through and that way, your point of view fits her point of view, becomes a reality. Um, but yeah, that was—that was something that I wanted to make sure that the audience can understand. Where she’s coming from, what she sees every day, every moment, and what she’s feeling when her mother pulls her clothes, takes her clothes off, but then slowly, I changed the camera positions, and just slowsly coming either in, so we feel like we’re now with her, experiencing what she’s going through, through the nightlife, to just everything. So the camera position was very important for me to make this movie.
MF: And this is something, maybe it’s my over-interpreting but because- I think you do feel the camera angle, and because she tends to be lower than other people’s eyesight, she constantly has this gaze from above. And I was thinking of the sort of sub-story of the Manga comic, that is about aliens – you know aliens looking down at humans, but that she actually creates this extra point of view, from above, but that is free from the prejudice that people might have about – so I don’t know if that was a related idea, or how that – if you wrote that story as well.
H: Right, so the Manga, I you know, her speech, after she gets drunk and gets on the car, and talks about nonsense, but that was something I always felt as a kid. When I learned about our life, there’s so much more to existence outside of this Earth or your little cocoon that you know, I always felt like oh you know, if there’s Earth, and there’s other planets, there’s gotta be somebody. And you learn about UFO’s and aliens, and etc, and for me I was like alright, whenever I had a hard time, I always thought about it that way- it feels like – “if this feels like such a big deal to me right now, but then if somebody looks at me from above, then this is actually nothing.” So you know, thinking that way, it just made me so much more like “whatever!” you know?
Ever since I was a kid. I don’t think my mom liked that idea, because I wouldn’t do my homeworks
MF: [laughs] Why? It’s irrelevant!
H: Whatever [laughs], I’ll be fine! So, it’s – so that was my idea, so when I was writing a comic idea I wanted her to have that story – you know, that’s something that she believed in, or she wished that would be the case. Because then she can understand why she’s dealing with this just momentary thing. That was part of her escape, so when she wrote the comic, which was way before, the whole monologue in the car, it was something that she always thought about, so I wanted to plant that idea, and this character looking from, again from the space, and it’s different. [Laughs]
I always like something different that people don’t think about. Like that’s something that I like to create. Because, you know, I want to be entertained, and I want to see something crazy as well.
MF: It was fantastic.
H: Yeah, it ‘s kind of a stupid idea as well, but.
MF: No, because the thing that puts humans in their place, is to think about a non-human witness, right? Like, we have to invent something that is looking at us, so that we don’t become complete narcissists and selfish about our world.
MF: And then I guess I just have one more question, because you obviously had the experience of showing the film to audiences at a couple of festivals, and is there something that you discovered about your own film looking at it through all these other audiences’ eyes? Or maybe some unexpected reactions that made you look at your own film differently?
H: Well, let’s see, I – -you know, I was surprised that, wherever – I mean we showed everywhere, we started in Berlin, and we went to Egypt to you know Canada, Toronto, so many different places. But we got the same reactions pretty much in all places, everybody laughed at the same place, and everybody cried at the same place, and you know, depending on how connected you are to the material, people start crying after 20 minutes and they don’t stop to, you know, somebody who is discovering the disabled community, differently abled community, was always wow wow wow. So I think- what I , I guess the part that I was more surprised was that people are more discovering about the community, much more than I originally anticipated. Because like I said, I grew up in a with the people in a disabled, differently abled community, and had a lot of friends who where autistic, and I always thought they were so special and so cute, so I you know, I loved spending time with them. And then—but then a lot of people, especially in my country, didn’t know much about it, even though our country is so small. So when I look at some of the reviews, and people are critical—talking about the movie, I’m really pleased that the people are learning about the community to you know, the sexual needs, to you know, many people and women in general, so, that’s something. But you know, I think we’re pretty good. I mean there’s a lot that happened in the shoot. You know the movie, the script has tighten up quite a bit. We – our original script had much more information, backstory of the you know Mey character, or the caretaker, and we had a little bit of backstory for all of them. But then when we shot and we put all the, everything together, the first cut was about three hours long.
So we were like ‘alright, we have to shorten it up somehow.’ And you know part of it is that Mey, the lead actress, she speaks very gently, and there’s a pace that we wanted to have to follow. And that was a big part of it, but I really wanted to respect the way she talked, and I didn’t want to rush through anything, so we took out some of the moments that didn’t really have to be. I needed her to just get on this journey and then just take her to where she needed to go. And some parts people say like “oh it feels like a fantasy, cause you know she wants to go to Thailand, and there she is.” You know, it’s like “oh my god, it’s so sudden!” And, you know, I really thought through that part too, and how we could make it work. And we thought about—for the longest time we were trying to figure out how to do a transition through animation. You know, Mey, the lead girl gets on this spaceship and goes into this journey and etc. But after we did that we were like “do we need this?”, is it kind of – it felt so much more stronger if you just let her get on a plane and go, and it may not be realistic, but also my message to the people in the wheelchair, and you know, in the differently abled community, was “if you can get help you can go to those places, and you could ask for help, and all you have to do is just ask.” Right? And that was kind of something that I wanted to share, even though you go to these places in Thailand, where you can’t go anywhere without people’s help because the roads are like crazy, and rocky, and same thing with Mexico right? But then, when you go to the places like that, all you have to do is ask for help, and people are there to help. You know, it’s very different in Tokyo, Tokyo is perfect, but then, because it’s perfect, it’s hard to ask for help.
H: So you know, when we’re in Thailand, if you just ask for somebody ‘Hey can you help me?” Five or six people come, and you can cross the train track easily, or things like that. So that was kind of my way of sharing that experience from her eyes. And just tell people, you know, you can do whatever you want, you just have to ask for help.
AH: Exactly, it was really beautiful, how the movie also give us power to be more independent, to believe in our own dreams, there is also the relationship between her and the mother that is depicted also in 37 seconds, I would also say that it’s—tender but also very intimate the way you portray the relationship, because you can understand the mother but you also need the freedom that the character also asks for. How was directing both of them, and the intimacy that you could create?
H: Yeah, you know, it was, for the longest time it was like “who’s story is this?” Obviously it’s the main character’s Yuma (Mey), but then there’s the mother who’s inseparable, you know, and that’s something that I learned from interviewing mothers who have daughters and children with a disability, and because when they are born- -if they are born, I learn that the mothers are very much more protective because some of them feel like it’s their fault, because if the kids are with cerebral palsy, or certain things at the – had difficulties at their birth, you know, the mother always thinks it’s her fault, and it’s not, it’s just life happens, and that’s something that I wanted to – you know, a message to the mother, “it’s not your fault, it’s ok to let go your daughter or son, because they need a space to grow, and if you’re there 24/7 you think they need you, sometimes they don’t need your help, you know? And let them play, let them explore their lives”. And so, I was – in editing too, even, we really tried to figure out what’s the perfect balance so that we can understand where she’s coming from, but also understand where she’s coming from, I think there is a – I mean we could’ve made it even crazier, but I think that what we did was enough. To show how caring the mother is, but again, it’s interesting because I hear from a friend, you know, the audience from Japan, to Africa, Ehthiopia, to you know in Mexico, to all other places, they said, “I have no disability whatsoever in me, but my mother was exactly like that!”
AH: Exactly [laughs]
H: A lot of people can related to her role, and perspective, and her life. And you know, I think at one point, a mother just has to let go the kids, and let them take care of you! If I had kids, I’d be like, take care of me!” [laughs]
H: So that was kind of again, you know, regardless if the girl had this disability or not, I wanted to create this story, that is—yeah, it’s all, it’s just human nature, how some people are a certain way, and some people are not, so yeah.
H: It was fun, it was fun, it was a lot of fun. It was challenging at times, but I think we came up with some great results.
AH: As you were saying, it’s something universal, it’s something you identify with – different disabilities or not, it’s a mother that you can recognize and in that way, you also learn from her.
H: That’s right, that’s right.
AH: Thank you very much, we will edit the audio and we will do a text, and send it to you for approval, to publish it, probably at the end of this week, we will try to publish it also.
H: Sounds great, well thank you so much you guys, it was great.
MF: Thank you, and hope to see your future films. You should send them to us.
H: Yes, I will, I’m working on it right now. I’m in the process of writing, so hopefully something good will come up.
AH: And your short film, we haven’t seen it- -the one that was in Guanajuato, it would be great to see it.
H: Yeah! I’d be happy, I have about four short films, that I can share that too. But one of them was in Guanajuato, yeah I’ll send it to you, I’ll share all the links with you guys.
H: Thank you guys!
AH: Have a good day.
H: Stay safe!
AH: You too! Stay safe! Very nice to meet you! Bye!