Interview Ishii Katshuhito & Asano Tadanobu

Interviews at the Cannes Film Festival never last more than a quarter of an hour. With two interviewees and one interpreter, things are even quicker, all the more so when the two guys are buddies that crack jokes in the middle of the interview, or start rambling conversations in Japanese. Here is an informal chat with two laid-back guys, a small Ishii with a broad smile and a tall handsome long-haired hippy-like Asano.

You have directed three movies together. How did you guys meet ?
Katsuhito Ishii : Six years ago when I shot my first film, Peach… Pink Hip… (the interpreter gets mixed up, everybody laughs) …Girl (Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl), and I asked Mr Asano to get involved. That’s when we met.
And what is this particular movie talking about ?
Katsuhito Ishii : Mr Asano is portraying a yakuza who escapes his clan with 200 million yen. It’s a chase in the mountains. He suddenly runs into a girl who is exploited by her stepfather. They take the road together. It’s adapted from a manga.
A taste of tea tells many stories. What was the original idea ? Was it precisely to tell many stories ?
Katsuhito Ishii : At the very beginning, I thought about short scenes, sketches. One between a grandfather and his granddaughter. And then I figured out if these two characters were there, there needed to be a father and a mother. That’s how the family was born.
Asano’s character listens to stories or tells some. Did you create them together ?
Tadanobu Asano : It came straight from the director’s fancy ; I didn’t take part in the scriptwriting.

Katsuhito Ishii : I first wrote each scene, but then I wanted freedom in the telling, improvisation. Most of the times for Mr Asano, I wrote guidelines, and then he did whatever he wanted.

Tadanobu Asano : I don’t necessarily follow the order of the story. I tell that the way I feel I should.

Is it something you enjoy doing ? Telling stories to children for instance ?
Tadanobu Asano : When a child asks me, I do, but it’s not something I’m particularly fond of.
Which one do you prefer in the movie ?
Tadanobu Asano : There’s a scene where the little girl gets sucked up by a huge sunflower. These are experiences I had already imagined in the past, and I really understand what that little girl must have felt at that moment.

This girl is particularly touching.

Where does this idea of a monstrous double come from ? Is it a fear from childhood ?
Katsuhito Ishii : Three friends of mine have visions. They see ghosts. There’s a fashion designer, her sister, and a production designer. They all tell me the same thing : to know whether someone is a ghost or a person, you need to see them both at the same time to find out that one of them is a ghost. That’s how I got the idea of a very conspicuous double, of a large ghost.
The movie is so imaginative that you wonder if it will ever stop. What kind of limits did you set yourself ?
Katsuhito Ishii : From the writing stage, I tried to find a balance within the film, instinctively.

A Taste Of Tea

Did you direct the animated scene of the movie ?
Katsuhito Ishii : I first drew the story-board, and I left all the animation to Takeshi Koike, who directed one of the Animatrix series. He’s quite famous in Japan.
The style is very similar to Kill Bill’s animation, in which you took part. Did you meet Tarantino on that occasion ?
Katsuhito Ishii : He showed me his script, and asked me to sketch a few characters. I suggested the teenager who eventually became O-Ren Ishi. He liked her a lot.
One question for Mr Asano : you are now shooting with all kinds of directors, sometimes even foreign ones such as Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Hou Hsiao-hsien quite recently. What difference does it make ?
Tadanobu Asano : Not knowing the language on the set was a bit stressful, because you just don’t know what’s going on. When I shoot in Japan, and a technical problem comes up, you understand immediately, the assistant says « there’s a problem with such camera ». But on the set in Thailand, I just couldn’t understand anything, and I couldn’t figure out why things were so slow.
Did you have offers from western directors, since you’re becoming very famous ?
Tadanobu Asano : I’ve had a few offers but none of them was really serious, and it didn’t work out. But I’d like to.
Do you have a new project together ?
Katsuhito Ishii : We’ve just shot a film together. It’s another sketch-movie entitled « Nice Forest ». I’ve just gone through the first editing. It will be interesting for those who enjoy comedies
Will it be even crazier than « A Taste of Tea » ?
Katsuhito Ishii : Yes ; even worse.
Like the scene from « A taste of Tea » where the mother beats up the cartoonist, that kind of unexpected and over-the-top humour ?
Katsuhito Ishii : Yeah, that kind of mood. But there will be three directors, a happy bunch of buddies. There will be madness all over the place. There was a kind of consistency in « A taste of Tea », but that one will barely deserve to be called a picture !
What is Mr Asano’s part ?
Tadanobu Asano : I play a multi-faceted character. I play the guitar and I play tunes to my small brother. Than I work in an anime company, I’m the kind of executive who urges for drawings, and then I teach a kind of tennis, some sport that looks like it… A very complex character !
  • mai 2004