Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa Talks Horror and Facing Fear

(Photo: ©FILM-IN-EVOLUTION – LES PRODUCTIONS BALTHAZAR – FRAKAS PRODUCTIONS – LFDLPA Japan Film Partners – ARTE France Cinéma)

Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa first made a name for himself internationally during the J-horror renaissance that began in the late 90s. Terrifying audiences with movies like “Cure”, “Charisma” and “Pulse”, he was lauded by the critics and garnered a cult following around the globe.

The Kobe-born filmmaker has since gone on to create a wide variety of movies ranging from family tearjerkers such as “Tokyo Sonata” to black comedies like “Doppelgänger,” yet it’s his ghost and horror films that still create the biggest buzz amongst fans of Asian cinema.

Following on from “Journey to the Shore” and “Creepy,” Kurosawa’s latest effort is a haunting love story set in France entitled “Daguerreotype” (Le Secret de la Chambre Noire). It’s the 61 year old’s debut French language film and his first time to shoot outside of Japan with a foreign crew.

Set in an eerie, dilapidated house on the outskirts of Paris, it’s not a full-blown horror flick, but like many of Kurosawa’s films it does you leave you on edge throughout. As the title suggests the story centers around one of the earliest forms of still photography – the daguerreotype, which, according to nineteenth century superstition was believed to grant eternal afterlife to the people it captured on film.

Still in mourning following the death of his wife, reclusive photographer Stephane (played by Belgian actor Olivier Gourmet) uses his daughter Marie (Constance Rousseau) as a model for a series of daguerreotype shots that require the subject to remain motionless for extended periods. He employs a young assistant named Jean (played by one of France’s most in-demand actors Tahar Rahim), who falls in love with Marie after she asks him to help her escape from the clutches of her father. The young assistant becomes increasingly disturbed by the extreme photo shoots and the seemingly haunted house. It all leads to a shocking climax.

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Copyright ©2016 TIFF

The hypnotic tale was shown at this week’s Tokyo International Film Festival and after the screening Weekender sat down with Kurosawa for a brief chat.

Firstly how did this project come about? I wrote the script around twenty years ago and it was initially picked up by a British producer. For whatever reason it didn’t end up happening so I just forgot about it. Then a few years ago I was approached by someone in France who was looking for something original that could be filmed abroad so I showed him this one.

Did you then adapt the script for a French audience? Well the original idea was to make a pure horror movie that was really scary. At the time there was a lot of overseas interest in that kind of film from Japan so we thought it would do well in the UK. Actually the character of Jean didn’t love Marie back then; his only interest was getting his hands on the property. After it was decided that filming would take place in France we felt we should change it to bring that romantic element into the story.

What was it like filming in France? Did you have any difficulties? Not really. I don’t speak French at all so we had to do everything through an interpreter, but that was actually a really smooth process. I was able to communicate what I wanted as all the staff were really committed and professional. It was interesting – in private French people would usually be delayed, 30 minutes late to meet at a restaurant for example, but when it came to filming they would be there half an hour early, ready to go. I’m lucky to have had the chance to have worked there.

Do you think a movie like this could have been made in Japan? I think it would be difficult, especially when you consider budgets and box office sales. These days in Japan producers aren’t really looking for original scripts. They are interested in films based on manga stories or novels as they tend to attract more customers here. It wouldn’t be impossible to make a movie like this in Japan, but I do think it would be very hard.

In recent years you seem to have returned to the horror genre that made you a household name. Was that a conscious decision? No it’s purely a coincidence as I don’t like to make the same kind of movies over and over. I prefer to have variety in my work. It just so happens that “Journey to the Shore” was my previous film. In truth I think it would be very difficult for a Japanese filmmaker to stick to just one genre. I do love horror and suspense, but I don’t want to always do the same kind of thing.

Finally is there anything that scares you? My biggest fear is not having any ideas. That is something that really scares me. You can read books and other materials to help, but without that original spark you can’t begin the journey. You just always hope that something will come to mind enabling you to make that next movie.

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