We catch up with a Japanese filmmaker who is crowdfunding a groundbreaking feature film set mostly in Liberia.

By Mike Sullivan

Takeshi Fukunaga grew up in Hokkaido in a town called Date-Shi and as a teenager studied film in New York. Since completing his studies he has continued to live in New York and has directed many music videos as well as a few short movies. His work has won or been nominated for awards, and his work on a documentary for Etsy was nominated for best documentary series by Vimeo. Called The Sword Maker, it features Korehira Watanabe—one of the last sword makers in Japan. Since 2013 he has been working on his first feature movie, Out of My Hand.

When we talk about how different people get into filmmaking he is very clear about what his motivation was. He says he was inspired to pursue a career in the industry because of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick: “It blew my mind when I saw it for the first time, and the impact it had back then stayed deep inside of me.” While it doesn’t feature moody atmospherics in outer space, The Sword Maker is his stand-out work to date. As it turns out there was a special connection for him with the film: “the main subject of that documentary, Watanabe, is actually a friend of my father’s and this means I have known him since I was a child.” The film is an inspirational look at the deep traditions that still exist in Japan, following Watanabe as he practices generations-old techniques. Fukunaga says that he didn’t truly appreciate Japanese crafts until he began living abroad, but since then he has really developed admiration and respect for them.

Handmade Portraits: The Sword Maker from Etsy on Vimeo.

In 2013 he was in Liberia with his team to start work on his first feature movie—it’s only the second narrative feature film ever shot in Liberia by a foreign film crew, and the first to be made in association with the Liberia Movie Union, which is an affiliation of the Liberian government. In brief, he describes the plot as being “about a Liberian rubber plantation worker who risks everything to discover a new life as a cab driver in New York.” He has released a teaser trailer which belies the fact that this movie is being made on a small budget, thanks in part to the passion and intensity from his actors. Takeshi and his team did auditions in Liberia and saw hundreds of people before selecting their cast, adding that “we cast some non-actors for some of the smaller roles, they brought a naturalistic tone to the movie and I was glad that I made this choice.”


Director Takeshi Fukunaga on set in Liberia

Just over two-thirds of the movie was shot in Liberia, but the final section will be done in New York and currently Fukunaga is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to complete the movie. He explains that the campaign has been going well: “It’s now been over three weeks since the Kickstarter campaign was launched, and we have received such overwhelming support. Recently we have reached over $15,000, but there is still a long way to go to reach the goal of $35,000. We would like to invite everybody to be a part of this project through Kickstarter!”

You can see the teaser trailer for this movie and the Kickstarter campaign here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1918454328/out-of-my-hand-narrative-feature-film-liberia-new

Takeshi Fukunaga, Out of My Hand, The Sword Maker