Japanese short film offers a glimpse into an unknown world
By Cheryl Minns, Arts Editor
Creating a Japanese short film without knowing the language is an ambitious project, but Vancouver filmmaker Jody Wilson knew that Indigo, the story of a young man who struggles to follow what he believes is his intergalactic destiny, had to be told in Japanese.
“It was a unique experience that I thoroughly enjoyed and I think, in the end, it worked out well,” she said, adding that a translator was with her on the set to help ease the language barrier. “When the actors would be delivering lines, that part was actually really cool to direct. It allowed me to pay closer attention to the performance and to the way I felt when the lines were given and ignore the words that were being said.”
In the film, lead character Takumi has suffered a great deal in his life, having lost his parents at a young age and been diagnosed by various doctors with mental and social disorders. He lives as a recluse in Kushiro, Japan, spending his days training himself physically and mentally under the instruction of his toy robot Doka, which tells him he is a prince on an alien world. The two eventually work out when the mothership should arrive to take them back home, except Takumi who is obsessed with his earthly neighbour, Yoshimi, wants to take her with him.
“The idea came from having sympathetic feelings towards someone whom society tells us not to, and wondering what is truly going on in that person’s head, how he viewed himself, his goals and motivation. The story came to life around the characters,” Wilson said.
“I think in some ways I relate most to the main character Takumi. He’s a gentle and misunderstood soul who is desperately in love. I think a lot of people can relate to that,” she said.
Actor Kohei Shinozaki, who plays Takumi, joined the cast at the end of September after the crew searched Canada and Japan for an actor who would fit the role, finally discovering Shinozaki in Vancouver.
“I’m basically different from my character Takumi, but we have something in common between us, like getting absorbed in one thing. There is also something immature about us,” said Shinozaki, whose primary language is Japanese.
Regarding the slight language barrier, Wilson said, “I had an amazing liaison, Yumi Nagashima, who would explain everything I said to Kohei to him again in Japanese just to make sure he understood all the subtleties in my direction, especially with emotional words that don’t directly translate to Japanese.”
Professional model Elizabeth Davison, who plays Yoshimi, was discovered for the part when Wilson found a photo of the New Westminster resident on Instagram.
“We discussed the film and the role of Yoshimi. Jody felt I was right for the role, so here we are,” Davison said. “I’m just so grateful I was given this opportunity.”
Yoshimi is a sweet, fun-loving teenager who lives next door to Takumi. Although she is popular, she is somewhat of an outsider in the film, which Davison could relate to her own past experiences.
“I moved around with my family a lot when I was young, so that feeling of being ‘the odd one out’ wasn’t unfamiliar to me,” she said. “I think that made me stronger though. I had to learn to trust myself within that newness.”
Yoshimi is seen in different styles in the film, from her interactions with Takumi in the real world to the hallucinations and dreams that Takumi has of her. Because of the differences in her character’s behaviour in the real world compared to Takumi’s imagination, Wilson and Davison view the non-reality versions of Yoshimi as a separate character altogether.
“There are a few scenes that Yoshimi is in as a projection of herself from Takumi’s head. When directing Elizabeth, we would refer to her as Ishimi, because it wasn’t really Yoshimi—she acted in a way that she wouldn’t. We even changed her makeup and wardrobe to be what Takumi would see her in,” Wilson said.
“In one scene, visions of Yoshimi are tormenting Takumi while he is working out in the forest. The intensity of the scene comes through a confrontation, a mocking of sorts, and ends in a scream,” Davison said, describing one of her favourite scenes. “I found that really challenging. Trusting yourself as an actor enough to express intense emotion is a strangely personal experience. It is freeing somehow. I felt barriers breaking down and felt almost liberated by that scene.”
Indigo finished shooting its first round of filming during the end of October in the Lower Mainland, including New Westminster. After some additional shoots, the film will be ready for a rough edit, which Wilson will take to Los Angeles for editing, then back to Vancouver for sound design, music composition, and visual effects, including the animation of the computer-generated toy robot.
“When the film is complete, we will be submitting it to all the big festivals in hopes that it’s selected to premiere at either TIFF, Cannes, or NY Film Festival. After it makes its rounds on the festival circuit, it will be available to watch online,” she said.
To help fund Indigo, Wilson created a Kickstarter campaign in September to raise $60,000 to cover the movie’s costs. The campaign began with a slow start, raising a few thousand dollars here and there, but made an astonishing homerun when it reached the funding goal in its last two hours on October 6 with $60,140 from 148 backers.
“The 25 days during the Kickstarter campaign were pretty intense, especially in the final hours,” Wilson said. “We continued in pre-production as though we were going to get the money—there was no Plan B. I think that was the key to success: the mix of the pressure and the positive intentions made the money come through.”
The campaign included 10 donation levels that people could choose from, ranging from $10 to $8,000, with different rewards for each level. The rewards included smaller gifts such as digital copies of the Indigo graphic novel or the Indigo film, as well as once-in-a-lifetime opportunities such as a set visit or private screening with cast and crew for the higher donation levels.
“I can’t thank the backers enough,” Wilson said. “I look forward to presenting this film to all of them, as it’s truly their film too.”
One of the campaign backers, Vancouver filmmaker Kashif Pasta, commented on the Kickstarter page why he supported the film: “I recently met some of the producers and key crew and honestly this is shaping up to be an incredibly fun and immersive film. I’m backing just to see these visuals realized, not to mention supporting Vancouver filmmakers and more on-screen diversity in general.”
The film began as six stories written by Wilson, which were adapted into a screenplay as well as a graphic novel. The novel was offered as part of the Kickstarter campaign and is currently in production. Wilson is working with a layout artist on the novel’s formatting and then will add dialogue and narration. The illustrations are done by David Dennis, an illustrator and storyboard artist from New York.
“The graphic novel was illustrated to a much earlier draft of the script, so the story is pretty different than the film, which I think is cool,” Wilson said.
What makes the film and graphic novel particularly noteworthy is that Wilson not only captured the mind of a misunderstood individual but the mind of someone with a different gender and cultural background than hers, being a woman originally from Jasper, Alberta.
“Jody wrote from the perspective of a man and I think that is an incredible accomplishment for a woman to do in any form. She also wrote from the perspective and culture of a Japanese male,” Davison said.
“Jody made Takumi real and relatable, not scary or weird. The story is written emphasizing love and desire, and how wrapped up and powerful all those elements are within the mind of someone who isn’t always in touch with reality. The fantasy, space, sci-fi twist is super interesting,” she said.
“I really wanted to paint a picture, almost a colourful picture, of someone’s world that they’re living in that the rest of the world will never see,” Wilson said in her Kickstarter video.
“You can see something beautiful in Takumi’s obsession for Yoshimi,” Shinozaki said. “I believe it comes from Takumi’s pure heart.”
To learn more about Indigo, check out the official website at iheartyoshimi.com