Category : Fiction
Filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa is most recently the co-writer and director of Tokyo Sonata, a film that played the New York Film Festival and that will be released by Regent Releasing in the United States on March 17, 2009. For more information on this extraordinary film, please see our review.
We also wish to express our many thanks to translator Linda Hoaglund, who assisted us during the course of this interview.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Voiceless, per the requirements of a sonata.
Subjects Discussed: Delving into the issue of whether or not contemporary Tokyo is now a city without a voice, collaborating with screenwriter Max Mannix, Ozu’s trains, crossing the axis, the noisy train behind the family house, characters pretending to be employed, the artistic blood within the family line, pretending as a coping mechanism, pretending to pretend to pretend, whether or not the idea of being adult involves accepting a false allegation, weapons of mass destruction, the relationship between authority and active behavior from subordinates, framing characters so that the audience doesn’t see a phone call, blocking actors so that they walk in very precise lines, the Tokyo organization men, showing more ancillary characters, the human infrastructure of Tokyo, using a pen as a microphone, symbolism, cleaning fluid and specialization, and the dramatic presentation of conformity.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: You have this train running behind the Sasaki home. And this suggested to me, along with the fact that you cut this film frequently crossing the axis in the editing — crossing the 180 line — it almost suggests an Ozu parody. Or the kind of movie that Ozu would have made if he were to live in our particular times. And I wanted to ask you how this visual style originated, as well as the subway line.
Kurosawa: (through translator) Yes, Ozu was the name I was most dreading hearing, if only because I’m such a huge maniacal fan of him. I really tried to shut him out of my brain. But I guess subconsciously a little bit of his influence remained.
Correspondent: Back to this notion. Ozu was not a part of developing this script? The subway line, I didn’t get an answer for the train behind the house. And I’m very curious about that. Because it very much reminded me of Ozu’s trains.
Kurosawa: (through translator) Actually, that train and the proximity to the house of the Sasakis was not in the script at all. It wasn’t intentional. As I wandered around Tokyo looking for the right home for the Sasaki family, there happened to be a train track next to that particular house.
Charlie Kaufman recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #243. Kaufman is most recently the writer-director of Synecdoche, New York, now playing in limited theaters.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Lost in the endless ebb and flow of emotional and cerebral ideas.
Guest: Charlie Kaufman
Subjects Discussed: Mr. Kaufman confronting more energy than he is accustomed to, whether or not Mr. Kaufman is an idea man, Mr. Kaufman’s slow conceptual process, exploring the possibilities of an idea peer review process for Mr. Kaufman, whether an idea can be emotional, what Mr. Kaufman has to do to impress our interviewer and the audience, how Mr. Kaufman changes, the issues that arise from Mr. Kaufman’s experiences, coming closer to a complete resolution of the world, shots of clocks in Synecdoche, New York, misunderstandings from Hollywood journalists, initial assemblies, how time seems to speed up as Mr. Kaufman gets older, walking by a clock that was a piece of graffiti on the wall, Caden and his colors, how Mr. Kaufman talks with the costume designer, whether or not clothes are comfortable on Philip Seymour Hoffman, Beckett’s Act Without Words, Mr. Kaufman trying to get closer to who he is, trying to avoid copying presentations of relationships from movies, Death of a Salesman, The Trial, literary influences, Equus, Proust, near literalisms, writing the Harold Pinter scene when revising the screenplay, and verifying real world headlines through the act of writing.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: It’s safe to say that you are an idea man. So I must ask you: to what degree do you worry about an idea? Does your mind brim with more ideas — even correct ideas — than you can possibly use? Are you thinking of ideas right now? Is there a slight sense of panic with any idea? What is your idea of ideas?
Kaufman: Well, this whole question is based on the premise that I am an idea man, which I’m not sure that I agree with.
Kaufman: So I’m trying to break down what you asked me. And I don’t know. How am I an idea man? To turn this around. On you, Ed.
Correspondent: Well, I would argue that this film is laced with endless ideas meshing against each other.
Kaufman: Yes, it has a lot of ideas. But the ideas came over a two-year period, as I wrote the script. It’s not that I was furiously — like you or your girlfriend — furiously writing 700 pages in two days so that you could read it two days later. I mean, it’s slow. And sometimes it doesn’t happen at all for long periods of time.
Correspondent: So it’s the impression, I suppose, of being an idea man based on the final output here.
Kaufman: It’s not like it happens in real time. It’s not like there’s a two-hour movie and I wrote it in two hours.
Correspondent: Okay, well then let’s turn that…
Kaufman: I mean, I think you thought that before.
Correspondent: Oh certainly!
Kaufman: But it’s not true.
Correspondent: Let’s talk about it.
Kaufman: Let’s turn it around.
Correspondent: Okay. What is the actual ratio of you coming up with an idea? Is it one idea every 2.2 days? What’s the deal?
Kaufman: I would say that…(to himself) you figure two years….maybe it’s an idea a week.
Correspondent: And you have to determine whether…
Kaufman: And this is terribly disappointing for you.
Correspondent: Oh no! It’s actually quite interesting! I’m wondering. Do you have a certain….? Over the course of a week, do you determine whether that idea is correct in association with another idea? Is there kind of an idea peer review process that you run across in your mind? I mean, what’s the situation here?
Kaufman: There is no correct for ideas. Ideas are ideas. And if they’re interesting to me, they’re interesting to me. You know, I don’t know what an idea is actually. I think I think more in terms of emotions than ideas, although there are conceptual things that I utilize. Conceptual things that are devices or that are interesting to me. But the meat of the work for me is the emotional aspect of it. And I don’t know if you would consider those ideas or…
Correspondent: I think an emotional idea is nevertheless an idea.
Kaufman: Okay, then I…
Correspondent: You’re assuming that an idea is based entirely on cerebral terms. And I don’t think that’s necessarily the case.
Kaufman: Well, it may just be more the way that you’re presenting it. It feels….when you talk about ideas, and how many ideas you come up with, blah blah blah.
Correspondent: We’re presenting it in statistical data, yeah. (laughs)
Kaufman: It feels very cerebral.
Kaufman: And scientific. And so yes, I have emotional ideas.
Pale Young Gentlemen is a band from Madison, Wisconsin that is currently touring across the United States, and has just released its second album, Black Forest (tra la la).
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Contending with unexpected discrimination during the economic crisis.
Guest: Michael Reisenauer (of Pale Young Gentlemen)
Subjects Discussed: The benefits of “Pale Young Gentlemen” as a collective noun, musical arrangement and incorporating all members of the band into a song, input on specific sounds, divine acts of percussive serendipity, the troubling connections between the lyrics of “Our History” and the relationship between the Reisenauer brothers, observing strangers who are hit by cars, Beau Sorenson’s involvement, taking time off work to write music, balancing multiple forms of employment, the band acquiring a full string quartet, the cabaret-based music of the first album vs. the string-based approach of the second, the pros and cons of taking music seriously, mixing an album in two weeks, playing with seven members vs. touring with five, Ray Davies, being specific about falsettos and slurring vocals, word mashups, vocal sweetening, Billy Joel’s AutoTuning at the Super Bowl, Bret Randall, Jackie, touring and recognition, the ratio between writing music and performing, selling CDs, relying on word-of-mouth and the Internet, and having Matthew Reisenauer handle the business end of things.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Reisenauer: We’ll actually write through entire songs and entire arrangements, and then cast them away and then start over.
Reisenauer: That happened a lot with this album. As the songs started fitting together, certain things didn’t work at all anymore, didn’t work for the mood of the entire album anymore. So we had to change the arrangement so it fit better. Drums are one of the things that I have absolutely no knowledge about.
Correspondent: So you defer to Matt.
Reisenauer: I can’t play them. So he’ll play things. And he’ll do things. “Don’t do that anymore.” “That’s bad.” “That’s great.” Or “do that again.” You know, that kind of stuff.
Correspondent: I’m curious. Do you have any input on specific sounds? Or is that all Matthew? I note, for example, there’s that sound during “The Crook of My Good Arm,” where you have something that sounds between a cowbell and a gas station bell.
Reisenauer: Yeah, I can tell you what that is. I was having trouble with that song, and so I decided I’d just demo it in my apartment on an eight-track. So I just had the guitar line. And I was just messing around. And I was headed at a table. And at the table was a Pottery Barn-like fruit bowl. And so I just took the end of a handle on some scissors and banged on the inside of it.
Reisenauer: We used that on the record too. We brought that bowl into the studio.
Correspondent: It was that bowl.
Reisenauer: With the back of the scissors.
Correspondent: Did you try any other bowls out?
Reisenauer: No! It was the perfect sound right away.
Correspondent: It was one bowl and it worked out.
Reisenauer: Yeah, we didn’t mess with it at all.
Correspondent: Are there any other percussive scenarios like that? Where you banged on something and it turned out to be just that particular one? A divine act of serendipity?
Reisenauer: (laughs) Nothing like that on the album. We tried other various things. Matt had an idea for a song using a wrench. A ratchet wrench going KWHLEKT. Like that. That kind of stuff. But it didn’t end up fitting well for the album.
Jerzy Skolimowski is a filmmaker, and is most recently the director of Four Nights with Anna, which is currently playing at the New York Film Festival.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Waiting for the fifth night.
Guest: Jerzy Skolimowski
Subjects Discussed: Moonlighting (1982), starting from a home to get the lay of the land, the importance of place, how location dictates character motivations, Bruce Hodsdon’s observations about Skolimowski’s objective-subjective dialectic, the importance of story, Leon’s movement in Four Nights with Anna, using sparse dialogue, sticking with the script vs. accidental improvisation, how one of Anna’s reactions originated from an unexpected problem with noisy boots, inserting moments of sympathy for Leon and cleaning Leon’s image, the film’s flashbacks/flash forwards, dead cows floating in the river, decorating Anna’s room, artificial waterfalls, explaining the seventeen-year gap between Ferdyduke and Four Nights with Anna, Skolimowski’s problems with Ferdyduke, the pursuit for artistic satisfaction, Skolimowski’s career as a painter, acting as “easy money,” observing KGB agents and White Nights, collaborating with Polanski on the Knife in the Water script, Skolimowski’s early efforts at poetry, dialogue getting in the way of the visuals, the relationship between political tension in Poland and Skolimowski’s art, and the problems of thinking about money when pursuing art.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Skolimowski: For me, the most important thing is the story. I’m telling the story. And I’m not speculating on what it means more than it is. It’s a story. And of course, one can always find some additional interpretation and some theoretical sightseeing into it.
Correspondent: But I’m wondering if you’re perhaps being a little disingenuous here with your answer. After all, there is this chronicle with the ring. Which, of course, made me think logically of the old Jewish tale of putting the ring on the corpse and the like. And here you have it in reverse. And here Leon actually uses this as a kind of code with which to act and use his severance pay on purchasing a new particular ring. And so I’m wondering, when you think about a situation involving a ring, I mean, clearly that is a symbol. So it’s not entirely just basic storytelling, I would think.
Skolimowski: But to me, it is a basic story. And I don’t treat it as a symbol at all. Because logically this ring belongs into the story. He buys this ring for a specific purpose. He executes that purpose. And again, if that means something more, fine. It’s the benefit of it.
Correspondent: This is where audiences come in. You essentially exculpate yourself from responsibility for symbolism and critical analysis and things like this.
Skolimowski: I rather do. Because I think, once again, I have to say the story is the most important. Everything else is just, you know, how would I describe it? It’s….
Correspondent: The additional icing on the cake, I suppose.
Skolimowski: Exactly! Those are the words.
Correspondent: Okay. Fair enough. Well, let’s talk about Leon’s movement. I was really fascinated by it. Because he constantly circles around people. He’s clumsy. He slips in the mud. And again, I was rather taken with a larger allegorical meaning of what this particular movement might mean. Because it’s definitely misfit-like movement from him. And I’m wondering how this came about and how this emerged.
Skolimowski: When I was writing this story, I thought that the character should have a specific complex. That he should be extremely withdrawn and shy. And to manifest it, the best way — as you probably noticed, there’s very little dialogue in the movie. So he is practically not saying anything. He’s got maybe three dozen words through the whole film. But physically, he has to present that character which I wanted to create. So I thought that his walk should be kind of specific. And therefore when I choose the actor, I put some heavy stuff into his boots. I put some lead so each of his boots were like five kilograms heavy. Therefore, he had to walk like this natural.
Correspondent: That explains it. Did he slip because of this? Or was that planned? I’m sure.
Skolimowski: No, the slips were done for purpose. Because I need some light moments. You know, it’s a very gloomy story, and I didn’t want to have the audience be sad all the time. So I purposely planted those moments where one can laugh or at least smile, and have a little bit of relaxation from that tragedy. Because this is a tragic story. Tragic love.
(For related information about the film, here’s our review of Four Nights with Anna.)