Eindhoven | 13 Oct. 2018

During CinemAsia On Tour Eindhoven: Taiwan Focus edition, I interviewed Jay Chern whose debut film “Omotenashi” 盛情款待 |おもてなしscreened on Saturday 13 Oct. For the review of the film click here.

About the film’s production

Where did the inspiration for “Omotenashi” come from?

My cowriter Mami Sunada gave me the idea of “Omotenashi”, this project came about first with the chance to work with Shochiku Studio and doing a co-production, so I discussed this opportunity with Mami Sunada who is a director of the wonderful documentary “Ending Note and The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness” (about Miyazaki/Ghibli) which I had the chance to shoot for her. She thought the idea of “Omotenashi” would be fun and interesting because that term, even for Japanese is hard to understand, so for someone who isn’t Japanese, probably even more difficult. Which led to more discussion about differences in culture, language, generational gaps, etc and slowly through that process, this end result of the film came about.

“Omotenashi” is a co-production between Japan & Taiwan, how was it to work together in a foreign country?

Luckily, I’ve shot in Japan a lot, so I was comfortable with it, but the most difficult thing was time because everything needed to be translated, between Japan, Taiwan, and American crew. Everything needs more time to discuss and get right. Even the simple things took at a minimum double the amount of time. Then if there was a different point of view or different ideas that needed to be discussed and decided upon fast… it was a headache, because it was never fast!

How long did the whole production of “Omotenashi” take?

Well, we shot like 26 days or so in Japan and then about a week in Taiwan. It was very rushed to us. It was only a total of 30-something days to finish shooting and the actual post-production took about a year. Pre-production was a bit rushed, from script to shooting it was approximately 8 months.

Omotenashi
Omotenashi’s main characters

 

About the film (*spoiler alert!*)

Just out of curiosity, why did you cast Kyōko Kagawa, the legendary actress known for her works with Ozu?

Kagawa_Kyoko_1954
By 朝日新聞社 (『アサヒグラフ』 1954年6月2日号) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Kyōko Kagawa was last minute as in: Would Kyōko Kagawa play that role? When we finished the script, there was just one scene where we wanted the actors to go to this master/mistress of the ryokan. We knew that whoever plays that character has to feel experienced and look experienced. At that time, I was pretty lucky, as one of our executive producers Yukie Kito-san (she produced “Tokyo Sonata” and another first-time director for “Oh, Lucy!” the Japanese-American production). Kito-san helps Kagawa-san and she thought that it would be a great idea if I’d ask her myself. So, I’ve got to “pitch” my idea of the scene, where this character teaches the essence of omotenashi but doesn’t.

In the film, Chun-Yao Yao’s character, Bohao, the otaku guy, points out that Kyōko Kagawa looks like a character from the Ozu films. Why did you incorporate that into the script?

We thought it would be fun. When we wrote it on the script, we thought it would be a little bit “meta”, for the people who know who she is. Everyone was hesitating to do that, but I thought that since Bohao is saying it, and he really loves that culture, it would be completely out of respect, funny and endearing. He was saying that she looks like a character out of an Ozu film because of her complexity, her depth, her manners, and her complete sophistication.

While filming or during the whole process, do you remember any memorable thing that happened?

With Kagawa-san. It just happened to be the last day of shooting. It had snowed a few days before, but not that day. In that sense, the omens felt good.

The only thing that I found interesting later on, is that she told me that when we were shooting, she was actually very nervous. I couldn’t believe it, because she worked with Mizoguchi, Kurosawa, with everyone! Why would she be nervous? And she said the reason is that from of all of her years of shooting Japanese films this was the first time of shooting without rehearsing. Usually, in Japanese films, they rehearse, rehearse, and then shoot, but the way I shoot generally is without rehearsing. And she said she had fun. I am happy that she did. I thought it was a good experience for the actors, as they have the opportunity to learn from her and for us too [the crew]. It was fun.

“I realized that I shouldn’t be in front of the camera, but instead I should be behind the camera.”

About the director’s background

And now a little bit about you, if you don’t mind. You have done many things, such as being an online entrepreneur, playing the violin, and studied computer science before going into filmmaking. How was the change and what made you decide on filmmaking?

Many people are interested in films when they are young but for me, for example, I never went to the movie theatre. My parents never took me there, and I didn’t have a relationship with movies other than VHS. It wasn’t until high school or late middle school when I actually went to a movie theatre for the first time. I had no family member who was in the field of arts or entertainment, but luckily I did grow up with music. Once I went to college I was going to study music at first, but then my father was against it, so I tried to do a “normal” job. I studied computer science, worked in IT and tried to open up my own company. At the same time, I did work in design and programming (that was in early 2000). For some reason, I just wanted to go into arts. I thought of going back into music and I started taking composing, animation and visual classes (that was when the film was going into digital).

And then, accidentally, I took this acting class. It was an acting class for TV films and I thought it was more about theory, but I was wrong. It was an acting class. I could enrol in this class because of a glitch in the system. I had no background in drama while my classmates were 3rd and 4th-year drama students. The teacher let me stay, but I was a terrible actor. So, she suggested shooting for them. I’ve got to shoot all the projects with all the actors and I worked with them, and that was fun. When they shot, I realized that I shouldn’t be in front of the camera, but instead I should be behind the camera.

That was the moment for you to switch?

No, but I tried to. Some directors even though they might not be good actors but they go through the acting process and they know how to work with the actors. I tried to take a couple of acting classes and I did some auditions so I would know how nerve-racking that is.

When you cast all the people you don’t dismiss that [nervousness] either and try to bring the best out of them instead of saying that they suck. Which some casting directors do because they don’t want to waste time. But at the same time, I think the casting process is a time to find something unique. Everyone has the stereotype of what a character should be, maybe that’s the easiest way and the fasted way to get to your goal, but maybe that’s not the most interesting character. Through doing so you can find ways to push the boundaries. Even if a person seems wrong for a character, maybe that’s the person who you should be looking for or it should be what’s forcing you to think about your character a little bit different. Just like my teacher at that time, I wasn’t supposed to be in that class, she let me anyways.

“If you can face it in a positive way, you can survive longer.”

What would you say to a person who is hesitating between two things or is trying to go another stage in their lives?

I think that you should definitely search for what is the core of why you want to change. That it’s not an easy question or answer. I was worried about that too, but I thought that I had enough reasons to feel that I gravitate towards films, as it seems to be a natural progression of me growing up. I always thought that you had to be bold and not worry about what other people think.

When I finally did go into film, a lot of my classmates, even though they knew about filmmaking or they thought their dream was to be in this industry from a young age, they felt miserable doing it and they stopped. I think it depends on the person. Ask yourself: are you actually having fun doing this? That should be your main question. No matter what type of art you do, whether is painting or photography, it is never easy. And it is never easy to create something that can impact and entertain people while some others trash your work. If you can face it in a positive way, you can survive longer.

Jay Chern during CinemAsia's Q&A
Jay Chern during CinemAsia’s Q&A. Photo by Armando Ello for CinemAsia.

About the future

What’s next?

Truthfully, I don’t know. I know that this film was very different from my short film, which was about two thieves and a night market, and it had a very different energy. Some time ago, I had the chance of shooting the Miyazaki documentary, and I like when he says that he always wants to surpass the audience’s expectations. If the audience think they are going to do something like this, they do something different. I didn’t want to do the same. My film was quieter and you can say is more subtle, maybe my next one is not. Before I did this project, I was already writing another idea. It was about gaming culture because I did professional gaming. It still might be a coming-of-age story and it might deal with technology and how we have to deal with technology in the future.

Biography Jay Chern

In 2006, Jay Chern graduated summa cum laude from the film program at the University of Texas at Arlington. In 2007, he returned to Taipei to become reacquainted with a culture he had long forgotten. He was accepted to the directing program at Taipei National University of the Arts, Graduate School of Filmmaking. In Taiwan, he has crewed on many award-winning films and is proficient not only as a director but also as a cinematographer, lighting director, editor and assistant director. In 2011-2012, he directed and shot his thesis short “Thief,” which won Best Short Film at Golden Horse Awards, Best Director at Golden Bell Awards, Best Asian Short at Tokyo’s Short Shorts Film Festival. In 2014, he wrote, directed and shot his first 90min feature “Dawn/Spring,” which was nominated for Six Golden Bell Awards. “Omotenashi is his latest feature work, which won the award at Hong Kong HAF 2017.

 

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Jay Chern at CinemAsia On Tour. Photo by Armando Ello for CinemAsia.
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