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HIS LOST NAME is the story of a young man whose mysterious presence in a small town engenders willing deceptions, and reveals uncomfortable truths.  

At Japan Cuts 2019, Director Hirose Nanako spoke exclusively with LMD about creating her first feature after years of tutelage under acclaimed filmmaker Kore-eda Hirokazu.

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Hirose Nanako


The Lady Miz Diva:  What was the inspiration for this story?

Hirose Nanako:  I was told by the person I was studying under, my master, to make my first film in my 20s, but then I entered my 30s, and so then I had to really think about what I wanted to make.  The first thing that really came to mind was the fact of how I was feeling in my 20s, and after I graduated university, I had trouble finding a job, and I was definitely feeling these repressed feelings around that time. 

But during that time was also around the time right after the earthquake, and so the social atmosphere -- the air in society -- was very particular.  There were a lot of narratives around, and ideas of working together, as well this word that kept popping up being used a lot, this Japanese word called ďkizuna,Ē which means ďconnections.Ē  That was being used a lot, and I was starting to think that they were really beautifying this idea of human relationships, and so, there were many catchphrases that were coming out that was doing that work, as well as TV shows that made it more pretty than it seemed. 

And so, I wanted to make a film that didnít depict human relations just as a clean thing, but also to show the darkness of human relationships, as well.  So, I wanted to make a film like that.


LMD:  That relates to a question I have about the motivations of the characters.  Was Tetsuroís willingness to accept Shinichi, regardless of what his true story might be, an example of that forced feeling of connection that you just talked about?

HN:  Tetsuroís character, I sort of thought of as a disgruntled character within society.  Then at the beginning, I had Shinichiís character being a character who has to obey that character; but then I knew from the start that I wanted that relationship to flip at some point.


LMD:  Regarding the main character, Shinichi, if he had really wanted to commit suicide, as we see at the beginning, he couldíve just jumped back in the water, or off another bridge in another town.  Instead, he actually tries to make his home right where some traumatic incidents occurred.  What does Shinichi ultimately want? 

HN:  I think fundamentally speaking, perhaps the fact that this character, Shinichi, doesnít necessarily have a sense of self Ė perhaps that kind of emotion is harder to understand, especially perhaps to a western, or US audience.  But I donít think Shinichi is a person who doesnít have a sense of independence; I think thatís something that he really wanted, yet he finds himself in this situation and continues to be in the this situations, but ultimately speaking, I think he wants independence.


LMD:  The main characters seem to be in a ďholding pattern.Ē  They do not move forward; they seem stuck, yet interconnected: For example, Shinichiís inability to move comes from his waiting to find out, 1) what he wants to do, and, 2) if anyone will discover his secret.  Tetsuro cannot move toward commitment and possible happiness with his fiancťe.  She cannot move forward until he gives in.  What does it take for these characters to progress?

HN:  I was actually trying to write the characters to be able to move forward, but then I ended up writing characters that didnít. {Laughs} But I also believe that the time that we spend to try to move forward is just as important, so I wanted to make a film about that time.


LMD:  We viewers must gather much of our information from watching your physical placement of the characters within a scene, as well as studying their faces to intuit their reactions as answers.  Was part of your intention to minimise dialogue and get more of an emotional response from your actors?

HN:  What a great audience! {Laughs} Yes, as much as possible, that is something I was trying to do.  I really wanted to make a film that was expressed through eyes.  And so, there was less {spoken} dialogue, and there was a lot of eye-to-eye dialogue that was happening.  How much of that actually expresses, and doesnít express, or doesnít get communicated through the eyes, is something I was interested in.

In addition, I wanted the camera to also be another set of eyes, or perspective.  And so, at the beginning of the film, you sort of see Shinichi depicted as somebody to be suspicious of, but then he turns out to be a more endearing, or a weaker sort of man, as opposed to Tetsuro, who starts off as being a sort of jovial, nicer character, who turns into somebody who might have a little more violence within him.  That was part of me thinking that, fundamentally, we often just see one side of people; so I wanted to express the narrow perspectives that we might have about people.


LMD:  Youíre asking your actors to generate something from the inside.  Tell us how you collaborated with them to get these emotional, very simmering, under-the-skin performances?

HN:  In terms of bringing out the expression from inside them, I sort of basically left it up to the actors.  What I did try to do was make time for them to be able to do that, and also talk with them as much as possible.  We talked about what kind of situation they were in, what kind of trajectory was behind where they came from?  So, it really boils down to simply those things; these conversations. 

But I do think it is difficult to express something just internally, and so what I tried to do was to include some pressure from the outside to happen to the characters.  For example, in a scene where Yagira-san was on his own, I would move the other people around him to cause a sort of tension, or pressure around, and created that pressure to help him bring out some things.


LMD:  This is an amazing performance by Yagira Yuya.  How did you know he was the right person to achieve this very complex role?  What did he bring to the Shinichi that you did not originally see?

HN:  Of course, Yagira Yuya, is an actor that my teacher, Kore-eda, found.  So, I actually was wary at the beginning because of that reason, and I was wondering whether Yagira was actually good for this role?  But when I was thinking about him, I was inspired to continue writing, so, it helped me to keep writing, when I was thinking about his passion and personality.

As an older person, he has become a person who is not just accepting of things; so, that was something that fascinated me.  And recently, in the films that heís been playing, he has been playing many over-the-top sort of characters, or violent roles in Japanese cinema.  This is the recent image that heís sort of had for himself through his roles, so I wanted to do something that betrays this new kind of image that he was building.


LMD:  You began your film career working with Director Kore-eda Hirokazu, but not in a simple clear-cut role.  Many describe you as an assistant director, but other descriptions make it seem like you were part Girl Friday, part muse, and part sounding board.  It sounds like a very loose and creative atmosphere; is that an accurate way to describe your collaboration?

HN:  I do wonder, as well.  But I do think working with Director Kore-eda; I worked with him from the scripting process all the way to the finishing:  So, throughout the process, my job was really to give my opinions, and that was my role. 

So, itís okay during the scripting process to do that, but on set, when a lot of the staff and people in the crew would really want to continue going, me talking and giving my opinions, sometimes meant that the process would stop -- that everything on set will stop.  So, things would freeze, and because of that I really didnít want to say anything, but given that this was my role, I really had to.  So, I remember feeling -- especially early on -- that it was a very big burden to have to carry.


LMD:  I would think that would also make you stronger and have more conviction in your opinion.  Is that atmosphere of people being free to voice their opinions also what you wanted on your set, now that you are in command of your own production?

HN:  Yes, the experience of working like this really made my heart stronger.  It also gave me more confidence towards my own opinions.  But after working with Kore-eda-san for a while, I started to understand which kind of opinions would get accepted by Kore-eda, and so I also knew which of my ideas may not necessarily be accepted -- and there were ideas that werenít accepted.  But somewhere within me, I still felt that those opinions were right, and so I wanted to keep those things precious within me to understand that certain things that I find right to be important.

Also, on set for my own film, I did have somebody who was less experienced than me to come on set as the assistant to the director, and to also give opinions, as well.  But at the same time, because I, myself, am a new director, people were happy to give a lot of opinions, anyway; also, the actors approached me with their own opinions. 

To sort of answer your earlier question, that I didnít quite answer, Yagira Yuya himself had many ideas, as well, that he brought to the film.  For example, the park scene toward the end of the film, where heís playing on the swing set with the child: That originally had a little bit of dialogue, which was sort of preachy, in a way; he was sort of giving her advice on how best to go forward, but then Yagira-san came up to me, and said, ďMaybe itís better without that dialogue?Ē  That he felt a little bit uncomfortable with that, because up until then, Shinichi and the child had a relationship that was very equal, and so, after hearing that, we ended up discarding that dialogue.


LMD:  Having worked under Kore-edaís tutelage for so long, was there anything that surprised you when making your own feature?

HN:  Up until then, I was always sort of whispering my opinions by his side, so then to realise that, oh, actually I need to be speaking out towards people, that was something that I was feeling all the time. {Laughs}

The other thing was that I realised that I was inexperienced in talking to actors.  So, I didnít realise what kind of preparation they needed in order to be able to act.  I hadnít really been thinking about those things, so when I was directing, that was something that I felt very acutely.


LMD:  Viewers might connect HIS LOST NAME to Kore-edaís common theme of families, and the meaning of family.  This film very much centres around people trying desperately to build their own families, whether real or imagined.  Iím curious whether the background of families just came naturally, having worked in that framework for so long?

HN:  I think I was definitely influenced by these frameworks, but I wasnít necessarily trying to depict a sort of family story.  What I was more interested in was presenting the relationship between self and others.


LMD:  What project is coming up next for you?

HN:  In terms of next projects, Iím still in the process of thinking through what that may be.  But given that this film arrived from the fact that I dug deep into myself; for my next story, I want to imagine others, and be presenting something from the perspective of others.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 23rd, 2019


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Stills Courtesy of His Lost Name Production Committee








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