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The films of Toyoda Toshiaki are known for their brash and exciting style, laced with acid takes on society.  Returning to the big screen after four years with THE MIRACLE OF CRYBABY SHOTTAN, Director Toyoda shows his quieter, more contemplative side, while letting viewers know that the anarchist in him is not dead. 

At Japan Cuts 2019, he spoke exclusively with LMD about using an ancient game to break down Japanese traditions.

Dig it!



Toyoda Toshiaki


The Lady Miz Diva:  I had no idea about your history as a shogi prodigy.  How much of what we are seeing in the film was based on your own experience?  

Toyoda Toshiaki:  Up until Segawa Shōji leaves the Shorei-kai {shogi training association}, that is very close to my experience, because he and I are the same age.  And so, in that section of the film, there was some of my experience in there, as well.


LMD:  So, being the same age, and as a player, were you aware of Segawa Shōjiís story as it was happening?

TT:  I did not know.  I found out about him when he went from amateur to professional, because it was on the news a lot, and thatís when I first knew about him, and we have a mutual friend.


LMD:  What was it about his story that made you think it would make a good film?

TT:  Regarding him and I, we both went to Shorei-kai, and we both left Shorei-kai.  But with Segawa-sanís character, he challenges again, and goes back to shogi, while I went to a different path after leaving Shorei-kai. 

It made me think, ĎOh, his life could have maybe been mine,í and it made me empathise with him more, and it gave me a lot of curiosity about his life, so, I wanted to shoot something about him.  It was a surprise to me, as well, to see the way he worked.


LMD:  Is this the first time youíve based a story around someoneís life?  Did that alter your approach?

TT:  Yes.  One thing that I think is that a person generally is the one who doesnít understand themselves the most.  Like someone who experiences something, is the person who least understands the situation. 

So, the work for me was to figure out what are the things that Segawa himself didnít capture in his own writing?  If Iím not able to capture something like that -- to capture what really happened -- by capturing what he, himself, may not have figured out, I donít think thereís meaning in doing an adaptation of a real story.

Regarding the films Iíve made, like BLUE SPRING, or HANGING GARDEN, these are adaptations of existing writings, as well.  Even when I approached these, I was also thinking, ĎOkay, what does the person who wrote these things not pick up on?í  If Iím not able to pick up on those things, I donít think thereís meaning in creating films.


LMD:  Was Segawa-san involved in any aspect of the filmmaking, perhaps as a consultant?

TT:  The ways that he was involved in the film was he worked with all the actors to help them with the way they used their fingers and their hands.  The other thing was that he created the pieces that are set on the shogi board.


LMD:  As someone unfamiliar with shogi, I can see it is a cerebral, quiet game.  What was your thinking in how to present it engagingly on a big screen?

TT:  First and foremost, the actors; to me, it was very important how they used their hands with the shogi board.  So, I told all the actors that they had to practice the way they use their hands, because I wanted to make sure that by being able to do that, then the actor and board can become one together, and I think that was most important for me.

But technically speaking, the camera also becomes very important in how we shoot these scenes.  So, my cinematographer, Kasamatsu Norimichi, and I worked hard together.


LMD:  Youíve worked with Kasamatsu-san before, havenít you?

TT:  Yes.  This is the fourth film that Iím working on with him.  Iíve made 10 films, but this is our fourth one together.


LMD:  Because itís based around such a quiet game, I was surprised how much tension built around the act of trying to make Shottan a pro player.  The Japanese are known for being rigid in matters of tradition and form, so it felt like Shottan and his associates were trying to move a mountain by changing the rules.

Was part of the film meant to show that even very strong traditions can be shaken?

TT:  Yes, I believe that we have to continuously work at breaking down old traditions, otherwise, we will become a horrible country.  In fact, we are now a very horrible country.  I had the idea that I was fully committed to trying to break down the Abe government.  After all, he is best friends with Trump. {Laughs}


LMD:  I was very surprised by Kunimura Junís standout performance as Shottanís father.  In the west, we are so used to seeing him play yakuza, or generals, or heavy roles, but I thought he nearly stole the film as this warm, loving dad.  How did you work on that role with him?

TT:  So, Iíve been friends with him for 30 years.  Heís a very kind person.  The real Kunimura is very close to the character he plays here, so I really wanted to show that side of Mr. Kunimura. 

So, right before making this film with him, Mr. Kunimura was making a Korean film; sort of a vampire film called GOKSEONG {THE WAILING} -- we made this film right after that.  He was telling me how bad of a director Na Hong-jin was to him. 

But then, there was the bicycle scene that we have in SHOTTAN, and in taking that scene, I asked him to redo it about 30 times, and because of that, he dislocated his leg.  So, he told me that Iím even worse than the other director.


LMD:  Iím used to your films having great, rock-based soundtracks, but how did you approach scoring a movie where all the action is around a table of tiles?

TT:  I knew that acoustic guitar might be a perfect instrument this film, so I used that, mainly.  I asked musician Terui Toshiyuki to work on this, and so he created some songs, and through editing, I started pasting the music onto the film.  But when I didnít have enough material, I asked him to create more, and for two weeks we went into the studio together to create additional music.  He also did the soundtrack for MONSTERS CLUB.


LMD:  Has Segawa-san seen the film?

TT:  Of course. 


LMD:  And?

TT:  I think itís an interesting experience to have your own life be adapted into a film.  Itís a very special experience, in a way, and so, when he saw the film for the first time, his response wasn't about whether the film was good or bad, he just sort of was lost in the film, as opposed to himself.

But after seeing it a few times, he started to settle down, and calm down a little bit, and now he seems to really like it.  Even today, Segawa-san and the actors in the film, as well as actors who werenít even in the film, are now doing a shogi club together.


LMD:  Do you jump into the club, too?

TT:  Only for the drinking part of it.


LMD:  You mentioned that itís your fourth time working with your DP, this is also your fourth time working with your main actor, Mr. Matsuda.  What made you choose Matsuda Ryuhei to play Segawa?

TT:  Iíve always known that at least once in my life, I had to make a film related to shogi.  And so, in doing this work, I really wanted someone who can feel like they are the reflective side of myself, and so I knew that I wanted to have Matsuda play it, because Iíve been working with him for so long.

He, too, put a lot of effort into this film.  And he even said that this work is the best in his career as an actor..


LMD:  The shogi game is very still, but there is a lot going on under the surface.  Matsuda on film can be very still, but thereís a lot going on under the surface.  I wonder if you see that quality in him, as well, and if that symmetry was part of what made you want to have him for this film?

TT:  Yes, I agree.  He has a face thatís almost like a Noh mask, and I felt that his face was fit for a shogi world.  And also the way he acts, I feel that was a great fit to play a shogi player.  Matsuda is about 180 cm tall, Segawa is also about 180 cm, so when they stand next to each other, they start to look alike, so I thought it was a good choice in that way, as well.


LMD:  Can you tell us a bit about your documentary THE PLANETIST?  Will we see this?  This was your first doc in nearly 20 years.  What inspired this new documentary?

TT:  I actually asked Japan Cuts to screen it this year.  They said no.  So, please say something to them. {Laughs}

After my parents passed away, I really wanted a change in my life.  So, I decided to go to the Ogasawara Islands -- they are often called the Bonin Islands in English.  I wanted to go somewhere that felt like a paradise, to give myself some time to reflect on life, and to reflect on a lot of things, and look back.  So, I was there for four years.

It was amazing to live a life where I got to swim with dolphins every day.  If you swim with dolphins, life will change for you.


LMD:  What is your next project?

TT:  So, Iím still thinking through a lot of things, but Iím starting to think that perhaps I want to move a little bit away from whatís known generally as a Japanese film.  It doesnít necessarily mean that I will shoot outside of Japan, but Iím thinking about making it an international production. 

Iím just starting to think that itís not possible to do things within the Japanese film industry; especially productions that are done through a committee system.  But I did make the 16-minute short using my own money, so perhaps thatís one way I can proceed into the future, as well.


LMD:  Have you considered crowdfunding?

TT:  I donít want to do crowdfunding. {Laughs}


LMD:  The first time we talked, I asked you to give our readers a message, you said ďIíll be back with IíM FLASH next year,Ē and it came true.  The second time we interviewed, you said ďIíll come back with CROWS EXPLODE,Ē and you didnít, that didnít come true. 

Now that you are tied one and one, would you like to try another message or prediction?

TT:  Well, I just made a short film, a 16-minute film called WOLFíS CALLING, and I have that film done.  So, if Japan Cuts calls me again, I can come back.  But, you know, itís a challenging thing to screen a 16-minute film, soÖ  But, in Japan, thereís four theaters that are screening this film for the same price of a feature film, so itís becoming very interesting.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 27th, 2019


Click Here for our Japan Cuts 2012 Exclusive Interview with Toyoda Toshiaki for MONSTERS CLUB.

Click Here for our Japan Cuts 2013 Exclusive Interview with Toyoda Toshiaki for I'M FLASH!



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