Vietnamese director Bui Thac Chuyen waited five years for his lead actress to be ready to star in his latest feature Glorious Ashes, he told Japanese filmmaker Akio Fujimoto at Tokyo International Film Festival today (October 25).
The two were in conversation as part of TIFF’s Lounge talks the day after the world premiere of Bui Thac’s rural drama, which plays in the festival’s Competition section – the first time a Vietnamese film has been selected for the competitive strand.
“When you’re casting, you sometimes have those moments where you feel like it simply has to be this person,” said Bui Thac. “Much like characters are the most important part of screenplays, actors are the most important part of films.”
The Vietnamese director, who previously made Venice award-winning feature Adrift, said he met the actor who plays Glorious Ashes’ lead character Hau, Bao Ngoc Doling, when she was just 13. The film was shot five years later when the actor was the right age for the role.
Fujimoto, whose most recent film Along the Sea featured in TIFF’s World Focus section in 2020, discussed how he travelled to Vietnam to cast his actors and held auditions without making any distinction between professionals and amateurs.
“I don’t worry about whether actors are professionals or not, because everyone in life ‘acts’ from a young age,” said the direct, who splits his time between Japan and Myanmar. “I wasn’t concerned so much with whether they were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at acting, but whether their backgrounds fit the film and whether they felt a strong reason they had to be in it.”
“When I saw your film for the first time, I was surprised to see Vietnamese people appear,” said Bui Thac to Fujimoto, whose Along the Sea is about three Vietnamese women who have moved to Japan to work under the country’s “technical trainee” programme.
“I felt it did a great job of portraying the reality of Vietnamese people living and working in Japan. I’ve always thought that the real lives of people are more interesting than fiction, and your characters felt very real.”
Fujimoto explained that he became interested in the lives of technical trainees and language students in Japan after hearing about incidents of harsh treatment and abuse.
“Some people coming to Japan are treated more like labourers first and human beings second,” said Fujimoto. “My wife, too, came to Japan to work and support her family, so I felt a lot of empathy for such characters.”
Vital, active characters
Fujimoto asked Bui Thac about the process behind adapting Glorious Ashes, which centres on three women in a rural riverside town in Vietnam, from a pair of stories by author Nguyen Ngoc Tu.
“Her stories are always very short, but her words really paint a picture, and her characters are so vital and active. I wanted to keep that essence alive when adapting the stories,” said Bui Thac.
Common ground discovered by the two directors was the importance they place on setting. Both Fujimoto and Bui Thac sent the casts of their films to live in their respective locations prior to filming to generate a more authentic feel.
“I was very lucky in that my actors were willing and even enthusiastic about doing so,” said Bui Thac, adding that some even cancelled other jobs to go spend time on location before the shoot. “I think that’s part of why the film has such vitality.”
In both locations, oceans and rivers play a vital role. in Fujimoto’s Along the Sea, the Vietnamese workers earn their living working at a fishery, while in Glorious Ashes, the characters depend on waterways for transportation and livelihood.
“I really felt the harmony between people and water in your film,” Fujimoto told Bui Thac. “As a Japanese viewer, even, it felt quite universal.”
“Japan and Vietnam are both countries with long coastlines,” agreed Bui Thac. “For me, water is connected to things like love and lust. When you have a problem in life, you can sink into the water and search for the answer, and in doing so, you can discover yourself.”
The two directors finished the discussion by suggesting that they try making films in each other’s respective countries.
“I feel like your films aren’t really bound by things like nationality or borders,” Fujimoto told Bui Thac. “I think if you made a film in Japan, it would really have your distinct voice and be something only you could make.”
Bui Thac returned the compliment and asked Fujimoto to continue introducing Vietnam from fresh points of view.
The TIFF Lounge talk series will continue throughout the festival, which runs until November 2.
Quotes are translated from Japanese. Bui Thac’s quotes were via a Vietnamese-Japanese interpreter.
Source : Screen Daily