IN a revealing interview with Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge, actress Shuna Iijima opens up about the emotional extremes she pushed herself to for her award-winning role in Anshul Chauhan’s Bad Poetry Tokyo.
The film, which has been called a ‘flawless’ debut feature from Chauhan, tells the story of a woman, named Jun (Iijima), who escapes abuse and exploitation in the city to return to her quiet hometown. Yet, as Jun soon discovers, the darkness and trauma of her past is not easily left behind.
UK audiences will have the chance to witness Shuna’s breathtaking performance when the film screens as part of the Raindance Film Festival in October.
Q: We witness a violent outburst from your character Jun in the trailer. How physically and mentally was this demanding role?
A: IT was a very challenging role for me. Jun experiences different types of violence throughout the story. Physical violence, yes, but more mental violence. Any violence easily haunts a person – and that could be for a lifetime. Jun already had that experience before, and through the story she experiences more. It doesn’t stop haunting her even though she tries to stay strong and struggles alone to get away from it. She’s gone so far, she doesn’t even know where she’s going. That state of mind was extreme and a challenging role for me to play.
Because Anshul, the director, made this story and the character, I had to understand him first in order to understand Jun. We talked a lot, sometimes about the character but mostly about ourselves. It was a very interesting process for me.
As it was my first time in this kind of role, I felt a lot of pressure as a lead character. He often told me I have to better than ever before, as I was leading the film and also had to maintain my stronger screen presence in front of all the other talented actors.
On set it was made sure that I was isolated from the other cast and crew. So I was very chaotic and in a crazed state of mind while shooting. I guess it was all because he wanted Jun in a certain way as a character, to be strong enough that nobody could beat her up mentally and physically. I remember becoming stronger and some sort of aggressive feeling in me all the time. Having that feeling was important to me to play the role.
As he tried his best to keep me in the world of the film, I could channel all my energy and thoughts in one direction which made Jun and Bad Poetry Tokyo what it is today. I’m thankful to Anshul for his huge support.
Q: I imagine cutting your hair for the role added another layer to this transformation. Is that true?
A: HAIR style affects acting. I had a different feelings when I had long hair and then when it got shorter. Somehow when I think about Jun, she always has short hair.
Q: What was it about the character of Jun that resonated with you?
A: WHILE I was reading the script, I felt her constant scream. She was hurt, confused and doubtful. Jun was struggling so much to get out but she doesn’t know how and where to go. It was honest and direct. I fell in love with her.
Q: Your performance has drawn many plaudits, including Best Actress at Osaka Asian Film Festival. Does this feel like a particularly important and special role in you career?
A: YES. I didn’t expect to win the award. It was a big surprise for me because I’m not a confident actor yet. But I’m truly honoured and happy to know my acting moved someone’s heart. I couldn’t have achieved what I did without support from everyone in the team. They are all talented and great people.
Being involved in this film sort of made clear to me what kind of path I want to take as an actress. So it may take time but hopefully I can keep going.
Q: You had worked with director Anshul Chauhan before on the short film Kawaguchi 4256. Did that familiarity help coming into such an intense role?
A: YES. Actually that short film was my audition for this feature film.
Q: This is Anshul’s first feature. What more can you tell us about the way he works and his style?
A: I think he likes to hear opinions from the actors about their characters and story. On set, he lets actors move as they want first and then decides how the camera will move. Not much instructions for movement. Sometimes he added new scenes or changed while shooting. I think he likes the whole process to be open and ready to react to artistic accidents.
In this film, all the characters are struggling with something. And sometimes he created that atmosphere on purpose, to pull out what he wanted from cast and crew. I learned how important it is to have trust with the director. If you trust the director, you can let yourself fall in anywhere. I really enjoyed the shoot.
Q: A few other cast members from Kawaguchi 4256 return for Bad Poetry Tokyo. Can you tell us about working with them?
A: WORKING with Takashi Kawaguchi (Yuki) and Orson Mochizuki (Taka) was good. Not only are they are talented actors, but also both of them are warm-hearted people. I felt that they could accept anything I would do during the shoot.
Takashi was trained in stage acting and I felt his personality had similarities to Yuki’s – soft and generous. He was natural while acting and even though I got a little bit aggressive and selfish, even off-camera, he softened me. I think most of the audience will love his character.
Orson has a mysterious atmosphere. He is also a trained actor and fun to work with. I like that he has something stable inside him, some sort of strength, because then you feel safe when working together.
Q: I was intrigued to learn you trained as an actor in London. How did that experience shape you as an actress and a person?
A: TO be honest, I am not sure how that experience affected me as an actress. Maybe I became more interested in working on films overseas. But as a person, it affected me hugely. I mean the time I spent in UK, the people I shared time with there, shaped how I am now.
Q: What is the current landscape like in Japanese indie cinema?
A: I haven’t seen many Japanese indie films these days but from what I saw or heard, I can say they try to make challenging and original works.
Q: Do you have plans for return to the UK or Europe to act?
A: AT the moment, I have not found the way but I’m keeping it in mind. At least I want to work more for overseas productions, especially European films. Or any countries I haven’t worked in yet.
Q: This is a very bold and brave role to take on. Is this a sign of the type of challenging roles you want to take on in the future?
A: I like this type of challenging role. But I love to play various roles so any type genre is great for me as long as the character has a challenging or interesting journey.
Q: Finally, please tell UK audiences why then should go and see Bad Poetry Tokyo at Raindance Film Festival?
A: IN my opinion, I think this film chooses its audience. Some don’t understand or don’t like it at all. But for those who like the film, it stays in them for long time. Some people went to the director after screening and thanked him for making this film.
A film like ours is badly needed in present day world, which acts like a mirror for society to see themselves in. It will leave an impact on people for sure. This is not something which takes you to a happy beautiful fantasy world. It is bold and raw, but also pure and honest. Full of life in every moment.
The film has been screened in festivals around the world. And we get various opinions. Slemani International Film Festival in Iraq mentioned ours as “the most important film of our era”. I am looking forward to hearing how people in the UK feel after watching it.
Bad Poetry Tokyo will screen at Raindance Film Festival on 4 & 6 October
BAD POETRY TOKYO
Director: Anshul Chauhan
Writer: Anshul Chauhan, Rand Colter
Cinematographer: Max Golomidov
Sound: Rob Mayes
1st AD: Mina Moteki
1st AC: Zip King