“Little Kyota Neon Hood” is a wonderful short film about a little boy living in Japan who always wears his bright green hood to protect him. When his favorite teacher, a man from Scotland, returns to his town his spirits are risen. Writer/director Satsuki Okawa is able to capture a very specific feeling in Japan with her storytelling. We were able to talk to Satsuki about creating that cultural vibe as well as working with a young child actor.
Heartland Film Festival: I think it is safe to say that Kaede Tsuchiya is one the most adorable actors in this year’s festival. How did you meet him and what was it like to work with him to get such an endearing performance?
Satsuki: Oh thanks! Our Kaede would really love to hear that. I’ll let him know.
The search for Kyota was the biggest quest for us during the pre-production. We auditioned many kids both non-actors and professionals. Kaede came to our attention from a small child actors’ agency. When I saw his headshot, I wasn’t so keen to call him in. I didn’t think he’d fit my idea for Kyota. But, since we’re having hard time finding the right boy, I decided to audition him at the last minute. Thank god we did!
The moment he came into the room with his western boots on, I knew he was the one. He had the right look, and a great sensibility to act. And, most importantly, he looked so cute in that hood!
Directing him was great fun as well. Looking back, I think getting through the first day was very crucial. Although Kaede had some experience with acting previously, it was still the first main role that he got. Understandably, he was quite overwhelmed when we did the first scene. It was where his on-screen mom tries to take his hood off and it wasn’t quite working. I knew that I had to make him relax somehow. So I spoke to his real mom and found out Kaede loves a Walmart-like supermarket called “Don Quxiote”. She said he’d get to go there after the shoot as there was a gigantic one nearby our hotel.
I went back to Kaede and told him “If you can nail this scene, you’re one step closer to Don Quixote.” And that made him smile. After that, it all went really easy. I’d refer what Kyota feels in the scenes to how much Kaede wants to go to that store. Kaede would nail the scenes one after another. He’s the real deal. In the end, Don Quixote became our magic word to make everyone relax and smile. We owe them for that.
Heartland Film Festival: One of the key characters is played by a Scottish actor, Andy Dow. How fluent are you with English? Was it difficult to direct someone who wasn’t native to Japan, especially for this story?
Satsuki: Actually, I used to live in Scotland for a long time so I didn’t have much difficulty directing Andy. He’s such an amazing actor. We’re so lucky to find him. Before the shoot, I gave him a task that was so important to make the film work. It was to become friends with Kaede on and off set. What I needed was to build up the chemistry between Kyota and Tim. Andy completed the task so beautifully and they became such great friends. You can tell from watching the film.
Kaede loved Andy! His mom told me that Kaede started taking English classes right after we wrapped. He wants to be able to speak to Andy in English. I think that’s so cute.
Heartland Film Festival: Kyota wears his neon hood throughout the film and the only person who comments on it is Tim. Was that intentional, to let this attire and his fear be something that not talked about?
Satsuki: Yes, it was. What I really wanted to achieve with this film was to portrait how people in Japan coping with post-disaster life in various ways. We’re all very concerned about another big disaster strike and we’ve lived under fear in the past 18 months . The bad thing is that we have no power over this to make it stop, so people tend to suppress their feelings like the characters in the film. I was hoping that our film could provide some opportunities to talk about how we feel and share that with the rest of the world. I felt that latter would be told more efficiently through Tim’s experience because sometimes it helps to see things from the outside.
One of my best friends in Tokyo who has a small child told me after seeing the film that “she was relieved”. That really made my day.
Heartland Film Festival: What are some of your past projects and are you working on anything new?
Satsuki: “Little Kyota” is my fifth film. I did my MFA at Columbia University and my thesis film called “Tidy Up” did OK on the film festival circuit. It caught the attention from the people who funded “Little Kyota”.
And yes! I’m in a pre-production for my new short film which is for an organization called the Japanese Professional Football League (J-League). The film is to be released in May 2013 as a J-league’s 20 years anniversary project. Kyota” brought me an opportunity to make another film and that’s absolutely fantastic.
Heartland Film Festival: What are some moving films that have inspired you as a filmmaker?
Satsuki: I love the detective film series by Kon Ichikawa in 70’s, Hal Hartley’s films from 90’s, Toto The Hero by Jaco Van Dormael, the most of Milos Forman’s works and Sweet Sixteen by Ken Loach for a balance between realism and humor.
You can purchase tickets for “Little Kyota Neon Hood” which will play in the shorts program “Children Around the World” for the following days…
– Sunday, October 21 at 12 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
– Monday, October 22 at 1:45 p.m. at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12
– Wednesday, October 24 at 5 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
– Thursday, October 25 at 9 p.m. at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12
Interview conducted by Austin Lugar