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66 min. Japanese.

16-year-old Amiko is convinced that “the Japanese are unable to dance spontaneously.” She’s just tried it out herself, with some strangers in a Tokyo underground passage. Believing that she’s had more than her fair share of days where she’d do absolutely anything, she’s left behind the provincial city of Nagano to head to the capital and take her heartthrob Aomi to task. A year before, she took a long winter’s walk with him and thought she’d met her soulmate, someone else like her who wonders in which phase of life there’s actually room for being happy. But then he disappeared, headed for Tokyo, together with Amiko’s nemesis Miyako of all people, the very “epitome of mass culture”, quite unlike her anti-bourgeois and wildly romantic self.
As far as creativity and playful levity are concerned, the invigorating directorial debut by 20-year-old Yoko Yamanaka need fear no comparisons. The recalcitrant Amiko could easily be a distant relative of Louis Malle’s Zazie dans le métro. Yet the imaginative and insolent film equally breathes the increasingly rare rebellious spirit of the 1980s “Hachimiri” movement. (Christoph Terhechte)

Yoko Yamanaka was born in Nagano, Japan in 1997. She began studying film at Nippon University’s College of Art, but dropped out after six months. Amiko is her first feature film.

Obsessive thinking

I have always been a thinker. At the age of six, I ate dinner with my parents while I wondered whether they still loved each other or not. Thinking never came out of joy; it had always been something that I did without choice. Everything that happened around me spoke to me, and thoughts constantly swirled around in my head. There was nothing I could do to stop it.
Many wonders in this world provide no answers; that is the inevitable and widely known truth. But even though I knew this, I could never not think, and it was almost like a curse. I naturally began seeking comfort in books, and it wasn’t long before I became a fantasist. And from my junior year in high school when I truly delved into film, my future had been set. The first film that my art teacher introduced to me was Alejandro Jodorowsky’s LA MONTAÑA SAGRADA.
The curse was not lifted even after I left my boring hometown in Nagano and moved to Tokyo.
In fact, it almost felt like it had become more powerful and binding. Two months after I started film school, I went back home to Nagano and told my mother that I wanted to quit. Half a year later, I stopped going altogether. I slept through the day and woke at night, everything I ate would taste like ash because it was all crappy food from convenience stores, and all I had left were miserable feelings piling up day by day with no way to get away. Those kinds of days made me walk around Tokyo throughout the night. Some days I would stop and realise that I had walked over six miles. And after one year of this, I eventually became lonely.
I had the impulse to create a film that I would not be able to make on my own, something that would force me to involve other people. That was how AMIKO began. All I had were a few of my friends as my crew, and a cameraman that I had met on Twitter. I found both of my lead actors online as well. Since I did not have anyone I could rely on at school, we were unable to borrow the appropriate equipment, but high picture quality did not matter to me. Feelings die and are renewed every single day. I knew that if I could recreate all of those moments into my work, it would be enough. My helpless nature in not being able to stop thinking ended up becoming my friend during the making of this film.
Amiko probably does not know what it is that she wants. But one thing that is for certain is that she is a helpless romantic, and the same is true of myself. Life is probably about choosing what you want and doing whatever you can to obtain it, but I could never stand a lifestyle following that kind of routine. And that is why Amiko continues to do unpredictable, wild, crazy things... in search of a new kind of ‘romanticism’. (Yoko Yamanaka)

Conversation with Yoko Yamanaka: “Creating a film is about facing the person that you are”

Gabriela Seidel-Hollaender: You are one of the youngest directors to ever show a film in the Forum. You studied art, but then decided to stop and turn towards filmmaking. AMIKO is you first film. Is there a connection between your artwork and the film?

Yoko Yamanaka: I drew a lot from a young age, and teachers and my parents would always compliment me. But after I realised that there were pieces that they praised and pieces that they didn’t praise, I began to intentionally draw the kinds of pieces that I knew they would like. I purposely drew childish pieces in elementary school and drew detailed sketches in middle school; I lost originality. It became exhausting because I did not know what I actually wanted to draw, so I quit before starting high school. I feel that in AMIKO, although it includes a couple of references to other films, I was able to create what I really wanted to create without worrying about anyone else’s expectations.

Watching your film, we get the impression of a very playful approach to genres. AMIKO is a melange of drama and comedy with even a musical, choreographed part. What was your original approach when you started writing the screenplay?

What I originally had in mind was a calmer, quieter story with less dialogue. However, once I began writing, I realised that it was easier for me to write from the main character’s point of view. Watching films like Claude Chabrol’s UNE AFFAIRE DE FEMMES makes me think about cases where humour can be more effective in an otherwise serious plot.

How did you work on the script? Did you plan every scene precisely or was there room for improvisation with the actors?

I wrote most of the story in two or three days. The last few scenes after Amiko gets to Tokyo was where I stalled and couldn’t finish the story. So some parts of the script after Amiko’s arrival in Tokyo was improvisation. For example, the scene where Amiko is screaming with the mad man was something that we came up with right then and there.

Your protagonist is an impulsive young girl who goes far to find out about her feelings and the reasons why her love is not reciprocated the way she believed it was. Is there a real person that inspired this character? And how did you choose your actors?

There is no model for this main character, but if I were to refer to someone it would be myself. There is a part of me in Amiko, and although I will age and grow and slowly change, I want to keep her in my heart and remember that there was a part of me that was like her.
The most important thing to me when choosing my actors is their eyes. I searched for someone with a piercing look in their eyes online. I looked through about a hundred Instagram and Twitter accounts, and the two actors in my film are the ones that I finally found.

What is your idea of filmmaking in general; how would you phrase your credo?

This question made me think about my credo for the very first time. It makes me want to say something impressive, but I haven’t prepared anything, and I don’t think I have really thought about it yet. But when creating a film, I never feel the need to do something impressive. I think that creating a film is about accepting your imperfect self and facing the person that you are.

Are there filmmakers who especially influenced or impressed you, and is there someone who really formed your way of approaching film?

My high school art teacher was the one to introduce me to films like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s LA MONTAÑA SAGRADA and Peter Greenaway’s A ZED AND TWO NOUGHTS. Since I had been watching films with happy endings and widely recognised classics until then, it was an eye-opening experience that made me realise that anything could be done in film.

What where the production conditions of AMIKO like?

I hadn’t spent time planning on the making of this film, and since it was such a sudden project, we did not have enough people. Even on our best days it was just five or six people. In the end, I held the camera myself and it was just me, the sound recordist and Amiko. We did not have much money either, so we didn’t have any proper equipment. We used my friend’s single-lens reflex camera that was worth about 500 dollars. It took 2,500 dollars to make this film, but 500 dollars out of the 2,500 dollars was how much it took to fix the car that I crashed when we went to Nagano to shoot the film. 

(Interview: Gabriela Seidel-Hollaender, January 2018)

Written and directed by Yoko Yamanaka. Director of photography Asuka Kato, Yoko Yamanaka. Editing Yoko Yamanaka. Music Shotaro Ohori. Sound Yurie Okazaki. Production design Yoko Yamanaka. With Aira Sunohara (Amiko), Hiroto Oshita (Aomi), Maiko Mineo (Kanako), Ayu Hasegawa (Mizuki), Miayu Hirowatari (Mami), Yukino Abe (dancing girl), Ginji Kaneko (dancing boy).

World sales Pia Film Festival

Photo: © Yoko Yamanaka

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