Festival Director Yasuhiro Hariki’s Interview 01

Focus on Asia International Film Festival Fukuoka
Festival Director Yasuhiro Hariki’s Interview with
Turkish Film Director Tayfun Pirselimoğlu
of “I’m not him” (Turkey/Greece/France)

Note:This is the complete, non-abridged interview conducted during the Focus on Asia International Film Festival Fukuoka 2014, which took place in September, 2014.  The interview has been translated from Japanese into English and for this reason, the translated English may not be the same English used by film director Tayfun Pirselimoğlu during the interview.


Hariki: You have a rather unusual background before making films.

Pirselimoğlu: I guess I do. First I studied at the Middle East Technical University in Turkey, where they gave lectures all in English, American style.

Hariki: At the time, did you have any thoughts of becoming a film director?

Pirselimoğlu: It just happened. The Turkish system of education at the time had a lot to do with this. I, myself, wanted to study academics but the country was placing top priority in turning out engineers. So I became one and worked as an engineer for a year and a half .When I decided to quit, I left for Vienna to study painting at the Art Academy.

Hariki: Let’s go back a bit. Was your family in high society?

Pirselimoğlu: My family lived in a city by the coast of the Black Sea. Our family was one of the oldest in town. My grandfather had the rank of “pasa”, a rank given to the most powerful in the Turkish Army. My father studied finance at Istanbul University and became an expert in the field. So our family was a liberal family.

Hariki: What is “pasa”?

Pirselimoğlu: It wasn’t a gentry rank but the highest rank given in the Turkish Army.

Hariki: In ancient times, the Turkish Army was really strong. They even attacked Vienna.

Pirselimoğlu: The ancient Ottoman Turkish Empire was extremely powerful stretching its control from Vienna to Iran. But it gradually disintegrated and in 1923 under a new constitution, a new society was born. My grandfather retired then feeling everything had changed.

Hariki: Why did you then go to Vienna to study fine arts?

Pirselimoğlu: At first, I thought about holding my own exhibit in Istanbul but my father’s acquaintance who was a professor at the Academy, recommended that I go. However it wasn’t an easy decision to leave the country to begin something new. They were only accepting about 10-15 out of 1500 who applied. Anyway, I ended up studying at a school in Vienna noted for Surrealism. I studied Fantastic Realism. At the time, my professor was known as one of five godly figures in the field but I didn’t like studying and I didn’t like Vienna. It was at this time that I started writing novels, short novels and scripts. Later when I returned to Turkey I made my first short film “Dayim” in 1999, about a crazy old man who tries to fly up to the sky. This film was a success, being invited to the Venice Film Festival among other film festivals. The success led the way for me to make my first feature film.

Hariki: You were able to write scripts but wasn’t it difficult to make a film?

Pirselimoğlu: At first, I was able to write scripts, novels and direct films and even hold exhibitions at the same time. I’m getting old so it’s difficult to do all that now.

Hariki: To your motion picture now (“I’m not him”). It was very interesting. Seeing it made me recall a story written by Koubou Abe, a Japanese novelist.

Pirselimoğlu: I am familiar with him. And thank you for the compliment.

Hariki: Besides being a novelist, Koubou Abe was in the Theater. He even wrote plays and brought up actors and actresses. He never directed a film but wrote many scripts for motion pictures.

Pirselimoğlu: I didn’t know that.

Hariki: So there is a very close resemblance. Besides, he was a doctor.

Pirselimoğlu: That’s interesting. As a matter of fact, the leading actor in my film is actually a doctor. He only started acting maybe 5-6 years ago. So he should understand that people can enter the film business from other fields of work.

Hariki: Structure-wise, your film is very interesting. Is your novel like that?

Pirselimoğlu: The novel is practically the same as the film. The plot very much resembles that of the film. Let me explain. What I wanted to create was a world much like a labyrinth where coincidences stack up against each other and head towards a different direction. I created a similar world in my novel as well.

Hariki: What I find really interesting is that the film doesn’t depict the inner self of the protagonist at all. Only the exterior. For example a person’s shoes or slippers changes his destiny.

Pirselimoğlu: Exactly. The kind of protagonist I write about and depict is a person who has a problem dealing with people. He’s suffering from something but doesn’t know what it is. He’s up against a wall and realizes he can’t overcome his problem so he starts to feel hopeless. At this point, I didn’t want to write about or depict his inner self. As many things are happening to him externally, I wanted, instead, to write about and show how this protagonist plans to deal with these external factors. I also wanted to address the issue of whether destiny can be altered from the outside.

Hariki: I see. Dramas normally end up depicting the inner self of a conflict but in your case, this doesn’t happen.

Pirselimoğlu: Let me tell you the type of filmmaking I believe in. Taking a frame in a motion picture as an example, it’s the kind of expression where the audience takes a peek at the other side. In a normal motion picture, what’s projected on to the screen tries to work on the audience to try and absorb the viewers into the film, but I don’t like that method. What I’d like to create is a situation where the audience is so curious about a film that they go into the motion picture, themselves, that is to say, into the world the motion picture expresses. That’s why audiences who aren’t concerned with this world on the other side, say my films are boring. That’s because they have no conscious effort of venturing into the world on the other side.

Hariki: Audiences, you know, are mostly passive.

Pirselimoğlu: Yes, but I hate that.

Hariki: Same here. You know I love mysteries (chuckle).

Pirselimoğlu: Same here (chuckle).

Hariki: In your film, there are many motionless scenes. Then something suddenly happens. And that’s the part I find extremely interesting.

Pirselimoğlu: Yes, I like that, too. I believe that life, in itself, is like that. Life constantly circulates like a repeating loop. So in between life, you get the feeling that there’s nothing but when you reach a certain point, things change dramatically. That’s when the loop enters its next phase.

Hariki: Films often drop an advance hint to let the audience know what’s going on. But I don’t find that interesting..

: In as far as making contact with the audience, that’s a simple way out, don’t you think? It’s made to be simple. In a normal film, the film director and the audience come to some sort of agreement. At the movie theater, the audience believes they are in a position to demand something while the film director hands the audience something to answer to their needs. I think many films are like this. My ideal, if both parties start at a distance from each other, is for the two to dance their way to meet at mid-point. The audience, seeing the film director dancing, also dances their way to approach the film director. But this is a tight rope dance, so it’s dangerous (chuckle).

Hariki: In that sense, motion pictures aren’t commodities.

Pirselimoğlu: My films aren’t all like that.

Hariki:: That’s why your film is interesting no matter how many times I see it.

Pirselimoğlu: Thank you.

Hariki: And what’s shown on the screen is extremely well structured. You feel something is going to happen but you can’t figure out why things remain still.

Pirselimoğlu: By the way, I made this film with Andreas Sinanos. He’s also very intelligent.

Hariki: The screen action moves in a very leisurely pace.

Pirselimoğlu: He made 5 or 6 films with Theo Angelopoulos, but in his case his style is quiet but with motion. His style includes filming from the top or shooting footage of people moving from right to left. To tell you the truth, I’m not that fond of such style. Instead, I prefer to present simple and plain scenes, naturally. I believe in being very sincere with my audience. So in my case, I want to show everything in the open and relay to my audience that “This is the story I want to present without any tricks up my sleeve.” In such a situation, everything becomes related from the movement of the camera to the music. I think it’s very dangerous to scheme something in filmmaking.

Hariki: I kind of find Angelopoulos quite interesting. He seems to prefer a detailed type of arrangement of lining people on the side.

Pirselimoğlu: My film has a symmetrically structured story so I consciously tried to destroy it visually. I tried to arrange things in an unbalanced way. I tried placing more weight on one side compared to another.

Hariki: When you watch the film a number of times, you start to notice different parts of the film each time you see it. I think you can say the same thing about looking at a drawing.

Pirselimoğlu: I’m really glad to hear you say that. My friends also saw the film as part of the audience. They told me, however, that their impression of the film changed after seeing the motion picture two or three times. I think you can make the point that the audience doesn’t take notice of detail on their first viewing, but when they see the film the second time, they start to understand the ideas behind parts of the film because they already know what the story is.

Hariki: Let me tell you about how I reacted to the film. The slippers, shoes and automobile appear in the film. These are items that are first empty inside. Yet when the protagonist starts using them, an interesting connection is made between the main character and the items. It seems that these items are just waiting for the protagonist to use them. In the end, however, what awaits the protagonist is prison (chuckle).

Pirselimoğlu: My thinking didn’t go that far but come to think of it, I like your way of thinking. You’re absolutely right. That’s why I love films. Everyone sees a film in a different angle. And depending on what type of film, motion pictures can take you in a certain direction. Every interpretation of a film is correct. That’s the great thing about motion pictures. There’s a famous story. When Bergman was being interviewed about his film, a film critic said, “That scene was great. That man trundling a barrel as he walked looked as if he was trundling god, don’t you think?” Bergman replied, “You’re right, that was great, wasn’t it?” It was an example where he really didn’t think about it that way but he said he did. Perhaps Bergman unconsciously used the expression “trundling god”.

Hariki: That’s what creation is all about. Even the creator isn’t made aware of things.

Pirselimoğlu: You’re absolutely right.

Hariki: Are you writing a novel right now?

Pirselimoğlu: Not only a novel but also a script. I don’t know when I’ll complete them, though. Right now, my greatest problem is funding. I’m also the producer.

Hariki: For the past year or two, I find that whatever film festival I visit, there are only a few Turkish films.

Pirselimoğlu: International interest in our films is on the rise, but you may be right about what you say.

Hariki: Our film festival is paying attention because we’re interested in putting together a feature on Turkish films. In the past, we’ve shown films directed by Reis Çelik and Semih Kaplanoğlu. We were the first to show Semih Kaplanoğlu’s first film from his trilogy before any film festival in Japan.

Pirselimoğlu: He is a friend of mine.

Hariki: At the time we showed two of his films.

Pirselimoğlu: He’s in America now, shooting his new film on a real big budget.

Hariki: I’m a bit concerned.

Pirselimoğlu: It’s a science-fiction film.

Hariki: I really like his films.

Pirselimoğlu: So do I.

Hariki: It was a shame because when we showed his films in Fukuoka, not many came to see them.

Pirselimoğlu: That may be. But even I know that it takes time before an audience can accept his films.

Hariki: But a film has to have an audience to survive.

Pirselimoğlu: It’s a problem all artistic films shoulder.

Hariki: Are there any good Turkish films around?

Pirselimoğlu: There was this film, “Beyond the Hill” made about two years ago. That was very interesting. “Sivas”, a film taking its title from the name of the town, was interesting as well. The film took two awards in Venice. It was the first feature film from a young film director. I’ll send you the names of other films if they come across my mind.

Hariki: A stupid comment. When a Japanese hears your name “Tayfun”, they imagine a big storm (typhoon).

Pirselimoğlu: It’s a name that’s quite common in Turkey. It has a strange sound to it that some have asked if that’s my screen name.

Hariki: How is politics in Turkey now?

Pirselimoğlu: Terrible and it’s getting worse every day. After all, you see warfare just across the border in Iraq and Syria. People are getting massacred so America might intervene. I was talking about politics outside Turkey but we have a huge pile of problems domestically as well. Society is becoming more conservative and dictatorial by the day. Turkey is becoming a one party one man government.

Hariki: You have a President now who used to be Prime Minister.

Pirselimoğlu: The problem is that he believes he was selected by the popular vote. It’s as if he’s saying he can do whatever he wants.

Hariki: Just like in Japan (chuckle).

Pirselimoğlu: But your leader’s doing a better job, isn’t he? Regardless, politicians always think they’re doing the right thing. There’s big corruption in Turkey. How about exchanging countries (chuckle)?

Hariki: Your film isn’t necessarily cheerful but is that because it has a reflection on the psychology of political affairs?

Pirselimoğlu: Usually I don’t get that pessimistic but pessimism in itself comes from the state of affairs of the world. What I personally believe is that we have to bring everything to an end in some way. Complete destruction is necessary. After everything is destroyed, we can start again and create.

Hariki: Maybe you’re right. Japan became that way, after we lost the war. After that, a good age followed and continued. Yet in these last 20 years, the human heart has become depressed. That’s the reason why I think the Japanese are not mentally stable. Many say Japan now looks like the nation it was before it got into the war.

Pirselimoğlu: As a matter of fact, Turkey hasn’t had many instances of fighting its own wars. But then we had the collapse of the Soviet Union. And things are getting really bad in Iraq and everywhere around it (chuckle). But the issue of instability is the same everywhere in the world. We know something is happening but we don’t know what it is. We only have this sense that we’re headed towards destruction. So my next film will depict an attitude that if destruction is coming, let it. That we can’t move ahead without it. I plan to start shooting a winter scene this year, but if I can’t, I’ll have to extend the shooting to next winter.

Hariki: Please complete it before the end of the world.

Pirselimoğlu: I’ll do my best but before I can finish it, maybe it’ll be the end for me and maybe there won’t be any audiences left (chuckle).

Hariki: Lastly, your impression of Fukuoka?

Pirselimoğlu: As a matter of fact, this was my first trip to Fukuoka. Your staff has been very friendly and warm. People in the city have been kind and the food’s been great. I feel that I’ve finally arrived here. My friends always told me that Fukuoka was an exception but perhaps this is because the people here are open to the outside world.

Hariki: After all, the people of Fukuoka love festivals. Mr. Çelik also loves Fukuoka. Please take the opportunity to go see the food stalls in the city. It was a great opportunity to speak with you today. Thank you.

Pirselimoğlu: I thank you also. I feel I was able to present a meaningful conversation today.


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