Festival Director Yasuhiro Hariki’s Interview 03

Focus on Asia International Film Festival Fukuoka
Festival Director Yasuhiro Hariki’s Interview with
Thai film director Nonzee Nimibutr
of “Timeline” (2014 / Thailand)

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.


Hariki: Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview. Is this the first time to Fukuoka?

N. Nimibutr: No I’ve been here many a times. I was invited to the Asian Pacific Film Festival. I’ve also visited Fukuoka as a tourist on a number of occasions.

Hariki: And to Saga?

N. Nimibutr: The third time. First to find our film location site, then to shoot our film. This will be my third visit to Saga.

Hariki: Was there any special reason you chose Saga for your film location?

N. Nimibutr: You know, Thai people frequently come and visit Japan but they only visit the big cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka. I doubt if anyone in Thailand has ever seen our film location site in Saga. Besides, Saga had the landscape I was looking for. So I drew my concept of Japan as some Japanese location no Thai person has ever seen. I got this flash thought when I saw the DVD of the Karatsu Kunchi festival that this is some place that probably no Thai person has ever been to. Besides, I also love cultural tradition. And Saga is such a beautiful city. With regard to this film, we received much support from the people of Saga.

Hariki: I mean, not many Japanese know of Saga, either, so I thought this was an awesome decision on your part.

N. Nimibutr: I feel I was really lucky to get to know Saga. The location site was great and the local people there were kind and friendly. We succeeded in getting the drizzling rain on film, which I was after. I also think we succeeded in bring out the sense of loneliness the protagonist was going through. I was tremendously moved by how much the people of Saga love their city. They don’t leave a single piece of garbage on the street! I mean it’s a fishing port but there was no bad odor. If you were in a fishing port in Thailand, you’d see fish going bad all over the place.

Hariki: Near Karatsu is another fishing port called Yobiko. There you can get really tasty squid.

N. Nimibutr: I went there and I had squid, which was good.

Hariki: I see. I think you might know Saga more than the Japanese do.

N. Nimibutr: That’s just like the people in Bangkok. They don’t know about regional Thailand and don’t even bother considering these regional areas to be important. So in the same way, I’d be happy if people in Japan get the opportunity to get to know Saga through my film.

Hariki: I have many friends in Saga. I know that the people in Saga are very honest. Basically, Saga has no industry or educational facility. So the people just end up leaving for somewhere else. There’s even a saying that nothing ever grows in Saga.

N. Nimibutr: Honest people…I hear there were films shot there after ours and I really think that’s wonderful.

Hariki: The problem is that they’re too honest. In this sense, Fukuoka is a bit looser. It has more room to spare so to speak where you can enjoy yourself. Saga is a bit too honest. That’s one good thing about Saga, though. About your film. I feel there’s pretty much of a connection between the countryside in Saga, and the fact that the mother of the protagonist was managing a farm in the countryside of Thailand. Now what difference if any do you see, in sense of values, between Bangkok and the countryside of Thailand?

N. Nimibutr: You’re absolutely right. Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, was the earliest to be developed and is the center of the nation. And in Thailand, the central government rules. There’s no decentralization of power as there is in Japan. The population and technology are concentrated. But once you reach the regional areas, you’re in a different world. The unique Lan Na culture has been passed on from ancient times and this is especially strong in the north, where the protagonist’s mother lives. You know, you farm on your own and live a moderate life and there’s no need to go out of town. Personally, I like the latter. Tokyo is complicated, much like Bangkok. So personally I’d much prefer Saga, which is quieter. And besides, Saga to me looked like the region where the protagonist’s mother owned a farm in the film. If I had my choice, I wouldn’t want to do my filming in noisy and clamorous Bangkok. If I could, I’d film in the countryside. My last film, “Distortion” was about a mentally deranged individual. I wanted to reflect the influence intricate Bangkok had on the individual so I shot the film in Bangkok.

Hariki: What drew my interest about this film was that it depicts two worlds. As you said, the mother’s world is characterized by handwritten letters while in Bangkok, Information Technology such as “Line” dominates the city. Rather than being a film about youth, I felt it was about the strife between the old and the new. It makes you think that these things happen all the time but that there’s no solution to it and that you can’t do anything about it. It’s a problem but that’s all you have to work with. The film made me feel that perhaps humans have this sad side of always retreating in life…

N. Nimibutr: I also like old things. I’m also a person that’s in the middle of the old and new. You see I’ve seen the development of technology with my own eyes so to speak. What I wanted to convey was about the old fashioned letter. It moved me greatly. Not only does it convey something, but it also brings out the feelings of what’s being written. For example, you can feel the emotion if you discover tear marks on a letter. However with email, you can’t feel the text, so to speak. That’s why I wanted to convey how wonderful the handwritten letter is. I also wanted to include the comparison of old versus new in addition to the different shapes of true love. You know, the love of a person in the old days would last. However, with these new tools of communication, it’s possible to get to know someone in two or three days and break up with that person two or three days later. No one seems to try and understand the other person these days. That’s another point I wanted to depict.

Hariki: You’re right. I know people close to me who meet people through these dating web sites. They have physical relations right away and then immediately end the relationship.

N. Nimibutr: That’s right.

Hariki: That’s really a problem.

N. Nimibutr: About meeting lovers through SNS social networks and then immediately terminating the relationship…I actually did research on this, myself. When observing young people at a restaurant. I actually saw a case where a couple met through Facebook and broke up in a week. People now a days live carefree lives. In the old days, you even felt happy looking at the roof of the home of the girl you liked from a distance. And you took time to reach the stage of sharing love with your partner. For example, not through a direct approach but by going through her parents or family members…In this way, the relationship lasts and if a problem surfaces, you can stay calm and be patient. People now a days get together right away, so they aren’t moved by each other, and as a result, they can’t exercise patience.

Hariki: I guess you and I belong to the same group. I don’t use social networks but I do use email. I always handwrite my notes. In that way, your handwriting remains. And when I come around to rereading the text, I can tell what frame of mind I was in at the time just by looking at my handwriting. On the other hand, if you lose your electronic data, you’ve lost everything.

N. Nimibutr: Yes, there’s a difference between writing something down clearly and noting something in rough handwriting. I also handwrite my notes. I have my assistant director type them up later, though. For example, I prefer to write down my notes by hand when I go to a meeting about making a television commercial. Sometimes, I may draw a cartoon or something. This helps me understand what my first impression was at the time. Well granted, I’m not that good with personal computers.

Hariki: But there is a point that creativity is analog. Even if I want to start something, I can’t get any ideas unless I use my hands.

N. Nimibutr: The same with me. Ideas come out with handwriting, so when you see it, it makes you understand what you were thinking about.

Hariki: But we are heading in a direction where we use less and less of our bodies. I don’t think this is going to change and there’s nothing we can do about it, although I do worry about what’s going to happen in our future and feel kind of sad that “our age” is fading away.

N. Nimibutr: I don’t deny the existence of technology, and I’ve conducted research on it, too. But personally I prefer analog. When I take a picture, I still use film and I listen to records. That’s my own world, so to speak. And I think what’s most important, is to never forget your roots that brought you up. Now after that, it’s up to you on how much technology you want to take in.

Hariki: Changing the subject, let me ask you about your film. The drawing of the sea becomes a center piece of the film. Can you tell me about that drawing? Was there really a drawing like that, which was used as a draft for the drawing in the film, or did you draw that drawing for the film?

N. Nimibutr: I had the drawing drawn based on my memories. The landscape is such that you can see the stars from the sea. Such a spectacular view can actually be seen at a small beach in the south of Thailand. I always kept this view in my mind. Quite amazing, isn’t it? I was really moved by this view, so much so that I’ve always wanted to include it in a motion picture. In the film, that drawing makes both protagonists want to see the real thing, not just the drawing. Even if one of the protagonists die, going to see this view means seeing it together. And for your information that drawing in the film symbolizes the act of searching for something you want. Actually, that was made with computer graphics.

Hariki: Ah yes. But in reality, the sea was shining.

N. Nimibutr: But we lit the sea from below. The shooting was very difficult. There were a flood of inquiries even from Thai people about that spectacular scene. Many people think about visiting Saga because they imagine that they can see the shining sea there.

Hariki: In that sense, maybe you shouldn’t be so outright honest when you talk about this. But that was really symbolic to me. In my sense, that belonged in a place, which transcended being old or new. Perhaps your film will look mystic if there really is such a place. Could this somehow be connected to a brand of psychology, which is Thai in nature?

N. Nimibutr: Yes. It expresses inner personal memories.

Hariki: That’s why I thought I could empathize, when I saw it. But the expression wasn’t something Japanese so I thought that maybe it might be something uniquely Thai. I always wondered what this really was. You know, I feel things distinctly Thai in Thai films are very attractive.

N. Nimibutr: Well if I may say so, I think Thai film directors are reflecting their actual life experiences in their films. Like putting their life experience in the character development of the protagonist or the content of the story. I first encountered the shining sea when I saw some publicity footage of Thailand for tourism. When a man strikes the sea, it looks like the sea shines. I thought that was fantastic so I drove 800 kilometers to see this sea. The way I was moved at the time, is still within me. I think a very unique Thai style of filmmaking is to bring out these moments which deeply moved you.

Hariki: I feel something big gets conveyed not through an understanding of language but at a time when you’re at some place where language isn’t used.

N. Nimibutr: The first script for “Timeline” had the main female protagonist of the film die by falling off a mountain while skiing in Korea. But when I thought about changing that to something else, I remembered about the sea and decided for a Japanese setting. Just to see this setting, I added a scene where she goes out on a boat and rescues the child.

Hariki: At what point did you change the script?

N. Nimibutr: At the time I was finalizing the script. You see we go out and shoot our films only after we have more or less a solid script, so to speak. Also I casually included some Buddhist thoughts into the script. There’s a scene where a man says “life is uncertain and you never know what tomorrow will bring so better do what you want to do in a hurry.” I did want to include such Buddhist thoughts in the film through the dialog of a character. You know young people these days don’t even think about what might happen tomorrow. They just drink alcohol and party at night. It’s not that I wanted to enlighten these kids, but I did want to tell them something about what life is through the protagonists in the film.

Hariki: Japan is also a Buddhist country so we may have something in common. Europe and the Islamic countries practice monotheism. They believe in one absolute god but we don’t have a single god like that. But we do have something that transcends the human being. So I felt something strongly Buddhist with the “light” of the shining sea. It may be a sense of ethic, rather than to say it was something we, Japanese, have in common. But I think I can understand this.

N. Nimibutr: Thank you. That was intentional.

Hariki: Your message came through very well. When you first see the film, you feel it’s just an average film about youth. The film might be dressed as a film of youth but I felt it carried something much deeper. I think the message will be conveyed well to the Japanese audience.

N. Nimibutr: Thank you for saying that.

Hariki: It will be interesting how the Japanese audience will react to this film. Has it already been shown in Saga?

N. Nimibutr: It will be shown for the first time in Fukuoka tomorrow. The day after, it will be shown twice in Saga and Karatsu.

Hariki: I really hope the message of your film reaches the Japanese audience. Thank you very much for this interview.

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