Dazed Digital

Tokyo / 日本語

Katsura Murata: Zekuu

February 2, 2012

The inspired director's subversive short film will be shown in Japan for the first time

  • Text by Ayumi Seki

Aichi-born director Katsura Murata studied film at the London Film School and the short film "ZEKUU" was her final project. The film was screened at nine international film festivals including the Slamdance Film Festival. The short will be shown for the first time in Japan at the Social Cinema Festival 2012 in February. We talk to her about her adventures with film, the idea of healing and a certain change in the Japanese culture since the 3.11. earthquake.

Satellite Voices: "ZEKUU" was voted for the Social Cinema Festival competition as a film which represents the country. Can you tak about this?
Katsura Murata: The entire film was shot in my hometown Aichi, except the first scene, that was shot in Kyoto. The director of photography, the camera crew and I flew over to Aichi from London just to make the film. I asked my Japanese friends, who were studying in London at that time, to participate. They all came back to Japan during their summer holidays and helped me. We were shooting for only one week with a budget of 1,500,000 yen.

SV: The main character struggles to get over her past and she recovers from her sorrow by getting a tattoo on her back. How did you come up with the idea?
Katsura Murata: There are two reasons why I wanted to make this film. The first was to capture my grandmother’s old Japanese house on film. When I was preparing to embark on my final project, my grandmother was fighting terminal cancer in the hospital. She wanted to go home, but her illness didn't allow her to do so. She was very supportive of what I was doing, living abroad and studying film. She told my family that she wanted to see my work. So I decided to make a film shot in her beloved house. Fortunately, I could finish it on time and show "ZEKUU" to her before she passed away.

The second reason was to make a Japanese film in order to introduce aspects of my culture to an international audience. "ZEKUU" uses the art of tattoo as one of the key elements of the story. I have shown the film to some Japanese friends and relatives and none of them perfectly understood the story and most of them didn’t like it. I suppose this is because Japanese people have deeply indrained stereotypes about tattoo as being symbols of yakuza. European audiences have responded kindly to my film, yet Japanese people have called it an exaggeration. 

SV: The film has only minimum dialogues...
Katsura Murata: I studied film in the UK and my professors taught us that we should tell stories through the power of image, not through the dialogue. So I used only a few significant lines in this film. Regarding the main character Tatsuki, a rape victim, I didn’t make clear what happened to her in the past. There was no obvious explanation. However, I put several subtle hints into itm for the audience to figure out what’s going on. If you carefully watch the film it’s clear enough to understand it. Healing is the theme of this film.

SV: What is the meaning of the title "ZEKUU"?
Katsura Murata: The concept of this film is "Everything is fleeting". Both Tatsuki and a tattoo artist struggle with their own lives, but the show must go on. We can’t abandon our lives, no matter what happens. Even if I died tomorrow, nothing would change. We are tiny and powerless in relation to the universe.

SV: You think "Everything is fleeting", but still want to make film. Why?
Katsura Murata: Even though everything in this world is fleeting, I still have lots of stories to tell. Human beings can’t afford to think of art and entertainment, if basic things like clothing, food and a place to live are lacking. That is the fundamental issue. After the big earthquake on the 11th of March, I couldn’t help starting to question, if I should keep on making films in the future. As the vast numbers of victims from the disaster are still suffering, it feels so marginal. It costs a fortune to make a film. Sometimes billions of yen. A story doesn’t need to be told through film. 

SV: What is the difference between Japanese and England film making?
Katsura Murata: The Japanese film industry traditionally doesn't follow a DP system. This is a very big difference with film industries abroad.

SV: What does Tokyo mean to you?
Katsura Murata: Tokyo is a convenient huge city but something important is missing. Nowadays many people tend to be selfish and think only about themselves. After the tsunami/earthquake, we seem get our compassion back. Now is the time to unite the whole country and bring our beautiful Japanese culture and spirit back. 

SV: How do you describe this culture?
Katsura Murata: Sense of obligation, humanity and justice. Sounds conservative, right? I believe that even though much time has passed, the universal hearts of people never change. My favourite places in Tokyo are Asakusa, Ginza, and Jimbocho, because these places still keep the atmosphere of the good old days in Tokyo.

SV: What's your next project?
Katsura Murata: My new short film is now in post-production. It's a love story and I will complete it by March. This short film is a pilot for a feature film. Also, I am focusing on my writing more. All one needs to write is a pencil and some paper. I would like to find a way to express myself and tell stories, without hurting any creatures or the environment.

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