Essay, Side Story

An Indie Filmmaker in Cannes

Tsujioka-Cannes-Feature

Selected as one person who has contributed to and influenced local films in the article by the prominent newspaper, Nikkei Entertainment, titled, ‘100 People Shaking Up Japanese Cinema,’ Tsujioka Masato was motivated to make movies by observing Tsukamoto Shinya’s film making while on Tsukamoto’s set as an actor. He attracted attention in 2003 at the age of 23 with his debut film, Lost by Dead which depicted teens on a self-destructive rampage. His second film Divide was decorated at the Toronto ReelHeART Film Festival in 2006. The film’s opening in Tokyo set a new record for attendance, and with numerous mass media exposure, resulted in the rare theatrical nationwide release for an independent movie.

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©Tsujioka Productions

In 2014, Tsujioka took his completely self-produced 7th movie, Black Room, to the Cannes Film Festival’s Marche du Film and booked a screening room in order to generate awareness for it at an international level. He has written his impressions of being at the world’s most prestigious film festival as an independent Japanese filmmaker.

Original Japanese Text by Tsujioka Masato
Arriving a few days before the start of the event, I took in the scenery around the area. I’ve been to various international film festivals in the past, but Cannes is without a doubt unparalleled in the world. This upscale city on the French Riviera is entirely festooned by the film festival on an overwhelming scale. Even the security that was everywhere reminded me of the level of tight security seen when the American President visits Japan, and created for me a considerable amount of nervousness. So I’m glad that I stayed at a hotel in an area known as Antibes, just a 10 minute train ride from Cannes and where many other attendees were lodging as well.

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©Tsujioka Productions

My reasons for coming to Cannes were twofold. First, was to world premiere my latest movie at the world’s preeminent film festival. Second, in order for the movie to systematically progress into distribution abroad, a presence at the market (Marche du Film) was undoubtedly essential. Above all, I wanted to experience with my own senses one of the world’s three major film festivals.

The market located within the Riveria and Lerins is itself more ordinary than I imagined. Sellers waited at their booths, buyers visited booths that caught their interest, and negotiations were conducted. The image I had in my mind, using Japan as an example, was shopkeepers in narrow retail streets boisterously calling on shoppers to buy from their store instead of their rival two or three stores down. Though I had imagined this intense back-and-forth between sellers and buyers, the Marche du Film is very low key. Instead of a lively atmosphere of sales agents aggresively courting buyers, I was struck by booth staffs’ dedication to just sit and wait. That being the case, and with distribution deals in mind, I handed out my movie’s press kits and sample DVDs to sellers and buyers one office at a time completely unsolicited.

Attending the Marche du Film, I personally sensed the considerable things that could be accomplished if only I had [better] language abilities: film projects and financing, certainly, but I no longer view co-productions nor worldwide distribution–and if I may dream a little–making a movie with an international star as impossible.

Many of those I encountered, even in passing, were simply surprised to see a Japanese filmmaker at the market. Just as there were few Japanese films showcased in the festival’s lineup, I barely encountered Japanese filmmakers. I think the biggest reason for this is language. Despite so many global socieites in the world, the Japanese population has an exceedingly inadequate number of people who can engage in English conversation. Therefore, I sense Japanese, raised without an affinity for English, could be reluctant to obtain information in English from foreign film festivals, comprehend it, and act boldly upon it. If foreign language ability standards were raised, there most likely would be a steady increase in participants from Japan. I, too, relied on my producer who studied English feverishly just for this occassion since attending Cannes with perfect English ability was unthinkable for me. If there’s one thing I would need to change for the next time it would be to elevate my language skills. Attending the Marche du Film, I personally sensed the considerable things that could be accomplished if only I had [better] language abilities: film projects and financing, certainly, but I no longer view co-productions nor worldwide distribution–and if I may dream a little–making a movie with an international star as impossible. Being unable to conduct detailed negotiations or communicate [effectively] did leave me frustrated, but if I could at least get people to watch the movie then I wouldn’t sweat the details. Just how much I put into making the movie and having brought it to Cannes would, I believed, come off the screen which is why I worked the floor prior to its market screening.

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©Tsujioka Productions

Black Room screened at 8pm in a screening room filled to near capacity at the Hotel Gray d’Albion. Seeing practically every seat filled at this event known as the Cannes International Film Festival was like a reward for the abilities and effort [I’ve exerted] up to now. My chest swelled with [emotion] for all the support from a solid base of people who made this happen. More than anything, I was overjoyed with a feeling the path my filmmaking had been on until now was not in error. Screening my movie and having a chance to gain the comments and opinions of people from around the world who operate at the forefront of the industry was immensely significant. Due to the type of movie it is, though, the response from women was awful. In contrast, the response from men was great. Seeing this, I became aware that I had made a rather shocking movie. Yet, this too, will heavily influence my own production methods going forward. “What kind of movies will be accepted by the big three festivals: Cannes, Venice, and Berlin?” Before, I more or less held an indistinct image, skewed, or general notion of film festivals, but having the opportunity to exhibit my movie at Cannes and hearing the opinions of those who admired the movie from a global perspective has made it clear to me what kind of movies are endorsed in the world.

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©Tsujioka Productions

Gaining feedack and opinion through encounters with others was an essential part of the experience. Apart from the market and the screening, I also went to parties, but I don’t think of them as having a special significance to a certain extent because there are film industry people at all the restaurants throughout the city. If I wanted to meet someone, I could look on the list of attendees and get in touch with them. When I realized this, I thought it was a more efficient manner of having a proper meet-up than going to parties. After business hours (festival hours), I hopped the bars and restaurants of Cannes to meet people. Additionally, every evening the lounge of my hotel became a gathering place where hotel guests would talk about each country’s methods and [means of] distribution while drinking the night away. I particularly got a long with directors from France, Italy, America, Toronto (Canada), Bosnia, and Finland. We still keep in touch and exchange all kinds of information, but as far as these directors were concerned, my having been a regular actor in Tsukamoto Shinya’s movies including Bullet Ballet had been more impressive than coming to Cannes with Black Room!

I’d like to take another film to Cannes should there be an opportunity. However, if I’m going to produce a movie aimed at the “big three” festivals, it’s become apparent even as I keep true to my artistic sense, there are aspects of my directing in need of pruning. Furthermore, and this is a matter of my self-consciousness, I thought I had to be modest and downplay my abilities and effort. Continuing to be modest is important, but I realized one mustn’t completely blanket “confidence” with “modesty.” I must tackle filmmaking by investing a strength of will beyond anything I have up to now. This isn’t a task, but rather a conviction in what I am capable of doing gained from the Cannes International Film Festival.

Tsujioka can currently be seen starring in Suffering of Ninko a four-years-in-the-making independent period movie directed by Niwatsukino Norihiro. It has been screened at international festivals around the world from Vancouver, Busan, and Tokyo to the 2017 Rotterdam International Film Festival. Tsujioka is also working on his next feature Inochi no Tomoshibi which we hope to cover in a future interview with him.