Indie darling Sharifah Amani and Director Isao Yukisada Team Up

The local cinema heavyweight and the Japanese director work together on short film ‘Pigeon.’

The charm of Penang does not only rub off on mural artists but also filmmakers, as evident in Japanese film director Isao Yukisada. A seasoned filmmaker who has made various critically-acclaimed and award-winning movies throughout his career, it should not come as a surprise that the director is featured at the Japanese Film Festival 2017 currently ongoing in Malaysia, through his work called ‘Pigeon.’

The short film is entirely set in Penang.

A part of Asian Three-Fold Mirror 2016: Reflections, an Asian Omnibus Film Series comprising three directors from the Philippines, Cambodia and Japan, ‘Pigeon’ is Isao Yukisada’s ode to Penang and its people. Bearing the theme of ‘Living Together in Asia,’ the omnibus aims to bring the people of Asia closer through film.

We spoke to Mr. Yukisada during his trip to KL recently to find out more about the reason behind the Penang setting, the casting choice of Sharifah Amani and the inspiration for the short film.

Isao Yukisada.

It is the inaugural Asian Three-Fold Mirror project and you have been selected as one of the three directors to contribute to the project. Could you tell us more about your participation in the omnibus?

Truthfully, this was the very first time that this kind of project was undertaken by the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF). The idea was to make a movie to help promote international exchange of ideas through a theme based on the future of Asia. And when they approached me, I knew I wanted to be part of the project.

Since it was decided that directors from the Philippines, Cambodia, and Japan were going to part of the omnibus, we discussed among the three of us on what the theme should be for the work to be created. Normally when there is a film produced under the auspices of an international film festival, there’s no consensus that the participants arrive at – they pretty much do their own work. But this was different in the sense that we discussed about how we thought the future of Asia was going to be. And interestingly, we found that we had an old man as the lead character in the stories that we had come up with. In my particular film, we have an aging older man featured as in Japan the current hot topic is the aging society, on who’s going to take care of them in their old age and it’s a very important topic. And so this was based on that premise.

Now let’s talk about ‘Pigeon,’ your portion in the omnibus. Why did you choose to set it and fully shoot it in Penang rather than probably in some other city or another country?

As for the question of the locale, we actually had a rule among the three directors that we had to go and shoot in a country other than our own. Be it the whole film or part of the film. For myself, I wanted to do the whole film overseas, outside of Japan. You see, my grandfather passed away 10 years ago and he had always wanted to visit Malaysia. He never got the chance but when I researched into why he had wanted to visit Penang after his death, I found out that his older brothers had died at war during World War II in Malaya. And so that was one of the reasons why I chose Malaysia as the location country. And I was torn between Kota Bharu or Penang. Then secondly, as to which part of Malaysia, I relied very much on my friends here, Edmund Yeo and Ming Jin, and asked for their assistance. They had suggested Penang because although it’s small, there were many places that were ideal for shots, and after having read the scenes that I’ve come up with, we went hunting for locations and decided that this was where we wanted to shoot.

Director Isao Yukisada has been a fan of actress Sharifah Amani since her appearance in Sepet.

How did you come to cast Sharifah Amani in the lead role? Were you already her fan, have you seen her movies before this or was it by coincidence that she came for the casting call?

When I was searching for the lead female, the image that I had in mind was Sharifah Amani in the film Sepet. So I was looking for a very young girl, and asked Edmund Yeo for help and we did an open call. But we weren’t able to find somebody that fit my image. I have a great deal of respect for Yasmin Ahmad’s works, so when we couldn’t find someone, it was suggested why not meet Sharifah Amani. And although it has been many years since she was in ‘Sepet’, when I met her, she still had this very young, sweet, young quality to her, and very fun character and I decided that I had to make a film with her. So we actually rewrote the script to match the age and such for how she is now.

The actress plays a caretaker to a Japanese army veteran who lives in Penang.

Final question about ‘Pigeon’ itself, how were you inspired to come up with such a story? Is it directly related to the passing of your grandfather?

During the time my grandfather was on his deathbed, he had expressed his wish to go to Malaysia. So I wanted to come to Malaysia as to find out the reason behind that. The other inspiration behind the story was a friend of mine who happened to immigrate to Southeast Asia with his parents at one point. But due to various reasons, in the end, only the father stayed in that Southeast Asian country while he and his mother moved back to Japan. But in Japan, aging is a serious issue at the moment – there are limited facilities where one can check in to for full time care, and it’s also very expensive. So there was a time in Japan when many people moved to Southeast Asian countries with their parents as a way to take care of them in their old age. But when my friend came back to Japan and left the father behind, he mentioned just in passing that he hoped that it was not going to turn out like a case of one just abandoning an old relative. And so I wanted to explore this theme in the film as well, the idea of the need to take care of one’s parents but also about where should one live for the greatest amount of happiness in one’s old age. And that’s why I chose to feature this old man who had chosen Malaysia as his final place to live in.

Catch ‘Pigeon’ as part of the Asian Three-Fold Mirror 2016: Reflections from now until 1st October 2017 at selected GSC outlets. For more information on the Japanese Film Festival 2017, please head to www.jfkl.org.my/japanese-film-festival-2017.

*Images from Greenlight Pictures.

Vimal Palasekaran

Vimal Palasekaran

Loud laugher. TV buff. Hispanophone.
Vimal Palasekaran

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