Japanese director Takumi Saitoh came to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to premiere his debut feature film, Blank 13, even before its release in his homeland.
The 36-year-old former model also appeared at the first screening on Sept 5 at GSC Pavilion in the heart of the capital city. The movie won Takumi the Asian New Talent Award for Best Director at the 20th Shanghai International Film Festival held in June this year.
Blank 13, based on a true story by Kôji Hashimoto, is about a cancer-stricken dad (played by Lily Franky, Like Father Like Son, 2013) who went out for a pack of cigarettes 13 years ago and never returned, but at whose funeral his son (played by Issei Takahashi, Kill Bill Vol 1) learns of his deeds.
“The hardest part of making this film,” says Takumi, “was the editing and finishing process. Especially the speeches in the funeral scene in the second half of the film… which were almost improvisation. Only the setting and the relationship between the person and the deceased were explained to the actors!
“It was quite an experimental etude. It was challenging to abridge the documentary into a film based on a true story,” added Takumi who has sent many hearts aflutter since appearing as an actor in 13 Assassins (2010).
On his worst acting experience, he said: “This might be a bit out of topic, but to me it was when I had no job offer as an actor.
“However, the hardship of excessive preparation or tight situation during the shoot will go away eventually. But I cannot call myself an expresser if I have no place to prove my existence.”
Blank 13 is one of the 14 movies and one anthology to be shown at the 14th Japanese Film Festival. Takumi also has a supporting role in The Projects, another film presented at the festival, organised by The Japan Foundation, Kuala Lumpur.
For Takumi, film festivals are wonderful. “To me who used to be a backpacker, it is the best journey.
“The journey bring us encounters and it’s also the beginnings. It is the wonderful space and time for the film enthusiasts to meet people without any concerns
“I would love to visit film festivals even if my works are not participating in it.”
On the appeal of the JFF offerings to Hollywood blockbuster fans, Takumi says he would like cinema-goers to know the current situation of Japanese cinema with this festival.
“It is necessary for us (directors) to learn the Japanese film appeal to the world, and our duty to realise the entertainment that satisfies audiences.”
An avid cinematic fan, Takumi has seen several movies more than twice. “There are many but “Amores Perros” by Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Drive” by Nicolas Winding Refn, and “Laurence Always” by Xabier Dolan, probably…
“Why? Because of the moments that you have this burning feelings (like the cells opening up).
“I believe that it’s more of whether I’m moved or not, rather than the techniques used. So I watch them many times to find a way to bring the films I’m involved in to that level.
“As for Malaysian films, I’m interested in (directors) Yasmin Ahmad and Ah Niu.”
While Johor Baru-born Yasmin is comparatively better known for Sepet (2004) and Talentime (2009), Penang native Ah Nui (Tan Kheng Seong), also an actor, made his name with Para Para Sakura (201) and The Wedding Diary (2011), among others.
It is Takumi’s first visit to Malaysia and he is excited about that prospect.
“I’ll be there for the film festival, and delivering “Blank 13” and “The Projects” to everyone. And the reactions/response of the audience will be the biggest souvenir to take home.”
For more details on the Japanese Film Festival 2017, visit jfkl.org.my or www.gsc.com.my.
** Featured pic is a scene from Blank 13, courtesy of JFF.