vol.014 / Roundtable
What Movies and Music Teach Us about the True Nature of the Body
Ryosuke Nagaoka (musician) × Yuki Yamato (film director)
Yamato: I’ve got a huge amount of respect for you, Nagaoka-san, because it seems to me that you’ve brilliantly bridged the gap between major stage performances and pursuing your personal passions.
Nagaoka: Thank you very much. All I’ve done is follow my instinct that “if it’s good, it’s right,” getting involved with the things that immediately strike a chord with me, no matter what, while letting the music speak for itself. To be honest, when you’re on the big stage, you have to exaggerate your persona to match.
Yamato: But that still means bringing your own personal stance to bear, even on the big stage, doesn’t it?
Nagaoka: Perhaps. But changing your persona completely as soon as you hit the big time would be awkward and embarrassing.
Yamato: Has anything ever made you tremble? Like egging on the audience on the balcony, for instance.
Nagaoka: Egging on the audience on the balcony. . . ?
Yamato: I mean, like yelling from the stage, “Everyone on the balcony! Let’s bring the house down!” (laughs).
Nagaoka: Never (laughs). Well, if I’d been popular before I knew what was what and had been indulged by grown-ups, I suppose I might have got addicted to that kind of thing.
Yamato: I guess the reason you’d find that kind of playing to the balcony awkward and embarrassing is that you’re acting out socialized behavior rather than taking your own body as the starting point for your demeanor. Because similarly, young people have experienced the struggle of being forced to adhere to restrictive constraints on their behavior in society since their teenage years. That leads into the pressure to conform that you see in Japanese society today. I think that an individual’s true demeanor actually emerges when they tear their body away from that kind of socialized behavior. I want to capture that instant of raw freshness.
Nagaoka: I watched the film you directed, Oboreru Knife [Drowning Love]. You’ve pulled right back from the characters in your shots of them. The framing was fresh and now you’ve told me that, I get the feeling I understand why.
Yamato: I’m delighted about that. The Olympics includes sports that we’re unfamiliar with. Sports that feel fresh and new. It seems to me that playing in an unfamiliar contest for the first time might well be similar to the feeling you get when a director brings out a new facet of an actor’s self for the first time.
Nagaoka: It might be close to the feeling you get when you touch a new instrument for the first time, too. At first, it just feels awkward, but I guess you could call it a kind of freshness, and then new playing techniques and timbres start to emerge. That’s because the aspect of your personality brought out in that process varies according to the instrument.
Yamato: That’s interesting. You discover yourself through musical instruments.
Nagaoka: I think that does happen. Another thing that occurred to me when I watched Drowning Love was that the music seemed to be positioned on an equal footing with the images. It was a feeling I haven’t really experienced before. (*)
Yamato: The master-servant relationship between images and music in a film is going to be a really interesting topic in the years to come, I think. Maybe there’ll even be moments when the roles of master and servant are reversed. At any rate, I think that music can almost work like a magic spell on the body. When I was a high school student, I listened to the Tokyo Jihen album Variety over and over again on my way to school. Even now, I still know by heart all the words to your song ‘OSCA’ from that album. Because they’re imprinted on my body. That’s how much I was surrounded by music all through my teens. And I still clearly remember that sensation even now. So now, when I’m making films about the teenage years, the music that I was listening to back then is still with me as a physical memory that I think is more overwhelming than my actual recollections of my teens.
Nagaoka: It’s vinyl records that stay with us, not written records. They often say that music has the power to evoke vivid memories.
Yamato: You’re absolutely right. For example, musicians put their bodies on the line when they’re on stage playing a gig. Like athletes do, perhaps. What do you focus on at times like that?
Nagaoka: It’s really hard to say what I aim for in those situations. Because you’re not trying to go faster or sweat more like in sport. Having said that, I do think that athletes actually get results because of their incredible skill. I’m not sure how to describe it; I suppose it’s almost like target practice.
Yamato: So you’re using a musical instrument to hit the target. If you bring a movement to bear on an instrument, you get a physical sound, right? Even if your emotions are switched off, for instance. Do you ever have the experience of an instrument sounding after you’ve imbued it with your feelings? I’ve been wanting to ask you that for ages.
Nagaoka: Yes. Ideally. Hardly ever, though.
Yamato: “Hardly ever.” You’re always objective and cool-headed, somehow.
Nagaoka: I guess I’ve always been level-headed at heart. I almost never get really excited about stuff. The audience’s feelings are more important than my own. For instance, I’m much more inclined to soak up the atmosphere at the venue and think, “It’s great right now. They’re happy right now.” What about you when you’re making a film?
Yamato: I’m completely behind the scenes, so I’m never physically exposed, but that doesn’t mean that it’s best for me to be totally calm and switch off my emotions on set. While I mostly share my thoughts logically with the actors in words, saying things like, “This scene’s like this, so this kind of element’s missing,” there are situations — admittedly very rare ones — when I have to cry or scream as much as — if not more than — the actors. Of course, I don’t have to do that for the cameras, but there’s certainly a physical dynamism involved. Even if my emotions are switched off, the actors will still act, and I do want to have that kind of directing style, to be more efficient. But there are moments that can only be captured on film as a result of the actors’ encountering my own individual body as a director, and I think that destructive force has a power that I still can’t put into words. Incidentally, do you ever feel like an instrument is part of your own body, Nagaoka-san?
Nagaoka: Occasionally, I feel like it’s an extension of my own body, at times when I feel like I’m on form, but I hardly ever feel. That might be because I usually use a variety of musical instruments. Because you have to tailor your playing style to the individual instrument, if you’re not playing the same one all the time.
Yamato: Of course, that makes sense. It really strikes a chord with me: what musical instruments are to you, actors are to me. I want to come into contact with a range of instruments, like you do. Instruments from all over the world.
Nagaoka: You have to sound those instruments yourself.
Yamato: On the set of Drowning Love, we had Nana Komatsu, who was experiencing the end of her teenage years. I think I wanted to add my own timbre in sounding the end of her girlhood through her role as Natsume Mochizuki. It was the same with that sense of peril and dazzling brilliance you get from Masaki Suda. I want to sound the most beautiful memories of that instrument’s life. Even if my skills haven’t yet caught up with my ambition, I want to feel that way forever. Because I get the impression that will transfer onto the screen.