Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Plight of Actors...in Japanese!

I love discovering new foreign films. Their storytelling feels more pure and untouched by the flashy blockbuster trend of American films.

So imagine my delight when I discovered a foreign film that was written, produced, and directed by a fellow MIT alumnus! It’s called Cast Me If You Can, and it’s all about actors. Here’s the trailer:

It’s being released on DVD in the US and Canada on January 24, 2012.
Writer/producer/director Atsushi Ogata, nicknamed “Japan’s answer to Woody Allen,” graduated from MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies and exhibited his video art in festivals and museums all over Europe before moving into acting, screenwriting, and directing. Such an eclectic background!

When I heard about the film, I absolutely had to interview Atsushi. And even though he started off an MIT nerd like me, he's clearly realized a full, creative life.

What was your inspiration for Cast Me If You Can?

The original inspiration was (1) an image I had in my mind of the lead actor (who also acted in my previous film) running around Tokyo wearing a police uniform, and (2) “Frasier,” the American TV sit-com, whose humorous father-son relationship reflects also the relationship I have with my own father.

Did you try acting yourself? Or did you know actors in Japan?

I have a minor role in the film, but the main cast consists of famous seasoned veterans from the Japanese film industry: Toru Masuoka, Hiromi Nagasaku, Masahiko Tsugawa, Keiko Matsuzaka and Akira Emoto. We were very fortunate to have these stars in our film.

The secondary cast were also professional actors. In the spirit of "Cast Me If You Can," for some of the minor roles and extra's, we also had our crew, investors and friends "act" in our film.

What was your biggest unforeseen production obstacle while shooting your film and how did you overcome it?

The most challenging shoot in terms of time constraint was shooting in a moving train that we had rented for two separate mornings. The first day, we only had 46 minutes to do 6 set-ups, and we were only allowed to have 10 extras to fill a whole train!

The main crew and I took the train the day before, and we decided on the shots and blocking, which was basically how we prepared for the shoot. Still, it was quite nerve-wrecking to shoot under such a time-constraint, especially since the light kept changing as we passed through stations and tunnels.

I felt like we were in some kind of battlefield during the shoot, but after we were done, we felt like we could overcome any obstacles, and the remaining shoot at the train station that day went extremely quickly.

Did you always have creative aspirations since childhood or did they develop later in life? Perhaps while at MIT?

As a child, I read a lot of stories, wrote some and also drew some cartoons. In high school, I learned still photography and super-8 films. Back then it was a hobby, so I never thought I would actually go into this field professionally until I had finished college, worked at a company for a couple of years doing software research and decided to go back to grad school at MIT to pursue my creative artistic calling!
That’s right – artists come out of MIT too! Congratulations Atsushi!

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