According to director Kotsuji Yohei, the title of his debut feature, A Foggy Paradise, which world premiered in the Competition section of the 36th Tokyo International Film Festival, refers mainly to the structure. “I wasn’t interested in constructing a story,” he said during a post-screening Q&A session on October 31. “I was trying to capture a collection of moments. That’s why it’s foggy.” Then someone asked about “paradise.” Admitted the director, “I just like films with the word ‘paradise’ in the title.”
At almost three hours, Kotsuji has created a loose, rather meandering tale that nevertheless assumes shape, and gradually, meaning. It follows two young men, both of whom are taking care of older people. Tatsuya (Okutsu Yuya), a traffic surveyor by trade, lives with his mother, who has trouble getting around. His permanently sullen demeanor shows that he resents the role of caretaker, and at one point he explodes in exasperation at his mother’s constant expressions of concern for his attitude and financial well-being.
The other young man, a store clerk named Kurage (Lee Masatoshi), is caring for a bedridden, unresponsive old man (Tom Kiran) in an apartment building that has been marked for demolition. Kurage goes about his task willingly, even lovingly, and recruits his girlfriend, Ame (Naito Haru), to help him. The two stories appear to be unrelated, but Kurage’s ends with him and Ame renting a van and taking the old man to a lake they think he has fond memories of.
Kotsuji, who also teaches at a school for students with special needs, said that the “catalyst” for the film was his grandmother, who suffered from a nerve-related disease. Before she passed away, “I spent a lot of time with her, and the experience had a profound effect on me.”
Much of the movie was improvised, according to the cast members who joined the director for the Q&A. “When I received the script, there wasn’t much dialogue,” recalled Lee. “But the scenes and the atmosphere were meticulously explained. Though I had to improvise, I didn’t feel that I was at a loss. It was like reading a novel without much dialogue, so with the director’s help we came up with the character through intuition.”
In a number of scenes, Kurage is listening to the news on the radio, and one audience member wondered what Kotsuji was trying to say with these bulletins from the real world. “While I was writing the script, the invasion of Ukraine began, and I wanted to incorporate that information in the film,” said the director. Lee added, “As we shot the film, we wanted to indicate something that was happening far away, something the characters were not directly experiencing but which was happening under the same sky and therefore had some kind of effect on the characters. Matters of life and death happen everywhere all the time.”
Naito commented that she was abroad when the fighting in Ukraine broke out and everyone was talking about it. “But when I returned to Japan, nobody seemed to mention it at all,” she said. “I think it’s important to be aware of these things even though they are taking place so far away.”
Another audience member asked Kiran if it was difficult to play a man who was completely immobile. “It was difficult to know how to breathe,” he admitted. “I’m an actor, but it was quite a challenge to be deliberately near-death at all times. I was always in the same [prone] position when I was in scenes with my co-stars playing their parts. I had to internalize my role.”
Inevitably, someone asked how the two stories were related, and Kotsuji explained, “Each of us moves through our real life without really knowing what we’re doing. Life is incongruent and unknowable, and in that regard, Kurage’s story is about life and Tatsuya’s is about death.”
Q&A Session: Competition
A Foggy Paradise
Guests: Kotsuji Yohei (Director), Okutsu Yuya (Actor), Yajima Yasumi (Actor), Fumino Aya (Actor), Mimori Asami (Actor)