Tuesday, January 18, 2011

INTERVIEW: Film-maker Edmund Yeo discusses his inspiration behind "Exhalation"

Interviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr

A filmmaker that we have been following for a while now is Edmund Yeo the Malaysian-born, Tokyo based film-making wunderkind (above right) has only been on the scene since 2007, but he's already racked up an impressive collection of awards from international film festivals including the Grand Prix at the 6th CON-CAN Movie Festival for his short film "Fleeting Images", the Silver Grand Prix and Best New Creator awards at Japan's Eibunren Awards for his short "Kingyo" and the Sonje Award for Best Asian Short Film at the Pusan International Film Festival for his film "Inhalation".

It was shortly after Yeo had completed "Kingyo", a 25-minute adaptation of a story by Yasunari Kawabata, that I was lucky enough to interview him and ever since we at the Pow-Wow and Yeo has kept us updated about his latest projects. Recently Yeo completed his short film "Exhalation" which Marc Saint-Cyr reviewed here. From that review Marc was asked by Yeo himself to conduct a short interview for the official press kit for "Exhalation" which stars Japanese actresses Kiki Sugino and Tomoe Shinohara. We all thought that our readers would be interested to hear more from this film-maker, who we think is on the verge of breaking into the film-making major leagues in a very big way.

MSC: "Exhalation" follows another, similarly-titled film of yours, "Inhalation". How are the two films linked?

EY: While both were semi-autobiographical, there were never any intentions to link the two short films as pair. Although released earlier, 'Inhalation' was shot 2 months after 'Exhalation' and was meant as a spin-off of a feature-length film that I co-wrote and produced called 'The Tiger Factory' (directed by Woo Ming Jin). 'Exhalation', on the other hand, is meant as a standalone Japanese short film.

However, I noticed the structural and thematic similarities, and felt that the pair were films that belonged to a particular phase of my creative life, thus giving them these titles was inevitable.

MSC: "Exhalation" is inspired by your memories of a classmate’s death when you were in high school. How often do you draw upon elements from your own life when you are writing your films?

EY: Most of the time. In order to preserve some sort of emotional authenticity and uniqueness, I find inspiration from my own life, memories or even dreams, to write my films. The dialogues I've written might sometimes even be something that someone had said to me, or conversations I myself have had with another. Even if it were literary adaptations, I can only adapt them if there is something that I can personally connect with, and then later embellish them with fleeting moments and feelings I myself had experienced.

MSC: How did you decide which sequences in the film would be in black-and-white or color?

EY: The black-and-white, was, in fact, a last-minute decision made during post-production. I remembered reading an interview with Andrei Tarkovsky where he pointed out that a black-and-white film immediately creates the impression that your attention is concentrated on what is most important. On the screen, color imposes itself on you.

In order to underline the melancholic undertone of the film, I decided to drain most scenes of their colors. I inserted colours in certain scenes when I needed to accentuate the emotional states of the protagonists. A feeling of brief warmth, or lingering sadness, or an abrupt break from monotony. In the end it was an experiment of sorts for storytelling.

MSC: "Exhalation" features emotionally intense performances from its two main actresses, KikiSugino and Tomoe Shinohara. Do you have any specific strategies for directing actors?

EY: Not really. For me filmmaking is often a collaborative effort. During script meetings with my actors, I generally explain only the overall tone I have in mind for the film, then I'll just get out of the way and let them interpret the characters by themselves. There are usually happy accidents where they do something with the characters that I didn't even imagine earlier. I like the spontaneity.

Edmund Yeo's "Exhalation" will be receiving its European premiere at the International Film Festival Rotterdam , running January 26th to February 6th.

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