Japanese Director Takeshi Kogahara on Working With Darkness and Silence in Debut Feature 'Nagisa'

“When you start looking in the darkness, you’ll see something. That’s the idea I wanted to depict and convey,” Takeshi Kogahara tells Variety, after the screening of his debut “Nagisa,” a movie where darkness and silences play a crucial role.

The plot follows a young man (played by Yuzu Aoki) who suffers from guilt related to the death of his adored sister (Nanami Yamazaki), and encounters her ghost in a haunted tunnel. Thus, he keeps on visiting the tunnel to re-experience his past.

“The core idea came up when I was studying at the film school, a long time ago – 20 years ago or so. The idea was to [have a character] go into a tunnel and there see someone else, a ghost of someone special, [someone] you belong to.”

“Nagisa”

While continuing his career path, this idea remained stuck in Kogahara’s mind, until he managed to write a first draft of “Nagisa” eight years ago. When asked how he worked on rendering the characters’ conflicts and personalities through a movie dominated by darkness and with little dialogue, he said: “In the [original] script, there were more lines, more dialogues. But I let the actors improvise. […] Once I was in the editing room, I picked whatever suited the story better, and that’s how it turned out this way. So I didn’t mean to cut down most of the lines and highlight the silence, but I just felt it worked for me and for the story.”

While silence was the result of his creative process, the presence of darkness was obviously planned beforehand: “I didn’t want to make everything too ‘clean,’ obvious and easy to understand. And still, I felt I had to keep some hints, some sounds, some figures, even in the darkness.”

The only cinematic reference Kogahara mentions is Lee Chang-dong’s “Peppermint Candy.” “I watched this film a long time ago. Then I just re-watched it a couple more times and it helped me to back up my script.”

The director’s work with Yuzu Aoki was intense.

“I shared Lee Chang-dong’s film, explained every single scene, even page by page. We also did some rehearsal and spent some time together before shooting.”

Kogahara also invited him to improvise to build his character without necessarily focusing on the scenes present in the script.

Yuzu Aoki has become well-known in Japan as he’s one of the main cast members of a Japanese TV drama “More Than Words,” and starred in Hollywood movie “Minamata.”

“Nagisa” was filmed in and around Nagasaki for two weeks in late summer 2020. Kogahara himself took care of the editing process, which took almost a year.

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