by Gill Pringle

Known for his shocking, absurd and extreme films, he has become the Japanese darling on the global film festival circuit showcasing his movies at Berlin, Toronto and Venice.

Love & Peace was screened to great applause as part of Tokyo Film Festival’s Japan Now category.

We sat down with Sono, 53, at the Gracery Hotel in the heart of Tokyo’s bustling Shinjuku district where he tells us why he’s a rebel at heart:

You originally wrote the script for Love & Peace 25 years ago. What took so long?

“I always wanted to make this film but there was no producer in Japan who was willing to invest in my script. When I was a boy, I watched a lot of TV and films which have all influenced me today. I grew up in the Godzilla generation and also Sesame Street. Both those things are incorporated into Love & Peace.”

This isn’t the first time you have delved into the past to dust off a screenplay from 25 years ago. This must have been a prolific time for writing?

“I wasn’t really making any films at that time. I was only working part time so I had plenty of time on my hands to write. I was writing many scripts and other things at that time. Why Don’t You Play in Hell, released last year, was also from an older script as is The Whispering Star which I released a few months ago. Love & Peace will be my final film from my scripts written all those years ago. It’s very satisfying that they have all been released as films now, even though at the time I wrote them, nobody wanted to take a chance on me.”

How did you support yourself during the time when you were writing early on in your career?

“I was doing all sorts of things – I worked in a sushi shop and did physical labour.”

The giant turtle in Love & Peace could be construed as poking fun at the Godzilla culture?

“Godzilla is very much a part of the Japanese culture but the computer graphic films have taken away from the old ways in which they used to make Godzilla. That style of filmmaking will be gone like a dinosaur. So doing the turtle in this manner was very nostalgic for me. CGI means that these kinds of films are no longer being made.”

You are very prolific. How is it possible to make five movies in one year?

“One reason is that it’s mostly low budget films which means that we make films in a very short period of time so it doesn’t require years and years of preparation to make my films. If you really try, it is possible to make six films in a year. It really depends on the methodology, and my own methodology allows me to make a large number of films. We used to be able to make a film on a budget of only 1 million YEN. It’s easy to say that’s impossible but I constantly challenge that.”

Do you always work with the same crew?

“A lot of the time, and maybe that is why I am able to make many films.”

What inspired you to be a filmmaker when you were a boy?

“I was born in the Japanese countryside in the Aichi prefecture. I watched a lot of films including Hitchcock who was very inspiring. I also really enjoyed Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. I also watched a lot of Japanese comedy on TV. I became very knowledgeable as a result of watching so much. At the same time I read stories, poem and manga. I was so busy reading and not listening in my classes that I became a problem student in my school. When I was in second grade, I went to school naked and was heavily scolded! I was trying to find the reason for wearing something at all, so why not naked? It was a simple question. I also found out more about sex than anybody else in the school and in second grade, I created a bulletin telling other students that this is what their parents do. I spread that bulletin around the school and that became a problem for the teachers. I was very mature for my age and learned everything early, and did whatever I wanted.”

When did you become a poet?

“When I was 17. I had nothing to do during the classroom hours so I wrote poetry instead. I also spent that time writing song lyrics and music because my classes were boring. I submitted my poetry to a magazine and it worked well but I was unable to make a living from poetry. I then wrote my poem on a wall in the town in the middle of graffiti and I shot that as a film which I think was the beginning of my evolution into a filmmaker.”

Did your family encourage you to become a filmmaker?

“They were very much against it. They were very rigid and strict parents. They wanted me to go to Harvard and be a professor or something like that. But I was also a rebel.”

You are very successful in Japan and your films are shown around the world. Have you ever considered setting a film outside of Japan?

“Yes, next year I will be shooting a film abroad. It will of course be a Japanese film but parts of it will not actually be located in Japan which is something new for me. It may even become a series of films set outside of Japan. I can’t tell you which country but I will say it’s not Iceland! I get bored easily so being successful in Japan alone is not good enough for me.”

Some critics have described certain of your films as being part of your “hate trilogy”. Can you explain?

“I have never written a trilogy or even consider my films to deal with hate. I might have jokingly described some of my films as being “The Trilogy to Pay My Rent” but that was then misconstrued.”

As you become older is it difficult to tap into the feelings of the confused young men that feature in your early scripts, now being brought to the screen so many years later?

“It’s extremely easy. My success came in my late 40s so those feelings of insecurity are still very close for me.”

Are there any western actors you’d like to direct?

“I would love to work with Jennifer Lawrence but that’s just because I really like her. I’m not so sure she would fit into my style of movie-making. I also think Ezra Miller has an interesting face so I‘d like to work with him.”

Love & Peace is screening at the Japanese Film Festival 2015.


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