Let’s Get Lost My Endless Numbered Days by Shaun NEO
2024-05-05 11:51:00

“Maybe destiny doesn't matter,” says one of the characters in the film and this seems to be the starting point of the film, but also the reflection that will give meaning to the adventures of its protagonist Banzai Mitsue, a Japanese woman who leaves her native Hokkaido for Singapore in search of a meaning for her life.

You previously worked as a director of photography on many other projects until you made your first film, My Endless Numbered Days. Did you always have the idea of becoming a director at some point, or did the need directly emerge while you were working in the cinema industry?

In my graduation year of university, I directed a short film. The process was difficult. During the process, I felt that many people wanted to be directors, but there was not enough support in the system. Even now, in Singapore, there are not enough trained screenwriters, editors, sound designers, and colorists who are dedicated to film. I think it is the same everywhere—you need to earn a living by working on commercials, TV shows, etc. But I think that when you work on film, it is very different because in film, we are trying to explore new stories, new techniques, new styles, etc. So after graduation, I decided to put more effort into becoming a supporting crew who can help directors achieve what they want to achieve in film. In the process, I had the privilege of working with amazing directors, such as K Rajagopal, Liao Jiekai, and Nicole Midori Woodford, just to name a few. Over time, I did feel that there was something different that I could do as a director and that fundamentally allowed me to have the courage to make my film.

In an interview, you said that this is a very personal story based on events that occurred in your life. Could you tell us about this?

In the film, Banzai, the main character, finds herself in a foreign land of Singapore. Personally, I moved to Japan and stayed there for almost five years. I moved to Japan, not because of anything particular about Japan that drew me there, but it was more of a situation that I wanted to leave Singapore. I wanted to make films and I did not feel like I could do that in Singapore. However, in doing so, I gave up a lot of relationships in my life. While I was living in Japan, I was essentially running away from the repercussions of these broken relationships. However, the time came when I had to deal with my own emotions about the hurt I caused to people that mattered to me. Unable to do so, I had to look for other ways to deal with my emotions and then my first film, My Endless Numbered Days was made. Like how I was in a foreign land and eventually moved back to Singapore, Banzai was in Singapore and moved back to Japan, and in doing so, she embarked on a journey that I wanted to.

The main characters are two young women. How did you decide to focus the story on a female universe?

Generally, I feel that female characters are more interesting. But actually, the decision to have a female main character allowed me to be a little more detached from the character as the film itself is based on events that occurred in my own life.

“Maybe destination doesn’t matter,” says one of the film's characters, and that seems to be the way the film plays out. We follow the protagonist without knowing much about where she is going, not only geographically, but also sentimentally. It’s such a natural flowing of the film, that sometimes it seems that there was not a prior screenplay. How do you work to achieve this?

There was, indeed, no prior screenplay. We had a story that provided the framework for the film. In terms of what was to be shot, I built the story from locations. Banzai contributed greatly to how the character seems to live in real life. Nearing the end, Banzai returned to Hokkaido and we shot it in her real house, featuring her real parents.

Banzai also gave me a great deal of her time for this film. We started working together on this film one year before we started shooting. We would meet up once a month or so until she became comfortable with me. I needed her to understand that as the main lead of the show, she needed to fully understand the character and also be in the position of leading the show with what her character wanted to do. For example, in the scene of the empty swimming pool, I imagined that when Toritani, the male character, asks Banzai if she wants to get back together, Banzai would agree to it. However, Banzai said no during the shoot. While this part of the scene did not make it into the final edit of the film, the decision that Banzai made in this scene helped the film to find its final form, which was very much different from what I intended.

From a formal point of view, it is a very restrained and subtle film. Do you tend to impose your visual ideas, or do you adapt to the locations and the needs of the actors?

I think that how the film feels and looks is a result of the preferences I have as a cinematographer. As there was no screenplay, no one on set, not even me, knew what the actor would do specifically. To complement that, we had no lighting on set. I wanted the actors to be free to move. That was very important. The locations were also very important. As I mentioned, the entire shoot was actually planned through locations. I would go on recce myself and decide that I wanted to shoot in a particular location and I would let the location tell me what can happen there.

The English title of the film is My Endless Numbered Days, an expression that seems to describe something that many of us felt during our youth. Do you think that your film portrays certain feelings of the current generation?

I think that regardless of the generation, it describes how it feels when we are growing out of our youth and into an adult—still so young, but feeling like time is running out. The film also deals with a “quarter-life (a term used to describe young adults between the ages of 20-40) crisis” which I like to define as a crisis about no crisis. Swept up by “societal norms,” we strive for something we don’t really understand as young adults. It is pretty absurd and funny.

Do you plan to continue directing? Are you working on any new projects?

Yes, I do. I am currently working on my next directorial feature. At the same time, I still love being a cinematographer and so I will be doing that as well. I have a next project in Hong Kong and in September, I will also be in Italy for the Terre di Cinema 35mm workshop to further my understanding of shooting in analog film. Being in Jeonju for the festival, hopefully, I will get to meet new directors and perhaps I will have a project shooting in Korea!

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