Spotlight: An interview with Yumi Masuda ("Teal to Orange")



Which films and/or filmmakers inspire you? Do you feel there are any particular films that have influenced your style and creative choices?


I love arts and paintings that influence my creativeness. I don't watch movies because I usually can't watch them till the end.

Also, I don't like dark places, so I don't like movie theaters.

A person like me became interested in filmmaking because I have a long-time friend who happened to be a world-famous movie director, Sion Sono.


What makes you excited about being on set?


In 2021, when this film was made, Tokyo, like the rest of the world, was in a COVID-19 epidemic, and a state of emergency had been declared.

This made it difficult for people even to gather, and I faced various restrictions that wouldn't normally have existed.

But, I love challenges, and it was fun for me to come up with ideas to solve them.


Teal to Orange is inspired by true events - you suffered from Covid-19, and shot this film right after your recovery. What inspired the idea to write the story and how did this project come about?


Not only I but also my friends got the COVID-19. I was very lucky that mine was mild, but some of my friends had very severe symptoms.

When I saw the situation around me, I wondered if the situation was the same worldwide.

So I wanted to document what I have experienced myself.

The COVID symptoms are not just physical stuff but have a great deal to do with psychological factors, such as mental problems and social relations. I wanted to project what an ordinary person feels when suddenly forced to be isolated from everyday life.

The production staff and the main cast, Marina Kozawa were all affected by COVID-19, and we all shared this experience.


How did you prepare for the shoot?


Because of the lockdown, meeting people or having face-to-face conversations was impossible.

Staff members who had experienced COVID, including Marina, gathered on-site to work on the production.

But we filmed with most of the other actors without meeting them. An example is like, I devised the conversation through phone calls.

We recorded the actors' voices without meeting them and used that material as the basis for the film.

We hardly used the script on paper. Instead, most were done with communication through phone calls and e-mails.


When you cast an actor or an actress, what are you looking for as the director? Is it mainly talent, experience, or other things?


Trust. That's it. It is not only for casting actors and actresses but also for choosing staff and technicians. I think the most important thing in filmmaking is trustworthiness.



Marina Kozawa is such a wonderful choice as Royoko Nishino, and she also won Best Actress for her part in Top Shorts. How did you work with her to achieve this excellent performance? Did you have time for rehearsals?


It took about three years to build a trusting relationship before we could create the performance she is seen in this film.

I don't see her as an actress but as someone, a friend with whom I usually listen to her worries and problems.

I also intended to minimize the number of staff involved in the shoot to create a private space for her.

If she feels at ease, she can perform her best.

I believe that her wonderful performance was the result of our trusting relationship.

By the way, we did not do any rehearsals. I think more rehearsals make performances less natural.


Can you talk about your collaboration with the talented cinematographer, Yoshika Horita? How did you meet, is this your first collaboration? What is your creative process together?


We're like relatives, and we always share the same time. Traveling, shopping together, spending time talking, and so on.

Yoshika is the leading still photographer in Japan, but I don't see her as a photographer. I see her as a person who understands me the best. I've been working with her since I started making films. She started shooting movies with my films.

Because of this relationship, I can tell her, like "This is how I want you to shoot," without hesitation.

I think one of the most important characteristics of this work is that we were able to exchange ideas and opinions anytime freely. That is why I felt free creating this film.

As for filming, I directed everything, and she shot it exactly as I told her. She has always loved movies and knows how to create a cinematic picture.

However, since I don't see many movies, we had many conflicts regarding the angles to be shot. I have a different mindset toward picture angles than others.

For example, I don't like the third-person perspective since it's like what surveillance camera records.

In particular, because this film portrays a person who is cornered because of the COVID, I avoided camera shots that might occur making images of surveillance to the viewer.



What were your and Yoshika's favorite scenes to shoot?


My favorite scenes are the inserts of the changing city and the sky because I was able to express the protagonist's emotions.

Yoshika likes the last scene where Murano and Ryoko talk over the phone, where Ryoko shows her emotions for the first time.

She enjoyed shooting to express the main character's big emotions through the camera's movement.


Filming is never an easy task, let alone during a global pandemic. What were some of the challenges you faced?


In the summer of 2021, ambulances were constantly running every day and night in Tokyo.

When I was suffering from COVID, the sound of the ambulances really frightened me feeling that "another patient with severe COVID is being carried away."

That was one of the reasons I wanted to include a scene with an ambulance. But it was really difficult to shoot an ambulance with a siren.

We did not rent one to shoot. I rather wanted to shoot a real ambulance running in the city.

It took us about a week to shoot that scene. We spent night after night driving around the city, looking for an ambulance.

That's why the ambulance scene was shot with my iPhone. It was a great challenge to shoot that scene in the middle of Tokyo.



What was your editing process with Kota Watarai (who also co-wrote the film with you)?


Kota has done editing Japanese TV programs for a long time. So, I asked him to write news scenes.

We created the news scene based on information from real TV and internet news at the time.

He also works with us on our YouTube channel (Kurumira TV), so it was easy to communicate with him.

We enjoyed the editing process.


What were some of the big milestones in creating Teal to Orange?


The initial motivation to make this film came from an incident during my first short-film, Sharehouse 33.

A few days before filming began, I broke my leg and was unable to direct the shoot on my own, so I asked the help of director Sion Sono's production team.

The film won many international film awards, including the "IFS / L.A. FILM FESTIVAL, as Best International Film”, but when I told this to Director Sono, he told me, "This is not a film that you made."

So I thought I needed to make a film on our own. This is what motivated me to make Teal to Orange.

In Sharehouse 33, I made up a story based on material I happened to capture on my iPhone of Director Sono playing and singing with the piano while he was drunk. But this time I wanted to create and express the entire story on my own.

At the time I started the next one, COVID was so prevailing that I strongly felt I had no choice but to write a movie on the theme of COVID.

When I discussed this with people around me, 70% of them were against it. But I saw it as a great chance to shoot because I always feel more possibilities and opportunities when things are against me.

Another big trigger was that Marina Kozawa was about to quit acting.

At 36 years old, it is very rare for someone to play the leading role in a movie in Japan (most of them are played by people in their 20s).

She also felt this was a great opportunity and put everything she had into her performance, which I believe led to a good result.



What are you most proud of?


I am proud that despite the limitations, the staff and performers were able to make the film with respect to each other.


The film deals with Covid 19 and self-isolation as the main topic - what were you hoping to convey to audiences, and how was the film received so far?


I believe the problem with COVID is its special environment and conditions that are created when they become infected with the COVID.

It is that the patient is isolated and separated from the outside world. But it also becomes a battle with oneself and an opportunity to look at oneself in the end. That is what I want people to feel from my work. I am not trying to say something about the COVID, but I want people to feel what has happened from a situation in which people suffer from COVIDs.

I don't know how the public has received this film since it has not been released in theaters.



What do you wish you knew before shooting the film?


I had thought about the colors of the lighting; fluorescent and incandescent lights. But I don't think I could express that much in the movie.

Since there was a limit to the number of people who could be involved in the shooting, I couldn't bring in a lighting staff, so we had to use the room lights instead.


Now you're working on a new and exciting project! What can you tell us about your upcoming film, Floating Holidays?

Is it already in production?


I have already finished making Floating Holidays, and this is my first feature film.

When I make a film, I always want to make the viewer think about something without feeling uncomfortable.

Also, I try to create a sense of something familiar that can be shared with many people.

Another thing is to feel PEOPLE through my works.

In this film, I illustrated the everyday life that is common in Japan.

It is a film that captures and expresses Japan as it is today, with a nuance of a documentary.

I believe that the work will leave a lasting impression to the viewer.


What is your dream project?


A work is not finished when it is made.

It is complete when it is viewed by people.

I think the most valuable thing in the world is time. Time is like God for me.

Therefore, an ideal project is the one worth spending time of life for both the staff/casts and the viewers.