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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 t