Fighting an Obsession — and Losing
Masaharu Take returns to TIFF’s Japanese Cinema Splash with The Gun, four years after winning the Japanese Cinema Splash Award — and international acclaim — for his boxing drama 100 Yen Love. While he has gone on to direct two local box-office hits, both warm comedies (The Ringside Story, We Make Antiques), Take’s latest is first and foremost a noir-tinged tale of obsession.
Based on the Shincho Prizewinning novel by Fuminori Nakamura, which the Wall Street Journal named one of the 10 Best Mystery Novels of the Year, The Gun is shot mostly in luminous black-and-white, and the visuals serve almost like another character in the film.
Nijiro Murakami (Still the Water, Destruction Babies) stars as Toru, an aimless college student who comes upon the aftermath of a murder scene one night, and without thinking, grabs the titular weapon.
He takes it home and keeps it safely hidden away, but curiosity gradually begins to consume him. His budding relationship with a fellow student, Yuko (Alice Hirose, Eating Women, The Travelling Cat Chronicles), suffers as his obsession grows, and he becomes more reclusive. Then one day, a detective (Lily Franky, Like Father, Like Son, Shoplifters) turns up at his apartment and a dangerous cat-and-mouse game begins.
Appearing at a press-packed Q&A session following the screening, creator/producer Kazuyoshi Okuyama recalled, “I met Mr. Murakami on the red carpet at TIFF for the first time three years ago. Since we were already working on this project, I thought, ‘Wow, he would be perfect for the role.’”
Asked how he’d come to work with Take, Okuyama said, “I worked with him on Score and Gonin when he was an assistant director, and he’s great with action films. Since I didn’t have a chance to work with him for some time, I always had him in mind to direct this. I talked with him, but he said he was busy for the next two years. I’d gotten the rights to the novel and I was eager to move ahead. One day, he called and said he only had 2 weeks free, and he thought it would be difficult. But we decided that we had to go ahead and do it. Fortunately, his schedule freed up a bit and we had longer than that.”
Take recalled, “I was in a bookstore when I got Mr. Okuyama’s phone call about doing the film. Since I was there already, I picked up the novel immediately. But I didn’t have any idea how it could be made into the movie. But when I heard that he wanted Mr. Murakami for the role, I thought, ‘Oh, he would be perfect.’”
Murakami, an increasingly huge star in Japan despite being just 21, told the audience, “Friends of mine told me that there was this book with a role that would be perfect for me, and I bought the book a long time ago but never read it. When I got the call from Mr. Okuyama, I picked up the book and read it. It surprised me that people thought it was the perfect role for me. Is that what people think of me? What does that say about me?”
The director noted, “Mr. Murakami actually lived in the apartment that the character inhabits in the film, since he thought that would help with character development. So the crew would show up every morning, clean up and prep the apartment, and start shooting.” He laughed. “There was no bath there, so Mr. Murakami had to take the train 3 stations away for the bath.”
As for Hirose, also an increasingly popular actress in Japan, she remembered, “I was working on a morning drama and didn’t have much to do, so I was happy when the call came to appear in this film. The role I play is the only cheerful character.” Explaining that it wasn’t a well-developed character in the novel, the actress said, “The director told me that I was the light in the film. As I read the script, I decided I shouldn’t let [the character] Toru drag me into his dark world, I had to stay in the bright world no matter what.”
Take said, “Without her character, the film would be just too dark. I was trying to find a way to include some humor in the script, and I was worried about what the author would say. But he fortunately agreed with me, and he even gave me some ideas for lines. I heard from Mr. Okuyama that the author had never done that before.”
Calling it his “first Lily experience,” the director said, “When I first read the novel, the scene I liked best was the coffee shop scene with the boy and the detective. I’d never worked with Lily Franky, and I thought he’d be perfect as the detective. That scene is the core of the film, and it was 8 pages of script. We didn’t have time for rehearsal, we just did a read-through with Mr. Franky. We were all happy that he was there. He was wondering if he could memorize all those lines, and although he had them in his head, he improvised a lot. He also came up with a lot of physical gestures that each had a very specific meaning.”
Murakami shared, “I asked him how he memorizes his lines. He says that he reads them to himself over and over again, and never says a line out loud until he’s on set. It’s amazing.”
Asked about directing the actors, Take said, “It’s my job to act like I know what I’m doing, but I hadn’t shot a film based on an original novel before. One day I saw Mr. Murakami on set, taking the novel out of his pocket and referring to it. I thought, if he can refer to it during shooting, why can’t I?”
Murakami surprised the audience by relating that the novel’s author and the film’s director are from the same area of Tokyo, Takashimadaira, and went to schools that were really close to each other. “So they grew up looking at the same scenery,” he said. “I could feel that level of familiarity on set.”
The producer, asked why he had decided to make a film from the novel, admitted, “I tend to get depressed every few years. When I saw this novel, which has a young boy with a pistol in his pocket, it attracted me somehow. It’s dark, of course, but it’s a sweet darkness. I can’t stand film people who say, ‘This is gonna be a big hit, let’s do it.’ I can’t promise a big hit, but I’d be happy if people looked back a few years from now and remembered how they saw the film at TIFF and thought it was good.”
Take concluded, “This is called The Gun, but we don’t have guns like they do in the US. I wonder what Americans will think of the film, since it seems like everyone there has a gun? Really, though, the film is about how human beings are controlled by tools. I look forward to hearing feedback from audiences outside Japan.”
The Gun will be released across Japan on November 17.