[I’ve been rather torn about this writeup, because I was the one who asked the question which caused the embarrassment. Hence the extremely belated publish date. Read on to decide if maybe my question got lost in translation?]
Few would think there was anything that could make actor/director Tomorowo Taguchi blush. Yet the man who has acted the full spectrum of psychopaths, miscreants, and weirdos, is fully capable of of being sweetly abashed.
Even at the second screening of his Oh, My Buddha! 「色即ぜねれしょん」 [Actual release title “Shikisoku Generation”] at the Japan Society, Taguchi was clearly delighted at the fresh round of praise for his second directing effort. He and leading man Daichi Watanabe gave an enthusiastic opening to the film, and afterward expressed their affection for a project celebrating the sweetness (and gentle disappointments) of youth.
The natural question was raised: how an actor well known for his iconic subculture status – especially for characters on the decidedly less savoury side of life – could turn out a film so affectionately portraying understated, middle class innocence? Oddly enough, this proved to be a rather difficult and embarrassing for the director to answer.
Taguchi explained that the close male bonds shown among the three leads in the film mirror closely his own experiences from the 70s and 80s Tokyo subculture generation. He too was born into a comfortable middle class family; and while his own prodigal journey took him into far more eclectic circles than the island refuge depicted in the film, the innocent bonds of friendship were ever-present. He bashfully stuttered a few sentences about ‘merry’ nights out with ‘Shikisoku’ author Jun Miura; good friends are allowed to have a kiss and a cuddle when slightly sozzled, after all. Not unlike the flirtations with sex and naughtiness by the lads in Shikisoku.
Yet the real edge lies not so much in the hoped-for sex and drugs, as the lads in the film discover, but the rock and roll. As Jun (Watanabe) happily slurs to himself: whiskey…Bob Dylan…real rock and roll! Like the Buddhist proverb behind the film’s Japanese title, Dylan’s uncompromising lyrics embrace the transience of form and substance, and the irony of human vanity. Of course, anti-conformity has no stronger attraction than to youths living in a country that is over 90% homogenous.
Taguchi told of his search to embody all this punk-laced Dylan invective by choosing a musician as his film’s star; and his subsequent “capture of this unique creature, Daichi Watanabe” of Kuro Neko Chelsea. It is easy to see shades of young Tomorowo in the black-clad and bare-chested Watanabe, with a voice and lyrical style hearkening back to his rebel forebears. And, despite Taguchi’s concern that the film’s success may have curtailed this unique creature’s rarity, Watanabe has declared that music will always remain his shrine. Not even a rapturous New York audience (a city he has now fallen in love with) has caused him to waver in his dedication.
In contrast to the film’s bright 70’s colours and unfussy acting, Taguchi was endearingly candid about his stress surrounding the film’s production. A very teenage-angst expression came over the 52 year-old’s face as he recounted his pleas for advice and support from the plethora of filmmakers he has befriended throughout his career. He found that he had even shed the typical ’15 kilos’ throughout filming – not that any of this turmoil so much as touches the final product. Even his reclaiming of the 青春映画 (youth film) genre – fraught with PR confusion – could have been it’s own cross to bear.
The sun shone brightly on the film’s release, however, and made it’s way to a joyous NYC summer release. When asked what he looked forward to during his time in New York, Taguchi took a deep breath, raised his fists in the air and yelled “FREE SEKSU!” The audience weren’t fooled: this would likely translate to a couple of whiskeys, a Dylan sing-along, and a friendly kiss-chase.
The casting of hilariously deadpan Lily Franky and punk singer Kazunobu Mineta (both also seen in ‘Boys on the Run’ at JapanCuts) is in keeping with the musical – and comedic – core of the film. ‘Oh, My Buddha!’ appears to have been as much a joy to create as to watch.