Sugita Masakazu on ‘Remember to Breathe’ in Tokyo Festival’s Nippon Cinema Now

 Screening in the Tokyo International Film Festval’s Nippon Cinema Now section, “Remember to Breathe” is director Sugita Masakazu’s second feature, following his 2014 “Joy of Man’s Desiring,” winner of a Special Mention in the Generation Kplus section of the Berlin Film Festival.

Based on an original script by Sugita, the film stars Inoue Mao as Yuko, a mature woman who suddenly finds herself living with her estranged mother (Ishida Eri), after the latter causes a fire in the house of her son and daughter-in-law. In course of the film we learn, more through her silent expressions than her spoken words, why Yuko finds it so hard to get along with her mom, who seems a fun-loving and even caring type, quickly making friends with a neighbor’s young daughter. But in the final scenes all is devastatingly revealed in a highly focused, carefully calibrated performance by Inoue.  

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“As I was writing the script, I knew that the role of the daughter would be a tough one since she has to express her feelings through her atmosphere, not her words,” said Sugita in an interview with “Variety” at the festival’s Tokyo Midtown main venue. “It requires a very interior performance.”  

Watching the work of Inoue, who had once starred in pop dramas and movies, but had since moved on to more serious fare, Sugita saw she was “acting from a deeper place. She could be persuasive just by standing there, without saying a word. So, I knew I had to get her (for the lead).”  

Sugita admits that Inoue hesitated before accepting the role. “I asked her to accept the challenge of making the film with me,” he said. “She finally decided to do it as a chance that might come only once in her acting career.”  

Unlike his previous film, which was based on his own experience as a survivor of a major earthquake in Kobe in 1995, “Remember to Breathe” is not autobiographical. “This time I wanted to put some distance between myself and the story,” Sugita said. “I had to use my imagination to write it.”  

He also wanted to avoid the kind of over-explaining that is so common in Japanese films, indies like his own included. “I’m a bit worried that foreign audiences will have trouble understanding Yuko’s character, since she says so little about her feelings,” he says. But he has no regrets about his subject matter and his less-is-more approach. “What can I do (as an individual creator)? What is the potential of films? I thought I could answer those questions for myself.”

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