Interview with Director Junichi Kajioka

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Imphal 1944 Junichi Kajioka
The Monaco International Film Festival last month saw the premiere of Imphal 1944, a film about reconciliation between World War II veterans which was written, directed and produced by Junichi Kajioka. And not only did he manage these aspects of the film, he was also the lead actor. Junichi’s hard work paid off when his film gained three awards, but how did he reach this point? We sent serial-interviewer Mike Sullivan to uncover his secrets.

I’d like to start with your current project Imphal 1944, which was your directorial debut – what kind of methodology did you use for directing? How important was your wide experience as an actor for your work process as a director?

It was my first time to direct so I didn’t have any defined methodology. But I did have the experience of working with some great directors in the past so that was very useful to me. I did a test shoot and movement rehearsal in the forest one day and a whole rehearsal with the whole crew before the shooting on a separate day. Certainly it helps to direct actors being an actor myself. I noticed how actors can be vulnerable on set when I see them through the viewfinder. I totally understand actors’ feelings and I tried to create the best environment for them and let them have plenty of time to prepare before shooting scenes.

As you also produced this film, how did you maintain a balance between portraying one of the main roles, directing and handling all of the issues related to production? Did you find your concentration disrupted at all when you had to go into character?

Yes, being the writer, director, producer and lead actor was absolutely tough! It was difficult to simultaneously cope with unexpected developments. For example, if someone in the crew turned up late and it wasn’t possible to move onto the next location, I had to change the script to fit into the scene on location. And once when I was acting one of the crew came up to me and I had to pay the fee for the permission for the next shooting right then or we wouldn’t have been able to shoot the next day. This experience made me much stronger, and most importantly I was learning to work with a team and rely on their different abilities.

Junichi Kajioka director actor producer

You wrote the screenplay for this project, did you enjoy putting pen to paper and creating a story which had such a strong historical background? Did you seek advice from anyone in particular?

I always enjoy writing and I’ve had a lot of ideas for writing since I was very young but I now have greater confidence to write more. It was a satisfying experience to see my ideas becoming a reality on film. I was in tears while my film was screening in Imphal and hundreds people were watching it with me on the big screen. It was quite emotional, because it was a big historical event and very important to the people attending. I read a lot of books in both English and Japanese about the subject, and I was grateful to receive a lot of books and documents from different experts. My Manipuri friends were especially helpful. It helped create the characters featured in the film. I was so lucky to get their kind advice and help.

Quite unusually there is also a music video connected to this film, Memories of Imphal, how did your collaboration with Luna Luna (performer), Chizuru Onoyama (lyrics) and Yukiko Isomura (music) come about?

I already knew I had no budget to go to the jungle in Imphal to shoot the scenes, so I had a specific idea to express the concept and ideas through that song. I’ve known Luna Luna for a long time, especially Chizuru. We acted in the same musical together in the 90s and we have kept in touch since then. I knew that her beautiful clear voice and Yukiko’s expansive piano style fit into the theme of the film. Chizuru and I composed the lyrics together, and Yukiko made a beautiful tune! Such a lovely collaborative work and definitely the theme music added a lot to the film!

What is your methodology as an actor?

The Central Academy of Drama in Beijing, where I learned in 90s, was quite attached to the theory of the Stanislavsky method. However, I’ve worked with actors from different countries and am accustomed to the different type of working style so I have absorbed many styles and adapt to the people I work with every time.

How do you manage all of the different roles that you have? Do you find it hard at all to portray one role and then to move onto your next role?

There are always up and downs. I often have no job for a few months and then suddenly you get offered a few good projects at the same time and you have to choose only one. Therefore it tends to be extremely busy sometimes and you have no time to drag your emotions from a previous roles. You need to switch on and off very quickly. I envy some of the established actors who can prepare for a role for 3 months and concentrate on just one thing. It’s a new challenge for me to spend more time on writing, directing and producing and less on acting.

Imphal 1944 Junichi Kajioka
Although you are a UK-based actor you’ve done some work in China – were these parts that you auditioned for? What was your experience of filming in China?

Yes, although I’m a UK-based actor now, I’ve had the really rare opportunity to work on films in China since their film industry was smaller. The filmmaking that I encountered in China was very different from what I experienced in Japan in the 90s. In Japan everything was done quite quickly – it was like shooting for TV – whereas in China there was a lot more time taken with discussion and rehearsing before the actual shooting. And it was not unusual for actors to be involved both in front of and behind the camera. For example, after finishing the day’s shooting I had to attend the script meeting with the director for the scenes for the following day. I then needed to translate it into Japanese and quietly slip it out under the door of the hotel room where the Japanese actors were already asleep. And then I could finally have a shower and crash into my bed until the early morning call. The filming went on month after month; I felt like I was in the army. Actually we were sent to the Chinese army for training for a few weeks before shooting of one film. My Chinese films included Jiang Wen’s Devils on the Doorstep, Lu Chuan’s City of Life and Death, and Zhang Yimou’s The Flowers of War. All these directors have different styles and it’s been amazing to learn from them! Yes I auditioned for my roles in China and could tell more stories about these if I had the space.

Finally, will Imphal 1944 be showing at any film festivals in the UK?

Luckily, Imphal 1944 was selected by the Monaco International Film Festival for its world premiere and I attended the festival with my crew. I’m planning to send it to a few film festivals in both the UK and abroad in 2015.

You can follow Imphal 1944’s progress on its Facebook page, and watch the trailer on Youtube.

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