The 56th Chicago International Film Festival is excited to welcome director Sato Takuma to our fair city for the premiere of his film Any Crybabies Around? Young parent Tasuku has spent his life assiduously avoiding any responsibility in his small town in northern Japan. But when he’s caught drunk and naked on live national TV coverage at the local Namahage festival, in which men dress as ogres and scare children into behaving, he flees to Tokyo in shame. After two years of rock-bottom city living, he returns home, ready to embrace adulthood. But will the town and his family have him back? Skillfully weaving traditional culture into a thoroughly contemporary story, this sensitive and assured drama asks what it truly means to be a man. Below, Takuma explains why he’s eager for Chicago audiences to experience his newest masterwork.
Can you tell us a little bit about the tradition of Namahage and why you felt that it would give you a perfect starting point to tell this story about fatherhood?
Originally, NAMAHAGE is a local ritual where we have god visiting people’s houses and makes children cry to expel evil from each family by asking and answering questions to adults of the household. However, when I experienced it at my friend’s house when I was young, there were no parents or adults nearby to embrace me and I was scared. From that memory of loneliness, I realized that NAMAHAGE also plays a role in giving a strong sense of responsibility to the father by protecting his child while the child could feel the presence of the father by being protected by him. Inspired by this experience, the ending of this film was born: Tasuku finally confronts his responsibility as father when he visits his daughter as a NAMAHAGE; however, at the very moment, he has to leave the responsibility to her new father which made the scene of co-existence of both to be father and unable to be father for Tasuku.
In a way what’s happening in Akita is no different than what is happening to many small towns across the world with many of its youth leaving for the bigger cities. In writing the story, how did you balance the regional elements of your story with its universal themes?
What is missing in the bigger cities from the small remote towns where you were born and raised? When I thought of it, I thought they were the recollections and the memories that formed me. They would never go away even though the population may decline, the town may become lifeless, and our relationships with others may change. By interspersing my own memories in Akita, while I now live in Tokyo, and the memories of the people I met in Oga Peninsula during my five years of research, I tried to mix the changing and the unchanging aspects of the hometown. I also consciously made room for the audience to remind them of their forgotten memories of their hometowns.
Taiga Nakano stars in your film as well as in another Chicago International Film Festival selection, UNDER THE OPEN SKY. He’s without a doubt a rising star of Japanese cinema. What made him so ideal for the starring role in your film?
Taiga played a lead role in my short film “Beginning to Break Hey, Hey, Hey” in 2015. I was so impressed by his delicate balance of the acting between openness and closedness and decided to have him star in “Any Crybabies Around?”. I had a strong faith in him that he could make such a lovable protagonist who is desperate and humorous.
What do you hope audiences take away from your film?
I think that there is a tendency in today’s society that makes an unnecessary noise from the outside for the wound that someone has made and then quickly forget about it. Those outsiders just forget and make it faded, however, people who got wounded would never forget. I think we all could have the similar experience. I hope this film evokes you to imagine from the inside what is like to face the wound and carry it for the rest of the life.
Any Crybabies Around? is available to stream until Sunday, Oct 25th.