Japanese director Yu Irie is the first to take on the topic of Japanese hip hop artists in his latest feature film entitled 8000 Miles. Having made its North American debut as part of the line-up at this year's Nouveau Cinema festival, Yu Irie was recently in town to promote his film and see the reaction of the public on this side of the planet. A bit taken aback by the cold weather in Montreal and tired from his long flight, Irie was still in good spirits and hoping that people would enjoy his film. I had a chance to sit down with him and chat about his project and some of his experiences so far. Here are some excerpts from our exclusive interview.
How did you get into filmmaking?
This year I will be turning 30 so I have been making films for about ten years. When I was 18, I used to spend days and nights watching movies and then when I turned 19, I decided to enroll in university and study filmmaking.
What inspired you to do a film about the hip hop culture in Japan?
Personally, I love hip hop music and wanted to make a movie that is different from 8 Mile.
Who are your favorite hip hop artists?
There are many that I like. I listen to Run DMC, Beastie Boys, Tupac…mainly American artists.
Do you rap?
LOL…No I can't.
Tell us what the filmmaking process was like?
I previously had financial support from companies but for this project I didn't get the support. I know it's not easy to make such a movie without a budget so I did what I could. I got my friends to play some of the roles in my film and got some older people in the community to participate as well.
Did anything unusual or out of the ordinary occur during filming?
I shot the film in a suburb near Tokyo. At the beginning, I asked people if I could film there. Most of them were not in favor of me doing so. But in the end, when the film was completed, they finally accepted it. During this process I also was unable to pay my rent and my cell phone bills (LOL).
Tell us about the term NEET used in the film and how this is reflective of the youth in Japan today?
There are many definitions for the term. I think it represents the people who don't work or have an education. They tend to stay at home. The number of youth who reflect this is on the rise mainly because parents in Japan are generally wealthy and have smaller families.
Was your family supportive of your project?
The lead character Ikku, whose house is shown in the film, is actually my house. Often we would be filming and my family would be sleeping upstairs. They were not 100% okay with it but eventually they accepted it.
What are some of the reactions you've received from the public in Japan?
I initially thought that it wasn't going to be well received but the reaction was better than I expected. I was especially concerned about the reactions from those who are into Japanese hip hop but they liked it too. It was mainly well accepted by audiences between the ages of 30 to 40 years old.
What was the reaction of parents and the elderly people?
Generally it was good. When I presented the film for the first time in Japan, a journalist came up to me and did mention that people will be able to relate to it based on their own family situation.
What's the main message of this film?
I hope the people of this tiny part of the country where I filmed this can see it and continue to follow their dreams to be rap artists.
What's next for you?
A few days before I arrived in Montreal, I just finished shooting a film about female rap artists. They are much more of a minority compared to their male counterparts. This film will be released most likely in the summer of 2010.