By Aiko Komai / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterAkiko moves to Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, after marrying Masakazu Isshiki, a mystery writer who is much older than she is. The old city where she starts her new life, however, is different from Kamakura as we know it: The heroine encounters mysterious creatures, ghosts and even the grim reaper.
Mitsuki Takahata stars as the newlywed wife in “Destiny: Kamakura Monogatari” (Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura), a fantasy that is currently showing in theaters. Masato Sakai plays her husband.
Akiko’s married life is far from calm. Masakazu is often visited by an editor, as well as officers from the local police station’s “psychic investigation unit” to whom he offers a helping hand. Even a deity of poverty visits the mystery writer.
“Akiko is always smiling, but she’s strong of heart,” the 26-year-old actress said of her role. “I tried to portray her as having a relaxed air.”
The movie is based on the eponymous manga by Ryohei Saigan that has been serialized since 1984. It was directed by Takashi Yamazaki, known for his part in making the “Always: Sanchome no Yuhi” (Always — Sunset on Third Street) series based on another title by the manga artist.
For that series, Yamazaki made great use of computer graphics to re-create a bygone Tokyo landscape. He’s done the same in this latest production to depict supernatural phenomena, particularly in the latter half of the story, set in the underworld, which Akiko has already set out for when her husband wakes up after being sick.
During shooting, however, Takahata had to act without any idea how the finished images would look. When watching the finished film, therefore, the actress was surprised by the film’s strong ability to “present such an amazing world.”
“I was helped so much by computer graphics. I owe them a lot,” she said mischievously.
Takahata, an Osaka Prefecture native, dreamed of working in showbiz since she was little. At 13, she was selected from about 10,000 applicants for the lead role in a musical at an audition run by the entertainment agency she now belongs to.
Her resume includes lead parts in the musical “Peter Pan” and in “Toto Ne-chan,” NHK’s high-profile serial morning drama. Takahata is now being offered many major roles for TV dramas and films as she gains recognition for her meticulous portrayals of her roles. Next year, she will star in “The Little Mermaid in Concert.”
“I love the moment when acting and singing blend,” Takahata said. “I hope I can take on [roles in] many such works.”
In “Destiny: Kamakura Monogatari,” the second half focuses on Masakazu’s adventure to retrieve his wife from the underworld.
“This film has something very simple at its core: the straightforward love between a married couple,” Takahata said. “It’s a story with a universal theme, and I believe it can be enjoyed by young and old.”
Director inspired by China for ‘underworld’
Yamazaki did not just direct, but also wrote the script and was in charge of visual effects, in which live-action footage is merged with computer graphics to create scenes that don’t exist in reality. The following are excerpts of an interview with Yamazaki and his visual effects director, Kiyoko Shibuya:
The Yomiuri Shimbun: The film has a dynamic twist in its plot development.
Yamazaki: As my work is watched in theaters, I wanted it to have a change big enough to be described as a “jump.”
Shibuya: It’s like the characters travel from everyday life to a place quite far away.
Q: What did you pay attention to most in shooting the first half?
Shibuya: We had to shoot “what everyone imagines as Kamakura,” not just regular Kamakura. I thought hard about how to do it.
Yamazaki: If we’d shot Kamakura as it is, we would’ve just ended up with footage of construction sites, signboards and so on. We struggled with the scene in which the protagonist [Masakazu] takes his new wife home by car.
Shibuya: When it comes to Kamakura, everybody thinks of the Great Buddha. However, it can’t actually be seen from outside the temple’s premises.
Yamazaki: We got approval from locals to compose a scene in which the statue can be seen as his car is running beside it.
Q: The underworld, featured in the second half, has a very unique landscape.
Yamazaki: If you hear “the other world,” you may think of something like a field of flowers. But I thought it’d be fun if it’s like an onsen hot spring resort.
Shibuya: When I saw China’s Wulingyuan [a World Heritage scenic site] and Fenghuang [Phoenix] Ancient Town on TV, I thought they were perfect for our concept. I immediately contacted him.
Yamazaki: I also thought, “This is it!”
Shibuya: A small number of us soon flew to visit those places.
Yamazaki: We also went to a film studio that has been turned into a theme park and is now open to visitors.
Shibuya: The studio gave us so much inspiration for designing the residence of Tentoki, the couple’s enemy in the second half.
Q: What was the most challenging part of using the visual effects technology?
Yamazaki: For Tentoki and the other monsters, we depicted everything above the neck with computer graphics.
Shibuya: We had the actors for the monsters wear masks that can detect facial movements.
Yamazaki: Tentoki was shot alone, as he’s bigger [than other characters], to get separate images for the composite.
Shibuya: In the director’s concept, the underworld can be found beyond a waterfall. It was also hard for me to depict this with computer graphics.
Yamazaki: It represents the river between this world and the other, and by replacing it with a waterfall, I aimed to express the despair of [the dead] never being able to return.
Q: Which aspects of the film do you want viewers to appreciate most?
Yamazaki: I want to say everything, but our artists put so much effort into creating the items in Masakazu’s collection and also the sets for a night market in Kamakura.