Interview: Eiji Uchida and Sairi Ito on their hit Japanese film Love and Other Cults (Kemonomichi)

Love and Other Cults is the latest movie by Japanese Director and writer Eiji Uchida; a punchy and brash, yet dark and gritty coming-of-age film that masterfully tackles social issues including youth gangs and the sex industry in Japan. The film follows the tumultuous story of Ai, played by Sairi Ito, and explores the many multifaceted stories of young people struggling to find a sense of true belonging.

Our Melbourne writer, Anastasia Giggins, sat down with Uchida and Ito ahead of the films special guest screening at the Japanese Film Festival in Melbourne.

There is an ongoing thread in you films where focus in on and tell stories about struggle, and the people who experiences these struggles. Indeed, Love and other Cults focuses on different people who may be perceived as being outcasts or misfits within society – why do you approach these stories? What is it about these sorts of tales that attracts you to them?

Eiji Uchida (EU): Most of my movies do indeed have outcasts within them, and there is a focus on these misfits. To think about it and why I approach these archetypical vagabonds, I think it has a lot to do with my interest in the way in which Japan is often portrayed as this “proper” or polite society.

If you actually look at Japan in total, it is incredibly diverse and it consists of so many different types of outcasts, so many different types of people. I really believe that these people really should have a voice.

On that point more particularly, why do think telling these sorts of stories is important, not just in Japan but more globally? 

EU: They are voices are not often heard. Many people often don’t hear about the intersectionality and the complex layers that make up Japanese society, and I often find these voices provide very unique perspectives and experience.

At the same time, I think that cinema often provides a way in which we are able to reflect. I suppose that one of the reasons why I think films like this is important is that I actually want these misfits, as you see and as are portrayed in these movies, to reflect. I feel that a lot of these people don’t really know or understand the situation that they are in. I don’t think they would actually come to the movie or actually watch it; not many of the would. But my hope would be that they would actually come to the movie and understand on another level what is happening to them, understand more deeply what they experience.

I heard that the film was based on a true story. Where did you gain inspiration for Love and Other Cults?

EU: It is a story about a real girl. I heard her story and immediately wanted to do something with it. I think that through the story of that girl, you are able to get a unique insight into what happens in rural settings. Moreover, there is a focused concentration of all these bad things that happen sequentially and I wanted to explore that.

On that point more particularly, we see the protagonist of the film, Ai, bouncing from home to home, look to look, and identity to identity. And through this process, she seems to undertake this never-ending quest to find a sense of true belonging. There is this deep seated loneliness and desperate need for connection – Sairi, how did you go about portraying this?

Sairi Ito (SI): Ai always wants to be deeply loved and cared for; her ambition for this is a passionate cause, but also a very human desire. When talking to Eiji, the director, he and I spoke about how Ai undertakes very different personalities depending on her life circumstances; she is constantly transforming, and so I had to really take that into consideration. Yet, at the same time, there was this underlying foundation that lay at the core of her character; a particular loneliness, a desire for love, and that is constant throughout the film.

Indeed, the film itself does present many different perspectives. I can imagine that it would have been a very unique experience to create a film like this. For example, I heard that it was shot under Police supervision. What was the process that each of you undertook in creating this film? 

EU: For me, I found it to be a very unique experience when working with the delinquents in the film. These people were not actors, and it is very likely that they are probably not up to good things now, even as we speak. But they were real, I guess you could say, semi-“baddies”. That was a very unique aspect. As you mentioned, some days before we would go for a shoot, there were often lots of police around.

SI: I actually did not have too much direct experience or contact with them. However, there was this one scene at the beginning of the film where they are waiting outside the bathroom, and that’s the first scene that I worked with them more directly.

While we were filming, other groups came to watch us shooting the scenes; crouching down, these spectators were often more alarming. But yes, there were always police around.

What have you found to be the major differences between Japanese audiences of your film and audiences here in Australia?

EU: Ahhh…they are totally different. I think that has something to do with how people perceive “others”. In Japan, outsiders are often regarded as fashionable, for the lack of a better term.

I have found that outside of Japanese culture there is something very environmental about the way in which people become outsiders. This is often borne from having had a very hard life through, for example, the lack of money, education, or adequate family and support networks. These things may lead you to being an outsider, or a so-called “baddie”. However, in Japan there is a certain level of coolness that is associated with being a delinquent. Even if you don’t have a hard life, some people will choose to become a delinquent because it is perceived as cool and rebellious.

In this sense, the differences are great.

What is one other story that you would like to explore and express to your audiences?

EU: I do love creating stories around outsiders; I like projecting their voices. I would like to continue to do this.

SI: It’s true that Ai is a delinquent. But I also think she’s a very kind, honest, and pure person. There was something very human about her, and very personal about playing her. The longer I got to know her, I would think more deeply about what she was going through and issues that would concern her. That was very exciting. While I think to act out more conventional characters would be a difficult challenge, I actually find “abnormal” characters or less conventional characters much more interesting; I would like to continue to play these characters.

Love and Other Cults screened as part of the Japanese Film Festival.