Interview Suzuki Yohei


By Young Film Critic Paige Lim

In the rural city of Mito, the capital of Japan’s Ibaraki Prefecture, a young woman aimlessly wanders around a dilapidated and quiet housing estate. Her name is Ako, and there is something certainly off about her. Perpetually in a world of her own, she has trouble communicating with humans, instead choosing to speak to objects, plants and even befriending a mannequin in the woods. Is Ako crazy, or simply misunderstood by those around her?

Independent filmmaker Suzuki Yohei presents his second feature YEAH, a queer satirical comedy that resembles the tone of his debut cult hit Maru in 2014. Also premiering is his short After The Exhibition, starring real-life Japanese artist Qualia. Beyond the fancy artworks on the wall and perfunctory greetings with customers, what actually goes on behind the scenes of an art exhibition?

The title of YEAH is very intriguing, especially because it is not a Japanese word. How did you come up with it?
The lead actress of YEAH, Elisa Yanagi, is mainly based in Tokyo but at some point she started to come to Mito more often, where I live. We got acquainted and became friends. Mrs Yanagi would use the world "Yeah" on a daily basis, and she would always use it after a very stressful day. "Oh, it was stressful, yeah," – she would use it like that. It felt to me as if she was using the word as some sort of magic to feel better, and I liked the sound of it.

Both YEAH and your first feature Maru contain deadpan and absurdist elements, as well as strong social commentary. Are there any other similarities between the two films?
In my previous work Maru, there was a strange and mysterious object that appeared and people would go crazy. YEAH is not a sequel to Maru, but there is also a mysterious object in the film, which is the mannequin. It was important to me that it looked feminine and it had to be a female doll. This is because the main character appears to be very deluded and psychotic. She has problems communicating with the people around her, but not with living objects – she likes plants and the doll. I wanted this friendship and the communication between two female characters to be the centre of the film.

YEAH was shot in a rundown housing estate that is said to symbolise the prosperity of Japan’s recent past, while its decrepitude represents the nation’s present state of decline. Can you elaborate on the significance of the film’s setting?
The film takes place in an estate in the small city of Mito in the Ibaraki Prefecture. The estate was built around the 1970s in Japan, which was the economic growth period after the war. So everything was built beautifully and brought prosperity. But 40 years later, those who live there now are mostly the working-class with low income, the elderly (as Japan has an ageing population) or single mothers, and they live a difficult life there. When you arrive in Mito, you also see stray dogs, which is a rare sight in Japan. There were also many middle-aged men around who were not very well-groomed and wore different shoes, and I felt attracted to that.

Suzuki Yohei

was educated at Tama Art University. He started his film career making short films.

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Ako dislikes humans and is clearly one with nature. In one scene she says to a tree, “You don’t have to work so hard for mankind.” Is the film a critique on our destruction of the environment?
Not at all. I didn’t mean it to be a critique on environmental destruction. I didn’t choose the scenery for that. But I like your comment – I didn’t think of it, but now that you've said it, it’s enjoyable. What I wanted to do is do was put the focus of the story on non-human objects.

Your short After The Exhibition is interesting. It seems to show two sides to the artist Qualia: one when he is with the public, and the other when he is alone. What did you want to portray to the audience with this film?
This is a story about Qualia at his exhibition and how he spends a lot of time there. I wanted to show Qualia not at the front end where he is exposing his works, but at the backyard where customers will come and have a little drink and enjoy themselves. For me, that is a very special time, because there is a limited timespan to have such fun and to really feel at home. 

That is the reason why Qualia breaks the wall in the end, so he can come back to the real world. He wants to unify these two spaces – the exhibition side, and the behind-the-scenes side – into one.

Photo in header: IFFR 2018, YEAH premiere © Anne-Claire Lans