Interview with Takeshi Fukunaga – US based up and coming Film Director

By Mike Sullivan

Please tell us about where you are from in Japan.

I was born and raised in a town called, Date-Shi, in Hokkaido, Japan.

How did you get into filmmaking?

To simply put, it comes down to the Stanley Kubrick’s movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. It blew my mind when I saw it for the first time when I was in high school, and the impact I had back then stayed deep inside of me and led me to explore film to eventually decide to pursue filmmaking as career.

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Your latest project is ‘Out of my Hand,’ please tell us about this film.

It’s a film about a Liberian rubber plantation worker who risks everything to discover a new life as a cab driver in New York. It’s the second narrative feature film ever shot in Liberia by a foreign production, and the first to be made in association with the Liberia Movie Union which is an affiliation of the Liberian government.

The idea of telling a story of a Liberian plantation worker came to me through my experience of working on a documentary about the subject as editor. It was a project by our Director of Photography, Ryo Murakami and seeing the strength and dignity of those workers captured in the footage was very inspiring to me. The image stuck in me, and a couple of years later when I was going to write a feature script with my partner, Donari Braxton, I wanted to tell a story about a immigrant in New York and decided to use the setting as the character’s background.

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What were the challenges for filming in Liberia?

I don’t know where to begin; we’ve faced all kinds of challenges from cultural to logistical. To this date, Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world due to the civil war that lasted 13 years and ended only 10 years ago. This leaves the accessible resources there very limited, and we had to bring every piece of equipment from New York and that alone was such a hustle. Weather was a big challenge too. It was entering into their long lasting rainy season, and we had many days where the shoot got stopped because of rain. The list goes on, but we made it work for the most part, with much thanks to the amazing crew, cast, Liberia Movie Union and the local community.

Could you tell us about the preparation for the final parts of the movie in New York?

As you see the footage in the teaser, 70% of the principal photography was done in Liberia last year in spring and we are currently seeking funds through kickstarter for the production in New York. It’s been two weeks since we launched the kickstarter campaign, and with the overwhelming support we are receiving, we have just passed the $10,000 mark. However, there is still a long way to go to reach the goal of $35,000. We would like to invite everybody to be a part of this project through this exciting crowdfunding platform.

What prompted you to make ‘The Sword Maker’ a film about one of the last sword (katana) makers in Japan?

The main subject of the documentary, Mr. Watanabe, is a friend of my father in my hometown and I’ve known him since I was little. When I was in Japan, I didn’t have much appreciation to what he does or any Japanese traditional art and craft, but I started to grow my admiration and respect over the years after I moved out of Japan. When Etsy approached me to pitch an idea for their documentary series, it was one of the stories I came up with and they gave me a green light for it. I’m very honoured that I had an opportunity to share his amazing story and the beauty of his swords to the world.

If you could name one thing which made the biggest impression on you during the filming of this documentary what would it be?

The art of Japanese swordmaking was quite fascinating, but most of all it’s Watanabe san’s spirit of craftsmanship that amazed me. His commitment and devotion for his craft is on another level and not everybody can reach there. I believe that his spirit is forever lasting in his swords and I hope to earn that level of craftsmanship like his someday in the future.

Handmade Portraits: The Sword Maker from Etsy on Vimeo.

What do traditional Japanese crafts mean to you?

I have a huge appreciation to the fact that I am from Japan and Japanese craft is a tangible form that conveys its culture and aesthetic, which speaks to me in an organic way. There is still so much to learn about it and I’m looking forward to do so over the years.

If you could learn to make a craft what would it be?

I’m afraid to answer this because I know it all takes such incredible effort, especially Swordmaking!

Finally, any last words to our readers?

I have to say, please consider supporting us on our project, Out of My Hand. The support could mean as little as spreading the word out to your friends or just liking us on Facebook. I’m devoting all I have to make this film and hope it will speak to you when you see the finished piece.

You can see the website for Out of my Hand here, and the fundraising page here.