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The Japanese style of guerilla filmmaking: The case of Masahiro Kobayashi

Bootleg Film

Masahiro Kobayashi is one of few Japanese directors who are aware that most of the current Japanese films are too domestic to be accepted by international audience. His latest film Rebirth won Golden Leopard (Grand Prize) at Locarno Film Festival 2007. Before then, his films have been selected for Un Certain Regarde (Kaizokuban Bootleg Film in 1998 and Aruku, Hito in 2001), Director’s Fortnight (Koroshi in 2000), and Competition (Bashing in 2005) at the Cannes Film Festival. Born in 1954, Kobayashi is an admirer of Francois Truffaut. At the age of 27, he flew to France, wanting to be his AD. However, Kobayashi had no contacts to reach Truffaut. He came back to Japan even without seeing him. Kobayashi’s reckless audacity didn’t work.  Kobayashi has written numerous scripts for TV dramas and films. He made his first short Closing Time in 1996, which won the grand prize at Yubari Film Festival, Japan. After this success, he was approached by Kippei Shiina, one of the most sought-after actors in Japan at that time. Kobayashi wrote a script for him, Bootleg Film, in 3 days. Then the agent told Kobayashi that Shiina would be available only 7 days in early April. The script had snow scenes, so the crew had to travel further North to find it. They were forced to finish everything from costume fitting, rehearsal, to actual filming in one week because of Shiina’s availability.

Kobayashi's film making process is organic. His script is the same, reshaped all the time to fit into available resources. Without any backing from major film studio, television or ad agency, budget and time comes first, not vice versa. The script of Bootleg Film has been rewritten everyday during the shoot. Kobayashi does not put much content until he has a clear view of budget and time. Later on, footage like the public bath scene was added to meet as a feature length. Following Closing Time, Bootleg Film is a road movie again. It is a cheap option to bring a dynamic look to the film with changing landscapes surrounding the vehicle.

Shot in black-and-white, Bootleg Film is a darkly comic film about two men, Tatsuo (Akira Emoto), a drunk and retiring yakuza, and Seiji (Shiina), a cop, who happen to be best friends. They are on a road trip in order to attend the funeral of Fumiko, who was Seiji’s wife as well as Tatsuo’s lover. On the way, with jealousy towards each other, their argument heats up. Then Seiji discovers a dead body in the boot of the car. It was also found by a young couple, which triggers violence and murder. Full of copies of classic film scenes, Bootleg Film is an homage to black-and-white European cinema.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained. In December 1997, without knowing what he was doing, Kobayashi posted the tape of the film with a Christmas card addressed to Gilles Jacob, director of the Cannes Film Festival at that time. Jacob himself opened it and watched. He got the joke of the film and found it original. Kobayashi’s reckless audacity worked at last.

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