This year’s Udine Far East Film Festival offered a great selection of truly excellent films, and among those, some packed an especially powerful emotional charge; in this grouping, there is no doubt that Satoshi: A Move for Tomorrow was among the very best. The film’s screening was accompanied by director Mori Yoshitaka, known best for his Space Brothers (Uchu Kyodai, 2012), and the young and popular actor Matsuyama Kenichi, who is perhaps still best known for his role as “L” in a series of live-action Death Note film adaptations.
Among their busy festival schedule, in the busy interview room that seemed to be buzzing like a beehive with all of the action, they kindly took the time to sit with us for a short interview and answer a few of our questions.
This film is based on a biography called Satoshi no Seishun; what was it about this story that made you want to adapt it and was the author, Yoshio Osaki, involved at all?
Mori Yoshitaka: First, I have to say there is a very private reason for why I decided to take this book and make a film out of it. I was 29 when I happened to read the book and Satoshi died at the age of 29, so we were the same age. At the same time, I was very impressed by the fact that he tried to live his life at his best until the very end, the way he tried to shine as much as possible; and the way he used to shine was through shogi. These reasons made me want to make a movie about this person.
Osaki was involved from the moment we decided to make a movie out of his book; he also wrote part of the script. The original book was quite long and the third and fourth chapters were also very detailed when it came to Satoshi’s teenage years; since we couldn’t make a five-hour movie, we had to cut some of that out and we focused on the chapters that dealt with his later life, where he became a legendary shogi player. It was quite a bold decision to make, but we had to do it, and that is how the movie came together.
The film has an amazing cast of actors; what was the casting process like?
Mori Yoshitaka: The encounter with Mr. Matsuyama was decided by fate; it took eight years to make this project and we thought about using Matsuyama in the film but we had to figure out how things would come about financially. At a certain point, we were looking at having Mr. Matsuyama in the film and he came to us and told us that he had read the book and was quite interested in working with us, so that was a great way for all parties to meet.
Then two other important roles were Satoshi’s mother and his teacher, played by Keiko Takeshita and Lily Franky. For the teacher we needed someone whose values would be quite free, not someone who would be too caught up in societal norms; we needed someone who was more relaxed. Keiko Takeshita needed to be the typical Japanese mother who was very worried about her son and who felt too much responsibility for her actions; she did treat Mr. Matsuyama like he was her actual son, we needed someone like that. When it came to Habu, played by Masahiro Higashide, he almost volunteered himself for the role. There was a lot of pressure to play this role because Habu is a living legend in Japan; he’s the real authority of shogi. I appreciated Higashide’s courage to say he wanted to play the role and his courage when it came to his interpretation of the character.
It was mentioned that you gained a lot of weight for the role, was there anything else that you did to prepare for the role? Were you familiar with playing shogi before?
Matsuyama Kenichi: Yes, I studied shogi but I also studied about the nephrotic syndrome that Satoshi suffered from; I did research on people that suffered from the syndrome. I also focused on shogi and the pawns, especially the way you place them on the board. There’s a particular way that you have to place them on the board; if you’re an amateur you can do it anyway you want to, but if you are a professional player, there’s an elegant, beautiful way to place them on the board – in a way, your movement shows – proves – that you are a professional player. It is not easy, so you have to be very well trained and you have to do it, I would say, around a billion times for it to be convincing and so physically, that was quite challenging.
With everything that you’ve learned for this role and learned about Satoshi Murayama’s personality, do you think that his way of thinking had any influence on your own life?
Matsuyama Kenichi: Yes, of course it did; it had quite an influence because it made me really think about Murayama and his 29 years of life. It made me think about how one uses their life and what one does with their life; now, I’m also thinking about my own life and how I’m going to spend it, since I don’t know how long I will live for – but I know that I want to live my life to the full. I also want to live it a bit more like Murayama, from an instinctive point of view. He had this sickness but he accepted it, and he accepted everything that happened to him, and he still lived his life to the full. This is something that I will aim to do in my life from now on.
The camerawork and the sound design for the shogi matches were really well used; even when we have a minimal understanding of shogi, it was still very intense. How did you plan these scenes, was it a natural choice or did it go through various stages?
Mori Yoshitaka: Much of the process happened on the set, but on the other hand, when it comes to shogi, since the theme was very specific, we needed to have some pre-meetings to decide on everything. There are not many shogi movies to use as a reference so myself and the DOP had to decide together on a methodology for everything. There are six or seven games in the movie and it was important to link these with the life of Murayama. We tried to make every single game differ from the others, but especially in the game of Murayama against Habu, it was very important that, even if the audience does not know anything about shogi, they could still understand the concept of time; sometimes, a game would last even up to two days. So, it was important to show that the players would stare at the board for a long time, in utter silence, and it was important to convey that concept. Also in terms of sound – for instance the sound of the pawns or the water coming out of the tap – we used those as a way to depict the time limit of Murayama’s life.
Besides promoting this film, are you already working on your next projects?
Mori Yoshitaka: Not everything is decided, but there are several movies that I am developing in terms of casting, finance, and screenplay-writing.
Matsuyama Kenichi: Being a full-time father and husband will be my next project; it’ll be more difficult than acting!
Written and edited by Sanja Struna
The interview transcribed by Roxy Simons
Interviewed by Roxy Simons & Sanja Struna
Feature photo © Sanja Struna
Satoshi: A Move for Tomorrow photos © Kadokawa
All other photos courtesy of Udine Far East Film Festival