Ryutaro Nakagawa sits with his hands clasped together, listening intently and speaking passionately with View of the Arts ahead of the international premiere of his film: One Day, You Will Reach the Sea. The drama, which is based on Maru Ayase’s novel of the same name, focuses on themes that Nakagawa has wanted to explore for quite some time. It is his eighth film in a decade, and it is a raw, heartfelt look at loss and grief through the eyes of a young woman named Mana (Yukino Kishii), who struggles after learning of her close friend Sumire’s (Minami Hamabe) sudden death. 

It was the director’s own experience with these feelings that made him want to work on the film, and while he is softspoken, his answers are thoughtful as he reflects on the story and his personal connection to it. One Day, You Will Reach the Sea is a story that is particularly important to Nakagawa, and to hear him speak so frankly about his affinity with Ayase’s novel makes it clear why the drama packs quite the punch it does.

Photo © 2022 Courtesy of Udine Far East Film Festival

What was it that drew you to Maru Ayase’s book and what interested you in adapting it?

When I was at university, I lost a very good friend of mine. For three years, the memory of him was very painful to me, and after seven years it became something that was very close to me. The sensation that I had in the first place, and at the same time what I found written in the book — the sense of loss it portrayed — became something that I could easily relate to, and this is why I decided to make a film out of it.

The animated sequences you have at the start and end of the film are beautiful, how did you come up with this idea and who did you work with on it?

From the very beginning, I had this idea that animation could be used to portray the concept of life and death, and because of the artists I worked with, I felt that a good way to express that concept was with the use of water drawings. I worked with two very talented animators – I first wrote them a poem, and they drew a storyboard for me. So, they sort of expanded my poem and made the storyboards, they showed me the pictures and images, and I gave them my opinion, then they took it from there, and so on. This is how we got to the final version of the animation which is at the beginning and at the end of the film.

Why did you feel it was important to include animation to show what Sumire experienced before her tragic death?

What I really wanted to portray is pain, the pain that comes from a wound. Also, I think something our society lacks is the power of imagination, or the power to imagine someone else’s pain. It’s important to understand and to imagine other people’s pain. I think that this creates many problems in our society. And since I wanted to show the idea of somebody that’s being taken away by the tsunami, I wanted to show the pain coming from it – if I were to use actual actors, actual scenes, especially for those who actually survived that experience, the grief would be realistic rather than metaphoric. So, I started to think ‘what is the most poetic way to express the pain of what happened?’ and using animation is what I figured to be the best solution.

Photo © 2022 View of the Arts

What was it like to work with Yukino Kishii and Minami Hamabe? What did you feel they brought to the roles of Mana and Sumire?

First, I have to say that Miss Kishii has a very powerful, vital strength. She’s very lively, and she’s very fresh in her expression. On the other hand, Miss Hamabe is almost perfectly transparent, she can really combine acting and reality together. So, I really wanted to see the chemistry of these two actresses in my film.

I’d love to talk about the elements of queer love in your film, they are subtle but also quite poignant. Why did you approach Mana and Sumire’s relationship in this way?

I have to say that in terms of queer love, that is not something that is often raised as a point in Japan – perhaps in big cities, but it’s not something that everybody talks about. So, it’s not like many people are aware of it, perhaps it is also because of our country’s policies, but sometimes it feels like [queer love is] being relegated into a stereotype. Sometimes, you have a friendship and you do not realise yourself that it is not just a friendship, perhaps it’s a relationship that is slowly developing into romantic love. But again, that’s not very often dealt with in Japan. So, you would think that these kinds of issues, these kinds of situations, are explored in other films but no, that’s not actually the case. So, I thought that it was very important in this case to portray this ambiguity and the romantic vagueness of their relationship.

The film has a wonderful soundtrack too, could you elaborate on who you worked with on it and why you felt their score complemented your story?

I believe that in this world, music is the third protagonist. In the film, there is this presence that is very reminiscent of a deity, a God. It’s like the two protagonists are being seen by this third presence, we could say it’s a God-like presence, and the voice of this God is music. So, for the animated part and the final part of the film, the person who wrote the music is called Hisao Kato, while for the remaining part I worked with Mr. Akira Kosemura. I chose them because they can create music that sounds like something that is somewhat spiritual but is not of a particular religion – it is something that reminds me of the Japanese Gods, who are related to nature. So, the music encompasses all aspects of nature, the sound of the wind, trees, and water. And so, I thought that this sense of spirituality, that this sense of religion, is something that these two people are really able to convey with their music, and this is why I chose them.

Photo © 2022 Courtesy of Udine Far East Film Festival

You feature a group of people talking about the loved ones they lost in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, how much of that was real?

The singing girl in the film is an actress who performed something that I wrote, while the others are people that I had the chance to meet and record while conducting research for this film, and then I decided to have those words on the screen.

Why was it important to include real people speaking about their experiences in your film?

So, when the earthquake and tsunami happened, I was about 20 years old, and at that time it just felt like it was somebody else’s problem. Perhaps people can say the same [now] about war and about the coronavirus. Often, many people believe that it’s something that is happening far away and so it has nothing to do with them, and I do believe that this is the source of many problems in our society. So, when I started doing research for my film, I came across these people, and the more I was listening to them, the more I started to understand that this was something that people should sympathise and relate to. And, so, the more I would conduct these interviews, the more I thought it was very important to include these interviews in my own film. These aren’t just victims of the tsunami and the earthquake, but these are living people with their own lives and feelings.

What was the most challenging aspect of adapting Maru Ayase’s novel?

The most challenging thing was to make this my story while still being very respectful of the original story. I accomplished this by combining the original story with my own experience.

Written and interviewed by Roxy Simons

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Asian Cinema, Film, Film events and festivals, In Conversation with, Japanese Cinema