Yuko’s Scriptalk

- Director Yutaka MIZUTANI's knack on set -

Director Yutaka MIZUTANI’s knack on set

As a script supervisor, I joined the production of the movie “Hikinige,” directed and written by Yutaka MIZUTANI and released on May 10th.
His previous movie “TAP -THE LAST SHOW-” was the first one that I worked on with him. Because he already had a decades-long career and stood on the front line as an actor, I was so nervous about working with him as the director. But, last time and this time also, I was surprised by his knack of directing though I thought I should support him as “a first-time director.”
The script of “Hikinige” was written by the director himself, and I couldn’t believe this was his first screenplay. Firstly, his writing style was one I’d never seen before.
Usually, action lines in a script indicate actions, ways of speaking, and an explanation of the situation. They are mostly objective instructions, like “standing up,” ”rushing in close,” “smiling,” “many mirrors are hanging on the wall” and so forth. However, the director MIZUTANI explains his reasons behind the actions and emotions – for example, “he/she never expects XX because he/she thinks …” “as if he/she feels his/her heart lurch,” and “he/she doesn’t know how to talk in front of him.”

Also, he explains the characters’ background in the middle of the script. He writes, “he/she has never talked about such a story before.” I felt like I was reading a novel. Then, I realized his direction to the actors/actresses had already started with the screenplay.

However, the director MIZUTANI was very flexible on set even though he had written his directions in his script. He wasn’t obsessed with his decisions, so he changed the order of the lines and situations, and when a good idea came to him, he incorporated it into the movie. This was because he was able to switch from the screenwriter’s viewpoint to the director’s viewpoint.

Determined the peak of acting

As his script supervisor, I learned how strong/sensitive acting was.
About the starting point; for example, it’s like “an approach run.” The acting starts a bit earlier than the actual scene we want to use for editing. Recently, this point has started earlier because people think it helps get actors/actresses more into their characters, and “the approach run” can be also used as a source. However, the director MIZUTANI didn’t take the point that far back. He usually took it just before one line or one point of action.
He knew an earlier starting point didn’t have a good influence on actors/actresses, according to his long career as an actor, so his decision to do so was persuasive. If they thought too much as a consequence of repeating the same scene, they couldn’t concentrate on their acting in “the used scene.” So he checked their acting only for the used scene during the rehearsal, and fixed it if necessary. He usually gave the OK after one take.

Even the timing of cuts was very quick. Once the used point was done, he cut as quickly as possible, so there was never any wasted acting. The timing of cutting the scene with no dialogue was awesome. He was able to determine accurately the peak of an actor’s energy even during difficult scenes. He avoided long takes, where the actor’s peak will have passed already. He told me that long takes exhausted actors after they had reached their peak. This part he understood because of his acting experience.

Everything can provide hints for acting

For him, everything can be a hint for acting. His observation of everything surprised me. He especially observes people so closely. He thinks it’s interesting how differently each individual reacts to and accepts one situation. Since he himself has faced various situations and knows many people, those experiences play a part in his acting and in the characters of this movie. Depending on the person, each one will have a different reaction. It is not surprising even though they might be in the same environment. In the movie, people react differently to the car accident called “Hikinige (Hit-and-run),” and the parents react differently to their daughter, who was killed in the accident. However, because he can be neutral, he directed each actor/actress so that the audience could sympathize with them all even though all the characters reacted differently. I believe that his neutrality was cultivated in his varied acting experience.

I think the director MIZUTANI completely imagined the movie from the beginning to the end before shooting; he just shot what he imagined. He gave his directions without hesitation whenever he explained the shots and directed the performances. For the climactic scene, we had to shoot over 50 shots. In terms of time, shooting was very difficult, so we were handling a complicated schedule. At first, since the director didn’t have time open his script and the room was dark, I was the one who understood the situation and told him what was next because I had my script on hand. However, after he shot a few shots, he and his Director of Photography, Mr. AIDA, proceeded to shoot without checking. They had the same images in their minds, so the director and the DP had good chemistry. What a wonderful shoot. I only recorded the information of the shots.

This scene, the director himself also participated as an actor. While acting, he was an actor of course, but he also saw things from the viewpoint of the director as well. While acting, he directed the others. More surprisingly, he knew all the angles while acting. He understood the size and how far the camera captured. Plus, because the DP was Mr. AIDA, who had worked with him for a long time, the director could trust him without having to check every single shot.

“When it fails, it falls to me. When it succeeds, it goes to everyone.”

What I learned from the director MIZUTANI was not only about acting and directing. I learned so much about leadership from him.
He always appreciated his crew. He said he couldn’t shoot the movie without this crew, and they did things that he couldn’t. He thanks every crew member. Even though he had been working with many crew members, he always thought their work was special. He conveyed his thoughts to them, and this in turn encouraged them to bring out their best performance in order to respond to his trust. The director said, “When it fails, it falls to me. When it succeeds, it goes to everyone.” His responsibility motivated his crew, and it felt like we all became one. Thus, the director MIZUTANI is not only an actor or director, but a true leader as well.