Documentary × Show × Movie

- Interview: Yutaka MIZUTANI, Director/Masahiro AIDA, Director of Photography -

#3 Yutaka MIZUTANI (Director)

Yutaka Mizutani’s directorial debut, “TAP: THE LAST SHOW,” in which he also stars, opens nationwide on June 16. The story revolves around the genius tap dancer Shinjiro WATARI, who retired after a serious injury and has been leading a dissolute lifestyle. As a choreographer, he begins mentoring the next generation of stars. It’s an ambitious movie that is simultaneously ‘documentary’ and ‘show.’

Mizutani had been living with the idea for this movie for 40 years before it finally became a reality. Mizutani’s directorial debut, in which he is also the star, came about after countless attempts to have it made. The show-stopping, 24-minute tap dance scene in the latter half of the film makes demonstrates how this is both a movie and a documentary of a ‘live show,’ and this new style will surely amaze and astound the audience. In order to merge the story with the documentary style, the camera had to be mobile while allowing for cinematic shooting, hence the decision to shoot the entire film using the Canon EOS C300 Mark II. We spoke with the director, Yutaka MIZUTANI and the Director of Photography, Masahiro AIDA, who just wrapped up the movie.


<Interview with Director Yutaka MIZUTANI>

Now that the film has been made, let’s talk candidly

This film has been with me for 40 years. At times, though, I was about ready to give up because I thought my idea would never come to be. But when we had the premiere, I felt my dream had come true. In that moment, the only thought that came to mind was, “My dream came true,” and I couldn’t really think beyond that. Afterwards, at the premiere, which I was used to attending as an actor, it felt strange for me to be there as the director. I thought I’d better act like a director. But how does one act like a director? (laughs) That’s what was going through my mind.

As this is your directorial debut, can you talk about your experience actually directing the film as opposed to what you had been envisioning prior to doing so?

As this is your directorial debut, can you talk about your experience actually directing the film as opposed to what you had been envisioning prior to doing so? I’ve worked with many different directors, and each one had his own style. So there’s no one definition of style that applies to everyone. I thought about what my style should be, and came to the conclusion that I don’t really have to have a particular style. I only really thought about how I could relay my vision to everyone on set. What was amazing was that every scene turned out even better than I imagined. That’s something I never dreamed would happen.

What have you learned from other directors, film, and productions?

I have learned great things from many directors and screenplays. It’s made me who I am today. They aren’t things I learned with the idea of directing in mind, though. These are things I picked up without being explicitly taught. Moreover, being a director means you are often driven into a corner. When that happens, that’s when you see what you’re made of. I felt it best not to try to create a style, but just go with what flowed from me. As for the films that have influenced me, the first to shock me was “Bonnie and Clyde.” That was amazing. The same goes for “The Godfather” and “East of Eden.” I have been shocked and moved by different things, but it has always been as an audience member. So everything I’ve seen and been moved by will naturally come out in my directing. That’s all I was thinking. Even if I were to try to copy them, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do so.

What was the most crucial aspect of the filmmaking process?

The film is about these young people who are barely scraping together a living. They come together to rehearse for a show in which they can shine as tap dancers while overcoming many obstacles along the way. I wanted to tell this particular story, and I also wanted to transport the audience to another world. A long time ago, I saw a Broadway show that transported me to a world of emotion that I’d never experienced before. During the production, the biggest challenge I faced was how to achieve that experience with this movie. The script is also key. We always say, “A good script is everything,” but what I mean is a good script should have ‘heart.’ Next is whether you can get people who can express that heart. There was so much I wasn’t aware of as an actor.

Did you decide to use dancers rather than actors to preserve the documentary-like feel of the film

Before I started, I wavered between hiring actors who could tap dance or dancers who had no acting experience. Which one was best for this movie? I kept asking myself all throughout the audition process. Then one day, I was auditioning the dancers who would end up starring in the movie. As soon as I saw them, I thought, “We have to go with the real deal.” Until then (watching the actors’ dance audition), the dancing looked good, but I couldn’t really tell how their dancing compared to that of trained dancers. But as soon as these dancers auditioned, it was clear as day just how significant the difference was. It was then that I decided to go with professional dancers. They didn’t have acting experience, but I thought that gave their performance a raw quality.

Let’s talk about the soundtrack – what was most important to you?

This time, I tried to avoid making a film score. I wanted to use music that you listen to in your everyday life. The kind of music you listen to on the radio when you’re driving with the top down. The kind of music playing at an American café. When it came time for the performance, I wanted music specifically for that performance. There were only two songs that were made specifically for the movie. That was because I wanted to show the dancers’ lives in a way that wasn’t dominated by the music. When it came to the dramatic scenes in the movie, I shocked the Sound Designer Jun Sato by saying, “We don’t need emotional music (for those scenes)” (laughs). But to my mind, that’s actually a good thing. But at the end of the day, the person in charge of the music is the composer.

<A Conversation between Director Yutaka MIZUTANI and DP Masahiro AIDA>

Aida has been the cinematographer on countless Mizutani films, including of course the nationally acclaimed series, “Partners”, as well as “Young Man H” and “The Queen’s Castle.” What differences can we see in this film that takes their relationship from actor-cinematographer to director-cinematographer? For years, the two men have worked together, so what does Aida make of Mizutani as a director? “Our preliminary discussions were longer than the actual time we spent filming,” they laugh. Here they share some secrets from the set with us.

Feeling Yutaka MIZUTANI’s directing over the years

This is the first time that Mizutani sat in the director’s chair. But Aida said that he didn’t find it strange at all.

“I filmed thousands of scenes with Yutaka. What I realized was that as the lead actor, he was always creating the character from within.” (Aida)

In the same way that he did with the much-loved character, Ukyo Sugishita, in “Partners,” Mizutani created the lead role in this movie. Aida witnessed this from behind the camera, and saw that Mizutani was creating the character. Because he spent many years watching Mizutani perform, he felt it was a natural transition for Mizutani to direct while acting in this movie, and he knew how he wanted to film it. This is because he had been working so closely with Mizutani the director.

Performing all the roles in front of crews and casts

The crew really appreciated when Mizutani performed all of the roles for them. He showed them how he wanted the actors to move, so the crew could picture everything easily. This was very much the case even during filming. If the actors’ movements were different from what he had in mind, he showed them how he wanted them to move in front of the camera. This is reminiscent of how Charlie Chaplin used to perform all the roles for his actors.

“When there were three characters, he performed all three roles. That’s where the show begins. Yutaka has many ways of showing you how to do something. It’s interesting. (Laughs) We always felt as though every day was going to be a fun day.” (Aida)

You can only see ‘Watari’ during filming

This time, as director and actor, Mizutani spends a lot of time on screen. The only time he showed his “actor’s face” was during filming. Mostly he was giving directions to the actors and the crew, so the character of ‘Shinjiro Watari’ was hidden away. He was so committed to directing that even in the scenes where he was sleeping, he never had his eyes completely shut so that he could keep an eye on the other actors. It was hard to picture Watari’s movements during the rehearsals. Like a documentary, filming the movie was unpredictable and exciting. Most memorable was when he and Jun communicate with one another through dance. It begins with the serious Jun, and then one by one everyone starts joining in until Watari says, “Everyone dance!” and everyone comes together. It was an intense scene that brought the entire cast and crew together.

“That day on set was really intense. When he said, ‘Everyone dance!’ everyone – including the crew – felt drawn to dance (laughs). We weren’t actually dancing, but we were in spirit. It was as if we were all acting together. And when he said, ‘Cut’ we all gave a standing ovation.” (Aida)

“The theme of this movie is ‘Everyone dance!’ The moment Watari shouts ‘Everyone dance!’ is when he is saying that he wants every last dancer – everyone – to join him on this fantastic journey, that he’s bringing everyone along. Only I ended up including the crew in it, too! (laughs)” (Mizutani)

Simultaneously shooting a documentary and drama

When shooting “TAP”, the 2 main cameras we used were the CANON EOS C300 MarkII. The distinguishing feature about this film is that it is “documentary,” “show” and “film” all in one, and therefore required a camera that would be able to keep up with the all the movement while still shooting scenes that would be cinematic.

“In discussion with the director, we often talked about how we wanted to shoot this with a documentary touch. I felt that it wouldn’t be possible with a large camera. It’s not as though the images would be better if we were to use a large camera or expensive equipment. The important question is how appropriate is the size of the equipment in relation to the task. In our case, (the EOS C300 MarkII) could go large or small, and it was a great match for this film.” (Aida)

What is born from a relationship of trust

The monumental scene of the movie for the two men was the scene at the end, during the emotional tap dance show where we see the expression on Watari’s face. The scene was meant to show the reaction of the audience, but because it’s a wide shot, Watari needed to be standing at the back. During the rehearsal, there was no talk of showing Watari’s face. However, Aida’s intuition told him to bypass the dancers and focus on Watari. And he said that he was shocked by what he saw.

“I thought, ‘Maybe he isn’t acting’ It certainly wasn’t the face of a director watching the scene. There was something else he must have been experiencing.” (Aida)

Mizutani realized at some point that he was being filmed, but when he saw the finished film, it looked raw and spontaneous, and turned out to be a special scene for him as well.


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Released in Japan in June 17th
©2017 TAP Film Partners ©2017 TAP Film Partners