“Ben-Joe”
Undercover Report on Filming & Production (1)
【Report by Taku Inagaki】

One hot summer day in July 2016. I set out for the filming location of the second Mikawa Eiga, "Ben-Joe. It took more than two hours by car from Nagoya Station along a mountain road to finally arrive at the site of the former Tsugu Elementary School in Tsugu, Shitara-cho, Kitashitara-gun, Aichi Prefecture. It was a spectacular sight to see a movie set being constructed in the abandoned wooden elementary school, which had been completely rented out. I was to spend three days with the Mikawa Eiga staff, eating and sleeping together, while attempting to cover the film.

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1st day of coverage

【We will do what we can do】

 

Set built in a former elementary school

When I arrived at the site of the former elementary school where the set was constructed, I was first overwhelmed by its size. The crew was silently preparing for the shooting inside. Lighting was set up, cranes were brought in, tripods were set up, and cameras were set up. The film crew had already been shooting at a training camp for two months, so they must have been familiar with the filming preparations by now. When we came out to the set, director Iwamatsu spotted us and greeted us with a smile. It must have been hard work to get here," he said. There is a training camp for the staff and cast about a two-minute walk away, so there is still time before the shooting starts.

The camp was just a stone's throw away, without the director's guidance. It was a magnificent detached house. A large yellow flag waved in front of the entrance. As we were standing at the entrance, Ms. Sugita, the production chief, came out from inside. She told us that when the film crew sleeps at the camp, they put up this yellow flag. This way, the local residents know that they are filming a movie, and they come by early in the morning to see us, bring us food, and help us with cooking.

In fact, while we were standing at the entrance, a car pulled up out front and a local hairdresser brought us handmade gohei-mochi (rice cakes). The owner of a hair salon in the neighborhood brought us some handmade Gohei-mochi, which he said tasted better when eaten warm, so I took some of it. It is said to be a specialty of this area. While I was enjoying the gohei-mochi, I noticed that Mr. Niigata was writing something in his notebook next to me. I took a peek at it and found that it was filled with various food and drink items, including dishes, beverages, and vegetables. It seems to be a notebook to keep track of the gifts from the local people, so that he does not forget who gave it to him. It is said that they receive so many gifts that they have trouble eating all of them.

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Camp life in a single-family home

The training camp has been rented free of charge since the set construction period, more than six months ago, and the bedding is said to have been lent by a neighbor. Before the Mikawa Eiga staff moved in, the local residents had hung the futons out to dry and cleaned the rooms in preparation for them moving in. However, only the bathroom was broken, and when they were in need of a new one, the local people helped them install it in the barn, again with the help of the local people, who had a unit bath that was no longer needed in a house being demolished in the neighborhood. The bath was set up in the middle of the barn, full of sunlight, and was a very luxurious space like an open-air bath. Soaking in the bathtub illuminated by industrial lighting, I felt as if I were at a campground.

When I was shown around the camp, I found that it was spacious, as one would expect from a single-family house in the countryside, with men's bedrooms, women's bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, as well as a props storage area and a staff meeting room. The hallway was lined with cardboard boxes of drinks and other items that had been brought in. The only drawback was that the toilets were old-fashioned pumping toilets (a.k.a. "botton toilets"). According to Ms. Sugita, the production chief, it is nothing to worry about once you get used to it, but her words made me feel the resilience of the women involved in the film making process. While I was exploring the rooms, neighbors were coming over and preparing lunch in the kitchen. Then, the principal of the local Tsugu Elementary School emerged from the doorway carrying a bag of rice. He had brought a bag of rice from his rice paddies as a gift. This was the second time he had brought rice, and it seemed that he had come because the rice from the previous donation was about to run out. While preparing for lunch, Sugita, the production chief, was on the phone with a Bluetooth headset (apparently coordinating with local people for the shoot), cleaning the room, drying the futon, doing the laundry, and preparing meals. While the film crew was on set filming, she was behind the scenes all day doing household chores and coordinating the filming, which kept the filming moving along smoothly. I felt that the strength of Mikawa Eiga lies in the presence of such behind-the-scenes helpers.

Shooting with fever

I was so comfortable that I stayed at the training camp for a long time, but when I returned to the set, the scene had changed drastically from the previous one, and a tense atmosphere prevailed. The heat was too intense for me to enter the set, so I waited in the next room, where the filming was taking place, and saw a pair of futons laid out on the floor, buried under props and equipment. When I asked Ms. Iwai, the makeup artist, why the futon was laid out here, she told me that Ms. Ishikawa, who plays the heroine, was currently filming with a fever, and was lying on the futon I was surprised at how heartless the director was not to stop filming even though she had a fever, but Ms. Iwai, a makeup artist, told me what was really going on. Apparently, Mr. Ishikawa always gets a fever during the filming of important scenes. It seems that he gets so passionate about his performance that he actually gets a fever while filming. While we were having such a conversation, I thought I heard Director Iwamatsu's voice from the next room saying "Cut," and then the rumored Mr. Ishikawa appeared and lay down on the futon with a "Chill Pita" on his forehead. His expression is dark and he looks as if he is having a hard time.

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Shooting while suffering from diarrhea and shingles

Following Ms. Ishikawa, the cameraman, Mr. Kutsuzawa, rushed out of the set and disappeared toward the camp. I asked Mr. Arakawa, the assistant director, "Did something happen? He said, "He has been suffering from diarrhea since yesterday. Fever and diarrhea. I thought it was a serious matter, but Mr. Arakawa told me that it was a usual occurrence. It is said that cameramen often get diarrhea during the filming of Mikawa Eiga because of the tension. Moreover, when the tension reaches a maximum, the cameraman's body also develops urticaria. It is truly a shooting site with wounds all over the body. I wondered if he would not lose his head after two months of such shooting. With this thought in mind, I asked Director Iwamatsu, who was staring at a storyboard in a corner of the set, frankly, "Of course. He replied, "Well, you're on set from morning till night, shooting all day long, so you must get crazy sometimes, right? He laughed as he said this to Ms. Takahashi, an assistant director who was preparing props nearby. Ms. Takahashi laughed when he said that. At first, I did not understand the meaning of this exchange, but as I listened to the conversation, I learned that Ms. Takahashi, the assistant director, had apparently run off the set last night during filming, climbed over the railing of a river bridge near the set, and screamed. He was about to jump off the bridge into the river when he was stopped by other crew members. The story was so spectacular that we were unable to hear the details, but it seems that the harshness of the filming must have driven her into a mental corner. Nevertheless, the next day she was back on set with a smile on her face, as if nothing had happened, which is a very encouraging sign. The Mikawa Eiga staff is a formidable force to be reckoned with.

Editing to proceed during filming

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When the cameraman returns, filming resumes. The director and cameraman occasionally open their computer screens to check the footage, in addition to the monitor checks that are common on all filming locations each time the director calls "cut. According to Ms. Takahashi, the assistant director, at Mikawa Eiga, scenes that have already been shot are edited by the cameraman on the same day after shooting. I had heard rumors about Mikawa Eigas' uncompromising approach to filmmaking, such as rehearsals over a period of four months, in which they "do the best they can," and I was able to catch a glimpse of this approach here as well. I had heard rumors of Mikawa Eigas' uncompromising attitude toward filmmaking, "doing the best we can," and here, too, I caught a glimpse of this attitude.

Making a film as a child

Before we knew it, the sun was setting and we were getting hungry, just as the shooting was coming to a close and we took a break for dinner. As soon as it was time for the break, Mr. Akira Akita, the production chief, brought dinner to the set. And it was warm. He frequently communicates with the assistant director on set about the progress of the filming, so the food is brought in freshly prepared in a timely manner. If they run out of props, they immediately contact the training camp and have them delivered. This is one of the advantages of having the training camp so close to the set.

Once the crew had eaten, filming resumed. Filming proceeded smoothly, and with the director saying, "We're all a little sleep-deprived today, so let's go home early," filming ended before the top of the hour (midnight), which is unusual for a Mikawa Eiga. Last night, apparently, there was an incident in which assistant director Ms. Takahashi screamed at a bridge, and the entire staff stayed up all night listening to her thoughts until morning. It must have been very difficult just to carry out the filming, but I was amazed at how much time was spared for communication among the staff.

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Ms. Ishikawa, after finishing filming, said, "Oh, I wish I could have gone to a hot spring today. Director, let's finish shooting early tomorrow and go to the hot spring together!" and she was on a high. I thought, "Oh, she must have had a fever," but Ms. Ishikawa told me that she always has a fever when shooting a difficult scene, and that the fever goes away after the shooting of that scene. It was a story about how much pressure she felt to play the heroine in this film.

When we stepped outside the set after taking down the filming equipment, I was surprised to see a star-filled sky. There was a star-filled sky. For the first time in my life, I was able to look over the Milky Way with the naked eye. Then, a shooting star suddenly streamed into the sky. The staff and cast of Mikawa Eiga excitedly returned to their childhood. The tension of the shoot just a few minutes ago seems to be a lie. A month ago, fireflies were flying along the river. At that time, the staff and cast went firefly hunting after the shooting and were very excited by the beauty of fireflies. I can just imagine them excitedly enjoying themselves like children.

On the way to the camp, I said to Ms. Takahashi, the assistant director, as she walked next to me, "It looks like you had a hard time filming. She shook her head and said, "Actually, I'm auditioning for Mikawa Eiga. I shook my head and said, "Actually, I auditioned for Mikawa Eiga and was not accepted. But I decided to join as a staff member. I looked at her and she answered, "Because it is an independent film. She continued, as if to answer my question, "Because it was an independent film, I could have quit at any time if I wanted to. The members of Mikawa Eiga always believed in me. Even when I failed, caused trouble, and blocked up, they believed in me to stand up again. For me, that was a real blessing," she said, her eyes shining brightly, perhaps because of the starry sky or her tears. Perhaps it was the starry sky or her tears, but her eyes sparkled. I felt as if I had seen a part of Mikawa Eigas' philosophy, "Making movies is about making people. Hearing her words, I felt I understood a little more about why she, an actor, decided to stay with Mikawa Eiga even as a staff member. That night, the staff room at the training camp remained lit until late. I went to bed one step ahead of the Mikawa Eiga staff, much to my chagrin. From the very first day of my infiltration, I had been hit by the heat of Mikawa Eiga and I couldn't stop getting excited just thinking about what would happen over the next two days.