Filming with Nana Komatsu: Edmund Yeo Special Interview
Second interview with director Edmund Yeo, a shorter one with a focus on his lead actress in Moonlight Shadow. The first interview was published by French media outlet Blog Fascinant Japon. Many thanks to Edmund Yeo for his time and kindness…
As soon as the Moonlight Shadow project was launched you and your team decided to have Komatsu Nana as the lead…which performances in her body of work made you think she’d be the right choice to play Satsuki?
I have followed Nana‘s career since I first saw The World of Kanako back in 2014. I was indeed astounded by her performance then, and knew she was going to become something special. I guess she managed to fulfil the promise by becoming one of the most exciting Japanese actresses of her generation over the years. Doing different films of different genres and staying supremely prolific.
Her brief appearance in Martin Scorsese‘s Silence was particularly memorable. And her follow-up collaboration with Nakashima in It Comes showed how she imbued an initially cartoonish caricature with soul and depth, standing out among an all-star cast. Since then, she has been consistently great in other works I saw, like manga adaptations such as After the Rain, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure etc…
Therefore, when we were discussing the role of Satsuki, Nana was absolutely our first and only option. We knew very well that there wouldn’t be a Moonlight Shadow without her.
How would you define her acting style and screen presence?
Nana has a very unique screen presence that separates her from her peers. She is able to convey pages of emotions through her eyes. Thus making her extremely versatile as you can see in the many different roles she had done in her relatively short career. There’s a fire hidden within her facade which makes her very layered.
I think her acting style is quite naturalistic. She is one of the most prolific working actresses in the country and has worked with many of the top talents within and outside Japan, which allowed her to hone her craft. She’s an instinctive performer, so what she does is quite unpredictable.
How was the first meeting with her? Did you meet on Day 1 of the filming or did you have prior meetings or discussions?
We first met on a video call. I was still in lockdown in Malaysia while my producers were meeting up with her. At that time it was a discussion over the possibility of collaboration. She said yes not long after. A few months later I flew into Japan for the film shoot. We had numerous rehearsals and script readings before the shoot.
What we did was to allow actors to familarize themselves with one another, and also going to discussions with her possible interpretations of Satsuki in Moonlight Shadow.
Before filming the opening scene of Samurai Marathon (2019) -when her father burns her drawing of the black ships- she told director Bernard Rose she could stay silent and convey emotions with facial expressions rather than words, and the scene was shot that way. Did you have suggestions from her, discussions about the best ways to handle a scene?
Yes, after the discussions and brief rehearsals we had, I more or less took a step back and allowed Nana the freedom to do what she could do with her character. And I did my best to give her the best environment and situations where she could deliver.
I tend to work in a very loose and collaborative way with my actors, so it was similar with Nana. I had given her the green light to ad-lib and improvise lines from the script, so that she could embody the role instead of merely performing. It’s very fun, to see, each shot in each scene, what she was going to do. It was full of surprises. Like improvisational jazz !
I’ve read several times she has that habit of popping out on the set even when she doesn’t have a scene, to socialise, help the staff or just for the pleasure of being there. Did she do that while shooting M.S.? Or maybe the covid situation made it difficult?
Yup, she did that. She was very much a beloved figure among the team. I generally prefer to keep my sets relaxed and communal, working together like a family so that everyone, from top to bottom, could contribute to the project the best they could. With Nana around, it was quite easy to keep such atmosphere during the shoot. Contrary to the cold characters she had played in films, she has a sense of humour and gets along great with everyone.
Any particular Satsuki scene(s) you are particularly proud of?
There was a scene which I started the film with. It was a performance from Nana that I liked a lot. It was a scene where she was reminiscing to an unseen listener about her memories of Hitoshi, and the bell he wore, and the sound which lingered in her ear.
Based on the screenplay, the scene wasn’t supposed to start the film, but during editing, I decided to start the film with it. Some shades of Anna Karina there. There were a couple of emotionally heavy scenes which we agreed not to rehearse, just so she could discover, spontaneously, the emotions during the shoot.
To conclude: any funny, odd or somehow remarkable anecdote for our readers?
We shot one of the final scenes near a playground, where many kids were playing. We had a long tracking shot following Nana as she walked past the playground.
The kids were very cooperative and quiet when the camera was rolling. But whenever I said cut and we were trying different takes the kids were yelling “ganbatte!” at Nana as she walked to her spot. It’s an important climatic scene, so I appreciated the energy and support the kids were giving Nana.