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Damien Manivel, Kohei Igarashi • Directors

“We tried to take our time to bring the emotion to the audience”


- VENICE 2017: Cineuropa talked to Damien Manivel and Kohei Igarashi, the directors of The Night I Swam, which was presented in the Orizzonti section at Venice

Damien Manivel, Kohei Igarashi  • Directors
(© La Biennale di Venezia - foto ASAC)

In their first feature together, The Night I Swam [+see also:
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interview: Damien Manivel, Kohei Igara…
film profile
, screening in Orizzonti at the Venice Film FestivalDamien Manivel and Kohei Igarashi show a day in a child’s life. Played by Takara Kogawa, a little boy braves the snows of Aomori while waiting for his father – a fishmonger whom he barely sees.

Cineuropa: Many films with a child protagonist are shown through an adult’s perspective. Is that something you wanted to avoid?
Damien Manivel:
 We are both grown-ups – we are not children any more. But in this film, we wanted to be at his level and see the world through the child’s eyes.We like films we can think about afterwards. When you watch them for the first time, sometimes you don’t know what to feel. But then you keep thinking about them and suddenly, a few days later, you realise you really loved it. We tried to do something similar here: take our time to bring the emotion to the audience.

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What were your guidelines for Takara Kogawa?
Kohei Igarashi:
 We didn’t really want to control him in any way. We wanted to make sure he expressed himself freely.

DM: In The Night I Swam, we have a simple storyline, and we knew how we wanted to film him. But after establishing all of that, we set him free. Our film is a work of fiction, not a documentary. So instead of talking about the child, we wanted to focus on feelings.

Before you decided to work together, you were both developing separate projects. Was it difficult to suddenly have to start thinking about somebody else’s perspective?
 We wanted to share a vision – which is not to say we are exactly the same, because we started from two different places to eventually create something together. We respect each other and our work, so we always listened to what the other person had to say. 

DM: Before shooting the film, we talked a lot about what kind of feelings we would like to evoke. And then we started figuring out how to achieve that effect. But sometimes, or even most of the time, it was Takara himself who would come up with some new ideas, completely changing what we previously had in mind. And we loved it! 

KI: When you allow yourself to have some freedom, the film can become so much better – mostly because this way, you are opening yourself up to new ways of doing things.

DM: When we first wrote the script, we didn’t think the film would be very funny. But then we met Takara, and he is funny, so we decided to incorporate that. We were very lucky. If you control everything, it’s not fun any more – at least not when it comes to filmmaking. You have to be ready to take some risks, even when you are not sure it will be worth it.

Why did you decide to set the film in that particular place? It feels very isolated.
 For the Japanese people, Aomori – which means “the green forest” – equals winter. There is so much snow in the winter – it gets the most in the whole country. We chose it also for that reason, because winter lasts so long there. 

For a child, who perceives time in a completely different way, it may seem like the winter is never going to end. This sense of waiting permeates the whole film.
 For a child, everything lasts longer. And especially for him, because he is alone. Time slows down when there is nobody around.

DM: I think The Night I Swam is less about waiting and more about solitude. This boy finds himself in a kind of bubble and struggles with time. But it’s true that when you are so little, everything feels like eternity. Even taking the train, because the distances are just so great. 

And why did you decide not to include any dialogue?
 We wanted to be very precise in filming all the details – these little gestures and small adventures, not some overblown drama, because there is none. This child just wants to sleep, he gets bored, and he tries to shake the snow off his boots. His problems are very basic.

There is poetry in silence – there is something very powerful about it. When we started developing the film, we talked a lot about books for kids. They only have images, but they still manage to communicate so much. That’s what inspired us the most.

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