Interview with director Naoko Ogigami: Nobody had any kind of discrimination against me as a woman director. I was lucky

We speak with Naoko Ogigami about the stigma of being at one time unemployed, single and at your parent's house, Scandinavian knitting men and everyday food.


Born in 1972 in the Chiba Prefecture. In 1994, she left for the US where she studied directing at the University of South California. Her sweet and melancholic films, with a characteristic visual style, are enormously popular among the audiences, often appearing at international festivals. "Glasses" and "Rent-a-cat" were shown in the "Japanese Female Directors" retrospective at 9th Five Flavours.
This year, she comes back with her new film "Close Knit", taking up the subject of transsexual people in the Japanese society, made in a convention of a charming, bitter-sweet family film. The movie received the Teddy Award at this year’s Berlinale.

On the occasion of her film, "Close-Knit" screening at Five Flavours, we speak with her about the stigma of being at one time unemployed, single and at your parent's house, Scandinavian knitting men and everyday food.



Can you tell us what was most significant experience that made you become a filmmaker? You went to the Southern California University, was that the experience that shaped your career?

Well, at the very beginning I studied photography and the science behind the images, but I had friends that were much better photographers than me and I got discouraged and gave up becoming a photographer, and as I was interested in movies I decided to go to USC. I didn't know anything about filmmaking and there I learned everything. Since I had studied science, I had never wrote any novel or story and for me the writing process was the most difficult obstacle and I tried and tried to overcome it. Writing a script is very different from writing a novel, writing a stylistically good sentence is totally different from writing a good story. For me writing a script is more like a puzzle and when I learned to write it, I really wanted to become a director.

How was your return to Japan after USC? Easy?

Oh, no, totally not easy! I mean, I didn't have a job, I didn't have a boyfriend, no money, I didn't have antyhing.

And did being a woman make it more difficult?

Once I went back to Japan, I was staying at my parents' house and the people and the neighbours were looking at me and thinking: "She is a loser" because I was staying at home and I didn't have a job or a husband. So in that respect, being a woman made people think that at least I had to get married and be a housewife.


Is  this kind of idea still so ingrained in Japanese society?

Oh yes, and then when I got a boyfriend and we went on living together, then all of a sudden everything was fine (laugh). Yes, it's very strange being a woman. On the contrary, as a film director I didn't actually have any problems. I made totally independent movies that were shown at the Five Flavours Film Festival ("Rent a Cat" and "Glasses" were part of Focus Japan of the 9th edition) and consequently I had a chance to make this movie film. And nobody never had any kind of discriminations against me as a woman director. I was lucky.

Can you tell us how was the reception of "Close Knit" in Japan?

Oh, it was very successful in Tokyo and Osaka, the two big cities, but unfortunately in the countryside not many people went to watch it.

Why do you think this happened, because of the subject?

I guess so, transgender issues are something of a taboo that countryside people have yet to accept. I was very shocked actually, I didn't expect it because we have a popular show on TV with a big transgender star, a comedy that we love and appreciate, but I guess that if LGBT people are in the family or neighborhood, that is a totally different story, they are not accepted.


Was it difficult to get Toma Ikuta to play the transgender character? As he is very popular with female audience and in a way had to play against type, how did you manage to get such a good performance out of him?

He was really good and he was my first choice, I actually thought he was going to decline my offer, I was really afraid he would because of his image and his female fanbase, but I didn't have to convince him, he liked the script and accepted.
The biggest problem we had was finding clothes for him, he has a beautiful face and I thought he could easily be a beautiful woman but his body is masculine and big, so we had a wardrobe issue, and almost all his clothes had to be remade to measure. Also, the hairstyle was a bit of a challenge, we started filming with him sporting long hair but he looked like a prostitute, or a nightclub escort, so we tried many hairstyles before settling on that one more apt to an ordinary woman. We also had a tutor to teach him feminine gestures and postures, how to hold a cup and drink, how to sit down and walk. He worked really hard on that.

And how was his interaction with the little girl?

Oh! She is a real genius!

Was it a difficult or long casting process?

I saw about 200 girls and finally she appeared. She was really good, I feel like I found a diamond! She was extremely easy to work with, she is just great!

And can you tell us how this idea of knitting made its way in the script? Are you a knitter yourself?

Not at all (laugh).

Such a genius idea!

Thank you! Well, At the time when I was writing the script, I went one day to a bookstore and saw a photography called "Arne & Carlos", of a Norwegian gay couple, sitting side by side and knitting together. That photo was so cute and it  was my inspiration to use the knitting as a motif but then I couldn't think of what she was going to knit. I have been thinking and thinking for 2 weeks and then finally the idea came about, and I was like: "Yes, she is making THOSE!"



Do you have a fascination for Scandinavian countries? Even your film "Kamome Diner" is set in Finland. Why Finland?

Oh yes, I do have it indeed. Finland is a very special place, very slow, they have a very simple life style but yet of very good quality.

Is it why you centered it on simple and good soul-food?

Yes, correct.

In "Close Knit" too, food seems to be a vehicle for love and family bonds, the girl is nauseated by the convenient-store onigiris that her mum keeps feeding her and as a proof of Rinko's love she says: " She makes me nice bentos!"

True, but I think this maybe is for almost everybody. As a Japanese mother, you
have to cook a three course meal for your kids, not just one dish, like - sorry to say - American people that can make dinner with a pizza delivery.

I am Italian and I can relate with that, but not all the countries feel the connection between food and family in the same way.

Yes, you are right, in societies like Italian, Chinese, Japanese food is more important. Also, I like to depict normal life of people and because we do three meals per day it's not strange that there are some scenes with food. It's inevitable.

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Lee Sang-il,1,Rahul Jain,1,Railway Sleepers,1,Rainy Dog,1,Raja Mukhriz,1,Rajkumar Gupta,1,Ram,1,Ram Gopal Varma,1,Randy Mckenzie,4,Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead,1,Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead 2,1,Ravine of Goodbye,1,Re:Born,1,Real,1,Realism,1,Red Beard,1,Red Persimmons,1,Rei Sakamoto,1,Reipu zonbi: Lust of the dead 3,1,Resistance at Tule Lake,1,Respeto,2,Resurrection,1,Revenge: A love story,1,Review,9,Reviews,306,Reviews.,2,Reviews. Panos Kotzathanasis,1,Rima Das,1,Riri Riza,3,Ritwik Ghatak,2,River of Exploding Durians,2,River's Edge,3,Robin Weng,1,Roger Lee,2,Roman Porno,1,Ronja,1,Rouge,1,Rouven Linnarz,1,Roya Sadat,2,Running on Karma,1,Russia,1,RV: Resurrected Victims,1,Ryoo Seung-wan,2,Ryota Sakamaki,1,Ryu Kaneda,1,Ryuki,1,Ryutaro Ninomiya,2,S. Korea,74,S.Korea,2,Saayak Santra,9,Sabrina Baracetti,1,Sabu,4,Sade Sato,1,Salaam Bombay,1,Samui Song,1,San Diego Asian Film Festival,17,San Diego Film Festival,2,Sanjay Leela Bhansali,2,Sanjeewa Pushpakumara,2,Sankha Ray,33,Sarita Khurana,1,Satan's Slaves,3,Satoru Hirohara,1,Satoshi Kon,3,Satya,1,Satyajit Ray,2,Say Yes,1,Sayandeep Bandyopadhyay,6,Scarlet Heart,1,Score,1,Sea Fog,1,Seijun Suzuki,3,Sekigahara,1,Serga Mathang,1,Sexy S.W.A.T. Team,1,Sha Po Lang,1,Shake Rattle and Roll,1,Shakti Sounder Rajan,1,Shanjhey Kumar Perumal,1,Shanker Raman,1,Shaw Brothers,2,She Remembers He Forgets,2,She's the Boss,1,Shehjar,1,Shiboprosad Mukherjee,1,Shift,2,Shigeru Umebayashi,1,Shikhar Verma,13,Shikhar Verna,3,Shim Sung-Bo,1,Shinichi Fukazawa,1,Shinichiro Ueda,1,Shinji Iwai,1,Shinji Somai,2,Shinji Sômai,1,Shinjuku Swan,1,shinjuku Swan II,1,Shinjuku Triad Society,1,Shinobi no Kuni,2,Shinsuke Ogawa,1,Shinsuke Sato,2,Shinya Tsukamoto,4,Shireen Seno,2,Shirley Abraham,1,Shock Wave,1,Shôhei Imamura,1,Shoot for the Contents,1,Shorts,9,Shotaro Kobayashi,1,Shu Qi,1,Shuna Iijima,1,Shunji Iwai,2,Shutter,1,Shuttle Life,2,Shyam Ramsay,1,Siddiq Ahamed,1,Sidharth Bharathan,1,Sidi Saleh,1,Signature,1,Silent Mist,1,Silver Spleen,2,Singapore,3,Singh Anand,1,Singing Chen,1,Sinophone,1,Sion Sono,10,Siti,1,Sixth Sense Hooker,1,Slavemen,1,Sleep Curse,1,Small Talk,2,Smriti Mundhra,1,Sogo Ishii,2,Soichi Umezawa,1,Solanin,1,Solitude,1,Solo,1,Someone To Talk To,1,Sompot Chidgasompongse,2,Song Hae-sung,1,Song Kang-ho,1,Song of the Week,22,Sopawan Boonnimitra,1,Sopon Sakdapisit,1,Soul,1,Soul Mate,1,SoulMate,2,South Korea,24,Sri Lanka,3,Sridevi,1,Srijit Mukherji,8,Stammering Ballad,1,Stanley Kwan,1,Stanley Tong,1,Steel Rain,1,Stephen Chow,1,Stephen Fung,2,Steve James,1,Still the Water,1,Stoneman Murders,1,Story in Taipei,1,Strange Circus,1,Studio Ghibli,1,StudioCanal,4,Subenja Pongkorn,2,Suffering of Ninko,2,Sugihara Survivors: Jewish and Japanese,1,Suicide Club,1,Sukita: The Shoot Must Go On,1,Suman Mukhopadhay,1,Summer Snow,1,Sun-ho Cho,1,Sunao Katabuchi,3,Sunday Beauty Queen,1,Sung-hong Kim,1,Sunk Into the Womb,1,Sushama Deshpande,1,Susumu Hirasawa,1,Sweating the Small Stuff,2,Sylvia Chang,1,Tadashi Nagayama,1,Tae Guk Gi,1,Tag,1,Taiwan,28,Takaaki Hashiguchi,1,Takahide Hori,1,Takahiro Miko,1,Takahisa Zeze,1,Takao Nakano,1,Takaomi Ogata,4,Takashi Miike,10,Take Care of My Cat,1,Take Me to the Moon,1,Take Off,1,Takeo Kikuchi,2,Takeshi Kaneshiro,1,Takeshi Kitano,1,Takuro Nakamura,2,Talop Wangchuk,1,Tamil,4,Tamura Senichi,1,Tang Seng Kiat,2,Tanit Jitnukul,1,Tanvir Ashraf,2,Taste of Rice Flower,2,Tatara Samurai,1,Tatsuhi Omori,1,Tatsumi,1,Tatsumi Kumashiro,1,Teddy Soeriaatmadja,1,Teenkahon,1,Teppei Nakamura,1,Tetsuo the Iron Man,1,Tetsuya Mariko,1,Tetsuya Nakashima,1,Thailand,21,Thanatos Drunk,1,That's It,1,The Adventurers,2,The Apology,1,The Bad,1,The Blue Redemption,1,The Boy and the Beast,3,The boy from Ipanema,1,The Brink,1,The Chase,1,The Cinema Travellers,1,The Crawler in the Attic,1,The Crazy Family,1,The Day After,1,The Detective,1,The Discloser,1,The Dollhouse,1,The elephant and the sea,2,The Empty Hands,1,The Executioner,1,The Eye's Dream,1,The Forest Whispers,1,The Forsaken Land,1,The Fortress,1,The Gangster's Daughter,1,The Girl Who Never Knew War,1,The Golden Fortress,1,The Good,1,The Great Buddha+,1,The Great Passage,1,The Hole,1,The Hungry Lion,1,The Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles,2,The Inugami Family,1,The Iron Ministry,1,The Island That All Flow By,1,The Isthmus,1,The Kid from the Big Apple,1,The King of Pigs,1,The Last Executioner,1,The Last Painting,1,The Long Excuse,1,The Looming Storm,1,The Lowlife,1,The Magic Blade,1,The Man Without a Map,1,The Mayor,1,The Merciless,2,The Mermaid,1,The Muse,1,The Naked Island,1,The Name,1,The Net,1,The Night of the Earthquake,1,The Outlaws,1,The Prison,1,The Promise,1,The Raid,1,The Raid 2,1,The recipe,1,The Road Home,1,The Road to Mandalay,1,the Robber's Daughter,1,The Room,1,The Sacrament,1,The Salesman,1,The Seen and Unseen,1,The Shoot Must Go On,1,The Sleep Curse,1,The Snow King,1,The Sower,2,The Story of the Disappearance of Maryam,1,The Strange Saga of Hiroshi the Freeloading Sex Machine,1,The Suicide Chain,1,The Swindlers,1,The Table,1,The Third Murder,1,The Thousand Faces of Dunjia,1,The Tiger: An Old Hunter's Tale,1,The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue,1,The Tooth and the Nail,1,The Truth Beneath,1,The Vanished,1,The Villainess,3,The Violin Player,1,The Way We Are,1,The Weird,1,The Windmill Palm Grove,1,Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru,1,Third WIndow,1,This Is Not What I Expected,1,This Is Not What I Expected!,1,Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum,1,Thop Nazareno,1,Three Sisters,1,Three Times,1,Tiffany Hsiung,1,Tik Tik Tik,1,Tôkaidô Yotsuya kaidan,1,Tokyo Ghoul,1,Tokyo Heaven,1,Tokyo Idols,1,Tokyo Vampire Hotel,1,Tolerance Film Festival,1,Tom Waller,2,Tony Leung,1,Tony Takitani,1,Torico,2,Toronto International Film Festival,1,Toshiaki Toyoda,2,Toshihisa Yokoshima,3,Toshimasha Kobayashi,1,Toshio Matsumoto,1,Toshiya Fujita,1,Toshiyuki Teruya,1,Town in a Lake,1,Traces of Sin,1,Trailers,85,Train to Busan,1,Tran Ham,1,Translated articles,1,Trapped,1,Travellers and Magicians,1,Treb Monteras II,2,Trinh T. 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Bhutan. Five Flavours,1,
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Asian Film Vault: Interview with director Naoko Ogigami: Nobody had any kind of discrimination against me as a woman director. I was lucky
Interview with director Naoko Ogigami: Nobody had any kind of discrimination against me as a woman director. I was lucky
We speak with Naoko Ogigami about the stigma of being at one time unemployed, single and at your parent's house, Scandinavian knitting men and everyday food.
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Asian Film Vault
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