After decades in television and film, including as a producer, screenwriter and documentary filmmaker, Yoshiyuki Kishi made his directorial debut in 2016 at the age of 52 Double lifewhich attracted some international festival attention.

The following year he returned with ambition wilderness, based on the only novel by Shuji Terayama. Released in two parts a few weeks apart in Japan, with a total running time of more than five hours. wilderness portrayed two very different social outcasts on their path to becoming professional boxers against the backdrop of a socially decaying Japan. At the Japan Academy Awards, Masaki Suda was named Best Actor, and at the Asian Film Awards, Korean Yang Ik-june was named Best Supporting Actor.

Kishi’s newest, (Ab)normal desireis almost certainly his most ambitious and complex work to date. The film, which was selected in competition at this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival and stars Yui Aragaki, Goro Inagaki, Kanta Sato, Hayato Isomura and Ayaka Higashino, is not always easy to watch.

Based on a 2021 novel of the same name by Ryo Asai, the film explores the impact that a fetish for splashing water has on the lives of two former classmates. It provides differentiated interpretations of tolerance towards differences, empty gestures of diversity and social isolation. Titillation is characterized by its absence. An unexpected twist in the denouement brings the sympathetically portrayed fetish into contact with undeniably abnormal desires, muddying the moral waters.

During the Tokyo Film Festival The Hollywood Reporter sat down with Kishi and asked him how he approached tackling such a difficult subject and how he was a late bloomer when it came to feature films.

A whole series of Ryo Asai’s books dating back to The Kirishima thingwere made into a film – why do you think that is?

I think this is because film is a medium that expresses the present, and although there are many Japanese films based on source material, the very contemporary themes it portrays stimulate the imagination of filmmakers – not only from directors but also from producers. The novel really impressed me. I realized that I didn’t understand at all the topic of sexual diversity that I thought I had mastered. There are people who need to be understood and those who need to understand. I was confronted with the fact that I’m simply on the side that needs to understand.

The story is, above all, an exploration of the inner worlds of the characters. What were the challenges of portraying it on screen?

It described the sexual excitement around water, the pleasure, those feelings. I’m on the majority side [not having a water fetish], so it was difficult to express that in the film. Sexual arousal isn’t explicitly expressed in the source material, so I had to figure out how to show that. I had a lot of trouble and discussed it in detail with the actors. I did a lot of research and found blogs of people who have water fetishes and have written extensively about them. There are also different ways in which someone who was aroused by water spraying from a faucet might be aroused by another who was aroused by wet clothing. I borrowed some of that. Since I’ve been making documentaries for a long time, I like to refer to real things.

I wanted to use reality as a reference to express my ideas, but in this case I felt that using such real things was limiting in places. So instead of limiting the image of what I was portraying, I decided to expand it.

The water fetish seems to be a clear metaphor for sexual and social minorities. Do you see it that way and what did you want to say about it with the film?

Yes that’s it. But I had to direct it in a direction that was easy to visualize. The characters in the film are alienated from water by their attraction to water. So I wanted the water to be moisture in some way, the source of life – but I wanted to leave the impression that it leaves them high and dry. Or rather, water is something that doesn’t make the characters happy.

In order to convey the message that they need to be understood, I think it was important that the cast could express themselves to make the situation understandable. Otherwise there was a risk that it would be lost.

You made your debut as a feature film director at the age of 52, which is quite late. How has your many years of experience in television and film, working on documentaries, variety shows, dramas, etc. influenced your work?

I would like to think that I was able to put my experience into action (laughs). In all of my productions, I shoot entire scenes without editing and then do it again and again. I edit myself so this works well. Documentaries are about making a record, right? If you interview someone and shoot it so they look good, they’ll be happy. I always film with this idea in mind, even if it confuses some people. There is something I want to capture that only exists in this moment. We overcome various hurdles and at a certain time on a certain day there is a moment when all the staff and crew work together on the images we create. In that sense it’s like a documentary – you don’t know what’s going to happen, but you start filming. There comes a moment when performance goes beyond your expectations and when it is not planned. I think experience allows me to do that.

Did you always have the goal of becoming a director?

No not at all. As a film student, I made films, but one of my contemporaries told me that the chances of becoming a director were like winning the lottery. I entered the film industry when it was in severe decline and people could no longer make a living. That’s why I didn’t think I could make it in a world like that. Even if I could become a crew member, I didn’t think I would ever get the chance to direct a film. That’s why I think it’s incredible to have the opportunity to make films.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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