38th Montreal World Film Festival, 2014

city poster

The City of Glass. Tokyo, is a compelling Japanese film screened during the 38th Montreal World Film Festival, 2014. It has all the ingredients that attract an audience interested in the seamier side of life: sex, suicide, murder, necrophilia and the machinations of macho fathers and domineering mothers. Moreover the story line takes place in Tokyo’s gay district. But none of that defines this film. The City of Glass is the story of human vulnerability and how a heart …and a life…can be shattered like glass never to be mended again. It is also an ode to the beauty of the human body, whether male, female, transgender or a corpse. All of this takes place against the backdrop of Yukio Mishima’s pithy epigrams. One could also call it a two-step dance between Eros and Thanatos. Most importantly, it is a plea for universal acceptance of different ways of expressing sexuality and ultimately love.

Montreal Serai cultural correspondent Maya Khankhoje was invited to an exclusive interview with director and co-producer Kazuhiro Teranishi, lead actor JK from South Korea and actress/comedian Tomoko Nakajima. Below is a streamlined version of the main points discussed.

 

 

MS: Thank you for the opportunity to view this film. In it the presence of the mother figure is strongly felt. Are you suggesting that mothers have an important role to play in the construction of gay identity?

KT: There are two mothers in the film. One overprotects her son, the other one rejects her son’s sexual identity. It is known that a hormonal imbalance during pregnancy affects the sexual orientation of the child but homosexuality is also social. In the film there are many scenes – some of them extreme, of man-on-man sex but there is also a depiction of real love. There is a very large gay community in Tokyo and it is growing. They should not be hated and they should not be disrespected. In that way, Tokyo is a very interesting city.

MS: What is the meaning of the title of the movie? Does the word glass denote transparency?

KT: No. Glass symbolizes the soul of man which is highly breakable and like glass, cannot be put back together.

MS: In the film a tall red tower keeps cropping up. Freud would interpret it as a phallic symbol. Is it?

KT: You are a very acute observer! Yes!

Director and co-producer Kazuhiro Teranishi
Director and co-producer Kazuhiro Teranishi

MS: Why so much death and sex? Is there a connection? In French the moment after a climax is known as “la petite mort”or the small death.

KT: We are born, we die, we live in between. I am interested in the process. What do we live for? Why do we work? For whom? This subject has mainly been treated in the relations between men and women exclusively, but I want to explore what happens between two men.

MS: In the film there are many references to Mishima. He once said, and I am quoting freely, that beauty lies in the decay of purity. Is that what you were trying to portray in your film?

KT: Mishima was different. It is true that initially he looked at the same issues as I do in the film, but later on he turned to the subject of creation and action. He focused on country, patriotism, rational values. Not me. Regarding the concept of beauty, we now have a new freedom to express ourselves. I would say that “even corpses have a story”which is why the corpses are embalmed and adorned with flowers. We also have one of the characters, Toru, walking around Tokyo at night with his lover’s urn to the point of being actually aroused.

MS: Why is one of the lead actors a Korean? Did you choose him because he is handsome and talented and happened to be available? Or did you choose him because often Koreans in Japan are identified with the sex trade?

KT: Had I depicted pure raw sex scenes without any foreplay I would have made a bad marketing move! I was originally aiming at the Japanese market as well as the Korean market and yes, there was a handsome and talented actor available who was willing to take on that role in the movie. And then I thought that Japan and Korea could be representative of Asia to the world at large.

MS: Why do you have a black bouncer in one of the clubs? Any particular reason?

KT: I mainly filmed in the area of Tokyo where there are many foreigners and many of those clubs are manned by black bouncers.

MS: I understand that you are involved in the fashion industry?

KT: Indeed, I own a talent agency and the fashion parade that you saw in the movie was live footage from an event I organized. There were many gorgeous boys…

MS: Thank you very much.

KT: Arigatou gozaimasu.

***

Interview with JK

JK, lead Korean actor. Michel Bourgeot, interpreter. Maya Khankhoje, MS correspondent.
JK, lead Korean actor. Michel Bourgeot, interpreter. Maya Khankhoje, MS correspondent.

MS: Could you give me your perspective on the film?

JK: I don’t have any connection with the gay community but I do believe that love between two men is the same as love between men and women.

MS: Do you believe that mothers play a central role in the sexuality of their sons?

JK: The first woman a man encounters is his mother, she therefore becomes a reference for women. Some men go for the mother figure, others want to become a woman and in acting out their fantasies they run afoul of the law. Therefore the mother in the film sees herself as guilty of the fact that her son became a transexual.

MS: Was the character a transvestite or a transexual?

JK: He did undergo surgery, so he was a transexual…

MS: How did you feel playing that role?

JK: …he was a driven man, he wanted to be accepted by his lover as a woman.

MS: Did you have problems with sex scenes due to censorship in Japan?

JK: I don’t know about censorship in Japan, but in Korea it is much stricter. Homosexual love cannot be shown in Korea. But things are changing, even in Korea, soft-sex movies are beginning to appear.

***

Partial Interview with Tomoko Nakajima

MS: First of all, let me congratulate you on your role. As the plot unravelled and it became apparent that you would be uncovered by the authorities, your facial expressions kept changing subtly revealing your real identity to the audience. A great performance.

TN: Arigatou gozaimasu!

  • Excellent work Maya Sabitri! Great analysis, wit, concision and use of the right words. Thank you for offering your views.
    Probably it was the sound of the glass mention that made me associate it with Wermer Herzog’s Herz aus Glas, Heart of Glass, because it recalls the meaning that people conveyed to Bavarian glass, in the first movie, and to the human body (and heart), in the latter, in both cases leading to madness, ergo, destruction. This immediately recalled me of conversations with an old and aged Chinese friend who would say that both the Japanese and the German people were, to him, neurotics, tortured souls… their wars and all that they led to in the 20th Century.

    Japanese society working like mad to be #1 (one just has to refer to stock exchange related literature), families ignoring each other’s needs, people criticizing the socially unfit, generations trying to grow up in a world made of glass. Your interview allows us to see a good post card of Tokyo, even for those like me who might never see this movie. I can also see Japanese and Korean youth getting together to open the eyes of the world to realities we cannot ignore in this world of obsessed with creating ruby glass forever.