I am in Tokyo. At least I think I am, it's hard to tell with the jetlag. I left London on Saturday, the morning after Yes opened on five screens. I had done a Q&A at the Curzon Mayfair on Friday evening, which, to all of our satisfaction, was sold out. It is a beautiful cinema with comfortable seats, a very large screen and an excellent sound system. I felt relatively relaxed and therefore managed to crack a fair number of jokes on stage because the first reviews had come out and all was well. The moment of judgment at the hands of critics is always difficult and never predictable.
After the screening, packing. The weather forecast for Tokyo said 90 degrees with 94% humidity. Hmm. The flight left in the early afternoon and arrived at 11am Tokyo time next morning. I spent the whole flight writing a piece for a magazine - a satirical 'review' of Yes as if written by someone else - and so lost a night somehow, in transit. Forcing myself to stay awake I wandered around the streets as if fighting through a steambath, in and out of department stores, just to experience the relief of the air-conditioning. In one store I found myself staring at camping equipment and bought two miniature compasses, never having owned one before. Later I realised why. Where am I? And how do I get wherever it is I am going?
I fell into bed, finally, at 8pm but woke, startled, at midnight. That was it, for sleep. The rest of the night was a life evaluation session typical of hotel rooms in the night in another time zone. Eventually I staggered down to breakfast in the hotel buffet. Lychees, miso soup eaten whilst gazing out at a quasi-traditional Japanese garden with a pond, the adjacent skyscrapers reflected in the green water.
Then it was time to do what I have come here for: interviews. The young women from Gaga, our Japanese distributors, ushered the journalists in and out of the room. Everyone was unfailingly polite and some of the questions were the most prepared and astute of any I have been asked in this long last year of touring the world with the film.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Christopher Sheppard (who produced Yes) was meeting with the marketing team and taking a look at a print of the film with Japanese subtitles.
Press junkets are a strange art form. It is a kind of performance, in which you play the role loosely known as yourself, having opinions about your work and the state of the world. It can lead to feelings of disorientation due to the inherently repetitive nature of the activity. Sometimes I think of it as a yoga. At other times I feel sick at the sound of my own voice. And then there are the moments when an encounter has such sweet tenderness in it, or presents an opportunity to think freshly, or I suddenly wake to the fact that all this attention is, in fact, an honour and a rare opportunity and I had better not waste it. With Yes, because of its storyline and the fact that the hero is from the Middle East and the heroine from the US, it also provides a platform on which to contribute to another point of view about the greatest tensions now facing us. A love story is an apparently 'innocent' form in which to speak.
In fact, three days later, en-route back to London. My encounter with Tokyo and its citizens has taken place almost exclusively in the interview suite in the hotel, apart from two excursions out for dinner at the end of the long days. But the encounter has been its own kind of microcosm of Japanese society. The intensity of the discussions with the journalists, who came from a broad variety of publications and television stations including film and fashion magazines, the major daily newspapers, websites and so on, gradually began to provide an insight into a cross-section of national passions and preoccupations, codes of behaviour and rhythms of conversation. Without exception (and quite differently to most interviews I have experienced elsewhere in the world) each session, meticulously punctual, began slowly, with the interviewer taking time to express his or her own thoughts, appreciation or interpretation of the film. I came to realise this was a courtesy, an acknowledgment of the fact that we were two strangers, meeting for the first time. It felt like a ritual, a kind of conversational bow.
Everyone was well prepared. They seemed to have thought hard, in many cases had written up long, complex questions to be translated, and during my answers listened intently, even when they professed not to speak English, nodding and humming agreement or surprise, melodiously. The excellent translator, Sachiko Koyama, seamlessly helped us to communicate and I felt that she had really 'got it'.
Sometimes, even when you cannot speak a language, you can tell when a translation is off. Something in the facial expression of the person you are trying to talk to betrays that an unintentional meaning has crept in. One becomes quietly desperate, or long-winded, or absurdly pithy and simplistic in order to try to make the translation foolproof. But here there was none of that. The conversations ranged over the subject of the starting point of the film (9/11) and its relevance to the recent bombings in London, cultural imperialism and how the Japanese experience it (many of them quoted Simon's line "I know your stories, know your songs by heart, but do you know mine?"), the cleaner and her musings about the metaphysics of dirt and dust, to the word YES. The distributors have renamed the film The Rhyme Of Love for the Japanese market and many of the journalists were unhappy about this. We discussed the meaning of the word 'yes' again and again, the effect on the body when you say it (expansive), the choice of optimism that the word, as a title, signals in the face of despair, and of course its repeated use during Molly Bloom's monologue at the end of James Joyce's Ulysses.
I never really tired during the conversations (many of which were about conversation itself, the East/West dialogue that much of the film consists of) but in the short breaks I went next door to my room and fell onto the bed in a state of sudden exhaustion. The penultimate interview, on the third day, was listed as being with "the sociologist" and I had no idea what to expect. I believe it was for an academic publication. I feared I might not have the energy left to rise to the occasion but then he walked into the room, an adorable looking man bearing an uncanny resemblance to Harpo Marx, except with dark curly hair instead of blond. And he most certainly was not dumb. The most lively debate ensued in which he spoke so perceptively about the film (especially about the theme of the shifting nature of "the enemy other") that I felt he was unraveling its intentions in front of my eyes with a lovely lucidity and mental dexterity. I could happily have listened and talked for hours.
The last interview session of the day was with a group of web writers who were mostly interested in the filmmaking process. You can see a couple of short clips here: one an answer to a question about which is the most difficult, writing or directing; and the other about Joan Allen.
This morning the whole marketing and publicity team turned up to wave us goodbye, just as they had turned up to greet us on Sunday, their day off. Another lesson in courtesy.
I return to London relieved and pleased that the film opened well there (having learnt late at night in the business centre in the bowels of the hotel that it had the highest average number of admissions per screen of any film in the UK in its opening weekend) and hoping that the Japanese audience will find resonance with it, as the journalists seemed to do, so movingly, when Yes opens in Tokyo in October.
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