Last updated: 13 March 2023

Published on: 03 February 2019


NaokoOgigami SMF2019
Award-winning Japanese film director Ms Naoko Ogigami shared about her journey in filmmaking and gave advice to aspiring filmmakers at the Singapore Media Festival 2019.

By Nigel Low

In winning the Palme d’Or—the most prestigious prize at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite brought acclaim to Asian Cinema, hot on the heels of Hirokazu Koreeda’s win the year before with Shoplifters. These significant victories on the international stage signal a growing interest in films from Asia, and spur optimism that the region’s filmmaking industry has not yet reached its peak. 

For those seeking to scale similar heights, Japanese filmmaker Ms Naoko Ogigami, has some simple advice: “Just keep making films and do not give up on them halfway.” Whether it is managing the complexities of diverse film crews or encountering editing roadblocks, Ms Ogigami has seen it all and urges aspiring filmmakers to keep trying different paths, staying relentless in their pursuit of success.

She was speaking with Singaporean filmmaker, Mr Ric Aw, at an ‘In Conversation’ session, held at the Singapore Media Festival’s Festival Village on 23 November 2019. Organised by the IMDA, the ‘In Conversation’ discussions are a series of in-depth conversations with interesting figures from the media industry, aimed at cultivating a dynamic ecosystem of local and regional creators.

During the talk, Ms Ogigami shared key insights into her journey as a filmmaker, how she found her own voice in films, and her upcoming projects.

When one door closes, another opens

Ms Ogigami’s path to becoming a filmmaker began with another medium—photography. But after becoming dissatisfied with her own attempts at mastering the still image, she flew to the US in 1994 to study film at the University of Southern California. Crediting her father for her early exposure to films, she recounted how “he loved going to the movies and always took me with him.” Still, she never thought that she would become a film director.

Drawing from her own experiences, Ms Ogigami acknowledged that the path of a filmmaker is often fraught with challenges, but she has found unconventional ways to overcome those difficulties. At first, she tried promoting some of her short films to industry professionals to secure sponsorships for future projects, but this proved futile.

Undeterred, she managed to fund her own independent film, Hoshino-kun, Yumino-kun, and entered it in the esteemed Pia Film Festival. The film won several awards, which propelled her to her first feature length opportunity, Yoshino’s Barber Shop.

Since then, Ms Ogigami has created a wide array of content in several mediums ranging from cinema to television, with numerous short films and seven feature length films already under her belt. Her most recent work was a writing stint on Rilakkuma and Kaoru, a stop-motion animated series about a fictional bear and an introverted salarywoman in Japan, now showing on Netflix.

Healing with humour 

Many filmmakers develop a unique film style over the years of honing their craft, and Ms Ogigami is no exception. She has become widely associated with a style described as “iyashi-kei eiga”, or “films that provide emotional healing”. While she asserts that this style was not intentionally cultivated, she attributes it to the relatable human interactions present in all her films, and recognises the relaxing effect that her work has on her audiences.

If laughter were considered a sign of peak relaxation, then the Japanese are a tough audience to unwind. “Japanese people are generally shy and do not laugh much,” Ms Ogigami quipped. “When my movies are screened at film festivals and people laugh at them, it gives me a lot of encouragement.”

True to her understated yet quirky nature, Ms Ogigami’s next film is a sardonic take on a topic generally spoken of in hushed tones in Asian culture—death. “It is about a lonely man trying to find a way to properly store away the ashes of his deceased brother, because he is too afraid to keep it at home and cannot afford a proper burial,” she said.

Allowing creativity to rise from setbacks

Perhaps fittingly, the themes found throughout all of Ms Ogigami’s films mirror her own buoyant approach to life. She carries a youthful exuberance when discussing her craft, which belies her experience in the industry.

Her love for filmmaking has taken her to many places including the US and Finland, giving her the opportunity to work with different groups of people. However, adapting to new environments was not without its challenges. “The people that I work with come from many different cultures and it takes time to familiarise myself with them,” she added.

When asked if she has been discouraged by any of her failures, Ms Ogigami said: “Yes, I would say that I have experienced failures in all my films, but I keep telling myself to just keep doing better in the next film. You just keep trying new things; that is the way to make films.”

Her words certainly shine a guiding light for aspiring filmmakers seeking to follow in her footsteps and ride the rising popularity of Asian films.

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