Interview with director Kei Uehara

Kei started working for MTV Japan in 1997, after winning an award in the MTV StationID contest the previous year. He also worked for P.I.C.S before becoming a freelancer.

During this period he was involved with the making of adverts and music clips, with his role ranging from visual direction to art direction, creating motion graphics and music scores. His high reputation comes from creating videos that make viewers feel the sound.

He won the Asian Television Technical & Creative Award for Best Direction in 2003. He then joined KOO-KI in 2012.

“Tomorrow begins”, the PR video he directed to promote Tokyo as a host to 2020 Olympics, won K-ADC Members Prize for Movie, Digital Communication in 2013. In 2015, his work “Sporting Spirit”, one of the largest scale projection mapping works in Japan, was exhibited at TOKYO BIG SIGHT. 2019 saw him win the Gold Medal at FUKUOKA AD ASSOCIATION PRIZE for Web Movie with “KA TA O RI HA”, a celebratory film made for Hakata-Ori textiles’ 777th anniversary. Uehara seeks to keep breaking the boundaries in visual art, going beyond screens.

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

I first got into gaze guidance when I was studying graphic design at university. I was addicted to the fun of it. Pursuing it led me to realize that I can give viewers a different experience, an intuitive sort of euphoria, by controlling their gaze through motion, and that’s where it all began.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

Not really. If you go to a film institute, chances are that you will be among peers sharing similar ambitions but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll succeed.

Many wonderful directors I know took different routes to be film directors. My impression is that they are more creative.

In the end, it’s up to you to believe in yourself and follow your dreams.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

Both are equally hard.

Almost all the processes in filmmaking, from brainstorming ideas to giving finishing touches to the final edit, are either difficult, troublesome or rather boring steps. My trick is to imagine the joy I’d feel after completion instead of thinking how difficult or boring it is at the moment. 

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

Everything in life is a lesson, including failures and successes!

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

It can be said that I’m making compromises on every aspect due to the set budget and deadline!  But it’s also a cool aspect of being a director, figuring out how to use your creativity under many restrictions.

The same can be said about surprises and unexpected accidents. Don’t be drawn into negativity in the case of accidents. Overcome them with new ideas, while keeping the film cohesive. It’s part of the fun.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

Talking about “Ka Ta O Ri Ha”, the basic ideas came to me rather right away.

For 777 years Hakata-ori weave has been passed down from person to person. It’s a huge repetition of spinning yarns and weaving. The loop of words, music and choreography represents them, and by slowly making them go off the loop, it brings new awareness-that was the idea.

But I also knew that it’d require much calculation on and between everything from music to dance as well as the filming itself.

It was very fortunate that I could work with Masako Yasumoto, the choreographer and Yuichi Nakamura, the composer in such a tight production schedule, they played a big part.

I’ve been interested in Masako’s choreography for some time, and was convinced that her style would fit for this project. It’s fortunate that she made time for us out of her busy schedule. Yuichi is my long time buddy and I’m very familiar with his style, and I knew that he would be essential to the tone of the film.

Their presence broadened the horizon far more than I expected, leading to completion of the film.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

To keep the relationship healthy and strong with any teammates I, the director, need to be the person who’s most excited about that filmmaking. The happiest one to be there.

And if I’m not, I’ll be honest with myself and search for the cause, then tell the others about it.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

I believe it’s communication that the audience wants- communication between the film and the audience. So what you need to worry about is how to deliver the messages and feelings that you want to convey. Try various styles, sometimes you need to be bossy or childish to hit the mark. You always need to think of how to make the message resonate.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

Festivals are great opportunities to get your films seen by various people, and submitting them to the festivals means not only will your work will be seen, but also evaluated. It motivates me pretty well when my work is recognized, but I don’t make films just for festivals.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

To be able to being both original and classic is necessary for filmmakers. Original and fresh are what I always strive for, and sometimes it helps to throw in classical taste in-between to make the originality shine. Above all else, that you very simply love watching films is the most important characteristic to keep being a filmmaker if you ask me.