The writer presents ‘Living’ in San Sebastian, directed by Oliver Hermanus and based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 classic. It is the first film in which the Nobel Prize winner rewrites from a foreign script
He confesses that he is a fan and, among his vital references, rather than a writer, he prefers to quote two filmmakers: Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse. The two are united, at least, by being Japanese and by having created their respective films and universes from the absence of drama, from the most exquisite modesty, from the clarity of minimal gestures. kazuo ishiguro (Ngasaki, 1954), writer and Nobel Prize winner in 2017, chooses them because he sees himself there. The master of containment, as quick and unqualified definitions say of him, and author of works such as ‘What’s left of the day’ Y ‘Never leave me’ (both with brilliant screen adaptations) is in San Sebastian as spokesperson for ‘Living room‘, the film signed by Oliver Hermanus that also strictly means his debut as an adapter of another’s work. Against all odds, it is a free version (never ‘remake‘) and loosely inspired by the classic akira kurosawa (not from Ozu or Naruse) ‘Live (Ikiru)’.
- What is your first impression of the city?
- fantastic. I’ve come with my wife and I think we’ll be back on vacation. We came the day before for the queen’s funeral. We were convinced that it was going to be impossible to travel. So we have enjoyed a day off.
- And what reflection motivates you this moment of change a few days after the death of Elizabeth II?
- It is a difficult moment. But it is since Brexit was consumed. Because of him, the country was divided in two. Not as wildly as in the United States, but the public debate was polarized and the division between the traditional political tribes of Conservatives and Labor was accentuated to a paroxysm. The atmosphere became rarefied and became very bitter. I suppose that in this tense climate the royal family was a neutral symbol in which people could recognize themselves. There is no doubt that the queen was a catalyst for emotions. Her death has somehow made people finally, for a moment, come together for something. The United Kingdom is not going through its best moment in this regard. My wife is Scottish and she knows it well.
- Do you therefore consider that the monarchy fulfills a function?
- Yes, people feel very insecure and the royal family basically represents stability and unity.
- I already wrote scripts before like ‘The Saddest Music in the World’, but it is the first time that he adapts another work. Why did you choose a masterpiece like ‘To live‘? She didn’t command a certain respect?
- It is an ambition I have pursued for years. And not because I wanted to do it but because I wanted someone to dare. Of course, I didn’t think at all that it had to be remade’To live‘. The idea was to make the history of Kurosawa coincide with the very essence of England, with the idea of the English gentleman, with the values that Great Britain had and that disappeared with the Second World War. That subject fascinates me because I believe that in some way I attended its end. When I grew up in the ’60s, a lot of my parents’ friends and a lot of my friends’ parents were like the character in this movie. I myself used to go to school by train on a trip very similar to the one shown in the movie. People used to live in the suburbs, about 40 minutes from London, and they all wore those wedding hats.
- How is it that the essence of what is English has been lost?
- I was a schoolboy and it faded quickly when I was 16 or 17 years old. But I also remember the very cinema that was made then and that marked an era. During the war, for example, and financed by the government to boost morale, wonderful films were made. I think of the films by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, or Carol Reed, or Alfred Hitchcock before he went to the United States with works like ‘The man who knew too much Y ‘The Lady Vanishes’, or Anthony Asquith, or Basil Dearden with ‘The blue lantern’ Y ‘Pool of London’… There is a whole film corpus that fascinates me that had a very specific style and that has nothing to do with what was done in other parts of the planet. It may sound very conservative, but he had a clear British identity. And that, too, disappeared in the late 1940s.
- Perhaps another of the reasons for writing the adaptation is to recover the way in which the protagonist relates to the imminence of death that has nothing to do with how we do it now.
- S.’To live‘ It meant a lot to my generation. Not so much for the Japanese as for the British of my age. It became very popular in arthouse theaters. Although the protagonist is an old man, he spoke to us, the young people of that time. His message had nothing to do with the movies coming out of Hollywood. He doesn’t tell us like he does ‘How beautiful it is to live’ that for life to make sense you had to look at it in a completely different way. It wasn’t that you may think you’re doing nothing, but actually you’re unintentionally doing wonderful things. Nope, To live He told us something more relevant: accept what you are; Your life is going to be irrelevant, perhaps, but you have to accept what you’ve been dealt and you also have to accept that probably no one is going to notice you. You may get something done, but most people will simply forget what you’ve done. In most Hollywood movies, someone does something fantastic and the crowd cheers. Kurosawa clearly tells you that you will be forgotten. But it does not matter.
- It is strange that this fascination with the insignificance that he demonstrates comes from, precisely, a Nobel Prize winner…
- I never imagined that I would be sitting here, much less that anyone would recognize what I would end up doing. I always imagined myself, so to speak, living a small life. And I still think that the valid message is that of To live. There are many people who work very hard and do not fully understand whether or not their effort affects the world in general or if the company they work for is completely useless or, worse, harms the planet. But he is forced to work to earn money.
- He is generally defined as a master of containment. How do you feel in this definition?
- Regardless of how I am considered, I am fascinated by many unrestrained films and plays. Kurosawa is not content at all. And it is not a criticism of his film, which is a masterpiece. I am convinced that if Ozu or Naruse had rolled ‘To live‘ The result will be something completely different. And so I thought this story would work perfectly and in a completely different way if we put it in the context of containment, which is a very British way of being in the world. I always wondered what would have happened if Chish Ryu had been the protagonist of To live instead of Takashi Shimura. Well, it’s already been answered because Bill Nighy is the perfect replica of Ryu.
- He insists on the essence of what is English, of the ‘englishness‘ (Englishness). How would you define it? Why do you consider it so important?
- Actually, it is not a national feature or ascribed to a specific place. It has nothing to do with England or a specific time. In my opinion it is a kind of metaphor of something that every human being has inside. We all have an Englishman somewhere inside us. It is a strategy to face the fear of distressing events not by denying them but by facing them through the confidence generated by the fact of belonging to something bigger and that represents the nation. It has to do with the sense of duty and doing things to satisfy only your moral sense regardless of what others think. There is a part of all of us that is English in that sense. It is a universal note. Think of the character ‘What’s left of the day’. We are not talking about England but about human nature.
- His words seem like a refutation of the networked world we live in…
- There are many values in technology, but I sincerely believe that it is out of control. The business models that support this world do not favor what is best for society. Only in the last seven or eight years has the world figured out how things work. Everyone thought that we get all these wonders for free and we didn’t realize that this was all based on surveillance and our data was being used. But when we begin to be aware of this, it is too late: we are already addicts. We can’t function without mobile. Europe, at least, has led the way in the fight for legislative change. In the end, the law is the only thing that can be used to regain some freedom.
- How did you experience the attack on Salman Rushdie, your friend?
- It was horrible and very scary. What has happened shows how insecure artists, writers and artists in general are for speaking freely. I remember the first time he was threatened with death in 1989. We all protested strongly. He was instant. Now the same will not happen. You would not experience such a quick reaction in the world of liberal democracies. I think that if what happened then, some would accuse Salman of having asked for it and it would even be canceled. With freedom of expression sides are not worth it. I take some comfort in the fact that he was a lonely, crazed boy. He was not commissioned by Iran or by any jihadist group. You can see a pattern. Almost every week in the United States some disturbed young man walks into a mall or a school or a synagogue or a gay nightclub… and starts shooting people. It is a very disturbing trend. But I think that in a certain way, the western world, all of us, due to the hatred spread by social networks, must take responsibility. The attack has to do directly with the climate we have created. We have to examine ourselves. What have we done to make a young man growing up in a well-to-do world feel the need to do something like that? There will be those who argue that everything is a thing of the foreigner who attacks us, no, I don’t see it that way. I only hope that he gets better and returns quickly to as normal a life as possible.
- Have you had a chance to talk to him?
- We have exchanged emails.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism