friends in Japan are Japanese, my crew is Japanese, and
I'm looking at myself as Japanese in a way. When my film
Firefly Dreams has been shown to a Japanese audience, it
is announced as Japanese film. Even if I'm not Japanese,
part of me is. Of course, there are always people who think
that I can not understand Japanese culture if I'm British.
How did you find yourself in Japan?
That's a long story. I'd planned to go to Japan only for
two years and ended up there for 13 years now. I just wanted
to get out of Britain and see the world a bit. Then I met
some Japanese film makers. Because of the film, I finally
decided to stay and put the pieces of a personal puzzle
You studied German and French literature in college; how
did you move from German and French literature to the film
It all started when I saw a Werner Herzog film, when
I realized that film is something that I want to do. In
Great Britain, at the time, only one film school existed
and they did not accept people over 27, so I couldn't go
there for an education. So, instead of film, I studied German
and French literature in college. Afterwards I lectured
in a high school, trying to write a script and make a movie.
mid-80s were an extremely hard period for British film.
Since I had to pay back my student's hardship and scholarship,
I had to work in one Japanese store in London. Then I started
to associate with Japanese people, developing more of an
interest in Japanese film and literature. Then, I got the
idea to go to Japan, for two years, make money there, write
a script and come back to London to make a movie. Then,
I spent six years in Japan planning to move to the USA,
so I could study there to be a film director. Soon enough,
I realized that it is more interesting for me to stay in
Japan and make Japanese films.
Firefly Dreams is your first feature film. What inspired
I decided to make the story about me and my grandpa. I hadn't
been sure: is that story ready to be realized, because it
is about my personal relations, with no action and no big
drama in it. But my friends have told me that my first film
should be something important to me. I think that this is
good advice. The story is based on my own relationship with
Grandpa, in a Japanese version
What British film directors do you like?
I like Ken Loach, and his social poetry in his films.
There are film directors in Britain that are making films
like this one, showing the bare reality of human relations
with natural acting. Ken's actors use more natural acting
techniques, and that is something that I like to support.
I don't like dramatic acting and performances; I like natural
acting. In a strange way, Loach has had a big influence
on me. I also like Mike Leigh; I think he's very funny and
sharp about little strange habits in people.
How do you identify, as Japanese or British now?
It is evident that whatever assumption that you get to,
if you are spending time in another culture and country,
you must get some sort of connection, no matter if the culture
looks different, it must be something similar to you personally
What documentaries have you made before?
I have made only one documentary [Midnight Spin; Japanese
and English], about the communist regime in Taiwan and about
the complexity of the problem by interviewing politicians,
ordinary people and priests.
In Firefly Dreams you deal with teenage problems in modern
Japan. Those teenagers have lots of choices in life. With
the influence of Western culture, they are perhaps losing
a spiritual connection to Japanese tradition. Can you compare
the Japanese teenager with the British teenager?
In Britain there are teenagers with the same problem
as Naomi, but there are also teenagers living in poverty.
British teenagers have more material problems than is the
case with the Japanese. The majority of Japanese teenagers
don't lack material things in life. They are aware that
something is missing in their life, but they don't know
what it is that is missing. Also Japanese society is very
capitalistic and very financially rich.
How about the commercial success of this film in Japan?
The commercial success is bigger than we had expected in
the first place. We did very well, as this is an art film,
this is not the mainstream film to get commercial success.
People in Japan don't want a Japanese film and that's full
stop. They’d all rather go for a commercial mainstream film,
coming from the USA.
Do you feel like you have been working on this film on your
Fourteen people have worked with me on the crew, all Japanese:
technical support and professional actors, and I was the
only one who had no experience in film making. There were
plenty of people who wanted to participate in the film,
and we all lived together in a big house, sleeping in sleeping
bags on the floor. Altogether about 40 people. One big happy
Did you have any disagreements with the Japanese cast, stemming
from you being British?
I don't think there is any problem with me being British
and working with Japanese. It is about being a British film
director with not enough experience. The only problem that
we had is that the Japanese cast is used to television acting,
and I wanted them to act more natural in my film.
Are you happy with your work on Firefly Dreams?
Definitely. Still, after I finished the film I still had
the impression that I should be doing something more after
the film was finished.
How much did Firefly Dreams cost?
Approximately about $400,000 US; this is a low budget movie.
Are you pleased with what you have done?
At first I believed that I have done everything that
I could, but now when I look back, watching the film, circulating
at the film festivals, I think that there are some things
in the film that could be different.
Are you considering a future film that might engage big
budget British actors with a Japanese cast, in order to
shoot for commercial success elsewhere?
I'm thinking about working on a project about a book
about foreign people living in Japan. The budget level of
this film will be 10 times higher than my film. The Japanese
film financing market is not strong enough to use a commercially
unknown Japanese cast outside Japan. Big budget international
projects are a gamble and depend a lot on the story.
What kind of story are you thinking of? Sex/violence?
When you come to Japanese audiences, you really can't
involve sex and violence in the commercial way. The world
can get "an exotic" picture of Japan, as it is now. This
is the case with other markets outside of Japan. And personally,
I'm not interested in making a story that shows Japan as
some exotic wild sex story.
If you would make a commercial project, commercial for the
American or British market, who you would engage in your
I'm working on a project that includes successful British
actors and Japanese crew in, but everything is happening
out of Japan.
Plans about the future?
Right now I'm working on three projects and two scripts.
I have just finished one, and I don't know which one I'm
going to get money for and how much.
Who's Naomi and how did you find a typical Japanese teenage
I didn't want to hire a girl who's a professional actress,
because in Japan acting looks like over-reacting. I didn't
want to work with the television way of acting as is usual
in Japan. Television acting is an over-the-top, melodramatic
style of acting. I looked for someone who looks and acts
natural. At first, we found a school-girl who gave up just
before shooting, realizing that it would be hard work for
her to do it. So we found another girl who happened to be
a trained actress: 21, she is. Naomi is a typical teenage
girl in Japan, who does not know the actual direction of
her life, without a very clear vision about her future,
with so many choices in her life. This girl represents teenage
girls everywhere, not only in Japan.
How did you manage to get so deep into the character?
I've been working collaboratively with the photographers
and actors, just talking to them. The final decisions have
been mine. The actresses in the movie have similarities
in real life with the characters that they played. All this
is an organic process, I guess.
How about music, the film soundtrack?
The composer is a British musician, Paul Row. He had been
working with lots of Japanese musicians. Of course, he's
not the only composer; it is done in the collaboration with
other Japanese musicians.
How did the Japanese audience respond to the film?
All right. Japanese distribution cut off the last 15 minutes
of the film. My version would have been longer.
The prettiest scene in the film was when two teenage girls
are running out in the beautiful garden, having fun, where
teenage relations are portrayed nicely. Where did you shoot
It was shot in a Japanese spa. This spa is a special
place. As soon as we arrived there, everything went off
perfect. Nature there was magic, and we had a good time
You live in Nagoya, where the football club hired the famous
Yugoslav football player, Dragan Stojkovic Pixy?
Pixy in Japan has the status of a famous football player,
he is the favorite. When I lived in Britain, I hated football.
And when I looked for a location for this film, I had to
choose a football court that had a football game on. Japan
against Jamaica. I've been supporting the Japanese football
team, of course.
How do you like Belgrade, Serbia?
I love it; I love it. I've spent my spare time walking
and talking to people.