Another 12 hour flight seems about right to set me off on another film adventure. It’s almost 2 years to the day that I set off to Baghdad taking that dangerous unknown road.
But the results have been rewarding, the film The Liberace of Baghdad won several international awards including Special Jury Prize at Sundance, in Chicago and San Paolo and Best Documentary Award at the British Independent Film Awards. Such accolades haven’t helped sales though! – having re-mortgaged my house to make the film I’m still waiting for the film to sell one year on.
I always need time and space before moving onto a new film. For me the experience is all-encompassing and this can drive you crazy. If indeed you are not already crazy. Something I question more and more as I grow older and more stupid. My last film took me to Iraq for 8 months at its most dangerous watching friends being killed and kidnapped around me.
In many ways I feel I have been trying to overcome this. The unpredictable situation that developed around me, the dangers, the deaths and the kidnappings remain vivid in my mind as I think back to my time in Iraq. I wake up in cold sweats looking back at different things of could have been, I think of friends killed 28 year old Marla a passionate aid worker and others kidnapped.
Then I get positive and think it is time to move on!! To open a new chapter in my life, to try and close this last one. It is time to make a new film. I decide on Japan, why? Well because for me it has very interesting issues of freedom and reminds me oddly enough of Saddam’s Iraq. Just in terms of how people are told to think and operate out of loyalty.
So here I am two years on heading over to Japan. After making a film in the worlds most dangerous place I’m heading to the worlds safest. As I leave I see on the TV news the face of a friend staring out at me. It seems no matter how hard I try Iraq will not let me go. It haunts me day by day. I’m sat looking at the innocent face of a trainee journalist I knew in Iraq, Jill Carol 28, kidnapped and threatened with death if all female Iraqi prisoners are not released from jail.
Her interpreter was thrown out of her car and shot in the head leaving a 4-year-old without a father. It seems some stories will never go away. For 4 months last year I tuned into the news each night fearing the worst for another friend George. He was released after 4 months and only because he was French. Carol happens to be American.
The road to Tokyo
I’m sat in the limousine bus from Narita International airport to central Tokyo with a nervous excitement in my stomach. I’ve spent most of last year doing the festival circuit with ‘Liberace of Baghdad’ and now it is time to embark on another adventure. As a place to film; Japan is not without its difficulties, traditionally one of the most secretive and private societies where very few people speak English. I’d heard of the growth in English language schools and wondered why? When I looked further into it, it seemed many Japanese were learning English out of a growth in leisure and ‘freedom’ rather need for work or travel. The English school provided me with an opportunity to meet English speaking subjects for a film. I’d heard stories about the ‘housewives’ who would learn English in their afternoon breaks. They’d often not tell their husbands and would have secret fantasies for the English teacher. It only seemed sensible for someone like me to come as film maker/ English teacher to look at modern Japanese using the English school as a vehicle to freedom.
I meet my friend Atsushi at the 246 café near my hotel. It’s a very western café, with a faint smell of fish. But even that disturbs me, fortunately there are loads of people smoking and it kills the smell. Smoking inside? Seems rather liberal in Japan. And women smoking everywhere I look, probably more then men.
This super clean environment is smoke filled. Why? We sit and wait for two café latte’s I watch the array of beautiful women serving us. It is difficult to concentrate here with such beautiful women. I notice Atsushi seeing that I’m now ignoring him. He understands and gives up the conversation for just enough time for me look at little longer… Beautiful… apart from the smoke and that faint fishy smell. Then our coffees arrive. It is extra creamy, a latte like never before. And on top is a snowman designed specially for me by the coffee maker. I look over to Atsushi’s coffee there is no snowman. I smile, waft passing smoke away from my face blown by a gorgeous girl next to us and then I sip the coffee. It tastes better than most – I have another sip – in fact it is amazing coffee. I look down at the menu and worry about my vegetarian diet. How on earth am I going to cope here? But now I’m just enjoying the coffee, I take another sip. This is better than Italy I think to myself.
This is my first education on arriving in Japan; you can get everything you want here, and it will always taste better than anywhere you’ve ever tried before! The Japanese get lots wrong but rarely is it ever food.