The winner of the Japan Cuts Award at the 12th Osaka Asian Film Festival, Love and Goodbye and Hawaii (恋とさよならとハワイ) tells the story of Rinko and Isamu, two ex-lovers who are still living together out of financial necessity. When Isamu has a new love, Rinko is forced to reexamine her broken relationship and the odd living arrangement she finds herself in.

After the film’s second screening at the festival, director Shingo Matsumura (M), Aya Ayano (AA) and Aya Shinohara (AS) talked to Asia In Cinema about Japanese indie film productions and taking inspiration from real life.

This interview was conducted in Japanese and Cantonese with the assistance of an interpreter. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Please introduce the film – the background, the inspiration and the production

M: The initial idea came from my life. I was living with my girlfriend at the time. Just like in the film, I didn’t move out when we broke up. We continued to live together. After some time, we got back together, but we broke up again later. I’m married now, but the experience and the emotional dilemma inside the characters seemed like a good idea for a film.

Q: So are you Rinko or Isamu?

M: Hmm…both of them are me, but neither of them is me. Parts of them represent me, and parts of them are fiction. In fact, many of the other characters also come from myself. So every character represents a bit of me.

Q: At the Q&A, I’d heard something about improvisation on set?

M: The host thought that the dialogue was improvised, but the shooting actually followed the script. However, I did want a very natural feeling to the dialogue, so I’d changed the script many times. The lead actors all followed the script without changing a word.

Q: How long did it take to write the script?

M: The conception to completing the story took two years. The actual writing process took about three weeks.

Q: This is the first starring film role for Ms. Ayano and the first film for Ms. Shinohara. What was the experience of working with Mr. Matsumura?

AA: I’d watched the director’s previous film Striking Out in Love in the cinema. I really liked the film and thought that I wanted to work with this director. I usually work on stage, so I had to approach the director, invite him to my performance and speak to him. Some time after meeting him, he finally offered the role of Rinko to me. In that offer e-mail, the director wrote that he wants the audience to come out of the film hoping that Rinko will continue to have a happy life wherever she ends up. He wanted Rinko to feel like a real flesh-and-blood character. So I thought a lot about how to achieve that with my performance.

AS: I actually watched the director’s previous film after I got the offer for this film. This is my first film, so I had no idea about how things work on a film set. I just followed the director’s instructions and tried to perform in the way that he’d asked. I went to the set even on days that I didn’t have any scene just to observe and learn.

Q: I noticed Ms. Shinohara was also credited in the end credits for “production assistance”. Can you tell more about that?

M: That’s a good catch!

AS: I just helped a little bit with the production. When I didn’t have to act, I would help with errands about the set. If the lighting crew needed help, I would run over and offer a hand.

M: The crew was a bit understaffed on this film, so when we needed someone to help on things like buy bento boxes, everyone who wasn’t working had to pitch in.

Q: So, how many people were on the crew?

M: The shoot had about four to five people. Post-production required a bigger staff, so there were more than 30 people in total.

Q: The story idea could’ve easily been done as either an indie film or a commercial film. Why did you choose the indie path to make this film?

M: It was always going to be an indie film. There was no doubt about that. Even then, I wanted more people to come and see it. Because of that, I chose the romantic comedy genre, which would attract more audiences and would be more pleasing to watch. That’s why I chose this idea.

Q: There are a lot of relatable moments in the film that felt close to real life. Did all of that come from the director? Did the actors also contribute?

M: I came up with all of that. I wanted to make a comedic documentary, so I wanted every film to be like a documentary of a character. So that’s why I incorporated so much of real life in the film. I approached the film like a documentary.

Q: Ms. Shinohara’s character – the best friend of the main character – can be the easiest or the toughest character to play in this genre. Did Ms. Shinohara think of any special way to perform her role or did Mr. Matsumura think of some special way to make this character stand out?

AS: I played Rinko’s colleague in the film. Instead of trying to build that connection on set, Aya (Ayano) and I communicated as much as possible even when we didn’t have to act together. The two of us and a third girl played best friends in the film, so the three of us had to communicate as much as possible in real life to make that relationship believable in the film.

M: Ms. Shinohara doesn’t have many scenes, but she still has to be a fleshed-out character. That’s why I added eating to her scenes to give her a character trait.

Q: Ms. Ayano, how was the transition from stage to film acting?

AA: On the stage, the acting style has to be very big – the speaking volume has to be louder and the expressions have to be bigger. A film has to be more realistic, more life-like, so I had to be careful not to exaggerate things. I had to keep my voice down to normal level and restrain my expressions.

Q: Will you continue to act in films, or will you want to go back to the stage?

AA: I wanted to act in films, so I’m very happy to get a leading role in this film. Still, I will continue to act on stage, with a concentration on film acting.

Q: So…why Hawaii?

M: The place that I feel saddest about not being able to go to is Hawaii. The image of it is a relaxing place where people don’t have to think much and rest. To imagine not being able to go to such a place is a tragedy. For Japanese people, the place that has a largest gap between the desire to go and the ability to go is probably Hawaii. Also, my wife also has a friend who had a wedding in Hawaii. So that’s where the story comes from.

Q: In the middle of the film, the focus shifts from the two characters to mainly Rinko. How do the two actresses feel about how a male director writes his female character?

M: Oh, I want to hear this…

AA: I wondered how the director could understand a woman so well. The character’s feeling of loneliness and setsunai (“bittersweet sorrow”) are usually something only understood by women, so I had no idea how a male director understood that so well.

AS: I feel the same. One day, we couldn’t shoot due to the rain, so we got together to watch the dailies. I was watching a scene that I wasn’t in and I felt so touched by it. I had no idea how a male director could understand a woman’s heart so well.

Q: How would you feel if you know someone in a situation similar to the two main characters?

M: Even though Rinko and Isamu seem to still have some love between them, they’re mainly living together out of financial need. Of course, I usually wouldn’t interfere with other people’s lives. But if my friends were in this situation and they asked for my advice, I would say that it’s a good chance for them to reexamine themselves. It’s important to stop time and ask themselves about what they’re doing and what they should do. They don’t need a third person’s advice. The two should think about it amongst themselves and discuss with each other about what to do.

AA: These topics probably come up often in girls’ outings, but surprisingly, I’ve never encountered it personally. So if my friends come to me for advice about such a situation, I wouldn’t know what to say. If this happened to me, however, I wouldn’t do what Rinko does in the story, as sad as the break-up may be.

M: You wouldn’t understand because you’ve never lived with anyone before.

AA: Probably. (laughs)

M: To end something is harder than starting something.

AS: I usually have a hard time letting go of things. When I break up with someone I love, it’s hard for me to let that person go. I would hold on to that love for a long time. So if my friends come to me for advice about this situation, I would tell them to break up for good and not live together, though I would probably find it hard to leave.