Okutyama Hiroshi’s Cannes film ‘My Sunshine’ explores social issues

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Okuyama Hiroshi was a 22-year-old prodigy when he won the New Directors Award in San Sebastian in 2018 for his student film “Jesus” and took a bit of a detour to his second feature “My Sunshine,” which screened at Cannes. Un Certain Regard line-up.

Okuyama’s coming-of-age drama about two young skaters – a boy and a girl studying under the same coach in a northern provincial town – grew out of his own seven years in the sport. “I learned to skate from the age of 5 to 12. I wanted to become a professional,” says Okuyama.

But he also struggled to construct a story from his childhood memories, until he came across a hit song by the singer-songwriter duo Humbert Humbert in 2014. It’s called ‘Boku no Ohisama’ (‘My Sunshine’) and not only gave him the title of his film, but the lyrics about ‘getting stuck when I try to say something important’ also gave him the idea for his main character, Takuya ( Koshiyama Keitatsu). ).

Takuya, a dreamy boy who stutters, is entranced by Sakura (Nakanishi Kiara), a quiet, confident girl who glides and jumps across the city’s ice rink like a vision of beauty and grace. Takuya is bad at hockey and baseball – two indispensable sports for local boys – and clumsily tries to figure skate on his own. Sakura’s coach, the steadfast but understanding Arakawa (Ikematsu Sosuke), is touched by Takuya’s ambition and desire and begins training him in his spare time.

“I thought if I could use (“Boku no Ohisama”) as the theme song, I could make a movie out of it,” says Okuyama. He wrote a letter to the musical duo, who, after turning down other offers to use the song in films, enthusiastically agreed.

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The final piece of the puzzle was Ikematsu, an in-demand actor who had appeared in everything from the hit horror series “Death Note” to Kore-eda Hirokazu’s award-winning 2018 family drama “Shoplifters.”

After turning down Ikematsu when he suggested they collaborate on a manga-based film project, Okuyama asked him to appear in a documentary he was making for the Hermes brand. “I was able to experience his true coolness and charm, and it made me want to make a movie with him again,” says Okuyama.

He wrote a role for Ikematsu in which he plays a former professional skater turned coach who lives happily with his partner (Wakaba Ryuya), a gas station owner, and sees potential in Sakura and Takuya as an ice dancing couple. Okuyama then successfully pitched the project at the 2022 Asian Film Market in Busan and made it with the support of distributor Tokyo Theaters, newspaper publisher Asahi Shimbun and France’s Comme des Cinémas.

The film will be released in Japan by Tokyo Theaters and in France by Art House Films. Charades handles international sales.

Both Koshiyama and Nakanishi had experience as skaters when Okuyama cast them as Takuya and Sakura, but not Ikematsu, who trained intensively for the role. “He practiced once a week for over an hour each time for six months before the shooting,” says Okuyama. “I was amazed not only by his progress, but also by the fact that such a famous actor could spend so much time creating a role.”

Okuyama donned skates himself to film the skating scenes on an ice rink in the snowy Iwate prefecture. “The sun does not shine [on the landscape] so much because there are mountains nearby,” he says. “So I installed lights on all the windows.” The resulting mesh-like beams of light flow around Sakura as she skates, while Okuyama’s camera floats and swirls in sync with her movements.

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However, ‘My Sunshine’ is more than a beautifully shot ode to sports or celebrating youth: it also explores the difficulties and dangers of being a sexual minority in conservative Japan.

But the film refrains from making black-and-white judgments about its characters. “I think it’s important to show that a good person is doing or saying something bad,” Okuyama says. “Even a good person can have a bad heart sometimes.”

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