Director Miwa Nishikawa talks about the inspiration of her latest award-winning film UNDER THE OPEN SKY and researching how the difficulty of former Yakuza inmates re-assimilates in the new society

By Oliver Carnay

One important film I’ve seen and enjoyed at American Film Institute’s AFI FEST presented by Audi, was Director Miwa Nishikawa’s UNDER THE OPEN SKY. Best known for her films SWAY (2006) and WILD BERRIES (2003), which were inspired by her nightmares, this film is the first time she is making a film under somebody else’s book. She is a fan of Ryozo Saki, the author of the book “Vengeance Is Mine.” She looked into his works on files about inmates, and became very curious recognizing how these people were being pushed out by society after getting out of jail. She decided to research on the roots why this is happening. And that became a big inspiration for her film.

The story is about a middle-aged former yakuza that is released from prison after thirteen years where he was placed for murder. He is struggling to adapt to society and freedom, find a job and communicate normally, but he is also preoccupied by the quest for his mother from whom he was separated as a child. He finds allies in his search for his parent and a place in mainstream society, but the process is not seamless or smooth. 

Lead actor Koji Yakusho (SHALL WE DANCE, THE WORLD OF KANAKO) has been receiving praises for his igniting consummate performance in this film portraying as the former ex-convict from a 13-year sentence for murder, who is trying to live and get back into the society, with his character as “Mr. Mikami” having difficulty to move on because of the different state and public agencies policies he has to encounter before getting a decent job.

Director Nikishawa relates “When I was 17 I saw a tv show where he was playing the main lead where he played a serial killer based on a true story, who killed five people all over the country and that has so complex character. I was just intrigued by the complexity and want to do work that really dealt into the complexity of humans and the human character.”

In directing the film — ”The original material for this film was written over 30 years ago, so to bring back the novel up to date, I researched how the criminals in Japan nowadays has been released, how are these people living, how people used to be living as Yakuza re-assimilate and adjust back into their current life. I’ve also read a lot of novels to prepare for that.”

Asked about how if there’s a topic in the Japanese media about how it is difficult to rebuild a life after jail. “In Japan, currently the percentage of leave the prison system and commit another crime and go back to jail are increasing so that’s so sort of statistical analysis and fate is in the media a lot but what you don’t really see much is what and how these people are being treated after the release, how can we not just punish criminals but also who has committed crimes and how do we think about that differently. Including myself, I don’t particularly know how to answer that. But it’s not in the general sense of awareness in the public.”

“I would say, however, that the film does not completely straight from reality either. People can be kind and people can also be very cold, there are both sides and that was portrayed in detail in the original book. Cold people are not cold forever. There’s a revolution that happens to people and so that was something that I want to portray in the film.”


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