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10/27 [Q&A] WORLD FOCUS “The Ark of Mr. Chow” by Xiao Yang

The Ark of Mr Chow

Hiromi Mizutani(Original Score)(Left), Xiao Yang (Director)(Right)
©2015 TIFF

Dir. Xiao Yang: I am pleased to be able to participate in the 28th Tokyo International Film Festival and have my film, The Ark of Mr. Chow selected for the World Focus section.
Hiromi Mizutani: This was the first time I saw the completed film. Of course, I had seen it during the process before, but I was impressed with how my music was used as the expression in the film.
Q: We keenly feel an excitement when we learn that there is a composer who writes music for the Chinese film. Why did you compose for the Chinese film?
Hiromi Mizutani: The staff from the Chinese film company heard the sample of my music. I mostly wrote the music for the animations but the company wanted me to participate.
Q: Have you known the composer’s music?
Dir. Xiao Yang: Actually, Mr. Mizutani’s music was recommended to me by my staff. I wasn’t familiar with it. And among all the music that I have listened to, I felt “Summer Holiday” was most refreshing and made me think of my past when I was a teenager, like getting off from school and walking around with my classmates in summer. The music was little bit sad but with sensation of freedom and was full of energy. I thought to myself that this music really suited my film very well. I am honored to have worked together with Mr. Mizutani who composed the beautiful music perfectly for my film.
Q: As the film took place in China with the Chinese actors, were there differences in the way you approached the composition?
I was curious during the creative meeting and asked whether I should compose something that resembled the Chinese music, but I was told to be myself and write the music the way that I usually do. I was able to compose freely.
Q: Is the character of Wang Dafa in the film created out of mere imagination? He is a very mysterious boy who works things out through ancient fortune telling. Is Dafa’s character based on the real person? Secondly, is there any more Youth Class in China?
Dir. Xiao Yang: Wang Dafa is created based on my real classmate in the Youth Class whose nickname was “Wang Dafa”. He came to study philosophy, a major suggested by the school, but quits the school and we haven’t received much news from him since then. We heard the rumor that he returned to the village and was raising the ducks. When he was in the school, his grades were wonderful and he was especially good with math. He also read numerous books about ancient Chinese fortune telling and was educated. I was hoping he could see the film so that I could get a hold of him but he never appeared.
The Youth Class still exists. There were about 25 universities running the Youth Class but there are only two left now. One of them is my school Xi’an Jiaotong University and the other one is University of Science and Technology of China.
Were you in Youth Class as well? Or were you in the school that provided the Youth Class?
I passed the test and entered the Youth Class in 1994. I was 15 at the time.
Q: How did you feel about the Youth Class System?
Hiromi Mizutani:I never knew about the system until I met the Director at the meeting. It is similar to the Japanese grade-skipping. I wasn’t so studious at the school so I was awed to work with a genius.
Q: I thought that you were reflected in the character of Wu Way but after seeing you, I felt that you were reflected in Fung, How did you come up with the names of the character?
Dir. Xiao Yang: You are a very observant viewer. I think I am actually like Wu Way but I look like Fung as I am fat. There is also a specific meaning for the teacher, Chow Zhiyong’s name. The name means “a man who understands that he is an ordinary man”. He rejects to admit that he is ordinary, therefore he has a strong desire to push the intelligent children to claim glory and dignity.
The name “Wu Way” is written as “brave” in ancient Chinese characters. He is a timid child but becomes strong in the end so I picked this name for him.
Besides, Wang Dafa is a real name and Fung is the name of my best friend. “Lan” is the name of the girl that I fell in love with.
Q: What is your message in the last scene where Lan chases the bus that Wu Way is riding? How does Lan feel? Is she following the bus because she is in regret? Or was it guilt?
Dir. Xiao Yang: It is not just about regret. The three of them were smarter than Way and Way was the most timid in the group. But he grows up quickly and proves himself by accomplishing the bravest thing to do in life. When they are chasing the bus, the children were facing their own weaknesses, but not the things that they can do that will win them the people’s praises. Way was able to do that. The chasing scene therefore is a sign of growing up.
Q: Can you tell us something about the music you wrote for this scene?
Hiromi Mizutani: The first piece I wrote was for a scene where the teacher tells his feelings from the broadcasting booth towards the end. That piece became the framework for the whole music of the film. So I have a special place in my heart for that piece of music.
Q: How did you depict the emotional aspects of Lan and Elaine?
Dir. Xiao Yang: Lan is very clever and she knows Mike won’t fall in love with her so she keeps her feelings for herself throughout the entire film. As a confident girl, it is unacceptable for her to be rejected directly once she speaks out how she feels about Mike.
Elaine is an opposite of all the other children in Youth Class. She represents maturity. No matter how good looking and smart you are or how good you can fight, she will never fall for Mike who is still immature. Elaine is just being nice to everyone and enjoys herself being welcomed by everyone. The person she will love is just an ordinary and normal person of her age.
I would like to tell you one more thing so you may understand more about this kind of the feeling. When I turned to 15, there were various clubs such as drama club, performing club and movie club recruiting new members. I met a very good looking senior schoolmate in the drama club, so I asked her whether I could join the club. She said “Sure, may I know what grade you are in?” And I said I was from Youth Class in 1994. Her attitude then changed completely and offered me a seat on her lap. That was really frustrating.
Q: What do you think about the education system in the Youth Class?
Dir. Xiao Yang: According to my knowledge, many graduates of Youth Class are now working in the media industry. TV program newscaster, directors and screenwriters. I think I am the only one who became a film director.
When I was in the class, similar to Way, I was not so bright and my grade was not satisfying at all. My grade in high school wasn’t good as well. It was just that I knew there was a chance and my dad asked me to have a go. If I succeeded, it would be a great honor to the family and there was also no harm trying even I failed. When I got in, I immediately realized that everyone in my class were top students in school and I was the only exception. My interests were quite different from other students as well. I liked literature more and they were all interested in being scientists, mathematician, etc. I didn’t think I belonged to there.
Q: Do you think skipping-grades were good for you?
I had a nice time with some of the students. The teachers were also good to us. The Youth Class was regarded as “different” in the school and I felt being different as it meant that we were cleverer. But I was quite lonely and I thought this was normal for students who were in the Youth Class.
For the education system, it is hard to be discussed objectively without its historical background. As a student of the Youth Class, I can say I have no regret being one of them and being different during your teenage time is also a lifetime experience.

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KEIRIN.JPThe 28th Tokyo International Film Festival will be held with funds provided by Japan Keirin Association.TIFF History
27th Tokyo International Film Festival(2014)