What is your films' connection with Japan? Are your films perceived differently here than they are in France, Europe, or other places in the world?
Yes, I think that Japanese audiences have a very particular understanding of my films. But if you want to know exactly how they interpret them, you have to understand Japanese people, and that's not so easy, because they tend not to openly express their views. Every time I come here—and I've been here many times—I ask people a lot of questions, but I never get clear answers. For example, when I shot Norwegian Wood here in Japan, I asked people if they felt it was strange to see a non-Japanese person, who didn't speak their language, talking about Japan. From my perspective, there was no problem because I felt I could identify with the country, but what about them? I've never got a clear answer to that question. But at the same time, I can be sure of the impact my films have here in the sense that people remember me, and when they talk about my films they're always very specific about the fact that they found them very moving, that the films touched their hearts.
Do Japanese people consider you first and foremost as a French filmmaker, or as an Asian filmmaker?
Well, that's in fact one of the questions they ask me, but they phrase it by asking me how I see myself. I always say that I'm just the filmmaker Trần Anh Hùng, meaning that I make films that resemble me, that resemble someone who was born in Vietnam and grew up in France, and who has access to all the intellectual nourishment the world offers. Cinema is a universal language, whether I work in Japan, France, or Hong Kong, as I did for I Come with the Rain. What's great about Japan is that Japanese people are extremely attentive, they work very hard, and everything's well-prepared. Nothing's ever improvised. But even so, I always manage to take them into this territory of improvisation, which they find very disconcerting at first! But they get used to it, and it all goes fine.
Do you think that Japanese audiences will tune in to the universality of Eternity, which has the appearance of a very French, or perhaps a very European, film?
I have seen some twenty journalists since I arrived at the festival as part of the promotion of the film, which will be released in September in ten theaters in Tokyo, which is a lot of theaters. At least two of those journalists said that Eternity was very Japanese, and that they were even astonished that it could be well-received anywhere but Japan! To them, the fact that it's a film in which not everything is revealed, in which a lot of room is left for spectators to interpret it in their own way, seemed very Japanese. I was even told that it was a Buddhist film, despite all the influence of Christian religion that underpins the story of this family. In fact, the film's distributor, with whom I'm collaborating for the first time, has a very positive feeling about it. He had such high expectations of its success that he acquired the distribution rights on the basis of the screenplay, which has been the case for me since The Rickshaw Boy. All of my films are released here, and I always sense a certain level of expectation from Japanese audiences.