Los Angeles — Award-winning auteur Werner Herzog offers “Family Romance, LLC,” a film shot in Japan with mostly Japanese-speaking non-actors.
The film is about a man (Yuichi Ishii) who owns a business called Family Romance that serves as an agency to provide rental people to fill in as fathers, husbands, boyfriends and other roles. One of the contracts Yuichi gets is to pretend to be the missing father of a 12-year-old shy girl, Mahiro.
What kind of social commentary is he making with this film, or at least hoping people would discuss especially in this age when people use social media wanting to get approval from the outside world by the number of likes they get.
“Well it’s not to make social commentary, it’s a story,” he said in an interview. “I’m a storyteller first and foremost. And it was a fantastic story and I knew it was of great impact; it was a big story that had to be told. Under the surface of course, a deep question that it raises. But I’m not making a feature film for raising questions so that’s a natural concomitant that comes along with it. But I see that it’s a film with great actuality that’s probably the nature of your question.”
Herzog, who speaks German, English, Spanish, French and Greek, revealed to us why he decided to do a movie in Japanese, a language that he does not speak.
“It is a phenomenon to rent family members that started in Japan, but it’s moving into other countries,” he said. “So we’ll see it very soon in our countries thanks to highly technical civilizations with aging populations. But I immediately knew it had to be so authentic. It cannot be done with actors who are Japanese that speak English, for example, you don’t do it like that. And the film has a tone that is so authentic that I did not allow to have a film sold or acquired by anyone unless it was in the original language, Japanese, with subtitles, meaning English subtitles or Japanese/German subtitles and so on. And I do not speak the Japanese language but it was a challenge and I felt comfortable very quickly with everything.”
How was his experience filming in Japan where he did a lot of guerilla filming?
“Yes, you described it correctly,” he admitted. “And all Japanese filmmakers said I now complain that it’s so difficult to get shooting permits in the streets of Tokyo, almost impossible, completely impossible at the bullet train because it’s a high security area. So of course I tried to be a good guest but I did not wait for shooting permits. It was guerilla style but knowing that I did not do any harm to anyone, that’s important. And I did not disrupt traffic.”
He added that, of course, he had interpreters.
“The main interpreter did much more than be an interpreter. She was almost my assistant because I would explain a scene that I had scripted and I would leave some of the dialogue for them to articulate freely, how would you say it, when you watch the Instagram photos of your daughter, what interests you there. So certain elements had to be very precise and very well explained to the actors. And that gives them the authenticity of tone.”
Other films credited to the 77-year-old filmmaker include “Encounters at the End of the World,” “Grizzly Man” and “Meeting Gorbachev.”