Interview: Asian Pop-Up Cinema Closes Fall Season with Yuki Tanada’s ‘Round Trip Heart’

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CHICAGO – Put it in the books. The highly successful and popular Asian Pop-Up Cinema in Chicago closed their 2016 Fall Season with “Round Trip Heart,” a Japanese film from female director Yuki Tanada. Ms. Tanada tells the story of Hachiko, a food cart attendant who works on the “Romance Train.” She temporarily goes off track when a mysterious stranger reads a private note from her mother, and insists on taking the buttoned-up woman on a journey to find that mother. Tanada appeared on behalf of her film at the final Asian Pop-Up Cinema screening for 2016.

Yuki Tanada began her film career in 2004, writing and directing the saucy “Moon to Cherry,” about members of a college porn-writing club. Other films written and directed by her include “Million Yen Girl” (2008) and the film that screened at the Asian Pop-Up Cinema, “Round Trip Heart” (2015). She has also directed adapted works from other sources, including “Mourning Recipe” (2013) and her latest film “My Dad and Mr. Ito.”

’Round Trip Heart,’ Directed by Yuki Tanada
Photo credit: Asian Pop-Up Cinema

The Asian Pop-Up Cinema series – founded by Chicago film program veteran Sophia Wong Boccio – is a revolving showcase of diverse Asian films, highlighting Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Filipino and Korean offerings with English subtitles. Season Four will begin in March of 2017, with roll-out events scheduled beforehand. For more information, click here.

Through an interpreter, spoke to director Yuki Tanada, on her own journey as a female filmmaker in Japan, and her unique approach to her characters. Regarding ‘Round Trip Heart,’ how much of the Japanese cultural attitudes in men and women romance do we see in the relationship between Hachiko and Yoichi?

Yuki Tanada: The best and only thing I’ll say is that people don’t fall in love in Japan as fast as they do in the States. We are all stuck with the childhoods we have, and Hachiko was obviously very affected by her mother. Does the Japanese culture have room for therapy about their childhoods, or do people there just tend to move on?

Tanada: There is that kind of work available, but it’s not as well developed and is lagging behind the States. Really severe childhood abuse is pretty rare, but if anybody speaks up about it in Japan it would be women. It is against the traditional moral values in the country to say anything bad about your parents, based on piety. Subtle abuse, like the psychological type, can get lost in that piety. So much of filmmaking is based on money, as we see in the Yoichi character. What were you saying about investing in movies in showing how Yoichi made his deal, and had to live with the results?

Tanada: The investment issue for films in Japan is serious business. Unlike Hollywood, all films in Japan are low budget, and as a Japanese filmmaker makes more movies, my feeling is that their financial status actually lowers. Do you think a person like Hachiko, given what she observed about her mother, would ever be comfortable with her own sexuality? Does she need to completely come to terms with her mother before she can be free?

Tanada: Hachiko is a 26 year old adult woman, and I do feel she comes to a realization that her mother is a woman as well – with the same needs as she has – and it did occur to her through the journey in the film. The notion of Romance – the train, the destination, the hotel room – are sprinkled throughout the film as irony. Are you of the opinion that romance gives people false hope once the reality of being in a relationship sets in?

Tanada: The original Japanese title of the film is ‘Romance.’ And because romance means something different in the English definition, that’s why the title was changed to ‘Round Trip Heart.’ In Japan, romance is subtle and interpersonal, and the British translator thought that the ‘Romance’ title went towards more sexuality. The definition of romance in the film is certainly about the ideal state between a man and a woman.

Director Yuki Tanada in Chicago
Photo credit: Asian Pop-Up Cinema In a key moment in the film, we see Hachiko cry about the circumstances with her mother, and in your current film, ‘My Dad and Mr. Ito,’ the main character knows that she couldn’t cry over her father. Is adult crying generally frowned upon in Japanese culture or what do you think most likely will cause tears for an adult in Japan?

Tanada: In Japanese culture, it is dictated that an adult man should not cry. Women are cut a bit more slack. You were 29 years old when you made your first film, ‘Moon to Cherry,’ which had overriding themes of sexuality. ‘Round Trip Heart’ was made 12 years later. What changed in your own life regarding love, sex and romance that makes these two films different?

Tanada: When you make a film about sex in Japan, especially from a female director, people pay attention. But sexuality is an inevitable issue for human beings, and within that context I haven’t changed my feelings that much. I’m 12 years older, but nothing extraordinary has happened to me to change my feelings, the film was just a different story. If you were to introduce your filmmaking style to someone by naming American films that have influenced you, what would they be?

Tanada: I would recommend either the Coen Brothers or the Farrelly Brothers as filmmaker influences. The situations are sometimes uncouth, but the humor is funny to me. A specific film that reflects my style is ‘In the Soup,’ directed by American actor Steve Buscemi. Both ‘Round Trip Heart’ and ‘Million Dollar Yen Girl’ are about females who don’t feel connected to the system of the their culture and circumstances. What exists in Japanese culture that makes it more difficult for women than men?

Tanada: My films are a reflection of myself and my attitudes as a woman in Japan, and all I can say is that I have to survive in that society. Often I have to pretend that I am ordinary, in the atmosphere of everything around me.

The Asian Pop-Up Cinema will co-sponsor the Arts & Culture Doc Fest on February 5th, 2017, at the Claudia Cassidy Theater in the Chicago Cultural Center. For more information, click here. Season Four of the APUC Begins in March of 2017, stay with for updates. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2016 Patrick McDonald,

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