On May 14, the first U.S. screening of Shingo Wakagi’s new film, “Asleep” – which tells the story of a woman who has a romantic relationship with a man whose wife is in a coma – took place in UCLA’s Fowler Museum. “Asleep”is based on a novella by Banana Yoshimoto, and was translated into English by UCLA professor Michael Emmerich.
NANAYAKKARA: Gathered in Fowler auditorium Thursday night, UCLA students and community members attended the first U.S. screening of Shingo Wakagi’s new film “Asleep,” hostedby the Fowler Museum and the Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, which sponsors Japan-related events at UCLA. Wakagi’s background as a photographer lent itself to this project.
WAKAGI: In Japanese filmmaking, especially this film, is real low-budget. I do directing and cameraman. Also didn’t have any big camera – I just used … digital camera Leica M with a movie function.
NANAYAKKARA: “Asleep” is Director Wakagi’s third film, and the first in which the script has not been his. “Asleep” is a film adaptation of Banana Yoshimoto’s novella by the same title, which tells the story of a woman who has a romantic relationship with a man whose wife is in a coma. UCLA professor of Japanese literature Michael Emmerich translated the book from Japanese to English.
EMMERICH: I got an email from Mr. Wakagi saying, “Hey, I’ve made this film, and I’m putting together the subtitles, and I would like to be able to draw on your translation in doing that.
NANAYAKKARA: That was Professor Emmerich, who helped Director Wakagi with the English subtitles more than 20 years after the book’s original publication. Here is Director Wakagi:
I asked Michael-san to make sure if it’s right or not … He was so nice and he wrote me back and this time he … came back to Japan … He came to my office and watched the movie and checked the subtitles, and he offered me this screening.
NANAYAKKARA: Dialogue plays a small role in “Asleep,” as the protagonist copes with her unconventional relationship. Here’s Wakagi:
WAKAGI: There’s not so much dialogue in this movie … I hope the audience can see the some of the tiny bits of emotional change in the actress and the actors. That’s how I wanted to capture the moment.
NANAYAKKARA: Wakagi is primarily a photographer, but says his journey into film began with his grandfather.
WAKAGI: The first movie I made was about my grandfather … “Waltz in Starlight” … I was taking pictures of my grandfather for about 20 years, and also I made a video … and one time he is getting very old. I want to make some movies, but also he can’t get out from house because of his leg, so I asked actors to play for him. And it’s because I wanted to see my grandfather walk around in the beach, and play violin like he used to do.
NANAYAKKARA: Leona Goto, a fourth-year philosophy student and the graphic designer for the Terasaki Center, was looking forward to seeing a film adaptation of a piece of Japanese literature.
GOTO: I am currently reading another book by her, and I thought it would be interesting to see a film adaptation of a story I haven’t read by her … A lot of contemporary Japanese books… talk about comas a lot … It’s kind of this weird theme that’s recurrent in Japanese literary culture so I’m curious to see how it gets adapted into the movie.
NANAYAKKARA: The lights dimmed, and the screen was engulfed with the image of a woman sleeping. As the protagonist recurrently fell in and out of sleep, the audience watched in rapt attention with eyes wide open, taking in “Asleep”wide awake.
For Daily Bruin Radio, I’m Priyanka Nanayakkara.