Director’s Notes on “Sway”

I based my first film on a dream. A dream also inspired my second film, made three years later.

Through a gloomy thicket in the shadows of a tree bathed in white light, I witnessed a scene still clearly etched in my mind. A man knelt alone on the edge of a cliff, staring down at the pool of a waterfall far below. A woman had sunk in its depths.

I think she had been his friend. As he gazed at the stately waterfall in the mountains, he had whooped and hollered. Suddenly, wantonly, he slipped and found himself teetering at the edge of the dangerous precipice. Panicked, desperate, he had clutched at the woman's body. Perhaps he was in love with her. No doubt he was generally kind to all others. But when the woman found herself in his hands, she had suddenly, and with fierce determination, shoved him aside. It was a ruthless rejection.

For an instant I thought I heard a loud splash above the relentless roar of the waters.

In the shadows of the thicket, I held my breath. Was the man capable of murder? He had always seemed so conscientious, so kind to others. He was my dear friend. It seemed best that these events remain shrouded in darkness and I swore to myself that I would feign ignorance. Yet gradually, I began to fear for him. As I imagined his future, crippled by the weight of his crime and the long solitude he'd face as a trembling fugitive, I boldly urged him to confess. It goes without saying that I did it out of concern for him.

He went meekly into custody, but through all my prison visits, he remained unrepentant and railed foully against the dead woman. Without a sign of self-reproach, his eyes shimmered triumphantly.

Shocked, I grew sad at the loss of the man I had known, and I could only imagine the bafflement and distress of others whom he had loved, who had loved him.

But walking home in the stew of my own emotions, I suddenly thought:

The man might not escape the death penalty. And I had become deeply involved with him and with his crime. The murderer and I. Would that association threaten my life, everything I'd accomplished and accumulated; would it threaten my future?

I could not escape the feeling that it would.

And I thought, "Give me a break. What is this?"

I felt, not sorrow or depression, but pure disgust. I seethed with anger.

When I opened my eyes, I lay in bed, drenched in sweat.

The dream was over at last.

Shocked and disappointed in myself, I searched for an explanation, but dawn came with no relief. Then and there I decided to change direction, casting aside a year's work on another screenplay to turn my dream into a film. It would become a journey into human ambiguity and the frailty of human connections. My first film, Wild Berries, had been a cynical portrait of a family falling apart, so I had planned to make my second a gentle, happy movie. Now I found myself swimming for a different shore. Still, when I discussed the shift with my producers, they were thrilled that I had finally found a story that really suited me. I'm still not sure how to take that.

I chose to make the protagonists brothers of opposite temperaments: the good, older brother, who casts his future into the gorge, and his sly younger sibling, who observes from the thicket. By binding these characters with the chains of brotherhood, I made it so they could never flee from each other, no matter how great their anguish. Would the possibilities for human connection survive a series of ambiguous transformations? I spent nearly two years on the screenplay. As I wrote it, I explored each character rigorously, laying their souls bare, exposing their consciences. I prodded at their darkness, without a shred of the maternal concern typical of authors. I behaved like a relentlessly strict father. The truth is that even before we began filming, this Spartan stoicism had exhausted my actors and me.

How often did I scold myself, "This is why I wanted to make a gentle, happy film!"

Odagiri Joe and Kagawa Teruyuki. If these actors had not agreed to play the brothers, the flame inside me might have been exhausted. Though they appear to be completely different actors in sensibility and method, they shared a greater understanding of their respective characters than I (who wrote them), and beneath their shyness, they harbor enormous passions. For me, they were not actors requiring direction, but partners who encouraged me even as they nurtured their characters. I had no idea that working with actors could feel this way. They revived me and so I can now boast endlessly about how much fun I had working with the varied cast and talented crew . . . but I'll save that for another time.

With my reliance on dreams as guides for my stories, I may well find myself limited to a few tales that I'll come to cherish as dear friends. Few things are precious to me, and I fear that if I embrace too many stories they will lose their value. Happily, this film now stands completed, as a cherished friend. And I hope that it will become a friend to my audience as well.

I have not yet found the words to confess to the man who inspired this story that he is my muse. Whenever I see him, he beams at me innocently, as he asks how my new film is coming. If you can suggest a way for me to thank him, please whisper it to me.

March 2006

Copyright 2006 by Nishikawa Miwa. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2011 by Linda Hoaglund. All rights reserved.