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Nonfiction

Director’s Notes on “Sway”

By Nishikawa Miwa
Translated from Japanese by Linda Hoaglund
Contemporary essay from Japan in which director Nishikawa Miya recalls the origins of her film "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.

Read Context Explore

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.

Meet Nishikawa Miwa

Read “Dream So Real,” an interview in which Nishikawa Miwa talks more about the connection between her dreams and her films.

Then, read another interview, in which she describes her approach to filmmaking and her thoughts about the film industry in Japan.

Hear the Name

Listen to the pronunciation of the director’s name, read aloud by the translator Allison Markin Powell.

(Listen to the audio on SoundCloud)

For more tips on pronouncing Japanese names and words, use this illustrated guide from wikiHow.com and this explanation of sounds, syllables, and stress from JapanesePod101.com.

Watch the Movie*

Watch the movie Sway (the DVD has English subtitles), or watch the trailer (in Japanese) below. Find more information on the movie from the AsianWiki page for Sway, which includes a plot summary, the trailer, and stills from the movie.

(Watch the video on YouTube)

*For Teaching Idea 2

A Story about Crime or Justice?

Is Sway a murder mystery or a courtroom drama? Find out why this reviewer, from the Japanese cinema website Midnight Eye, argues that it’s neither.

Japan's Film Industry

What was going on in the world of Japanese cinema when Sway came out? Read an article from Midnight Eye about film policy and criticism in 2006 Japan.

Background on Japan

Pedestrians underneath umbrellas, their backs to us, walking on a Tokyo street on a rainy night.
Read the BBC’s short country profile of Japan, or visit nippon.com for the latest news. 

More from Nishikawa Miwa

Miwa was one of the screenplay writers for Ten Nights of Dreams, a film version of a short story collection of dreams by Natsume Soseki. Watch the movie for rent on Amazon.Watch the trailer for another film from Nishikawa Miwa, Dreams for Sale. (No subtitles.)

(Watch the video on YouTube.)

A Living Nightmare

Watch the trailer for the documentary dream/killer, about a man convicted for murder based on someone else’s dream.

(Watch the video on YouTube.)

Inspired by Dreams*
Inspired by Dreams*

Many works of arts were inspired by dreams, like the film Sway. Browse some great examples below! 

Other Films and Music 
  • Watch a clip from the famous Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s film Dreams, comprising eight short films based on Kurosawa’s dreams. In the dream in the clip, an art student finds himself in the world of the artwork of Van Gogh (played by Martin Scorsese); George Lucas designed the visual effects for this part of the film.

  • Listen to Tartini’s classical composition, “Devil’s Trill Sonata,” or John Adams’ contemporary classical composition “Harmonielehre,” inspired by a dream about an oil tanker suddenly taking off into the air like a rocket.
Painting
Writing 

Find out how the idea for the novel Frankenstein came to Mary Shelley in a dream.

Then, read a blog post published on The Poetry Foundation’s website: “Do Poets Dream of Lineated Sheep?“, and look at some classical and modern poems on dreams:

Finally, read the Annandale Dream Gazette, a blog where poets record their dreams in poetry and prose.

Philosophy

Was philosophical rationalism inspired by a dream? Find out in “Descartes’ Dream: From Method to Madness.”

*For Teaching Idea 1

Watch the Film*

Look at bios of the actors Odagiri Joe and Kagawa Teruyuki, who played the brothers in Sway.

Watch the movie Sway (the DVD has English subtitles), or watch the trailer (in Japanese) below. Find more information on the movie from the AsianWiki page for Sway, which includes a plot summary, the trailer, and stills from the movie.

(Watch the video on YouTube.)

*For Teaching Idea 2

English

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.

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