It has been a hallmark of James Latimer’s recent shorts to translate the whirlwind of emotions one experiences while practicing his art into something that all audiences can feel when their actions are expressions. Englishman who immersed himself in Japanese culture, he took it upon himself to reduce the distance between some of this country’s finest traditions and the rest of the world with films such as “Butoh Dance” and “Lady Samurai”, where movement becomes a form of language that anyone can understand.
His latest “Kata”, which in English means “to look up to the sky”, is indeed destined to be transported to a realm from another world as he follows the teenager Mahiro Tanako, who has stormed the karate world as an 11-year-old martial arts champion. , in a dojo to train. Offering double jump kicks, blocks and punches with grace, she trains herself not to attack others, but to fight any doubts she has in herself as she carves one for herself. uncharted territory for itself. With cinematography nimble enough to capture Tanako’s whimsical footwork, âKataâ tiptoes towards transcendence and as he makes his Tribeca Film Festival debut this week, Latimer explained how he stumbled in creating a trilogy of interconnected short films, the technology upgrades that made it possible for her last to be a visceral delight and working with Tanako to create a documentary / narrative hybrid that could speak about her life while showing where she can go in his inner thoughts.
When you started down this path with “Butoh Dance”, did you really envision it as an ongoing series or a trilogy as it is now?
It’s interesting that you called it a trilogy. I never thought of it that way, but about two or three years ago I was just looking at how can I get the West and Japan to come together, finding these truly unique talents and subjects and people who take traditional Japanese culture and make it relevant in the modern world? Find Kaori [Kawabuchi] for “Lady Samurai” and Conan [Amok] for âButoh Danceâ a few years ago really ignited something in me, making me feel like wow, I have something interesting here, just having this hybrid documentary style. After making these two movies it’s like, what can I do next? How to intensify it with the value of production and the intensity of characterization and action? We came to “Kata” naturally.
Did you really think of Mahiro Takano as your subject immediately?
Because the Olympics were coming up in 2020, I realized that this would be a great opportunity to educate and better understand karate – and kata in particular, which was going to be at the Olympics for the first time – and the athletes behind. It was originally Olympic athletes that I was going to try to find out, but then I discovered Mahiro, who was only 13 years old. It would be his sixth consecutive year [as] national champion and it was super intriguing for me, like mentally where she needs to be to accomplish something that has never been done before.
It’s a documentary at its core, so it’s important to have that authenticity to first clear my mind of any potentially cool images or associations I could possibly make or movies I’ve watched in the past or really come in and understand her and what kata is hers. Then I attach other potential visual images and metaphors and better ways to communicate its story, so the main thing for me is to make it as accessible as possible to a wider audience than possible, an audience that might not even be. not be in karate, to really connect with her story.
Beyond the monologue, what is it like to find the choreography with her?
It’s actually a very interesting question because when I took the three hour train ride from Tokyo to Niigata where she lives, it wasn’t just an interview. I really want to understand the movements and the meaning behind the movements as they can seem potentially abstract. They don’t necessarily look like combat-ready moves. They are forms, so I really wanted to understand the meaning behind the movements and the story and how the kata are evaluated and use them as building blocks of how we have to present them to the public. We [then] used a robotic camera arm that you would normally use in a studio for more product photos, as a lot of the cellphone commercials you see are shot with these repeatable camera movements, and that was my idea with Mikul Eriksson, the [director of photography] because she can hit marks and punches with a robot-like level of precision, [that we could] create these moving and dynamic transitions from her schoolgirl outfit to her karate gi, in order to be able to exteriorize this internal journey that she is going through. This robot camera really allows us to have these dynamic shots and to really engage in its journey.
Did you actually start with a location in mind?
I went through a lot of different places and ideas in my head. I have a great love for video games, so I would watch a lot of Tekken videos beforehand and I was like, “Oh, we can turn in a temple and do that”, but it was really the bamboo forest that linked everything together to continue this journey in her mind with a meditative approach to this inner struggle that she leads from day to night with the braziers. It was a perfect place for it, so I was really lucky to be able to find it. [But the camera] is usually only used in a studio, so to use it outdoors there must be a completely flat ground [and you canât get] more than a few shots in a day and we only had two days of filming, so at first there would actually be a lot more dynamic movements that would really follow her fist when she moved, much wilder, Hollywood- types of shots at the beginning, but as I saw the limits of the robot camera, I said to myself: âNo, it will only be a narrative device now. We will only get our transitions from this. To be honest, when I finally see the final movie, I feel like it works so much better because the camera robot is mostly invisible. We don’t think, “Oh, this is the camera robot photo.” It’s really just to take us further into the story, so in the end, the limitations and improvisation on set actually made a better movie.
You also have such a beautiful score by Yoshitaka Hirota – when do you start working on the music?
I was a huge fan of him for years and came to his shows and being a fan we went drinking and I said, “I have this movie coming up and I would like you to work on it. . “He was super interested and I was going through his backlog and found a song that really inspired me a lot for” Kata “so I told him, if we could do something about that it would be unbelievable. He did a bunch of demo tracks before we even started filming, just to really help inspire the general direction because as much there is a story to be told here, it’s a spiritual and emotional journey. [first]. I wanted to communicate to the viewer being in Mahiro’s head, so the score really highlights and underlines that and going from the start of the preproduction process to release, being able to work so closely with him was amazing.
How does it feel to bring the movie to Tribeca?
It’s really amazing because the whole process was just trying to make a good movie. There’s this hesitation: are we going too hybrid with this documentary or is it too narrative? But I decided not to think about it too much, and I’m really confident that I really want to tell my hero’s story authentically and honestly and as long as I have his approval throughout the process, there’s going to be a story that’s going to connect with the audience there. Believing in this all the time and not backing down, compromising or playing it safe is, I guess, one of the reasons we were selected for Tribeca.
Has Mahiro ever had the chance to see him?
She has, yes. And even when you’re filming something, sometimes you don’t have a good idea of ââhow it’s going to play out, but everyone did such a good job on the crew that she was really blown away and the thing was there. more important to me than she said were we really capturing what’s going on in her mind in a really precise way. It was all I needed to hear, to be honest.
âKataâ is available to stream online through the Tribeca Film Festival until June 23.