“Contrast is a big thing in my work,” muses Kiku Ohe
. The director is in London to work on his first commercial project through Merman and that sense of contrast that permeates his work is also something that radiates in person. The softly spoken Aussie's diffident manner belies a body of work that thrums with the power of nature, at once cinematically grand and intimately raw.
The director’s first feature The Lines, about two actors searching for meaning in the Californian desert, epitomises this sensibility. It’s currently doing the rounds on the festival circuit and last year won Best Narrative Feature at NY Film Week.
“California is such an interesting and strange place. Once you get out of the city it is pretty stunning. The severeness of the desert. The landscape is really interesting to me,” reflects Kiku.
The experience of working on The Lines has fed back into his practice as a commercials director.
“It was a real personal project exploring a narrative arc over an hour, and the character development and the performance within that time frame was so exciting and challenging… What I’ve learnt from the feature side I’m applying to the advertising side of what I do,” he says.
“I think one of the biggest things is the sound aspect. I learned a lot in the mixing of the film and the cinema and getting into the details of that and how powerful that can be. I think it translated successfully. And also the performance; working with actors over that kind of arc and sharpening and tightening the performance is something I really enjoy.”
Kiku is a director who hasn’t followed the typical film school route. His background is in photography and music – experiences which noticeably influence his work. From photography he moved into documentary making, then editing before becoming a fully fledged director. These days he’s repped by Superprime in Los Angeles (where he currently lives), Rabbit in Australia and New Zealand, and by Merman in the UK.
When I meet up with Kiku he’s at Final Cut in London where he’s working with editor Joe Guest on a O2 spot with VCCP, starring Canadian singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes. It’s been a hectic few days as Kiku and crew have been following Shawn and adapting to his crazy rock-star schedule.
“It has been crazy. Originally it was scheduled to shoot in the UK and then Sean’s schedule changed and so we had to shoot it in New York. It was funny; we had to follow him around and literally stay at the same hotel that he did here in London and New York. He’s the level of pop star that has hundreds of 15-year-old girls waiting for him outside the hotel. It was quite remarkable. At one point I felt like I was one of them – following him around and waiting for the time to shoot! It was a great insight but he’s a lovely guy.”
It’s his first project for the London market and so far he’s been enjoying working with the Merman team – the fact that the production company straddles the TV world and the commercial world is something that appeals and he’s found a strong cultural similarity between the UK and Australia and New Zealand.
In terms of Kiku’s back catalogue of commercial projects, his Anchor campaign Go Strong
is a raw depiction of a diverse cross section of New Zealand society. House of Travel is another campaign that depicts the juxtaposition of humanity and nature.
Nature is an important source of inspiration in for Kiku, both in his feature and his commercials. “I think it’s becoming more and more relevant in terms of where the population is heading, particularly living in an urban world and the amount of connection we have in our modern lives. I’m always interested in what happens when you disconnect from that and how we respond to that very differently as human beings now compared with twenty years ago. Or ten years ago. More and more, it’s going to be a complicated theme for everyone,” he says.
“It’s not even just about the relaxation or the calming sense of it. There’s the power and weirdness of nature too – and the abstractions within it are so complex. But simple at the same time. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that.”
However it’s not all about the awesome power of nature. The next project to come out through Superprime in the US is set to be dialogue-driven branded film and Kiku is keen for people to see this side of his filmmaking – after all he’s keenly aware of the industry’s propensity to pigeonhole directors. “In some ways I get that but a great filmmaker should be able to tell stories in multiple ways,” he says.
As he prepares to jet back to L.A., Kiku’s got his eyes on his next project. “At the moment I’m just considering the next film project with Superprime and then also finding the next really exciting commercial project, in whatever form that may be, whether it’s a seven minute film or a really kinetic TVC,” he says. “I just [want to] keep pushing the craft forward and trying to do something different every time.”