Feature film 'Dancing in her Dreams', produced by Syn COO and film producer, Yumi Tanabe Arnaudo, is currently enjoying a theatrical run in Japan.
Honoured with a Jury Award at the Madrid Film Festival 2020, the film is based on a true story of the beautiful hustle and life of the owner of an authentic strip club in Hiroshima, and features a noted cast including a real-life iconic stripper. Yumi’s dedication to bring this precious, independent story to life inspires viewers to rediscover the strength, beauty, and passion beyond gender.
Hype’s Jessie Nagel spoke with her about what was involved and why she was moved to reveal this typically unseen side of Japan.
Hype > What inspired you to make this film? And how did it come together?
Yumi Tanabe > After working at Netflix handling content going to hundreds of territories, I wanted to return to my passion and produce a feature film from Japan...in a case of ideal timing, Hideyuki Tokigawa called and said: “We need to make this story happen and it’s perfect for you!” So, before I knew it, I headed to Hiroshima to check out the theatre, spend time with its owner (which meant drinking loads in his usual private club), and started to develop the story.
I fell in love with the run-down theatre and the owner, who had dedicated his life and dream through thick and thin in the rough life of the back streets of what was historically thought of as a Yakuza town. I realised I was having a peek at a disappearing aspect of our culture of live performance which is being replaced with vigorously rising digital platforms.
Seeing this specific show - which has been going on for over 70 years - I quickly understood that this was not the tawdry experience I had always imagined, but that it was actually a form of art beyond. I left the show touched with how beautiful and strong the women dancers are, and how little we appreciate the human form. There was aesthetic appreciation to the well choreographed dance, the subtle moves, the lighting, the music…and I was eager to find out more about its history. I learned that Japanese strip dance was actually rooted from traditional Japanese dance or Nihon Buyo dance which goes back to more than 1,000 years ago! Before I knew it, I was determined to make this precious story from the backstreets of Hiroshima in order to share a hidden aspect of Japanese mystique.
Hype > You said the film is not about what some might think…and that you made it hoping women would see it too. Can you explain without giving away too much?
Yumi > The film is partially about addressing and overturning people’s preconceptions about many things. For example, we worked closely with Masaya Kato, the main actor who plays the owner for a nuanced portrayal of the character, he is a rough guy but he's also relatable and likeable, in real life and on film. Izumi Okamura, who was cast as the main dancer, and Yoko Yazawa, an iconic real-life strip dancer, dedicated a lot of rehearsal time to make the dance authentic and not just titillating.
Culturally, it has long been taboo for women to partake in 'Men’s' entertainment in Japan. Being a somewhat avant grade atypical Japanese woman, I began to ask questions. What is the attraction? What is it that makes this business last so long? Will there be a time where both genders start mixing into these social aspects and culture? This was the perfect opportunity as a woman to produce this story for all genders to experience. The dancers turned out to be some of the smartest and creative people I have met, and were proud to be a part of this tradition. We spent days and nights rehearsing dance to the music, getting into deep emotions to be able to make the film as true to real life as fragile and beautiful as it is. I hope other women have a similar experience when they see it.
Hype > The music for the film includes a massive hit (Creep by Radiohead) - a big deal for an indie film. What was involved in getting the song?
Yumi > We liked the lyrics and the rock sound that matched oddly well with the strip dance and the theme of the film, so by the time we were ready to shoot we knew that we had to use this song one way or another. The challenge was, how? I truly believed that Radiohead may be actually happy to know that this song fits into a story of Japanese back street life where the lyrics and tune actually goes along too well? “I’m a creep, I’m an angel..” perfectly fit the dancing and the heartbeat of the owner’s life.
Eventually, I sent an email about how they weren’t going to regret having Creep be the theme song for the authentic Japanese strip dancers, and that it would make the film come to life. It was a pretty long email. Months passed and we were already in editing, and I was preparing plan B. The truth was Creep was already living in the dance, the ambience, and the film entirely. We had one week left to decide, and our luck turned around when they responded saying that they were happy for us to use the song. We were astonished with joy beyond words. I couldn’t be more thankful for Radiohead and I hope they enjoy the moment when they finally see the film.
Hype > Who else was involved in the score and describe the collaboration involved?
Yumi > As for the entire scoring, we had a sound designer in the field who composes as well, so he crafted the main melody line that runs through the film to enhance the ambience. Also, there is a scene where one of the iconic strippers gets drunk and starts to hum a song which comes from a legendary Japanese singer - 'Koi' or Love by Chiharu Matsuyama - who is a fan of the film. As an exchange we create his music video for his latest song which we filmed in Hokkaido. We worked closely to find the right input of music and sound effects so as not to reveal or lead too much with music, while still imparting a feeling to enhance the story as only music can do.
Hype > What are some of the biggest things filmmakers should consider when it comes to music for indie features?
Yumi > I believe music makes the story come alive as much as the visual scenes so it’s such an important factor to think about before going into the film. Even subtle sounds and melody will enable viewers to predict and feel the scenes, and relate to the story in the moment. The wrong music can interrupt or disallow the story from unfolding in its pace. Music can express universal feelings without words or scenes, allowing you to “see” a story with your eyes closed. Bringing in famous songs is only good when it absolutely matches the intention of the scene and story. We went through thousands of references and researching before choosing Creep, and discussed the selection with the sound designer/composer to get it just right. I believe that music scoring in films is as important as the visual scenes, hence the importance in making careful choices to enhance the story is key to creating a successful film that anyone can appreciate in full.
Hype > How do you apply the experience you’ve had with the film and your background overall to your work with Syn?
Yumi > Humans most powerfully speak to each other through the heart, and music is a universal way of making that connection. That is very much a part of the film both on screen and off. Making music with purpose is very much a core value at SYN; we take every note, beat and melody very seriously as to how it makes a picture come to life with intention. Taking my feature narrative experience into the music content space brings many passions together - solving puzzles, exploring the marriage of sound and visuals, and the way music speaks a universal language.