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HOME SPECIAL Second Town Journey in ONOMICHI(尾道) The Potential of “Backlight” and Onomichi’s Creativity
The Potential of “Backlight” and Onomichi’s Creativity

VOL.4 The Potential of “Backlight” and Onomichi’s Creativity

Currently showing at Cinema Onomichi, the film “Backlight.” Seeing its posters around town and watching the film, it was clear that the way this film “reached” us, who happened to be in Onomichi, speaks to the uniqueness of Onomichi’s creativity. What are the views and creativity of Onomichi as seen by Ren Sudo, the film’s star and director?

While conducting interviews in Onomichi, I noticed the word “Backlight” appearing everywhere. Posters were plastered all over town, from bookstores and public baths to community bulletin boards in residential areas. It turns out that this is a movie set in Onomichi that had just been released. Since we were in Onomichi, we decided to watch it at Cinema Onomichi.

The protagonist’s home appeared in the film. “Wait a minute…” It looked familiar. Maybe it was just my imagination. Then another scene, another location. Again, it looked familiar. It wasn’t until I saw the end credits that I realized the filming location was “Kujira Annex,” where we were staying during our interviews.

The characters in the film were climbing the same stairs we had climbed last night and this morning. We watched the movie while staying at the filming location without knowing it, and then stayed there again afterward. This kind of experience is surely once in a lifetime. Feeling a strong sense of destiny, I immediately reached out on Twitter after watching the film. Miraculously, I was able to arrange an interview with the director on the last day of our stay because he was promoting the film in Onomichi. It felt quite fateful.

Director Ren Sudo, an actor born and raised in Tokyo, encountered Onomichi in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. He visited for the stage greeting of his starring film, “Wonder Wall: The Movie,” which premiered at Cinema Onomichi.

“Wonder Wall” is about a university dorm. It’s a film that tries to depict the historical value of old buildings that aren’t swallowed up by economic rationalism. The atmosphere of Onomichi matched that perfectly. The town values old things and has a spirit of autonomy. The important aspects I wanted to portray in “Wonder Wall” were present in Onomichi, and I ended up falling in love with the town.

Sudo casually expressed that he “fell in love” with Onomichi, not in a romantic sense, but rather in a spontaneous appreciation upon his first visit. Initially planning just an overnight stay, he ended up extending his visit without hesitation.

During his stay, he lodged in a guesthouse and engaged in deep interactions with both locals and fellow travelers, despite not being naturally inclined to be social. It seemed that Onomichi brought out this side of him.

The film “Backlight” was captured on a whim, driven by a gut feeling that something interesting would happen if they filmed there.

“At first, we scouted locations by ourselves, which was challenging. However, the encounters at the guesthouse during our stay really supported and expanded our production. It was like, ‘Let me introduce you to this person,’ ‘You should ask this person,’ ‘If this person helps, we’ll chip in too,’ and so on, all at once.”

Undoubtedly, the authentic atmosphere and charm of Onomichi that Sudo experienced had a significant impact on the production process. This influence extended beyond location shoots to aspects such as set design.

Reflecting on the distance and detachment between people in Tokyo, something that had become second nature to Sudo, he noted. Despite being surrounded by a multitude of individuals, there are occasional moments of profound unease or loneliness.

This had been a lingering concern since his time in Tokyo, and a solution eluded him there. Perhaps, it’s closely linked to the essence of the city itself.

“Not just because it’s in a regional setting or Tokyo, but the passion of the city’s movement and the people heading in that direction to transform it into a place you want to stay, that’s the charm of Onomichi, and it’s something I strongly feel during my stay.”

It’s a cultural hotspot

“I believe Onomichi is very progressive and mature. It’s not just about the creative realm but also about a high consciousness regarding environmental issues. It feels like an intellectual hotspot. Despite the city’s overall retro vibe, its avant-garde ideology creates an intriguing balance.”

During our coverage, we visited notable cultural spots in Onomichi, soaking in creative inspiration. Sudo-san, who came from Tokyo, felt the same way a year ago and fell even more in love with the city.

“Places like Kamikatze and Nijyuu deshiberu would fit right into Tokyo, but when you visit them thinking they’re just ‘local bookstores,’ it’s quite surprising.”

One of the places we visited between interviews was “Kamikatze,” a bookstore. Its layout, creativity, product lineup, and events piqued our interest, accustomed as we were to the cutting-edge trends of Tokyo. At the time of our visit, they were hosting a photo exhibition for the movie ‘Backlight.’ Experiencing the peculiar sensation of staying in a filming location, we were now witnessing a world transformed into “photography,” another creative endeavor, through the lens of the film. In various locations throughout the city, we were experiencing the atmosphere of ‘Backlight’ from different angles.

A new way of “delivering.”

One of the charming aspects of the film “Backlight” is its overflowing love for Onomichi. However, what’s even more noteworthy is its method of delivery.

ypically, the norm in the film industry is to start nationwide simultaneous releases or theater premieres from Tokyo. However, “Backlight” took a different approach by starting its theatrical run from Onomichi.

“Simultaneous releases with Tokyo have failed miserably in the past. But no one has really put serious effort into Onomichi alone. So, we wanted to give it a try. Thanks to that, the first-week attendance at Cinema Onomichi is the highest in history.”

This caught the attention of film enthusiasts nationwide. Cinema Onomichi is a mecca for movie lovers. The film that achieved the highest attendance there is not yet available in Tokyo. Tokyo’s film enthusiasts are being tantalized. Has something like this ever happened before?

However, Sudo-san says, “I’m not particularly focused on regional revitalization or anything like that.”

“It’s not about being in a rural or urban area, but I think the way you approach things varies greatly depending on the location. Onomichi and Hiroshima city are different. I believe it’s important to adapt the distribution of films to suit the local context.”

Moreover, setting up various entry points for encounters such as photo exhibitions, screenings, talk events with stylists discussing fashion featured in the film, etc., could be considered one of the aspects of this “new way of delivering.”

“Those goods are cute,” “this fashion is cute,” “this photo exhibition was great”… Even if that’s the way people encounter the film, it’s perfectly fine. In that sense, collaborating with various creators and cooperating with them gives a sense of a challenging spirit to ensure that “Backlight” isn’t just for a select few movie enthusiasts.

“When Sudo-san mentioned wanting to ‘take various cultures along and travel with the film,’ it encapsulated the desire to package what he encountered in Onomichi, including the encounters themselves, and deliver them,”

“Ensuring it reaches properly.”

During our coverage, we noticed that the posters around the city were mainly distributed by Sudo-san himself, as he personally went around placing them.

“Actually, I did all of it alone. It’s kind of gritty, taking the time to communicate and involve not just young people but also older folks. Face-to-face interaction is crucial. This, actually, is quite challenging in Tokyo.”

Indeed, it’s difficult in many ways. Distributing flyers in public spaces requires permission, and many bulletin boards require multiple approvals from different people. Often, you get passed around with a “please inquire here,” and it’s unclear who can grant permission. Sudo-san’s repeated emphasis on “ensuring it reaches properly” during the interview underscores the importance of knowing who is delivering it. It’s something that he realized needed to be valued anew within the streets of Onomichi.

“It’s a port town, and it was built before cars were widespread, so people are close to each other.”

During our coverage in Onomichi, we heard the phrase “because it’s a port town” many times. Onomichi has developed within a culture where unknown people come and go with the ships, a culture that embraces both arrivals and departures. This softness, not pushing people who are taking on challenges, makes it comfortable for travelers. Amidst the creative individuals thriving in aggressive urban environments, those who feel burdened by not achieving enough can find it quite challenging to thrive. Tokyo seems to highlight this significantly.

Afterward, “Backlight” gradually expands its screening areas to include Hiroshima City and Kyoto… and eventually aims for a theatrical release in Tokyo. Naturally, the way “Backlight” shines in Tokyo will likely be completely different from what’s currently happening in Onomichi or Hiroshima City. The team, led by Sudo-san, who fosters a mood of connection among those whose faces are visible, gradually expands. It feels like reuniting with a traveling troupe encountered in Onomichi when meeting the “Backlight” team in Tokyo.

Contributed by: Film “Backlight”

Photography: Moron Non

Interview & Text: Mio Inagaki (Harumari TOKYO)

“Backlight” Official website: https://gyakkofilm.com/

Hideya Ishima’s photo book “ONOMICHI” can be found at: https://shihen.theshop.jp/items/48089378