The situation was familiar, yet entirely different. In 2015, Epica jury members’ jaws dropped when they saw a film by Shiseido called “High School Girl?” If you don’t know the spot and its mind-bending final twist, go and take a look as soon as you’ve finished reading these words.
Last year, Shiseido was back with a new and equally bold film. From the start it was a clear contender for the Film Grand Prix, which it eventually won with little debate. Creative director Masato Kosukegawa takes us behind the scenes of the shoot.
Tell us the story of how the film came about. What was the initial spark of inspiration for you?
I belong to the creative division of Shiseido, which is an in-house creative team that has been running for over 100 years. In most cases, we don’t work with agencies. We usually work directly with a film director from the planning phase so that our creative ideas are directly reflected by their expression.
The underlying theme of “High School Girl?” was "The Power of Makeup”. After many discussions with other creative division members, we came up with the idea of creating animation out of makeup. Then we started to think about the essential power of makeup and its value in this confused and divided world. The conclusion we reached was the idea of makeup as the source of courage.
Are party buses a familiar sight in Tokyo, or did you invent this unusual setting for the story?
Party buses are not common in Japan, but Halloween costume events are very popular among young people. To be honest, we adopted the idea of the party bus for a budgetary reason, but we use it effectively as a tool to bring viewers into a completely different world.
Can you tell us a little about the cast? I have heard that there are surprisingly few Japanese actors in the film…
Japan is considered a homogeneous society, but young people are becoming increasingly diverse. The three main characters are not particularly famous, although they are popular models and dancers among young audiences in Japan. Elena, the heroine, had appeared in a movie directed by Alexander Kott. She grew up in Russia and watched “High School Girl?” when she was still at high school! All three main characters come from mixed cultures. Through them we created a mysterious world which you cannot tell is Tokyo or elsewhere.
How did you find the director, Shō Yanagisawa? This is the second time you’ve worked with him on an award-winning film.
Before "High School Girl?", I worked with him on another Shiseido project. To attract many viewers, it is crucial to create an online video which is highly artistic and entertaining at the same time. He is a rare commercial film director with an artist’s background who can create one thing by fusing many contrasting elements.
How long did the film take to make, including post-production? The animation itself must have taken a great deal of time.
From preparation to delivery took us six months. Location shooting took us one day, and studio shooting took four days. We wanted to put animation on a model’s face using a time lapse technique. In order to do this, we needed to keep her face still yet move it little by little with different angles of light streaming through the window. We shot approximately 2,000 edits. To give the makeup texture, we made CG animation that looked almost like handwriting.
What was the most difficult aspect of making the film? Do you have any behind-the-scenes anecdotes?
Shō Yanagisawa always tries new methods that no one has tried before, so working with him was a kind of adventure. Nobody knew whether it would succeed or not. He also had strong preferences on everything, including music, cinematography, editing and CGI. The most challenging thing for me was to actualise his vision and get it authorised by Shiseido.
The music is a key part of the film’s appeal. Was it specially commissioned or did it already exist?
The music was produced for this film. It was created in order to capture the heroine’s emotions, so that viewers could empathise with her feelings. It was almost contradictory amid the hustle and bustle of the party. We created a lot of different music until we were satisfied.
The film ends with a lesbian kiss. You have mentioned in the past that this was quite a risky decision in Japan. What were the reactions?
We were probably the first major Japanese company to create a film featuring the issue of LGBT relationships. The understanding of the LGBT community is still not widely promoted in Japan. Having said that, we did not receive any negative comments. In fact it was rather favourably received, especially among young people.
This article appears in Epica Book 32, published in September 2019, featuring all the winners and selected high-scoring entries from the previous year's awards.