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STAND STRONG – in conversation with Director Hisashi Kikuchi and Producer Shin Okada, by Oliver Carey

S.L. What is the film about?

Shin (P):  It’s a story about young skaters.
Hisashi (D):  Yes, a great adventure of the real skaters in Tokyo

O.C. What was the inspiration behind the film?

Shin (P):   It’s the episodic stories I used to write in my blog.
Hisashi (D):  SHIN OKADA!! No doubt.

O.C. How was the filming process?

Shin (P):  I had absolutely no clue at first but the whole process was nothing but stimulating and valuable experience for me.
Hisashi (D):  Super challenging but super fun. I think we all stood strong after all..Haha.

O.C. Your main cast, Rei Daisaku Hidaka, Takashi Matsumoto, Ryo Sagawa and Kaito Nakata, work extremely well together. Was it difficult to find actors that worked together so naturally, who could also skate?

Shin (P):  I knew them all in person originally as I tried to reach out to particularly popular young skaters from my community in Japan. The balance and the chemistry among the four characters were crucial. The reality of the young skaters here now is that you see Chinese, African American and mixed kids. So we took more careful attention to achieving the casting as real as possible. Those four are not actors so didn’t know how to perform on camera but I think we could cast the very ones that stood out its individual characters as skaters.
Hisashi (D):  The most challenging casting was the delivery guy, wasn’t it?
Shin (P):  It was you. Haha
Hisashi (D):  The balance between the cast was all Shin’s doing. I truly feel that those four kids of Crasher was the best find.

O.C. Did the actors you cast affect the way you thought about the characters in Stand Strong?

Shin (P):  Both in a good way and not so good way, I think. Like coming to set way passed the call time, haha. They are skaters and rather free-spirited. One moment they are doing things as directed and the next they perform much better than anyone had expected. I imagine the director would have more challenging time trying to get the shots he wanted while navigating such fluid circumstances.
Hisashi (D):  Yes, because they were not actors I gave them a keyword of each shot instead of locked dialogues so they could form their own words outputting from them naturally. I conducted this method the entire shoot.

O.C. The skate tricks and stunts in the film are very impressive. Did the cast do the tricks and stunts themselves?

Shin (P):  The cast did it themselves. All the skaters you see in the film are real skater, and except for the Crasher members, they are all real skaters by their own names. As they are all remarkable, we didn’t want to bring stuntmen to keep it real which I think ultimately brought an authentic tone for the picture.
Hisashi (D):  He is absolutely right they were all outstanding.  Depending on the conditions of the skaters on the shoot days, they made many attempts and fell over countlessly. For me, those behind the scenes were in fact the most inspirational.

O.C. The end of the film teases an exciting future for team Crasher. Have you considered making a sequel to Stand Strong to explore the story further?

Shin (P):  Middle-aged Crasher…lol!  Abandoned by their sponsors, or Chen the crappy skater becomes the most successful businessman…showing what happens after they went through various changes and stepped out of their staking life. We are seeking financiers for this sequel feature!
Hisashi (D): I think it’s more interesting that the audience would imagine how exciting the Crasher’s future is going to look. Still, I personally would like to see how it turns out in 30 years.

O.C. You have directed music videos, adverts and TV, but Stand Strong is your first feature film. Was it a challenge to jump from making shorter projects, to making a film?

Hisashi (D):  It is a feature length film, but this time I tried to construct it by weaving a series of short chapters so in a sense it has become something like a compilation of those music videos or adverts work I have ever done.

O.C. What attracted you to making this project?

Shin (P):  One day I reunited with Hisashi who I used to skate together. One of us became a pro skater, and the other became a filmmaker. We started to talk how fun it would be to create something together, and naturally the skateboarding, where we came from as a subject came to our mind.
Hisashi (D):  What he said! Reuniting with Shin truly made an impact for me. Also, the reason I pursued my filmmaking career has at least to do with that I used to skate as young.

O.C. What are you working on now?

Shin (P): Crasher in 30 years! Please support us! Haha. The title is to be Still Stand Strong!!!
Hisashi (D):  I hope to keep creating various contents – both fiction and documentary. Currently developing this new documentary project! I am very excited!

Hisashi Kikuchi
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