Recently we had the opportunity to sit in on a roundtable discussion pertaining to the film with its star Joshua Jackson. The following is a transcript of the event.
Q: You sometimes speak Japanese in the film. Do you actually know Japanese?
JJ: Well, I had to learn some Japanese. *Speaks in Japanese*
Q: Do you know what that means?
JJ: It was a very formal way of introducing me and my and my wife Jane.
Q: That was good! What did you learn about actual photography?
JJ: The process of developing film I’m fairly comfortable with given with that I’ve worked in film for 20 years now. So obviously doing it 1 frame per second or 24 frames per second is a little different, but working in film is my job. The particularities of loading film and all that kind of stuff, the boring technical stuff, was a couple days work. It was more having the time on the set with fashion photographers and seeing what it was like. It felt a tad chic, to see what the environment of those photo shoots is like.
Q: What’s your take on spiritual photography?
JJ: Well, I’ve never had the experience of it. I don’t really work on absolutes. I think it’s impossible to absolutely yes or no to just about anything. I am not a man of faith, I have real hard time when people of faith tell me something is absolutely correct, but then it would be hypocritical of me to say they are absolutely incorrect. I’ve never had a ghost moment, I’ve never had a ghost in the machine, but I don’t deny it’s possible. That’s my two cents.
Q: What attracted you to working on Shutter?
JJ: What attracted me to the character, is, well, if you’re playing a straight ahead drama, general the arc or transition the character goes through, while it may be severe, is some sort of A to H or I. While you’re doing a horror film you have potentially something much broader and much more shocking of a shift. So for me to be able to start here and then end up as someone totally other, that’s fun.
Q: One of the more effective passages in the movie was the photo studio, with all of the rapid photos going off…was that done through filming in both light and dark?
JJ: We did it both ways. For me, we did with light and dark, we did a couple passes through on the master shots with no light, just to get me in the habit of not being able to see, sort of creating the panic. So then we did a couple of takes all the way through in the light, so the director could choose which moments he wanted, so we actually did both.
Q: How was it working with the director? Because doesn’t speak the language well, and this is his first movie in the language…
JJ: In English, yes. There were certainly moments that were difficult. When we would get into the meat of a scene of a language heavy scene, a dialogue heavy scene, I’m sure it was difficult for him to follow it along. He understands a little bit of English, but when it starts going fast, fast, fast, I don’t think his English is that strong. But in terms of communicating with the actors or the rest of the extras on set, there’s a woman who was phenomenal translator, who was able to, not only translate directly the words, but also contextualize what it is he’s saying. It’s not what I’m saying but how I’m saying that’s important, and she’s able to do the reverse. There’s really strong fundamental cultural differences between the US and Japan.
Trying to find a touchstone a starting point in a conversation was often really difficult. Once you could find a touchstone then you could go forward. It was silly little things, like taking your shoes off. There’s a sequence in the film where my friend is about to commit suicide, though we don’t know that going in but obviously something is not right. We talked for like two hours whether the characters should take their shoes off. In Japan, everybody does it, it’s unconscious, they don’t think about it. But for Westerner’s it is absurd, I mean “my god my friend’s about to kill themselves! Hold on I have to take off my shoes”
So that’s a silly version of it, but things like that show where in West versus East our communications aren’t exact.
Q: In the first conversation where you had to reveal some of your back-story to your wife, was there discussion to how much to reveal at that point?
JJ: If you’re willing to believe that the character is a good liar, and he knows that he’s caught, a good liar will tells you just enough that you believe them, without having to tell you the whole story. In the film that’s what he’s choosing to do. I know I can’t quite wiggle out of all the way, so if I tell the most sympathetic version of that story, that seems like it’s paining me to tell, then just enough so that she feels okay. Frankly, in that situation, I believe that she would want to believe him. You know what I mean? She’s emotionally invested in this man, he’s her husband. While thing’s have gone south, who would want to believe the ultimate truth about this guy as their partner? You’d do everything you could to not go to that place.
Q: What were the challenges of shooting this?
JJ: Well, I’ve shot in a lot of foreign countries, and they always present little challenges. The challenge of this one is being the Japanese culture…I’ve never been in a culture that was so foreign to my own. Even traveling in the Middle East, traveling in Africa, there’s a…I’m not an educated or smart enough man to know why, but there seems to be a shared cultural background or assumption that, even though we may not have a hell of a lot of common you sort of understand the way you interact with people. When I was in Japan, the culture is so fundamentally different, just the basic level of human interaction is based on different ideas and ideals. That was probably the hardest part, just finding the cultural touchstone. We’re not all starting from the same place, so we need to find the part we agree on before we start having a conversation, so that was probably the hardest part.
Q: Did you see the original? I know the perspective is very different, but did you get anything else from that film?
JJ: Well, beyond the male female perspective being different, which is different, but the major difference is that that movie was a Thai movie with Thai actors, so they were already acclimated to culture they were in, so that the introduction of spirit photography was more easily digestible for those characters. They would have already had a cultural reference point. I don’t think anyone at this table, if someone came up to you and said, “Hey, look at these new spirit photos!”, we’d be like, okkkkaaaaaaay.
So, by introducing Westerners to that mythology, the whole beginning of our story changed. You’re not only changing the gender perspective, but you also have to bring the character into that mythology. The benefit of that is also bringing the audience into that as well.
Shutter opens everywhere March 21st, 2008.