"Dear Mr. Kenzo Takada," the letter began. "I heard that you had an interest in filmmaking, and was wondering if you would like to work on an interesting production with me."
It was late 1978. An actress by the name of Sachiko Hidari came to Paris carrying this letter. Its author was Hiroaki Fujii. In his work at Daiei Film, he had been a planner on such films as director Kon Ichikawa's "Her Brother" and "Fires on the Plain." He was also a very talented producer, having created "Patriotism" with Yukio Mishima.
He contacted me after apparently reading a magazine article in which I said I was interested in movies. However, I was just then in the middle of a "cold war" with my co-manager, Gilles Raysse.
To be honest, filmmaking was really out of the question. Naturally, I had a fondness for movies, but I didn't think I had the talent to be a director, and I didn't even know the basics of cinematography. Despite this, Fujii came to Paris numerous times and continued his passionate attempts to persuade me.
Daytime temperatures reached 50 C, and we went through 250 1.5-liter bottles of Evian in a single day
"If you just come up with ideas, we'll finish them," he suggested. "All you'll have to do is yell 'start' and 'cut.'"
Eventually, I succumbed to his enthusiasm. It was decided that I would direct a film and also be in charge of its costumes and artistic direction.
Ordeal in the desert
I started by making a draft of the story. What first popped into my head was a mysterious world like those depicted in "Ugetsu Monogatari" and "Rashomon." The plot I came up with went something like this: "A young weaver meets a pair of beautiful sisters by a lake. The older sister is named Tsuki (Moon) and her younger sister is named Yuki (Snow). The young man is drawn to the sisters' bewitching figures and spirits, and is completely at their mercy. As recompense for falling in love with the young man, the sisters turn into birds and fly away into the blue sky ... "
We chose Morocco as the location to shoot the film. I was familiar with the land, having vacationed there frequently, and I found the environment -- a mix of cultures at the crossroads between East and West -- an interesting one.
In July 1980, we headed for Zagora, near the Sahara Desert. It was an expansive location, with yellowish-brown mountains and desert spreading out as far as the eye could see. Daytime temperatures reached 50 C, and we went through 250 1.5-liter bottles of Evian in a single day.
Filming proved to be one difficulty after another. The actors were mostly French and the staff predominantly Japanese, so communication problems kept the work from proceeding smoothly. There were unexpected events, too, such as when the art unit became mired in a bottomless swamp and couldn't move.
What really did us in was a scene in which a horse being led by the protagonist collapses out of fatigue. Since the animal did not collapse as we had hoped, we decided to use an anesthetic. However, it turns out that Moroccan horses regularly eat wild cannabis, so the drug was entirely ineffective.
Thud! The horse finally collapsed several hours later. The actors had stopped acting and were resting in the shade of a tree. The cameras weren't even rolling. It was extremely disappointing. That kind of stress built with each passing day, and I felt faint under the sweltering heat of the sun.
The production budget was 400 million yen. For the soundtrack, we tried to land the popular group Journey. They took the job, reportedly giving up a European tour. This was thanks to the efforts of Fujii. For the title, I chose "Yume, yume no ato (The dream, after the dream)."
I approached the premiere, which we held in Paris, with considerably anxiety. It was the worst. Around 300 people came to the theater, but Parisians have a very unforgiving aesthetic sense. When giggling broke out during a critical scene that was supposed to move the audience to tears, I realized I had failed to create the mood I intended.
On top of all that, the audience began to get up and leave in the middle of the film. It was a total fiasco. And it was entirely my fault. I had caused considerable trouble to everyone involved, not least of all Fujii.
Filmmaking. Every time I hear that word I get so depressed and embarrassed I almost break out in hives.
Kenzo Takada is a fashion designer known for his eponymous label Kenzo, which he left in 1999.