Koji Fukada's 'The Man From the Sea': Is This the Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy?

BY : DHANIA SARAHTIKA

DECEMBER 20, 2018

Jakarta. Koji Fukada's "The Man From the Sea" has been the talk of the town ever since the film opened at the Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival, or JAFF, earlier this month. Screenings of the film were also sold out at Pekan Sinema Jepang in Jakarta, which ended last week.

Due to popular demand, an extra special screening of The Man From the Sea was held on Monday (17/12) at Plaza Indonesia XXI in Central Jakarta, with director Koji Fukada and the cast in attendance to answer questions fans had been dying to know.

Fukada said his new film is a "modern fantasy" about "how we respond to disasters, life and death" and the "relationship between human beings and nature."

The Man From the Sea is Fukada’s sixth feature film, and tells the story of a mysterious man (Dean Fujioka) stranded on a beach in Banda Aceh.

The man is later named "Laut," the Indonesian word for "ocean," by locals.

Though Laut looks Japanese, he says he doesn’t remember where he’s from.

The mysterious man speaks Japanese, Indonesian and English, and also possesses powerful supernatural powers that eventually attract media attention.

This is not the first time that Fukada has featured Indonesia in his movies.

His 2013 film "Au revoir l’été" ("Goodbye Summer") has a character who works as an ethnographer in Indonesia.

This time, though, Indonesia takes center stage as the setting for the movie.

The Man From the Sea took about a year to make.

In it, Fukada treats tsunami as a common experience that unites Indonesia and Japan.

Aceh experienced one of the biggest ever tsunamis in history in 2004, which killed more than 170,000 people, and Tohoku in Japan experienced it 2011, with more than 15,000 dead.

The inspiration for the main character came from Mark Twain's book "The Mysterious Stranger," but Fukada added the twist of making Laut a personification of the sea.

Laut does random things with his powers. Sometimes he helps people, sometimes he wrecks things.

"Nature can be a blessing for human beings, but it can also destroy them, even take their lives. Nature acts without intention. A victim of tsunami is not necessarily a bad person. Nature takes away people's lives indiscriminately," Fukada said.

Dean Fujioka said Fukada gave him specific instructions to control his body language, facial expressions, and tone of his voice to portray a figure who acts without motivations.

Fukada’s research involved talking to real tsunami survivors, from whom he heard amazing stories.

One of the men he talked to said he was able to find the body of his wife by following premonitions in a dream.

"He lost his wife in the tsunami. He had a dream where his wife told him where her body was to be found. He went to the place and lo and behold, her corpse was there," Fukada said.

The movie also highlighted the shared history between Indonesia and Japan, especially during the Second World War when Japan occupied Indonesia from 1942 to 1945.

Upon hearing the Japanese surrender after the US dropped atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Indonesia proclaimed its independence on Aug. 17, 1945.

The Man From the Sea made references to that time in history by showing Japanese bunkers in Sabang, which were built by soldiers trying to defend themselves from the returning Dutch army.

"I learned about Indonesian history from books. At first, I didn’t know that Sabang had many bunkers left behind by Japanese soldiers," Fukada said.

Laut is surrounded by people trying to figure out who he is.

There is Takako (Mayu Tsuruta), a Japanese NGO worker who has been in Aceh since 2004 to help tsunami victims. She lives with her son Takashi (Taiga), who goes to a local university.

Takashi is a friend of Kris (Adipati Dolken), who is helping his childhood friend Ilma (Sekar Sari) shoot a documentary film in Aceh.

Then there's Takashi’s cousin, Sachiko (Junko Abe), who visits Aceh trying to find a place that her late father captured in an old photograph.

"The producers and I had an intense discussion on how to connect these young adults with Laut. Young people have hope and vision for the future, Laut doesn’t. The contrast is interesting," Fukada said.

The 107-minute film will leave you with many questions, especially on Laut's motives.

Since the film also hints at Aceh’s separatist past, one might be forgiven for thinking that Fukada might also be trying to say something about the politics between the two countries, rather than just making commentaries about man and nature.

But the director, whose previous film "Harmonium" won the Prix du Jury in Un Certain Regard at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, said "I don’t want to convey any personal message. If 100 people see my movie, I want 100 interpretations of the story. I don’t want my film to be propaganda or to force my views on others."

Produced by Nikkatsu (Japan), Kaninga Pictures (Indonesia) and Comme Des Cinemas (France), The Man From the Sea was screened in Japan throughout May this year and has since travelled to various festivals, including South Korea's Busan International Film Festival, Hong Kong Asian Film Festival and Taiwan's Kaohsiung Film Festival.

Kaninga Pictures chief executive Willawati said the film will get a commercial release in Indonesia early next year.

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