Perhaps my Japanese hand-writing is better than my Korean. When I presented my altered business card to Takahiro Umehara I saw a look of understanding instead of one of confusion.
366: My name is Giles Edwards and I am sitting down with Takahiro Umehara, and his translator Yoko, for some questions about the movie screening yesterday, The Moon in the Hidden Woods. Thank you very much. I was curious as to how a Japanese director got involved with a South Korean animation studio.
TU: First of all, I want to state that I am incredibly honored to have gotten the position of director for a South Korean production. I’ve been in Korea for almost eighteen years. And while I’m not representing the whole animation industry in South Korea, I wanted to return the favor that I’ve received in regards to my experiences in Korean film. So I’m hoping that this project will show my gratitude to the Korean people I’ve been working with.
366: I looked a bit at your earlier career, and you’ve been credited as “Art Director” on IMDb for your previous projects. This looks like it’s your first job as director. I was wondering how you made that jump and what interesting you in this particular project.
TU: I feel I am very good when it comes to drawing, so I was always interested in drawing and designing. I’ve generally wanted to be the “hands” of storytellers, but there was some good timing in that someone with whom I’d been working offered me the chance to be a director. I had thought that some day I would want to be in charge of direction, so I jumped on this chance. It was also a great chance to create a real Korean film; before that I’d always been working with Korean people for Japanese productions. This time I wanted to make an animated story based on Korean culture.
366: In regards to the film in particular, there is a whole lot of story—a lot of narrative—fit into this hour-and-a-half-long movie. I was curious as to what that was based on, and if you might explore this world again in the future.
TU: First, I want to see the reaction of screening in Korea, and then perhaps think about exploring more of this world in the future. I believe, however, that the kind of themes found in the movie are universal, and can be found in almost any country’s cultural background, especially as this focuses on the music, songs, and dance.
366: That leads nicely to my next question. The music in the feature—could you talk about your focus on the drums and drumming found in the picture?
TU: I was quite impressed when I first listened to the drums found in Korean music, so I’m glad to know that others have questions about this, as I had. And I look forward to letting my Korean counterparts know about this reaction. Korean music has a special energy, like when something is pressured, you can bounce back. It is quite free, this type of music, like the free jazz in the United States. In particular, the final scene, there’s a really strong beat, and at the end there’s a release.
366: In regards to that final scene, and a preceding scene about mid-way through in the “Hidden Woods”, there are some very astounding visuals—very bright, very memorable. I was wondering if you could remark on the thinking behind those sequences.
TU: In Korean folklore, there are five colors that make the world: black, blue, white, orange and yellow. These can have religious meanings also. In the story of the film, when you get all the five colors, the moon can then go back into the position it’s supposed to be. So in Korea, the costumes—and even buildings—have these basic colors, and I find it really interesting and beautiful.
366: You mentioned earlier you’re primarily an artist. Are there any characters in the film that you are particularly proud of having created?
TU: Navillera, the heroine, is a character I’m very pleased with. This character represents all the feelings I had wanted to put into her. There’s a Korean myth concerning a butterfly, so I used the movement of that traditional dance to define that character.
366: You mentioned yesterday that you hoped that this movie would prompt viewers to explore Korean, and Japanese, culture. Do you have any advice for starting points — other movies, literature — for getting a grounding in those cultures?
TU: I’d like to segue briefly before I answer your question. Recently there was a big tragedy in Japan at the Kyoto Animation studios, which was burned down and thirty-four people were killed. So I wanted to thank [Prime Minister] Trudeau, and especially the offices of Fantasia for their understanding and remarks. With this tragedy, I realized how big the culture of animation is, and it was a great chance to think about how I’m a part of this great culture, and my career, and my position in this field.
To understand Korean or Japanese culture, you can just use Google, Netflix. To see what I’ve done, just check out the internet for productions I’ve been involved in: “Claymore”, for example. And for Korean productions, Yeon Sang-ho is a good director of the live-action Train to Busan. He’s also created a lot of animation.
366: Now I’ve got time for one more question, and I always like to ask everyone I sit down with: what’s your hometown, and can you recommend your favorite restaurant?
TU: [laughs] Because of my father’s career, I’ve been moving around all my life, so there’s no real “hometown” for me. I know a lot of restaurants in different areas, but I cannot choose one. If I must choose one particular dish, it’d be my mother’s homemade cuisine.
366: That answers just fine.
TU: And that could be why I’m comfortable living in Korea, from my background traveling.
366: Thank you both very much, it was a pleasure speaking with you.
TU: Thank you.
Special thanks to Yoko Seki for her translations.