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Dressing for Fame: Cristina Ehrlich on Backup Gowns, Irene Albright, and Stylists-as-Celebrities

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If celebrity status is conferred in red-carpet appearances, then no actress today can compete without the help of just the right stylist. As Kerry Washington once told Glamour after she noticeably upped the sartorial ante, “There were a couple of actresses whom I felt were having the upper hand careerwise—because they knew how to work that red carpet.” A carefully crafted collaboration between stylist and client, the perfect look can create an indelible impact on agents, casting directors, and those of us watching from the sidelines. Straight from the epicenter of all things celebrity, we’ve asked some of the industry’s top stylists to share their experiences and impressions from their perch above Tinseltown. With our Dressing for Fame series, we bring you an exclusive, insider look at everything it takes to create those iconic moments captured by a million photo flashes.

Cristina Ehrlich

cristinaShe’s put Penélope Cruz’s curves on the map, and done so in the most elegant way possible. She made a sartorial star of Margot Robbie this awards season, and Girls’ Allison Williams can thank her for constantly placing at the top of best-dressed lists. These are just a few of the leading ladies whom Cristina Ehrlich counts as clients. With a unique perspective on how the right look can shape the arc of an acting career, Ehrlich brings nearly twenty years of experience to the table—and a legion of unforgettable red-carpet moments with her. Here, she speaks to Style.com about which dress she’ll always remember, her background as a professional dancer, and the stylist-as-celebrity phenomenon.

How did you get your start?
The first stylist I ever worked with was Irene Albright, before she had the incredible Fashion Library. I was studying to be a dancer in New York City and moonlighting with my second passion, fashion, on the side.

Did your upbringing, family, or experience dancing professionally inform your decision to become a stylist?
Ever since I was a little girl, I was always very visually oriented. There was a dual love in me for dancing and fashion. However, at around 27, fashion took over and became the career path I wanted to pursue.

How do you feel about the stylist-as-celebrity phenomenon?
The business of celebrity dressing has transformed since I started out over twenty years ago. There is a relevance surrounding our job in the media today and with that, a certain cachet comes with working so closely with talent. The importance of my job is to work with my girls and create a beautiful arc in her career through the clothing she wears. At the end of the day, I provide a service, and that is what is important to me.

Penelope CruzIs there one red-carpet appearance in particular that you feel has defined your own success?

Penélope Cruz wearing the blush pink Atelier Versace to the Oscars in 2007 was really a defining moment for me as a stylist. This was actually the backup gown I had on hold for her, as she was having a custom gown made by another designer at the time. Unfortunately, the custom piece fell through, and it was incredible to have such a strong “backup” on hold for her.

How would you define your styling aesthetic?

I do not draw my inspirations from trends. I appreciate vintage photography or iconic women from times past. Both lend themselves to creating timeless and beautiful looks that will be remembered.

Is it challenging to work with various clients who have such diverse tastes?
I feel lucky enough that with a high percentage of the women that I work with, it’s a collaboration. They depend and lean on me to help them make the best choices, and when we hit a snag and don’t agree, I try to explain to them that we are creating an arc in the different silhouettes that they wear and are working to cultivate many strong and relevant fashion moments.

Photos: Courtesy Photo; Wireimage 

Natasha Lyonne Lays Down the Law

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Natasha Lyonne

Natasha Lyonne is no stranger to the spotlight, having started her acting career at the mere age of 6, when she was cast in Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. The inimitable, filter-free actress has worked with everyone from Woody Allen to Nora Ephron (whom Lyonne cites as her personal-style inspiration). Some of her most impressive work includes her starring roles in late nineties independent films Slums of Beverly Hills and But I’m a Cheerleader, as well as her current performance as Nicky Nichols on the hit Netflix series Orange Is the New Black. There’s a lot of Lyonne in Nicky—a penchant for wisecracks, an endearing crassness, a refusal to tame her unruly locks. But what’s most personal, perhaps, is the fact that Lyonne and her character on the show are both recovered heroin addicts, and the actress says that her own experience helps her relate to her incarcerated character. Here, Lyonne speaks to Style.com about the trouble with prison khakis, the psychology of addiction, and why she’s just like Beyoncé.

Did you have any idea how successful Orange Is the New Black would be?
No. I don’t think any of us anticipated it. My working theory is that it’s a response to our really homogenized, Botoxed, spray-tanned culture. It’s a really creepy phase we’re in. So I think the show ended up hitting at a perfect time. I think [the creators] were just trying to tell the story of what happened to Piper [Kerman]. They cast people who looked real and who felt real, instead of glamorized prison inmates.

There aren’t many women-centric shows with strong, female-ensemble casts like there is in Orange Is the New Black. Do you think your show is breaking the mold?

I think the show breaks the mold in a lot of ways. I feel really privileged to be in the company of that cast and our writers and Jenji [Kohan]; it’s such a strong group. And there are so many lessons in that for women—it’s amazing how there’s space for all of us. I think society would have women falsely believe that there’s some sort of competition happening, and ultimately that’s an idea told by advertising and marketing to try and pin us up against each other. It certainly doesn’t feel like [we're competing] on the show. In fact, [the show's success] feels very rewarding for the human spirit because it seems like it’s OK to be who you are.

How did you prepare for your role? Did it hit close to home?

I read the book [Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison, 2010] and [Nicky Nichols] is really an amalgamation of several different characters in the book. And obviously I had enough of my personal experience to make it feel very real for myself. Oftentimes what’s so tragic about drug addicts is that they’re people who are so full of life, and then those around them watch them destroy themselves. That’s what’s so frustrating for the people around them.

In many cases, the drug addict is a person who has a heightened sensitivity to life and can’t handle it. That same quality can make them seem very alive to their friends. A drug addict is often somebody who wants to play music really loud, and drives the car really fast, and is the life of the party. Or it’s the person who will get on the phone with you while you’re crying until 4 a.m. So when addiction gets ahold of them, it can be really heartbreaking because they lose all that and they become a shadow of themselves. They become like the walking dead—internally wounded. Having that firsthand experience set me up really nicely for understanding what that person is like in the aftermath, which is that they get to be just as full of life as they were in the first place. In prison, Nicky doesn’t have drugs. She’s just left with her personality, which means she’s always a little bit uncomfortable because her “medicine” is gone. She feels like reality is a little bit more surreal and wants to comment on it a lot. I guess my point is that I shared a lot of her personal experiences.

Do you find that the cast’s uniforms allow the audience to better understand the characters individually? Does it help the characters to develop on a leveled playing field?

I think all those things are true, and Jenn Rogien does a great job of helping us all come up with something specific to make [our looks] our own. In our flashback episodes, what we wear becomes doubly important because it’s the only time you get insight into what kind of person that character was. For example, when we were doing my flashback, it was important that it was clear that [Nicky] came from money.

How do you deal with wearing khaki all the time?

It never gets better. You get in your fucking prison outfit, you look like shit, you try to work it from different angles, and you realize that it’s hopeless. You might think, Maybe if I roll up the pants underneath my T-shirt, it’ll lay flatter underneath my outer shirt…? But it’s just a hopeless cause. Maybe if I tuck my pants into my socks it’ll be better…? That kind of gives them a nice parachuting effect. Really lengthens the legs. If you’re 5’2″, the first thing you want to do is tuck your khaki pants into your white socks—that’s a hot tip. You have no fuckin’ choice, dude. You’re in prison! So stop fucking around and get your head in the game. You’re just forced to give up on vanity on that show.

I’m a big fan of your hair. It looks like it has a mind of its own.

No idea what you’re talking about.

Obviously it’s a signature look of yours. Do you have any secrets to keeping it so disheveled but cool at the same time? Or do you just wake up like that, like Beyoncé?

First of all, I’m a lot like Beyoncé in a lot of ways, so I’m glad it’s finally come up. Ideally, it’s an “I wake up like this” kind of look. The only trouble is that sometimes if I have a 4 a.m. call time, then we’ve got to be working by 6, my hair won’t dry in time. My hair, when it dries naturally, it’s really at its best. Once you put a blow-dryer on it, it just gets frizzed out. I always get really bummed when we have to do that. I cringe and pull away if somebody comes at me with a brush or a blow-dryer because it seems like it’s going to fuck up [my hair's] natural rhythm. But Angel [De Angelis] and Val [Valerie Velez] have come up with a system for making my hair look like itself quickly, even if it’s wet.

And what are things like in the hair and makeup room of a prison show?

Actually, it’s our first week back at work, and yesterday Angel, who has a thick New York accent like I do, was doing Taylor [Schilling]‘s hair, and I was sitting in Val’s chair, and I heard her saying to Taylor over the blow-dryer, “It’s going to be a very elegant season.” She was actually talking about how it’s going to be a very intense allergy season, but ever since, I’ve been telling everybody that this is going to be a very elegant season of Orange Is the New Black. A lot of people have been calling it “groundbreaking” or “captivating,” but not a lot of people have been calling it an “elegant” show. I was like, “This is a very special, very super-elegant episode of Orange Is the New Black in allergy season.” So now every time Andrew McCarthy gives me direction, I’ll be like, “Yeah, I’ll do it just like that but more elegant.” I’ve been smelling my fingers very elegantly thus far this season.

Does anything inspire your personal sense of style?

In my real life? Yeah, Lou Reed and Nora Ephron.

Natasha Being a New Yorker, do you wear a lot of black?

Yeah. The thing I don’t like about black is that, in New York, it’s like a uniform—I can just blend in. But when I go out to Los Angeles, it’s like all of a sudden I’m making a statement, like I’m a goth or something. I’m not trying to make a statement, I’m just trying to get my cup of coffee, OK? And I might be warm because it’s so sunny in your town, but that is definitely your problem, not mine.

Do you like New York better than L.A.?

Of course I like New York better than L.A. What am I, stupid? But Los Angeles doesn’t offend me like it used to. When I was a rebellious teenager, it was really difficult for me. But now I feel like I know who I am out there.

Do you follow any TV shows?

Yeah, I watch Game of Thrones, and I’m watching all thirteen seasons of NYPD Blue.

Do you binge-watch like your audience does?

Yeah, I don’t know why it took me so long in life to discover Law & Order, but when I did, like, three years ago, I watched every Law & Order. Every Law & Order: Criminal Intent, every Law & Order whatever. I even watched every Law & Order: Trial by Jury, which was a short-lived version. The only Law & Order I haven’t seen is the SVU episode that I’m in.

That’s funny. I remember when you had a cameo on Will & Grace.

That’s great. I remember one time, like, five years ago I was hooking up with some guy for the first time in a motel room in San Francisco—don’t worry, we were from New York—and I was very pleased when that episode came on TV because I was, like, so young. I was like, “That’s me, you’re welcome.” That was a long time ago.

What message do you want Orange Is the New Black viewers to take away from the show?

Don’t break the law! No, I’m just kidding. Totally kidding. I don’t know. Be yourself. It’s going to be all right.

Photos: Courtesy of Netflix 

David Koma Opens Up About the New Mugler

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David KomaWhen you think about it, 29-year-old Georgian-born, London-based designer David Koma was a natural choice for the creative director gig at Mugler. Heck, he basically launched his career at the ripe old age of 13 because of the eighties icon. Still, even with a vast knowledge of a house’s history, it’s not easy to revamp a heritage brand. Nicola Formichetti gave it a go when he signed on as Mugler’s creative director in 2010, only to step down three years later following a series of hyper-dramatic, Lady Gaga-infused runway shows and mixed reviews. (A brief aside: Formichetti made the right choice—he’s excelling in his current role as artistic director at Diesel.) With mega-brand revivals comes the danger of producing designs that are costumey or derivative. But Koma’s debut Resort ’15 collection for Mugler, which he unveiled at New York’s Milk Studios yesterday, was neither (see for yourself, here). Determined to honor his own vision, while subtly nodding to old-school styles, Koma set out to create a modern wardrobe rather than a spectacle—hence his choice to kick things off with a quiet Resort presentation instead of a high-wattage Paris runway show. The crisp clothes honored the saucy Mugler ethos but still felt distinctively David Koma. Sometimes, the best way to refresh an iconic label is by doing something a little different. Here, Koma speaks to Style.com about avoiding the archive, his plans for Mugler, and what it means to respect a legacy.

When I first met you in London back in 2011, you told me that Mugler’s work inspired you to become a fashion designer. What role have his designs played in the development of your aesthetic?
I started designing at a very early age. I saw this documentary when I was 13 about Mugler, and it had all the shows on video. I recorded it and I watched it again and again—I was completely blown away by the visual effects and the fantasy, the body proportions, the cuts, and the materials. And from that day, I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. Obviously after that I discovered different designers while moving to London and attending Central Saint Martins, but Mugler was my first big fashion impression. I love anatomy—I took anatomy classes at art school in St. Petersburg—and I love the female body and cutting and working around it to make beautiful and extremely flattering clothes. I’ve learned a lot by looking at [Mugler's] collections and his amazing cuts. So I would say he was a really big influence for me as a designer.

Why do you think that Mugler approached you to take this job? Why did they think you were the right person?
I don’t know, but it’s weird. I always knew that one day I was going to receive the call. And then when I received the call, it felt really natural, and throughout the interview process I was myself. I really believe in faith, and it was just the right time, the right moment, and the right fit. I think they just trust me.

You told me you didn’t look at the archive when designing your first collection, which seems counterintuitive when you’re starting at a heritage house. Why did you take that route?
I thought it was really important for me to show my own personal vision for the house and to explore my handwriting for the new Mugler. I wanted to respect the house codes while creating new ones. Season by season we’re going to be incorporating more details inspired by the archive pieces, which are incredible. And I’m not just talking only those amazing couture shows that everyone knows—there’s so much more that I’m really excited to be discovering every day. But for the first Resort, I thought it was important that the collection was really me.

Was debuting your first collection for Resort, rather than during Spring or Fall, a deliberate choice?
Yes. I thought it was very important to build the range and build the collection and focus on the wardrobe rather than the images for a show, which we all love and are very excited by, but I felt it was key to create a platform beforehand. I love the idea that we’re presenting in New York at Milk Studios—I think it looks very modern, fresh, and relevant to what we’re doing right now. It felt really natural to begin like this.

How does a designer go about respecting an iconic house such as Mugler while staying true to his own aesthetic?
One of the first steps is not messing around with the archives. I love the legacy of the house from the bottom of my heart. And whatever I bring, I think doing it gently, and understanding the woman’s body in a similar way, but in a different era, is important.

This collection is much more real-world wardrobe than what Nicola Formichetti was doing. Did Mugler ask for that specifically?
No. I was not specifically told how to approach Resort. I just felt the new, modern Mugler woman is someone really active, energetic, maybe in business. She’s a cool, young woman, so it was important for me to develop the line before creating those statement runway pieces. Behind every successful business, there is a depth and a range. I thought it was the key to first fix that.

Did you learn anything from looking at Formichetti’s collections for the house?
We didn’t talk about it. And when I entered the house, I didn’t analyze, I didn’t investigate any of that. All my decisions and all my designs were purely based on how I feel about the house, what I love about the house, who I am, and what I want for the house.

Will we see some of Mugler’s signature dramatics on the Spring ’15 runway? Or are you going to keep it a touch toned-down?
It all depends how I feel at the time. I really, really love trusting my instinct and how I feel in a certain moment. I don’t know what’s going to be in the future, but I think it’s going to develop much more for the runway show and forthcoming seasons. Mugler is going to grow into something very solid.

How does designing for Mugler differ from designing your eponymous collection? Do you change your approach at all?
The design process is similar because I try to be true to myself. But I’m working in two different cities with two completely different teams. It makes a big difference. We’re really embracing tailoring at Mugler, which is very different from what I do at David Koma, so that’s a big change. But while I’m designing, the way I approach things, I’m always true to myself and I do what I feel is right.

Have you had any interactions with Mr. Mugler?
Not yet, but I’m very excited to meet him. I think we’re going to hopefully meet quite soon.

Do you have aspirations to do couture?
Yes! I wouldn’t say it’s something that will come really soon, but Mugler is known for incredible couture pieces, so at some point, why not? I think it’s very important also to have direct contact with the customer and to make some one-off pieces.

What are some of your goals for the house down the line?
For the first year, we’re going to concentrate on the ready-to-wear and making that really strong and perfect. We plan to launch an accessory line quite soon, but Thierry Mugler started with a clothing line, so we thought it was key for the relaunch to focus on womenswear. Shoes, bags, and accessories will come straight after. Plus, Mugler has one of the most successful perfumes in the whole world, and it’s interesting for me to be involved in the perfume side, and to bring clothing and perfume together. It takes time, but that’s what we’re working on. Both teams can get to know each other more and be a bit more collaborative for upcoming perfume launches, and what’s going to happen in general with the Mugler legacy.

Photo: Yannis Vlamos/IndigitalImages.com

Dressing for Fame: Samantha McMillen on Styling Elle Fanning and Suiting Hollywood’s Muscly Men

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If celebrity status is conferred in red-carpet appearances, then no actress today can compete without the help of just the right stylist. As Kerry Washington once told Glamour after she noticeably upped the sartorial ante, “There were a couple of actresses whom I felt were having the upper hand careerwise—because they knew how to work that red carpet.” A carefully crafted collaboration between stylist and client, the perfect look can create an indelible impact on agents, casting directors, and those of us watching from the sidelines. Straight from the epicenter of all things celebrity, we’ve asked some of the industry’s top stylists to share their experiences and impressions from their perch above Tinseltown. With our Dressing for Fame series, we bring you an exclusive, insider look at everything it takes to create those iconic moments captured by a million photo flashes.

Samantha McMillen

samantha

Elle Fanning’s red-carpet presence and demure aesthetic have been carefully crafted by longtime stylist Samantha McMillen. Just take one look at the starlet’s dazzling ensembles on the Maleficent press tour and you’ll agree that McMillen has the Midas touch. And McMillen’s touch extends to her other clients, too, including Dakota Fanning, Ellen Page, Mark Ruffalo, and Johnny Depp. Here, McMillen talks to Style.com about why working in PR helped launch her styling career, dressing Miss Fanning, and suiting some of Hollywood’s most muscly leading men.

How did you get into styling?
I had been working at Giorgio Armani as VP of celebrity relations for almost eight years. I started as an assistant and, you know, worked my way up. The nineties at Armani was pretty hectic, as we were the first and one of the few fashion houses at the time that was actively—possibly at some times aggressively—pursuing relationships with A-list actors for red-carpet appearances. I wore a lot of hats, but I think one of them was sort of as an in-house stylist. Back in the early nineties, not many actors had stylists. They would come in themselves to the showroom and you did your best to dress them head to toe in the brand. I naturally developed relationships with publicists, managers, agents, and the talent themselves. When it came time to go out on my own, I already had a lot of resources and contacts and, thankfully, some people who were willing to give me a chance.

What was your “I’ve made it” moment?
I don’t think I think in those terms. I’m grateful for every little job I took that led me to the next bigger job, if that makes sense. I never assisted anyone. I just jumped right in and started styling, so I had to learn as I went along. It was really hard at first, and I had days and sometimes weeks in a row where I wasn’t sure if I was going to get more work. I think when the work started really flowing in, I felt like I must have proven myself to enough people that they kept rehiring me or recommending me. It wasn’t so much about whom I was working with, but that I was starting to get support, loyalty, respect, and, most important, trust from publicists, photographers, and talent. That felt really good and I am eternally grateful to those people who got behind me and gave me a big push.

How did your work in PR help inform this new path?
Well, having an understanding of both sides of this business really helps. I know what I need on my end and I think I know what designers and their representatives need on their end. Especially when working with women’s runway, you have to be extremely organized, diligent, persistent, and respectful when it comes to samples. I call it “air traffic control.” A lot of designers have only one sample in each exit and there are multiple people requesting it for different editorials or fittings all over the world. If you are lucky enough to get it, or know it’s coming, you need to be respectful about tracking it, getting it back out as quickly as possible if you aren’t using it, and doing your best to keep it in perfect condition. I think the PR teams really appreciate this, and it definitely helps the next time you need their help for a fitting or photo shoot. It’s as simple as the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

Elle FanningWhen working with young women (e.g., Elle Fanning), do you try to keep it age-appropriate?

I really just try to honor the wishes, style, and comfort level of whomever it is I’m working with. Elle is fun because she is daring, unique, and has an incredible knowledge of fashion, especially considering her age. She loves fashion and she loves to try new things. At the same time, she has a good sense of what is timeless and knows which occasion to do a timeless look and which occasions she can be a little bit more experimental. Truthfully, there aren’t that many 16-year-olds out there who regularly have access to haute couture, so the term “age-appropriate” when it comes to fashion kind of makes me laugh. But to answer the question…Yes. I just try not to age them or put them in anything that would draw attention to an area on their bodies that people shouldn’t be focusing on. On the other hand, for my more iconic ladies who are a bit older, we try not to go too young or trendy—just elegant, flattering, and timeless, and a little bit of edge, depending on who it is.

When working with a celebrity for a promotional tour, where do you begin?
I usually start with premiere looks and then take care of the photo calls, junkets, and TV appearances. The TV looks can be more challenging because it’s a bit harder to get new runway for things like that, but it’s a difficult thing to explain to your client. Designers definitely prioritize red-carpet dressing opportunities, so our hardest work is getting great looks for morning shows, late-night talk shows, and press junket days.

What has been your experience with styling men? How do you find it in comparison to women?
I love both. Dressing men and understanding menswear comes very naturally to me. I love when I have a male client who is willing to “go for it.” But I also respect the man who likes to keep it simple, dark, and clean. With both you have to prioritize tailoring and make sure everything is impeccably fitted. Men tend to have a lot more layers and pieces, so the tailoring can be very involved. I work with a lot of guys who do action films and have large muscles in their biceps, shoulders, and thighs. It’s hard to fit those guys off the rack and the pants tend to be gigantic in the waist and the shoulders and arms on the jackets too small, so unless you are doing custom-made suits, you constantly have to tailor and fit to check the tailoring. Most men don’t like to try on clothes or stand still long enough to have their clothing pinned. I think women have a bit more patience with the tailoring process and the trying-on process.

What’s more challenging, working on a campaign or a red-carpet look?
Working on an ad campaign is probably more challenging because there are so many people with different needs and opinions. You have the ad agency people, the client, the photographer or director, and the talent all asking for and expecting different things. You have to submit shopping images ahead of time for approval and your work is under constant scrutiny. You are receiving new info and requests until the last second. I have lost many nights of sleep doing commercials and ad campaigns. But I feel at home with red carpet. Both are time consuming and challenging. Red carpet, to me, is more enjoyable, exciting, and rewarding.

Is there any client whose style you covet?
I mean…there are several things at any given fitting that I would love to have in my own closet, but I’d never try to wear them the same way my clients do. We are individuals, and it’s important to find our own unique way to express ourselves and have the confidence to do so.

Photos: Courtesy Photo; Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

Takashi Murakami Makes a Monster Fantasy to Fight Social Anxiety

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Murakami

Few living artists hold the level of fame and pop culture permeation as Takashi Murakami. Through his candy-colored, anime, and otaku-inspired smiley faces and other creations, the Tokyo native has explored notions of dystopia and commerce, giving new depth to Pop Art. He’s taken on the role of a sort of Andy Warhol of Japan—blurring lines between pop culture, artist personality, and fine art through curation; the generation of his art production company, Kaikai Kiki Co.; and some memorable collaborations with the likes of Supreme and Louis Vuitton. Now the ever-prolific creator is introducing a new effort: his first feature-length film, Jellyfish Eyes, the first of a trilogy.

The live-action/animated movie tells the story of an adolescent boy who moves to a new town in the aftermath of Fukushima to start a fresh life. Once there, he quickly discovers a new friend—a magical, monster-like companion that he soon finds is one of many in the area. A darker purpose for these creatures is later uncovered, leading to chaos and plenty of apocalyptic monster references—all in classic Murakami style, of course.

We recently sat down with the artist and his translator at his longtime gallery, Blum & Poe, to discuss the origins of the project, the direction of his art, and what to expect in the future.

I wanted to ask about the origins of the film.
The reason I came into the visual art world is because originally I was really influenced by Japanese animation—you know, to draw something and then make that into film. So I was moved by the results and I wanted to move other people. In reality, I have been making short animations in the past; there were many short animation pieces that I was trying to work on. And those were fine, those were possible. But in terms of feature-length film, you need a grammar for storytelling and you need to understand how to construct a narrative, and that’s been a very difficult thing for me. So for a long time, I’ve been attempting to do this, but I haven’t been very successful. And when the earthquake and all those disasters happened in 2011, Japan started to be filled with this social anxiety and the general atmosphere of worries, and that situation seemed to become very similar with my childhood in the 1970s. In the early 1970s, there were a lot of Kenshoo monster movies and the Ultraman series and Godzilla. Those emerged and became popular in that context of social anxiety. Because the social situation now has become similar to that, I felt that I could make a film with the monsters in it in a similar way. So because of this incident, the story now has a more reality grasp. In general, I wanted to portray the relationship between this Japan filled with social anxiety and the children.

Murakami

It’s such a dark story—was it immediate that you saw it as being told through children’s eyes and as a picture that children could watch and enjoy?
So, in Japan the film wasn’t really a hit at all, but I’m going to try to [get] it more exposure, and as the children watch it more, I believe that it will be enjoyed by children truly. Currently the situation in Japan is that the area that includes Tokyo and the metropolitan area, including Fukushima, is of course under the influence of the radiation. Different parts of Tokyo are highly affected by radiation, and that’s a reality every day. For example, when you think about sushi, it’s always been that the best thing would be to have freshly caught fish of the season from Tokyo Bay and that you eat that as a sushi and that’s the best thing to do, but of course people who are more informed don’t feel like eating sushi anymore. And yeah, there are a lot of cheap sushi restaurants springing up, and because it’s affordable, people are kind of ignoring what they know and eating the sushi maybe. But the families that go to these cheap sushi restaurants and eat at them will probably say, “Ooh, is it really safe? Can we really eat them?” So that will come up in everyday conversation. Then children will have more additional trainings for disaster at school—what to do in emergencies and stuff like that. And of course in the news, the relationship between China and Japan is very fragile right now and there is a danger of war—that’s been talked about in the news and everyday life. So Fukushima is still a problem that is not resolved. You have to worry about food everyday. Just going to school and coming back, there are more restrictions and rules. So in everyday life for children, there is general anxiety. My film actually contains that social anxiety, so they feel when they watch it, “OK, I can trust this film.” And even though it’s a fantasy, the experience is more like they’re entering into the familiar—their daily life—and they can believe in it.

Do you feel like your work is getting more political with this film?
First and foremost my ambition as an artist and the most important question for me is what is art, and when you pursue that question, you come to, what kind of people love art? So I got really interested in the reality of people’s everyday living environment, and of course I have a question: What are you going to do, making all these new nuclear power plants and increasing and selling them? What good does it do? But beyond that, I don’t really have a strong political, activist motivation. It’s more that when I make my work, I’m looking for stories that can be true to the audience. Whether it’s a visual or a narrative, I’m looking for something that I can communicate with the audience. So I draw a lot of different things from reality, and in this situation, it just happens to be something very political because that’s what we can share right now. In the recent past, I’ve explored the themes of capitalism and greed and how they relate to each other, and at the moment now because of this disaster, I’m very interested in nature and natural disaster and the mechanism of how religion might emerge in this kind of situation and the relationship between humans and natural disaster. Not in the sense of “OK, nature is great,” but more in the sense of “How do we deal with them? How do we try to heal through them?”

So I hear there are two more films coming. What can we expect for parts two and three?
So in part two, there is the fictionalized version of Fukushima. In this fictionalized city, after the disaster, international money comes in to create a new power plant to create an entire new type of energy. So it’s kind of Japan being used by international money. In part two, children with certain motivation all gather in the city and things happen and they try to escape as well. In part three, I’m trying to really explore the relationship with the United States and Japan. In Japan, it seems like since the war, Japan has been the puppet and it still continues to be the puppet, and that’s the reality. I’m exploring how these people are trying to swallow that as a reality and cope with that and how we might share that reality with children.

Photos: Courtesy Photos