Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Interview With Adam Torel



Written by Josh Parmer

JP: Before we jump into things, what movies have you been into recently? I know you watch a ton of films.

AT: Hmm, I guess some things I’ve liked a lot recently are: Ken and Kazu, Three Stories of Love, Happy Hour, Being Good, and Pieta in the Toilet.

JP: Anything that really stands out of the bunch?

AT: Ken and Kazu probably. A first time, young Japanese filmmaker with a very tight and entertaining genre title done on a minuscule budget. Would compare it to Yang Ik-joon’s Breathless in many ways.

JP: Where did your passion for cinema start, and in particular, your love of Japanese cinema?

AT: I’ve been into cinema since I was very young, and worked at many cinemas and video rental shops as a teenager. I guess I learnt the most working at a shop in Florida in the US called Video Renaissance, which had about 35,000 titles, including thousands of out of print VHS tapes and such. It was heaven. I had insomnia at the time, and with that, plus watching while at the shop, I would watch 8 films a day! 

I would watch a lot of French and Italian titles of the 60's when I was young (I’ve been into 60's culture, fashion and music since a very young age) and from there I got into Japanese 60's films, which opened the door to all other sorts of Japanese cinema. 

JP: Which directors and performers from Japanese cinema stick out to you the most, and why?

AT: I guess since I got into 60's cinema, the directors like Nagisa Oshima, Seijin Suzuki, Yasuharu Hasebe, Yasuzo Masumura were the ones who got me into Japanese cinema and whom I loved from an early age. Then of course genre directors like Kinji Fukusasku and Kenji Misumi had a lot of impact on me. Recently of course, Takeshi Kitano, Shinya Tsukamoto, Sogo Ishii, Sion Sono and Takashi Miike are all very important!

Three classic Kitano films available through Third Window Films.

JP: How did the idea for Third Window Films come about?

AT: From an early age I always wanted to help promote Japanese cinema as much as I could, whether teaching lectures at a nearby University, suggesting titles at the video shop I worked in, or in other ways. At the same there was not much available on the internet or not many ways to find Japanese titles in the West (compared to the Hong Kong or Korean new wave, which were mostly available with English subtitles in one format or another), so I wanted to get into distribution. 

I moved back to the UK (I had been living in the US) and got a job at Tartan Films for a year, but despite my initial admiration for the company, I found working there was a totally different ballgame, so I decided to leave and start up my own distribution company and started Third Window in 2005, at the age of 22. 

JP: Being a huge fan of Asian cinema myself, and buying lots of films from all over the world, I really found myself attracted to your company, but as time goes on, I sometimes feel slightly worried. You take some risky choices in the titles you release, and I completely respect that and am very thankful that you do so, but how dangerous can that be for your company? You have to know going in that certain films aren't going to sell very well. What's your philosophy behind your picking in choosing?

Adam talking about Be My Baby at a festival.
AT: Yes, a while ago, when there were still high street retailers and no VOD, it was much easier to release obscure titles, even getting small theatrical releases (imagine, if you can, that titles like Fine Totally Fine and Funuke played in cinemas! That would NEVER happen now), so it was never as much a ‘risk’ as people would think, as these were obscure titles which no other distributor in the world had interest in taking on, so they weren’t expensive. Nowadays even Takashi Miike titles like Lesson of Evil are a risk! Even in recent years I’ve tried to squeeze in some super indie titles like Makeup Room, Shady, Be My Baby, etc. by sandwiching them between Shinya Tsukamoto or Takeshi Kitano classics, but it’s becoming close to impossible.

In fact, what I really love, is releasing small and unknown titles, but it’s just too tough nowadays and in fact, I’m losing all passion for what I love due to not being able to achieve anything from small titles. I guess that’s why I’ve recently been handling worldwide sales on Japanese titles, as it allows me to get titles into festivals and other distributors without having any risk onto myself, yet being able to get the titles out there nonetheless. 

JP: What are some of your favorite titles in the TWF catalog?

AT: That’s a hard question! I guess titles I’ve been the most proud (due to their success) are ones such as Confessions, Love Exposure, Kamikaze Girls, and Fish Story. Favorites would be, I guess maybe Memories of Matsuko, or Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers, or Fine Totally Fine. I don’t know, it’s too hard!

JP: How about a least favorite title, if that is possible?

Least favorite would be Teenage Hooker Became a Killing Machine, which I bought at a time when I was doing really poorly with other titles and needed something to sell (of which it did!).

JP: What's been the most rewarding experience for you in your career thus far? and also, which is your favorite and least favorite Third Window title you've released.

AT: Possibly the release of Confessions? I was the first to acquire and release it, and without any other staff, managed to get it into 50 cinemas, then sold massive amounts of DVDs and blu-rays, etc, yet without spending much money and having a poster design which was borrowed by so many other international distribution companies. I think that I really set the ball rolling on that title, and considering of all the other international distributors, that Third Window is really the smallest by far (in terms of money, man-power, etc.) I feel quite proud for what I did on that title. 

JP: So, for something for me personally, and I am sure some people are interested out there, when and how were you introduced to the works of Shinya Tsukamoto, and how has your relationship with him developed throughout the years? He seem so unique a person.

Shinya Tsukamoto
AT: Introduced as in first watched? I don’t remember to be honest. Must have been as a teenager with some of his earlier works, tough his long-time producer and sales agent has been a close friend since I started Third Window, so that helped me get into the position of being able to handle his titles, as I bought Kotoko off her, which probably started it all. As Tsukamoto recently took the majority of his catalog back (international copyrights and such), it allowed the whole restoration work to happen, as I could work directly with him.

He’s a super amazing guy, and working directly with a director who owns the copyright to his work is almost impossible outside of the super super indie scene in Japan. Even directors like Sogo Ishii, whose work I’ve tried to do the same with, have titles which copyrights are held in film committees from years back, which make it super hard to do similar to what I did with Tsukamoto. With Tsukamoto I suggested the idea a few years ago and he was very interested and since it was hassle free we just worked together on all aspects without needing to get other companies involved, so it was a fantastic experience.

JP: Are there any plans to do anymore Tsukamoto titles in the future? I know you've openly hinted at Vital, once the rights lapse.

AT: Yeah, I really wanted to do Vital next, but just found out the rights are held by Tartan until like 2024! So that’s impossible and a shame, as I don’t expect Tartan to release on blu-ray!

JP: With the older Tsukmaoto releases and your recent and forthcoming releases of the Takeshi Kitano films (which Hana-bi looks gorgeous by the way), is this going to become something more regular with TWF? More directors to look into? They seem to selling well.

AT: Yeah, though as much as these are all great classics from the past and big loves of mine (Hana-bi is in my top 3 of all time), being very honest, I don’t really enjoy it too much… They sell decently and I’m sure many people are happy about their releases, but at the same time there are so many great companies like Arrow, Eureka, etc. who handle more classic Japanese cinema to a much higher level than I, and were I to start focusing on that aspect of distribution, then who would be releasing new Japanese cinema, especially independent titles? Well, I guess nobody is, as there isn’t much of a market left due to massive video retail price decreases and VOD, but if it all disappears then I’ll feel that all I’ve done over the past 10 years would have been in vain…

JP: Shifting gears a bit, talk about your love of music. I see where you are constantly doing DJ'ing gigs. Where did it all start there, and what are some of your favorite artists?

AT:  Like movies, I’ve been into music since a very young age, and also into finding out about bands and artists who never made it big and trying to introduce them to people, which is what I guess I do with DJ-ing. I’ve been collecting records since I was a teenager and have about 5,000 or so, most of which are rare 60's and 70's soul 7 inches. 

DJ Adam
My favorite band are The Impressions and favorite album is The Young Mods Forgotten Story by The Impressions, but some of my favorite 7 inches which I own the originals of (and regularly put them into my DJ sets) are: Roy Roberts – So Much in Love (Sugar), Coco and Ben – Good Feeling (Earth World), Montclairs – Hey You, Don’t Fight It (Arch), Fortson and Scott – Sweet Lover (Pzazz) and Lil Major Williams – Girl, Don’t Leave Me (Palladium)

JP: You have done a bit of production work (Land of Hope and Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats), but recently you fully financed and independently produced your (Third Window Films) first feature film, Eiji Uchida's Lowlife Love. It was a success through a Kickstarter campaign and some lost beloved records of yours, but it's seemed to paid off. Tell us a bit about how that came to be, and the process. 

AT: Yeah, selling those records was super tough! I’m not lying when I say I shed many a tear, but can’t be helped I guess. Still have a lot of my favorite tunes so I try not to think about the ones I sold! Fuku-chan and Land of Hope were huge failures (financially, despite critical successes) and I had terrible experiences in the Japanese film committee system, so if anything I learnt a huge amount! With both Fuku-chan and Land of Hope I had worked on the idea of building up the directors name internationally, so producing a title would mean that there was already an outlet plus a financial back-up plan internationally if it failed to recoup domestically, so I took that same idea with Uchida Eiji by handling Greatful Dead and also becoming close to him as a person and professional in the process. (cont'd)...

Lowlife Love director Eiji Uchida with Adam Torel
AT (cont'd): I respect him a lot and he said that he wanted to make a new film and have me produce it, so we decided to keep it super independent and not having any film committee nonsense, but at the same time trying hard to keep the quality high. Luckily both him and I have loads of contacts in the industry so I raised the money with crowdfunding in both the UK and Japan, sold a bunch of records and called in favors from many actors and professionals to get it under way. It was a super tough shoot, but if you think about it, there’s nowhere else in the world where you can get such a talented and famous cast together with a high quality technical team (we shot with the new Red Dragon camera, which is only used in top films in Japan, not like in the West) and shoot a feature for such a small amount (our budget was under £30,000 and we paid everyone!).

JP: So, will we see more production work from TWF? 

AT: I plan to do a little more on the independent side here, probably with Uchida again, but want to take a break for a while and recoup both financially and mentally before doing too much more… I’d like to start a family at some point so want to focus on that over the next few years!

JP: Are there any possible upcoming titles you could mention, for the fans?

Ken and Kazu

AT: well, there are the 3 Kitanos out for the first few months of 2016, then Uzumasa Limelight at the end of April before Sion Sono’s Love and Peace in July. There’s also 2 more Kitanos: Kids Return and Scene at the Sea out later this year plus the Japanese indie title Ken and Kazu.

JP: You've talked in great length about the state of Japanese cinema, and how complicated and ridiculous it is about its self-containment. What do you see in the future of Japanese film, and do you think the doors will open more for getting films out to a more international audience? 

AT: Maybe the Olympics will help, plus if the 'Cool Japan' fund focuses a little more on film, but if anything it’ll just be the usual big budget titles which continue to be seen worldwide. When I say the Olympics, it’s mostly to do with if Japanese learn to, or practice speaking English better, as one of the big stumbling blocks for the promotion speakers in the independent scene and their of Japanese cinema overseas is the lack of English and lack of understanding about the international market. It’s not just cinema which is self-contained, but Japan is really more of an island and self-contained society than most people realize.

JP: What do you think about Japanese cinema appeals more to the U.K versus something like Korean cinema? I've heard Korean films tend to not perform as well for you guys.

AT: I think Korean cinema appeals much more to an international market as their focus is on technical quality, which is at a level miles above Japan. Also their marketing internationally, including better quality posters and trailers help them achieve much more. It’s just that I still think Japanese have better stories and more originality, while Korean cinema is too genre orientated with a lack of young and independent directors. If only they could mix the two, Japanese originality and storytelling with Korean technical quality…

JP: So what's next for you?

AT: Focusing this year fully on international and domestic promotion of Lowlife Love.

The whole gang of Lowlife Love
JP: If you had to pick 1 film and 1 album to spend the rest of your days with, what would they be?

AT: Young Mods Forgotten Story by The Impressions / Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters

JP: And lastly, to end lightly, what is the single most heavily underrated, or unknown film, to you?

AT: Super tough! Something like The Man Who Stole The Sun? I guess it’s not really unknown considering it’s a major Toho film, but it should be much much more widely seen internationally considering the fact it’s got such a cast, story and cult status (director only ever made 1 other film) behind it. 

Thank you Adam!!!

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