Receiving its world premiere in Pingyao International Film Festival’s Crouching Tigers section, Zhang Yu’s feature debut Killing The Violet is the story of a woman dealing with the aftermath of being raped after a man breaks into her apartment.
At first she appears completely calm and assures her live-in boyfriend that there is nothing to worry about. But slowly she starts to question herself and the world around her starts to disintegrate. One of the first walls to crack is her ambition to be a writer and her feelings towards her father, a famous novelist who is comatose following a stroke, but still appears to enjoy sexual relations with his younger wife.
Zhang is a Shanghai-based director and screenwriter who made Killing The Violet as her graduation film at Tokyo University of the Arts. Produced by her classmate Lu Yanqing, the film is co-written by Zhang and Marina Kikuchi. Nobuhiro Suwa, a well-known Japanese actor and director who is also Zhang’s teacher at the University, plays the father and the cast also includes Saori, Anam Sekiguchi and Gen Ogawa.
ZHANG YU: When I was young, I liked literature, especially novels, and during elementary school wanted to be a novelist. When I grew up, I started watched films and found that to be a more effective outlet for what I wanted to say than writing novels. But in China, you need to take arts subjects as an undergraduate before you can study filmmaking, and my parents didn’t want me to take that route. So I had to finish my undergraduate studies in China before I could enrol on a filmmaking course in Japan. But while I was still an undergraduate I made some short films with friends at college.
I also chose Japan because I like Japanese films and literature. Tokyo University of the Arts is very generous in that it fully funds four filmmaking teams each year to make a short film or feature as a graduation work. We can choose between a short or feature length film, but most teams choose to make a feature.
DL: Where did you get the initial idea for this story?
ZY: Although I’m not a writer, I still write some short stories, so this film is based on one of those stories that I found to be dramatic enough to support a feature film. I chose to make a film about trauma because in the normal course of life, especially in societies in East Asia, the true feelings and relationships between people remain hidden. But once life is disturbed by shock or trauma, the real part of our emotions and personalities start to surface. Like the character in the film, it’s much easier to bury our feelings than face them head on, but the more we suppress our emotions, the more problems start to accumulate. After trauma hits, we can start to face ourselves and be more honest in our dealings with others, and that is when the healing starts to take place.
DL: Are you influenced by any writers in Japan or China?
ZY: Actually, I’ve been much more influenced by European and American writers. One of my favourite writers is Alice Munro, because she’s very good at exploring how tiny details in our lives can trigger huge disruptions or disturbances in the heart of our emotions.
DL: As student filmmaker, how did you go about casting the film?
ZY: Apart from Suwa, who was very helpful and provided a lot of opinions on set, none of the cast had much experience, although in Japan some established actors are prepared to take on student works so long as they like the script. We chose the leading actress [Saori] because I liked her understated, subtle style of acting, and also because of the chemistry I felt I had with her during the audition. I didn’t live with my mother during childhood so most of my impressions of her came from photos. When I met this actress, I found some similarity between her and my mother.
DL: How did you go about shooting the rape scene?
ZY: Most of the crew members are female and had the sensitivity to support the actress and to leave if they weren’t needed on set. During the shoot itself, we did a lot of rehearsals to work out how to make the actress feel comfortable despite the disturbing nature of the scene. We paid close attention to her requirements and the shoot itself was very smooth.
DL: What are you working on next?
ZY: I’m working on a script that will not just happen in one country, but has a fairly broad geographical scope, including some scenes in Japan. While I wrote Killing The Violet in Japanese, I’m writing this script in Chinese, although the story won’t all take place in China. As it’s a cross-border story, it will probably require financing from more than one country.