When the film Firefly Dreams was released in Tokyo in the summer of 2001, its poetic, subtle images of everyday life in Japan struck a chord with many moviegoers. The storyline flows gently, showing how a high school girl and an elderly woman in rural Japan bridged the gap between the generations.
John Williams (39) wrote and directed the film. He also lectures on British culture at Sophia University in Tokyo. He says he wanted his film to show what can happen when a young Japanese person strikes up a friendship with someone who was young long ago.
Williams was born in St. Albans, England. He was fascinated by films from an early age, and after graduating from Cambridge University, he began writing film scripts. At the time, he was teaching French at a secondary school in the UK. This was a frustrating period for him, because his teacher's salary was low and producers were showing little interest in his scripts.
It was around this time that newspapers were printing ads for English teachers in Japanese schools. "A whim took hold of mewhy not go and live in Japan for two or three years, and write a script there?"
He arrived in Japan in 1988, at the age of 26, and began teaching at an English conversation school in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture. "I had always admired Ozu Yasujiro's films. To people in Britain, and to me, his films were memorable because they depict Japanese traditional culturethe tatami mats and shoji sliding doorsand because of his effective use of ma, the highly suggestive pause in a conversation that is unique to Japan. We thought of his films as something serious and slightly mysterious. But after I began living in Japan, I realized that we were missing the point. Ozu's films actually show a comical side of everyday life in Japan, and have many scenes written to make people laugh."
This discovery showed Williams that the goal in film making is not just to express something artistically, but to have fun, too.
Williams' script for Firefly Dreams (Japanese title: Ichiban Utsukushii Natsu) was partly inspired by a young girl he ran into in Japan. When he was her age he felt distant from adults, just as she did. This psychological distance prevented him from talking with his grandfather about his life building boats in different parts of the world. Williams says the script took shape naturally after he thought back to his own youth. He wrote it in English, had it translated into Japanese, then showed it to the actors. They suggested some changes and put some of their own ideas into the dialogue. A scene was also added to have some of the actors talk about their experiences during the war.
Firefly Dreams was filmed in the village of Horai-cho, in an unspoiled mountain valley in Aichi Prefecture. Some scenes were shot in an inn at a hot spring, some in an abandoned farmhouse.
"The locals gave us their entire support during the two months of filming. Every villager who participated in the project was a volunteer. The cameras rolled during the day, and in the evening we partied with food and drink. Making the movie there was a lot of fun."
Williams' target audience had been middle-aged people, but the film has attracted a cross-generation crowd, from senior high school students to the elderly. It has received high praise in Japan and abroad, and won a number of prizes at film festivals, including the 2001 Hawaii International Film Festival.
The English title, Firefly Dreams
, reminds us that no matter how short life may be, we can all light up the world by fulfilling our dreams. Williams continues to teach, but he's also working on ideas for his next film, pursuing his own dream.
Enjoying a laugh with a Sophia University student. Williams' lectures are noted for their interesting content.
Filming in Horai-cho, Aichi Prefecture. Williams says he discovered that making a movie is fun, partly because it involves working as a team. (Photo credits: There's Enterprise Inc.)http://www.100meterfilms.com