Multi DN alum Andrew De Zen, whose collaborations with Alaskan Tapes have been well documented on our pages, returns to Directors Notes with Of Woods And Seas, his latest and most ambitious work with the ambient electronic artist. Of Woods And Seas tells the story of a father who’s come to a point in his life where he needs to reflect on himself and his relationship with his son. De Zen depicts this man’s ruminations across a series of vignettes, each of which being underpinned by the song’s multi-instrumental ambience. On a visual level, De Zen embraces the spirituality of his narrative displaying his character both reflecting on his fatherhood and in awe of these strange, ethereal shapes. The film was shot across Japan, a location that birthed some similarly deep reflections from De Zen. DN dives into the inspiration for the project, how Of Woods And Seas became the filmmaker’s most ambitious shoot to date, and how anime continues to inspire his live action filmmaking in our interview below.
What was it about the setting of Japan that made you think it was right for this film?
I was traveling through Japan in August last year when I visited Naoshima Island, this rare hidden gem that is slowly becoming more and more well known. It’s a tiny island composed of many different museums built by Tadao Ando, who worked with artists to collaborate on permanent art installations. There are two from James Turrell that absolutely blew my mind. One was a room of pure color, and the other was this huge stairwell that held this obsidian black orb seated at the top of the stairs. It was quite an intense emotional experience that no museum has ever made me feel before. Coupled with Brady’s music that elicited a story about a father and son, I knew Japan had seared itself into my brain in a way that I had to tell this story there. It was 1:1 and felt perfect. Also, I’m just an anime nut so shooting in Japan was one of those things that clicks instinctually.
I knew Japan had seared itself into my brain in a way that I had to tell this story there.
It’s such an ambitious video, not only are you shooting in Japan, but you’re dealing with multiple locations and different looking segments. Did it feel ambitious to you?
Of Woods And Seas is the most insane thing I’ve ever done. By far. I get a kick out of pushing my own boundaries and have gone quite far with previous projects in the past, but this was almost to the point of insanity. I think most of our crew thought, and probably still thinks I’m a lil off my rocker. Early on Adam Maruniak, my producer, and myself had a chat about where we wanted to shoot this, Japan was in the mix, but I’ve never gone so far for a shoot before and like two villains maniacally laughing over a phone call we decided to commit to shooting there.
How was it sourcing your locations? Were you able to scout extensively?
We knew we needed a forest and a place that as Kenji Lepretre-Sato our EP at Nakama Film put it, was “home to spirits”. So with Adam, Nakama Film, Oli Millar our cinematographer, and a group of like minded insane Canadians we all flew to Tokyo. I spent about 10 days location scouting, originally wanting to shoot in Yakushima Island, where Hayao Miyazaki and his designer famously got inspiration for Princess Mononoke, my fav animated film of all time, but that was simply impractical. Sadly. One day perhaps…
I get a kick out of pushing my own boundaries and have gone quite far with previous projects in the past, but this was almost to the point of insanity.
Were you prepping for long? How were you feeling when the shoot rolled around?
In total we spent about over a month prepping in Japan. With a five day shoot. Mixing friends from Canada and a bilingual Japanese crew. Building this Man Of Light suit in Vancouver and in Tokyo, and really just fully committing ourselves to fighting for as much time to shoot as possible, with some of the most amazingly talented people I’ve ever worked with in my life. We also shot on 4 perf 35mm film, mixing color with black and white Kodak film stock. At this point shooting on film for all of my own projects is a given. There’s no justification for it anymore, it’s purely more enjoyable.
I’m guessing you had established the VFX that would’ve been needed during prep. Who did you collaborate with on those digital elements?
I brought on Impossible Objects early on who handled all of our VFX. We knew this film was highly conceptual, but being in Japan for so long it’s difficult not to find constant inspiration. So our scope slowly grew. From what we originally coined as a “family style shoot” and a few key visual effect shots to something much more massive in scale. Our amazing Production Manager Yuki would just look at me on set as these crazy things were happening all around us, saying “Oh, family style, remember…” with a wink. But in the end, what I love most are projects that make for some of the best life experiences. And I’ll never forget this, and how much time, sweat, and blood everyone put into making this one.
We knew this film was highly conceptual, but being in Japan for so long it’s difficult not to find constant inspiration. So our scope slowly grew.
You mentioned your love of anime earlier and cited Princess Mononoke as being a favourite film. I’m curious to know if you feel your appreciation of Japanese animation has an effect on your approach to live action filmmaking.
I’m personally very drawn to animation. I have a deep deep love for the medium, and I’ve been slowly chipping away at developing a series of animated films. Animation is pure joy. It’s wonderful. And keeping my inner child alive is a goal I always keep intact and watching animation, developing it myself is one of those things that brings a smile to my face. From Miyazaki to Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Hosoda, and Hideaki Anno the Japanese animated world still has strong roots in traditional 2D animation and that’s very much what gets my engine fired up. For a while now animation and anime have been what inspires me the most. Anime specifically because I grew up on shows like Dragonball Z. Those heightened emotions, sequences of intense visceral movement, and kinetic impact frames, anime is one of a kind that way. Its influences are felt everywhere, hearing how Alex Garland was inspired by Attack On Titan to rewrite a better ending for Men, it’s like… well yeah, of course, Isayama is a genius.
How do you feel you’ve evolved as a filmmaker across your work with Alaskan Tapes?
Collaborating with Alaskan Tapes over the years has been the most satisfying thing really. There’s a trust between us two when we start a project. And these are some of the most personal films I’ve made, each one feels like it’s being made at a significant time in my life when there’s a great amount of personal change happening. So you’re just able to pour all of that into it. And it’s not really something you try to do, it just kinda happens to turn out that way. So looking back I can see all these recurring themes and echoes from one film to the other, and it’s fun to just play in all of that. Life happens, you evolve, you grow a little, and then we make something together. I think that’s pretty neat.
What will you be working on next?
I really love going conceptual. It’s the way my mind works. So the next film is going to be a story of a young girl running away from home with her invisible best friend and together she learns to deal with her emotions. There are even some giant benevolent Kaiju-like creatures coupled with a mother-daughter story. All that fun stuff. But what I would really fucking love to do is a cinematic trailer… Have you seen this Armored Core IV cinematic? I haven’t been able to even find the production details on that one. I love to geek out on these sorts of things.