Screenwriter Yuji Sakamoto, producer Hisashi Tsugiya and director Nobuo Mizuta talk to TV Drama about their creative collaboration for drama series at Nippon TV.
Japan’s Nippon TV has emerged as a powerhouse in the Asian scripted-formats business thanks to two hit dramas, Mother and Woman-My Life for My Children-. Both have been remade to great success in Turkey (with hit local versions that have sold well globally) and both are due to be adapted in France following a deal announced at MIPTV with production house Incognita. Those two shows, along with the more recent anone, emerged from a collaboration between Sakamoto, Tsugiya and Mizuta.
Mother, Sakamoto’s first series for Nippon TV after a string of hits for Fuji TV, started as a single image in the screenwriter’s mind. “In the snow, one lonely woman is walking with a little girl and they are holding hands,” Sakamoto tells TV Drama via Nippon TV’s head of marketing, Yuki Akehi, who was translating the interview. “I was trying to attach a story to go along with that visual. That’s where it started.”
Sakamoto says he was initially nervous about working with Mizuta, a director whose work he had high regard for. “I had heard that he corrects all the scripts! When I first met him, I saw what a gentleman he was. He very much helped me [improve] my scripts.”
Their next collaboration was on Woman-My Life for My Children-, which Sakamoto says emerged from a childhood fascination with death. “I would ask my parents, What happens when you die? What is death? What does it mean to be dead? They never had a good answer for me. I wasn’t sure what I would say to my children when they asked me the same question, so I wrote this story to find the answer.”
Next up came anone, which explores themes such as human connections, aging and the power of memories. All three shows place women at the center of the storylines.
“I want to focus on people who are weak or whose voices aren’t heard in society,” Sakamoto says. “In Japan, the position of women is still very low compared with major established countries. It was very important for me to depict, from a male perspective, the situation of women in Japan. I hope that my work will lead to women being understood better.”
Asked about his writing process, Sakamoto says he likes listening to loud rap music while at work on his computer. After a while, “the music goes away, and that’s when I know I’m writing well!”
Mizuta refers to the collaboration with Sakamoto as a “healthy, nervous relationship,” based on mutual respect. “His scenarios are at such a high level and are very difficult to make into actual visuals. I’m always challenged to create the best that I can based on his scripts. Even though I’ve shot a scene and I think I like it, if Sakamoto-san sees it and says, that’s not the way he wants it, I would reshoot it.”
Sakamoto, Mizuta and Tsugiya have been thrilled to see their creations remade internationally.
“When I was first writing, of course I had the Japanese audience in mind,” Sakamoto says. “I was very gratified that [my ideas] could cross borders and be depicted by international casts and crew. My stories are quite personal. It’s just me. It’s not a wide world that I depict. It was the happiest moment for me that my scripts would be adapted in a country other than my own.”
Mizuta was impressed that the Turkish producers who adapted Woman and Mother were able to stretch the storylines well beyond the 10 to 11 episodes in the Japanese originals.
Meanwhile, Tsugiya is excited to see the next phase of collaboration for Nippon TV outside of scripted remakes. “I’m very enthusiastic about searching for new ways of doing production together with international partners,” he says.
As for a cultural exchange that would bring a Turkish story to Japan for a remake, Sakamoto says he’s up to the challenge. “That gets me excited because maybe I can change by having that experience. I’m sure that I would have the same experience I had with [Mizuta and Tsugiya] because they helped my stories grow so much. So if I were to do what you suggested, I’m positive that would change me in a good way and make me grow even more!”