Artist Talk: Randall Lloyd Okita
The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer
a film by Randall Lloyd Okita
“I guess you could say this is the story of two boys who were hurt when they were too young to fight back. You can’t tell someone they’re wrong about their own memories.”
With these words, The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer, a new film by Randall Lloyd Okita, takes the viewer on a ten minute journey into the psyche of two brothers who share the emotional scars, but not the memories, of a never-articulated childhood trauma.
The film uses live action footage, skilfully blended with digital animation, to create an unsettling visual montage overlaid with the filmmaker’s poetic yet dispassionate narration and a hypnotic, almost elegiac piano score. Layers are built upon layers in a dense, claustrophobic mix of aural and visual textures.
One brother, the Weatherman, leads an ordered, scheduled life, predicting the future with variable results. As the voiceover explains, “He knew how to do one thing well – to show up.”
The other brother, the Shadowboxer, seeks out violence, using his fists to hit, to hurt, and ultimately to block out the pain of his memories. “His friends would never have to ask him twice to stand up and fight for them. Although once he started they might have to ask him more than once to stop . . . He spoke as little as possible, and mostly with his hands.”
Although the two brothers lead separate, compatmentalized lives, a new crisis pulls them closer together, although true reconciliation seems out of reach, given their inability to agree on the past.
While The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer is engaging and visually stunning, it is what is left unstated that ulimately haunts the viewer. In leaving so much unsaid, there is so much space between the lines that is open to interpretation that the film stays in the mind long after the credits have rolled.
The film closes with the observation, “to face the impossibility of living without someone is also the opportunity to live with more of yourself.”
A National Film Board of Canada production, The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer was coproduced and executive produced by Michael Fukushima, who created the seminal JC animated film Minoru: Memory of Exile in 1992.
The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer was the recipient of the 2014 Best Canadian Short Film award at the Toronto International Film Festival. It shows twice at the Vancouver International Film Festival on October 1 and 9 as part of History is Old News: Canadian Images.
Randall Okita is a Toronto-based filmmaker. His other short films include Fish in Barrel (2009), Portrait as a Random Act of Violence (2013), Machine with Wishbone (2008), Transmission (2010), and For No Contract (2011).
The Bulletin talked to Randall Lloyd Okita via email about his latest film, The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer.
I reviewed your film Machine with Wishbone in November 2008 and just watched your newest film. Based on this admitedly small sampling two films it looks like you eschew traditional narrative in favour of a more oblique approach. Is this a conscious decision on your part?
It’s not really a conscious decision. I think when you have an idea for a film, you should just go after it regardless of whether it’s traditional in its form or not. In my case, I don’t set out to make a film in a certain genre or in a certain style, so I guess the way I go about things might be a little messier than others.
Your film leaves much unsaid, yet there is a lot that can be read between the lines. The trauma that drives the story remains unidentified. I could guess at what it is, but it seems beside the point. Is this as personal a film as it feels?
Absolutely. I mean, I think that’s a tough question, because any film you work on for a really long time is inevitably going to become personal. On top of that, certainly the themes and ideas in this film come from a personal place, from my experiences, my family’s experiences. Going back to this being a less traditional narrative, we certainly tried to let the emotional journey of the characters take the lead, which made the film centre less on plot points than on the characters’ internal evolution.
What propelled you to tell this story?
I was spending a lot of time thinking about these ideas, about memory and identity and how we create these versions of ourselves. I think there are aspects of both of these characters that exist in me, and exist in most people. I started thinking about some of these themes in terms of archetypes or extremes; creating these characters allows us to think about the way that we talk about our own stories and the way we interpret our own memories.
At the end of the film, before the credits, it says “For my family, who has been through worse, my parents, who showed me better, and my sisters, who make me more.” Like the film itself, it’s very thought-provoking. Has your family seen the films? What was their reaction?
They haven’t seen it yet. We’ve only recently finished the film. I have a big family, and I hope that the movie finds them, or they find it, and I hope that it helps us continue a lot of conversations.
What was it like working with Michael Fukushima? Have you worked together before?
We hadn’t worked together before, but altogether we worked for a few years on this film, so I feel like I really got a chance to get to know him and his process. Michael is one of a kind. His experience and expertise comes through in every conversation that you can have with him. I learned so much about the creative process and about making things from working with him. He is a great beacon and mentor for me in many ways. I hope I’m lucky enough to do it again sometime.
You’re both Japanese Canadian – did that influence your decision to work together? Is that a gauche question?
Listen, many things influence the decision to work with someone or not. For me, this was a huge opportunity and I was really fortunate enough to have the chance to collaborate with someone at his level. You know, he’s a legend, and that alone was enough for me to jump at the opportunity, but of course his history, as a filmmaker, as a community member, all of these things are bonuses when you’re looking to collaborate with someone. For me, the overlap in our histories, and that part of my family’s journey is at the core of a lot of things I do… so in many ways it influences everything.
This is your first foray into full-on animation filmmaking. What did you think? Will you do it again?
I loved it. It’s a whole other kind of magic, and it was a joy to learn, experiment, and to try new things. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
I imagine making a film is a lot like giving birth and you’re wrung out by the end. Have you given thought to your next project?
It’s an overwhelming, incredibly exhausting, huge process. But it’s the best, I love it, and I can’t wait to do it again! Especially the stage we are right now, where the film gets to make its way out into the world and start to meet its audience. I’ve started working on the next film already. I’m only able to stop working on one thing by will by starting to work on the next.