How Andrew De Zen found peace in a Japanese forest
Set in Tokyo, Of Woods and Seas is the fourth instalment in Andrew De Zen's sublime series of short films accompanying musician Brady Kendall’s Alaskan Tapes project. shots speaks to the director about mythical motifs, finding inspiration in animation, and shooting in a forest 'full of spirits'.
Titled Of Woods and Seas, this captivating short film is director Andrew De Zen's fourth collaboration with Toronto-based musician Brady Kendall, as part of his ever-evolving music project, the Alaskan Tapes.
The ongoing collaboration has seen the director produce a series of thought-provoking and thematically connected short stories entwined with symbolism and mythology to accompany Kendall's ambient tracks.
Through a stunning combination of live action and VFX, the film, produced through Nakama, explores the realisation that there can be someone more important in your own life than yourself, as we watch a father confronting his past.
Unlock full credits and more with a Source + shots membership.
- Production Company Nakama
- Director Andrew De Zen
- Editorial Outsider
- Color Bacon X
- VFX Impossible Objects
- Executive Producer Kenji Lepretre Sato
- Producer Adam Maruniak
- DP Oliver Millar
How did the concept for the film evolve, and how does the narrative connect to the music?
The original seed I intended to explore was the moment of realisation where you understand there is something more important in your life than yourself. I also wanted the film to be a kind of celebration of life. The music of the whole album is light, airy, and makes you feel like you could float. As I continued to iterate, it slowly became about a father confronting his past in a metaphysical way.
So, I decided to contrast the almost hypnotic lightness of the music with a very emotional journey the character goes through, but it always had to retain the songs softness. I suppose that feeling you experience when you “let go of something” or find “acceptance” in a particularly difficult period in life, normally comes with a sense of weightlessness afterwards. It was this emotion I was chasing and using as my north star. Everything connected back to that.
This is your fourth collaboration with Brady Kendall, what is it about his work that keeps drawing you back? How do your creative visions align?
Hmmm. Well maybe it’s because he’s just so damn handsome and fun. Haha. Honestly, collaborating with Brady is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had. It’s a rare thing to get what is essentially full creative freedom to make these films together.
We all knew we needed what Kenji Sato, our EP, coined as “a location that is filled with spirits”.
I run him by the baseline concepts and shoot him over my treatment. We chat. I run off and give him updates here and there, maybe some photos. But I also love surprising him. And it’s not like getting sign off or anything like a client. We’re just two little kids running around being like – “I’m excited”, “Me too!”.
It’s this inner child I try to preserve and keep intact so that has a lot to do with it. Together I’d say we sync up really well. We both have poetic and surreal sensibilities. Similar tastes. And Brady is continuously iterating on his music. Always. I find that deeply inspiring.
Above: Behind the scenes imagery
Why did you choose to set it in Tokyo?
My superman of a producer, Adam Maruniak, and I were on a call very early on in development. We knew we needed something special. I pitched Japan, he thought the same thing, and then we kinda just said, yes. Okay. This is it. Nakama Film and their lovely team in Tokyo came on board quickly with Oliver Millar set as our cinematographer and from there we knew we had a dream team.
The scope of the project grew as time went on. Japan will do that to you. I swear! You get swept up in the insane locations and textures there, it’s quite overwhelming, in the best of ways.
I had originally wanted to shoot in Yakushima Forest, the place Hayao Miyazaki and his designer got the inspiration for Princess Mononoke’s environments, which is also my fav animated film. There’s a lot of personal relevance to setting the film in Japan – my own experiences in the country, a deep love for the aesthetics, cinema, and animation there, and to push my own creative boundaries. It obviously had to fit the whole. We all knew we needed what Kenji Sato, our EP, coined as “a location that is filled with spirits” and the locations in Japan have that and more.
Above: Still from Of Woods and Seas
Can you tell us more about the technical side of creating the film? Were there any major difficulties to overcome?
We shot on the Arriflex 235, using 4perf 35mm with a mix of Kodak color and double-x black and white film stock. We shot for about five full days. The man of light took a lot to develop and get right, and I really need to shout out my wardrobe extraordinaire Alyson Holler and art director Brodie Kitchen, who painstakingly constructed this reflective suit, soldering LED lights into it.
For the past few years, I’ve slowly allowed my love of animation and anime to inspire me the most. It comes back to what keeps the kid in you alive.
So, what you see in camera is actually there practically, a glowing figure emanating light, just touched up in VFX. With our lovely Kyle Hollett wearing the suit in deadly Tokyo heat/humidity. It was incredibly tricky, but the result is exactly what I had in my mind. Hats off to the whole team and what they managed to pull off. Everything else was carefully planned out VFX shots with lighting, our cinematographer wizard Oliver Millar, on set supervisors, and collaborating closely with our VFX supervisor Zach Zombek and the team at Impossible Objects.
The scope of the project grew as time went on. Japan will do that to you. I swear! You get swept up in the insane locations and textures there, it’s quite overwhelming, in the best of ways. But I’m really proud of what IO and everyone achieved on this film. Especially Caitlin Byrnes, our production designer, who managed to create some amazing spaces with richness and subtlety. All these amazing people by the way who have flown down from Canada to join us on this crazy ambitious project. It was a killer combination of friends from Vancouver and new friends in Tokyo that made up this talented international crew of misfits.
Above: Behind the scenes imagery showing how the 'man of light' and glowing orb were created.
Are there any films, directors, or other visual inspirations that have particularly influenced your work for Alaskan Tapes?
Oh of course. I watch a lot. Especially animation. For the past few years, I’ve slowly allowed my love of animation and anime to inspire me the most. It comes back to what keeps the kid in you alive. Directors like Hayao Miyazaki, Mamoru Hosoda, Hideaki Anno, Makoto Shinkai, and Satoshi Kon are all up there. And anime like Attack on Titan, Ghost In The Shell, Neon Genesis Evangelion, plenty more. I can really geek out on this stuff.
It’s very evocative and chilling. I’m not a religious person, but you leave that space kind of thinking “this is the closest I’ll come to touching God”.
I absorbed myself in Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s work who is also just one of the best directors working today. There’s also Edward Yang, his films really changed my life. Damien Chazelle’s editing is always something I connect with too, there’s a rhythm and vitality, a crescendo build that – like some of my favourite music – hits with strong emotional movements.
The film is connected to a beautiful quote by Benjamin Niespodziany, can you tell us more about how this links with the story and why it inspired you?
"Of woods and seas, belong to me. We went to the woods and knew we knew nothing. We saw the sea and shrunk to our feet. I'm in charge of the fading out. Of the stumbling deeper into the dream" - Benjamin Niespodziany.
I love this poem from Ben. When I was editing with Michael Barker, Brady sent us material that he had done for the album, Who Tends A Garden and along with some artwork this poem was attached. This is one of the reasons I love collaborating with Brady. We get to mix in all sorts of things that scratch the creative itch. So, it came in later in the game, but I think adds a nice touch that enriches what Alaskan Tapes is all about.
Above: Circles are a repeating motif in the film, such as the marbles and spherical orbs.
Spheres are a recurring motif throughout the film, such as the marbles, and the Newton's cradle. What’s the relevance of this?
The goal was to create iconic images to compliment the more abstract and conceptual elements. One of the original things that inspired me was an experience I had on Naoshima Island, in Japan. In the Chichu Art museum there is a permanent art installation from Tadao Ando and James Turrell where a massive black orb sits atop a staircase. It’s very evocative and chilling. I’m not a religious person, but you leave that space kind of thinking “this is the closest I’ll come to touching God”.
Where does change normally come from and what pushes us to face our mistakes in our own lives?
In our past films together, I’ve established this enigmatic perspective or other. In Places, it was a literal mythic forest. I wanted to intentionally echo those motifs. Where does change normally come from and what pushes us to face our mistakes in our own lives? It can be people, experiences, or things. The Orb is a manifestation of something deciding to put a mirror up in front of this character.
Light also plays an important role in the story, like the glowing orbs and bright white figure at the end. Was this a visualisation of the protagonist’s realisations?
Yes, the man of light! Light definitely plays a huge role in the film. And it is a particular visual I’ve wanted to put to film for a long, long time. Inspired originally from some of Trent Parke’s photography and his use of light. Well on that note, I’m pretty sure it was Lynch who said this, but to give it away would take the piss outta the whole thing. Somethings should be left unsaid.
Above: More behind the scenes imagery.
Will you be making more films for the Alaskan Tapes? What concepts will you explore next?
Oh absolutely. We’ll see what shakes out, but why not. That’s my answer to a lot of things. Ah, why not? If it feels right, do it. I spend a lot of time considering and thinking about things, then I throw my plans to the wind to make a sudden left turn.
There’s a lot I’ve been planning over these past years that I’m in development on. A long gestating animated series of films. A project dabbling in horror which was the most fun I’ve had writing. It deals with a group of teenagers going on a joyride that ends in a horrifying, Lovecraftian style nightmare. But. The next thing coming up.
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. As you can see, I really love adding a conceptual element to things. The geek in me needs something to geek out on.