Interview with Ludovic Zuili

Last week, I came across French Slow TV. Slow TV as a concept has been a fairly popular phenomenon in Norway. NRK, the national TV station, screens hours on a train, or hours on a boat, or even hours of knitting. Tokyo Reverse (2014) is a French project and is about a man walking through the streets of Tokyo for nine hours (you can find extracts here). It sounds simple, but it isn’t. It is a mind-blowing experience, because the man is walking forward while everything else moves backwards. And this is only the case, because the footage was played in reverse. I’m still in the process of watching it, so a review will be up soon. I had a chance to catch up with the directors of the film, and they gave some interesting insight into the filmmaking process. A big thank you goes to Ludovic Zuili and Simon Bouisson.

1) Tokyo Reverse shows a man walking through Tokyo for nine hours. What has inspired you to make a nine-hour long film?

The idea of making such a long film came from France 4 (French TV channel). For the launch of their new offer, they wanted to start with a Slow TV program, making them the first French channel to experiment Slow TV. The only information we had was the length and the will to add some interactivity in the concept. We came up with the idea of Tokyo Reverse and within 1 month and a half the film was shot, edited, and aired on the 31st of March. It’s very different from any other project we ever did and will probably ever do. It’s very long and yet was made in such a short amount of time.

2) The film is rather hypnotising. The protagonist walks forward, while everyone and everything else is moving backwards. I found it difficult to attune my brain to the movement. It felt as if my brain couldn’t quite decide which movement to follow. Certainly, nine hours screening time is a challenge for most people. Why have you put an additional challenge on top of it?

When we started thinking about a Slow TV program, the first thing that we thought was that we had to try something new. We were sure we wanted to do a “human slow TV” [programme], different from the references we had from Norway. We also knew a 9 hours films is really not something people are going to watch in its entirety but we needed to find an idea that would make them stay, think, that would mesmerize them. After making some test, the “walking backwards” concept became completely obvious.
The challenge of making a 9 hour film in 1 month and a half was crazy but making it with this creative constraint made it way more exciting.

3) The film was shown on French television. For me, Tokyo Reverse would be an ideal project for a gallery. Have you thought about showing the film in a gallery? Why have you chosen TV for this adventure?

Actually TV chose us as we replied to a call for tender and won it. We both think Tokyo Reverse could really be shown in a gallery but we are also proud to be part of a real will from some channel managers to make things change. It’s so different, surprising, exciting as well. The means you can find in TV are not what they used to be but still, there are some budget and we’re really happy if we can keep on creating different TV objects.

4) An interesting fact of the film is your choice of Tokyo. I remember Tsai Ming-liang’s film Walker, which followed a slow-walking monk through the bustling streets of Hong Kong. In a way, Tokyo Reverse is similar. While your protagonist is not exactly walking in slow-motion, it seems as though you try to “slow down” a fast city. What is the reason behind your choice of Tokyo?

What’s the place in the world where it all starts, when it all ends in Paris ? The answer was Japan to us and to the channel as well.
Tokyo was our obvious choice, our first pick, and the channel thought about it as well in the beginning.
At first, there was this idea of making the slow TV program live, filming it live and airing it. It was impossible with the Tokyo Reverse concept though we may want to try it next time !
Yet we tried to respect that first idea in building the film’s chronology respecting the jet lag between France and Japan. At 22:30 in Paris, the sun starts rising in Tokyo and that’s what happened during the airing.
Then there’s the people of course, Tokyo is such a big city, with so many aesthetic, colorful, crowded places that makes the reverse idea even more hypnotic.

5) Can you tell me a little bit more about the actual shooting of the film? I imagine it must have been difficult for the crew, and especially for the protagonist who walks backwards through a busy city.

The crew was composed of Simon filming, Ludovic walking, Nicolas, the Tokyo AD who chose the perfect places to shoot and Hadrien (mister H) [who was] part of the production team that worked on the logistic etc. We also had an actor a day that walked with us and interacted with me at some point. Simon was using a Movi, a new easier steady cam, that is very heavy so it was quite a tough physical shooting for him. I had an earpiece so I could hear everything that Simon told me and he gave me the directions.

Shooting in Tokyo was both pleasant and hard. Pleasant because Japanese people are so polite and humble we never had any problems while filming. Nobody came to us to ask us to stop or anything like that. Then it was very tough, the first hour of the film, when we shot in Shibuya was crazy. So many people, so many directions as well as the noise of the city that made communication between us very hard. But still, it’s one of the best moments of the film. We had to go through this to make it better.

Walking backwards was really hard in the first shooting sessions but became quite natural in the end. The trust I have in Simon made it way easier. Walking 30 minutes backward is I think harder in a psychological way than a physical way. We shot about 5 sessions of 30 minutes every day and the last one hurt our whole bodies a lot but still, we were so excited by the project we could have done more if it was needed !

6) What was the reaction of the French audience after the first broadcast?

We were really interested in how the interactivity would work. In Tokyo Reverse, the character is sharing his thoughts, photos, videos, via the social networks. During the airing all the posts he made came up live on the @reverse account. We knew Tokyo Reverse had the potential of being big on the internet during the airing but we never thought it would be that big. We became a trending topic during the night and what surprises us more besides the quantity of tweets or retweets was how kindly the film was received. We got so many nice words, shares, retweets during the night.
In general, Tokyo Reverse was really well received during and after the broadcast.

7) Do you think Slow TV will be the future of television?

Honestly we don’t know. Slow TV is something that makes TV different, that makes people think, watching TV a way they’re not used to, Slow TV makes difference possible and real. With Simon, we believe it could be the beginning for us and for television of an exploration for new concepts, another way of thinking how TV could be made and we’re looking forward new experiences. The length of the film is one of the keys but we’d also be thrilled in making a crazy 3 minute video (for instance another project we made : https://vimeo.com/44607388 & https://vimeo.com/78580380)

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