Cambodian director Sotho Kulikar will step back behind the camera tomorrow for the first time since finishing her award-winning debut feature The Last Reel as she begins principal photography on her second film, Beyond the Bridge, with a quick 10-day shooting schedule.
The Last Reel – scripted by UK screenwriter Ian Masters – placed the first-time filmmaker in the international spotlight, winning the Spirit of Asia Award at the 2014 Tokyo International Film Festival and serving as Cambodia’s submission for the foreign-language Academy Award last year.
This time around, Kulikar penned the story herself, and has turned the lens beyond the Kingdom. Like The Last Reel, it spans the decades.
“It’s a Japanese story set in Cambodia,” the director explained in an interview this week. “It’s a love story that evolves with the [Cambodia-Japan Friendship] Bridge that was built in the 1960s, destroyed, and then rebuilt.”
Beyond the Bridge is one of three 30-minute films created in a collaboration with two other Asian directors, Ma Mendoza (Philippines) and Isao Yusikada (Japan). The filmmakers met up in Tokyo last year to brainstorm ideas, and the stories share a common thread – though Kulikar remained mum on the details.
The project, the Asian Three-fold Mirror, is organised by the Japan Foundation and the Tokyo International Film Festival, where the omnibus film will premiere in October. Each smaller piece features a mix of dialogue in the director’s native tongue and in English.
Likewise, Kulikar’s new film will be a collaboration between cultures. The crew is both Cambodian and Japanese, and designers have constructed a set in Phnom Penh to depict the parts of the story that take place in Japan.
Beyond the Bridge stars Japanese actor Masaya Kato as Fukuda, who first travels to Phnom Penh in the 1960s, and newcomer Chumvan Sodhachivy as his Cambodian love interest, Mealea. Kulikar was sure that Kato would resonate with a local audience. “Everyone Cambodian knows him,” she said.
The film features three decades in Cambodian and Japanese history: the ’60s, ’70s and ’90s. Kulikar said she had spent her nights this week selecting archival footage, secured from both the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) and Japan’s public broadcasting corporation, Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK), in order to set the scene.
Kulikar added that Beyond the Bridge would also draw heavily on Japanese cinema for influence.
“Since a very young age, I was fascinated by Japanese movies,” she said, before rattling off the names of Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu as early influences. Lately, Kulikar’s been studying the works of her contemporaries, like Naomi Kawase.
The filmmaker said she had drawn on the “Japanese way of storytelling” in The Last Reel and that she hoped to veer in that direction again in Beyond the Bridge, adopting the realism of Japan’s “golden years”.
“Japanese cinema is very unique,” Kulikar said. “They don’t like exaggeration. I think that’s what I like about it.”