In 1994, Yasauki Nakajima quit his job cleaning high-rise windows in Tokyo and decided to hitchhike around Australia for six months, not knowing a single person on the continent, and not understanding a word of English.
|Yasauki Nakajima on the set of After the Apocalypse.
Nakajima, 31 years old and now living in Ridgewood, described the experience as being like a ghost in the desert. His survival in this foreign land required that he learn to communicate with others without speakingin this case by using peoples eyes and body language.
| I was making quite good money in Tokyo, but my passion was movies, Nakajima said, explaining why he left his home country for Australia. There wasnt much support for independent film in Japan at the time. I also knew I had to learn English and I had heard that Australia was a safe place.
Nakajimas six months in Australia proved to be the catalyst for what would become his first feature-length film, which contains absolutely no dialogue. After the Apocalypse, which showed last weekend at the Asian American International Film Festival in Manhattan, tells the story of five survivors in a post-urban world who must live and communicate together after their voices have been stripped by destructive gasses from the third World War.
The movie, which Nakajima calls a futuristic fable, is not only a story about survival, but also about man and woman reclaiming their past. Their lives erased at the hands of mans destruction, the four men and one woman in After the Apocalypse find themselves reduced to a barbaric, prehistoric world.
The charactersNakajima plays the lead malefight, laugh, cry and even partake in cannabilism in their struggle to survive. In the end, only the woman lives, and she gives birth to a childsignaling the survival of the human race despite the destruction of the old world.
The black and white movie was shot on 16mm film, and Nakajima did everything including directing, writing and editing the project. Principal photography was completed in 1999, but he did not complete the film until this year, just in time for its March world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas.
Nakajima shot the film in two weeks on location in Long Island City and Brooklyn. A self-taught filmmaker, the post-production work on the film took so long, partly because he was going to school full time and interning, but also because he was essentially learning as he went along.
I interned at four different post-production companies so I was able to take advantage of their editing facilities and sound editing facilities, Nakajima said.
The entire film was shot without sound, so as to block out any noise from nearby workers, cars or the subway. Interestingly, an abandoned factory just off the East River that Nakajima used as a location for the movie, was torn down immediately after filming was completed to make way for the Queens West development in Hunters Point.
Nakajima worked with a friend on soundtracking the film, but his friend eventually moved to Canada. A long-distance collaboration almost proved to be a disaster after his friend sent back the sound files, informing Nakajima that he had lost access to his studio.
The project was further complicated by the fact that the names of each sound file had been changed.
I couldnt figure out what each sound file was, and I was going to school full time, Nakajima said. So I was working all night mixing it myself. He completed it five days before opening night in Austin.
Before Nakajima began filming After the Apocalypse, he spent three months rehearsing with the actors, including using a workshop to acquaint the actors with non-verbal communication. This practice included each person taking on the persona of an animal, and trying to act in the manner of that creature.
It was not too difficult for me because for so long I had lived that way Nakajima said.
At the time that he was shooting the film, the world was consumed by the impending millenium and the fears associated with the coming of a new century, such as Y2K failures. Although the worlds landscape has certainly changed since then with the terrorist attacks of 9-11, Nakajima does not believe After the Apocalypse necessarily takes on a different meaning.
Our fear is that we always feel something is going to happen, and that feeling doesnt change, he said. Its a very universal theme and nothing has changed since we were born.
The 9-11 attacks did carry a unique ominous feeling for Nakajima, who was interning on Chambers Street in lower Manhattan on September 11th. He was exiting the Chambers Street subway stop just as the first plane hit the World Trade Center.
Here I was working on a post-apocalyptic movie about poisonous gas causing all this destruction, and I thought it was really happening, he said. I was just speechless.
Nakajima is from an island in Japan called Hokkaido, which he described as being very quiet, nothing bur cornfields and nothing is going on at all. His first experience with movies came through watching Jackie Chan.
When I started watching those Jackie Chan movies I found out that he also did the writing, editing and directing, Nakajima said. That turned out to be a big influence on me.
Nakajima eventually moved to Tokyo and purchased a Super 8mm camera. His first project was a short claymation film that he made in 1992.
That was my film school, he said. I learned by doing everything myself. Plus it was claymation so nobody was going to bother me.
Nakajimas do-it-yourself spirit is admirable, but he admits that it is also very time consuming. After the Apocalypse will be showing at the Rhode Island International Film Festival in August, as well as the Rain Dance Film Festival in England this fall.
Nakajima, who will graduate this fall from the Borough of Manhattan Community College, is busy putting together press kits and working on promotion for the festivals. This schedule has not left much time for him to begin thinking about his next project.
He said he has a couple of ideas, but needs to sit down and begin writing. After his movie played at the Asian American International Film Festival, an audience member asked Nakajima what was up next for him.
I just dont want my next movie to take five years to make, he said.
For more information about Nakajimas movie, visit www.aftertheapocalypse.com.
©Queens Chronicle - South Edition 2004