Q&A: Filmmaker Sotho Kulikar on bridging past and present
Asian Three-fold Mirror: Reflections is the first of a film series to deepen mutual understanding within Asia through Asian film. On the eve of its Cambodian premiere, Cambodian director Sotho Kulikar, whose previous films include The Last Reel, sat down with Anna Koo to talk about her short film Beyond the Bridge, which is one of three parts to the series. Written by screenwriters Ian Masters and Jon Smith, based on the theme “Living Together in Asia”, the film bridges the gap between the past and present, the old generation and the new, and mother and daughter.
What kind of message did you hope to convey through the Asian Three-fold Mirror project?
Asia is very much alike, but if we do not understand each other, it seems to be very far apart. This project has shown [to me] that Asia is actually quite closely connected, in terms of culture, life values and the way we look at things. When [the three of us directors] started to make the films, we didn’t talk to each other. The three of us actually watched all three films for the first time at the Tokyo International Film Festival. The first time we watched it, it was truly amazing. With just the concept alone, we ended up with a lot of complementing [elements] and a lot of support between the three stories without realizing it.
Was there anything in common that you felt really stood out in the three films?
The way we look at life, the way we value our life, [and] the way we think. My film is about this Japanese young man who came back to Cambodia in the 1990s, trying to cope with what he has lost here and to connect the love of his life [with] what he has lost. [Director Isao Yukisada’s film] is about an old Japanese man living in Malaysia and the differences between his generation and the new generation in terms of life values. His children kind of abandoned him, because [familial ties] in Japan are no longer as close as before. He goes to Malaysia, where he finds that people still value [elderly] parents, people still view family culture very strongly.
Director Brillante Mendoza’s film is about a Filipino man who lived in Japan and he [is deported back to the Phillippines]. He has lost his identity and cannot find his feet in his society any more. What really connects us is how we look at life, how we value the family, and how the new generation is very different from the old generation in terms of thinking. In my film, the main character is wearing a sarong and taking a shower. In Isao’s film, the main character is wearing a sarong and taking a shower as well. And I just felt like ‘Wow, this is all Asian’.
The bridge is a dominant symbol in Beyond the Bridge. What does the bridge mean to you personally?
That’s the English language name. In Cambodian, we say Spean Nisai (“bridge of destiny”), because it is more than a physical bridge itself. It is a bridge that bridges the past and the present; bridging between generations and also between mother and daughter. In the film, it is more than just a bridge. It is about this man who has been here, who fell in love with Cambodia through a romantic relationship he had with a Cambodian woman. He went back to Japan for a long time [because of the war] and there is a period in his life that we do not know. He comes back in the modern day to try and bridge his past and his present, to accept what he has had and what he has lost.
For me, I am making this film for my mother. For the character, he comes back and everything else has changed. The people who are gone, who had died, we know they had suffered. But the people who live, they carry all that burden and have to live seeing everything around them. That is the kind of sentimentality that I grew up seeing in my mother, taking all [that] burden. She has lost the love of her life and she raised us up surrounded by everything that was once beautiful for her.
So Beyond the Bridge is in a sense a tribute to your mother?
The story itself is about the war that had happened in Cambodia, and the relationship between the Japanese man and Cambodian woman is fiction based on a real event. But the emotion of the acceptance, the emotion of the bridging, is based on [my mother]. She doesn’t know yet, but the song I have inserted at the end of the movie is the song that my mother and father first danced to together.
Are there any plans to develop it into a full-length film?
I am not able to say yet but there is a discussion about it and there is still a lot of work to do. So there is nothing confirmed on that front yet. When I wrote the story [with Ian and Jon], it was actually for a full-length film, so the ideas for the full-length have existed before this short film became part of Asian Three-fold Mirror, so I’m very interested.
The special gala screening of Asian Three-fold Mirror: Reflections will be held this evening at Chaktomuk Theatre, 6pm, as part of the Cambodia International Film Festival.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.