“Getting the Right Balance Between Clarity and Intrigue”: Editor Anna Price on Tokyo Idols
Kyoko Miyake explores issues of gender and power dynamics in Japanese pop culture with her new documentary Tokyo Idols. Her film focuses on Ri Ri, an aspiring pop singer, and the adult male super-fans who surround her. Miyake hired doc editor Anna Price to help shape her hours of footage into a coherent statement on a unique (and, to many, unsavory) cultural phenomenon. Price spoke with Filmmaker about the project prior to its premiere in the doc competition at Sundance 2017.
Filmmaker: How and why did you wind up being the editor of your film? What were the factors and attributes that led to your being hired for this job?
Price: I was introduced to Kyoko by a commissioning editor whom I’d worked with before. Initially we met for a long chat and she showed me some early rushes. I was impressed by her thoughtfulness and openness and I could see a lot of potential in the material. I liked the way she had a feminist perspective but was also sympathetic to many of the male fans she was filming. I have worked on several projects that have looked at difficult subjects and “pariah” characters and I enjoy the challenge of finding warmth and connection in what might seem unlikely places. I’m also someone who isn’t afraid to dive into many hours of material and find a way through as I go.
Filmmaker: In terms of advancing your film from its earliest assembly to your final cut, what were your goals as an editor? What elements of the film did you want to enhance, or preserve, or tease out or totally reshape?
Price: The film is partly about perceptions of beauty, so I wanted it to have a strong visual aesthetic but that aesthetic couldn’t feel forced. It had to arise naturally from the characters themselves and reflect the way Tokyo is right now. Kyoko and I talked a lot about the structural challenge of weaving the different character narratives with the contextual interviews. We also wanted to explore the notion of the city as a character too – its tinny sounds and garishness – and the loneliness and alienation within. I wanted to show the contrasting desires of the idol girls and their fans and exploit the fact that in reality they barely have contact but what contact they do have is so intense because it’s been so invested in fantasy. As an editor I wanted to enhance the tenderness and genuine connection I’d encountered in the footage. The handshake sequences became a way of representing this. And humor! Humor was essential for all of us.
Filmmaker: How did you achieve these goals? What types of editing techniques, or processes, or feedback screenings allowed this work to occur?
Price: I don’t speak Japanese so I was vastly helped by the excellent audio translations and Kyoko’s explanations of certain elements in Japanese culture. I learned a lot. Our producers and executive producers were very helpful at various stages. We showed a few of them some early rough cuts of scenes and it was heartening to hear their immediate reactions: there were moments when everyone in the room found the same thing funny or touching or outrageous. I particularly enjoyed working in the latter stages with David [Drury] the composer – the music really helped enhance certain elements. One of the aspects I particularly relish about cutting documentaries is the potential for spontaneity and unforeseen changes of plan. In the later stages of the edit I re-discovered some amazing footage Van [Royko] the DP had shot at night. For me the sequence I cut from these shots is one of the emotional climaxes of the film, even though nothing is “happening.”
Filmmaker: As an editor, how did you come up in the business, and what influences have affected your work?
Price: I didn’t study filmmaking at university – I have a degree in architecture. But I always loved cinema and was interested in anthropology. I started out in documentaries as a researcher/camera assistant/associate producer. I was with a tiny company and we were making a series on US poets for British TV, so I had the luxury of going out on shoots and getting to know the contributors, then coming back and learning how to assemble everything in the edit. I cut an obituary program on Allen Ginsberg and then I began editing a lot of documentaries for the BBC, including the Emmy-winning feature doc Space Dive and BAFTA-award-winning series on the war in Afghanistan and Death Row; and many programs with the presenter Louis Theroux. Whilst working in the US I had the good fortune to meet filmmakers Jonas Mekas and Stan Brakhage, who inspired me because I could see how central the editing process was to their work. I have always admired films that defy genres or blur the lines between “fiction” and “fact” like Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s 20,000 Days on Earth and The Arbor by Clio Barnard. They were all skillfully conceived and put together without feeling contrived. Kim Longinotto is also making films that feel very relevant, with a unique perspective and empathy.
Filmmaker: What editing system did you use, and why?
Price: I used to use Avid all the time and then I switched to FCP because the BBC were using it. I hated FCPX initially but now I work on it all the time. Tokyo Idols was cut on FCPX in London.
Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to cut and why? And how did you do it?
Price: Without doubt the beginning few minutes of the film was the hardest bit to get right – it usually is. Getting the right balance between clarity and intrigue is a major challenge. In early versions of Tokyo Idols it was clear what the film was going to be about but the mystery and suspense had vanished. Then we came up with the idea of juxtaposing religious imagery with idol pop in one hard cut and it all fell into place. Sometimes you simply have to surrender to your material.
Filmmaker: Finally, now that the process is over, what new meanings has the film taken on for you? What did you discover in the footage that you might not have seen initially, and how does your final understanding of the film differ from the understanding that you began with?
Price: When I began working on the project I thought I was dealing with a fairly simple story about middle-aged men lusting after teenage girls, but as the edit progressed I realized the relationship was more nuanced, complex and less one-sided. As an outsider to Japanese culture the idol phenomenon seemed very remote from my own experiences but I can now see it tackles universal themes: namely power dynamics between the sexes and the fundamental need we all have for attention and appreciation.