The Shooting Diary of "The Night I Swam"

Revealing behind-the-scenes details from the production of Damien Manivel and Kohei Igarashi's charming feature.
Damien Manivel

Damien Manivel and Kohei Igarashi's The Night I Swam (2017), which is receiving an exclusive global online premiere on MUBI, is showing from March 23 - April 22, 2018 as a Special Discovery. Translation for the film's shooting diary has been made by Maureen Gueunet.


As we shot the film in chronological order, this was one of the first sequence we did with Takara. It’s the middle of the night and he watches TV in silence, engrossed in a cartoon. His face is very much one of a child, and yet we can feel the strains of insomnia, his solitude while everyone is sleeping. What surprised us was his ability to forget the camera’s presence. In this instance, all of the film’s crew is around him but Takara is elsewhere. We understood then that to obtain genuine feelings from him, he should play states of mind he liked or that corresponded to the states he was himself in. When he was happy, we could do a joyful scene, when he was sad or melancholic, we had to follow his mood. He told us that the shot in which he unearths the mandarin hidden in the snow, climbs the school’s fence and devours the fruit is his favorite scene.


Takara likes to draw a lot, all the time, and he likes to offer his sketches to people. It therefore made sense for us to build the story around the one he would like to give to his father. Our initial idea was to ask him to sketch his father. One evening, after a day of filming, we suggested this to him but he refused. He was probably too reserved, or perhaps he found it too obvious… However, the next day, he came with the drawing of the multicolor fish, the octopus and the turtle. We quickly realized that this was a way better idea, it was way more spontaneous and we therefore built the entire film around that drawing. What’s funny is that after the screening in Venice, which Takara and his whole family attended, Takara told his mother that according to him, the film wasn’t finished as the scene in which he would give the drawing to his father was missing.


They are called Sakura and Socks. We were in the middle of filming another scene, in a nearby street. Keiki, the older sister, and Takara were walking on their way to school. We weren’t satisfied with the shot so we had decided to change the camera’s angle and all of the technical set up. While we were preparing the set, Takara went to play in the snow, the way he always did. All of a sudden, we heard very loud and repetitive barking. When we went to see what was going on, Takara was there, facing the two dogs, in the midst of a barking fight. That evening, when we came back after a day’s work, we went over the script and decided to include this comical scene in the film.


It was the hardest sequence-shot to film from the whole shoot. On paper, we knew we needed to film Takara caught in a snowstorm on the parking lot of the market where his dad works. One morning, the snowstorm broke out and even if we hadn’t planned to film that scene on this particular day, we quickly changed the working plan, put all of the equipment in the truck and left. It was snowing heavily, which was ideal. We set up the camera and rehearsed with Takara. Fifteen minutes later, when we were just about to start, Takara bursts into tears. He had just seen his dad leave after his night shift. Once the car had driven away, there was nothing we could do. Reality caught up with fiction—the son was confronted to his father’s absence. We managed to reassure him after all and shot the take that’s in the film, in which one can feel the thickness of his sorrow.


It’s a picture of Takara’s father, taken at the market where he works. In fact, it’s the very first one Takara took with the camera his parents got him for Christmas. It was taken on the 25th of December. When we asked Takara to reveal to us what he had taken with his camera, we were moved by this portrait of a happy and proud dad, and decided to include it in the film. Then we had a look at the other pictures (the dinosaurs at night, the landscapes, the streets, the fish…), and we had the idea that thanks to the pictures contained in this small device, Takara could find his way back to the market. In our way of building fiction, this kind of documentary material is crucial, and that’s why we decided to film a real family from the very beginning. Obviously we could have re-took some of the pictures, but it would have felt like cheating. Takara has a child’s gaze and a style proper to him—one can sense this from what he captures in his drawings.


It’s the last scene of the shoot. We went into the hills in the middle of the night and waited for the sun to rise. Winter in the Aomori region is very temperamental, the weather can be beautiful and twenty minutes later a snowstorm can break out. Luckily, the sky was clear and cloudless that night. We were all very tired but we were happy—it was a very powerful moment for the whole crew.

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