Gabriella Achadinha introduced me to the term UKIYO – うきよ – ‘The Floating World’ in the dance and fashion film that she co-directed with Alistair Blair. She explained that the term was used specifically during the Edo era [Edo is present-day Tokyo] as a way to describe an artistic movement within an urban culture. During the Edo era Japan was under the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the last feudal military government. Characterized by economic growth and an end to continuous wars, the period also saw a rise in the development and enjoyment of artistic activities. This saw the rise of theatre, dance and music movements. UKIYO-E was also the term used for Japan’s famous woodblock prints which focused on this artistic revival – depicting imagery of actors, dancers, sumo wrestlers, etc. Gabriella also explained that UKIYO is a term which can be used in Japanese slang to refer to ‘one who is on another world, whose head is nestling in the clouds on another plain’ – a ‘dreamer’. With this definition, dancer Tomoko Kim was the perfect protagonist for the film. When she was a child Tomoko’s grandmother would refer to her as UKIYO, her obsession with dance making her take on the characteristics of a dreamer. “Thus, the dance video drew inspiration from this ethereal meaning of the word. Overall danced in a contemporary style, the video transitions from a mixture of the traditional Japanese butoh and bugaku into an African-influenced Dogon Mask step, ending off with a fluid fully-contemporary dance,” Gabriella describes. With Tomoko’s angelic movements combined with garments by South African designers, the film becomes a dream. As the viewer you are transported to three different locations, and the music lulls your senses as you watch Tomoko move across the screen. I had an interview with Alistair and Gabriella to find out more about the inspiration for the film and their creative process.
Where did the idea for this fashion/dance film come from? What made you feel you wanted to connect dance and fashion in this way?
Gabriella: I’ve always been a massive fan of dance videos, from Storyboard P to Lil Buck – contemporary dance combined with the medium of filmmaking has always been fascinating. We have such incredible local designers that it felt right to combine dance with showcasing local fashion. I met Tomoko Kim at a house party at the same time I was chatting to Alistair about collaborating on a project, it all fell into place naturally. Alistair and I have a very calm, easy-going rapport and immediately there was a click in our visions and working styles. Working together was perfect as he understands and has such an incredible technical and location vision whereas I steer more towards working with narrative/performers and art department/wardrobe. It was a dream working with Alistair as we share a very similar aesthetic preference.
Alistair: Shooting fashion has been my main focus yet I like to incorporate the arts into my work. It allows one to feel something when they view a project like this, at least I hope it does. Living at The Forge in Kalk Bay has opened my understanding of art and creativity thanks to the guiding hand of Katherine Glenday. So when Gabi presented Ukiyo as an idea, I was really eager. She has a really cohesive understanding of all the parts that need to come together to make a film. We both naturally fell into our roles and I appreciated her vision and creativity. I can’t take much credit to be honest. I was really mostly choosing the way I would like to shoot the project and how I would go about it. Gabi was a constant source of good opinions and ideas when we went over how we would light, choose locations and film the project.
Could you share a bit more about the South African garments that you show in the film? Was the fashion the starting point for this film? This is a dance/fashion film, how did you incorporate the different styles of the designers with the contemporary dance styles you featured in this film?
Gabriella: The film started off solely as a dance film. However, whilst conceptualising the film and reaching the topic of styling we decided it would be best to represent some local designers. We left the styling decisions to Sarah Byram, wardrobe stylist on the project, and her choices were extremely on point in matching the individual dance themes to clothing items. She combined pieces from local designers such as Sheila-Madge Design (with illustration by Andel Olivier Art) and Meso with vintage finds from her label Better Half Vintage, as well as Babette Clothing. It was crucial for us to match the pieces with the dances being represented thus the need to source vintage items that matched the bukoh and Dogon styles, with contemporary touches that linked the traditional with the modern.
You shared some interesting info on Tomoko Kim and how she connects to the idea of UKIYO through the name her grandmother gave her. Could you please share a bit more about your choice to have her be part of the film?
Gabriella: Japanese culture and its traditional butoh and bugaku dancing styles have recently become quite the inspiration to me – it’s rigid yet free-flowing nature, the beauty in its subtle emotion. Meeting Tomoko when I did was serendipitous, she’s a professional contemporary dancer and is extremely passionate about diverse styles. Her background in traditional Japanese, as well as modern and African contemporary styles, made her the best match for the project. She also has an incredibly strong, charismatic energy. I’ve loved the word ‘UKIYO’ for a while – ‘the floating world’, a term used for those on another plain, ‘a dream world’. But I definitely wanted Tomoko’s input with the title as she is Japanese. It was great when she was excited by it due to her background and her grandmother endearingly calling her that.
It is interesting that you divided up the film into three sections. Could you perhaps share more about how you conceptualized the film and your creative process? What were your ideas behind the different spaces and colours in this video?
Gabriella: UKIYO is all about a floating world, a world in which a dreamer exists, away from the mundane reality. We wanted to depict this via the various spaces and corresponding colour palettes, representing the dream worlds one creates through prominent influences, especially as a dancer/a creator. The three locations represent the three different dance style influences and the colours further heighten these dream worlds. A shout out to Henry Uys, our editor and grader, for meticulously colour grading the project to represent UKIYO. The conceptualisation was greatly initiated by working with Tomoko as we knew we wanted to do a dance video but she was the catalyst in how it turned out. She gave a lot of input into the dance styles. We researched diverse dance styles and loved how UKIYO / a dream world is beautifully accurate in explaining the space in which an amalgamation of experiences and exposures co-mingle and thus create. Alistair, Tomoko and I spoke about individual inspirations and moved from there. Overall it was a very collaborative project between all departments.
Alistair: The different spaces had to connect to the story for us. After discussing a few ideas we came to these three locations. They felt perfect to reflect the ideas of the story. The forest we choose is ideal as a Japanese setting, whilst the warehouse had this rawness that suited the African contemporary dancing and finally shooting a neon lit scene has been something I’ve wanted to do for ages so that was kind of a dream come true. It’s never perfect when it’s not a closed set but I think we did a pretty good job.
The music adds to the kind of dreamy feel of the short film and it almost mimics the movements of the dancer. How important is the music in engaging the dancer? Could you share more about who you got on board to produce the music?
Alistair: Gabi and I discussed what type of mood and feeling we were going for in terms of music so when I mentioned that a friend of mine, Mishaq Diesel, could perhaps produce something for us we listened to some tracks he sent us and were sold. We struggled a bit with the middle section because we had a tough time filming that from a time perspective but I felt Mishaq really produced something excellent for us. It’s got this great rhythm that carries you from beginning to end.
What were you looking to do with this project?
Gabriella: Honestly, we were not interested in reaching a specific goal with the project as much as we were focused on the process of collaboration in creating a film we felt we could grow and learn from, as well as showcasing Tomoko’s unique dancing style. This allowed for a very relaxed and experimental process. Alistair and I felt we needed a bit of a break from commercials and wanted to create something a bit wild and unlimited.
Dancer: Tomoko Kim
Production & concept: Gabriella Achadinha
Directed by: Gabriella Achadinha & Alistair Blair
Director of photography: Alistair Blair
B camera: Keenan Ferguson
Camera assistant: Ted Saczek
Edit & grade: Henry Uys
Styling: Sarah Byram
MUA: Thandeka Steenkamp
Music: Mishaq Diesel
Credit design: Marlize Eckard
Special thanks to Better Half Vintage, Maison Meso, Sheila-Madge Design, Andel Olivier Art, Babette Clothing, Max Botha from Hokey Poke Bar,Isak Persson, SUnshine Co.