When HBO Asia dropped its horror anthology Folklore in 2018, I remember asking its showrunner Eric Khoo, “If the show gets picked up for a second season, will he consider enlisting female directors?” It’s a question that I would pose him time and again, up to the point that he stopped answering my WhatsApp messages (kidding about the WhatsApp, not the question).
Lo and behold, flash forward to three years and one pandemic later, Folklore returns with six more spine-tingling tales inspired by superstitions and myths from the different corners of Asia, two of which are by — wait for it — by female directors: ‘The Day The Wind Blew’ by J-pop star Seiko Matsuda. and The Excursion by Singapore’s Nicole Midori Woodford. The other helmers hail from Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
“So Douglas, you happy?’ says Khoo, 56, with a laugh, in a Zoom conference with 8days.sg and other journos from the region. Very, actually. Guess I can now stop stalking him (kidding again).
Described as a “romantic horror”, The Day The Wind Blew tells the story of a pop singer (Win Morisaki of PrizmaX) who takes a shine to a schoolgirl (Haori Takahashi). Alas, a supernatural entity threatens to come between their blossoming relationship.
The story — said to be based on a real-life encounter with a phantom fan — marks Matsuda’s directorial debut as well as her second collaboration with Khoo, who directed the 59-year-old singer-actress in 2018’s Ramen Teh, the food-themed drama that also starred Jeanette Aw, Takumi Saito and Mark Lee.
Here, Khoo and Matsuda (joining the roundtable online from Japan) share more details about their spooky instalment.
How did this collaboration come about?
ERIC KHOO: Seiko bought me dinner and after that we started talking about ghost stories, and Seiko knows I love ghost stories. Then she goes, “Do you want to hear this ghost story that happened to me?” So it was a personal experience that she had, and as I listened on, I felt she had something very strong. And having collaborated together for Ramen Teh, I knew also that Seiko was interested in directing. I really value Seiko in the sense that I find her very sensitive, very creative, very smart, and I always thought it’d be so cool if I could produce something for her to direct. And I know that she’s not that much of a horror fan (laughs). After this story that she told me, it stayed in my mind and later on we reconnected and I said, “Look, Seiko, would you like to write it and would you like to direct it for Folklore?” And I think I told it to you on your birthday, right? (Ed: March 10)
SEIKO MATSUDA:Yeah, right!
EK: And you were like, “Oh yes, I’d love to do it!” And that’s how it happened. When I look at the six episodes, they’re all diverse, very different, and this one is the one with a love story and it’s really, really beautiful. She composed the music as well.
SM: He explained everything (laughs). But yes, I never expected to direct a horror film. It was just a wonderful experience for me, so thank you, Eric.
Seiko, did Eric give you full rein of creativity to go for whatever you want? What were his guiding principles?
SM: When I worked on Ramen Teh with Eric, I was watching what he did and everything. I learnt so much from him as a director and human being. I’m so impressed. And to say this, in front of Eric, he’s a wonderful person and he’s a wonderful director. So that was a great experience for me to work with him on Ramen Teh. And he gave me a wonderful chance like this — directing something. He gave me wonderful advice. And after that, when we started shooting, because of COVID-19 he couldn’t come to Japan so I was alone. But he gave me courage. Every morning, he’d send me an e-mail saying, “Have a good day, you can do it, go for it!” So he gave me the courage to go through with this experience, which is really, really appreciated. So yes, he was always with me in my heart and he gave me strength and courage.
Speaking of COVID-19, you couldn’t have picked a more exciting time to make your directing debut. There is a concert performance, which must have been a nightmare to shoot because of the COVID-19 safety protocols.
SM: When we were shooting, I thought the most important thing was safety to everybody, including the actors and crew. So the producers and I talked a lot about safety. We had to protect everybody from COVID-19, so we avoided having too many people. We chose places that were really private and safe. So we really cared about every detail. Everybody was just perfect, and we hired specialists to protect the people. So everything happened smooth and fast. Eric told me to do everything fast!
EK: And don’t go over budget (laughs).
SM: Yeah! Everything was nicely organised, so I would say we were really safe.
Seiko, you mentioned that Eric was very helpful in giving you advice. Besides Eric, which other filmmakers do you look up to?
SM: I love love stories, so I like Nancy Meyers. I like her movies, and I also like Eric because he’s my mentor! And he makes me feel secure in his arms. Thank you, Eric!
Eric is also the executive producer of Food Lore. If there’s another season of that show, and if you were to direct an episode, what food would you feature?
SM: Japanese traditional food, like traditional sushi.
On a scale of one to 10, how much you would score Seiko’s directing debut?
EK: I would say 9/10. I’m really impressed because she came up with the story, she directed it and she composed the music. She was doing so. It’s holistic, right? You look at it and it all comes together. I remember when we were getting all the rushes, I was sitting down with the editor putting it all together, and it was really exciting cutting it here and seeing these really strong trademarks. I’m giving her a nine out of 10, because I want to do something else where I can give her a 10 out of 10. Because she’s got to do another one!
Seiko, are you planning to direct again?
SM: Definitely. If I have the chance to do it, yes, I’d love to do it, because I want to learn more about directing. Right now, I just feel relieved to have finished this episode (laughs). I’ll think about it later. I’m happy to finish this for now.
Now that you’ve done horror, what other genres would you like to dabble in?
SM: I would take on the challenge for anything. Even though it’s horror, I expressed it as a love story, so I’d love to challenge myself with anything interesting.
EK: I think Seiko would make a great musical. I went to her concert and it was incredible. For a lot of that, if you can put it into a contemporary setting, I think it could be beautiful. Hopefully, we can do something like that.
Like an autobiographical film?
EK: Yes! And I do the making-of. She can direct it herself (laughs)
Seiko Matsuda’s Folklore episode, ‘The Day The Wind Blew’, is now streaming on HBO Go. ‘The Excursion’ episode premieres on Dec 19. Ramen Teh and Food Lore are also available on HBO Go.
Photos: HBO Asia