Sharp objects

8K opens up a wonderland of definition, fires that audiences can almost smell, a wealth of blacks, extraordinary detail that allows directors to use a single strand of a spider’s web to symbolic effect. Japanese director Kazutaka Watanabe talks to ContentAsia about his experience at the helm of NHK’s first 8K TV drama, An Artist of the Floating World.

Japanese director Kazutaka Watanabe discovered a new world of blacks through drama An Artist of the Floating World, an 8K-HDR TV movie based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s 1986 novel about an elderly artist in post-World War II Japan who looks back on his life and work, including his role as a painter of propaganda and supporter of pre-War Imperial Japan.

“8K reveals so many shades of black,” Watanabe says, talking about some of what he learned shooting drama in 8K for the first time.

Traditionally associated with natural history programming, the format, like HD and 4K before it, has become a standard rallying cry for Japanese public broadcaster NHK. An Artist of the Floating World aired on NHK in March this year and is now part of the programmer’s global catalogue.

Although a new-found wonder in shades of black is a consequence of the project, it wasn’t colour that drew Watanabe to An Artist of the Floating World in the first place.

Rather, the attraction was the “smell of burning – a core symbol of the story and the “bright flame”, Watanabe says. Both are brilliant in 8K. “It makes you feel as though you are there,” he adds.

Lead actor Ken Watanabe, who plays the ageing artist Masuji Ono, has the perfect face and acting skills for 8K, the director adds. “Every tiny movement of a facial muscle can be captured in 8K”.

As can a single strand of a spider’s web. This strand has become part of the filmmaking conversation around the movie as well as a much-talked-about experience in the learning about shooting drama in 8K.

What happened was this: A spider’s web was inadvertently captured in a scene where Ono was confused about his past. The tech crew reshot. In the end, Watanabe went with the footage that had accidentally captured the web. “The web is symbolic of a person struggling, a confused state. It was just one strand of the web. That was when I realised the power of 8K,” he says.

Shooting in 8K takes a lot more time, Watanabe adds. The 8K-HDR format also requires much more attention to detail. “Everything is clearly visible,” he says. “You have to create detail because people can see it”.

Asked what he would tell directors beginning (or thinking about) their 8K journey, Watanabe seems a reluctant advisor. “They should do whatever they feel is best,” he says. “I heard actors talking about being filmed in 8K. They say they are throwing everything in front of the camera. They cannot tell a lie. I would say the same thing to creators. You cannot pretend. You have to be authentic. Go back to basics. The most important thing is the storytelling”.

Will he shoot drama in 8K again. Absolutely, Watanabe says. For one, having delved into the mystery of blacks with An Artist of the Floating World, there’s a whole brilliant world of white awaiting.

Published in ContentAsia Issue Six 2019, 4 November 2019