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Fran Rubel Kuzui - About her life in Japan - Ft.com Interview

dimanche 25 janvier 2009, par Webmaster

Fran Rubel Kuzui, 64, a film director, producer and distributor, is best known for directing the feature film ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, a box office success that generated a hit television series. She developed the series and served as executive producer after writing and directing the critically acclaimed film ‘Tokyo Pop’ in the late 1980s. Fran and her Japanese husband, Kaz Kuzui, who produced ‘Buffy’, pioneered the distribution of independent films in Japan and they now divide their time between the US – living in upstate New York and Hollywood – and Japan, where they own a modern flat in central Tokyo and a house they built in the ancient town of Nikko, 130km north of the capital.

You travel so much. Where do you consider home and why ? I don’t really have a home. If I needed to call some place home I’d say it’s where Kaz, my husband, is at any given time because he’s my constant. The rest of the time I move around to wherever my life and my projects take me. I’m seriously drawn to old houses and places, though. I consider a 200-year-old schoolhouse in upstate New York to be my “family home” and it’s where I keep childhood treasures [such as] teddy bears and books. My husband thinks of a condo in central Tokyo as his home, so I think that’s my home of the heart. And my cat, Bailey, prefers living in the grounds of a Buddhist temple in Nikko, where we’ve built a wooden house set in an ancient garden. At the moment, that’s where I’m most passionate about being – not least because we recently renovated an unused temple building and transformed it into a yoga studio. The temple’s original name was Myogetsu-bo – “abode of the enchanted moon” and it’s indeed magical. We call the studio EcoNikko and hold yoga and meditation retreats as well as regular classes there in the warmer months.

What brought you to Japan ?

When I met Kaz I was living in Manhattan. We met on a Japanese film production in New York and at that point I’d never visited or really thought about Japan, let alone contemplated living there. Later, after we’d spent some time there, filmmaker friends such as the Coen brothers, Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee asked if we could sell their films in Japan. So we ended up setting up our own film distribution company.

What led you to the next phase ?

After making Tokyo Pop and then Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the spin-off TV series, we continued to produce films on a limited basis while running our distribution company in Japan. It was the perfect life for both of us since it meant a lot of travel back and forth between Japan and the US, as well as around the world to film festivals. So I guess you could say nothing really “brought” me to Japan. I just keep landing here as I move around.

So how did you come to build a house in Nikko ?

We wound up there purely by chance. We met a couple at a party who had a weekend house in Nikko, a beautiful town two hours’ drive north of Tokyo. They told us there was a property that was possibly open for rental. When we went to see it, it was love at first sight. We immediately asked Rinnoji Temple, the temple that owned the land, if we could rent it. It’s actually a Unesco [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] World Heritage site. How many people get to live in such a place ? It was pure luck and then a year of negotiations but we finally got permission to build a small house on the land ; the old one was uninhabitable and had to be torn down.

How did you go about building the house ?

We knew an architect, Jiro Takami, who had worked on renovating our Tokyo apartment and we trusted his judgment. We asked him to design a new house that had the spirit of the old house and the land but incorporated what we loved about the house we had just sold in LA. He was so patient with the temple craftsmen. Part of the deal was that we had to use the carpenters who maintain the temples and shrines of Nikko to build our house. None of them had ever built a house before, let alone a Western-style one. Our house has no closets because they didn’t know how to build western closets. We have a traditional futon closet where we keep our clothes but that’s all. It’s a small price to pay for magic.

What about the yoga studio ?

Again, we found a temple building that was not being used. Yoga has always been in my life ; I’ve been practicing it since I was 20, back when it wasn’t fashionable. So when I saw the building I thought we should bring yoga to Nikko and through that bring different types of people there. Why ? Well, for us it’s time to give back. I could be sitting here planning to play golf for the rest of my life or I can think about how I can take what I’ve learned so far and offer it in the service of others.

How do you divide your time now ?

One of the great pleasures of my life has been the opportunities to reinvent myself. Being able to live in different places gives me ever-changing perspectives. We’re winding down our film distribution activities but I’ve decided to direct one more film and have just finished the screenplay. We hope to shoot it later this year in Japan. I’m loving the EcoNikko work, arranging yoga weekends and introducing visitors to Nikko and Japanese culture .

So what’s next ? Where do you see yourself spending the most time ?

In an ideal world I would spend time between New York and Nikko. I’ve never been an office person and I like working at home on the dining room table wherever I am. With the internet and Skype it really doesn’t matter where you are. I’ve trusted the universe to tell me where to be at any given time. It’s worked so far and so I think I’ll just stick with that.


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