Bouha Kazmi's video for legendary French band Indochine’s Station 13 is not for the fainthearted. Visceral, brutal and harrowing, it's also an extraordinary achievement.
The Ramona Flowers 'Tokyo' by Bouha Kazmi
The Ramona Flowers' Tokyo has given Bouha Kazmi the chance to explore his fascination with Japanese culture - and particularly the phenomenon of the Geisha.
Initially Bouha introduces an intriguing relationship between a masked woman and a boy, which is revealed to be an unusual double-act. In a very grand space - Syon House – the boy's harp-playing accompanies the woman's geisha-dance performed to audience of fearsome matriarchs. And then, the geisha unleashes an extraordinary power...
So PROMO talked to Bouha about his Ramona Flowers video - and his geisha obsession...
• How did the project start – what was the brief? And how did you come up with the idea of your intriguing double-act and their explosive performance?
My idea stemmed from the desire to reveal the true beauty beneath one’s mask. I’ve always been intrigued by the Confucian values and customs of Geishas, and Japanese culture. I find something bewildering about their temperament. Their physical appearance is extraordinary when explored in its most traditional form. People are constantly consuming them with their eyes, yearning for their youth, and the exquisite command of their allure.
I’d spent time holidaying in Japan over the years, picking different regions, spending a month at a time exploring every facet of a province. On one occasion, I remember seeing a geisha hand-in-hand with a very young boy who looked like he had just finished his school day.
Later, I started distorting the sight of these two unsuspecting people. Where could they have been going? Why was he with her? What’s she carrying in that case? What if she really were a prostitute? This image stayed with me all of these years. As soon as the word “geisha” came up in discussion with Tom Bird and the band, I knew exactly where I wanted to take it.
• The Japanese dancer clearly relates to the song title. Is this some kind of traditional form of Japanese performance?
There was always a very clear intention to take on the world of the geisha and then exaggerate it all in appearance, movement, make-up, and disposition. Taking a number of disparate influences from very divergent origins, I wanted to create an amalgamation of something formative and unique.
The style of dance was no different. I’d suggested taking inspiration from the traditional form of geisha dances whilst injecting some ballet and alternative movement. The geisha is about body control and is very rigid in its form. We then added a graceful evolution, shifting it more towards ballet for the lower part of the body. We finally created the dynamism and flux through movement art, a style that has a lot more freeform in its appearance but should definitely not be mistaken for improvisation. Her dance is the result of trying endless blends of styles and solutions to what would eventually work as a whole, vis-à-vis the outward appearance, the styling, the make-up, and the lighting.
• Why the ‘eyes without a face’ mask in the first part of the video?
The idea was always to treat the film like extracted scenes from a narrative with a strong focus on fashion subculture. I wanted there to be an undertone of stage and theatricality to the piece. Dipping into the Asian theatre of Noh for the mask is something that served to build the tension between the two characters and the world. The mask is there to stimulate, startle and toy with the imagination. It brings a heightened premise to the beginning of the story, conveying mystery around this woman and consequently the boy. We’re not sure whether to fear for the boy’s safety or whether he’s complicit. The mask gives the situation tenacity and the virtue of making something feel slightly less personal. This discomfort is clearly present during the dinner scene between the two and it helps create a certain connection between them, which is absolutely integral to the tone of the video.
• Looks like an interesting location. Where did you shoot the video? And are those old master paintings for real?
The property was Syon House, essentially the Duke of Northumberland’s family residence. We started our search with a stately home and ended up with an English Heritage castle with the interior designed by Robert Adam in the 1760s. The property itself dates back to the 1550s.
Everything in Syon House is original, most of it over 300 years old, so we weren’t allowed to lay a finger on anything. Even the carpets were worth millions and completely out of bounds. The painting featured in the entrance scene is the only infant painting of Edward VI in existence [by Henry VIII's court artist Hans Holbein], and we just immortalized it in an indie rock music video. There’s something humbling about that detail. We had to be really creative and resourceful with how we lit certain spaces so that no paintings or historical artifacts were affected.
• That’s a fearsome bunch of old ladies too. And shades of Come To Daddy with the blown-face look. Did you have trouble with your ladies achieving that effect?
I can’t begin to describe how much fun they were to work with starting from the casting process. Some of these women are accomplished actors. At one point, they were all sat in one large circle across a table with their cups of tea whilst they were waiting to get styled and made-up. They were exchanging wonderful stories from their long-established careers.
In amongst the jowls, the amplified distorted skin, and the constant splatter of saliva that was boomeranging and hitting us in the face, I could only hear but two things being blared and constantly repeated over the music to no end: “Darling, bugger it all, it’s for the love of the art. Hit me again!”
• The band don’t feature, of course. Were they involved in the creative process, or pretty much leave you to your own devices?
The band and I instantly connected - same wavelength and same page on every aspect of the video from the movement to the styling, to the casting, to exploring a bespoke piece of music for the intro. The more I talked about what lay ahead in extreme levels of detail, the more everyone got excited about hitting the ground running. I had one of the best commissioners any director could ask for. Tom (Bird) maintained clarity across all parties and ensured that my vision for the video was preserved. Everything in the video is pretty much how I’d imagined and scripted it.
|Production Company||Luti Media|
|Executive Producer||Luti Fagbenle|
|Executive Producer||Kimberly Hitchins|
|Costume designer||David Hawkins|
|Hair & Make-up||Natasha Lawes|
|Steadicam||Richard J Lewis|
|Focus Puller||Ed Tucker|
|Model maker||Sangeet Prabhaker|
|1st AD||Andrew Potter|
|Creative assistant||Sarah Tognazzi|
|Production Manager||Stefano Moses|
|Editing company||Portobello Post|
|Post Producer||Chris Chard|
|Post production company||Coffee & TV|
|Director of Photography||Ben Fordesman|
|Other credits||Special thanks: Panalux, Filmscape Media, Glassworks, Coffee & TV, Eleanor Amoroso, Costume Studio, Purple PR and The London School of Make Up.|
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